Archive for ‘Language’ Category

Current events

datePosted on 13:53, April 27th, 2010 by Lew

I was reluctant to post while I had the chance on ANZAC day, since there was such a good debate going on, and now I’ve (temporarily) run out of time again. So just a few quick observations.

  • Phil Goff’s one-two punch on the top tax rate and Auckland governance is solid, and both are good orthodox Labour positions for him to take. But it’s more of the same: lacking verve and failing to get cut-through as a consequence. I mean to post on the positioning of the taxation pledge at some stage, but in case I don’t get to: this is a good opportunity for Goff to demonstrate compromise as well as differentiate himself, by coupling a reimplementation of the top rate with an increase of the threshold.
  • Even without Sunday’s tragic helicopter crash, Goff’s timing was poor in making these two announcements before ANZAC Day. I guess you take the opportunities you can get, but delaying things by a week would have been more useful in my view.
  • As an aside, my mum knew the three late airmen vaguely through Search and Rescue, and confirms the universal sentiment that they were of the very best sort. I’m pleasantly surprised that the crash hasn’t turned into a witchhunt about why we’re still using Vietnam-era hardware; as true as the sentiment might be, we can all do without people thundering “if we’re going to have a military, we owe it to our troops to have it decently-outfitted” under circumstances such as these. Such is the power of ANZAC day, I suppose.
  • On a related point, the discipline with which the military, government, police and media have adopted the Air Force’s framing terminology in this event is remarkable. All four groups are talking about “the Air Force family” and exploiting the metaphor for all it’s worth. Those words are used almost every time one of these people stands in front of a microphone, and in addition the three deceased are “brothers”; Mark Sainsbury reported live last night from the family’s “lounge”, the squad room at Ohakea air base; all four have referred to the Iroquois as being like “your grandfather’s axe” — the reference being that, although it’s very old, when the handle is worn it gets replaced, and when the head is worn it gets replaced, so while it’s his axe in spirit, it actually contains no parts of the original tool and is as good as new in function. On the one hand, this is compelling symbolic stuff: nobody who deviates from this framing can really be said to be showing the proper sort of respect and deference; on the other hand, it’s a bit creepy for everyone to be falling into lockstep behind Defence HQ communications. There are ways of saying these things without using the exact same words, and the constant repetition spooks me. Maybe I’m just sensitive. [Edit: There was a clean sweep for “Air Force family” or something similar in speeches supporting the Prime Minister’s parliamentary motion of condolence. No shock there, I suppose.]
  • On a somewhat lighter note, Councillor Tony Jack has picked the wrong district council to put a motion banning macrons in council materials. This is the Kāpiti Coast District Council, who moved to put the macrons into Paekākāriki and Ōtaki only a month ago. Jack’s motion was voted down, at which point he predictably declared that PC had gone mad. Bless. Of course, the Stuff article doesn’t contain the macrons, so I guess he wins as far as that goes.
  • Tim Watkin at Pundit continues to write excellent sense and ask smart questions about race relations in Aotearoa New Zealand. I think the emphasis in Tim’s piece is just right — there is a legitimate claim to indigeneity for non-Māori, but it’s not so obvious as Trevor Mallard’s “I was born in Wainuiomata”, and there’s a lot to work out before such definitions can be settled upoin comfortably. I’m all for having this discussion. I particularly like the ornithological allegory drawn by commenter “william blake” — we are all Pūkeko!
  • Also on a lighter note, a (very) atheist friend whose six year-old daughter has chosen to go to Bible study classes recently asked him if, because Jesus had risen from the dead, that meant he was a zombie. It apparently took every ounce of his parental commitment to letting his girl make up her own mind to explain the origins of zombie stories, how myths come about, etc. rather than just saying, yes, Jesus is a zombie. Good on him — not sure I would have had the fortitude.
  • Speaking of things biblical, and of belonging, Joanna Newsom has a new album out, and here’s the first single — about tilling one’s own bit of the Garden of Eden:

Ok, so not so brief after all. Discuss. I’ll dive back in as I can. You can treat this as an open thread as well: post what you want to talk about.

L

A little sanity from Laws

datePosted on 10:50, January 27th, 2010 by Lew

I often find myself thinking of a saying which I’ve seen variously described as Arabian, African and Chinese, but which I’m pretty sure every culture has in its own version:

At the hearth: me against my brothers. In the house, me and my brothers against our cousins. In the village: me, my brothers and our cousins against our neighbors. Outside: me, my brothers, our cousins and our neighbors against the world.

