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.