Friday, November 8, 2013

Dejobbed, Bewifed, and Much Childrenised

Remember "Stop Thoughting and Start FedExing"?

Here's another piece of evidence supporting the incredible flexibility of the English language: Dejobbed, Bewifed, and Much Childrenised.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Don Giovanni -- The Commendatore Scene: A Round-Up

This one above is my top favorite of all time. Great makeup and costume on Il Commendatore. I adore Kurt Moll in this, and, if I'm not mistaken, this was his last role before he retired from opera.

A close second would be this one below. Don Supermani, anyone?

More versions below.

I really like this one with Il Commendatore entering from the hall entrance and exiting the same way with Don Giovanni on his shoulder (whoa). But is it too much to ask that Leporello be a little more frightened?

Now this one. Great performance. Also, how do you like Mozart's Don Giovanni + Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity? Heh.

I actually was in the audience of the performance captured in the clip below.

I like this version too.

This one is ... I don't know. Just watch.

This one (circa 1954) is just as slooooooow as the one right above it.

This one is also great even though Leporello totally flubs his first line.

This one is great.

This one. (Sigh) The budget has apparently gone into the horse part of the statue, leaving just enough to buy a pathetically small table under which Leporello is to hide.

One more.

Then this one -- featuring Il Commendatore surrounded by bikini babes, Don Giovanni in pajamas, and Leporello in an argyle sweater.

Lastly -- did you know this existed because I sure didn't? -- a Karaoke version of the Commendatore Scene. The video does not allow embedding, so if you'd like to sing, you've got to mosey over here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What Foreign Language(s) Should I Learn?

One of the questions people have been asking me most frequently is: what foreign language(s) should I (my kid) learn? I get that all the time. ALL THE TIME. I'm not bothered in the least bit by it; though flattered, I just feel a little under-equipped to give them any advice. After all, I'm more of a linguist/grammarian/philologist than a foreign language expert. And linguistics and the study of foreign languages are not the same.

But I have studied several foreign languages both in school and on my own. So, for what it's worth ...

First, ask yourself why you want to study a foreign language. Is it for personal edification? Is it for a specific job (Chinese because I'll be working for a Chinese company), a specific academic program (Arabic because I'll be studying Islamic literature in grad school), or a specific circumstance (I'll be marrying a Russian girl and I think I want to learn Russian)? Is it to find a job in areas that require a foreign language (I want to teach X to high school students)?

If it's for personal edification as in I want to learn X because I like it, then, by all means, learn X for no other reasons than that it pleases you and don't look back.

If it's for a specific job, academic program, or circumstance which you have planned for the foreseeable future, then you don't have much of a choice. Whatever language is required of you, you learn it.

But if you don't really have any specific short-term or long-term goal, and you want to invest your time, money, and energy learning a foreign language in preparation for whatever opportunities that may come your way in the future, here's what I think.

1. You should go for languages that are spoken by multiple ethnic groups living in multiple areas of the world. You get the most bang for your buck that way. In light of this, it's not hard to see that Japanese, Thai, or German ( will not create nearly as many career opportunities for you as, say, Arabic (ón_lengua_árabe.png), French, or Mandarin ( plus Chinese diaspora).

2. You should go for a language that shares the same family with other widely-spoken languages. Family members behave alike. Once you know one in a family, you pretty much know how to deal with the other members of the same family even though they all have certain features and idiosyncrasies that are unique to them.

Take, for example, Romance languages. Two major, major languages in that family alone: Spanish and French. (Italian, Portuguese, etc., are great languages to learn, I know, but see point #1 for the reason I've singled out French and Spanish.) This means, once you know French, adding Spanish to your repertoire at a later time is a piece of cake, and vice versa. Knowing French will serve you well in these areas: Knowing Spanish will get you places in these areas:ñol.png. With either French or Spanish under your belt, if you have the time and the desire to study, say, Catalan, later, guess what? Easy.

This applies even to dead or ancient languages. Members of the Semitic family is well-known for behaving alike, very much alike. Pick one of them to study first, and you'll find that acquiring competency in the rest is a cake walk. Going from classical Arabic to classical Hebrew or from Latin to Attic or Koine Greek is easy, much easier than going from ancient Khmer to Sumerian.