Michael Laws and the formerly-divided Wanganui District Council have unanimously condemned the adoption by media (TVNZ, Radio NZ and other outsiders) of the standard Māori pronunciation of “Fonganui”, while quietly endorsing the new “Whanganui” spelling as an official alternative. In an expression of the last phrase of the proverb above, the council also resolved to “work with local Māori leaders to draw up a guideline for national media and organisations as to how the city should be pronounced.”

Quite apart from being an almost unprecedented — and very welcome — indication of goodwill from Laws and his settler-majority council toward tangata whenua, this also marks a subtle shift away from the bombastic demagoguery of the h debate to a sort of diplomacy, perhaps a realisation that civil society solutions to complex political identity problems come about by education and negotiation; they require change by consent. This was the fundamental difference between the pro-h and anti-h arguments in the great h debate of oh-nine: the anti-h position was presriptive, insisting that it had to be a “Wanganui” for everyone with no tolerance for dissent. The pro-h position was about recognition, insisting that “Whanganui” be acknowledged as having preeminence, but not enforcing this usage in an absolute fashion.

But ultimately (although Laws and the council may not have gotten this point) pronunciation is a different question. Pronunciation and dialect in Māori remains an expression of a speaker’s rangatiratanga. Māori was, and to a large extent remains a dialectic language where howyou say something provides important context about who you are and what you’re saying — a concept somewhat unfamiliar to many Pākehā New Zealanders who are used to a reasonably homogeneous accent, but one which will be very familiar to anyone familiar with the USA or the UK. This is why you’ll hear Māori from elsewhere in the country pronouncing it “Fonganui” without much objection from Whanganui Māori, and why you’ll hear Whanganui Māori pronouncing “Whakatane” as “Wakatane”, as well as “wānau” or “ware” or “wakarongo mai”, and while it may draw sniggers from speakers of other dialects, it is generally recognised as a manifestation of Whanganuitanga to speak this way. For their part the Whanganui (and Taranaki*) Māori are proud of their dialect much as Texans or Geordies are. Tariana Turia, in speeches, has described just such situations, such as when visiting relatives from the Tongariro region, the children teased her for poor pronunciation. Far from being ashamed by this, it was a small source of pride for her and a matter of her own mana and Whanganuitanga, a recognition of the small differences between relations which throw the much more important commonalities into sharp relief.

All this is a somewhat roundabout way of saying that, while it’s wonderful that Laws and the council have seen the need to ally with their cousins and neighbours against the world, and moreover have (apparently) seen the need to do so in a diplomatic and non-coercive manner, this is a battle they simply may not win because there is an important distinction between standing on your own mana and trying to force others to adopt your ways, requiring them to sacrifice their own mana in doing so.

L

* Māori Language Commissioner Ruakere Hond is leading the campaign to promote the Taranaki dialect.

Conservatives speak a different language

datePosted on 21:47, September 29th, 2009 by Pascals Bookie

… and often I don’t understand it.

Pretty much every time I see the term ‘Social Engineering’ used I think the writer has got it backwards.

Mark Krikorian writes in a short post at NRO’s corner blog:

As John O’Sullivan wrote years ago in NR, if different groups of Americans had children at different rates, resulting in changes in the ethnic (or religious or whatever) composition of the nation, that’s nobody’s business one way or the other. But mass immigration, especially in the context of the low fertility levels that are inherent to modernity, represents social engineering in its purest form, the elite’s decision to dissolve the people and elect a new one. Instead, how about we leave social engineering to the ChiComs and just let today’s American moms and dads decide what tomorrow’s America will be like.

(emphasis mine).

Leaving aside the merits of the US immigration debate and other aspects of Krikorian’s post*, I find the use of ‘social engineering’ here to be fascinating. I understand his point well enough, (and I’d rather not dwell on it), but what grabs me is that social engineering here can only mean the actions of his opponents, it could never be applied to his own policy. It’s a code of some sort, it no longer means just what the words say.

Obviously much of what governments do is social engineering of one sort or another. The criminal justice system is in place largely to deter and punish behaviours. Taxes are used to encourage some activities over others and so on. These sorts of things are never termed social engineering though. SE is almost always a bad thing. This much I can understand and be quite comfortable with. Whatever ‘social engineering’ is, it’s something that goes against freedom, and we are all liberals now pretty much, with the arguments being about how best to maximise (and define) liberty.

What I don’t understand is that whenever the term is actually used nowadays, it seems to be aimed at policies that remove some aspect of State control over the shape of society. In the example above, Krikorian seems to be saying that open borders would be an extreme example of social engineering. To me that is precisely wrong. A strict immigration policy, aimed at keeping a nations demographics in some sort of racial or cultural stasis would be a far better fit for the label ‘social engineering’. Given what the words mean.

If the US government was forcibly dragging non-white immigrants to the US in order to deliberately alter the demograhic mix, or refusing white applicants entry, then he’d have a point. That would meet the natural definition for SE. But they aren’t doing anything like that.

