Saturday, 28 March 2015

Realis and irrealis moods

One of the projects that I have the privilege of taking part in has to do with the development of teaching material for elementary levels of school. I have a small but not unimportant role in advising and commenting on technical issues around language and grammar. I take no credit for the excellent work which was really begun and carried to its present state largely by a single, impressive, individual (whose permission I have not sought to name here).

I'm currently examining the difference between realis and irrealis moods as they relate to practical and creative use of language.

This technical distinction is subtle but I'm thinking that it can justifiably describe language acquisition in a natural, autosegmental way—by "autosegmental" I mean that its sequencing rule (first realis and then irrealis) may be significant to describing language acquisition rules. The realis mood situates and positions the speaker-learner in a context of what they can perceive as the "background" (ie, everything else that "is not").

 There is but one notion of a realis mood: the 'to be' phrase.

I am sitting down and typing.

You read my work (ie, you (did) read my work - past tense).

The day (it) was getting longer.


No matter the tense (past, present or infintive), the realis mood merely states/describes a fact (or, a plausibility of it). No matter the language, there is no 'future' realis mood.

A single-worded statement like 'me' obeys a certain set of rules that compel its membership to the category in which 'I am...' statements belong. The realis mood is so amenable to a question like, 'What is this?', that it is the "default" mood in which babies first become aware of the notion of "linguistic competence". This grammatical function's spartan-bare simplicity belies its immense generative capacity: every, single utterance ever spoken by a human being is built up from its foundations.

The irrealis mood, on the other hand, is a real chameleon. It may propose, cajole, beguile, abuse, or do whatever its source and master may have the capacity to muster. Mastery of the irrealis is a mark of greatness that founds all human genius.

If the realis mood be primal and necessary, then the irrealis mood is secondary and contingent. This "natural" stratification and its notion of priority (and only these) make all human language ecologically-rich and adaptive beyond imagining.


Saturday, 7 March 2015

A notion of knowledge thus

Did I tell you that I love my job?

I'm currently involved in a project at work reviewing and updating the first of 4 modules offered to interpreter students and professionals, and I must say that I'm stoked.

This project has given me pause for thought on what I think "education" is ("education" = undefined). Recently, another, unrelated, issue at work (a metaphysical question) just fell into place and I saw this possible framework:

Terminology Development
Agreed-upon principles of nomenclature are foundational to any (professionalized) Terminology Development process—the unspecified "naming principles" spoken of here are a highly generalized set of logical elements that allow for productive and sustainable description/discourse (whether science, mathematics, politics, sociology, etc. etc.).

Demonstrating to the students that it is possible to build up (specialist/general) knowledge from this abstract set is a matter of demonstrating its...

Linkages to the real world
There is a subtle, world of difference between translating from one language to another and actually talking about a subject in your language of choice. Realizing this frees up the mind to play around with ideas and concepts outside of language where original insight/thought may articulate itself most readily.

However, it cannot be left so.

Learning is an evolutionary process
Exposure leads to new awareness and (instantaneous) recasting of the learning experience hitherto with respect to a subject. In an adult (interpreter/translator) classroom setting this process is best described by a Vygotskian framework where prior and existing knowledge figures sometimes significantly into the learning experience. The frequency and quality of individual and group discussions, then, become a gauge of how much is taken in and incorporated into their thinking, conduct and speech in real time.

In treating this phenomenon in Vygotskian terms we exploit prior and existing knowledge and focus upon solidifying its context by way of rational engagement.

At any rate, I think that this is how I learn.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

'Concept' defined

The notion of "conceptual integrity"—however defined—should include the notion of "categorization". Categorization is defined as:

Categorization is the process in which ideas and objects are recognized, differentiated, and understood. Categorization implies that objects are grouped into categories, usually for some specific purpose. Ideally, a category illuminates a relationship between the subjects and objects of knowledge. Categorization is fundamental in language, prediction, inference, decision making and in all kinds of environmental interaction. (

In fact, Kant argues, that our notions of space and time are fundamental, primitive elements (I'd say, 'dimensions' really) of sentient consciousness. Insert the notion of realis and irrealis moods and we become masters of space and time as not only are "past", "present" and "future" possible to differentiate (realis mood), but so are possible contingent, speculative and aspirational constructs: "will have had..."; "will not be..."; "would've wanted...", etc. etc. (irrealis or perfective moods).

