Caveat: Detroit crashing… Detroit triumphant

GM stock dropped 25% on Monday, as the Space Emperor (or his staff) forced Wagoner out of the CEO slot.  Things are looking grimmer than ever for America's Detroit.  But meanwhile, I also read this bit of news about a Netherlands-based company that seems to have elected to call itself "Detroit Electric" unironically.  They're going to be contracting with the normally Detroitesque (meaning perennially loss-making) Malaysian state-owned carmaker Proton to make all-electric cars for the EU and eventually US markets. 

Wouldn't it be weird and historically ironic if, ultimately, the name "Detroit" became associated not with America's failed car industry but rather a future-oriented European company manufacturing cars in Southeast Asia?  Can you imagine, say, 30 years from now, people saying "Detroit" and forgetting that it used to be a major American city noted for automobiles, and referring instead to the latest model from the Dutch-Malaysian enterprise?

Caveat: 저는 위키백과 ♥

Which is to say, ”I♥Wikipedia” (roughly… seems to me, the heart should go at the end in Korean, since that’s the verb, right? And… what about endings? Should it end in “-♥요”? “-♥해요”?) What exactly does the heart stand for – the whole verb, including endings? Or just the semantic root. These are harder to resolve in Korean, than in English, maybe. Then again, basically, the heart works like Chinese.
Anyway, back to 위키백과 (wikipaekgwa = wiki encyclopedia i.e. wikipedia). There was an awesome review of it by Noam Cohen in the New York Times.

Caveat: Make up a story…

I have the flu. Bad. Fever and cough, yesterday. Argh.
pictureOn a news website, an ad for Bloomberg caught my attention. It’s a riff on the commonplace that things get lost in translation (a la the children’s game “telephone”). Still, the specific example was clever (if accurate, and… who knows?).  I will reproduce it, thus giving them some free advertising.  But, whatever.
[Start] English: Get your facts right at the source
[ –> ] Italian: Ricava le tue informazioni vere direttamente dalla fonte
[ –> ] Chinese: … .. ..
[ –> ] English: Make up a story and run to the motherland
I didn’t really make much effort to copy the Chinese.  I had a hard time copying this.  I don’t know Chinese, but I can read fragments, because of my efforts to study Korean hanja. Notes:
故 = 고 (chinese meaning is “therefore”)
故事[story? but korean is 고사 = historical folktale or tradition, fable?]
“Talent is not the same as intelligence.” – Me (and probably someone else, too).
“The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.” – Edsger W. Dijkstra
“Absentem qui rodit amicum, qui non defendit, alio culpante; hic niger est; hunc tu, Romane, caveto” – Horace

Caveat: 主體

I had this weird dream the other day, right as I was waking up. The dream had this unidentified guru-like person, who was advising me to practice “Juche” as a means to personal growth and salvation. He was pointing to a page with the Chinese characters for it (see title-line).
But then Ken interrupted (Ken is the archetype interrupter, in Jared’s dreamland), and I lost dream-traction… vaguely.
“Juche” (주체) is the Korean name for the official ideology of North Korea, as formulated by Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il.  It’s 2 parts Stalinism, 2 parts fascism, 1 part maoism, and 1 part feudalism.  Well, that’s my own take on it.
Kim’s folly.  Literally, it means something like “corism,” as in, “the ideology of core” or “ideology of the main subject.”  But generally it’s translated as “self-reliance,” as it is strongly autarkic in character.
Interestingly, when I looked in the dictionary, I discovered that 주체 can also mean “indigestion caused by drinking” and also “a burden.”  Nice bit of homonymy. Courtesy
주체(主體) the subject;the main body;【중심】the core;the nucleus;『법』 the main constituent
주체(酒滯) indigestion from[caused by] drinking
주체 a burden;a bother;a handful ―하다 cope with[take care of] one´s burden
It was strange that it was the Chinese hanja that were in the dream, since North Korea no longer uses Chinese characters – their banning was, in fact, part of the culturally self-reliant practice of Juche, as it was developed in the 60’s in reaction to the Sino-Soviet split.
Speaking of weapons of mass destruction (we were speaking of weapons of mass destruction?), check out this “fake 404” from the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It made me laugh.
Other notes from studying Korean:
시(時) o´clock;time;hour (I recognized the hanja for this on a sign, recently.  It was a cool feeling.)

Caveat: Goodbye, Ubuntu

If you look back to around 15 months ago in my blog entries, you'd conclude that Linux triumphed on my desktop, and I never looked back.  Yet, last night I logged onto my Linux partition and noted it had been 60 days since my last use of my Linux install.  I've been living in a Windows-only world (Vista on my laptop, XP-Korean at work).

Does that mean I love Windows?  I've always felt OK about XP (which is basically a desktop version of Server 2000/2003), but not a day goes by when I don't mutter "F@##$% Vista" to myself under my breath.  Vista’s Windows Explorer (File Manager app) still crashes sometimes for no apparent reason, on an almost weekly basis, for example.  So why am I not only tolerating Vista on my laptop, but basically committing to it exclusively, now?  I have three main reasons.

First, there is the problem of language support.  Once I started taking my efforts to learn Korean seriously, I found myself having to use Ubuntu Linux's clunky CJK (Chinese-Japanese-Korean) support.  It's an add-on. There are several choices of add-on, but all are terribly integrated to the desktop, and all are completely incompatible with several of the applications I wanted to use.  I couldn't figure out how to name files in Korean unicode, and switching between western (US), western (Spanish) and Korean keyboards seemed unreliable and inconsistent, if not downright difficult.  With at least one application (the game Second Life, Linux version), when I would run the CJK Input engine alongside it, it would lead to a full-blown system crash.  No forum seemed to offer a more reliable alternative to the input engines I found and tried.  In comparison, Microsoft's CJK language support is well-integrated to the operating system, and once I discovered that my right-hand ALT key could function as my Hangeul/Roman switch (since my laptop has a made-for-US keyboard that doesn't have that special Hangeul switch key to the right of the SPACE bar, the way that Korean keyboards do), I was very happy.  Of course, even Microsoft's language support is sometimes weird:  despite now being in service pack who-knows-what, every time Vista pops up that little "please authorize me to scratch my butt" warning, the language bar unlocks from the toolbar, parks itself somewhere near the top of the screen and floats out to foreground for half a second.  That's buggy-looking, the sort of thing you'd think some developer at MS would have noticed before it even got into beta, not to mention two years after going live.  I doubt it impacts functionality, but it's downright unprofessional-looking from a design/aesthetics standpoint.  Overall, though, at least language support is fully integrated and relatively painless, if not always aesthetically pleasing.

