General

Update

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and there’s a very good reason for that. For a over a year now, I’ve been focussing my attention on a new project, a YouTube channel of educational videos based on the sorts of things I’ve been writing about on this blog, which you can find at https://www.youtube.com/user/Alliterative. In fact several of the early videos you’ll see there are based on blog post I’ve written. It occurred to me that I could get the ideas across more clearly and entertainingly if I simply spoke them, along with illustrative images, and since there didn’t seem to be anyone making videos on these topics, I decided to set myself the task of learning to do them myself. It’s been a steep learning curve, but it’s finally ready for launch. Here’s the one-minute promo trailer:

To accompany the videos I’ve also created a website, http://www.alliterative.net/, with additional information, credits, etc., and I’m moving this blog over to that site. I’ve transferred all my previous posts over to there (though I’ll still leave them up here too, in case anyone has links to them). From now on though I’ll be blogging at http://www.alliterative.net/blog/, so head over there if you want to keep reading.

So thanks for reading the blog here, and I hope you enjoy the new videos and continued blogging on the new site!

Categories: General | 1 Comment

Clip show: Links to links part 2

Following on from my last post, here are some more links to some interesting online content that is related to the topics I write about here, along with some commentary from me. First of all, have a look once again at the blogroll in the sidebar — I’ve added some more blogs, including Whats in a brain? which has a recent post on linguistic relativity and time. Now in today’s post I’ve got some longer lecture-type items, mostly by academics but aimed at a broad non-specialist audience. Wherever possible I’ll try to include links to both video and audio versions for you to choose from.

pentangle14

First of all is a talk by James Burke titled “Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll” (also available in iTunes). In addition to his usual connections approach, this is an excellent argument for the importance of the interdisciplinary approach. It’s also very witty and entertaining, as usual for Burke.

At the end of the last post I linked to some basic introductory linguistics videos, and here is another very good introduction to the basics of linguistics, “Linguistics as a Window to Understanding the Brain” by Steven Pinker. This lecture is part of the Floating University initiative, and in it Pinker does a pretty good job of not only presenting basic linguistic concepts but also introducing and giving a balanced treatment of some controversial issues such as language universals and linguistic relativity, subjects that he has fairly strong views on. Here is the lecture on YouTube:

Related to the subject of language universals is Daniel Everett‘s Long Now lecture “Endangered languages, lost knowledge and the future” (the audio is also available in iTunes and the video can be watched on Fora.tv). Based on his observations of the Pirahã language, Everett argues against the Chomskyan notion of  an innate universal grammar, and instead suggests that language is a cultural tool invented by humans to serve a social function.

Lera Boroditsky gives an excellent introduction to recent research on the subject of linguistic relativity in her Long Now lecture “How Language Shapes Thought” (the audio is also available in iTunes and the video can be watched on Fora.tv). In particular, Boroditsky many of the language and time issues I’ve written about recently. Here is the lecture on YouTube:

On the subject of time, here is Claudia Hammond‘s RSA talk “Time Warped” based on her book of the same name (the full audio of the talk is also available in iTunes). Hammond discusses many interesting issues about time perception. Here is a YouTube video of the edited highlights of this talk:

Cognitive scientist David Eagleman also works on time perception (as well as a variety of other topics). Here are two lectures of his from The Up Experience. In the first, he gives good summary of his work on how we perceive time and how our sense of time is largely a construction by the brain:

In this second Eagleman talk, he discusses, among other things, the relationship between the present self and the future self, drawing on a story of Odysseus and the sirens from the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey to describe what he calls the Odysseus contract:

Economist M. Keith Chen also draws on the idea of future discounting, which Eagleman refers to in that last video, in his highly controversial connection between how languages handle the future tense and future planning (which I’ve discussed before here and here). Here is his TED talk presenting this theory:

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo talks about our orientation to time, that is being past, present, or future oriented, and what this means to the way we approach life, also touching large scale cultural differences, in his RSA talk “The Secret Powers of Time”. Here are the YouTube videos of both the full lecture and the excellent 10-minute RSA Animate video excerpted from it:

And finally, since I started this post with James Burke’s kind of connections, I’ll end with neuroscientist Sebastian Seung‘s TED talk “I am my connectome”, in which he discusses his connectome project of mapping the brain’s neuronal connections, and related book Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are:

I’ll hopefully be able to get back to more substantive blogging later on in August, but for now good watching/listening!

Categories: cognitive, culture and thought, General, interconnectivity, Interdisciplinarity, linguistic relativity, linguistics, time | 1 Comment

Clip Show: Links to links part 1

To tide things over for a while until I have more time to write more substantive posts, I thought I’d like to put together a post of some curated links to online content relevant to the sorts of topics I’ve been writing about recently. Think of it as a kind of clip-show approach to keep putting posts up while I’m a little short of time to write. First of all, needless to say, have a browse through the blogroll at the side of the page. It isn’t an exhaustive list of the blogs that I read, but it reflects the kinds of subjects I write about here, as well as the interdisciplinary breadth I’m arguing in favour of. Next, in this post I’m including some podcasts and YouTube channels which regularly touch on issues of language, cognitive science, and in particular issues to do with time. I’ll save some one-off links to longer lectures for the next post.

