Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More Adventures in Phonology (Part II)

It's time for another exciting edition of More Adventures in Phonology!

In our class today we analyzed the problem of stress distribution in Southern Paiute. This problem can be found on p. 181 of Halle's Problem Book in Phonology. A set of 24 nonsense words with various stress patterns are given, and in question 2 one is asked to give a formal statement to account for these patterns.

Once again I found myself completely disagreeing with the analysis of my teacher (and presumably most everyone else in the class)! If I've learned one thing from this class, it's that I tend to approach phonology issues in a very different way.

The analysis given by my teacher can be summarized as follows:

(1) Final syllables are to be considered extra-metrical
(2) Trees are constructed from left to right and have two layers if the word has both primary and secondary stress
(3) Lower layers are right-headed while higher layers are left-headed

So, no. 8 paáppàA is analyzed as follows:

** *
\/ |

I immediately objected to such an analysis as it requires the head to be located on the right in the lower layer and on the left in the upper layer. Such an ad hoc assignment is not allowed in syntax, as far as I am aware--you can't start off with a head on the right and then change mid-course to the left.

I presume that my teacher opted for such an analysis as it allows disyllablic words (no.1 páwA, no. 5 páppA) to be analyzed in a consistent fashion: the last syllable is extra-metrical and therefore stress naturally is assigned to the first syllable. This may be the only redeeming feature of such an analysis, but considering the inconsistencies in head assignment, I believe it should ultimately be rejected in favor of the following analysis:

(1) Except in disyllablic words, initial syllables are to be considered extra-metrical
(2) Trees are constructed from right to left and have two layers if the word has both primary and secondary stress
(3) Lower layers and higher layers are both left-headed

My analysis solves the problem of arbitrarily changing the position of the head. Some people in the class objected to my specification in (1) that disyllabic words are to be excepted from the extra-metrical rule, saying that setting such a limitation would be ad hoc. In other words, if we say that either final or initial syllables are extra-metrical, we have to apply this across-the-board to all forms, regardless of their syllable count.

However, such objections can be easily shown to have no basis. Many languages have a requirement that every word contain at least one foot (the well-known "minimal word syndrome"). If we assume that Southern Paiute also has such a constraint, this explains why disyllabic words cannot have an extra-metrical syllable--they would in fact become monomoraic and would therefore be degenerate-size words. Note that my teacher's analysis violates this constraint.

A look at p. 88 of Bruce Hayes' Metrical Stress Theory lists Southern Paiute as one of the languages subject to the "minimal word syndrome." Hayes also provides an analysis of Southern Paiute on p. 266, and he seems to take the word-final syllable as extra-metrical. He also allows for head position to be changed from layer-to-layer. So now I'm confused...head really doesn't mean head in the syntax sense of the term. It is simply a place holder to mark where stress is assigned.

If phonologists want to use syntax terms such as head, etc., they need to be a little more rigorous with their definitions. The analysis I gave above for Southern Paiute still seems to me to be entirely consistent, at least with regard to the data I was presented with.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

More Adventures in Phonology

Last month in our phonology class we analyzed the phenomenon of consonant dissimilation in Kikuyu (Gikuyu). This is the exercise given on p. 107 of Morris Halle's Problem Book in Phonology (1983).

The first part of the exercise is to determine the base form of the infinitive prefix, stating a rule that accounts for its pattern of alternation. The two alternating forms of the prefix are [ko] and [ɣo]. [ko] appears before a verbal root beginning with the [+cont] consonants {r, m, n, h} and the consonant [ɣ]. [ɣo] appears before a verbal root beginning with the [-cont] consonants {t, c, k} and the consonant [ð]. From the observance of other data (particularly that in part two), it is obvious that /ko/ is the base form while [ɣo] is the alternate. Therefore, we are dealing with something like the following preliminary rule for dissimilation:

/k/ → [ɣ] / __ V(V){t, c, k}V

/k/ also becomes [ɣ] before [ð]. What distinguishes [ð] from {t, c, k} above is that [ð] is [+cont, +voi]. From the data (for example the loanwords from English in part three), we see that Kikuyu has very few voiced consonants, and the consonant /g/ always undergoes spirantization, except when prenasalized. [ð] is a bit more difficult to analyze. We can note that fricatives in Kikuyu are always voiced. And the English loanwords in nos. 46 and 47 show that English [s] is pronounced as [ð] in Kikuyu. Thus an /s/, /d/, or even a /t/ could be the underlying representation for [ð].