Second, there is the issue of media files and media players.  I could never find a media player and media organizer in Ubuntu that worked seemlessly with the materials I had:  my Samsung MP3 player, my 35GB of music files, my downloaded Korean TV shows and movies.  Each media player I tried would end up doing something strange.  Once, one of the players (I forget which) placed all the music files onto my MP3 player with gobbledygook names (probably some freaky interaction with a few of my Korean unicode-named music files).  Another time, I swear another player corrupted a set of 16 episodes of a TV show I'd spent weeks downloading.  I also frequently got frustrated with visiting internet radio sites, where I would allegedly lack the proper codec, etc., to be able to play the stream I was trying to play.  Many online streams are optimized for Windows and Mac environments, and seem to forget the Linux user out there.  In any event, I now alternate between Realplayer and Windows Media Player when using Vista, with zero problems.  Both work fine in the Vista environment.

Lastly, there has been the problem of the fact that Korean internet websites are often incompatible with Firefox (and Opera, to the extent I experimented with that).  This is not, strictly speaking, Ubuntu or Firefox's fault, obviously.  South Korea, more than any other nation on Planet Earth, is married to Microsoft at the hip.  Microsoft has a 98% market share here, which is by far the highest in the world.  Most Korean-national websites are written in non-ISO-compliant extensions to HTML (especially Flash and Silverlight) that seem to work only in Internet Explorer.   I didn't ask for this type of environment, but I must accept the reality of it: that if I want to spend time on Korean websites (and in some cases, such as work-related tasks, I MUST spend time on Korean websites), I have no choice but to be using IE.  And that pushes me into Vista, too.

Some people have said, for these compatibility issues, why don’t I use WINE (a Windows emulator for Linux) to encapsulate the problematic programs so that I can continue to run a Linux desktop?  This is possible, although it doesn’t solve problem number one:  lack of integrated language support.  But furthermore, at least in my limited experimentation, WINE encapsulation is slow.  And clunky.  Ultimately, it seemed more trouble that it was worth, relative to possible benefits.  It leads to a pyrrhic victory over Microsoft, at best.

So, sadly, the vista from here is murky.  Ubuntu has a lot to accomplish before I can feel comfortable adopting it as my primary OS, as much as I would like to.  My plan for this weekend is to delete my Linux partition, so as to be able to use the extra gigabytes this will free up.  Ubuntu, it's been good to know ya.

Caveat: Byron

"She walks in beauty" (first stanza)

She walks in beauty—like the night
  Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
  Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to the tender light
  Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
— Lord Byron, 1814.

I can't sleep.  I'm listening to "The Stone Dance of the Cameleon" by Celtic harpist Phamie Gow (whose wikipedia entry was deleted for being "insignificant").  


Caveat: ㅂ2

My students know that it’s fairly to easy to get me to wander off topic. And sometimes, if they find the class content dull they have learned that with a well-placed series of comments and questions, they can get me to go on endlessly on something unrelated to the syllabus. Thus in my Eldorado 3 class yesterday, they managed to get me to talk for almost the entire hour about cold-war geopolitics, and North Korea vs South Korea as proxies for great powers, despite the fact that the official topic of the day was advertising.
Today, in my Eldorado 2 class we covered a lot of territory not really pertinent to our upcoming debate, which is a bit dry, having to do with “Green Industry” policy initiatives of the current South Korean government. I actually love teaching topics like that, but we nevertheless managed to wander off onto something else entirely.
One thing that happens, of course, is that sometimes they teach me things, instead. Today I learned that Korean language text-messaging slang “ㅂ2”  means “bye.” It’s the Korean phonemic jamo ㅂ (which represents a “b” sound IPA [b]) followed by 2 (which is pronounced “ee” IPA [i], the sino-korean “two”).  Sound it out:  buh-ee… it’s actually the English word “bye.” Simple, right?
And then conscientious Anastasia raises her hand and says, in a remonstrating tone, “Teacher. I really think we should be discussing the debate topic. Don’t you?” And with that, the bell rang.

Caveat: Which do you prefer?

I have a small class where I teach students skills for the speaking component of the iBT (internet-based Test of English as Foreign Language, by New Jersey's ETS, the creators of SAT, GRE, and all kinds of other fun tests).  These are 5th and 6th graders, and the weirdness of teaching them to take the TOEFL is immeasurable.

Consider a recent, compelling editorial by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., in the New York Times.  He concludes, "we need to move from teaching to the test to tests that are worth teaching to." I agree with this, and know that it applies not just to the "crisis" in American education but equally to the shortcomings of e.g. Korean English-language education.  Which is to say, quite simply, why are these kids taking this test?

The TOEFL is intended to be a college-enterance exam for non-native speakers of English, to establish ability level appropriate for American University work.  But Koreans love tests, and they love pushing their children hard.  So they figure, the earlier the better, right?

These kids, in terms of basic English ability, are perfectly capable of getting mediocre to good scores on something like the TOEFL.  But the problem is with topic.  Because the test is intended for university-age students, sometimes the kids have no experiential basis for trying to answer the questions put to them. What does it mean to ask a 5th grader if she wants to get married right after college or have a career first? What does it mean to ask a 6th grader if they like having a roommate in the dorms?  How can they say whether they're more interested in going to a small or large university? 

