Kansas, English, and other stuff



On 07/07/2011 06:31 PM, my cousin wrote:
Ah, consistency. Our VP routes around a weekly email on grammar usage, from some service he subscribed to. (“to which he subscribed”? Nah.) I find its content obvious and condescending. Took great glee in taking issue with its admonishment to pronounce the “t” in “often” the proper silence of which I learned from a tweedy, bow-tied English Lit prof at K-State a half-century ago.

My cousin was replying to a joke email I sent which was about the English language and all its problems and inconsistencies. I am a retired teacher who taught academic skills to Turkish university students in English, a foreign language to them. I can appreciate their perplexity at attempting to master a language whose rules are vague and difficult to use.

I believe that English is a baffling cacophony of sound mostly unrelated to its writing or its rules. One of the teachers at the College of Education at KSU when I was there had a sign on her door which said “Eschew obfuscation.” I had to dive for a dictionary when I first saw it but then had a good laugh about it after.

Professor Henry Higgins commented in Pygmalion/My Fair Lady:
There even are places where English completely disappears; in America they haven’t used it for years.
Or read Bernard Shaw’s introduction to Pygmalion here: http://www.bartleby.com/138/0.html
where Shaw writes:
The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. German and Spanish are accessible to foreigners: English is not accessible even to Englishmen.

Or to quote Oscar Wilde, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.

One of the many interesting things I find about the Turkish language is its (mostly) consistency. All the letters are sounded the same no matter where they are used in a word. Once you learn the sound of the letter it does not change in the reading. My late brother-in-law lived in the States for many years. After a round of discussion about the Turkish language at a bar one evening, he claimed he could teach any one of the Americans present to read Turkish in one week. Of course the crowd took him up on the bet and selected a poor soul to be the victim. A week later my brother-in-law and the victim arrived at the same location and to the surprise of the crowd, read clearly an article from a Turkish newspaper someone had conveniently brought with them. After their astonishment wore off, one bright bulb asked what was the translation or meaning of the article he just read. Of course he had no idea. My brother-in-law said he would teach the man to read Turkish, not to understand it… Nice trick and it netted him a few rounds on the house!

I am lazy and have not done well at learning new vocabulary but the rest is really simple and easy to understand. Ataturk was a genius when he re-formed the country back in 1923. Ottoman Turkish was written with Arabic letters! He threw that out and introduced the Latin alphabet. He ordered the country to learn how to read and write the new letters in six months! Thousands of teachers went out into the countryside and accomplished a lot in those six months. It was a bit optimistic but literacy rates and newspaper publishing rose quickly together ever after.

He also put controls on fundamentalism and turned the eyes of the nation toward the west and its back on the east. He believed the religious had kept the nation in ignorance and poverty much as the priests in so-called Christian nations had done for much of western history. He did not abolish Islam, but he felt that the State should control it. Many of the problems the country faces today are a result of that decision. Religion defies logic and reasoning and is based upon a leap of faith. If you are raised in a Catholic country/community you will probably be one for life. The same is true for other christian sects, Judiasm and Islam. Of course there are many different branches of Islam just as there are so-called Christians. All professing to be the one true faith. Therefore when the State tries to control any religion, the faith becomes the stronger for it and is like the steam in a pressure cooker waiting to be released or to explode.

On 07/07/2011 06:31 PM, my cousin wrote:
The wife and I head for the Great Plains tomorrow at noon. Stopping for the night at my brother’s place in Lincoln, then on to Norton, Kans-ass to see our daughter. She is preggers by her longtime boyfriend, who got out of truckdriving and works for some big farmer. Norton is near, well, nowhere. Can’t any of my kids who have babies get married, for chrissakes? Then it’s up to the Black Hills for three days.

How was your trip through the wasteland of Kansas? Why the Black Hills for three days? Anything significant about that? I do not believe it is important that some church or bureaucrat give a licence to some couple wanting to have children, although if a licence were to be required before a couple had children that might not be a bad idea if it were at least as demanding as the passing of a driver’s licence test (perhaps a bit more?). It is not in the marrying but in the ignorance of the parents and their committment or lack thereof that causes problems. We worry too much about our kids which is really nothing more than projecting our own bad or good habits upon them and then wondering why they do not conform to our seemingly rigid rules and stuck in the mud way of life.

On 07/07/2011 06:31 PM, my cousin wrote:
11 more months and I hang it up, after 22 yrs.

I think you mentioned previously something about clearing brush? Gardening to me in this part of the Mediterranean means to keep the wild grass from getting too tall and watching my oleander “fence” grow. The goats do not eat this flower and it grows wild in much of the Med. The villagers say it is poisonous, I looked it up, the sap can be irritating but nothing more. We sometimes get a village fella to come once in a while and spruce the place up a bit, trim the trees back when needed and chop some more firewood. We now have about three years worth of fuel for our winter heating.

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