The same applies to arguments around gay marriage and state recognition of de-facto relationships. Surely when the state is recognising the relationships that people have, and not discriminating between them, then that is the opposite of what the words ‘social engineering’ actually mean.

And on the contrary, when the state did discriminate on those grounds and deliberately favoured some relationships over others, (and even made some relationships illegal), in order to foster a particular style of domestic arrangement that was felt to be most beneficial for society, then that is, quite precisely, ‘social engineering’.

So is all this just projection on the part of conservatives, or are they adding (or subtracting) some meaning to the term that I’m not seeing?

* I’ll just say that his links are interesting, as are the uses he puts them to.

Headline battle!

datePosted on 17:25, September 28th, 2009 by Lew

LingLingBattleWithin a half-hour, the two leading trumpet-blowers of the blogosphere have favoured us with their interpretations of the latest developments in the Bill English accomodation saga, and their headlines are marvellous. Both are factual; neither contain any misleading or false information, and yet they convey such different things.

First (chronologically), in the red corner: The Standard:

English admits he’s been rorting us

  • “English”, formal, invoking his role and status as a public personage and the head of a noted family (who also benefit from the ‘rort’).
  • “admits”, an implied concession of wrongdoing (even though English’s statement — not linked or substantively quoted in the post– makes quite clear that he’s conceding nothing of the sort).
  • “he” and “us”, an active phrasing emphasising the power dynamic in play, in which “we” are being exploited by “him”.
  • “rorted”, a hugely fashionable term in these parts nowadays (a fact on which someone recently wrote an interesting article; can anyone remember who?). It’s a strong, colourful term redolent of the back-slapping corruptness of entitlement, viewed as harmless and trivial by those privileged few who, by dint of social station, connections or wealth are able to perpetrate it, and as an insufferable reminder of greedy injustice by those not so able. This is the word it all hangs on: it provokes the visceral reaction of disgust, and divides the “him” from the “us”.
  • “[has] been” and the past tense throughout, focusing on what has happened. In some ways represents a softening: he has been, but he isn’t any more. But in the wider context this emphasises the ongoing nature of the campaign against English, an unspoken “see, we were right all along, and we have forced this admission” — again, despite the fact that English claims there’s no such admission. Being backward-looking, it focuses on the matter of principle, not of practice; it doesn’t matter that he paid the proceeds of his rort back, what matters is that he rorted it in the first place.

And in the blue corner, Kiwiblog:

Bill pays back allowance

  • Parsimonious, omitting a part of speech which in this case would bear important information, leaving the question open: “his” allowance? “the” allowance? We don’t know if the author thinks he has a right to it or not. It’s just “allowance”.
  • “Bill”, informal, emphasising his individuality and personal characteristics rather than social roles or position. Familiarity suggests reliability, trustworthiness.
  • “pays back”, active phrasing indicating Bill’s volition — he was not forced into anything, he did it of his own accord. Also echoes the Nats’ favoured cat-call of the past half-decade: “pay it back!”, first directed at Helen Clark, then at Winston Peters, a clear delineation drawn because Bill is paying it back and they didn’t.
  • “allowance”, something one is allowed. As in the other headline, this is the word it all hangs on. Its use implicitly disclaims any wrongdoing; because it’s impossible to ‘rort’ an ‘allowance’ by definition, this begs the question of whether Bill is, in fact, allowed it.
  • “pays” and use of present tense throughout, focusing on the future rather than the past, practicalities rather than principles, actions and consequences rather than character or trustworthiness. No harm, no foul, right?

With headlines like this, why would you even need to read the article — or the actual statement?

L

A victory for common sense and democracy

datePosted on 11:27, September 17th, 2009 by Lew

… these are the sort of words Michael Laws would be using if the decision to spell Whanganui incorrectly had been endorsed by the NZ Geographic Board, so I feel justified in using similar language given that the decision has gone my way.

As I have argued at great length, this is a good decision. I’ll work through the details of the submissions when I get time, hopefully tonight.

L

Submit!

datePosted on 13:21, August 16th, 2009 by Lew

Submissions to the NZ Geographic Board regarding the proposed change of the spelling of ‘Wanganui’ to ‘Whanganui’ close tomorrow. Whether you support the change or the status quo, I urge you to make your position (and arguments) known to the NZGB and to the country.

It will come as no surprise to readers that I support the proposed name change. The majority of my submission is drawn from the four posts I have written on the topic. There’s plenty (plenty!) more about this out there on the interwebs as well.

Submit!