The Endless Knot

The Endless Knot

First up, there are two excellent language podcasts, Talk the Talk, featuring linguist Daniel Midgely and co-host Ben Ainslie, and Lexicon Valley from Slate magazine, with Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield. For Talk the Talk I’m going to recommend episode #29 “Time in Amondawa”, which looks at the topic of space-time mapping I’ve written about recently, and for Lexicon Valley I recommend episodes #8 “When Nouns Grew Genitals” and #9 “And May He Be a Masculine Bridge”  which look at the question of linguistic relativity, and features the work of, among others, Lera Boroditsky, whom I’ve referred to on several occasions.

If you’re interested in the cognitive stuff, have a listen to The Brain Science Podcast, in which Dr. Virginia Campbell, MD reviews books and interviews scientists on a variety of neuroscience topics, and All in the Mind, in which host Lynne Malcolm covers a variety of topics about psychology and the mind. In particular, for The Brain Science Podcast  I’ll recommend episode #94 “How the Brain Makes Meaning” in which Dr. Campbell interviews linguist Benjamin Bergen about his book Louder Than Words, and for All in the Mind I’ll recommend the episode “How language shapes thought”, which again touches on Boroditsky’s work.

Now for some videos. Brady Haran has a number of educational YouTube channels, mostly on scientific topics, but also including Words of the World, which uses words, their meaning and history, as a jumping off point to examining culture and history through a series of interviews with academics from a variety of disciplines. However, I’m going to recommend three of his videos which deal with the subject of time. First from PsyFile, “Time Perception”, which discusses how the brain perceives and keeps track of time:

Next, from PhilosophyFile, “The Philosophy of Time”, which is a good introduction to some basic concepts such as McTaggart’s ideas about time and the A series (past, present, future) and B series (earlier, later) of time:

And finally, from Sixty Symbols, “Arrow of Time”, which looks at the question of whether or not physics requires directionality in time:

On the channel YouTube channel Vsauce, host Michael Stevens, who has a background in neuropsychology, frequently posts educational science videos, including this one titled “How Old Can We Get?”, which discusses not only biological time, but also issues about time perception:

And finally for today, Tom Scott has recently been posting a number of short video introductions to linguistics topics, including this one, “All The Colours, Including Grue: How Languages See Colours Differently”, which discusses the linguistic relativity question:

So have a browse through these links — they should provide some depth and background to the posts I’ve been writing lately. And coming soon, some longer lectures that have been influencing me lately.

Categories: cognitive, General, linguistic relativity, linguistics, time | Leave a comment

Time off and time on

As is no doubt obvious, this blog has gone dormant for a time due to the busy-ness of life, what with kids home for the summer and then a busy academic year. But after this unfortunately extended time off from this blog, I want to pick up where I left off.

As promised ages ago, I first want to write (or rather finish writing) a post that both explains and lays out my position on the the concept of linguistic relativity, and how I think language, thought, and culture are interrelated. I also have few one-off ideas on topics such as semantics, memetics, and the formulaic nature of language, as well as some hopefully fun and light-hearted posts (which I’ll keep under wraps for the moment).

Time

Time

But my big plan is to go back to the topic which I’ve been working on, on and off, for over 15 years now, time in language and thought. My doctoral dissertation was on the coneptualisation of futurity in Old English, and came out of an interest in how English developed from a language that didn’t originally have a systematic way of expressing the future, and how this might relate to the Latin language which does have grammatical future tense, the adoption of a new religion, Christianity, which has important conceptual foundations involving a notion of future time, new philosophical concepts such as the free will/predestination debate, etc. So first of all, I’ll review some of that research (and how my thinking may have changed in some ways since then), but also much of the attendant background to this topic, about time in general in thought and language, which will give me a chance to write about some of the stuff that was too tangential or just didn’t fit with the dissertation.

There has also been an explosion of work over the past decade or so, and particularly in the last couple of years, on topics that relate to this, such as the work by Lera Boroditsky and a number of other scholars on how we use space to think about and talk about time (and also in particular the research by Daniel Casasanto and Vyvyan Evans), or by David Eagleman on time perception, and even popular nonfiction books on time, such as Claudia Hammond‘s Time Warped and physicist Adam Frank’s About Time. My own most recent conference paper dealt in large part with spatio-temporal metaphor in Old English. But in an attempt to keep these posts fairly informal, easily approachable, and not overly wrought, as was my original intention when I started this blog, I’m going to try to write about these topics in an off-the-cuff manner without putting a lot of advanced planning into organization. So they’ll be a little haphazard as I jump from one topic to another as I think of them in an attempt to get the ideas down quickly.1

