Babel

26 Sep

I loved Fry’s Planet Word last night – fascinating about how language has evolved and the way we do/don’t acquire it according to where and how we are brought up. What’s even more enjoyable (as I knew most of what he was talking about) was Fry’s obvious enthusiasm for the subject. He looked every part the eccentric academic, and would, I think have been a very inspiring teacher had he chosen that path. Also has made me want to delve deeper into the world of linguistics…

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12 Responses to “Babel”

  1. Nick Turnock October 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Oh dear Mr Fry, the golf holes are literally on different islands – literally, literally, not metaphorically nor yet figuratively. Please refrain, it is painful to the ears and murderous to the niceties of English.
    Regards Nick

  2. outsider8 October 2, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    Why Comic Sans? Could we have sub-titles and credits that we want to look at?

  3. Kevin October 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    I am appalled but not surprised by the prominence given by the BBC to Yiddish and Hebrew within an otherwise balanced and sensitive presentation of language variation and identity in this episode. To describe the growth of Hebrew as like a ‘Phoenix rising from the ashes’ is obscene when we consider that this false state created from territory occupied by violence after international collusion. Any shoe-horned quasi-culture and language that may exist in these occupied territories have been brought about on the back of the continued suffering of millions of Palestinians. This nonsense about Hebrew in Israel followed an irrelevant piece of nonsense about Yiddish humour in New York. BBC, your Zionist propaganda has plumbed new depths!

  4. Edu October 2, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

    I enjoyed the first episode of “Fry’s Planet Word” and was eager to watch the second episode, “Identity”, being myself a linguist and a speaker of Basque. Anyway, it is hard to believe that the producers could not find any better person than cook Señor Arzak to talk about that language, neither the Basque Academy, nor any school, to give two (too?) simple examples, just Señor Arzak, someone who did no honour to the language, by just speaking in Spanish or in French (although the subtitles always read “Arzak speaks Basque”). Well, he might spell his name NOW with a final -k, instead of the final -c he used some decades ago, and try to impress BBC viewers with his rethoric about language and cuisine, but the plain truth is that the short micro sentence he said in poor Basque had the usual common mistakes, showing his more than limited ability. A shame, as the programme, just as the channel, are simply great.

  5. catdeanuk October 3, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    I agree that last night’s episode was a great disappointment, considering the promise of the first.

    The whole ‘Basque in a restaurant’ business was way too drawn out, and made his single point about there being a strong connection between food and language several times. It could have been made far more interesting with a look at the linguistic origins to Basque rather than some fawning non-interview in a very expensive eatery.

    It was just so random and magazine-y, going from Fry’s awful cod accents (ooh, look at me I can do two types of Yorkshire) to his glossing over the tribes in Africa who were taught English in school, Swahili in towns and their own dialect (I’m afraid I can’t remember its name) within the tribe. It was like Louis Theroux without the depth.

    A far better idea in my opinion would be to stick to a single country or language and examine the idiosyncracies and history in much more detail. This smacked of dumbing down for a Sunday nite lite audience and does not do justice to Fry’s extensive knowledge and interests.

    • Edu October 3, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      You are right, when you mention Señor Arzak’s dear (and expensive!) connection between food and language. Anyway, he could never present a language he obviously does not speak, not even for the show.
      Besides, one can easily wonder what developed / educated 20eth and 21st century people (and, hence, language), with access to electricity, media and entertainment —even if their vernacular languages are not used on those occassions— does not include foreign words in their “food and beverages” semantic field, such as sushi, paella, vodla, whisky, spaghetti, tortilla, pizza, couscous… And I am not talking about Maori hangi, Peruvian / Bolivian anticuchos, Malagasy romazava or Tuareg tagella!
      Nevertheless, on this day and age, the worst thing to hear came from that French guy (not a Monsieur, never a gentleman) who showed that contempt for the other languages spoken in France: would he feel the same if the same argument was used for the French speakers of Aosta or Canada? According to him, it would benefit them if they were told –and forced– to take French AND abandon their own language, because by using Italian or English, i.e., the main ones in their countries, they can have long, educated conversations in Rome, Venice, Naples… or in Vancouver, Yellowknife, Calgary (and virtually all over the world!). What a disgusting character!

