[conspire] NYLXS Press Release on the OLPC Project

Ruben Safir ruben at mrbrklyn.com
Thu May 1 19:23:04 PDT 2008

On Thu, May 01, 2008 at 03:02:17PM -0700, Rick Moen wrote:
> Quoting Ruben Safir (ruben at mrbrklyn.com):
> > Actually, English is a very preciese language compared to most others,
> > but this word is especially rift with duality of meaning, as is much
> > of the Arabic language.
> English?  A (relatively) precise language?  Precise?  My, oh my.  This
> would be the English language in which one cannot even speak about "free
> software" without confusing people?  _That_ English language?

Well, yeah.  That language.  Ask anyone in diplomatic circles and tranlating
exact meaning into English is easiest and out of English is the hardest.

Stallman, of course, was purposely decietful in the phrase "Free Software"
and of course many have adapted a more precise phrase such as Free and 
Liberated ? Software (FLOSS).

The ridicules number of miss spelled words, similar words et al is caused
by a broad adoption into the language of words and phases adapted from any 
useful source, which starts with Anglo-Saxon and French
but doesn't stop there.  English borrows from everything.  Jihad, for example,
is now an English word.  A full palette of flavors, conotations, cultural biases
are adapted into English, swallowed whole, with a little bit of salt and butter,
to be venehicularized by the masses of English speakers without further 
translation.  Furthermore, English discards old usages which become outdated,
Willey Nilly, sifting through the humanities liguistic talent to describe
subtle and yet different verbages like a crucible.  English speakers treat
language like the compost under a mortor and pestel, creating a malliable
paste of Lingua Franca.  Okay? N'est Pas?  Oye!

The term Free Software is actually an example of trying to adapt an 18th Cenutry
usage onto what was late Twentith Century language.  Stallman used this it
awaken people to the Classical political ideals of post-Renasiance liberalism
which can be summerized with "Free as in Freedom" a phrase which is actually
impossible accomplish in French.  It says that Software is not a commodity, 
but it is means of political expression.  You can disagree, but he can make
that point uniquely in English.

This is not to say English is perfect.  In fact, English is purposely imperfect.
When people pick on my spelling I sometimes through it out there that 
Shakespeare, if my memory serves me right, invented some 2000 English words 
and standardized nearly the rest.  So the languages adaptability is very old
and pretty unique.  English tranformed in 400 years more than Yiddish did in
almost 1200.

> This would be the English language in which it's impossible to use a
> third-person ungendered pronoun without sounding either fussy
> ("he/she"), illiterate ("they"), clinical ("it") or sexist ("he").

Well, it did, but there were political objections.
> This would be the English language that give rise to jokes about the
> rancher trying to deal with his snake infestation by sending an order
> letter:
>    "Dear sir, please send me two mongooses...."  [crosses out]
>    "Dear sir, please send me two mongeese...."  [crosses out, frowns]
>    "Dear sir, please send me one mongoose.  While you're at it, send me
>    another one."
Ah - and any of them would have resulted in him getting 2 mongoose rather
than 100 sheep.
> FWIW, I find the French language an order of magnitude more precise.
> English can be rendered precise only through extremely concentrated,
> bloody-minded effort the likes of which only obssessive-compulsive
> Anglo-Saxon culture could possibly devote to a misshapen tongue
> resulting from a violent collision between mediaeval French and lowland
> German, resulting in a union so unholy it would have been summarily
> banned in Alabama if only it hadn't predated that state by about 700
> years.

Try saying that in Udo!
> > This words originates in Quaronic text....
> No, it clearly didn't.  The redacters of Koranic[1] (and hadith) text
> didn't include a footnote that said "Hey, gang!  I know this word is
> completely unfamiliar to you, and we're passing it on to you only
> because the Messenger of God says the Big Guy wants you to learn it.