We've been working on "type 2" questions, lately.  Sometimes, they're called "Choice" questions or "preference" questions.  Below is a sampling, which I've compiled and edited from various random sources, or thought up myself based on what I've seen of typical "type 2" content. Imagine trying to coach 5th and 6th graders into making concise little 45-second speeches on these topics.  Whether they're perfect native speakers or Koreans doesn't matter – the problem is that so often, the content just doesn't "work" for that age level.

1. Some people prefer to live in a small town. Others prefer to live in a big city. Which place would you prefer to live in?

2. Would you prefer to do an important college assignment as part of a team with other students, or individually on your own?

3. Some students get their best study done at night. Others prefer to study during the day. Which time do you prefer for getting study done?

4. Would you prefer to run your own private business or work for a large company with many employees?

5. Some people prefer to eat at food stands or restaurants. Other people prefer to prepare and eat food at home. Which do you prefer?

6. Would you prefer to go on a trip overseas to a new country with a companion you know, or just by yourself?

7. Some students go directly to the teacher with questions about their course work. Others prefer to ask their classmates first. Which do you prefer?

8. During your spare time, would you prefer to watch a movie or read a book?

9. Some students try to combine part-time work and study, while others prefer to study only and work later once their courses are finished. Which do you prefer?

10. Would you prefer to go on a long trip by car or by train?

11. Some people like to stick to tasks they know they can do well. Others like to try new things and take risks. Which do you prefer?

12. Which kind of job would you prefer: a job that is uninteresting but has a high salary, or a job you really enjoy with a moderate salary?

13. Some people like to hurry and get things done as quickly as possible. Others prefer to take their time and get things done at a slower pace. Which do you prefer?

14. Do you prefer friends who are intelligent, or friends who are reliable?

15. Some students try to do moderate amounts of homework on a daily basis. Others prefer to get their homework done in one go over 1-2 days. Which do you prefer?

16. If you went to study in a different country with a different culture, would you prefer to adapt yourself to the new culture, or concentrate more on maintaining your own culture?

17. Some people like to keep up with current news by reading newspapers. Others prefer to read about the news online. Which do you prefer?

18. Would you prefer to do a course that involves lectures and tutorials onsite, or a course that is conducted online via distance learning?

19. When shopping, some people use brand names to help them decide what to buy. Other people go only by price. Which do you prefer?

20. Many universities offer intensive courses during the summer and winter periods. Would you prefer to take an intensive course durung the summer or the winter vacation period?

21. Some people like living in the center of cities close to downtown areas. Others prefer to live further out in the suburbs. Which do you prefer?

22. Some people give money as gifts to friends. Others try to give a specific kind of present. Which kind of gift do you prefer giving to a friend?

23. To find out about a course subject, would you prefer to go and ask a teacher about it, or talk to a student who has already taken the subject?

24. Some students like to use the library to do most of their research. Others prefer to do most of their research using the Internet. Which do you prefer?

25. Some people like to spend their leisure time outdoors, while others prefer to spend it indoors. Which do you prefer?

26. Would you prefer to spend your vacation period at home with family, or go on a trip somewhere with close friends?

27. Some students prefer lectures where the teacher does all of the talking. Other students prefer classes where students are more interactive and contribute to the lesson. Which do you prefer?

28. Some students like to buy all their own books and keep them after their courses are finished. Others prefer to borrow course books and return them once the course is finished. Which do you prefer?

29. Some people like to get married and start a family while they are still young (under 30 years of age). Others prefer to wait until they are older to start their own family. Which do/would you prefer?

30. Some students like to listen to music while they are studying. Others prefer a very quiet atmosphere for their study. Which do you prefer?

31. Would you like to spend most of your life living and working only in your own country, or would you prefer to spend some time living and working in a new country?

32. Some people enjoy hobbies or sports that are personal and individual. Others like hobbies or sports that involve groups of people. Which do you prefer?

33. Some people want to have specific instructions or directions when they try something new. Other people like to experiment and work things out for themselves. Which do you prefer?

34. Would you prefer to live in an apartment building, or a private house?

35. Some students like to make a specific study schedule for themselves, while others prefer to do their study only when they feel like doing it. Which do you prefer?

36. During discussions, some people like to lead the conversation and do a lot of the talking. Other people prefer to listen more and talk only when they have to. Which do you prefer?

37. For a group assignment, would you prefer to work with a new group of people whom you don't know all that well, or work with your close friends?

38. Some people like to keep a private diary which they don't show to other people. Other people like to start things like online blogs, where other people can read the posts and make comments about them. Which would you prefer to start – a private diary or an online blog?

39. Some students choose courses in order to get good jobs in the future. Other students choose courses that are very interesting to them, even if they don't always lead to good jobs. Which do you prefer?

40. Some universities are small and have only a couple of thousand students on campus. Other universities are very large and have many thousands of students enrolled. Which kind of university do you prefer?

Caveat: Already Torn

The weather is very springlike.  As I walked to work today, following my random, right-angled, zig-zag path among the apartment highrises and playgrounds and plazas and shopping streets of my neighborhood, Natalie Imbruglia's cover of "Torn" shuffled onto my MP3 player.  I hadn't heard that in a while.  It was popular on the radio in the summer of 1998, and so it sort of gave me a flashback to a very bad period.

I think it was what was playing on the radio as I drove away from the apartment in Lansdale that Michelle, Jeffrey and I shared, that August.  That was the last time I saw Michelle.  We'd argued all weekend.  On Sunday afternoon, I vividly recall Michelle and I sat down and agreed we would be separating.  I think she used the word "trial separation," but all I said was "we need to be apart."

But that night, I was angry, frustrated, depressed, restless.  And after she'd left for work the next morning, and Jeffrey had gone to school, I made a snap decision.  It was a cruel, selfish decision, but I felt trapped and helpless, and my reaction so often in such situations is to simply run away.  So I packed a few things into a bag, got into the car, and began to drive.

And this song "Torn" was on the radio as I got onto the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and headed toward King of Prussia.  I had no plan whatsoever, except I wanted to go away.

