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It was time for the quarterly review with my DSA mentor yesterday. The only thing I said of any interest was that because of her encouragement to take enough breaks, to plan them into my schedule, I'm realizing just how terrible I am at relaxing or resting. To the point where I genuiniely wouldn't count on myself to recognize those things. I tend to keep myself as busy as possible for as long as I can, and then I crash and stay in my pajamas playing games on my phone while watching stuff I've already seen on Netflix. Because my brain has associated depression and procrastination with most leisure activities available to me -- reading, movies, music, casual games, some kinds of exercise -- I can find myself thinking of them as things to be dreaded rather than enjoyed and I go through big phases of not doing any of them because I've made them too stressful for myself. Bigger ones like holidays aren't available to me because of cost, Andrew's unwillingness to do them, and my finding that planning a holiday just sounds like another thing to manage so I don't do it.

My mentor has been encouraging me to take and even plan breaks in when she asks me about my upcoming week. This has been suggested since my second mentor (I remember he always used to advise taking an hour off a day, a day off a week, and a week off every three months. I can't even imagine a week off. The only weeks I get away from my normal life are to go see my family, which is the furthest thing from "off"! But this guy lived it; he would only meet me on one day of the week and he was always talking about holidays he was planning or had just been on. He was in his fifties and his life felt very distant from me.)

So this morning a friend shared an article about beating procrastination< by scheduling all the fun stuff and letting the work fit in around it. Like every procrastination-beating technique, it won't work for everyone and it might not work at all, but it certainly intrigued me after what I'd been thinking about yesterday. And I do find I do well with this kind of thing: "I want to go out to the pub with my friends tonight so I need to work on this essay now." "I might have a date tomorrow so I want to get this work finished today."

It works really well for me: I still remember once last year when I had some uni thing that I needed to do, and it felt huge and difficult and in the afternoon I was staring down the prospect of working on it the rest of the day. Em J texted me and asked if I wanted to come over and see her and Stuart, I said give me an hour or two, and did all the work then that I'd thought would take me all day, and got to spend a nice evening with some of my favorite people.

I hoped this would work for me today because it's Games Night tonight, and I have a lot of uni work to do. But I've wasted the morning. I'm so intimidated by this project -- a known reason for procrastination is just not wanting to do something or worrying you won't be good at it. When of course I won't be any bloody good at if I don't get some work done on it this weekend, before the busy-ness of lectures and oh yeah I've got a job interview on Thursday (day before this is due) sets in.

Another tactic for fighting procrastination seems to be self-compassion -- like this article says, the idea that procrastination is a mental health issue is becoming increasingly mainstream. So even if I don't think I'm worth compassion, I can tell myself that it's more efficient in overcoming the procrastination and actually bloody getting somewhere with my work, heh.
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One of the Audible recommendations for me this month was a book Stuart loves and talked to me about a lot when he was reading it. I didn't want that for my book this month, but I wasn't sure what I did want.

I saw the recommendation because I was browsing rather than getting something from my wish list as I usually do. I haven't finished all the books I do have yet and the ones on the list are all pretty heavy in one way or another, so I wasn't in the mood for more of that just yet when this month's credit ticked over. But I didn't want anything too frivolous either. I like to pick something where I feel like I benefit from the format: less substantial books are easier for me to get through in print. I wasn't quite sure what would fit my idiosyncratic standards right now.

Thinking of that book I so associate with Stuart, which he wants to lend me once he gets it back from his friend he's already lent it to, made me think of another book he actually has lent me: Bruce Springsteen's autobiography (after we watched Springsteen on Broadway that one time). I'm so excited to read it, but it's a big book and it's hardcover too which is just always more awkward for me... I thought I'd see if Audible had it.

They did. Read by the author, even. I got it.

I can see why Springsteen on Broadway made Stuart think of this: some of the stories are taken from it and the beginning, that "DNA..." bit, is verbatim. And since he's reading it himself, it's just like the Broadway show except without the songs.

But I've been listening to a lot of them on my phone anyway -- to the point that this afternoon when I could hear the flat above us playing "Born in the U.S.A." so loudly I could hear the words from here, and then went into some other song I couldn't place but also sounded like him singing, I had to check my phone to see if it'd spontaneously started playing one of the Spotify playlists I've been mainlining lately. (Spotify wouldn't stop playing once last week, even when I'd not only tried to pause it by two or three of the usual methods but tried closing the app altogether (and yes that was during a Springsteen playlist too, it was on "Prove It All Night"). I was about to go into a meeting so I had to restart my damn phone to get it to stop. So it didn't seem beyond the realm of possibility that my Spotify app is haunted, especially if it's a ghost that wants to listen to more of The Boss.)

