Archive for July, 2014

THE SCI-FI MIRROR

July 31, 2014

220px-PeaceOnEarthMy friend whom I have known for more than 20 years (since the time when I was teaching English at a higher institution) commented on my blog post of July 26 “When the Nation Reaches Adulthood…” I am grateful to Waclaw for his drawing my attention to the book “Peace on Earth” by Stanislaw Lem. It has taken me a few hours today to read the book, and I marvel at how prophetically this futuristic satire depicts Ukraine’s situation.

First a few words about the plot. Being concerned with arms race on Earth, all the nations conclude a treaty according to which they send their weaponry to the Moon. However, this kind of super-détente doesn’t work because the lunar artificial intelligence (created by the earthlings earlier to take care of the weapons) develops into an alien force which is threatening to invade Earth (hence, the satirical title of the story: “Peace on Earth”). The space explorer Ijon Tichy is sent to the Moon on a recon mission. Right on landing there, he suffers an electronic attack resulting in the severance of the connection between the left and the right side of his brain. Another man-trap set for Ijon by the lunar intelligence is a decoy robot who pretends that he is Ijon’s “brother.”

Actually, this last word “brother” was the main emphasis of Waclaw’s comment in my blog entry I wrote about the hypocritical epithet “brotherly” often attached to the relationship between the Russians and the Ukrainians.  Here’s a quote from “Peace on Earth”:
… First I heard two words muttered in a hoarse voice: “Brother dear … dear brother …” A minute of silence and then again, “Brother dear … dear brother …” . “Who’s that?” – I wanted to shout but didn’t dare to. I sat curled up, feeling the sweat beading on my brow, and the strange voice was filling the inside of the helmet. “Come, my dear brother, my dear brother, come to me. Have no fear. I’ll do you no harm, my dear brother, just come. Fear not, I do not want to fight. We need to fraternize. It is true, my dear brother. Help me. I’ll help you, too, dear brother.” Something clicked, and the same voice grew completely different – growling, brief and snappy: “Drop the gun! Drop the gun! Drop the gun! Drop your weapon or I’ll burn you! Do not try to escape! Turn your back! Hands up! Both hands! So! Both hands on the head! Stand there and do not move! Do not move! Do not move!”
The schizophrenic split of Ijon’s personality is worthy of note too.  Due to his brain bisected, one hemisphere does not cooperate with the other, and consequently, one part of his body (hands, feet) is performing actions opposite to those the other part is performing. For instance, it repeatedly strikes Ijon on his face. I immediately saw a parallel in Ukraine’s actions. Russia has launched an act of aggression against Ukraine. At the same time, however, Ukraine continues to trade with Russia (for one, it’s delivering to Russia the military hardware within the frames of existing contracts). Euphemistically, Ukraine calls the war with Russia an “anti-terrorist action”—not a “war”, and it also awaits Russia’s consent for the ratification of the Association Agreement with the EU.

I wonder if the Ukrainian “chair-borne” command will, at some point, start reading Stanislaw Lem.

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ACQUISITION OF ENGLISH

July 28, 2014

2014-07-28Cartoon-Design-04Sophia is now visiting her grandparents here in Kyiv. She asked her granddad to show her the Cloudbabies on the  iPad, which I, of course, did, having beforehand surfed the Internet to see what the Cloudbabies were about. While the page with the animated pre-school series was being opened (maybe, too slowly), Sophia shouted into the tablet: “Silly Pants!” I understood that Sophia had changed her mind and instead of the Cloudbabies wanted to watch the program “Silly Pants.” So I dropped the Cloudbabies and started browsing the Internet again. What I found was a slang dictionary where the word “sillypants” was explained as 1. A very silly and random word used as a gentle repercussion or insult. My granddaughter might have been irritated by the slowness of the online connection. Being an advocate of Queen’s English does not always help to communicate with those who were born in the 21st century.

