Sunday, September 30, 2007


In Scene 78 of The Storyteller, Pierre confesses to Michel that he has been barking up the wrong tree in his approach to narrative.

Pierre: I was trying to tell the story using only conversation. No names. No description.

Michel: And could you?

Pierre: I could not.

Michel: What was the problem?

Pierre: Names signify something. Do you know just today I found that Wanda means to wander in Wendish. And people have personalities. They are in a location. Timing is important.

Michel: You are learning. That’s context.

Pierre: I thought snatches of believable speech would be enough to build the story and run up to a climax.

Michel: A story is not just a tale told through dialogue. Walter Fisher’s narrative paradigm includes a lot more. You need characters, plot, motivation, action.

Pierre: Plot.

Michel: As E.M. Forster put it. The king died and then the queen died. That’s a story. But when you say the king died and then the queen died of grief, that’s a plot.

Pierre: However unlikely.


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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bicycle incident

Miyuki and Ayano are walking these days because of incidents involving their bicycles.

Miyuki: I came back and found it lying in the in the gutter all crushed and bent.

Ayano: Repairable?

Miyuki: No way. Beyond repair.

Ayano: Insurance?

Miyuki: Are you joking?

Ayano: Well, a new one doesn’t cost so much.

Miyuki: But they didn’t even leave a note to say sorry.

Ayano: Well, the police?

Miyuki: Stop it.

Ayano: I’m not being unsympathetic. You know the bicycle police removed mine the other day. I was only gone for two hours.

Miyuki: Did you find it?

Ayano: I went to the police station and they told me where to go, a 15 minute bus ride. And then I had to look for it and finally I found it, and then the cheek of it, I had to pay 3000 yen to release it.

Miyuki: And it’s only worth 3000 yen?


Friday, September 28, 2007

All the president's Monicas

Office workers Bill (M) and Harriet (F) have a minor confrontation in Scene 67 of All the President’s Monicas.

Bill: You sent me an email.

Harriet: I did, huh.

Bill: Why was it so insulting?

Harriet: Was it? Didn’t mean it. Honest. I have this email personality and this real-life personality. They’re two different people.

Bill: Two people inside one body-shell?

Harriet: Oh, more than that. At least six that I know of. They’re always talking to each other and leaving me out of it. What did I say to you?

Bill: You called me a decaying something.

Harriet: Oh, so sorry. These expressions, they just pop out. I’m not in control. It was one of them. The real me really likes you.

Bill: OK. Never mind. (exits)

Harriet: Ha.


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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Eat body leave head

Peter Fischer and Molly Malone, keen anglers, in Scene 69 of The Fecund Trout, are having a picnic on the edge of a lake. Or is it a puddle? They've arrived there by Molly's Humber 90 shooting brake which she inherited from her uncle Howard Hawk.

Peter: Have some more.

Molly: Oh I can't. I really can't.

Peter: You know what I like? These autumn evenings. Finish work. Pack a picnic. Catch fish.

Molly: Shore of lake.

Peter. Puddle.

Molly: Puddle.

Peter: Eat body, leave head.

Molly: Leaves him something to think with?

Peter: Dead right.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

No photo

Scene 44 from an unfinished law movie script, My Cousin... Two lawyers, Bardalph (Ax wolf) and Vinnie (Conqueror) are discussing strategy for a coffee shop which has asked them for a notice to be put up inside.

Bardalph: So the owner wants to charge a fee for photos taken inside?

Vinnie: Wonder why. The décor is crummy. No one in his right mind would want to mimic it.

Bardalph: Yeah, some choice. Fake leather sofa vs painted plywood bone-breaker uprights. Copyright? Ha! IKEA should quiver and shake!

Vinnie. Anyway, how shall we word this?

Bardalph: How about a sign, you know, red sticker on the wall, charge him two grand and be done with it?

Vinnie: Aaah. We can do better. Guy has six branches and is expanding.

Bardalph: You mean something like at the S-outfit. “The management reserves the right to refuse photographs to be taken on these premises” and stiff him for 10K usable at all branches?

Vinnie: Add “to protect the rights of individual privacy” and we can screw another two out of him.

Bardalph: Hey how about this? “The management reserves the right to refuse photographs to be taken and sketches to be drawn on these premises to protect the rights of individual privacy in public places.” Scare him into fearing photographers and pencilists. Charge him fifteen thou all up.


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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Present people cannot write future rules

Agosto is having a word with Ottavio, his son, in Scene 24 of a modern remake of “Ladri di biciclette.”