He's a good writer: the book is immersing me. Usually I listen to books on my commutes and stuff but here I'm so captivated I'm not always paying enough attention to the bus stops. This morning I woke up too early and laid in the dark for a couple of hours with his voice in my ears, and I felt like he was an old friend by the time I opened the blinds and made myself some tea -- and we're still only up to The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle! (To translate for less-obsessed people, that's his second album, he's still in his early twenties.) There's still so much book to go; I'm worried that by the end I'll want to marry him.
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Four fucking years now we've had to not have Terry Pratchett around at all.

I am constantly re-reading his books though: I'm on Unseen Academicals now, which I don't think I've read since it was new. I have thought a lot about Glenda ever since, though. "Sometimes if you wanted to go to the ball you had to be your own fairy godmother," indeed.
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This is an old blog post about an even older story (Holly's linkblogs: never knowingly relevant!) but I just read it the other day and found it really striking.
To preserve as many scraps of the dying language as possible, linguists have taken Esenç to Oslo and to Paris, where he has been four times. Others have trooped rutted tracks to the farm village of Haci Osman where the last of the Ubykh speakers lives in a hut with a dirt floor. Mr. Esenç became the primary source of not only the Ubykh language, but also of the mythology, culture and customs of the Ubykh people. To elucidate some of the puzzling features of the language, Mr. Esenç even allowed himself to be X-rayed while articulating. One interesting issue raised by the necessity of working with just one speaker of the language is whether his way of speaking is representative of the language in general or is peculiar to him alone. In the case of Mr. Esenç, it turned out that he was a purist, and therefore his idiolect of Ubykh (i.e. personal way of speaking) is considered by some as the closest thing to a standard “literary” Ubykh language that existed.
That consonant inventory! (This bit's a little technical but I wanted to copy it for my own admiration as much as anything, but I can try to explain if people want.)
It has consonants in at least eight, perhaps nine, basic places of articulation, distinguishing for example alveolar, post-alveolar, alveolo-palatal and retroflex affricates and fricatives. It also distinguishes plain, palatalized and labialized stops and fricatives. Its sound inventory contains 29 distinct fricatives, 27 sibilants, 20 uvulars and 3 different l-sounds, more than any other documented language. Ubykh also has the most disproportional ratio of phonemic consonants to vowels (though analyses of different scholars produce different vowel phoneme counts). Thus, as John Colarusso remarked, “any rigorous account of human phonetic perceptual capacity will have to take into account this precious marvel, Ubykh”. And luckily some of it is now recorded on Georges Dumézil’s file cards, on tape and in those X-ray images of Mr. Esenç. (You can hear some sample Ubykh sound files here.)
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I get an Audible book credit every month. Last month I got a book called Starlight Detectives, which is about nineteenth and early twentieth century development of photography and better telescopes and other technology. It hugely increased astronomical knowledge, like figuring out what stars are made of and that galaxies are moving away from each other. Because professional astronomers weren't interested in more than naked-eye stuff for a long time (like their job was just to catalog stars so they could be used for maritime navigation), it was left to amateurs to develop and work on this stuff. So you hear about a lot of "inventors and eccentrics," as the subtitle puts it, or white men as I think of them. Mostly they kinda blurred together for me, but it was still an interesting book.

With one flaw: I am very picky about audiobook narrators, and this one seemed okay in the sample you can get before you buy it, but that hid his habit of putting on terrible accents when reading quotes. This is a non-fiction book; it's not like voices had to be distinguished from each other! And since the narrator was American (he was very good at Boston accents!) and a lot of the people were British, they came out sounding vaguely Australian. It was not good.

And this month I picked a book about NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto (and beyond!). I am hoping for less white men in a modern astronomical story.

I'm not too far into this one yet, but I have detected a flaw with this narrator as well! He's one of the writers, he's definitely American, but he's trying hard not to say "Pluto" like an American. He is saying "plu-toe," really hitting that t because I think he doesn't want to say it the normal American way with that alveolar tap I love so much. Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind how anybody says "Pluto," I just don't like the emphasis he seems to be putting on it in order to say it a way that seems unnatural to him. I think it's unnatural because not only does it sound weird but he doesn't always do it. Whenever he says /ˈpluːroʊ/ I want to applaud and cheer a little to encourage him to do it more.

