Monday, August 25, 2008

Adverse Adverbials

Saw this title on dA today: "Till the End with You". The title made me reread it several times until I was able to process it properly: "With you till the end". But both "till the end" and "with you" are adverbials, so it's understandable that there should be free variation between the two, right?

(As an aside, it should be noted the the artist who titled her work is not a native English speaker.)

The problem is, in this case, the preposition "till" ('til, until) is orthographically identical to the verb "till" (labour, cultivate, plough). And when the verb is in first position, usually one of two structures follow: questions, and imperatives. As most of us know, classical grammar requires a simple inversion of the subject-verb in the declarative clause in order to form a question. For example:
"He is a man" -> "Is he a man?"
"You think she's beautiful" -> "Think you she's beautiful?"
But of course, our current variety of English normally employs the curious verb "do" (for all verbs except auxilliary/modals): "Do you think she's beautiful?"

The imperative is normally distincted from the elision of the subject, which is seemingly always second-person. Thus, "clean [you] the desk," or "buy [you] the tickets."

In "Till the end with you," there is clearly no subject, since the first word is followed by a noun phrase "the end" (or "the end with you", depending on how you read it!) Thus, the first instinct is that this is an imperative. Moreover, the ending "with you" is commonly seen for emphasis in select imperatives:
"be off with you!"
"fly to Siberia with ye!"
Thus, my first interpretation of "Till the end with you", was somewhat of a mixture between an emphatic statement to the reader to cultivate the end of something, possibly a field, OR a clumsy statement of the artist, expression her desire to cultivate land together with the reader.

After I realised what was meant, I started considering what could be changed. A dry replacement for the preposition obviously wouldn't be enough: "until the end with you" could mean something like "waiting for your demise". The only solution, really, was to swap the two adverbials into "With you 'til the end". An [uncontextualised] statment that begins with "with", can be taken to have elipsed "I am" at the beginning. Thus, "with you till the end" is really "I am with you until the end [of the world]".

And yet, I still have trouble understanding how or why anybody would have written the line in the opposite order. I suppose there could be a pause between the two: "Till the end, with you", but that slows the pace. Although maybe that's intended. Personally, I prefer the quick and succinct when it comes to titles, and I'm also partial to ones that make you think instead of the dry, literal and unimaginative titles of most research papers. (e.g. "Strategy for Determination of in Vitro Protein Acetylation Sites by Using Isotope-Labeled Acetyl Coenzyme A and Liquid Chromatography−Mass Spectrometry".)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Double Dactyls

Even if you can't define it, if you're able to spell it from hearing it once in conversation, you're doing pretty good.

Found a lexicographical talk on TED, and thought I'd share. Most of the room laughed less than I did. :(

Friday, August 8, 2008

Imperial Inquisition

This has been floating around in my head for a while, but I didn't bother looking into it until the other day. According to most people (and google search), "Inca Empire" is the preferred term (as opposed to "Incan Empire").

This strikes me as odd because usually, the word that precedes Empire is an adjective of the nation-name. (consider: British, Byzantine, Ottoman, Peruvian, Prussian, Roman, Russian, Turkish, etc.) However, most of these adjectives are also used to describe the inhabitants of the nation. From that point of view, Inca and Aztec are correct, and British and Turkish become the exceptions.

To my ears though, it's the grammatical form rather than the semantic form that's easier to grasp, and thus, {[n.]+"empire"} sounds stranger than {[nationality adj.]+"empire"}.

Maybe they're just exceptions to the "rule". Or maybe English-speakers should switch to using "Incan Empire" and "Aztecan Empire".

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What do you do with a BA in English?

The thing that surprises me more is the fact that more people aren't aware of what a BA in English actually achieves. I found it odd that the English department would push so hard to convince its students that they'd have a future after 4~5 years in English, but if they don't promote, nobody else would. But then, I speak to my father, and he seems to echo the sentiment that the English department seemed to address: what can you do with a BA in English?

It seems that a lot of people aren't aware of what exactly is involved in a university education in English. The literature program has an obvious emphasis on literature, but in doing so, it forces a sensitivity to the differing historical and cultural varieties of English used by the different authors.

So, what can a BA in English get you? Here are some of the more interesting jobs available:
  • Advertising and Commercial scripting/writing
  • Television and Film scripting/writing
  • copywriter and documentation editing (esp. in tech companies like Microsoft and RIM)
  • Any job that doesn't require a specific degree (e.g. Intelligence Officer)
  • Translating/Editing (from free-lance, to technical manuals, to government contracts)
  • English/Language pedagogy (and reinforce the cycle of school...)
I'm sure there's more, but it shouldn't be too difficult to imagine your own. The thing that most people should realise is that communication (between humans) only occurs with language. And given the currency of English in the modern world, it should serve to show that a BA in English would not be disadvantageous at all.