By sunset, I was in northern Virginia, and the sun rose over Memphis the next morning.  Two days later I was in Mexicali, a week after that, I was at my dad's in Los Angeles.  By the middle of September I was in Craig, Alaska.  That was a bad move, in retrospect.  But… I'd escaped. Such as escaping is.

And now, when I hear that song, it's a very difficult thing to remember.  Michelle is gone.  Jeffrey's an adult, independent, functional.  The damage – so much damage, I'm sure – is long done. 

…I'm already torn…

What I'm listening to right now.

[youtube embed added 2011 as part of background noise.  The video is dumb.  But I like the song.]

Caveat: Sad?

I've been feeling down today.  Not sure why. It could have to do with the spring equinox. I almost always seem to get down at the equinoxes, both fall and spring versions.   I don't know why, but I've been noticing it long enough that I think it's a real pattern.  Maybe it's a weird variant of that seasonal affective disorder some people struggle with.

So I don't have much to say.

Funny / Interesting quote:
"Technology has the shelf life of a banana." – Scott McNealy (founder of Sun Microsystems)

Relatedly, Sun may be swallowed up by IBM, soon.  Apparently a deal is in the works, if it passes due diligence and the antitrust regulators.

Caveat: Retail in Wabasha

Sometimes I have strange little "commercials" in my dreams, esthetically influenced by the quick edits and banal content of television advertising.  I've had them as long as I can remember, though I suspect they originated during my early teenage years when I had a habit of falling asleep while listening to top 40 radio.  Somehow, the periodic commercial breaks of that radio format, with the additional influence of 1970's network television, percolated into my subconscious and entrenched itself there permanently, so that, even now, decades later, sometimes my dreams have commercial breaks.  Call them dreammercials.

Last night's (or rather, this early morning's) dreammercial was for a children's board game called "Retail in Wabasha."  I think this is the consequence of reading some newspaper article about the desperate state of small-town America retail during the current economic downturn.  But where did Wabasha come from?  That's an Arcata-sized town on the Mississippi Rivier in Minnesota, a few hours southeast from Minneapolis.  But Wabasha wasn't specifically in the article I read. 

The dreammercial begins with an aerial view pan moving up the Mississippi at dusk.  The lights of the little houses below are coming on.  It's a Wintery landscape, everything thickly blanketed in snow.  An announcer's voices proclaims:  "Imagine you're trying to run your own retail establishment somewhere in America's heartland!"

Quick cut to children and parents clustered cozily around a kitchen table.  Pure stereotypes:  Mom, Dad, 2.1 children, the cute dog grinning up from below.  They're playing a board game.  There's one of those clear plastic bubbles that "rolls dice" for you without releasing the dice into the environment — a gimick that allows them to charge more for dice.  And one of the children rolls and excitedly moves a token on the board.  The details of the board are not clear.  It looks a bit like Snakes n Ladders.  Hmm… maybe it should look like Monopoly.

Quick cut to a woman in a small shop at a desolate-looking mall.  She's counting inventory with a clipboard.  1, 2, 3 green dresses.  1, 2 yellow dresses.  She's slightly overweight, and looks chipper.  A customer comes in.  The announcer drones on about something.

Quick cut to the family playing the game at the table.  The Dad says, "Thank goodness for the women's clothing sector!"  He grins triumphantly, and moves his token on the board.  The boy frowns, clearly having lost a turn in some way.

Cheerful music swells.  The announcer says some more.  Quick cut to a reverse aerial pan away from wintery Wabasha.  Second cut to a picture of the game in its box on a shelf in a big-box store, and the same family choosing the game and putting it into their shopping cart.

"So much fun!" suggests the announcer.  "Enjoy it today," or something like that.  The title of the game, on the box, as the camera comes in for a close-up: "Retail in Wabasha."

Really?  I have dreams like that?  Disturbing.  And… even more disturbing, I'm not embarrassed to share them with the world?  Heh.  What does the dream mean?

Maybe it was the homemade kimchibokkeumbap I had for dinner last night.  It was delicious.

Caveat: Good to feel welcome

I found this on the board coming into the Thursday iBT class yesterday.
That’s Ellie in the picture. She’s the closest thing to a native English speaking student that we have at LBridge. She lived in Germany for many years, and attended an International school, there. So, she’s a Korean girl who speaks English with a German accent, although a coworker who knows quite a bit of German reported to me that Ellie’s German is much worse than her English. I guess just being there rubbed off on her pronunciation.
A while back, the following dialogue took place, in a different class:
Jenny: Monday is my birthday!
Jared: How old will you be?
Jenny: I don’t know exactly. Maybe I’m 13?
A note about Korean ages: you should subtract at least one year from Korean ages, because when babies are born, they are one year old. Also, typically, despite the fact that they DO celebrate birthdays, they will state their ages as if they changed on January first. The net result is that there is a 1 to 2 year difference between a Korean’s stated age and an American’s stated age. Perhaps Jenny is confused about her age because she is aware of this. But I doubt it. It’s just kind of her personality.

Caveat: Freaky Ergativity Fetish

What's ergativity?  In the field of linguistics, ergativity is a way for languages' syntactical systems (i.e. grammars) to organize themselves.   It is one of several ways, and contrasts mostly with what might be termed accusativity.  Which is to say, there are ergative features of syntactic systems, and accusative features.   Most languages exhibit a strong leaning toward one system or the other, and to most Westerners, ergativity seems exotic because most European languages are markedly accusative.  One popular counter-example is Basque, which is broadly ergative.  But that's not exactly a widely-spoken European language. 

Ergativity is very hard to explain to people without a lot of background in comparing the grammars of different languages and linguistic features, but here's an effort at an example, drawn from English.

English is mostly accusative.  This means that the subjects of transitive and intransitive verbs are grammatically "the same," while the objects of transitive verbs are "different" from those subjects.   In grammar, in English, subjects come "in front" and objects come "behind."  For example:

The alligator dances the charleston.
The alligator dances.