But since it's a book about Pluto I expect to hear /pluːˈtoʊ/ about fifteen million more times.
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I am a huge fan of Seamus Heaney's Beowulf translation. When it came out, I was at peak "I will never be able to study this properly again so I want to remind myself why I love it," so I bought it. The book came with a CD (of the modern English, read by Seamus Heaney himself), and I've listened to that more than I've read the book. Annoying since I was particularly excited to get in this translation by a favorite poet something I'd always wanted anyway: layout with Old English on one side of the open book and modern English on the other.

Turns out I've been missing other good stuff he had to say about it, from the introduction, which I saw linked here.

First there's "so." I love 'so.'  )

But what I really came here to talk about was thole. When that tumblr poster put up the screenshot with (part of) what I've just quoted here, another called it "the exact moment I feel for Heaney’s Beowulf. You know. From the first word." Another said the single word that made them love it was even earlier, also in that introduction, and it's thole. Or þolian. Heaney explains:
What happened was that I found in the glossary to C. L Winn's edition of the poem the Old English word meaning 'to suffer,' the word þolian; and although at first it looked completely strange with its thorn symbol instead of the familiar th, I gradually realized that it was not strange at all, for it was the word that older and less educated people would have used in the country when I grew up. 'They'll just have to learn to thole,' my aunt would say about some family who had suffered through an unforseen bereavement. And now suddenly here was 'thole' in the official textual world, mediated through the apparatus of a scholarly edition, a little bleeper to remind me that my aunt's language was not just a self-enclosed family possession but an historical heritage, one that involved the journey þolian had made north into Scotland and then across unto Ulster with the planters, and then across from the planters to the locals who had originally spoken Irish, and then farther across again when the Scots Irish emigrated to the American South in the eighteenth century. When I read in John Crowe Ransom the line, 'Sweet ladies, long may ye bloom, and toughly I hope ye may thole,' my heart lifted again, the world widened, something was furthered. The far-flungness of the word, the phenomenological pleasure of finding it variously transformed by Ransom's modernity and Beowulf's venerability made me feel vaguely something for which again I only found the words years later. What I was experiencing as I kept meeting up with thole on its multi-cultural odyssey was the feeling that Osip Madelstam once defined as a 'nostalgia for world culture.' And this was a nostalgia I didn't even know I suffered until I experienced its fulfillment in this little epiphany. It was as if, on the analogy of baptism by desire, I had undergone something like illumination by philology. And even though I did not know it at the time, I had by then reached the point where I was ready to translate Beowulf. Þolian had opened my right of way.
Beowulf is impossible for modern people to read without special study, but still there are these threads connecting it to us, and we are lucky to have people like Seamus Heaney to show us how. The world widened, something was furthered, indeed: thanks to him, a thousand-year-old Germanic saga is being talked about on Tumblr.
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"Flicking the v's at you!" Andrew just said to his book. He was doing it too, of course.

He's reading a history of western philosophy (he's been ranting to me for a while now about what a dick Rouseeau is) and the sentence that inspired this reaction was something like "John Stuart Mill is not quite in the first rank of philosophers."

Andrew, a good Liberal, might be said to disagree with this, heh.
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The Doctor is a traveller in time and space.
my friend Alex writes. So far, so totally normal for me. I've been hearing about Doctor Who since my second visit to the UK started the week after the show re-started in 2005 (and I got to watch "Rose" because the friend I was staying with had taped it on her VCR; that's how long ago 2005 is).

But then!
She goes anywhere she likes...
Now that did something to me. Like going to gigs to listen to Stuart's otherwise-all-female band, like watching new Ghostbusters or Ocean's Eight or Wonder Woman. I never adequately take into account how affecting I find it when men are not the default. As the least feeling-like-a-woman of all the women I know, I never expect seeing women as main characters will make feel any different but it absolutely does.

And I feel that same kind of way -- somehow more excited and more settled at the same time -- when I read a paragraph calling this character "she." In all the time I've been in the UK, I've been hearing about the Doctor, but I'd never heard the Doctor called "she" before. And he wasn't just talking about characteristics of this Doctor -- she's blonde, she has a West Yorkshire accent -- Alex was saying this about traits that'd always been associated with the Doctor.
She goes anywhere she likes, from Earth’s past, present and future to alien worlds and stranger places still. She respects life rather than authority, and obeys no-one else’s rules. She lives by her own joy in exploring new places and times, and by her own moral sense to fight oppression. She prefers to use her intelligence rather than violence, and she takes friends with her to explore the wonders of the Universe.
I shared Alex's post in a tweet where I tried to cram in what a big deal the she/her pronouns were for me, and when he saw it he was good enough to share a bit of the thinking that'd gone into what he'd written about this.
I always wanted to do the Doctor as 'she' because all the versions have been simply about the current one. I did think carefully about 'they' for the Doctors in general, but we're always talking about the current one as if she's all of them, because she is, so why change that?
Some friends of mine had a thoughtful discussion about this, particularly about "they," after we saw the first episode last Sunday night. I found myself instinctively reacting against "they," for reasons I couldn't articulate, but other people could manage it and what they said definitely resonated.