Agosto: You are our future. It would be nice if you could carry on the trade.

Ottavio: But I’m not sure.

Agosto: Our family has been part of the Guild for eight generations. Why did I call you Ottavio?

Ottavio: I know this from many times before. But the new ways are the not the same as the old ways. New work is not the same as old work. Why worry about the future?

Agosto: I know this. Even the future has changed. Time was when the present extended into the future. Life had been going on for generations. Ideas were passed down from parents to children. We believed there was a future.

Ottavio: I know. You followed your father, just as he had followed his father before that. But I am not sure if there is a future for my generation. The present changes too fast.

Agosto: You think we are entering a futureless age?

Ottavio: There will be a future. We just don’t know who will live in it or what they will do.

Agosto: Are you saying there may be no Guild?

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Monday, September 24, 2007


Scene 38 of Isabel X. Sociology major, Isambard, studying Palestinian settlements, gets a call from his girlfriend, Isabel, having a fattoush salad in Building M, Cafeteria C.

Isabel: Someone just texted me, LOLZ. Wussit mean you think?

Isambard: You don’t know LOLZ?

Isabel: I know LOL in chatspeak but what’s the Z?

Isambard: Laughing out loud, zebras.

Isabel: And what’s zebras supposed to mean?

Isambard: Nobody knows. OK, maybe it’s just a plural. LOLZ means laughing out loud plenty.

Isabel: Lots?

Isambard: Yeah. More than one. Like Woohoo. Woohoo. Cadet.

Isabel: Cadet?

Isambard: Can’t add, doesn’t even try.

Isabel: You addressing me?

Isambard: Oh no. No.

Isabel: You should SONTTAP.

Isambard: Er, hello…?

Isabel: Say only nice things to all people.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Passing fashion

Jens persists in trying to strike up a conversation with Astrid who is less impressed by his communication skills than he would wish.

Jens: So how can I get in touch? Email?

Astrid: Old hat. Don’t use it, except on my phone…

Jens: So how do you…?

Astrid: Communicate? I text, I phone, I drop in on myspace and facebook.

Jens: I have a computer. Do you blog?

Astrid: Blog? Oh, come on, so passé.


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Saturday, September 22, 2007


Scene 77 of Into Africa. Aminata is telling Mariam about her latest entrepreneurial scheme.

Aminata: I’m going back when I finish school here.

Mariam: To Timbuktu?

Aminata: To my mother’s town. Djenne.

Mariam: But…

Aminata: It’s more than just the mosque and mud bricks, you know.

Mariam: You’re going to make clay ovens!

Aminata: No, no. I’m going to start a money transfer office.

Mariam: Last week it was a mobile phone network. Given that up?

Aminata: I need capital. So I figure the money transfer office will generate funds to start the mobile phone network.

Mariam: I don’t know. Hare-brained, you are. You must decide where you are going in the evening if you intend to leave early in the morning.Two weeks ago you were starting a newspaper using mobile phone reporters, this week it's money transfer. Where do you get all these ideas?

Aminata: The Timbuktu Chronicles.


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Friday, September 21, 2007

Louis of Aramco

Scene 77 of the film Louis of Aramco. Zuhair, who didn't attend class in the morning, meets the teacher, Louis, walking near the fountain.

Teacher: As-salaam alaykum Zuhair. Keif halak? How are you?

Zuhair: Wa alaykum as-salaam Teacher.

Teacher: No class this morning, Zuhair? You didn’t study last night, did you! You drank shaay and stayed up all night.

Zuhair: I don’t drink shaay.

Teacher: Did you drink kahwa – whatever? You drink kahwa?

Zuhair: Yes. I drink kahwa. But I didn’t drink kawha last night. We drank mayia.

Teacher: All right. Did you learn any words?

Zuhair: My cousin came from Jubail. It was his birthday. We sang Sana hiluwa ya jamila to him many times.

Teacher: You didn’t learn any of the new vocabulary?

Zuhair: Alhamdullellah. I learned the opposite of yesterday.

Teacher: And what is the opposite of yesterday?

Zuhair: Today.

Teacher: You didn’t learn clean with water, nadef bil mayia? Or crane operator, amel weinsh?

Zuhair: Bukrah, Teacher.

Teacher: Bukrah, yes, tomorrow. Maasalaama, Zuhair. Goodbye.

Zuhair: Shukran Teacher. Alhamdullellah.


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Thursday, September 20, 2007

You got mail

Scene 83 from the movie Send it to me through FaceBook. Young New Boss wants to get through meeting quickly to avoid it being hijacked and running long. Especially by Old Crusty Employee.