From the dissimilation rule above, it appears that the wildcard [ð] should be analyzed as an underlying /t/, as this gives the rule a clearly-definable phonetic context. And as a voiced /g/ likely lies behind [ɣ], we can modify our dissimilation rule above and add a spirantization rule as follows:

(1) Voicing Dissimilation Rule

/k/ → [g] / __ V(V){t, c, k}V, where [t] = [t] or [ð]

(2) Spirantization Rule

C[-cont, +voi] → C[+cont]

Thus these ordered rules state that (1) in two consecutive [-cont, -voi] consonants, the first consonant is dissimilated with regard to voice, and (2) voiced consonants are spirantized in all environments except after nasals (post-nasal hardening).

Applied to the data, it looks like this:

/ko-geera/ /ko-taaka/
(1) ko-geera (1) go-taaka
(2) ko-ɣeera ( ) go-daaka
(2) ɣo-ðaaka

For the second step of the /ko-taaka/ form, the voicing of the /t/ appears to be due to some factor not specified. As no. 12 [ko-hetoka] shows, such voicing doesn't always occur. The forms that do have voicing, i.e., no. 10 [ɣo-ðaaka] and no. 20 [ɣo-ðɛka], show voicing of /t/ when it appears at the beginning of a verbal root. Such voicing could be the result of morphological or other phonetic factors such as accent or tone. I wish the author of this book would fill us in on what is going on here.

When I first wrestled with this problem, I had assumed the following dissimilation rule:

/k/ → [ɣ] / __ V(V){t, c, k, d}V

The rule states that dissimilation occurs only in [-cont] consonant sequences, omitting the [-voi] condition seen in the rule above. I also assumed that [ð] came from an underlying /d/. Note that the essence of this rule is not about voicing dissimilation, but about obstruent dissimilation.

The problem with this view is why a similar dissimilation process does not occur before [ɣ], which, parallel to /d/ → [ð], should be analyzed as coming from /g/. I had assumed that the underlying representation, in contrast to /d/, could be analyzed as /ɣ/. And since a dissimilation of /k/ to [ɣ] before a following /ɣ/ would by its very nature defeat the purpose of dissimilation (it would actually be a process of assimilation!), I considered /k/ to be exempt from the dissimilation rule in such cases:

(1) Not Applicable

The problem with this analysis is that it fails to give a unified account for the ordering of our Dissimilation Rule (1) and our Spirantization Rule (2). For if we assume /ko-ɣeera/ for the underlying representation as above, and not /ko-geera/, we contradict ourselves by setting up at the same time the underlying form /ko-daaka/. We could say that spirantization of voiced consonants occurred at different stages for /d/ and /g/, but that would be ad hoc. The merit of our first analysis is that consistently unspirantized forms can be set up in the underlying representation and spirantization is assumed to occur at one step in the process. See the forms below:

/ko-daaka/ /ko-geera/
(1) ɣo-daaka (1) *ɣo-geera
(2) ɣo-ðaaka (2) *ɣo-ɣeera

In this analysis, dissimilation in stage (1) already generates spirantization for /g/. It is strange then to postulate another spirantization rule in stage (2). The merit of this approach, though, is that we don't have to assume anything for the changes in [ɣoðaaka] and [ɣoðɛka], but this is outweighed by the other problems with such an analysis.

A search on the internet reveals that this process of dissimilation in Kikukyu has been defined as Dahl's Law, which states that the first of two voiceless consonants will be dissimilated to its voiced version in certain contexts.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Digital Data and Japanese Language Research

I listened to this lecture by Tanomura last weekend. He stressed the importance of using a large corpus for studying linguistic phenomena, as a large sampling of data allows us to see patterns in language change more accurately. A corpus is also useful for seeing patterns in collocations. Search engines are not suitable for use as corpora, because the results they give are too variable.