In the case of a Doctor, a single person who keeps changing bodies, the "they" could add some confusion if it's mistaken for a plural -- all those faces. "They" could also sound like the compromise of someone who's not quite on board with the (bizarrely contentious) notion of a woman being the Doctor. And most importantly of all, the Doctor has never, in any of her incarnations, expressed any indication of being non-binary or using they pronouns. She seems surprised but not misgendered when Yaz calls her a woman, and later refers to the clothes she needs to buy as "women's clothes."

Alex included several quotes in his blog post, from "Doctor Who people" as he calls them -- writers, the current and previous Doctors, etc. Alex changed the pronouns in the quotes [all but Verity Lambert's, which is definitely about the First Doctor] and he told me,
I decided they were the exact quotes even when I was changing them, and took especial license (and pleasure) with Terrance Dicks' words because I suspect he'd disapprove.
And some of the differences were about more than pronouns. One bit of that Terrance Dicks quote now reads "The Doctor believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, she is someone of peace. She is never cruel or cowardly." And about this Alex said the loveliest thing of all:
It was difficult because it was the only bit where I had to do more than change the he and him: "he is a man of peace." I chiselled at that for a while: "a woman of peace" didn't scan for me, "person" for the same reason and also ducking the gender, and so on. I left it highlighted and came back later with "someone of peace," which isn't quite right, but seemed to have the same flow saying it aloud, and I felt that was important, like translating poetry.
There's more I could say about this Doctor now that we've seen her first story, but what was meant to be a little aside/introduction about her pronouns has grown into so many words I don't want to add any more to it, so maybe I'll write about the episode another time. Maybe even before there's another one! But maybe not.
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...maybe you'd benefit from it or be interested in it, too.

I berate myself a lot for being lazy. My depression always tells me it doesn't really exist and I'm just lazy. I compare myself to ideals of productivity and efficiency and am more vicious to myself when I inevitably fall short than I'd accept from anyone else towards me

I've read something about laziness being an ableist concept, but this blog post develops and articulates the powerful thesis behind that.
When I don’t use the word “lazy,” I am more likely to notice the actual causes of someone avoiding responsibilities, and I am less likely to spend lots of emotional energy seething about how they or I are/am a bad horrible person who deserves to be hated forever.

New book

Jul. 9th, 2018 11:36 pm
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It's new Audible-credit time! (My subscription gets me a credit for one book every month.) I don't know what I want!

I just finished Black and British, I've barely started the Chernow Hamilton biography (I'm still in events covered in the overture!) and I haven't quite finished A Distant Mirror.

I think maybe something shorter/lighter is called for. But what?
hollymath: (G)
I can't tell you how delighted linguists are that they've got their own version of That Dress. They've got a reason to talk to people about formants! I think this is the most fun the profession has had in interacting with the world since Arrival!

Whatever you hear, if you're interested at all in it I can really recommend Language Log's post on the sound that might be "yanny" and might be "laurel."

It starts by taking people really gently through some stuff that I've actually just started to learn, about the sounds involved in speech and how to read a spectrogram. (Handily I have my phonology/phonetics exam on Monday, so reading all the layperson-targeted articles about yanny/laurel totally counts as studying, right?)

Then it gets a bit eldritch.
You see some faint stripes that look like lighter-gray formants at those higher frequencies. Those shouldn't be there. Humans can't produce those
I heard the higher-frequency formant sequences when I first listened to this signal two hours ago and thought that they maybe were someone talking in the background. Then I thought "ERMERGERD, IT'S THE AUDIO VERSION OF THE RING.
It's not really a Lovecraftian madness-inducer, and as far as I know a girl isn't going to crawl out of your speakers and kill you for listening. But it is pretty weird.