Young new boss: Item 3 on the agenda. Proposed Reshuffle. Four suggestions have been received from two office staff. Those suggestions have been sent to everyone as an attachment to yesterday's intradepartmental memo headed Proposed Departmental Shuffle.

Old crusty employee: Excuse me. I haven't seen those suggestions.

Young new boss: It ran to many pages so to save paper...

Old crusty employee: But this is a meeting to discuss the issue. Just how many pages?

Young new boss: Er, more than ten. Fourteen I think.

Old crusty employee: Ten, fourteen, whatever. It's not a lot Why don't we have those suggestions as paper handouts?

Young new boss: As I said, we're trying to save paper so heavy attachments are posted for staff to read on-screen or print as they wish.

Old crusty employee: I don't use email.

Young new boss: It was also posted on the home page.

Old crusty employee: You know what? This is not about saving paper. I view this an attempt to sideline some people using IT tools as a weapon.

Young new boss: Oh no. It's not that. How could you think such a thing? We'll print you a copy, Saul. Everyone else has seen it the memo, right?


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Journey around my Room

Bella and Vanessa meet on the set of a film version of A Thousand Places to See Before You Die.
Bella: How was your summer?

Vanessa: I was in hospital for a week having my knee done. Otherwise it was OK. Where d’you go?

Bella: I worked right through. Saving up my time off.

Vanessa: Rotten?

Bella: Not at all. As you know, there are 14 stations between my office and home, so I thought of a holiday on the cheap while physically inhabiting the parallel universe of work each day.

Vanessa: Physically?

Bella: Sure. I got off the train at a different station between work and home every night for dinner and then explored the neighborhood. I started close to work and after two weeks I could have dinner near home.

Vanessa: There’s an easier option for a cheap holiday. Read Journey round my Room by Xavier de Maistre.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kontiki Expedition

Scene 4 from The Kontiki Expedition. Thora is talking with Helga about what to call the raft.

Thora: Context is all. We have to take pictures to supplement the account.

Helga: But we'll be constantly wet, the camera will rust and the film will be spoiled.

Thora: There are ways to keep things dry. We could take plastic bags as well as flax baskets. But we must add pictures to reflect the sociolinguistic concern that what was said was determined by the place, the time and the characters.

Helga: You mean we need the pictures to show we actually went.

Thora: Is that what I said? Look more on this later. We have to think of what to call the raft.

Helga: Kontext?


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Marmite Vegemite

Scene 47 of Tanpopo remake. British Redhead and Australian friend are discussing relative merits of spreads from their respective food cultures.

British Redhead: Does Villa Market have Marmite, would you know?

Aussie Friend: Dunno. What I do know is they have Vegemite so...

British Redhead: I know that stuff. Whatever they put in it it is so not the real Marmite.

Aussie Friend: I heard Marmite eaters can't tolerate Vegemite. They say it's too strong.

British Redhead: We have subtle tastes.

Aussie Friend: Whatever the both of them are they so not subtle. Salty maybe, but subtle you cannot say they are. Try giving it as a gift to a Japanese.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Phantoms of the opera

Opening scene from a Danish adaptation of Phantom of the Opera. Eric and Raoul, Danish engineers, stand looking at the new Copenhagen Opera House across the harbor.

Erik: Do you think it looks like a toaster?

Raoul: Depends on your perspective. Can’t see the slots from here so you can get a sense of what the architect was trying to do.

Erik: No wonder Henning Larsen got annoyed with Moller. Patrons that rich and pushy can crush an architect’s vision.

Raoul: And make them so angry they fall out with the patron and won’t even come to the opening.

Erik: At least Larsen finished the job despite Moller putting bars over the windows. Sydney Opera House had problems too. Another Danish architect Jorn Utzon. But that was more the architect being dogmatic and not communicating well with the New South Wales Public Works over solving the design problems. He wouldn’t compromise and finally up and left.

Raoul: Intriguing symmetry there. One project distorted by a prima donna patron putting his oar in and the other by a prima donna architect demanding too much control and not explaining what he was doing.

Erik: Both them go a bit against the Danish grain of listening to the other fellow, wouldn’t you say?

Raoul: As Hamlet walks Elsinore, so too, will Danish phantoms inhabit opera houses.


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Friday, September 14, 2007

Tooth fairies

Scene 12 of The Tooth Fairies, an unfinished script about dentists. Anika and Britta meet in the plaza. Anika offers to share her new dentist with Britta. Unlike most films of the dentist genre, this one is not comedy.

