May 2007 Archives

Sorry, no Bagpipes: Europe’s View of Wales


It’s a common complaint that Americans are a little clueless on the nuances of external geographic realities. Actually the truth is that Americans are often clueless about what happens in the next state as well as outside the US. On the other hand, the international community doesn’t always fare so well either.

Witness this article on European Views of Wales in which neighboring countries typically consider Wales a slightly exotic region of England and ask if Wales has bagpipes (not really) or if Sean Connery is Welsh (no, he’s Scottish). Some people realize that there is a separate Welsh language, but one person said she only knew that it was “hard.”

Ironically, most of these comments are pretty much what I would in the USA, but at least we have an ocean-wide gap we can use as an excuse!

Actually, this shouldn’t be about playing a blame game about who knows the least geography, but a recognition that we ALL need a little help.

After all it’s just as dangerous for a European to assume that Walmart defines America as it is for an American to assume that the Eiffel Tower defines France.

United by HGTV?


We often talk about the social divisions within America, but I do know one place where we all seem to come renovation!

HGTV is the primary vehicle for the house renovation show, but there's also Discovery Home, TLC, DIY, BBC America, the Bravo Top Designer reality show, that ABC show I've never actually watched and sometimes a dream kitchen special from Food TV. There are several things that make this genre a rich, but semi-loopy vision of a diverse utopia.

For one thing, I've seen all types of house owners featured on these shows - Anglos, Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans, Afro-Caribbean Americans, mixed race couples and same sex couples. If they have a decorating dream, they can be the star of their own home decor episode.

Locations are primarily in the United States, but more and more you do see shows set outside the United States. Apparently everyone in the Western World over a certain income level is united in a desire for authentic detailing, punchy wall colors and brand-new kitchen appliances. I've also learned much more about the British housing market. I didn't realize that the 99-year lease was applied to anything other than the colony of Hong Kong.

The other interesting thing is how many diverse people are latching onto a "family-friendly" genre which has practically no sex, no violence and very little politics. Who knew this was even possible? My mother and aunt listen to politically opposite talk radio channels, but both are avid watchers of home decor TV. If you run out of weather conversation, a safe bet is that a reference to house renovation or house buying will keep the conversation moving (especially once you've gotten out of college).

What's the drawback? Well there is the fact that not everyone lives with their dream kitchen and may not get one anytime soon. It is a little odd to see rich expatriate Americans searching for their dream resort homes in Central America.

On the other hand, where else can you see people of any background molding their dream homes - even their microscopic rental apartments?

Somehow though HGTV makes the American dream a little more approachable. After all, all you really need to make your housing dreams come true is sweat, good flea market finds and a fresh can paint.

Citations in our Lecture Notes?


The H-Teach List is having a really in-depth discussion on plagiarism. The general consensus is that the US plagiarists generally know they are being naughty, but Doug Deal asked an interesting question about most textbooks

Textbooks have a lot of written materials and lists of "suggested readings," but as far as I know, they don't usually have footnotes or endnotes or works cited. they don't cite specific sources for the information or the analyses they contain. Why not?

The lecture presents an oral version of the same problem. We undoubtedly could cite sources for some of what we say in every lecture, but typically we don't, or at least we don't do so scrupulously. Is that okay too?

That is, many of our lecture Powerpoints for the classtoom tend to present facts "as-is" and not delve too deeply into where we got our information. To give some people credit, some lectures and textbooks do include citations (and I try to squeeze them in), but it's rarely a key feature in the information most people see.

By the way, it's not just the classroom. Most popular non-fiction, news stories and informational Web sites hide or eliminate citations. Why does it happen? Basically to simplify presentation for the audience. In a teaching situation, it may be the case that students don't care where you got your Welsh data from...just that they have to memorize it.

Another problem many instructors/news providers may encounter is that many younger or less-advanced students usually don't want to hear "maybe this or that". I know I didn't want to hear about it when I had one of these classes as a junior. In the beginning, students usually want to hear about one method/story and be done with it.

For instance, if you asked "how many sounds does English have?" I bet you don't want to hear the linguist state "It depends on the dialect..." (even though it does). do we train students to care about citations? We can use the traditional stick method (it's the one I mostly use). Problem Based Methodology would say that practicing research would teach students the importance of citations. That would probably help.

Here are some things that have taught me to love citations

  1. Sometimes I need to look up a data point back up (usually an Old Irish verb form in my case). Citations really narrow the search process down quite a bit.
  2. The stories I hear about people trying to figure out where different ancient authors really got their information makes me appreciate citations more. When reading ancient travelogues with crazy third-hand stories, you really do wish they had included a citation somewhere.
  3. And it does help to have other sources to back up your kooky idea. It's not just YOUR kooky idea, it's just a minor extension of {citation here].
  4. Finally, I like to look up other people's data points (usually Fula verb forms) to see if any strategic editing has been done. Are ALL the data points included? Is ALL the text quoted? The answer is maybe not. In fact I'm downright paranoid about using other linguists' data...I usually prefer to go straight to the original non-linguistic grammar or text.
  5. It's this last point that made me really understand the importance of looking up the original source and how important an honest citation is. It's only when you can look at and TRACK several sources that you can begin to filter out unconscious bias.

It's nice that we have a de facto Mexican heritage day (May 5 or Cinco de Mayo) to go along with the Irish heritage day of St Patrick's day, but if I'm to have any pretensions to lecture on global awareness, I thought I had better look up the background at some point.

To my surprise Cinco de Mayo is a commemoration of a victory over an occupying French army who had come in when Mexico defaulted on their loans. Specifically el Cinco de Mayo remembers the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Who's to blame? Now that's the interesting part. Everyone agrees that the French did the invasion, but different articles identify different co-conspirators. We have

  • Spain and Britain who sent in forces along with the France.
  • Conservative Mexicans who didn't like the current administration (President Benito Juárez may have been too indigenous) and invited the French government to intervene.
  • The United States because Mexico went into debt after the Mexican-American war two decades earlier. It should be noted that the Union government and later US government SUPPORTED the native Mexican government - partly so that the Confederates wouldn't have French support and probably also because of the Monroe Doctrine.

It reminds me of the classic adage that "all politics are local."

Whoever gets the blame for this episode, I'm glad Cinco de Mayo is one of the times the U.S. and Mexico DID work together.

The stories are

Apostrophe: #1's or #1s?


Lately, I've had copy editors remove all the apostrophes in dates (1960's to 1960s) and I've also had P's and Q's corrected to Ps and Qs. When this began, I was a little surprised because I could have sworn my elementary school teacher told me to put them in.

So, I was thrilled to see that the Destiny's Child best-of album is #1's with the apostrophe. Maybe I'm not losing my mind.

To see what's really going on in apostrophe land, I did a Google check. While numbers like "1" and "2" consistently have apostrophe in the plural, date punctuation is in flux. I am seeing both 60's and 60s (not to mention '60s and probably '60's).

Similarly I see both P's and Q's (and p's and q's) as well as Ps and Qs. It appears to be a change in English Standard punctuation in progress.

This is confirmed by the Apostrophe Abuse blog in which one commenter says the Chicago Manual of Style says it should be "Ps and Qs" (but "p's and q's") while another says the Oxford English Dictionary favors all "P's and Q's."

Truthfully either way makes sense depending on your point of view. I just wish more people would admit that some punctuation rules are dictated by fashion, not pure logic.