No, it didn't because texts such as these generally don't make such
pronouncements.  They leave the context for discovery and for later
commentaries to discuss.  This is a very oriental technique that the 
Gemora uses and which happened to have been written around the same time.

> So, here's its definition...."  No, very clearly the word made it into
> the suras because it was already in the vernacular, not the other way
> around.

You'd be the first to show that.  So I'd ask you to cite a source.  It 
clearly is not in Hebrew or Aramaic.  In fact, I just got back from
shule and asked the Rav this.  To his vast knowledge, and he is fluent
in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and Fassi (along with Yiddish, German and French
and old French to my knowledge), this word has no like root in any other
semetic tongue.
> > Not withstanding the origins of words in religious context, and feudal
> > meanings, the word GoodBye is not presently religous.
> Well, for you it isn't -- except, now, thanks to me, you'll have a
> difficult time _not_ remembering how it decomposes.  ;->  But I think
> you'll find upon examination that English vocabulary is riddled with
> religious foundational concepts, overtones, and connotations, mostly
> taken from various surly forms of Protestantism -- which memetically
> attach themselves to your mind and help determine how you conceptualise
> the world.

When translating specifically Hebrew text and prayer, this becomes a big problem
because many terms in Hebrew when translated to a commonly believed English
equivilent are either actually WRONG, or suffer exactly what you say.  In
addition, a lot of Hebrew terms were intentionally propagandized when converted
into English to support a theology of the salvation of mankind through the
sacrifice of Christ.  That is why so many new English tranlations have happened
in the last 50 years as the American Orthodox Jewish Diaspera finaly settled
here as a result of the Holocaust.

That being said, this is very specific to a specific area of speech.  Aside
from that, I think your swiming against the tide.  While AD and BC are still
around (we have our own calender anyway), AM and PM are still around, even
these terms have lost any real religious meaning.  And trust me, my ear is
tuned into this, which is one of the reasons why this thread started in the
first place.  English is pretty clean and even growing up in a rough
and tough Italian Catholic neighborhood, we all talked without fanfair
on the handball court, minus a number of dark curses to someones Mother of
some deiety that I didn't share.  Gee Whiz, I never even used that term!

> For example, you tend to throw around the word "fundamentalism",
> probably not aware of how that term's history in _English_ (and, in
> particular, in historical context in the northeast USA starting with 
> the intellectual movement originating at the 1883-1897 annual Niagara
> Bible Conferences, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary,
> involving gatherings of Protestant preachers trying to come to grips
> intellectually with the scientific findings of Kelvin, Lister, etc., and
> adapt their tenets rather than just hiding from science.  
> (Ironically, the term tends lately to be used as a codephrase for
> religious know-nothing rejectionist, but its history is that of an
> honest intellectual movement to adapt to science by identifying the core 
> "fundamental" tenets of the attendees' faith, in contrast to the
> naturalistic "liberal" or "modernist" theology coming into vogue, not to
> mention spiritualism, materialist socialism, Mormonism, and so on.)

This was recently covered in the NY Sun, I believe, or perhaps it was in
scientific america or maybe it was on NPR.  I didn't really agree with his
entire thesis.  And for one reason the term Fundamentalist could be derived
from straight English grammar without the help of the religious wars
of early North American and European Protestantism.  BTW - if you ever get a
chance ready up on early Brooklyn History, particularly the works by Stiles
who covers early Christian Churches ad nausium.  Eveidently when he wrote
these works between 1864-1900, University Educated Elites (Elitist is another
term which resently got similar review) thought this was far more important
than we do today and the history of Brooklyn's settlement actually predates
New England by possible 20 years.  Undocumented French Walloons where
already settled here when the Dutch arrived, and they arrived a mean year or
two after Jamestown and Plymoth.
> So, in particular, it would be ludicrous to apply that term
> ("fundamentalist") to a completely different religion where that
> whittling down of tenets to match science was never a religious
> intellectual movement, and where there is no religious officials
> mediating between believers and God.  The term would be incongruous as
> applied to, for example, Judaism or Islam.  Judaism doesn't have priests
> (any more)

Actually, we do.