When later in the day, at dinner table, I told my folks about this episode, adding that Sophia knew English better than someone who had been learning this language for more than half a century, she, hearing what I said, raised her head from her dinner plate and said distinctly: “Bonjour!”

While I am writing these lines, Sophia is in the kitchen eating a huge and extremely red water-melon, which she calls “lemon water.”

WHEN THE NATION REACHES ADULTHOOD…

July 26, 2014

2014-07-26rip_ussrThere is a joke about a stranger asking a way in a city. The first person, whom the visitor addressed, said the shortest way to the visitor’s destination was from Cathedral of Praise to Covenant Fellowship, then to Family Harvest Outreach and, finally, to New House Ministries. The same route was explained by another person in a somewhat different way: “Go from Barley Mow to Olde Man and Scythe, then to Kentish House, and when you reach Cheviot Inn, you are at the right place. “

As a high-school student, I studied History of the Soviet Union, of which History of Ukraine was a part. In hindsight, I understand that the communist historians were taking students through the past centuries by “church names”, i.e. highlighting positive moments of the relationship between the two nations. However, the objective picture will emerge when the Ukrainian history is traced along the “pubs” – an endless string of tragedies and social catastrophes created by Russia. Were there any positive moments? Yes. But when compared with the negative aspect of the union with Russia, the positive element was hardly dominant.

For more than three and a half centuries it was crammed into our heads that Ukrainians and Russians were “brotherly” peoples. When I hear the word “brotherly” from the Russian lips now, I always have a feeling that something different is meant. Something opposite, to be exact.  I remember the same deceitful language was used when in 1968 the Soviets were giving military “assistance” to the “brotherly Czechoslovak people.” What kind of brotherhood can exist between the Russians and the Ukrainians if both had no less than five major wars between each other?.. if the artificial famine was organized by Russia in Ukraine and the scholars cannot agree about one thing only: how many millions (two? four? seven? ten?) of the Ukrainians died in the famine?.. if the Chernobyl disaster (thirty kilometers from the capital city of Kyiv) was actually Moscow’s culpability?

I shudder with disgust when I think that the “brother country” can blow up its own residential buildings and use it as a pretext to do away with another nation (the Chechens)… when passenger airliners can cold-bloodedly be downed for political purposes, or simply, for scaring an opponent (the Korean Airlines Flight in 1983, the Polish 2010 TU-154 plane near Smolensk, and the latest – the Malaysian MH17 Flight over Ukraine)… when political opponents are murdered on the territory of other countries (Yevhen Konovalets in the Netherlands in 1938; Stepan Bandera in Germany in 1959; Georgi Markov in 1978; Alexander Litvinenko in Britain in 2006)… With Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian citizen, the Bulgarian secret service was formerly involved, but it’s common knowledge that it couldn’t have happened if the Russian patron hadn’t OK’d the action.

Here, in Ukraine, you may sometimes hear the phrase “We love the Russians, we hate Putin.” I would agree with it if the generalizing article “the” in the sentence were replaced by the indefinite pronoun “some.” I deeply respect the philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, the dissident Andrey Sakharov, the philologist Dmitriy Likhachov. In my opinion, Yevgeniy Yevtushenko remains the greatest Russian poet of the second half of the 20th century. But… the fact also remains that nations are – directly or indirectly – accomplices in their leaders’ crimes. Adolf Hitler would not have been able to arrange the Holocaust if anti-Semitism had not been so popular among the Germans in the 1930s. At the moment Vladimir Putin is doing what the Russians want him to do. Millions of the Russians consider Ukraine to be an “error of history” with no right to exist. If Putin suddenly stepped down now, they (the Russians) would find another Putin. The sooner the Ukrainians understand it, the more mature as a nation they will be.

