Thursday, December 18, 2008

Morae

Mora (plural moras or morae) is a unit of sound used in phonology that determines syllable weight (which in turn determines stress or timing) in some languages. Like many technical linguistics terms, the exact definition of mora is debated. The term comes from the Latin word for "linger, delay", which was also used to translate the Greek word chronos (time) in its metrical sense.

A syllable containing one mora is said to be monomoraic; one with two moras is called bimoraic.

In general, moras are formed as follows:

1. A syllable onset (the first consonant(s) of the syllable) does not represent any mora.
2. The syllable nucleus represents one mora in the case of a short vowel, and two moras in the case of a long vowel or diphthong. Consonants serving as syllable nuclei also represent one mora if short and two if long. (Slovak is an example of a language that has both long and short consonantal nuclei.)
3. In some languages (for example, Japanese), the coda represents one mora, and in others (for example, Irish) it does not. In English, it is clear that the codas of stressed syllables represent a mora (thus, the word cat is bimoraic), but it is not clear whether the codas of unstressed syllables do (the second syllable of the word rabbit might be monomoraic).
4. In some languages, a syllable with a long vowel or diphthong in the nucleus and one or more consonants in the coda is said to be trimoraic (see pluti).

In general, monomoraic syllables are said to be light syllables, bimoraic syllables are said to be heavy syllables, and trimoraic syllables (in languages that have them) are said to be superheavy syllables. Most linguists believe that no language uses syllables containing four or more moras.

Japanese is a language famous for its moraic qualities. Most dialects including the standard use moras (in Japanese, onji) as the basis of the sound system rather than syllables. For example, haiku in modern Japanese do not follow the pattern 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, as commonly believed, but rather the pattern 5 moras/7 moras/5 moras. As one example, the Japanese syllable-final n is moraic, as is the first part of a geminate consonant. For example, the word NIPPON ('Japan' in Japanese) has four moras (NI-P-PO-N)

See Geiger p. 63 on the "Law of Mora":

In Pali, a syllable can contain only one mora or two moras but never more. The syllable is thus either 1. open with short vowel (one mora), or 2. open with long vowel (two moras), or 3. closed with short vowel (two moras). Every syllable with a nasal vowel is considered as closed. Due to this law, where Skt. has a long vowel before double-consonance, Pali has there either 1. short vowel before double-consonance or 2. long vowel with the following double-consonance simplified.

In Prakrit (Pali, etc.) there are not allowed more than two morae for one syllable. If a word has a long vowel (2 morae) and is followed by two consonants, the vowel is often shortened, i.e., Pali ettha-, etc. mārga- (Skt.) is not allowed in Pali for this reason.

Pendent Nominatives

A pendent nominative (nominative pendens, 不完全主格構文) is a type of grammatical construction found in Greek and other languages in which a nominative given at the beginning of a sentence is the logical rather than syntactical subject of the sentence. The nominative is later replaced in the sentence by a pronoun in the case required by syntax. It is given the name "pendent" (懸垂的) because it "hangs in midair," not having a finite verb.

Examples:

Rev 3:12
The one who overcomes: I will make him a pilla. (The pendent nom. is replaced by the acc.)

Luke 8:21 (could be interpreted as a pendent nom.)
My mother and my brother are these: the ones hearing and doing the word of God.

RV 10.108.7
aya/ṃ nidhi/ḥ sarame a/dribudhno
go/bhir a/śvebhir va/subhir n(i/)yṛṣṭaḥ
ra/kṣanti ta/m paṇa/yo ye/ sugopā/
re/ku pada/m a/lakam ā/ jagantha

This treasure trove, O Saramā, having a rock as its bottom,
Filled with kine, horses, and wealth: that the Paṇis, who are cowherders, will guard...

A Web of False Assumptions

It is often said that questioning things is good, but we have to be careful that we are approaching things not just with questions but with the right questions.

Students often come away from a lecture on Buddhist thought saying, "That sounded so complex and difficult."

A asserts x
B also asserts x, but adds to x (x1, x2, x3...)
C refutes x2, for example, but accepts x, x1, x3, etc.
D comes along and redefines x as y
E adds onto y (y1, y2, y3...)
And so on...

Until you get a complicated web of speculations about A's original assertion of x and its later developments. These speculations are often extremely difficult to unravel, especially when they have happened over the course of hundreds of years. Simply unraveling such a mess could take you your whole life, but the important thing to note is that all of the complication is just smoke and mirrors that is preventing you from seeing that A's first assertion may be completely unfounded.