It's a lovely blogpost, the best thing I've read on Language Log in a long time. Since a lot of you will understandably not care enough to read it, though, I just wanted to quote a couple of the notes at the end:
Speech is hard to understand. We might naively think it's easy to understand because we use it all the time (at least, folks who communicate in the oral/aural modalities do). Speech acoustics (and acoustics in general) are, in my thinking, not intuitive. Moreover, this body of knowledge doesn't build on other bodies of knowledge that most people have. When you learn about language in school, it's mostly about written language, not spoken. That's not me being snotty, but rather me saying that it must be hard to write about this kind of information for a broad audience, because it's three layers removed from what most people think about daily. Even disentangling the types of frequencies ('what is the lowest-frequency tuning fork?' vs. 'what are the frequencies of the loudest tuning forks?') takes a little bit of a conceptual leap. One of the reasons why speech is such a neat phenomenon is because there is so much work to be done still at the ground level. I hope that this phenomenon will inspire people to think more about speech science, experimental phonetics, and the nascent field called 'laboratory phonology'. Good places to start looking for work on these topics are www.acousticalsociety.org and www.labphon.org.
as someone whose primary job is to train people to be speech-language pathologists, consider this. Did you find listening to this audio sample maddeningly hard? Welcome to the daily world of people for whom speech perception is not always automatic. This includes people with even mild hearing loss, people with subtle auditory perception and processing problems that are associated with various learning disabilities (developmental language disorder, speech sound disorder, dyslexia, autism spectrum conditions), and even new second-language learners. The frustration that you might have felt listening to this signal is what many of these folks face on a daily basis when listening to something as seemingly simple as trying to identify speech in the presence of background noise. Turn your frustration into empathy and advocacy for those folks. Learn more at www.asha.org, and support your local speech-language pathologists and audiologists!
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when you’ve spent much of your first decade of adulthood in another country, exposed to another dominant variety of English, the "tune" of your voice is often the very first element to get sucked into the vortex. It’s often, in fact, the sole element, no matter how hard you’re trying, at a micro level, to hold on for dear life to your original vowels and consonants.
Fucking tell me about it.

I don't know who Alex Turner is really, or why people think he sounds like an old cowboy, but I read this article anyway and I'm glad I did.

I like the way the linguist is refuting the notion that this person "he now hates Britain and wishes he was Johnny Cash." She clearly doesn't think he sounds very American at all and that to the extent that he does it isn't likely to be an affectation. But she's pretty nice about saying so.

I think it's a shame really that the extent to which people's accents do or don't change is perceived as a big, deliberate thing, a political statement or something, when actually it's something that happens mostly unconsciously (to the extent that we're pretty bad at consciously attempting to change, for the most part).

My accent has changed more than I'd like; it doesn't fit my politics (which are much more egalitarian than that: I refuse to believe that any dialect is inherently "better" than any other but here I am conforming to local norms despite myself) but it happened anyway. I think a lot of the time we're not saying it's better for him to sound like to sound like Johnny Cash or for me to sound like, I don't know, Shaun Ryder; we're just not able to hold on to our original vowels and consonants.
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I've just re-read an M.R. James story called "The Diary of Mr. Poynter" (you can read it here if you want) and am amused by something that's occurred to me.

The real horror of this story, and what I remembered about it, isn't the fairly random and quickly-sketched monster that appears at the end, but the much more detail and time given to the protagonist being told off by his aunt*, him having to politely host houseguests he doesn't want, and most of all his obligation to shop for carpets, chairs, paint, wallpaper and everything for a new house.

I remember Ramsey Campbell, at the M.R. James conference in Leeds, praising "a rounded something" (the first we hear of the actual monster in the story) as a good line, and it's not bad, but it's nothing like as horrifying as the prospect of being scolded at length about chintzes.

* She seems surprisingly good at articulating emotional labor, though of course she doesn't have that name for it:
"I do think, James, when I am taking all this trouble for you, you might contrive to remember the one or two things which I specially begged you to see after. It’s not as if I was asking it for myself. I don’t know whether you think I get any pleasure out of it, but if so I can assure you it’s very much the reverse. The thought and worry and trouble I have over it you have no idea of, and you have simply to go to the shops and order the things."
And then,
"Then on Saturday we have friends, as you know, coming for tennis. Yes, indeed, you spoke of asking them yourself, but, of course, I had to write the notes, and it is ridiculous, James, to look like that. We must occasionally be civil to our neighbours: you wouldn’t like to have it said we were perfect bears."
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And still the plight of migrants and their families doesn’t resonate with the British public as loudly as it should. I have heard the argument that no one has a right to settlement in a country that is not their country of birth many times. But other than in asylum cases or when people are joining family members, it is often the case that a life in the UK just develops organically. Sudan, where I am from, is in my bones, but the UK is where I had built a life just by virtue of the time I spent here. Via study and work, relationships and just the day-to-day of living, an investment is made in the country that you do not wish to unwind. Is that not, at its heart, what integration is? Is that not, allegedly, the Holy Grail? Satbir Singh, having won the right to bring his wife to the UK after the Home Office admitted its mistake, reflects on what is now, effectively and deliberately, an alienating process. “The first interaction you have with the state is suspicion, that you are a liar, a cheat and a fraud. This is an enormous roadblock to integration.”