SMILE PARADE

July 25, 2014

200px-Smiley.svg

  1. TASTE IRELAND 

Two paddies were working for the city public works department. One would dig a hole and the other would follow behind him and fill the hole in. They worked up one side of the street, then down the other, then moved on to the next street, working furiously all day without rest, one man digging a hole, the other filling it in again.
An onlooker was amazed at their hard work, but couldn’t understand what they were doing. So he asked the hole-digger, “I’m impressed by the effort you two are putting in to your work, but I don’t get it – why do you dig a hole, only to have your partner follow behind and fill it up again?”
The hole-digger wiped his brow and sighed, “Well, I suppose it probably looks odd because we’re normally a three-person team. But today the lad who plants the trees called in sick.'”

 

What’s the difference between God and Bono?

God doesn’t wander around Dublin thinking he’s Bono.

 

Billy stops Paddy in Dublin and asks for the quickest way to Cork.
Paddy says, “Are you on foot or in the car?”
Billy says, “In the car.”
Paddy says, “That’s the quickest way.”

 

Gallagher opened the morning newspaper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died. He quickly phoned his best friend Finney.

“Did you see the paper?” asked Gallagher. “They say I died!!”

“Yes, I saw it!” replied Finney. “Where are ye callin’ from?”

 

 

“Young man,” said the judge, looking sternly at the defendant. “It’s alcohol and alcohol alone that’s responsible for your present sorry state!” “I’m glad to hear you say that,” replied Murphy, with a sigh of relief. “Everybody else says it’s all my fault!”

 

 

A Texan walks into a pub in Ireland and clears his voice to the crowd of drinkers. He says, “I hear you Irish are a bunch of hard drinkers. I’ll give $500 American dollars to anybody in here who can drink 10 pints of Guinness back-to-back.”

The room is quiet and no one takes up the Texan’s offer. One man even leaves. Thirty minutes later the same gentleman who left shows back up and taps the Texan on the shoulder. “Is your bet still good?”, asks the Irishman.

The Texan says yes and asks the bartender to line up 10 pints of Guinness. Immediately the Irishman tears into all 10 of the pint glasses drinking them all back-to-back. The other pub patrons cheer as the Texan sits in amazement.

The Texan gives the Irishman the $500 and says, “If ya don’t mind me askin’, where did you go for that 30 minutes you were gone?”

The Irishman replies, “Oh…I had to go to the pub down the street to see if I could do it first”.

 

You’ve got mail!!

 

John O’Byrne was mowing his front lawn, when his neighbor, Paddy Maguire, came out of his house and went straight to the mailbox. Paddy opened it, looked inside, slammed it shut and stormed back into his house. A little while later, Paddy came out again, went to the mailbox, opened it and slammed it shut again. Angrily he went back into his house. As John was getting ready to edge the lawn, Paddy came out of his house again and marched straight over to the mailbox. Red with frustration he checked it a third time and slammed it closed, this time harder then ever. Puzzled by his neighbor’s actions, John inquired “Is something wrong?”. Paddy repled, “Ya, there certainly is, my stupid computer keeps telling me I have mail!”

 

 

Primary school teacher: Tell me, Paddy. Do you say prayers before dinner? — Paddy: No, miss, I don’t have to. My mammy’s a good cook.

 

  1. Some Newspaper Headlines
  • Safety Experts say school bus passengers should be belted
  • Survivor of Siamese twins joins parents
  • Iraqi head seeks arms
  • Prostitutes appeal to Pope
  • Panda mating fails; Veterinarian takes over
  • President wins on budget, but more lies ahead
  • Enraged cow injures farmer with ax
  • Plane too close to ground, crash probe told
  • Stolen painting found by tree
  • Two ships collide, one dies
  • 2 sisters reunited after 18 years in checkout counter
  • If strike isn’t settled quickly, it may last a while
  • Enfield couple slain; Police suspect homicide

 