So the whole biggest-bang-for-your-buck thing from point #1 also applies here: go for a large family with multiple influential members.

The question you may have at this point is: wouldn't studying a language that most people study make it hard for me to stand out, find a job, be considered unique and indispensable?

Yes and no. Some languages are more popular than others for a reason (which will be elaborated in point #3 below), and some languages are ignored for a reason also. True, there are a whole bunch of people who know Spanish, French, and Arabic, but how many of them know Hmong? What if I set out to become an expert in Hmong? Or modern Aramaic? Or Estonian? Or Ainu?

You can. But you're gambling. You could win big. You could also lose big. How to decide? Consider the worst case scenario, if you're okay with that, I'd say go for an obscure language or a language that may not be obscure but doesn't really have that much impact on the world compared to others (e.g. Catalan, German, modern Greek, Polish). But even with an obscure or a not-so-obscure-but-not-so-in-demand-either language, you probably also want to keep the following point in mind.

3. If a lucrative, financially-rewarding career (well, as rewarding as a career in the humanities is, anyway, which means not very rewarding) is a goal, then consider world events. Back in the Cold War era or even back in the early 90s after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, knowing Russian would definitely land you some really good jobs both in the public and private sectors. In the last decade or so, Arabic has become one of the top, if the top, choice among those seeking to learn a foreign language. Due to the war in Afghanistan, even the Pashto language (which is not nearly as widely-spoken as Arabic) has paved the way to many governmental jobs with ridiculously high salary. With the rise of China, Mandarin Chinese has also become an extremely popular choice.

Knowing a language that is in demand will naturally open up more opportunities for you than knowing an obscure language or a language spoken in areas of the world that aren't the current foci of the world's attention.


Now, once you've chosen a language that makes the most sense to your situation to study, what do you do with it? What jobs can you get with it?

Most people who get into foreign languages often harbor the dream of traveling extensively or living overseas. From my experience, though that's a real possibility, realistically, you're not going to be making much money at all. You could spend several years living frugally overseas only to find yourself back in your home country with no retirement funds. This has happened to people, mostly those who work for nonprofit religious organizations, whom I know personally.

There are people who live as expats overseas who make tons of money and can afford to live in apartments and homes priced in the range affordable only among the local elite. But 99.99% of the time -- fine, based on my experience, 100% of the time -- these people's jobs have nothing to do with teaching a foreign language or serving as a translator/interpreter.

Most likely, you'll end up teaching English or doing something for non-profit organization (read: not much pay).

Work as a translator/interpreter is best done as a (hopefully) paid hobby or a side job. Translation gigs are hard to come by, and when they do come by, they come by with very little money. In fact, when it comes an event or a task wherein translation of X into english and vice versa is required, most companies or hiring entities much prefer a native speaker of X who also knows English as a second language over a non-native speaker of X whose first language is English (assuming all of this takes place in a country where X is the official language).

But there's always the Foreign Service.

Quite honestly, if the goal is to travel and live overseas, it's best to make TESOL your main study and a foreign language a secondary endeavor. TESOL will land you a job overseas (teaching English, running an international school, etc.) much more easily than a major in a foreign language. Just my two cents.

Friday, April 27, 2012

On Ass

On my blogs, especially the one about food, I’ve tried to keep my language as PG as possible which isn’t that hard to do, because I don’t really swear that much in real life anyway. Well, except when the situation warrants an expletive or two. Still that doesn’t happen a whole lot.

But today I’m going to be writing about the word “ass” and since “ass” is the main topic, I cannot avoid it. And I can’t use any of its synonyms either as you’ll see. I must use the word, “ass.” So be warned that there will be a lot of asses coming at you.

I don’t know why I have to preface this with an apology (of sorts). There are like – I don’t know – six of you reading this blog anyway, and I know that four of you swear.

But I digress.

Back to ass. Yes. Let’s get cracking. (Sorry.)

When I first came to the United States, I wasn’t exactly a blank slate in terms of the English language and the American culture. I’d seen several Hollywood movies over the years. I’d had American teachers and professors. Almost every Friday afternoon, after school, I’d go sit in an obscure corner inside American University Alumni (AUA) library, reading everything from Louis L’Amour to Erma Bombeck to Good Housekeeping to Cosmopolitan (it was there!).