The alligator, in both examples, is the subject, and, when the verb "dance" is intransitive (the second example), the subject, "The alligator" still shows up in front of the verb, showing it is a subject, not an object.  We cannot give an intransitive verb "only" an object, e.g.  neither of these below make sense (though for basically opposite reasons, one because of syntactic accusativity and one because of semantic accusativity):

*Dances the alligator.
*The charleston dances.

This is "normal" accusative behavior.  But English does have some special verbs, which are "ergative" in terms of how they work.  Consider this:

The alligator broke my pencil.
My pencil broke.

In this case, the "object" of the breaking in the intransitive usage of the verb "promotes" to the subject position, which is now not called the subject position but the ergative position, because in ergative systems, there's not a contrast between subject and object (nominative vs accusative) but rather a contrast between ergative and absolutive. 

I'm sure this seems really strange and hard to understand.  I didn't understand it at all in my intro to linguistics class, and didn't really figure it out until my second semester of syntax (for linguistic majors).  Actually, it's possible I still don't really have it figured out.

Anyway, why am I thinking about this?  I want to know, is Korean ergative?

I know Japanese is largely accusative.   And I'm guessing that Chinese is what's called "split ergative," meaning it can't decide if it's ergative or not.  But what's Korean?  My current guess is that, like along so many other linguistic parameters, it's some kind of outlier… its "own damn thing."   Korean strikes its own path through the linguistic wilderness.  That's part of what draws me to the language.

But what path is that?  Korean has noun case markers (just like, say, Finnish or Latin), but they are clitic (meaning they stand alone as word-particles, much as case markers do in Japanese).  But, unlike anywhere else I've experienced, these case markers can be "stacked."  Which is cool.  You can attach a locative case marker to a noun phrase, and then attach a topic case marker to that.  I saw one like that, earlier today.

In other words, you can make noun phrases play multiple syntactic roles in the sentence simultaneously.  Which is cool.  Worse, of course… all case marking of all sorts in Korean is entirely optional.  You show case when you feel like it.  Mostly, in higher registers and during careful speech, and in writing, of course.   But… with all these case particles floating around like so much syntactic dust, are things ergative or accustive?

 I'm going to investigate….

…그사이에 저는 떡볶이를 먹어요.


Caveat: Cut’n’n’pastin, old-school

My coworker Jenica prints out spreadsheets, and then uses scissors and scotch tape to make them look the way she wants them to.
That’s taking the potentialities of “cutting and pasting” to a whole new level! It’s like… wow.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do the “Ctrl-C… Ctrl-V” thing in real life?

Caveat: Corned Beef Hash

My friend Basil showed me a curious little hole-in-the wall place only a block from where I live that serves American-style "brunch" on Sundays – eggs, hash browns, pancakes, bacon.  All those very American breakfast foods that are so bad for you, but so comforting, too.  "Denny's food," is how I always think of it.

For about 8 dollars (which is very expensive for low-end restaurant food, here), I got corned beef hash, french toast, eggs over easy, two cups of coffee.  It was a nice nostalgia trip, but, for health reasons, not good to make into a habit.  It's a good thing I'm not into going to restaurants alone – that place is too close to be entirely safe.  "LOL."  And… so much for incidental meat, eh?

Anyway, it was cool.  And then he and I spent some time trying to study our Korean.  He's not as far along as I am, which of course is good for my ego, because I get to be knowledgeable and erudite about it, which in fact I'm not.  But, exploiting relative differences, and all that. 

나는 콘비프 해시를 점심 먹었어요.   맛있었어요.  그래서, 지금 행복해요.  잘 지내세요… ^_^ 내일 보겠읍니다.

Caveat: Wobow! Thebey ubuse ubbi dubbi hebere!

Ubbi dubbi is a language game (or “language”) apparently popularized by the PBS TV program ZOOM. Which must be how I learned it – I remember practicing it with my friend Bob (or was it Mark or Ken?) on a number 6 Grand Ave bus in St Paul in the 1980’s, while fellow passengers looked on in bemusement.
Writing it down kind of loses the effect, mostly because of the unphonetic nature of English. Here is a video sample I found on youtube:

I also found an Ubbi Dubbi translator.
Well, I heard my students Amy and Sally using it with each other, the other day. In Korean! And this is actually documented… I found a brief reference to something called 도깨비말 (“ogre language”) in the English wikipedia article on language games.
What was so interesting and amazing to me about hearing it done in Korean is that, stunningly, I found the Korean easier to understand. I think it was because they have to slow down to do it, and it reduplicates the vowels, which are mostly fairly “pure” in Korean (unlike the messy diphthongs so common in English) which makes it easier to pick out which vowel is being used. How did it sound?  Hmm… very briefly, I heard Amy say, for example, 그브래배? (keubeuraebae <= keurae = “is that right?”).   Totally cool.

Caveat: Glish

I was websurfing and found an interesting thing:  Ilan Stavans has translated the first chapter of Don Quixote into a very entertaining Spanglish version.  Here are the first few sentences:

In un placete de La Mancha of which nombre no quiero remembrearme, vivía, not so long ago, uno de esos gentlemen who always tienen una lanza in the rack, una buckler antigua, a skinny caballo y un grayhound para el chase. A cazuela with más beef than mutón, carne choppeada para la dinner, un omelet pa’ los Sábados, lentil pa’ los Viernes, y algún pigeon como delicacy especial pa’ los Domingos, consumían tres cuarers de su income. El resto lo employaba en una coat de broadcloth y en soketes de velvetín pa’ los holidays, with sus slippers pa’ combinar, while los otros días de la semana él cut a figura de los más finos cloths. Livin with él eran una housekeeper en sus forties, una sobrina not yet twenty y un ladino del field y la marketa que le saddleaba el caballo al gentleman y wieldeaba un hookete pa’ podear.