3.      HOW TO WRITE ENGLISH GOOD from the Casey Stengle School of Brooklynese (1) Just between you and I: case is important. (2) Don’t use no double negatives. (3) A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with. (or as Sir Winston Churchill once said; “This is the type of nonsense up with I will not put!”). (4) It is always good practice to never split infinitives. (5) Don’t write a run-on sentence you have to punctuate it. (6) When one is writing, it is important to maintain your point of view. (7) Proofread your work. Do not tolerate mispellings! (8) Watch out for irregular verbs which have croped into the language. (9) Don’t say the same thing more than once. It’s redundant and repetious. (10) You should be aware of the conditional case if you was to use it. (11) The smothering of verbs is a cause of the weakening of the sentence impact. (12) Avoid the utilization of enlarged words when shortened ones will do. (13) Make sure you hyp-henate properly. (14) Sentences should be written in the active voice when giving instructions, so that the subject of the action can be identified clearly. (15) Avoid the use of dyed-in-the-wool cliches. (16) The defacto use of foreign phrases vis-a-vis plain English in your written tete-a-tetes makes the sentence harder to understand.  (17) Each pronoun should agree with their antecedent. (18) It has come to our considered attention that in a large majority of cases, far too many people use a great deal more words than is absolutely necessary when engaged in the practice of writing sentences. (19) Be careful of dangling participles writing a paper.

RE-READING THAT IS GREAT AND LASTING

July 24, 2014

Today was my “German” day: I was re-discovering Faust by J.W.Goethe. The last time I read it was several decades ago. It’s interesting how literary works change with the change of our experience. After some 30-40 years you look at the same thing with quite different eyes.

It appears I have become more naïve with time. The first question that I asked myself was: Why should it have been namely Mephistopheles who Faust addressed about transcendent knowledge? God could give the scholar much richer knowledge beyond the ordinary range of perception. And there would have been no need to conclude a contract with the devil. Of course, besides knowledge, Faust was also after earthly pleasures, which was a clause of the contract too. Well, if Faust was a real seeker of truth (as the author portrays him to be), the pleasures could come on their own – in the wake of Faust’s spiritual and intellectual quest. The second clause could then be simply left out from the contract.

But the idea to “stop the moment” is really great! That’s what any kind of art (literature, painting, music) is about: “Zum Augenblicke würde ich sagen: // Verweile doch, du bist so schön!“

In a philological commentary that prefaces Goethe’s volume, the author speaks of Faust as a “Wahrheitssucher, der die Welt ergründen wollte.”  The word “ergründen” may be quite the right one in Faust’s case – covering such English words as fathom, sound, comprehend, feel out, get to the bottom of, penetrate into the secret of, grasp, perceive, conceive, make out, discern, get the picture of, take in, interpret, and many others.

Goethe wrote Faust all his life – for the reader to penetrate into its secrets as long as one lives.

ABOUT PROFESSIONALISM

July 23, 2014

2014-07-23AdYesterday the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a law on partial mobilization, which was previously approved by the Parliament. This morning I went to the military commissariat – a local military agency that drafts men for military service. It’s not that I hoped to be called up to the battlefront 🙂 Being 65 years of age you can hardly be drafted into the army – at least not until you are suddenly promoted from a retired captain (which I am) to the rank of a general: only generals are privileged to stay in the army when they are over 65. I had just a couple of required papers to hand in at the commissariat.

A symptomatic detail on the approach to the military office struck my eye. Right on the asphalt before the entrance gate there was an inscription made in white paint: “Body Armour: Levels 4 and 5”. The cell phone number was also indicated there. The levels meant threat levels (i.e. standards) for bulletproof vests. I thought about how skilfully our businesses can find niches for profit. It is being reported widely in the media that there are not enough armour vests for our soldiers, so, ring up and – hey, presto! – a vest crops up at the other end of the phone. When it comes down to a draftee’s  life or death, the sum of about USD 700 (the average price of a vest with a high level of protection) may be scraped up. Or it may be not, considering that 700 dollars amount to more than two average monthly salaries in Ukraine.

However, tangible financial and material support is given to the Ukrainian army by civilians. Banks issue “army bonds” which they sell to the population. Over the radio you may hear regular calls to send an sms to an announced number: the cost of the sms (about half a dollar) will be your contribution to the re-birth of the army. People queue up at hospitals to donate blood for wounded soldiers. It looks like after two decades when the army was being destroyed all that time, it’s the people’s war and it’s the people’s army now.

