[links] Link salad measures bricks

A sad caseLanguage Log with some fairly amusing linguistic neepery on the passive voice.

For Idaho and the Internet, Life in the Slow Lane — Isn’t that why people live in places like Idaho in the first place?

Rise of the Apes via Miracle Grow — A squib on the cognitive science of the recent Apes movie.

Is Thorium the Biggest Energy Breakthrough Since Fire? Possibly. — As I recall, thorium reactors are an old SFnal trope.

A monstrous truth — Some truths about Social Security for the reality challenged on the Right.

Democracy And Terrorism — Ta-Nehisi Coates on flying while brown, and the politics of terrorism, also with a link back to James Fallows on the same topics.

With No Paid Sick Leave, Philadelphia Woman Fired For Taking Time Off To Save Her Son’s Life — Nothing to see here. No need for any reform of our perfected free market healthcare system. Move along, citizen, and don’t forget, socialism is just around the corner if you show compassion. See how well the market based solution worked here? (Via @twilight2000.)

Peter King in the Hot Seat — in London — Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee challenged on past support of IRA terrorism. Shorter GOP re IRA and forced pregnancy movement terrorism: Guns and bombs are okay if white Christians do it.

In Republican Race, a Heated Battle Over the HPV Vaccine — In which the already wilfully ignorant American Right seems to be tying itself into more knots than usual.

Huntsman Staffer “Sick And Sad” For The GOP After Debate Behavior — Why? GOP politicoes and strategists have been trolling for votes for years by appealing to exactly this kind of crazy. Confidential to Republican staffers in America: You guys have cheerfully spent years shitting the bed the rest of us have to lie in. Why sorry now?

?otD: How thick are you?


9/15/2011
Writing time yesterday: 2.5 hours (90 minutes on revisions to Kalimpura, 1 hour of WRPA)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 8.25 hours (interrupted)
Weight: 222.8
Currently reading: Inversions by Iain M. Banks

4 thoughts on “[links] Link salad measures bricks

  1. Jaws says:

    Ah, yes, the never-ending argument concerning passive voice/passive constructions. Interesting how that argument almost always originates with native English-speakers… and is virtually always limited as a “criticism” to Indo-European languages.

    1. Cora says:

      The problem with passive voice is indeed a particular issue with native English speakers, as e.g. Germans consider the passive a perfectly normal and acceptable part of the language. I’d even go as far as to argue that using the passive voice is even more particularly an issue with Americans. At any rate, most of the rabid passive haters I come across are Americans, though Ben Goldacre is British as far as I know. So was George Orwell, though Mssrs. Strunk and White are far more to be blamed for the irrational hatred of the passive voice than Orwell.

      As for why passive voice criticisms are almost always limited to Indo-European languages, well the sort of prescriptivist amateur linguists who issue anti-passive or anti-adverb proclamations are usually not familiar with any languages other than some of the more obvious Indo-European ones.

      And whenever anti-passive rhetoric shifts into blasting non-native speakers of English for their alleged clunky writing or just plain blasting other languages altogether (e.g. Goldacre quoting that awful Mark Twain essay on the German language), there’s always a very American monolingual arrogance at work. Languages are different, they have different rules of grammar, orthography, pronunciation, etc… However, one language is not superior to any other, just because the other language functions differently. Never mind that the supposed “clunkiness” of the German language that Mark Twain described is a word order issue and has nothing to do with the passive voice. And the reason that English has a far more strictly fixed subject verb object word order than e.g. German or many other languages is that English does not have case suffixes, therefore word order is often the only clue to determining which case and there syntactic function a given noun has. But you don’t hear native German speakers complaining that English is obviously an inferior language, because it doesn’t have case suffixes.

      1. Jay says:

        For whatever it’s worth, I always read the Twain German language essay as pure humor rather than serious linguistic peevery. I’m fairly certain old Sam knew better. Note he skewers French in “The Jumping Frog: In English, Then in French, and Then Clawed Back Into A Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil” via a different technique but to similar effect.

        My take on the fixation with the passive is that it serves a cultural marker of hypercorrection and self-declared erudition in the AngloAmerican world.

        1. Cora says:

          Oh, I’m pretty sure that Twain’s essays about the German and French language were intended as humour, but a lot of people take them seriously. Besides, as a linguist this whole “one language or dialect is superior to another” attitude really grates on me. Though considering that Mark Twain did write in vernacular to great effect, he never struck me as a language snob, so those two essays are rather disappointing.

          I have always viewed the passive aversion as part of the American (and it is culturally American) that everybody or everything must have agency. The aversion to the passive voice (no agency), the strong focus on verbs to the exclusion of all other words, the dislike of adjectives and particularly adverbs are all outgrowths of this agency fixation.

          Add to that the odd reverence for Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, a book that’s outdated as a style guide and frankly rubbish as a grammar book, and a lack of grammar instruction at the middle and highschool level and you get a lot of people who are firmly convinced that passive voice is a bad thing without knowing what exactly the passive voice is.

          Though Strunk and White and Orwell did have a point of sorts that the passive voice as well as adverbs should be used sparingly, because they tend to result in clunky sentences. I always cringe whenever I have to push my students through an exercise of converting perfectly acceptable active sentences into clunky passive sentences only to tell them afterwards, “Now that you know how to form the passive, which puts you ahead of several bestselling writers, you should use it very sparingly, because it tends to sound dreadful.” At least, I always have at least one terrible clunker of a sentence per exercise to serve as an example.

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