L

Edit: My full submission is below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

I happened to be looking at our logs (weird malformed URLs which 404 *shrug*) and noticed our search terms listing, odd as usual, so here are some of my favourites from the last week:

  • objectivism and harry potter
  • should women only use provacation as a defence
  • werewolf ian wishert – 5 hits, really!
  • who is matthew hooton
  • why is new zealand racist sexist and homophobic
  • Latin America progressive forces on the decline
  • tumeke bro
  • herald mental illness 2009
  • mutual exploitation model of the media
  • social movement unionism
  • what will happen if there’s no intellectual property
  • taliban negotiating table afghanistan mission territories

and finally, the ever present reminder of this post:

  • pink

Looking at the search terms always makes me marvel at the eclectic readership we must have, but today I’m concerned that we’re not meeting your expectations. So, in the spirit of BLiP, can anyone answer in 25 words any of the implicit questions? After all, what is the connection between objectivism and Harry Potter? Why is New Zealand racist, sexist and homophobic? and who really is Matthew Hooton?

Word of the Day

datePosted on 14:10, August 5th, 2009 by Lew

Thanks again to James at Editing Teh Herald.

Hypocryptical: Being deliberately unclear while accusing someone else of doing something that you yourself are doing.

The each-way bet of glass-house-dwelling stone-throwing blog hackery.

L

A definition of “political correctness” in 25 words

datePosted on 14:23, August 4th, 2009 by Anita

for BLiP

Once an in-joke of the Left, stopping us taking ourselves too seriously. Now the cry of the privileged when their right to privilege is challenged.

Normalising diversity

datePosted on 00:23, July 31st, 2009 by Lew

May I echo the inimitable Queen of Thorns, and say how great it is that Māori Language Week is being so well observed. Labour MPs on Red Alert are posting in te reo; Nickelodeon has done Spongebob Squarepants in Māori; Lockwood Smith is reading the Parliamentary prayer in Māori and Te Ururoa Flavell on Tuesday raised a point of order during Question Time (in Māori, no less!) to insist that the Minister of Transport pronounce “Kamo” as “Kamo” rather then “Carmow”. Even David Farrar has a post in Māori, and on that count he beats me at least. Well done.

Such usage is the thin edge of a wedge of linguistic diversity becoming normalised in Aotearoa. The wedge was first driven long ago, but one of the more memorable blows was struck by the venerable Naida Glavish who (working as a tolls operator) got in trouble for answering the phone ‘kia ora’ and generated great and unexpected support. When returning sick and exhausted, with no money and a broken shoulder from a long and abortive road trip across Asia (more on which another time), I could have hugged the (Pākehā) Air NZ cabin steward who greeted me with ‘Kia ora, bro, welcome home’. The NZ Herald has redesigned their masthead in Māori (though I can’t find a copy of it on the website just now). Māori introductions on National Radio and other media are commonplace these days and everyone knows what they mean. I recall the Māori Language Week last year, or the year before, when they were formally instituted and then – the horror! – their usage continued after the end of the week. There was apparently a bit of a backlash against it, and Geoff Robinson read some messages calling for a return to English-only introductions. Robinson, bless his English heart, had one word for the complainers: “tough”.

And that’s all they deserve. My high school German teacher had a banner above her blackboard which read “Monolingualism can be cured”, and it can be. Other languages must be used to be known, and normalisation is the first part of usage. Raymond Huo, also on Red Alert, is posting in Zhōng Wén; it is wonderful.

It goes beyond language, as well. Cultures, norms and ways of doing, approaches and modes of understanding are not monopolised by English-speaking WASP culture. I wrote earlier this year about a book by John Newton about James K Baxter and the Jerusalem commune – it is called “The Double Rainbow” and has been published. The title is Baxter’s, and Newton explains it in the introduction:

The double rainbow is Baxter’s symbol for a mutually regenerative bicultural relationship. He recognised that the Pākehā majority ignored Māori culture, not just to the cost of Māori – though few Pākehā have seen this more clearly or objected more trenchantly – but also to its own detriment. Pākehā, he wrote in 1969, a few months before he first moved to Jerusalem, ‘have lived alongside a psychologically rich and varied minority culture for a hundred years and have taken nothing from it but a few place names and a great deal of plunder.’

Diversity is both a means and an end. It is a means by which people may understand one another and live in harmony and all such wishy-washiness; but more importantly, it is an end in itself because two heads are better than one, every culture has its own irrationalities and blind spots and deleterious foibles. Humankind has achieved its primacy as a species through the constant adaptation of cultural and biological systems which spread risk rather than concentrating it. Monocultures are vulnerable; they may be unified and may even be strong against certain threats, but against uncertainty, or against threats or challenges of an unknown or unpredictable nature, homogeneity a weakness rather than a strength. Diversity is resilience. If you won’t believe me, take it from Robert A Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Who wants a society of insects?

L

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