Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Language Finds a Way

If the title rings a bell, chances are you are a dinosaur maniac, a sci-fi addict, or at least a moviegoer.

Yes, this curiosity-inducing title has been inspired by a popular quote uttered by American mathematician character Dr. Ian Malcolm in the 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park. I believe, currently it's strongly reverberating all over the world in anticipation of the fifth installment of the franchise: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, slated to hit theaters on June 22 next year. It is always great to discuss dinosaurs, but now let's shift from a dinosaurian theme to a linguistic one.

I used to (and perhaps many people) think that language is something that is immune to change. It maintains its forms and features permanently and remains unaffected by any circumstance where it resides. Language is sort of comparable to religious dogma in the sense that you must accept it as it is and altering it is impossible – it would be deemed sacrilegious to attempt to make any changes to it. Language is a robust entity; it is invincible and stays the same all the time, retaining all of its characteristics. But is this true?

To answer this question, firstly, let's look at a very basic question: Why do we use language? Humans are inherently very social creatures and in order to make achievements possible, they often need to be able to express their ideas and feelings successfully as well as effectively to other members of their kind. That's where the role of language fits in. Language is simply a means of communication, intended for the good, development, advancement, and survival of our species.

With this in mind, it is easy to think that language is, quite the opposite, actually fluid. As I once put it on Facebook, just like creatures, language evolves. It adapts to the conditions as necessary and to try to prevent change is a futile act. "Functionality" is the watchword. The sheer variety of world languages itself points to the fact that language has transformed on a massive scale, and it keeps on changing – unstoppable. 'Pressure' from its surroundings inevitably modifies it and this process should be seen as a natural process and not an intimidating one.

Stan Carey excellently wrote in a Macmillan Dictionary Blog article that "the meanings and usage of words change all the time: new senses emerge, old ones fade or shift, and senses can vary greatly from one context to another." Not only that; language also constantly accepts new vocabulary. For instance, two centuries ago no-one had ever heard the words tyrannosaurid and even dinosaur, but now the terms are widely used, especially in paleontological and scientific contexts (note that the definition of dinosaur itself needs changing: many dinosaurs, such as Compsognathus and Velociraptor, are considered small and, scientifically speaking, birds are dinosaurs, so dinosaurs as a group are not extinct). In addition, as technology has advanced rapidly, a huge impact on the related vocabulary couldn't be resisted. This is clearly seen from the fact that the majority of the 15 words that have climbed in use most significantly over the past twenty years are technology-related, such as email and laptop (watch British linguist David Crystal talk about the internet's effects on language here).

The same fate also befalls other linguistic features, including grammar, which is probably often thought to be even more "stubborn". Michael Rundell, the Editor-in-Chief of the Macmillan Dictionary, stated in his Real Grammar article that "grammar is no different" from vocabulary and that it "can change over time." For example, starting as a verb, the word impact has undergone alterations in its history and now it is perfectly fine to use it either as a noun or a verb. In terms of pronunciation, rhotacism – whether or not r is pronounced in words like card – historically disappeared and emerged in English.

Change is the nature of language. It is unavoidable and it is actually good that language, uh, finds a way.
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Friday, December 15, 2017

Why I Don't Use Instagram

Thought-provoking title, isn’t it?

You might call me an old-fashioned or technologically down-to-date man – in fact, one of my best friends, who works as a doctor in a government hospital in North Jakarta, carries on keeping on continuing – I know I am being lebay (i.e. an Indonesian slang term for "exaggerating"), but there it is – insisting that I utilize the popular social media app. So, why don’t I do that? What prevents me clicking on the Play Store icon on my phone and, after several necessary steps, press the download button for the camera-logoed software?

I am from Indonesia, a wide-spanning, island-chunked country near to the kangaroo land Australia, and with a population of an enormous over 250 million people (hopefully I am right) and alay attitude present across the inhabitants (most of them are young adults), it is squarely a delish market for Instagram. And I think it is safe to say that its penetration and performance here is “highly successful”. A lot of my friends seem to love it and I can see their photos (and sometimes, or oftentimes, the accompanying deluges of hashtags) on my Facebook timeline since their Instagram accounts are linked to their Facebook. Again, the question remains the same: why don’t I have Instagram? (oh, well, different wording, but the same idea, right?)

The answer lies in my nature. I consider myself as someone who is ‘geared’ more towards functionality. I am not a kind of person who puts high importance on esthetics. It is reflected by the way I dress: I wouldn’t want to spend, say, 150 USD on fancy pieces of clothing – it would be better to use that much money to buy dinosaur books written by experts in the field since it will make me a more knowledgeable human and get me to a clearer understanding of the world. However, I do love taking and sharing pictures – with right doses. I do it occasionally, just when I feel it is necessary.

I am also a type of hominid who doesn’t like to follow mainstream trends – again, if they are not functional. I don’t feel Instagram would satisfy my needs as they have been fulfilled by, for example, Facebook. The sister company, I think, is the best social medium as it has all the features you would expect in such an app: you can upload photos and videos, you can post a status consisting of text only, you can create groups as well as pages, and so on and so forth. I do use other social media, for instance, LinkedIn and Twitter. I use the former because it provides a great platform in professional context (for networking, applying for jobs, etc.), while I created an account on the latter as it was ordered by my university lecturer in a character-building subject for a future assignment which she ended up not giving – thankfully, there is an upside of it: I can interact with science public figures such as British zoologist Dr. Darren Naish and Australian science writer John Pickrell. To me, the thought of having the latest version of the iPhone is just uninteresting and to be ignored: I am completely satisfied with my over-a-year-old Sony Xperia M2.

Now you might be asking: Will you ever use Instagram? Will I do that in the future? Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends: I will if I find that it will have a useful impact in my life.
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Quote #30

"It is genuine smiles which are worthy, as opposed to fake ones, which are pernicious." - Klinsman Hinjaya
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