I've always been fascinated by the way that languages mix together.  I have been hyperaware, lately, of the immense amount of Konglish found in my current South Korean environment.  I spend a lot of time reading random signs, websites, and bits of advertising, just to practice, and when I do that, I am stunned by how much of it turns out simply to be English written in Korean hangul.  Some examples from just the other day on the MSN homepage, Korean version:

스페셜 이벤트 = seupesyeul ibenteu (i.e. special event)
스타홀릭 = seutahollik (star-holic i.e. "addicted to celebrities," roughly)

As a language learner, I find all this easy-to-parse verbiage reassuring.  As a student of linguistics more generally, as I already mentioned, I find it fascinating.  But as a sometime critic of neocolonial processes, I sometimes find myself disturbed about it, too.

Anyway, I'm going to try to coin yet another neologism.  "Glish" is the generic name for all the hybrids the globalized neo-colonial enterprise called America is engendering:  Spanglish, Konglish, Franglais, etc. 

Caveat: cute★☆

My student Christina is a big fan of my “alligators” – my collection of toy alligators that sometimes accompany me to class to give us something to talk about, etc. During the break between classes the other day, she was taking portraits of all of the toys with her cellphone camera. And she text-messaged one of the pictures to me, today. The accompanying description line on the cellphone message was “cute★☆” Here it is.

Caveat: My Life as Colonel Sanders

I was going to write about this yesterday, while on the topic of my new haraboji look, but I didn't finish.

My feelings were hurt, recently, by a colleague.  Indirectly… her comment was actually reported to me by some students.  And it doesn't really matter:  the actual comment was quite some time ago, I imagine, and the teacher making the comments has now completed her contract at LBridge and departed.

The background:  KFC is a popular fast food chain in South Korea, and, just as in the States, the Colonel is the ubiquitous advertising mascot.  But because of the fact of his being elderly and iconically European-American, he ends up being a kind of caricature stand-in for all older Westerners.  Just as it seems vaguely racist and definitely culturally narrow to say of Asians "they all look the same," it's not unheard of in Korean society to just say that all older Western males are "that KFC guy."  And that, apparently, is what this other teacher said of me, to her students.  Repeatedly.

I didn't have much interaction with the colleague in question.  She didn't seem exceptionally interested in interacting with any of her coworkers, as a matter of fact.  But I will note that I always noticed she had a great rapport with her students, and they really seemed to like her, so I felt a strong level of respect for her, from a distance.

One thing I've learned, over these last few years teaching, is that you have to be very careful about the sorts of things you say about fellow teachers and other adults to the children – they will tend to magnify what they have heard, and most certainly they will internalize it if they find it entertaining or interesting or funny.  Having a colleague make that remark to her students about one of the token foreigners at LBridge is kind of a case study into how these unpleasant cultural stereotypes are perpetuated and reinforced.

Anyway… my personal observation is, I don't really like being called "that KFC guy" to my students behind my back, and it hurt my feelings.  But there's not a lot I can do about it, except try to prove by example that such cultural stereotypes are inappropriate and inaccurate.  So… 아자아자화이팅!

Caveat: More haraboji than before

I got my hair cut over the weekend.  And my students were quick to notice.  One student, Zina (she of the musical performance) said, "but teacher… you are more haraboji than before!"  Haraboji (할아버지) means grandfather, so her meaning was rather obvious:  she meant it made me look older.  Oh well.  You win some, you lose some.

Having gray hair in this youth-obsessed culture is a double-sided thing.  On the one hand, I probably get treated more respectfully than many foreigners do, given the xenophobic edges of Korean society, because of the traditional "respect" due to elders.  But on the other hand, people find it incomprehensible, for example, that I don't make an effort to dye my hair.  No self-respecting forty-something Korean would allow gray hair to show.   It's not just strange, to Koreans — it's impossible.  I must be older than I say I am.  

I we were talking about appearances and self-image in one of my classes the other day, and I said something along the lines of "so, how can we improve our self-confidence about our appearance?"  It was a slightly rhetorical question, to which I didn't expect a response (nor did I have one, myself, really).  But Sydney raised her hand immediately and blurted out, "Plastic surgery?"  In all seriousness, even.  Although Sydney does have an odd sense of humor, the fact that such an answer was on the tip of her tongue must indicate something about this culture.

In the news, today, Kim Jong-il was reelected, just north of here.  Really?  How shocking is that!

No Title

this blog post is directly from my cellphone.  note ad£¬below.  aint technology wonderful?

ÈÞ´ëÆù¿¡¼­ ¹ß½ÅµÇ¾î ȸ½Å ºÒ°¡ÇÑ ¸ÞÀÏÀÔ´Ï´Ù.
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º» ¸ÞÀÏÀº ¹ß½Å Àü¿ë¸ÞÀÏÀ̸ç ȸ½ÅµÇÁö ¾Ê½À´Ï´Ù.
ȸ½ÅÀ» ¿øÇÏ½Ç °æ¿ì ÇÚµåÆù ¶Ç´Â Show »çÀÌÆ®ÀÇ SMS³ª MMS¸¦ ÀÌ¿ëÇϽñ⠹ٶø´Ï´Ù.

[below, added Monday night 2009-03-09]
I posted this as a test of the possibilities. I like that it’s possible. I’m disappointed that, since the Korean character-encoding is non-Unicode, it shows up as gobbledygook – but that’s my Korean cell-carrier’s fault, not my bloghost’s.
I wonder if posting html would work? I might experiment with that…
Other features that my bloghost could provide, in the “nice-to-have” category:
* turn the first line of the email into the title
* some indication that it was posted using SMS/email rather than from the website (e.g., that could show up instead of the uninformative “no title”)
* alternately, the ability to configure the above sorts of functionalities on the preferences page

Caveat: 그렇지?