When "ideas and objects are recognized, differentiated and understood", the deeper implication is that we've somehow managed to grammaticalize said "ideas and objects" into a convincing narrative: John not only saw (something); he formed opinions, invested emotions, and "interpreted" and, in turn, "encoded" meaning into the elements organized for that specific and particular purpose of the discourse. Political and/or artistic motives aside: the power of a concept so grammaticalized frees the mind to roam the limits and delineations of the sign (no less!).

Nothing occurs in isolation.

The self-same mise-en-scene is used and reused, each iteration changed a little here and there—it is a historical process we are talking about here. The sum total of all acts narrated—like landmarks on a map—is less than the apparent 'naturalness' of its (the narrative's) place and time inside the totality of experience (mental, physical and potential)—ie, its trajectory is continuous and logically-plausible. The landscape is where a map isn't and simply cannot be, and it is in the landscape where we exist.

Even in the irrealis, we take the existence of this landscape for granted: we hope that our statements/plans are realized in this unspoken landscape for all to see and to verify for us the veracity of the constellation of concepts we "saw".

The morpheme /tuqu-/ is not a particular instance or degree of "mortality" but captures instead everything from an expiring plant (tuqulijuq) to someone/something having, in fact, died (tuqulauqtuq)., and one may also say tuqussaut (poison).

At the morphemic level, the Inuit language has rules to construct stems (tuquli-; tuqulauq-; etc.) that comprise of a conceptual root (/tuqu-/) and how it changes from a verb to a noun and/or vice-versa depending upon the subsequent affixes + pronominal ending it takes on. These grammatical rules are highly constraining and discriminating of what they'll allow as acceptable constructs.

In the Inuit language, the grammatical  root exists both as an idea and a marker whose value is often not immediately obvious (a "marker" is a technical notion: for eg, 'man' is unmarked (and, ostensibly, basic) while 'woman' is marked (and, ostensibly, contingent)) but only realized following a grammatical process. For /qiqi-/:

uluanga qiqittuq  "his cheek is frost-bitten"

nattiviniq qiqijuq  "the seal meat is freezing"

-the two senses differ, and it is the /t/+tuq in the first instance that is marked (let us say for the moment that /t/ is a passive marker) while its absence denotes that it is the subject itself (S) that is spoken of/acted upon (ie, qiqijuq  "S is freezing").

The elegance and strength of a concept is that it is the unchanging (isomorphic) anchor on which other ideas and notions may be built upon. The outcome is not necessarily predictable but it is intimately linked to a given concept.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Words vs Concepts

I've never been much of a fan of Saussure; in fact, I kind of have a visceral discomfort with the guy. I cannot really articulate why—well, maybe I can but I wouldn't and I shan't. Let's just say that I have technical/philosophical issues with Saussurean interpretation of the nature of language.

I'm a huge fan of John Goldsmith, though. I don't really know if he invented the analytical framework called, Autosegmental Phonology, but he's right up there among thinkers I admire.

Though his 1976 PhD thesis (available here: focused on phonology there is a passing section in there about language acquisition that has provided me much food for thought. My main interest in it has to do with dialectal variation, and, along with that, semantic shifting.

In the Inuit language—or, in all languages in general—there is an interesting phenomenon that I call "semantic shift" where the use of a morpheme (basic unit of meaning) stays within the same conceptual class but shifts slightly in meaning. For example, the root:

/qiqi-/ 'to freeze/coldness' in my dialect means "meat that is starting to freeze/frostbite" but in other dialects it means "to feel (extreme) cold". This is what I call "semantic shifting".

This phenomenon is, of course, not unique to the Inuit language. But it usually occurs in terms of historical change within one language, or because of word adaptation (examples in technical and scientific terminologies abound) where the basic sense of the word changes from usage in the source language.