>  and even Reform's lax practice doesn't deny the mitzvot
> (though it might weasel on a bunch of them).  Both faiths assume 
> strictly personal relationships between members and God; officials are,
> at least in concept, respected only for the level of their learning,
> eloquence, and attention to duty.

This is another thread, but I'll just say that there is fundementally almost
no similarity between the core Islamic beliefs and Judiasm except for
custume (beards).  The teachings in Judiasm, while probably unique, as
most similar to Buddism, and possibly Hinduism if not for the idolotry.

Both Christianity and even more so Islamic principles were constructed
in direct opposition to Jewish thought, and purposely so, while adapting
Jewish lexicon.  Think of Microsofts "Shared Source" versus the GPL.
Despite rhetoric and patronizing press releases, the very purpose of the
two are dyametrically opposed to one another.

> Applying the term "fundamentalist" to either faith incurs some horrific
> metaphor shear, in effect.  But a large number of pundits, including
> you, are deaf to that incongruity, and unaware of the likelihood that
> the inappropriate metaphor's baggage from Protestant context in English 
> will distort their thinking about the other faiths.  

It gets beyond that.  Common objections and ideas of people who have little
depth in the culture or theologies of differing peoples make them come to
conclusions that ludicrous.  I can hardly blame that on English.  

This does remind me when I was in France in 2002 I was surrounded by some
French computer security experts for lunch who asked me, "Why are all you
American's locking up all your Arabs in New York and putting them in
your dungeons".

Good question to get in Bordeux...right...with political graffiti sprayed
all over the walls and riot control blocks built into the streets.  Almost
as good as when my Granmother told me that my Rav looks like the Ayatola.
I asked her when was the last time the Ayatola wore a long black coat
and a big fur hat.

> This is especially
> a risk if (1) you're personally ignorant of the faith in question, and
> (2) encounter the subject almost entirely within the echo-chamber cum
> shouting match that is modern American politics on the Internet.

That is the old internet.  The new internet seems to be nothing but 
click throughs and flash advertisments splashed though private domains
like Myspace.

> > The word Jihad is.  So I'm not certain of the point your making here.  
> Well, if you re-read and consider what I wrote in the sprit intended,

I never doubt your intent.  We've shared too much whiskey and wine for that.

> instead of just trying to argue, you'll probably follow it well enough.
> But, again, I am not going to belabour the point.

Does this recall the play "Town Hall"?

> The point was that words _always_ have huge variation in overtones,
> connotations, and metaphorical application in as innumerable contexts as
> perverse humans can concoct, some words more than others (on account of
> being more protean in application).  You're going far out of your way to
> hide from the application of that obvious truth to many words including
> "jihad", but the spirit of reason is eventually going to sneak up on you
> and clobber you with enlightenment, so I don't have to.  ;->

Well there are words intentionally duplicitous, and I've reviewed
some of the ("shared source").  Jihad was created purposely to reinforce
a religious message and culturally that has been reinforced.

> > The context of Jihad 
> You speak as if there were only one.  Go back and re-read, and you will 
> see that your core assumption, here, is incorrect.
> [1] I make no apologies for anglicising.  And the Illinois city is
> pronounced "Kay-row".  Visiting Egyptians who object are free to go to
> that place on the Nile that pronounces it funny, instead.

Try Houston Street.  Texans, Egyptians... none of them speak English
properly like those of us here in the Midwourt of Flatbush!

Now see how many anglinized foriegn words are in this thread...
	just for fun.

Oki Doki OKay.  DRM is Theft and We are the Stakeholders...and all that.

So many immigrant groups have swept through our town that Brooklyn, like Atlantis, reaches mythological proportions in the mind of the world  - RI Safir 1998
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