F R ID AY, A U G U S T 1 3 , 2 0 1 0 T H E VAN C O U V E R C O U R I E R
opinion TWITTER AKIN TO ANIMAL GRUNTS
Digital age mixed blessing for language and communication My sister was driving her daughter home from summer school when she learned that a fellow student had an “iPatch.” My sister works at a large B.C. firm doing customer support for corporate clients, and feels she always has to keep up on the latest tech terms. But she had never heard of an iPatch before. Was it some kind of system upgrade, an antivirus thing for an iPhone or iPad, perhaps? She just had to ask. “Mommmm,” said my niece, rolling her eyes, “don’t you know what an eyepatch is? It’s something you put over one eye!” Most of us can relate to this anecdote. We often feel overwhelmed by the cultural expectation to stay abreast of the latest gadget, gizmo or app. No one wants to come across as some odd bird from the manual age, parroting tech-talk without understanding it. When some kid asks how many gigaflops your Vimbliscous Boodledrive outputs through a K-9 bitwrangler, you don’t want to mumble something at your shoes about a back-order at Future Shop. There’s a big ongoing debate on whether the Internet is making us dumber or smarter. Recent books like The Shallows, You are Not a Gadget and The Dumbest Generation argue for the prosecution. For the defence, there’s… well, it’s never hard to find some seminaked geek presenting his briefs on YouTube. In any case, there’s no doubt the digital age has been a bag of mixed blessings for the English language. Any person can whip up a social networking account, but it takes a special person to confuse “repudiate” and “refute,” as Sarah Palin did on a recent Muslim-baiting “tweet.” And it takes a very special person to argue that her newly minted word, “refudiate,” was a creative construction and not a malapropism. (Take a bow, neocon shill William Kristol.) Years ago, primatologists were stunned when a chimp taught to communicate in American Sign Language spontaneously described a swan as “water bird.” Lexical elision—creating a new word by putting two different words together—was impressive for Washoe the Chimp, but less so for Sarah the Teabagger, especially since it was unintentional. With comments and links limited to 140 characters, Twitter is something close to the capability of some animals, I suspect. I’m not interested in anything the former governor of Alaska has to say, but I’d certainly check out any tweets from the legendary squawker,
letter of the week
geoffolson Alex the African Grey Parrot. Unfortunately, this ex-parrot joined the choir invisible a few years ago. His trainer, Brandeis psychology professor Irene Pepperberg, shared tales of his extraordinary intelligence in her 2008 memoir, Alex and Me. Apparently Alex was creative enough to express himself through words of his own making. After he had learned the words for banana, cherry and grape, Dr. Pepperberg introduced Alex to a fourth fruit, apple. But Alex refused to say “apple,” producing a pathetic “puh” instead. He had other ideas what the fruit was, insisting on calling it a “banerry.” At one point he slowly and deliberately said “Ban-err-ee” to Pepperberg, as if he was verbally training her the same way she trained him. A linguist friend told her it sounded like Alex had created a lexical elision. “Alex might have thought the apple tasted a bit like banana. Certainly it looked like a very large cherry (it was a red apple). Banana + cherry = Banerry,” she wrote. One day the psychologist was going through exercises with Alex, getting him to identify multicoloured plastic refrigerator letters, and describe their colours. Alex, being long on smarts but short on patience, would sometimes grow bored of such strange human routines. This time he interspersed his responses with “I want a nut.” Pepperberg initially refused, wanting to complete the exercise first. Finally, Alex looked at her and slowly said, “Want a nut. Nnn…uh…tuh.” “I was stunned,” the author writes. “It was as if he were saying, ‘Hey, stupid, do I have to spell it out for you?’” Whatever went on in Alex’s bird brain, it seems far more than mimicry was involved. In another anecdote from the book, he perches by a flustered accountant and asks if she wants a nut, wants corn, wants water. Dissatisfied by the no’s, Alex asked, “Well, what do you want?” Maybe he should have asked if she wanted an iPatch. www.geoffolson.com
Vision Vancouver city councillors George Chow (left) and Kerry Jang bristled at recent CSIS allegations of Chinese inﬂuence and espionage. file photo Dan Toulgoet To the editor: Re “Letter of the Week,” Aug. 4. Some of your readers agree with CSIS henchman Richard Fadden and MP Rob Anders’s Chinese spy allegations. (One reader even said Chinese spying is ubiquitous on a global scale.) While I’m a Chinese-Canadian (being Canadian ﬁrst of Chinese ancestry), I reckon myself fortunate enough to be able to immigrate to this country and became a citizen. Canada has been and still is a peaceful, peace-loving, tolerant and compassionate country in general. I admit and agree that China is now run by a totalitarian regime but this doesn’t make me detest my roots and repel anything that is associated with my Chinese ethnic background. In my opinion, Mr.Fadden’s Chinese spy
allegations sound hostile to the ChineseCanadian community and have aroused unnecessary suspicions and distrust among our citizens. Many countries, not just China, have their spies inﬁltrated into other countries and engaged in international espionage. Why single out China? Could it be that some Westerners don’t want to see a China on the rise and emerging as a major world power politically and economically? As for Mr. Fadden, I just can’t wait to ﬁnd out the names and contents of his disclosure report of the individuals who are involved in the spy allegations. Once we found out who they are, then deal with them accordingly.
To the editor: Re: “Cut to VSB’s anti-homophobia job cruel and careless,” Aug. 6. While I agree with Tom Sandborn that cutting the hours of the Vancouver School Board’s anti-homophobia consultant was ill advised, I assure him it was a decision that was made carefully and painfully, alongside also ill-advised cuts. This was a brutal and unacceptable budget, but the minister of education made it very clear that Vancouver needed to stop funding “non-core” services and balance the inadequate budget. Walking in this year’s Pride Parade with the VSB ﬂoat was indeed bittersweet knowing that we’ve made so much progress, but we still have so much further to go to free our schools of homophobia and it’s going to be more challenging than ever with the
reduction in Steve Mulligan’s hours, fewer counsellors, support workers and staff.
Stephen Chiu, Vancouver
We Gutted VSB budget results in anti-homophobia cut want Patti Bacchus, chair, Vancouver School Board
••• To the editor: Thank you, Tom Sandborn, for highlighting the impacts of cutting VSB’s anti-homophobia coordinator. We’re losing most of VSB’s remaining specialized supports for addressing complex challenges like homophobia. Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid concluded that Vancouver has the resources it needs to provide a full education program. These cuts illustrate that her vision of education resembles a thin, watery gruel. Dawn Steele, Vancouver
Pride Parade celebrates human rights and glamour To the editor: Re: “Pride Parade about more than sequins and Speedos,” July 28. What a fabulous column about the Pride Parade. I was fortunate enough to still be in Vancouver while it took place and was very overwhelmed at the amount of support the same-sex communities receive in Vancouver. At a very young age my uncle passed away from
AIDS and it still has a very lasting effect on my family and myself to this day. To see such warmth and welcoming attitudes just makes me shiver all over with happiness to know that there is a lot of good change in the works. I am currently over here from Australia and even though gay and lesbian relationships are accepted to some degree I would love for us to follow in Vancouver’s foot
steps and embrace the right of people to express freely who they are a lot more. At the end of the day I hope that more awareness and education will keep making events like the Pride Parade a huge celebration of human rights, and that all of us can walk around with a bit of glamour in our step. Thank you for being proud. Holly Deacon, Thornton, Australia
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Vancouver Courier August 13 2010