Monday, February 8, 2010

language dead, dying, rebirthed

Ancient tribal language becomes extinct as last speaker dies

Somebody recently mentioned to me that I should be striving to learn new words every day because if you don't have a word to describe something you cannot comprehend it. I immediately thought about how I got in an argument with my cousin about the way an English speaker understands existence as compared to a Spanish speaker. My cousin brought up the idea that Spanish has to words that mean To Be, which are Ser and Estar. Ser refers to characteristics which are permanent, and Estar refers to things that in flux. For example, in English you could "I am sick," but depending on which form of To Be you use in Spanish you could either say "I am ill" or "I am a sicko." From this, my cousin argued that because of this, a Spanish speaker has an innate ability to better comprehend their existence as they subconsciously deal with making a decision as to whether a trait is permanent or ephemeral.

I thought that was total baloney at the time, and mostly still do, but there's no question as to how much this world has lost by allowing an entire language to die. The article mentions that "Even members of inter-related tribes were unable to comprehend the repertoire of Bo songs and stories." Without any way for the ideas of the lost culture to be understood by the world, their voice in the collective human consciousness has been snuffed out.

And then Canadian News comes out with this gem

Students failing because of Twitter, texting

This article is like a gift that will not stop giving because it just doesn't know what that means so it just sits there and grins like an idiot while you try and breath between laughing fits.

You might notice that, while the headline mentions twitter and texting as culprits for the decline of western civilization as we know it, the first sentance of the article mentions that it might also be linked to "Little of no grammar teaching."

University Officials seem to be baffled by kids these days:

"There has been this general sense in the last two or three years that we are finding more students are struggling in terms of language proficiency," says Rummana Khan Hemani, the university's director of academic advising.

Emoticons, happy faces, sad faces, cuz, are just some of the writing horrors being handed in, say professors and administrators at Simon Fraser.

"Little happy faces ... or a sad face ... little abbreviations," show up even in letters of academic appeal, says Khan Hemani.


"The words 'a lot' have become one word, for everyone, as far as I can tell. 'Definitely' is always spelled with an 'a' -'definitely'. I don't know why," says Paul Budra, an English professor and associate dean of arts and science at Simon Fraser.

"Punctuation errors are huge, and apostrophe errors. Students seem to have absolutely no idea what an apostrophe is for. None. Absolutely none."

By now it has become clear that article will not be giving you back the frisbee you so carelessly threw into its yard. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't happily fail a student for using "LOLCOPTER" in a formal essay, just that I would make sure not to sound like a complete out-of-touch nerd in an article that all but entirely misses the point.

I'd like to say more, but I think the conclusion of the article sums it all up in a nice little mind-trap of a quote:

James Turk of the Association of University Teachers takes all the complaints about student literacy with a grain of salt.

"There's a notion of a golden age in the past that students were wonderful, unlike now. I'm not sure that golden age ever existed," he says.

"You can go back and read Plato and see Socrates talking about the allegations that this generation isn't as not as good as previous ones," he notes.

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