Anika: I have a new dentist. He gives me no pain.

Britta: You don't go to Dr Moller anymore?

Anika: Dr Moller never talked.

Britta: That's because you talk so much he couldn't. Dr Moller told me, "That Mrs Bergman, she talks even when I am drilling her teeth."

Anika: I do not. That Dr Moller would never say what's wrong. My new dentist, he tells me everything, he explained all about root canal work with models and pictures before he started.

Britta: I do like it when they take time to explain.

Anika: And he has a beautful chair. I just don't care too much for the lighting in the surgery.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wooden bicycle

Scene 41: Hitchhiker's Guide to Scandinavia: Streckers Bar: Hans Lederflynt is chatting with the Somali cook Ghedi.

Ghedi: Herring again?

Hans: I like herring.

Ghedi: Where you been today?

Hans: Sweden for free.

Ghedi: Cheapskate. You packed a picnic and took the train to Malmo and went to all the free places.

Hans: Over the 8 kilometer Oresund Link. Beautiful technology. Actually, I went to look at a bicycle. A wooden one with a spruce frame.

Ghedi: You want to go back and live in the 19th century? Sounds heavy and fragile. A bicycle built of broomsticks? Make mine metal anyday.

Hans: Or carbon fiber. Looked nice but I passed. Inappropriate technology. Sometimes you overstate the craft too much and the technology goes weak at the knees. An Oresund bridge built of wood? 50 meters above the water? Creaky and scary!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Swan chair vs valet chair

Scene 446 in Wild Strawberries II. Bengt visits Olaf's atrium.

Olaf: Take a seat.

Bengt: Wood or plastic?

Olaf: Take your pick.

Bengt: Soft choice. What do you call this one?

Olaf: A swan chair. Arne Jacobsen.

Bengt: Why the funny back on the woody?

Olaf: You can hang your jacket. Valet chair by Hans Wegner.

Bengt: So your jacket rests easy while the sitter gets a numbum.

Olaf: These designers. Some have a sense of laugh.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Minimalism extremis

Wilhelm G. and Stefan J. meet over muesli in the basement dining room between frequent forays to the smorresbord.

Wilhelm G:
The fold-down beds, the origami bathroom, recessed lights, TV hanging from the ceiling. Quite clever design.

Stefan J: The room´s OK. Bit pricey for what it is but clean. But there is another side to its minimalism. This hotel has how many rooms?

Wilhelm G: 200?

Stefan J: Two hundred and sixty-two. With only two overworked receptionists in the tiny lobby. Check-in and check-out is chaotic.

Wilhelm G: Sounds like the profitability masquerading as minimalism that's your speciality. You could have checked your email on the computer while waiting.

Stefan J: Ha! One computer in the lobby for 262 rooms? And on one of those dated-looking, slow-as-a-wet-week, lampshade Macs? Even I have to admit they were a bit heavy on form and light on content.

Wilhelm G: Ya, friend of mine used to call them air-heads. In fairness, Macs have got a bit better.

Stefan J: Oh for a hotel with at least three reception staff for fifty rooms. There are times when a robust system that can cope with load is preferable to the aesthetics and environmentalism of lean minimalism.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Sea Stallion

Eric the Red: You can say what you like about pickled herring, but in Roskilde they do it better than Bryggen.

Harald Bluetooth: But in both places the herring cannot be taken without beer, ja?

Eric the Red: So, I come here for that too. I cannot afford it in Bryggen. The tithes, aach. But there is also...

Harald Bluetooth: Yes?

Eric the Red: I am sailing on the Sea Stallion.

Harald Bluetooth: You? You´re sailing for Dublin this summer?

Eric the Red: Ja. Resurrect the past. Roskilde to Dublin. The excitement of expeditions and exploration. A hundred horn-helmeted men on an oak longship. Oh ho.

Harald Bluetooth: Not to mention plenty of piracy, pillaging and plundering.

Eric the Red: Not to mention the unmentionable. Ha.

Harald Bluetooth: Take care, friend, The Irish will be ready this time.

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Designs for a lesser footprint

Attendant: Entry is free but would you fill out the questionnaire?

Curious George: Interesting questions. "Can design change your life?"

Attendant: Can it? Has it?

Curious George: Maybe. Although machines bother me. I keep my TV in a closet and my computer in a desk drawer. Rather than making a statement I think machines should sometimes disappear.

Attendant: Do you think you could live without lights, your laptop, cell phone, your bicycle?

