Tag Archives: language

Do people really speak like that?

Belfast landscape heads by David "Creative" McClelland.

Dialogue springs forth fully formed from the mouths of the regulars in my favourite pub. It’s very odd. This isn’t how people really speak surely?

Normal speech is hesitation, prevarication, vagueries, misunderstanding, repetition, replete with em-ing and er-ing. Isn’t it?

But what I heard while perched at the bar sounded honed by Elmore Leonard. It can have/seem to have an aggressive edge to it. (See here for a foreigner’s view.)

This snatch of speech begins as the fella on my left hand explains that he drinks in the pub most weekdays, at which point fella on my right hand jumps in…

LEFT: I drink here most lunchtimes.

RIGHT: Why?

LEFT: Because I can.

Pause.

LEFT: I’m drinking for one now…

RIGHT (interrupting forcefully): No! Never explain. You were a hero there. The hero in films never explains himself. It’s just bang, here it is, this is it. For 45 seconds there, you were a hero. But you blew it. Continue reading

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Does this make me a snob?

I often pass this sign, but I never go inside. Does that make me a snob?

I’m aware of the value of sometimes tweaking the rules. That a market stall sign declaring Fresh Melon’s may attract attention and business, precisely because of its grammatical inaccuracy.

I’ve occasionally employed the deliberate mistake tactic myself. When a radio phone-in is slow to attract calls Continue reading

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China: Is it the future of world politics – or not?

Colonel Sanders is looking young - and Chinese - at the opening of a new KFC outlet in Beijing.

It’s well past time that people woke up to China’s role in the world and I don’t just mean noticing “Made in China” on the base of that thing you’ve just bought. (It’s probably from Vietnam or the Philippines these days anyway – or perhaps Madagascar if it’s clothing.) And eating Chinese doesn’t count either.

It’s crazy how tightly schools cling to European languages to the exclusion of Chinese. Sure, Spanish can be number one – it’s on the doorstep, good weather, world language, beautiful songs. But why should Chinese be relegated below French, German, Russian (!), Italian, Latin, Greek, etc?

Then again, there are some people who are in a constant tizzy about the spread of Chinese influence – soft power, economic investment, military infiltration. The panic has reached such intensity in parts of the blogosphere that it reminds me of that old cartoon (anyone know it?) that had Americans imagining that it was Vietnam bordering Texas instead of Mexico. (Though with the low intensity warfare going on in Mexico these days…)

So is China really the future? Is western democracy tired and doomed to go down with the listing economic ship? Have the Chinese actually got it right in terms of development and never mind the niceties of freedom?

Two Continue reading

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Plumb compote? Bring on the lead poisoning *

God help me, it may define me as an old git – as though any more evidence was needed – but I do like a nice piece of Continue reading

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Politics time again (to quote Buju Banton)

Time for some politics. Three stories. Two American, one British.

  • One is sad but true.
  • Another rings very true, but is, in fact, just silly.
  • The third might be true. I’ve no idea.

But which is which?

1. Sauce for the goose, but not the gander. This quote from Peter Schmuck, a Baltimore sports writer, concerning the indictment of Roger Clemens (left), a baseball player in the USA who allegedly lied to Congress about taking steroids:

“Isn’t it great to live in a society where the penalty for lying to a Congressman can be up to 30 years in jail, but the penalty for a Congressman lying to you is another two years in office?”

I’m not sure what the going rate for lying Congresswomen is.

Hey. This is what came up when I put AWNAA in Google images. Er... perhaps.

2. Finally a bill we can all support: The AWNAA Act of 2010

Washington, DC – Congress is considering sweeping legislation that will provide new benefits for many Americans: The Americans With No Abilities Act (AWNAA) is being hailed as a major legislative goal by advocates of the millions of Americans who lack any real skills or ambition. Continue reading

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Bo Selecta

Boa Sr. Andaman Islander and the world's last speaker of Bo. RIP

So that’s that then. You’ll not be hearing any more Bo. In fact, you won’t have heard it spoken for a while, because Boa Sr (pictured left) was the only one left who could speak the language.

However, you can hear her sing in Bo. Continue reading

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Language wars

In any conflict or dispute, setting the terms, choosing the terrain, defining the terms can be decisive.

In the ongoing political battle over taxation in the UK for instance, fixing in voters minds the concept of a “death tax”, rather than a redistributive inheritance tax, skews the argument one way right from the beginning.

Here’s another example that caught my eye. It’s from David Kilcullen’s book  about counter insurgency, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. (See previous post.) He’s trying to label his enemy in such a way as to delegitimise them in the eyes of Muslims – to make the Islamic sea an inhospitable place for so-called terroristic fish. Here’s a passage from the preface:

“I use the term takfiri to describe the enemy’s ideology, and the phrase “takfiri terrorist” to describe those who use terrorism to further that ideology. The doctrine of takfir disobeys the Qur’anic injunction against compulsion in religion (Surah al-Baqarah: 256) and instead holds that Muslims whose beliefs differ from the takfiri’s are infidels who must be killed.

“Takfirism is a heresy within Islam: it was outlawed in the 2005 Amman Message, an initiative of King Abdullah II of Jordan, which brought together more than 500 ulema (Islamic scholars) and Muslim political leaders from the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League in an unprecedented consensus agreement, a ‘unanimous agreement by all Muslims everywhere as represented by their acknowledged most senior religious authorities and political leaders.’ Al Qa’ida is takfiri, and its members are universally so described by other Muslims, whom they routinely terrorize.

“In my view [David Kilcullen’s view, that is], and compellingly for me in the daily vocabulary of most ordinary local people, religious leaders and tribal leaders with whom I have worked in the field, ‘takfirism’ best describes the ideology currently threatening the Islamic world.

“I prefer it to the terms jihad, jihadist, jihadi, or mujahidin (literally  ‘holy war’ or ‘holy warrior’), which cede to the enemy the sacred status they crave, and to irhabi (terrorist) or hiraba (terrorism), which address AQ’s violence but not its ideology.

Takfiri is also preferable to the terms salafi or salafist, which refer to the belief the true Muslims should live like the first four generations of Muslims, the ‘pious ancestors’ (as-salaf as-salih). Most extremists are salafi, but few salafi believers are takfiri, and even fewer are terrorists: most, although fundamentalist conservatives, have no direct association with terrorism.”

So – is this a credible attempt to come up with a better term than “jihadist”? Is it more accurate than “terrorist”? Or is it nothing more than a self-interested transparent attempt by one side to undermine the other by resetting the definitions?

Can it catch on? It is sometimes difficult to budge accepted terms from the popular and journalistic lexicons – hence the persistence of the term “joyriders”, despite efforts to rebrand them as “death drivers” or something similar.

Any thoughts from Muslims out there on the appropriateness or otherwise of takfiri in this context? Is it right? Does it work for you?

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