I’ve been pondering the issue of whether or not I’m a Koreophile: I actually don’t think I am. When it comes to matters cultural, I think I may be more of a Japanophile (not to mention Hispanophile) than a Koreophile. Not that there aren’t a great number of similarities between Japanese and Korean cultures, as much as both sides would love to convince themselves and the world that there are none – as much as they despise each other, they’re linked by common history and proximity, rather like two annoying neighbors in a sitcom (but with more genocide). And I should perhaps consider the possibility that I would feel less fondness for Japanese culture (and more corresponding fondness for Korean culture) if I actually spent some time immersed in Japan, to provide a more authentic basis for comparison. It’s always easier to like something from a distance, from the outside.
Still, as a trained and passionate linguist, separately I keep my interest in and passion for languages in general. Also, I reserve a special passion for specific languages that seem exceptionally beautiful, elegant, interesting or unique to me in some way. Thus, although I may think I actually have a greater interest in Japanese culture than Korean culture, I find the Korean language much more interesting than Japanese. It would be difficult to explain why. Perhaps as a matter of comparison, I could reflect that although, because of my time in Latin America and my graduate work, I have a special fondness for and interest in Hispanic culture, I actually consider both French and Portuguese to be more interesting and beautiful languages than Spanish, as languages in themselves.  In summary, I like languages for different reasons than I like cultures. Possibly, my feelings for specific languages are stronger than my feelings for specific cultures, too.  Regrettably, it doesn’t make it any easier to get good at them.
Notes for Korean
그렇지 = indeed
그렇지? = is that so?
약속=appointment, date, promise
d받다=receive…  a helping verb, seems to make a kind of passive
AV+[ㄴ/는]다고 is for indirect reported declarative speech with a descriptive verb (non-terminative)
V+고 있다 is continuous (progressive)

Caveat: Thank You, Flashing Neon Octopus

It was a rather disappointing day, I'm afraid.  I was supposed to go to a 돌잔치 (which is a baby's first birthday, a very big deal in Korean culture) of a coworker's baby.  I was planning to go with another coworker, Jenica, but at the last minute, she bailed.  But she was the one who knew how to get there.  I tried calling another coworker, Christine, who also knew where it was, but couldn't reach her.  I suppose, if I'd been a bit more persistent about it, I could have gotten Jenica to give me directions that I could have used, to go on my own, but I was also not sure about the managing the cultural intricacies in solo mode.  So I wimped out, and then felt bad about that.

I went downtown, and spent a very long time book browsing, in Youngpoong and Bandi&Luni's bookstores.   I bought a few magazines, but the Economist, my main weekly staple, was still stuck on last week's edition, which I bought last week.   I got an overpriced New Yorker magazine, instead, and yet another Korean vocab book to add to my collection of Korean textbooks that see too little use. 

I was feeling depressed.  I wandered around aimlessly for a while, and then I saw a flashing neon octopus.  And I thought to myself:  I still like Korea, despite everything.  So I smiled.

I went into a Starbucks and ordered a 까페라떼하고 양파배글 (kkaperattehago yangpabaegeul = caffe latte and onion bagel), and studied Korean for a few hours. 

Then I came home to Ilsan, and went into a hole-in-the-wall spot in the first floor of my building, that I've never visited before, and ordered some take-out bibimbap for a late dinner.  It was a linguistic triumph!  And then I came upstairs to my little home.   I listened to Abba and Depeche Mode and cleaned my floor.

Thank you, flashing neon octopus, for restoring my sense of perspective.  How did you do it?

Caveat: Think stupid. Get it stuck!

Today is blazingly bright, clear, sunny, windy, cold. It is just above freezing, probably, and the air is unusually damp, not like the normal cold, dry wind that comes with such clear days.  It was raining yesterday, and today, puddles sparkle and you hear birds singing, and you can smell the pines.
For some reason the smell of the pines brings back strong, vivid memories of December, 1990.
I had completed MOS (occupational, or “advanced”) training to be an Army mechanic, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  But the top 15 graduates of the MOS class were retained for an additional month of “recovery specialist” field training, and I was one of them.  As the first gulf war was winding up with terrifying speed in Kuwait, our little platoon lived in two tents in the South Carolina woods for that month of December.
HEMTT_Wrecker_and_Cargo It was cold and damp but often sunny in the afternoons, and we alternated between simulated infantry/combat type situations and vehicle recovery operations (basically, “how to drive and operate a giant green tow truck”).  I was really bad at the infantry work… whenever I was in charge of my squad, I tended to make grave tactical errors and/or proved too cautious.  But I was very good at vehicle recovery.
One day, our training sergeant had us lined up one bright morning, when the weather was exactly like it was this morning walking to work.  As a reward for something I’d accomplished, he said, “Way [remember, in the Army, you have no first name], I want you to take that vehicle out into the swamp and get it stuck.”  He gestured at one of the two HEMTT’s our training unit had.  This was a rare privilege.
I climbed into the cab, the sergeant got in as shotgun.  I fired it up, and we drove it out into the swamp.  These are not easy vehicles to “get stuck.”  They are 8-wheel-drive, with the first two pairs of wheels linked to the hydraulic steering system.  The tires are at least 4 feet in diameter.  We scooted it back and forth in the muck, and the sergeant yelled at me if I got too timid.  “Don’t be too smart, Way.  Think stupid.  Get it stuck!”
Finally, the front end resting in the water to a depth that covered the top of the front tires and was seeping into the cab, we had it completely immobilized, all eight wheels spinning and throwing up massive quantities of mud.  “Damn good,” muttered the sergeant.
And we spent the rest of the day with winches and two tow trucks, getting the thing out. Those were my best days in the Army.