In 2017, the permanent residency that was granted on appeal qualified me for British citizenship. More than a decade after that moment of pregnant possibility on a balcony in Bethnal Green, and 14 years after excitedly taking in the view of London’s parks on a train from the airport, I was making my way towards my naturalisation with leaden feet. The citizenship had been so shorn of its significance, so stripped of its essential meaning, that the ceremony felt like a formality. And when it was over it felt hollow. My relief was dulled by exhaustion and sadness that becoming the citizen of a country in which I had invested so much had been marred by an extractive, dishonest and punitive system. I now looked forward to only one thing – to never have to think about any of it again.

“They don’t want you to integrate,” Farsani had told me. “They want you to fail so they can point their fingers at you and say, ‘Look, immigrants do not integrate’.” But we do, because the country, in spite of its broken immigration system, slowly, organically, casually, naturalises you in ways that cannot be validated by a Life in the UK test, citizenship ceremony or exhaustive application dossier. But daily this natural, healthy process is being violated, via administrative incompetence and politically instructed cruelty, to fulfil a soundbite “tens of thousands” target the government cannot meet, and is too proud to jettison.
Reading this was hard on me -- I saw it shared on a friend's Facebook and knew I had to but also I had to work up to it because I knew it'd be hard on me. It was; I teared up a little at a lot of places but especially here at the end of the article because that's exactly how my citizenship ceremony felt: hollow and bestowing on me only the benefit of not having to think about it any more. Even when my UK passport arrived, I just calmly opened the envelope and took it upstairs to file away with the other passports with no thought other than I never have to think about this again.

It was good for me too; it got me working on my book for the first time in way too long. I'm ashamed now of how long it's taken, but I think I am making good progress.


Jan. 18th, 2018 08:27 am
hollymath: (G)
So I read this article yesterday about how Kazakhstan is currently pondering how to write down its language, which has never had an alphabet of its own.

It's about to change from using a modified Cyrillic script to a Latin one. But of course like all languages the Latin alphabet has forced itself onto (including the one you're reading now), some of it doesn't quite fit. How do you write sounds there aren't letters for?

This isn't a new problem, but Kazakhstan's approach to it is weighed down by modern concerns in a way other writing systems would not have been when they were developed.
Linguists, who had recommended that the new writing system follow the example of Turkish, which uses umlauts and other phonetic markers instead of apostrophes, protested that the president’s approach would be ugly and imprecise.

Others complained the use of apostrophes will make it impossible to do Google searches for many Kazakh words or to create hashtags on Twitter.
I do not envy them having to consider Google and Twitter when they're deciding the future of their language. These American companies are well known for the kind of short-sightedness that only monoglot cultures can have, when it comes to how names and words are expected to look.

But the president's argument for lots of apostrophes instead of the linguist-recommeded system of  similar to Turkish (which uses marks for which we have European names: cedillas, tildes, breves, umlauts) is also computer-based: "Turkish-style markers do not feature on a standard keyboard."

While of course Turkish people must manage keyboards somehow, as do Scandinavian and Slavic and other languages that need characters that don't appear on a "standard keyboard" (again developed in America which made no provision for characters it doesn't use), while everyone seems to hate his apostrophe-heavy system, he remains unmoved.

In a country where what the president says goes, there's actually been a lot of resistance to his idea of using lots of apostrophes. "Kazakh intellectuals are all laughing and asking: How can you read anything written like this?" says a professor of Turkish studies and international relations in the U.S.

"Nobody knows where he got the terrible idea from," this person went on to say of the president. I'm more sympathetic to a country under the tyranny of a seventy-something president who makes proclamations on things he doesn't understand than I might once have been. I really wouldn't put it past Trump to want to rewrite the language on a whim, defying expert advice...

I admit I was surprised at first that people who are not usually able to argue with their president's whims are seemingly putting their foot down about this. It's just apostrophes, right? But of course once I'd engaged my brain for a second I realized how much we interact with written language every day, and how exhausting and frustrating it would be to do that on an unreadable script. Somebody like me, whose eyes tire easily when reading, should be more sympathetic to this plight than most.