  6. John Flynn October 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    In Planet Word last night the gentlemen in the golf club bar in Connemara might have answered more instructively when asked about the differences in ways of saying things in Irish and English.

    Irish is rich in words and expressions that cover personal interaction and attitudes to that interaction. These often suggest the Irish were an ironic people even before they started speaking English.

    A short list below is made up of Irish words still used in everyday speech by English speakers in Waterford, the county which has the smallest remaining Irish-speaking area. Most counties have no such area.

    Flaithiúlach (pr. ‘flahoolock’) = wilfully, even wastefully, generous;

    Gaisce (‘goshka’) = a great deed, as done by an ostentatious do-gooder;

    Meas (‘mass’) = regard or esteem based on experience of the subject rather than on affinity, interest or inclination;

    Plámás (‘plawmawss’) = soothing flattery designed to bluff, placate or cajole;

    Searbhas (‘sharoose’) = a form of dismissiveness derived from the word for bitter (searbh), this is negativity with touches of the ungrateful and defeatist;

    Trína chéile (‘treenakayla’) = literally ‘between together’, this means a state of inability to interact with oneself, which is something more than confused.

  7. sophie November 21, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I loved the first episode of Frys Planet Word, well done!!! I wait in anticipation for the next in the series.

  8. ava November 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Stephen Fry is great, I love to watch him because of the way he admits his faults, yet he is highly intelligent, and never ever comes across as arrogant.

  9. paul joseph desailly March 13, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    Here in Adelaide episode one aired on national TV 11 March 2012. Fry’s about as rare as the dodo in that he exposes prejudice without embarrassing the perpetrator. By deploying Socratic irony in a tete a tete with a well renumerated UN simultaneous translator in the climax of “Babel” Stephen’s open-mindedness and honesty were as evident as his interlocutor’s ignorance and untruthfulness vis-a-vis the beauty and ingenuity of Esperanto – just ask la creme dela creme of the literati. Babel’s burial will occur when ‘the members of parliaments throughout the world select a single language for the use of all on earth, and adopt likewise a common script’. A universal auxiliary language, what ever it be, is clearly no threat to anyone’s mother tongue; it is an immediate, complete, inexpensive and just solution for all, whether linguist or not, whether rich or poor.

    • Paul Joseph Desailly March 13, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      sorry about spelling, grammar etc mistakes in earlier post;
      i’m trying again :

      Here in Adelaide episode one aired on national ABC1 TV March 11th 2012. Fry’s about as rare as the dodo in that he exposes prejudice without embarrassing the perpetrator. By deploying Socratic irony in a tete a tete with a well remunerated UN simultaneous-translator in the climax of “Babel” Stephen’s open-mindedness and honesty were as evident as his interlocutor’s ignorance or untruthfulness vis-a-vis the implied by her lack of beauty in Esperanto – just ask la creme dela creme of the literati. Babel’s burial will occur when ‘the members of parliaments throughout the world select a single language for the use of all on earth, and adopt likewise a common script.’ A universal auxiliary language, what ever it be, is clearly no threat to anyone’s mother tongue; it is an immediate, complete, inexpensive and just solution for all, whether linguist or not, whether rich or poor.

  10. John Ley March 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    I was disappointed that Stephen Fry didn’t exam the regrowth of the Welsh language, this within the confines of the British mainland surrounded by English is quite remarkable and a credit to the Welsh speakers who over the last two centuries had “hung on to their language’ against all odds. who fought and are winning the battle to bring Welsh back to the mainstream of Welsh living. Also various Welsh people like Dylan Thomas who have enriched the flow and sound of English with their passionate use of words.

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