When already inside the building of the commissariat, I observed reservist officers waiting for their turn to be invited to respective desks. Most of them were intelligent-looking young people, very quiet and very polite. I compared them to the soldiers whom I see every evening on television. (Such soldiers are regularly interviewed by correspondents). With balaclavas covering their faces, with tattoos on their arms and grenade launchers in their hands, with their rough talk (sometimes you hear a beep if the interviewees’ words are too rude), the soldiers look “real tough.” I thought that if it should come to the point of these intellectual men – polite, considerate, with quiet clever eyes – commanding  those tough unruly guys, you will never know who will be in command.

I deeply respect the lads whom I see on TV: they risk their lives daily, and they – very often –lose their lives these days. But just as they cannot stand before students delivering a lecture in biochemistry, the reservist officers (defacto teachers or doctors) will hardly be able to effectively command a military operation. We don’t need the “people’s army.” We need a professional army. Then there will be no need to write on the asphalt where bulletproof jackets of proper threat levels can be bought.

 

 

 

THE LESSONS TO BE FOUND IN TRANSLATION

July 22, 2014

Here is an article from today’s Financial Times, which I think would be useful for everybody working within the framework of linguistics and cross-cultural communication. The writer is also the author of ‘You Talkin’ to Me?’ Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama.

 

Sam Leith

FT, 22nd July, 2014

On public speaking

 

I was at the bourse in Brussels the other day to give a presentation on rhetoric and translation to the UETF, or Universitйd’йtй de la traduction financiиre, a conference for business translators.

Here was a formidable breed of professionals, a crowd who could make “leveraging key potentialities in the transitional churn space” sound like it meant something in any language at all.

Translation poses some very particular problems for the persuasive speaker or writer. As the 20th century rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke put it: “You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, identifying your ways with his.”

To truncate the quote: you persuade a man only inasmuch as you can talk his language. There is the problem. So much of ethos – your connection with the audience – depends on common ground: shared idioms, shared references, a taken-for-granted confluence of world views and styles. So if you are a chief executive giving a presentation in a language not your own, or someone working to translate a document into a different language, you are in a tricky situation.

Much of the work of persuasion is done in the fine grain of the language. An English person delivering a speech that has been written in impeccably idiomatic French – when his or her accent and adlibs make clear their command of the language is at odds with the skill of the translator – will sound grating. The words will not seem to belong to the person speaking them.

We are accustomed to the “when in Rome do as the Romans do” attitude. Some cultures prize modesty, others self-confidence. Some are periphrastic, others direct. It is vital that you get decorum – the register and tone of a speech – right for the target audience. Jokey when solemn is expected will grate; solemn when jokey is expected will bore. British self-deprecation, according to one translator, travels less well than American-style directness: the signals are harder And for those in a press conference situation, it is worth being aware of what the local journalists are like. One translator tells me that the French press are not so accepting of the “bump and run” PR practice, where you pretend to answer their question but in fact steer the discussion over to another issue entirely. It is not just mood music: specific decisions about grammar and style can be fundamental across a culture. An example I learnt from my hosts is that in French speaking environments it is standard business convention for senior executives to refer to their companies in the third person: “Hachette’s results in the third quarter were . . .” In the Anglosphere, we would more naturally say: “Our results . . .” Third person, to us, sounds stiff and even evasive. To a French ear, I daresay, first person sounds too slangy, even presumptuous. Here is an instance where a style decision that is neutral or unmarked in one language carries baggage in another.

What do you do, then, when you are writing a speech or a briefing for a French CEO addressing an English audience? They might revolt at the idea of addressing shareholders in the first person plural. How do you talk them round? A delicate rhetorical situation for the translator or adviser: you are trying to persuade your boss of something, in order for him to persuade others better. My best advice: press on them the wisdom of the old saw that when you go fishing you bait the hook with what the fish likes, not with what you like.

