Tag Archives: musings

The Death of Symbolism

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Almost everyone in America has a general idea of what the character Death is supposed to look like. Skeletal figure, long black cape, terrifying scythe. You know, this guy.

Death of Symbolism
He’s all scary and ghostly. Death is the manifestation of one of the most primal forces on the planet. He is the end of all things and we all just fully accept that he looks like this. Skeletal – makes sense. Robed in black – it’s sinister, so guess that works. Carrying a scythe – scythes are scary and frightening, okay.

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Rote Memorization

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Some people memorize poetry, and some people memorize song lyrics or rap lines (which is really just a kind of poetry anyway); some people memorize movie or TV show lines and some people memorize jokes and one liners. Overall, in the end, everyone either knows someone who has an extensive listing or memorized content – or, they even do it themselves.

But why? Why do people feel such a drive to memorize and recite content? After all, who doesn’t get a thrill learning and singing along to a favorite song? Or who doesn’t have a flush of happiness at being able to drop a line from a favorite TV show at the appropriate point in a conversation? Why are people almost seemingly programmed to love memorizing and reciting content? Continue reading Rote Memorization

The Stars Above Us

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This past weekend I went skiing for the first time, and for some reason it made me start thinking a lot about how language works and how it shapes our general understanding of the world around us. What really got me was the general idea of how you slow down while skiing – by digging the metal sides of the skies into the ground, making sure it catches against the snow and ice beneath you.

Language at work

Of course, a more scientific explanation for why turning your skis sideways – ‘snowplowing’ or ‘pizzaing’ – and digging them into the ground slows you down would probably take into account things like how you increase the surface area of the skis against the ground, increasing friction, drag, etc, thus slowing you down. And, while this is all a very good explanation, I want to know, how did people describe these phenomenons before concepts like friction and drag were ‘discovered’ and explained.

Skiing, for example, as an activity is believed to date all the way back to 5,000 BC in Scandinavia. How then, in that case, did they explain how the concept of snowplowing would slow you down while skiing? Surely, they could describe casually that doing this one movement would slow you down greatly, but could they describe why that happened? Would those early people have the necessary language and knowledge to even discuss matters like drag, or friction?

Likely, this matter goes beyond skiing to all manners of thought. Before humans learned how fast speed travels, could we ever really imagine going the speed of light? Or intergalactic travel? Or time travel? If not, then it is amazing to think how much more we can now discuss and think about due to linguistic evolution due to scientific discovery.

Following, imagine how much more people will be able to discuss in even just fifty years, at the current pace of human discovery. Languages very rarely create new words, so old words will be re-purposed at incredible speeds and given meanings that before would have been baffling. It’s amazing how much knowledge can change language, which in turn influences what we can truly imagine and think of.

Langauge and the firmament

I remember taking a philosophy class – that I hated. One point from that class always stood with me, though. The professor mentioned how some philosophers believe that new knowledge fundamentally changes the way we see and understand the world before us. So, these philosophers believe, thousands of years ago when people knew that the stars above them were gods, they actually did see gods above them.

Their language, and knowledge of the world, wouldn’t allow otherwise.

A Blank Canvas

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I am not the most creative person when it comes to creating lesson plans; when I do try to flex my creative muscles, often times the results are sub-par (read, Ke$ha). Last week, partially inspired by a discussion with Danielle, I decided to try something different with my conversation classes. So, without giving them any background, I presented them with this painting, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper:

Teaching Prompts

As far as I can tell, the concept of a diner is completely unheard of in Turkey, which prompted lively discussion from my classes.

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Birth of a Dialect

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The recent, and as of yet still unexplained, cancellation of internet to my apartment has left me, Danielle and Fabio all connecting wirelessly to the router of a friend living above me. Since the connection in my apartment is strongest, our living situation has taken on a dorm-like feeling as we all huddle around the hot spot with our electronics trying to check our email and be productive; or, as is the case with Danielle and myself, be helplessly distracted by Facebook.

“Do you know her?” Danielle asked me, having just received yet another friend request from an unknown Turk.

“Nah, I don’t. Maybe she’s one of your students?”