In modern day English (at least, in how Inuit speakers use it), the word /very/ has come to mean "a high degree of (something)" where it once meant "true" etymologically. The King James' bible is replete with examples of how the word was once used:

"Verily, verily I say unto to you..."

All fine and well.

But here I'm focusing on not just the "diachronic" but including the "synchronic" semantic shift within one language family (namely, the Eskimo-Aleut language family). -Diachronic means how language has evolved in historic time and synchronic has to do with where a language (or, more precisely, a dialect) is at a point in time.

Conceptual integrity has been somewhat in the forefront of my mind lately. I'm doing some work on elements of medical terminology—not "translating" but actually talking about medical concepts in Inuktitut, how the derivation and constructive rules of medical terminology work.

Polysynthesis is a very familiar process to Inuit language speakers if not the actual technical term itself. Polysynthesis has to do with compounding different morphemes together to make them grammatical and/or to construct new meaning from its root and affixes.

The additional interesting feature of medical (and, scientific) word elements (and, their constructive rules) is that it draws from more than one source language. For example, the prefixes: bi- and di- (ie, two-ness) may mean the same concept but are used in differing ways:

The prefix /bi-/ (from Latin), for eg, seems to occur where the notion of morphology or tendency is concerned: bilateral symmetry, bicuspid, bisexual, etc.; whereas the prefix /di-/ (from Greek) seems reserved for (deep) structurally-derived two-ness: diphthong (or, a compound vowel), diamelia (absence of two limbs), diandry (an egg fertilized by a sperm with two chromosomes) and digyny (a fertilized egg having two sets of chromosomes from the mother).

(Diachronic) semantic shift is a very powerful concept especially in its deliberately rationalized form (as shown by the usage in medical/physical terminologies). In Inuit-indigenous discourse it may be used not only in standardization efforts but also in modernization efforts which are key to language preservation and enhancement (both drawing from various dialectal forms vulcanized by consesus for specific usage in the different technical fields of discourse).


Saturday, 31 January 2015

Inuit and the notion of "number"

Sometimes, in my quieter moments, I think about Kant's decidedly mathematical assertion that space and time are primal elements of human consciousness and cognition. That Kantian philosophy would be "decidedly mathematical" is neither surprising nor remarkable, but what is remarkable (if obscurantist) about his philosophical treatment of space and time is that he went beyond the merely empirical (and, therefore, naive) and pared everything down to the absolutely essential elements of human consciousness—Descartes appears rather parochial compared to Kant:

Space is not something objective and real, nor a substance, nor an accident, nor a relation; instead, it is subjective and ideal, and originates from the mind's nature in accord with a stable law as a scheme, as it were, for coordinating everything sensed externally. (Kants gesammelte Schriften, Ak 2: 403)

Ditto, for our notion of time (ie, subjective, ideal, etc.).

What blew my mind (as a linguist) is that Kant was able to link these two primitive elements of human consciousness to the structure of language—ie, as forming the foundations of grammar, no less! I invite you to consider our notions of "proximity", and not only our notions of "past, present and future" but additionally what are called irrealis moods of "perfective past, present, and future"—ie, "will have had..."—and swat them away as you would annoying flies. What you're left with are things and actions without context (adverbs and adjectives having been swatted away along with space and time), and therefore completely meaningless (Saussurean) cats and dogs (let alone, jumps and sittings).

Georg Ferdinand Ludwig Philipp Cantor was a German mathematician who invented the set theory in mathematics. At its core, set theory is a realization that our notion of counting is a secondary, emergent activity arising only after we realize (discern) that we can collect and organize like objects into sets.

To quote the incomparable David Berlinski (Infinite Ascent, 2005):

From the first, working mathematicians turned gratefully to set theory because of its immense, its obvious, usefulness. It comprises a series of ideas, and language, and a technique, its serviceability in this regard an especially ironic circumstance just because sets are not themselves obviously mathematical objects, sets serving perfectly well to collect kiwis and kangaroos, as well as numbers and points. (Berlinski 2005, p. 128)

I would contend that the Inuit notion of "number" is exactly like how set theory treats a collection of things (ie, numbers and/or points on a plane or line). The lexicalized root itself, naasaut (number), may be analysed as:

[naa-] + [-saq-] + [-ut(i)-] or,

[completion] + [working to achieve a desired state] + [instrument]

In a typically particularized context/definition an Inuktitut dictionary, Uqausiit Tukingit (2000), defines a notion of:

naajijuq: ullunik imannanik aullaqsimaniaqĊ‚ungi, ullut taakkua naangmata naajivuq

or, translated:

naajijuq: in having planned to be away (hunting) for a set number of days, when these days have past (the hunter) returns home

and, here is the entry on naasaut itself:

naasaut: nalunaiqsiniq kisutuinnait qassiuninginnik

which may be translated as:

naasaut: the act of giving an indication of how many things are

The Inuit notion of "completion" (or, "achieving an end") is uncannily anticipatory of set theoretic notions of number. The notational conventions of set theory indicate "number" in terms of a series of what are called "empty sets" {∅} embedded between {}—as per Peano's axiom that zero is a number—belies the simplicity and elegance of its subject. The concept of number is rather more abstract and ineffable for the precise reason that it is more primitive than the act of counting.

Number, then, may be described precisely in terms of Kant's notions of space and time: it is a primitive element necessary to achieve consciousness and cognition, and, more importantly, to gain competence and mastery over grammar.

The bias that it is only the Western Mind that has achieved the pinnacle and sophistication of capturing the whys and wherefores of human consciousness is really a "tilting at windmills": as Kant adumbrates, all human consciousness has space, time and number at its foundations. It is from these that any scaffolding (ie, culture) is only possible. As the Kant quotation above implies, consciousness/self-awareness is not an achievement by effort; it is a commonality belonging to all sentient beings. It is an axiom upon which all things that we can perceive, imagine and articulate are based.


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Keys to the Kingdom

In the movie, Matrix: Reloaded, the Councillor Haman character, late at night in the engineering level of Zion, says to Neo:

Almost no one comes down here, unless, of course, there's a problem. That's how it is with people - nobody cares how it works as long as it works. I like it down here. I like to be reminded this city survives because of these machines. These machines are keeping us alive, while other machines are coming to kill us. Interesting, isn't it? Power to give life, and the power to end it.

and he continues:

There is so much in this world that I do not understand. See that machine? It has something to do with recycling our water supply. I have absolutely no idea how it works. But I do understand the reason for it to work. I have absolutely no idea how you are able to do some of the things you do, but I believe there's a reason for that as well. I only hope we understand that reason before it's too late.

I approach science, math and religion in much the same way. I often have no idea how it works. But I'm also of the mind that there tend to be reasons, felt but left unspoken, for why they'd work. This realization keeps me humble. There is a feeling that I'm just scratching the surface. Sometimes I spend years contemplating something in the back of my mind, then, suddenly, unbidden, things seem to fall into place all at once and fully developed.

I think I've always had this ability for a-ha moments; the ability to consider and weigh things at multiple levels at the same time. The realization that the absurd and the profound, the sacred and the profane, often co-exist in a single statement compels me to take human genius for articulation of ideas seriously. I believe that the human mind is capable of divine inspiration in this exact way so I often obsess (perhaps unduly) over irony.

Often, where I'd intuit a highly-complex and convoluted path a simple principle is found. This is true in math, science and religion.

I know that Christianity per se has a bad reputation and turn people off as no other thing in the human experience can and is capable of. Besides the psychological dissonance in general, many so-called "Christians" are judgmental, xenophobic (racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, etc. etc.) and tend to extreme passive-aggression if not outright symbolic and real violence. if the Christ wanted unabashed busybodies to represent Him.

Someone I love profoundly is a casualty of family under the evil influence of a cult. I know that Matthew 10: 34-36 is the justification for this forced, complete estrangement:

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'"

The Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible says that the word "sword" (in Greek, mechaira) is a figurative term of divine judgement. This sword is spoken of Gospels as in the letters of Paul and in the Book of Revelation ("...and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth." Rev. 1: 16).

The "a man against his father..." part is in reference to a judgement passed by G*d in the prophesies of Micah 7:6 on the day of His visitation on Israel. Denial is the hallmark of justifying evil, it is this denial that allows unchecked perpetuation of abuse and caps off this sorry state of affairs in the family of Israel as per the divine judgement.