Caveat: The Line 3 Show

seoul subway.  the old lady got on at apgujeong.  she had two enormous duffel bags strapped onto a dilapidated two-wheel baggage cart, with some plastic bags on top.  it was almost as tall as she was.  it fell down on the floor of the subway car.  one of the metal pieces of the baggage cart's frame had broken, and she was struggling to improvise a way to connect the two ends, separated by 10 cm of bulging black duffel.  she had a jar of something… and was pounding on one end, while trying to hold down the bulge.  a tiny, well-dressed woman began to help… then a kind-looking man in a brown suit jacket got involved… then a tall man in a nylon pale green ski jacket started helping too, and he was talking in soft, gentle tones to the frustrated old woman.  here in the vast city, these people were showing a unwonted kindness to the old woman, and to each other.  others looked on:  in bemusement, amusement, or sheer pleasure at seeing such an odd drama unfolding.  various solutions to the problem of the separated metal parts were tried, one after the other.  people were offering advice or suggestions… it was so interesting.  there was a point when the problem seemed solved.  i exchanged grins with the kind-looking man in the brown suit jacket.  but it was a false finish.  the woman began tugging her cart, and the pieces separated again.  second round… the man in the ski jacket used a key from the key-ring attached to his cellphone to widen the aperture of one of the rusted metal ends of the cart, and successfully forced the metal part in, again.  the small well-dressed woman sat forcefully on the bulging pile, to get the two ends closer together.  the old woman pounded on the bottom end with her jar, while the kind-looking man held things in place.  at last, the cart seemed well-fixed, again.  they stood it upright, while the entire subway car barely refrained from breaking out in applause.

Caveat: Silent Regrets

No, it’s not what it looks like – it’s not another melancholy post.
Rather, “Silent Regrets” is the name of a website I go to to find downloads of Korean TV shows and movies that have been subtitled in English.  It’s the best place I’ve found for that sort of thing. Recently, I finally got around to finishing 옥탑방 고양이 (“Rooftop Cat”) and started something new called 밤이면 밤마다 (“When It’s at Night”). Not sure how I like this new one.
I’ve also downloaded and watched a few episodes of a Taiwanese TV show called “Silence.” Not sure if I like it or not… and it’s harder to justify sticking with it, since I don’t feel the same pressing need to use something like a TV show to improve my nonexistent Chinese, as opposed to my glacially improving Korean. But anyway.  I thought I’d put a little plug for the website… it’s nice that someone provides the aggregating service for the fansubbed Asian movies and TV shows.

Caveat: some reason

As I noted here, before, I had a very bad day last Friday.  I had a bad day for two main reasons. 

The first reason was more typical emptyheadedness from the management here.  But that sort of unpleasantness is a) par for the course, and b) easily forgotten — it's not hard to move on from that, whether because of habit or because it just isn't that big a deal.

The second reason had more sticking power, because it came from a student.  Mostly, I think I have a pretty good rapport with my students, but sometimes I make mistakes, either in how I interact with them (too lenient, too firm), or in how I attempt to engage their attention.  The problem last Friday falls under the former.  I was obviously too hard on a student, and it had an impact on her.  Unlike most students, though, E__ is good about expressing her feelings.  She gave me the following note, which I transcribe verbatim, errors and all.  I feel really badly about it all.  She was (is) one of my favorite students, but now she's dropped out of L-Bridge.  Was it because me?  At least partly…  here's the note.

To Jared
Hello?  I'm E___.  I wrote this letter because of some reason.
First, I can't see you on next semester.  Then, you will not have like me, the rude student.  I like this L-Bridge, but I've been in this for 3 years.  So, I think I'll come in any, but next semester, I'll not come.  Second, I've many mistake then every teacher said it is ok.  But, in last last debate, I got mistake but you didn't say anything except you did a bad job.  I suggest, I don't want that and every students will have stress, like me.  So, please do not do that!  It hurts me.  Don't show this letter to other teacher.  Thanks alot in this semester.  Bye!  – From E___.

Caveat: 지구를 지켜라 : 100살 모기 소송사건

On Saturday afternoon, I went to see a musical. More accurately, it was a children’s rock musical about global warming. The title was “지구를 지켜라 : 100살 모기 소송사건” (roughly: “Care for the Earth: The 100 year-old mosquito lawsuit”). I’m not sure if it’s the mosquito that’s 100 years old, or the lawsuit. Or both?
I went because one of my students, Zina, was in it. I understood only bits and pieces, of course. But basically, a bunch of children dressed as humans and various sorts of animals appeared to be debating the global warming situation on stage, and would occasionally burst into song and dance. It was awesome. It combined my love of watching things I don’t understand, with my interest in seeing my students perform and my interest in stage performances of all kinds. Not to mention the eco-angle.
I tried to take some pictures, but most of them didn’t come out so well. Here’s one with Zina on the far right, gesturing skyward.
I don’t think of her as particularly tall, but she was the tallest-but-one in the cast. Everything being relative, when you’re a fifth-grader, I suppose.
I bought the CD, after the show. Some of the tunes were pretty catchy. I wish I could figure out how to post a music track here. Maybe I’ll work on that.

Caveat: The Police State

I went into downtown Seoul yesterday evening. Sometimes it seems that Seoul is occupied buy roving tribes of riot police with nothing to do.
You ask yourself: so… where’s the riot? Of course, political riots are to South Korea what Apple Pie is to America. That means, lots of times, the riot police are bound to find something to do. Messy democracy, and all that.
Mostly, I try to avoid the riots. Seems like the prudent thing to do. All I saw yesterday, though, were random platoons of riot police marching to and fro.
The attitude barometer, special end-of-term edition:
* Number of students who have quit L-Bridge where I suspect I’m part of the reason:  1
* Number of times I’ve opened my resignation letter and edited it:  1
* Barrier-surpassing moments of Korean-language usage (outside of work only):  2
* Spirit-destroying moments of Korean-language communication breakdown (outside of work only):  1
* Number of students that have said something to the effect of “teacher, you’re so funny” while fighting off an apoplectic fit of giggles:  2
* Number of times I’ve told someone that I am “much happier than when I was in L.A.”:  3
* Number of times I really meant it (as opposed to the “fake it till I make it” approach I’m fond of): 0
* Days I was late to work this week:  2
* Total number of minutes I was late, minus total number of minutes I showed up early:  -10
Dead Kennedys
Velvet Acid Christ
Ruby Zoom
Carl Orff
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Cold War Kids
Paul Oakenfold

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