This reminds me of creationist arguments where so much misinformation is thrown out that an honest scientist has to work so hard to clear through the mess just to make a rebuttal. This is why some scientists believe that it may be a waste of time, or even worse, detrimental, to publicly debate with a creationist.

It is also a common tactic applied by pseudoscience and bad researchers: the argument ad footnotium! (what's it called?). It goes like this: when making an argument in text, include as many cherry-picked references to papers and research in your footnotes as possible. When applicable, go into great detail in your footnotes to obscure the issue. Having lots of detail, even if it's irrelevant, makes ones argument appear more convincing.

Buddhism and the Brain

Recent fMRI studies of the visual cortex: what is surprising is not that they were able to recreate these images, but that the images are so accurate a representation of the visual object.

Neural-plasticity and Buddhist arguments

The brain as a "magical" entity. Why do they want it to be this way?

Subjectivity and self-consciousness: Buddhist accounts

The Buddhist logicians and philosophers had no understanding of the brain or evolution.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Throwing it all away for the ideal

During my four years at Antioch, I have to admit that I felt quite wary of all the ultra-liberal political ideology that completely dominated the campus. There was something that didn't sit well with me, although I couldn't articulate what it was at the time.

I have since realized that what troubled me about Antioch was that it often put ideology before reason and empirical evidence. If you didn't accept the dogma you were branded as a racist/bigot/sexist. This fear of being rejected was sufficient to keep everyone in our smug little community in line. It also meant that we didn't have to provide real arguments in response to real criticisms. We could just lump our critics in with the evil "conspirators." Sounds cultish, eh?

Don't get me wrong--I am certainly not opposed to liberal ideas or movements such as feminism or gay rights. It's just that so much of the ultraliberal ideology is based on irrational arguments.

Gender differences is a good example. At Antioch we were led to believe that gender differences were largely the result of cultural conditioning. Some teachers and students even went so far as to say that gender differences were entirely socially constructed. While this may have some truth to it, we get nowhere when we try to ignore our obvious biological differences, our human nature.

Michael Goldfarb, an alumnus of Antioch, summed up these problems well in his June 17, 2007 opinion piece in the New York Times:

Antioch College became a rump where the most illiberal trends in education became entrenched. Since it is always easier to impose a conformist ethos on a small group than a large one, as the student body dwindled, free expression and freedom of thought were crushed under the weight of ultraliberal orthodoxy. By the 1990s the breadth of challenging ideas a student might encounter at Antioch had narrowed, and the college became a place not for education, but for indoctrination. Everyone was on the same page, a little to the left of The Nation in worldview.

Much of this conformist thinking focused on gender politics, and it culminated in the notorious sexual offense prevention policy. Enacted in 1993, the policy dictated that a person needed express permission for each stage in seduction. (“May I touch your breast?” “May I remove your bra?” And so on.) In two decades students went from being practitioners of free love to prisoners of gender. Antioch became like one of those Essene communities in the Judean desert in the first century after Christ that, convinced of their own purity, died out while waiting for a golden age that never came.
I was reminded of Antioch's lack of perspective once again this evening when I watched a video on Youtube about the Nonstop Institute, a movement by former Antioch professors and students to continue giving classes despite the loss of the campus.

The video (there are only four so far) I watched was on permaculture/organic gardening. Gardening's great, and be organic if that floats your boat! But what kind of audience is this going to appeal to? In your gardening workshop do you discuss the demerits of organic farming, the reasons why it is not feasible or even desirable for most of the world? Are the pseudoscientific arguments for organic foods debunked or blindly supported?

Most alumni and residents of Yellow Springs seem to support Nonstop's efforts. I'm not sure I'm convinced. At this point they are unaccredited, yet they are asking students to enroll, all the while falsely promising the students that their efforts may be credited sometime in the future. Is this an honest way to run an educational institution?

I understand that the courses may be of the same quality as Antioch college, and I feel bad about the despair the professors and students have had to go through.

The ship has sunk and it is time to let go and move on. It isn't ethical to draw young people, people who need an education to get ahead, under the waters with you as you go down. Responsible educators shouldn't be creating any more damage by madly clinging to something that is no longer. If the college is revived someday, then invite students to attend.

And if you do reopen your doors, Antioch, may you have learned your lesson that your ultraliberal conformist academic environment is only going to keep away students.