It’s often pointed out that time is the most common noun in the English language (and is similarly high ranking in other languages too), and that three of the top five nouns are time-related words (the other two being year and day). Personally, I’ve always been interested in and maybe even obsessed with the notion of time, how we think about time, how we talk about time. I’ve always been fascinated by clocks and watches,2 and I’ve always been drawn to stories about time and especially time travel, such as the tv show Doctor Who and my favorite children’s book The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit. Even before I started in on my graduate school work I became fascinated in the free will / predestination debate and as an undergraduate read Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and the debate on free will between Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther. Indeed even now I often include a number of texts in my regular teaching rotation that pick up on themes and motifs of time, such as Alice Munro‘s “Walker Brothers Cowboy”, Stephen Leacock’s “The Retroactive Existence of Mr Juggins”, Robert Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps”, and the Christopher Nolan film Memento, so I also want to post about literary representations of time, including more popular forms of literature and entertainment.

So if you’re interested in a somewhat chaotic series of reflections on time in language, thought, and culture, then watch this space…3


1 Organizing these ideas into something more cohesive may be a project for a later time. [back]

2 An antique Waltham pocket watch given to me by my mother is one of my prized possessions. [back]

3 I’m hoping that having posted this, I will now be more motivated to follow through with it and do it, but any words of encouragement will certainly help give me a kick in the complacency. [back]

Categories: General, time | 1 Comment

Reboot

This blog (and my other blog) have gone fallow of late, due in part to end-of-term busy-ness and my preparation for and attendance of the medieval conference in Kalamazoo. But it’s time to get the blogs back on track, so to that end here’s a roadmap of what’s coming up.

The Endless Knot

The Endless Knot

First up, a few more background posts on some of what lies behind much of what I write about here and elsewhere, one on interdisciplinarity, one on interconnectedness, and some background on where I stand on the issue of linguistic relativity. Then I’ll embark on a series of posts about the topic I’ve been working on most intently over the past decade and more, that is time, language, and thought. These posts will hopefully go beyond the narrowly defined subject of my dissertation, futurity in Old English, to explore how people think about and talk about time more generally. There will probably also be the occasional post on other topics as the mood strikes me too. Oh, and there’s a redesign of the banner image, my own take on the cognitive science hexagram (which I’ve mentioned before) — the significance will be explained in an upcoming post. So, as they say, watch this space…

Categories: General | Leave a comment

Mens sana in corpore sano*

It appears that the “golden age” of blogging, if there ever was such a thing, is long past, and so it may seem odd timing to begin blogging now, when the genre looks to be, if not dying, then at least transforming into something quite different. I did, in fact, have a blog before, which I’ve long since stopped updating. It seems several of the blogs I’ve been following but had run dry have recently been re-launched, and several friends have begun new blogs, so I suppose I’m continuing that trend. But why now, and why two blogs? The purpose of this opening post is to justify the very existence of these blogs.

Another blogger (can’t remember who now) once made the suggestion that for a blog to be successful, among other things it ought to have a single narrow focus. My old blog was a mish-mash of personal and professional interests. When I was regularly posting on the old blog, Twitter didn’t exist and Facebook, still in its infancy, was unknown to me. Now those more social outlets serve many of the purposes the personal posts on my old blog did. That being said, I can still see the possibility of wanting to write more personal blog posts, and so what I’ve decided to do is start two blogs. One (called simply Alliterative) I’m keeping open to more personal blogging, though I may find I post to it very infrequently. The other (or rather this one called The Endless Knot), the one I’m feeling more motivated about at the moment, will be kept strictly for ideas. Basically, it will be a sounding board for all the little ideas floating about in my head, which I have no other immediate outlet for–interesting things that don’t have any other home yet. I’ll probably also write about work in progress or interesting ideas that have come up in my teaching that I think might have a broader audience. Basically I want to share with others, whoever cares to read, what I find interesting or entertaining, and will frequently stray into areas a little outside my own specialisation.

These blogs are also an opportunity to practice and improve my writing skills. I often recommend to my students that they do lots of free writing as a way of improving their writing. In my case, most of the writing I do these days is for a very particular and niche audience: other academics, particularly those in very specific fields relevant to my research.  So in particular I need more practice at writing for more general audiences. I do, of course, lecture to undergraduates, so I’ll be trying to come closer to that more oral style in my writing here.

Finally a little background info about me, especially for those who don’t know me. I’m an academic, with a PhD in medieval studies. In particular, I work on language and literature of the middle ages, especially Anglo-Saxon England. I count among my interests linguistics, cognitive science, and history, and in a series of posts coming up soon I’ll try to describe the underpinnings of some of my thinking lately.  I’ll be starting with a test post of an old idea I had, and then continue manifesto-like with some background posts, and then move on from there.

So welcome to my head, and please don’t mind the mess!


* “A healthy mind in a healthy body” — starting these blogs is a bit of a New Years resolution, I suppose.

Categories: General | 1 Comment

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