The quote in the Book of Matthew has nothing to do with a command to turn against family against family, let alone is it an arbitrary threat of violence from the Christ. The Christ has come to His people and what He finds is a:

"...time of your confusion.
Do not trust a neighbor;
    put no confidence in a friend.
Even with the woman who lies in your embrace
    guard the words of your lips.
For a son dishonors his father,
    a daughter rises up against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
    a man’s enemies are the members of his own household." (Micah 7: 4-6)

The passing of divine judgement is never a condemnation but is rather a conviction (a quickening of conscience) before forgiveness and reconciliation can take root in the wayward:

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
    so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he also binds up;
    he injures, but his hands also heal." (Job 5: 17-18)

I've also been bothered quite a bit by the Islamophobia I saw in one of my fellow Christians. He is a right-wing fundamentalist and I have strong suspicions that he belongs to the sect that sees it their Christian duty to help bring about Armageddon with the ultimate end to open the path for the new Jerusalem where the Muslims are expelled and the Dome of the Rock is blown up like the Nazi emblem in that famous WWII footage—well, to be fair, it is not only the Muslims he has ideological/theological issues with but also Catholics and Anglicans, and the Orthodox Church I'd surmise if they were one of the pesky churches in Canada.

He seems so far up the ass that I suspect he's completely and blissfully unaware that:

"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4: 20).

As usual, the common thread in all these strands a simple principle applies (Micah 6:8).


Saturday, 17 January 2015

Why literacy?

In the appreciation of a work of art, the amateur appreciates the subject, but the connoisseur admires the painting.
-David Berkinski, Infinite Ascent, p. 39

The notion of "literacy" goes beyond the ability to read and write. It requires further commitment from the reader to "turn water into wine". What I mean is that the reader is invited to partake in a tradition that is rich and generous beyond imagining. It does this by paring down the superfluous, the unnecessary (ie, ignorance and pride) and by building upon, by appealing to what was always there (ie, intelligence and rationality).

It is strange that there is no "literary-literate", but there are such things as "scientifically-literate"; "philosophically-literate"; "politically-literate"; etc.—even "artistically-literate"—that seem to suggest that literacy, per se, is not a mechanical but a maturation process of sorts, a gaining of excellence and mastery. Ie, it goes beyond, as Northrop Frye says below, the facts and statements of a text and, if trusted and allowed, goes on to affect the existential being of the person who has become literate:

Wisdom is the central form which gives meaning and position to all the facts which are acquired by knowledge, the digestion and assimilation of whatever in the material world the man comes in contact with.
-Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake

The notion of "wisdom" is a slippery, hard-to-give-a-pat-definition concept because it is not a thing but a perceptual framework that is acquired not in textbooks but in contemplation of the narrative (be it history, oral traditions, classicist literature, and what is called "conventional wisdom"—or, as I call it, normative exegeses).

In the study of the Holy Scriptures I consider theology a blasphemous abomination by the simple virtue that it seeks to limit that which cannot be, by definition, bound:

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.
-Tao Te Ching

rather, my belief in the Gospel of the Christ Jesus has to do with the transcendent, transformative personal obligations we owe to G*d, to nature and to our fellow human beings (love (or agape) and reconciliation). I include in our obligations to nature because it says in the Book of Revelation:

...The time has come for judging the dead,
    and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
    both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.
-Book of Revelation 11:18 (NIV)

Socrates—in a round-about way—was less interested in definitions per se in his insistence upon universals but rather in the nature of things that define us, and our values: In discoursing on justice, he is not interested in the definition of "justice", but, rather, what is its nature, what is required of us to embody it?

In all my talk of Inuit Qaujimaningit (IQ or Inuit Knowledge) and the Family Health Model (spoken of in more detail somewhere in this blog) I've tried to impress upon people that I'm not wanting definitions of words to be posted as labels but that we discourse on and explore the implications to (personal and social) value systems. These are not intended to provide definitive answers to questions not asked but help us to be able to formulate contemporary issues around a common framework and learn from each other.