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Feeling Like a Foreigner

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When you travel – even within the same country, for instance from the North East of America to the Deep South or the West of Turkey to the East – it is only natural to at times be self-consciously overwhelmed by feeling like a foreigner. Traveling to a different country, where the language and culture is different, only compounds this feeling. During my first stay in Turkey, a two month intensive language program in Ankara, I suffered a lot from culture shock. I think it was only to be expected.

Luckily, my stay so far in Malatya has really been free of any problems; however, I have noticed something about living abroad that I would never had thought of otherwise. Namely, the difference between being a foreigner and feeling like a foreigner.

For instance, I am a foreigner here in Turkey. The way I hold myself, dress, speak and react are all different enough from the locals for people to realize that I am not from around here and there is very little I can do about that – at least immediately. Turks, by and large though, absolutely love foreigners and try their best to be as hospitable and helpful as possible. I have had random men who I’ve asked for directions go out of their way to ensure that I arrive safely at my destination. Speaking a little bit of Turkish does help to grease the wheels, but people are generally overjoyed to help.

In this way, being a foreigner in Turkey really has very few problems associated with it; people truly strive and welcoming as possible. I am actively encouraged to think of this new country as my new home. Although I am a foreigner here, I am not made to feel like one – the country is incredibly inclusive, at least in my experience. For example, while on my way to Harput last week another passenger on the mini-bus realized I was a foreigner and insisted on sharing his snacks with me. He then went on to lecture me about how I had to visit Izmir, smiling the whole time.

Feeling like a foreigner, on the other hand, can happen anywhere – even if your own country or hometown. This feeling isn’t linked to you nearly as much as it is linked to your circumstances. For example, I am sure everyone has had that one experience of being at a party or a meeting in which you felt unwelcome and excluded; you did not belong, and you felt like a foreigner. Obviously being in a different country, where the language and culture is different, can easily lead to the feeling of being a foreigner.

For the three months that I have been in Turkey so far, I can think of maybe one or two examples at most of when I truly felt I did not belong. The first was in Istanbul, where at a restaurant I was charged five times the normal amount for a cup of tea – the foreigner price – that I begrudgingly had to pay. The second example was when I was having a conversation with a few Turks. When they asked me a question, and I stumbled to respond, they turned to each other and said “Oh, he doesn’t understand!” and then laughed about it.

Overall, though, these are two minor occurrences that I truly had to rack my head about to think of. I am truly lucky to be in a country where, although I an undoubtedly a foreigner, I am almost never made to feel that way. Turkey has, at least for the year that I am here, truly become my new home; as it is Thanksgiving in America as I post this, I can say that I am truly grateful for that.

You Are the Universe Experiencing Itself

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A few days ago, a friend posted on my Facebook a link to a website full of amazing wallpapers that he said reminded him of me; the picture to the left is from that sight, and is currently my active wallpaper.

At first I was just drawn to the quote because it completely summed up my own world philosophy – it was not until a few minutes ago, when I was reading up on what the name of this philosophy might be so I could share it in this post, that I realized that this is a quote from a Alan Watts, a renowned Western philosopher who tried to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western thinking. So, what drew me into this line of thinking was not Watts himself, but rather the ideas embodied in this quote.

Religion for me is a difficult and intriguing question. I used to be a strident atheist – although never a very good one, I admit, as I was still always terrified of ghosts and other inexplicable phenomenon. In time, however, my positions softened and I ended up becoming a fairly strong believer in God; this in turn then softened to an exclusively personal ever-evolving inclusive spiritualism.

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Musings On Turkish

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I’ve been spending a lot of time recently – especially this weekend, as I’ve been recovering from food poisoning or stomach flu or something – trying to improve my Turkish. Along the way, I’ve noticed a few really cool things socio-linguistically that I’d like to share.

  • Turkey was created as a staunchly secular country, although slowly religion has been finding its way into the open more and more – either a good thing, or something terrible, depending on who you ask. This extreme separation of religion and society though has lead to a division in language, enabling someone to “speak like a Muslim.” Continue reading Musings On Turkish