Curious George: Hard. I've evolved into a user of such things.

Attendant: Let me show you a Croatian machine. A portable windmill. Called Wing. A portable generator to run lights, charge cell phone or laptop.

Curious George: Not exactly a design for a fashion statement, but I could live with it if it stayed outside. I like the responsibility of its design concept.

Attendant: This is an exhibition about designs for the spaceship earth. Every time you buy a good you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Tail wind

Mike of Mike's Bikes: Do you want a city bike or a serious bike?

Ancient Cyclist: Something simple. And a carrier. I have gear.

Mike of Mike's Bikes: My simple bikes only have three gears. The MTB has 21.

Ancient Cyclist: I meant I have a bag to carry.

Mike of Mike's Bikes: Do you need a trailer?

Ancient Cyclist: No trailer. No MTB. This simple bike will do just fine.

Mike of Mike's Bikes: Going far?

Ancient Cyclist: Where does the wind come from?

Mike of Mike's Bikes: The west.

Ancient Cyclist: Then I will go east and come back by train.

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Jet lag

An airport hotel lobby:

Belgian traveller: Come far?
African traveller: Eleven hours.
Belgian traveller: Jet lag?
African traveller: Some. Whenever I fly that long the brain comes in a day or two later.
Belgian traveller: Try one of these homeopathic jet lag tabs. They're from New Zealand.

African traveller: Thanks.
Belgian traveller: Anyway, what brings you here?
African traveller: Getting pictures of white faces for a book.
Belgian traveller: Not very PC.
African traveller: In Africa white faces are a bit thin on the ground. OK, does Eurofaces sound more neutral? Anyway, why are you here?
Belgian traveller: A get-together. Kind of a reunion. Those are my friends. We're waiting for another old friend who used to be a pilot in Estonian Airways. Trouble is I forgot his name.
African traveller: You must mean Scut. I'm here to see him too.
Belgian traveller: Then you must be...
African traveller: Yes, I am.

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Saving money and wasting time

Director: What do I do? I have to manage actors. That is not easy. There should be judicious music sometimes. You have to manage objects, like cups or dogs or locusts, to have these ready when the hat drops.

Apprentice: When the hat drops?

Director: A metaphor. At the drop of a hat. Something is urgently needed. You know I once had to organize Mastroianni drinking tea in an 18th century palace room. He is to drink tea and drop the cup. So I order 12 cups.

Apprentice: For 12 takes?

Director: So. But my producer, he thinks he can save money. He buys one unbreakable cup. He thinks he can save money by not buying 11 other expensive porcelain cups. He buys one plastic replica. But we need to film the cup breaking on the floor. We begin filming and find there is only this one plastic cup. It doesn't break. We stop filming for a day while someone goes to buy 12 porcelain cups. Stopping filming costs more than 12 porcelain cups.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Q&A books

Author: I picked up three new books yesterday. One was about starting a business, one was about documentary film-making, and the other was about yoga. You know what they had in common?

Artist:They’d all been reviewed on Oprah?

Author: No, none of them were in the league of big sales. They were how-to books but all pretty good in terms of content, breadth of view and so on.

Artist:Written by a team of writers, not a single author?

Author: Close. No, each book had one writer. Funny you should mention Oprah because each author had gone around interviewing experts in the field they were writing about. Entrepreneurs, screen writers, yoga teachers.

Artist: And those experts were willing to spill the beans on their secrets?

Author: You know how it is. An interview is free publicity and people at the top of their field like to talk and once they start talking they generally tell stories and so it all comes out.

Artist:So interviewing is becoming a new genre?

Author: A new style of informative writing maybe. Extended Q&A. Elements of less formal writing creeping in maybe. Length of books increasing, these ones each ran 400 to 500 hundred pages. And were produced quickly, generally over the course of one year.

Artist: Pretty hard to crank out that many pages in that time without a little help. Sounds good. You get others to tell you what to write and you bootstrap yourself to instant wisdom.

Author: You just have to do the initial persuading, know the field and know what question will unlock the speaker.

Artist: And remember to turn the tape recorder on.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A thousand words, a thousand ships

Author: Look at this book. Full of text. Hard to read. It needs illustrations.

Artist: Don’t you think sticking pictures in a book is dumbing down the message? Juvenalizing your readers?

Author: Information is sometimes so complicated it helps to get it across visually. Can you teach someone how to fold an origami shape or fly a plane by words alone?

Artist: Hard. So show it?