 

WORLD CUP: BRAZIL HAVE BLITZED GERMANY!

July 19, 2014

Brazil v Germany: Semi Final - 2014 FIFA World Cup BrazilThe little Sophia’s parents and her older sister sat in front of the television to watch the World Cup semifinal between Germany and Brazil. Sophia inquired, in an adult manner, which team they were cheering for. The names of the countries didn’t mean much for Sophia, so she was told everybody was rooting for the “black-and-red” expecting that she would be “with” the family in her sympathies. However, being a negativist, Sophia chose the “yellow” to support. She looked more at the family than at the screen, and as the feelings were getting higher and higher, Sophia also “entered into the spirit”. After each scored goal she threw up her arms with clenched fists into the air and screamed at the top of her voice: “Y-e-s-s-s, yellow, you can do it!”

When the match finished, Sophia asked who had won. To avoid bitter tears, she was told: “The yellow, of course!” Happy Sophia went up to her bedroom. That night she was the only Brazil’s fan in the world who was happy.

WORDS AND THEIR STORIES

July 19, 2014

DictionariesWhile browsing the Internet for the news I came across a sentence “Today this image of (Putin’s) respectability is in a shambles, lying in ruin by the shattered remains of Malaysian Airways Flight 17.

Being a grammar purist, I have always used the combination in shambles  (to combine the indefinite article with the plural number would be an egregious misfit :-)), that is why I made a research into the word shambles. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that the word is plural, but may be both singular and plural in construction. So, it has eased my mind to know that I was right in saying in shambles <an economy in shambles>. The first known use of the word dates back to the 15th century. In those days it existed in the form shambil or shamel and meant place where meat is butchered or sold. However, originally the word had come into Anglo-Saxon as ceamol  table from Latin scabillum, diminutive of scamnum, bench, stool — serving as a seat, step, or support for the feet(a meaning innocent enough!). The Middle English compound shamelhouse meant slaughter house, a sense that the plural shambles developed (first recorded in 1548) along with the figurative sense a place or scene of bloodshed (first recorded in 1593). The present-day, more generalized meaning a scene or condition of disorder is first recorded in 1926. One of the recent components is dirtiness, through which the word joins the synonymic chain of the words dump, hellhole, pigsty, sty. The component out of order connects shambles with anarchy, lawlessness, misrule, tangle, mishmash, morass, hodgepodge (the antonyms being method, pattern, plan, system, order, orderliness).

 

It looks like the phrase in a shambles as it was used by the correspondent describing the scene of Flight MH17 crash (see above) has absorbed all the meaning shades the word shambles has accumulated through centuries.

A LIKELY FUTURE

July 19, 2014

2014-07-18Ribbentrop-MolotovThe shootdown of the Malaysian airliner brings a new factor into the development of the warfare in Ukraine. If it is proved that the plane was downed by the Russia-supported rebels (and there cannot be otherwise), the rebels will be officially re-qualified from “separatists” into “terrorists”, and Russia will hardly keep supplying them with weapons on the scale it has been doing until now. The support with the manpower, if not stopped altogether in full view of the watching world community, will have to be only secretly arranged, which will mean the considerable reduction of such support. On the other hand, I don’t think Mr. Putin will distance himself from the terrorists (who are actually the Russian “wild geese” recruited at military call-up centers right beyond the Ukrainian border) to the point of breaking away from them. The 90 percent of the Russians will “not understand him” then. Which is why, to save face, Mr. Putin may announce that Ukraine hasn’t been able to guarantee peace and security on its own territory and launch a full-scale invasion into it. I am afraid that even in this last case, the old and slow Europe will hardly rush to rescue Ukraine. There may be some back-door games between the Asiatic gas supplier and the European gas consumer followed by compromises, which will make Ukraine into a sacrificial lamb. Alas for Ukraine!2014-07-18You are a gas

(The cartoons are uploaded courtesy of Kyiv Post)


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