But the moment I came ashore, got off the boat, and reached out for a handshake, what did I get? The American people threw the word “ass” at me like a cranked-up automatic tennis ball launcher. That happened so often that I became kind of obsessed with it.

And it bothers me a little that after all these years of trying, I still don’t have a firm grasp on ass (no pun intended).

You see, even when I didn’t know so much about ass, I kind of knew that it is a vulgar synonym for a person’s buttocks. The problem is that ass means so much more in the American culture.

It can be used as derogatory term for someone who is either stupid or rude, e.g. “What are you going out with him for? That guy’s an ass!”

It gets more interesting.

Ass can also be used as an intensifier, e.g. “What a lame-ass way to ask someone for a favor!” or “Don’t bring your stupid-ass boyfriend to my party!” Ass is usually a noun, but I’m not sure what part of speech it becomes when used this way. Is it an adverb modifying the adjective “lame” and “stupid” respectively (as in “really” or “super” lame/stupid)? Possible.

I also think it’s possible that, when used in this manner, ass and the adjective which it functions in conjunction with form a single, inseparable unit which functions adjectivally in a sentence (modifying “way” and “boyfriend” in the examples above). But then I can’t think of other examples of other adjective-noun combos that function in this way.

But the most amusing, complex, culturally-fascinating use of ass in the American culture is when it’s used as synecdoche. This type of ass was, in fact, the one that caused me the most confusion when I first came here. I fully understand it now. And, boy, what a fun-ass way to use ass. [For those unfamiliar with synecdoche, consult wiki.]

It’s the pars pro toto aspect of synecdoche, i.e. part of something is used to represent its totality. An example of pars pro toto synecdoche would be when you refer to a car as “a set of wheels.” Of course, a car consists of more parts than just the wheels, but “a set of wheels” has become a way of referring to a car – the whole car.

Ass is used this way quite a bit. Examples include “Yo, move your ass over here!” (translation: you bring yourself – the whole body not just the rear end – over here) or “I called and called and called. Where was your ass last night?” (translation: where were you – the whole person not just your buttocks – last night?).

What still stumps me is when someone refers to a person as “a (hot) piece of ass.” My instinct says that this could be another form of synecdoche, referring to a person who is attractive as a whole not just his/her derriere. But since this usage of ass seems to always have a sexual connotation (e.g. “I get it. I’m just another piece of ass to you, aren’t I?”), I’m thinking perhaps ass here is a euphemism for – am I over-thinking this? – another body part located on the opposite side of the buttocks. Maybe not. I don’t know.

[Added April 28th, 2012: Then we have other uses which present a bit of a challenge in terms of semantics:
I'm rolling on the floor laughing my ass off.
Respect? Respect, my ass! Who does that to someone they respect?]

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fairuz: Yet Another Version of Polyshko Polye

I have previously mentioned various versions of my favorite Russian song, Polyshko Polye (Полюшко Поле) here and here.

I've just found out about the Arabic version called Kānu Yā Habībī (كانوا يا حبيبي) by Fairuz of Lebanon, arguably the most famous singer in the Arab world. A very Russian song sung this way is very, very interesting.

Incidentally, the first Arabic song I've learned to sing (as part of my Arabic training) happens to be one of Fairuz's classics (see below). I can never pull off the way she emotes when performing without giggling like an idiot, though. But this is Fairuz; this is her signature style.

Here's her famous Habaytak Bi Sayf (حبيتك بالصيف) or "I Love You in the Summer" (Go here, if you want to know the meaning of this (kind of) sad song.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What English Sounds Like to Non-English Speakers

This is from an Italian TV program: a song sung in gibberish designed to sound like American English.

A Thai news anchor reads the news in Thai with British accent. (Just so you know, without the subtitle, I wouldn't understand a word she's saying. And I speak Thai.) Hilarious.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Green Banana

I read "The Green Banana" by Donald Batchelder for the first time when I was in high school and it has stuck with me ever since. It was the first time in my life when I started questioning where the center of the world is for me, where it is for others, and what all that means; it was also the beginning of my interest in learning about other cultures beyond foreign languages.

Have you read it?

You can find this short essay from one of these sources here.