Anti-fundamentalist Christian ire gone awry

December 2, 2006

Update: The speech took place as scheduled; 125 people attended, the lecture was great, the questions were fine — you can listen and read for yourself [from Language Log]:

Anyway, whether that’s right or not, I do know this: the lucky people who live in the Boston area (I regret that I now do not) have a chance to hear Everett in person on Friday, because despite the hate campaign he still plans to get in that taxi at Logan Airport and take it to MIT’s Building 46. His lecture is called “Culture and Grammar in Pirahã”, and it’s on Friday, December 1, from noon to 1:30 p.m., in room 46-3310 at MIT (that is, Room 3310 of building 46; MIT people do have a system of number names, and they use them to name buildings). Language Log readers in New England who get there early enough to find a seat can check out what Everett actually says, rather than what his enemies say he says, and then make up their own minds.

[Update: Dan Everett’s talk did place as scheduled on December 1; it was not boycotted by the linguists in the area; about 125 people showed up, in fact; and a good, spirited discussion followed in the question period. You can actually listen to it, and look at the handout, thanks to Ted Gibson’s lab: handout in PDF form here, and audio for Windows Media Player here.]

ORIGINAL POST:  WordPress has some wonderful features that carry to one ideas from realms one would not otherwise visit. And so it was that I found this post at Language Log, about a Bush-style “pre-emptive strike” on the scholarship of a linguist, condemned for a pro-Christian bias that does not exist, according to the blogger.

An unnamed scholar was ranting in e-mail about the work of linguist Daniel Everett of Illinois State University, who was scheduled to give a lecture on his work on the language of the Amazonian tribe Pirahã, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), on December 1. The e-mailer threatened at least a protest of the lecture.

I have not found any indication either that there was a protest at the lecture, or that it went on as planned. Does anyone know?

The MIT listing for the lecture:

Brain and Cognitive Science

December 1, 2006
12:00p.m. – 1:30p.m.
Building 46, Room 3310

Culture and Grammar in Piraha

Dan Everett
Illinois State University / University of Manchester Abstract:
This talk considers the on-going research into the relationship between culture and grammar in Piraha, an Amazonian language isolate. As background, it surveys a number of unusual linguistic and cultural phenomena in Piraha, e.g. the absence of numerals, number, and counting, the absence of myths, the lack of quantifiers (and quantification), then summarizes the analysis of Everett (2005) which accounts for these facts in terms of a cultural value of ‘immediacy of experience’. The talk then turns to focus on how culture constrains segmental phonology in Piraha.

Teachers reviled world around, still

December 2, 2006

Teachers in the U.S. do not get the respect they deserve, especially middle school and elementary school teachers. It’s an age old problem — Shakespeare wrote of a man being executed by a coup d’etat for knowing how to read and teaching young boys to read.

It’s still true, sadly — see Ed Brayton’s remarks at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. The Taliban in Afghanistan are literally drawing and quartering teachers.

Teachers are revolutionaries, breakers of slavery’s chains, fighters for freedom. It shouldn’t be a fight to the death. Ignorance has long knives, and uses them. As Shakespeare noted, “Small things make base men proud.” (Henry VI, Part 2, act IV, scene 1)

“Man dancing”: Checking the facts

December 2, 2006

If you haven’t seen it, you may be in a minority that includes mostly people without internet access.

The story behind it is rather innocent and charming. Matt Harding, a young American computer programmer working in Australia, decided to spend a year touring the world. Somewhere along the line he got the idea to shoot video of himself dancing in various places. He posted in on YouTube. A chewing gum company saw the thing, and for reasons known only to public relations freaks and geniuses, called Matt to do it again, with better production quality, for a bit of publicity. So there are two videos of Matt Harding dancing, in exotic and interesting places.

Especially if this is new to you, you’re skeptical. Good. Kempton’s Blog was similarly skeptical, and did some research on the video, and on Matt.

Is there a lesson plan in here for history and other social studies? I think so. This can go directly to the issue of how we know what we know, and what are primary and secondary sources for history, as tested in Texas’s Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).

There are several ways to use these videos, when I sit down to think about them for a moment, listed below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

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