And of course, language is never just about language. How Kazakh got in the state it is, using the modified Cyrillic script that doesn't fit it much better than the Latin one, is a matter of politics and history.
Growing fearful of pan-Turkic sentiment among Kazakhs, Uzbeks and other Turkic peoples in the Soviet Union, Moscow between 1938 and 1940 ordered that Kazakh and other Turkic languages be written in modified Cyrillic as part of a push to promote Russian culture. To try to ensure that different Turkic peoples could not read one another’s writings and develop a shared non-Soviet sense of common identity, it introduced nearly 20 versions of Cyrillic.

After leading Kazakhstan to independence, Mr. Nazarbayev, concerned with a backlash from the country’s large ethnic Russian population, stalled on demands from nationalists for a swift revival of the Latin script. Other newly independent countries with similar Turkic languages like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan all stopped using Cyrillic, but they had far smaller Russian populations.
Twenty different versions of Cyrillic! Russia made its own tower of Babel. It looks like quite a feat for anyone to untangle the political and linguistic problems here, even without the "help" of President Apostrophe.
hollymath: (G)
I saw, and you might have seen too, excited news stories recently about a 10th-century Viking textile with Arabic on it. My friend Maria shared a great article about how and why we know that this is overstating the case a little, and why it matters.

The style of writing that was claimed to have been used here wasn't developed until five hundred years later in another part of the world. This instead seems to be a "pseudo" version of Arabic script, designs meant to look like Arabic but not to contain any actual words.

I am particularly interested in this because the headline "word" that was supposed to be in this Viking textile was of course "Allah." And my four-lessons worth of Arabic so far is almost exactly enough for me to understand the mistake that needs to be made to think that this says "Allah." Here's the explanation from Stephennie Mulder's article:
the drawing doesn’t actually say “Allah” at all. Instead, it says “lllah” للله, a nonsensical word in Arabic. The first letter is a not an alif (an a), but a lam, (an l). Though the Arabic letters alif and lam resemble each other, alif never connects to the letters following it, as lam does. Arabic phrases like al-hamdulillah (الحمد لله) incorporate the phrase “li-llāh,” which in that context means (praise) to God. However the phrase “to God” doesn’t typically stand alone, and it’s always spelled لله with two uprights, not three. To argue that “lllah” and “Allah” are the same would be as absurd as arguing that “Dod” and “God” are the same word.
Most letters in Arabic writing join up (the script itself has been described in my beginner's textbook as a kind of shorthand), but a few of them do not! They were one of the first set of letters we learned, and my teacher calls them "naughty letters" because they don't follow the rule about joining to the letter after them.

I still can't read all the letters, but we're sometimes asked in class to pick out the ones that we're learning from a newspaper headline or whatever, and I've found myself doing this with signs in Arabic that I see in my neighborhood, which is a pretty great feeling (I still can't read the words, because Arabic doesn't write down many of its vowels, so sometimes I can tell you all the letters in a word but they're mostly consonants and I still have no idea what it sounds like, but it's better than seeing them only as undifferentiated squiggles). But I have noticed I've confused alif and lam this way, many times! I still do it though I'm getting better.

I guess it's nice to know it's not just me who struggles with things like this as an absolute beginner. But Mulder's article is mostly not about this, it's mostly full of interesting details and a really good point about why it matters to see the medieval world as the multicultural place scholars know it to be.
this story likely went viral in part because of recent events. Charlottesville revealed to all what has long been known among medievalists: that white supremacists use medieval imagery and symbolism to further their cause. At Charlottesville we saw medieval banners and chants with Crusader phrases like Deus vult (God wills!). White supremacists are attracted to medieval imagery for a simple reason: they believe the medieval era was a time when Europe was white.
Many, in the aftermath of Brexit and the election of Trump — both of which events rode on anti-immigrant sentiment and a false narrative of past racial purity — want to see glimpses of our genuinely culturally diverse past. So the Viking “Allah” textile exhibits what Stephen Colbert once called “truthiness.” In other words, it feels like it ought to be right, but in this case, doesn’t stand the test of evidence.

Some might argue that to dismiss any of the evidence for such interaction plays into the hands of white supremacists, and indeed, since I wrote my thread a few right-wing media stories referring to it have appeared, most of which, predictably, distort my overall message. But if we accept a manipulation of the facts, we are no different than white supremacists for whom manipulation of the facts is their stock in trade. It is our method and standard of evidence that separates the work of art historians, historians, archaeologists, and other experts from the hateful distortions peddled by white supremacists.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Andrew has written a book!
The cover of Andrew's new book: it says "The Basilisk Murders" and "Andrew Hickey" in what looks like handwriting on a white background. In the middle there's a picture of a glass of water, with a goldfish surreally inside it.