Author: And tell it too. Need both. Mixed media, multi-channel, multiple intelligence approach. For clarity, talk is good, print is better and print plus graphic is best.

Artist: Pictures worth a thousand words?

Author: Like the face that launched a thousand ships? That’s not a universal truth. Depends on the picture. And sometimes the boot is on the other foot. Some words may take a lot of pictures to explain. The word Syriana needs a whole movie to say what it means.

Artist: So case by case?

Author: Horses for courses.


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Monday, September 3, 2007

Language learning

Editor: You know what sells these days? How to.

Author: So we need to go beyond description.

Editor: And apply what is described to help people get better at something.

Author: I didn’t see this as a how-to book.

Editor: Even academic books can contain something useful. They can go beyond mere “as can be be seen from the diagram…” type phrases to “Here’s what to do in five steps…”

Author: I suppose that’s the difference between descriptive linguistics which show things like how sounds are made and grammatical rules and applied linguistics which goes into the teaching and learning of these.

Editor: Any ideas?

Author: We could throw in evaluations of the conversations, comments on what works and what doesn’t as communication.

Editor: To help people communicate better?

Author: Leading by example. Like one of my heroes, Kenneth Hale. He was a professor at MIT, who could speak 50 or 60 languages. Said he picked up the essentials of Japanese in 30 minutes watching the English subtitles of a Japanese movie.

Editor: A special gift.

Author: And he had strategies. Said he found it more effective to learn not just one language at once but two or three.

Editor: Not for everyone I fear.

Author: Were it so easy to pick up other languages, we would all be linguists in the old sense.

Editor: The old sense?

Author: When linguists were people into learning languages instead of just describing them.


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Sunday, September 2, 2007


Editor: I’d like to see a nod in the direction of psycholinguistics.

Author: A mention made? Or a full-on discussion of language and psychology? I’ve often wondered myself what someone does behind a door marked “Psycholinguist.”

Editor: Don’t they carry out experiments to find out the role language plays in how brains remember memories, organize thoughts and retrieve information?

Author: Black box theory. Words go in, stuff happens inside the black box, words come out.

Editor: What else do they do?

Author: Language and identity, language acquisition…. People who study those areas might come up to you and say, “Hi, I’m Brian, I’m a psycholinguist.”

Editor: Doesn’t sound as though the field occupies as much territory as sociolinguistics.

Author: Technicians who probe the innards of black boxes often seem to have fewer academic colonialist ambitions.

Editor: How about those chaps who study handwriting and language use to identify crims

Author: Forensic linguists? Oh, they’re a whole other tribe. They're colonialists. They want to take over the law.

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Saturday, September 1, 2007


Market Researcher: What is sociolinguistics all about?

Linguist: Just what it says it is. Linguistic behavior examined in a sociological context.

Market Researcher: People talking in social spaces?

Linguist: Yes. Bit abstract, isn’t it. I think one of the most succinct descriptions of what sociolinguistics is all about went something like, “Who says what to whom, when.” Or something like that. Think it was Joshua Fishman.

Market Researcher: Didn’t Harold Lasswell say something like that?

Linguist: Harold?

Market Researcher: Lasswell. Political scientist with an interest in communication theory as well. Who says what to whom in what channel with what effect.

Linguist: Ah, I remember. Slightly biased towards media, but yes, it’s another way of putting it.

Market Researcher: And Lasswell had a neat description of what politics was all about in the same vein. Politics is who gets what, when, where, and how.

Linguist: Now that’s a pretty little concatenation that could be applied to sociolinguistics. Who says what, to whom, when, where and how. Pretty much what Fishman meant.

Market Researcher: But what are some of the key research areas of sociolinguistics?

Linguist: Sociolinguistics is a big baggy area. It’s a lot of things to a lot of people. Sociologists, linguists, psychologists, educators, language planners.

Market Researcher: Can language be planned? I thought it was just something that happened.

Linguist: Difficult to build new human languages from scratch. Esperanto where it survives remains a hobbyist contraption. But languages can be managed, for example, by giving them status as an official language, as in Singapore, or rescuing them from the brink of extinction, like Maori in New Zealand.

Market Researcher: And other areas?

Linguist: Studies of dialects, language change, or code switching. Also, language use by ethnic groups, genders, people of different ages. And uses of, education in, and attitudes to language.

Market Researcher: Sounds a like a contents list for some book on sociology and language. I like the Lasskey-Fishman approach. Plainly spoken. More easily grasped than a string of –ists, -istics and –isms.

Linguist: Sooner or later, though, you have to come to grips with abstractions.


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