The Basilisk Murders is now out in hardback from Lulu, and in paperback and ebook from Amazon (UK ebook), (UK paperback), (US ebook), (US paperback). Those of you with Kindle Unlimited or the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library can read it for free — and if you don’t have those, you can sign up for a thirty-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited and read it for free anyway.

I really love this book, it's an Agatha Christie murder mystery only the island belongs to a libertarian and the people who are getting murdered are from the worst corners of the internet. And our heroine is a bi poly woman who's clever, sarcastic and very funny.

I think a lot of my friends would like it. I certainly did, and it seems to be getting a good reaction from a few people who've bought it so far.

Here's the blurb from the back of the book: )
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
[personal profile] lilysea shared a great article on accessibility, or more accurately the lack thereof, at the University of Sydney.

It's fairly long, and all very good, but one paragraph from it particularly stood out for me. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.
For staff members, the situation isn’t much better. Dr Sheelagh Daniels-Mayes, a lecturer in Aboriginal education, is one of only eight blind and low vision academics in Australia. She estimates that she spends about 25 extra hours a week making up for inaccessibility. Turnitin and Grade Centre are both inaccessible for screen reading software, and PDF documents are “sheer hell”. And, unfailingly, the cobblestones. In order to avoid them, Sheelagh’s guide dog Nina insists on taking her on a roundabout route through the Law buildings.
Partly this is of course because I'm starting to navigate university life while partially sighted. PDFs are sheer hell and people think they're accessible because they're electronic like that's magic or something.

But what has stuck with me is the estimate of losing 25 hours a week to dealing with inaccessibility. I've said many times now I've spent more time and energy on dealing wiht the admin associated with being a student than I have on reading or writing or thinking or learning. It's not all directly related to inaccessibility for me, like in the article, but it all adds up to the feeling that like the feminist idea of women doing a "second shift" of work when they get home from the dayjob to cook and clean and look after children, I have a second shift of sighted-guide-wrangling, getting lost today on my way to a new building (not something I could wrangle a sighted guide for in time because I didn't have enough notice), being distracted in a meeting by an ankle that was sore because I'd just fallen up some stairs on the way to it, waiting for the next bus after one zoomed past me at a stop today which they're not supposed to do, deciding whether any individual thing is worth complaining about...

I don't know how many hours I spend dealing with inaccessibility a week, but this academic's phrase reminded me of a poem I adore, "Girl Hours", which is actually about a kind of Hidden-Figures set of women in the late 19th century. The director reckoned the difficulty of astronomical projects in "girl hours," the number of hours these human computers would need in order to do the work. There must be some equivalent in disabled hours.
Oh bright rain, brave clouds, oh stars,
oh stars.

Two thousand four hundred fires
and uncharted, unstudied,
the hours, the hours, the hours.
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Here's an article about some of those things Voyager males me think about, through the lens of the people who are still working on this project.

One of them says,
‘‘I would not leave my wife to go with Angelina Jolie, as exciting as that sounds,’’ he told me. ‘‘And I would not leave Voyager to go to the new Mars missions. I will not leave Voyager until it ceases to exist. Or until I cease to exist.’’

New book

Aug. 2nd, 2017 10:11 pm
hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)
Today I learned that if you have an Audible subscription, you don't get your new credit (ie new book) until not just the day it ticks over but the exact time of day you bought the subscription.

So all yesterday, a gray awful day, I looked forward to having a new book to listen to today. I perused my wishlist and pondered what I'd get next. Do I want Black and British? Or The Glass Universe? Or The Warmth of Other Suns? Maybe I'll finally get around to Neurotribes or Bad Feminist. I'm still not sure.

Today, I tried about noon to get a new book, but the app still said I had 0 Credits. But it also said I got a new one on August 2, 2017.

I was very confused. Andrew looked it up and eventually found this thing about the time of day. Seems stupid and awful to me. He didn't remember when he'd set up the account, he said, "but it was after you'd gone to bed. So it could be anything between 9pm and 3am."

"If it were 3am I would've been able to get it by now!" I said.

So we don't know when it was yet. But it's later than this; I just checked. I'm just going to have to start thinking that the third day of the month is the one I get the new book.


hollymath: Selfie: white person, three-quarter profile, smiling, brown hair shaved on the side we can see, chin-length on the other (Default)

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