Friday, July 10, 2009

Rotuman and Phonology

In a recent class, our task was to analyze the Austronesian language Rotuman. The purpose of this task was to familiarize ourselves with using distinctive features to analyze processes of neutralization. The handout our teacher gave us clearly stated that the vowel system of Rotuman is complex and that there may be more than one way to analyze a particular case of neutralization.

I devoted a lot of time and thought to my analysis and was sure that I had come up with good arguments to support my approach. I was therefore surprised to find that my teacher had approached the problem in a very different (and in my opinion, erroneous) way. During the class, I attempted to make a case for my method of analysis, but unfortunately I don't think it got across very well. Later reflection still has me convinced that my approach is superior, and I will try to explain why here.

We were given a list of 92 words from Rotuman, each with a phonetic transcription and a gloss. The vowels and their environments can be summarized as follows:

(1) Ten different vowels appear in closed syllables
(2) Five different vowels appear word-finally
(3) In a disyllabic word with the structure CVCV, a total seven different vowels appear for the first vowel, and their qualities depend on the quality of the second vowel

My teacher started his analysis with the ten vowels in (1), setting them all up as phonemes. He then went on to describe a process of neutralization for the five vowels in word-final position. In other words, he started with the ten vowels in (1) and then narrowed them down to the five vowels in (2) by explaining this as the result of neutralization. He then went on to explain the seven vowels in (3) through neutralization, where the two "extra" vowels are explained as contextual variants.

The first major flaw in this analysis is that it completely ignores the distinction between the phonemic and the phonetic. Previously in the class, we had been practicing standard approaches to phonological analysis, using concepts such as the phonemic/phonetic distinction, complementary distribution, allophones, etc. However, it seems that my teacher failed to take these approaches into account when analyzing using a system of distinctive features. I questioned him on this point, asking how we should distinguish phonemes from phones when using a distinctive-feature-based approach. He replied that (and maybe this was just for the sake of practice) we take all the sounds in the phonetic transcription to be phonemes! This is what I think makes his analysis flawed. Consider the definition of neutralization:

Neutralization: the identical phonetic realization of distinct phonemes.

Notice that the very definition of neutralization presupposes that we make the phonemic/phonetic distinction. Regardless of whether we use distinctive features or not, we must make this distinction. If we accept that all phonetic realizations are also phonemic we will have no way of knowing what a speaker's phonemic knowledge entails.

The advantages to using distinctive features are that they allow us to predict speakers' choices beyond the specific data given, and that they allow us to describe with accuracy exactly what is being neutralized when neutralization occurs.

The moral of this story, which I think was lost on most of the students, is that using distinctive features can add to the power of our analysis once we have determined the phonemic inventory of a language and described common allophones, etc. In other words, the methods of the Prague School and "standard" Structuralism aren't mutually exclusive.

In my analysis, I started with the five word-final vowels as phonemes and described other variants as allophones (contextual variants). In a word with the structure CVCV, certain distinctive features for the first vowel are neutralized by the features of the second vowel. In closed syllables, the ten vowels that can appear there undergo some kind of conditioning (I later found out this was metathesis).

One objection that was raised to my approach was that if we started with five vowels, we would have to assume an increased number of contextual variants in closed syllables. But this is the normal state of affairs! It is natural that there will always be many many more phones than phonemes in a particular language.

After completing my analysis, I checked for some information on Rotuman, and it showed that indeed there are a total of five vowel phonemes in the language and that the reason for the variety of vowels in closed syllables results from the effects of vowel sandhi after metathesis. Thus the validity of my argument has been confirmed. Why did it have to be so difficult?!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Today's Rig Veda (RV 7.71.6)

RV 7.71.6

iy'am manīṣ'ā, iy'am aśvinā g'īr

im'āṁ suvṛkt'iṃ, vṛṣaṇā juṣethām
im'ā br'ahmāṇi, yuvay'ūn(i)y agman
yūy'am pāta, s(u)vast'ibhiḥ s'adā naḥ

--This fervent [poetic] meditation, O Aśvins, this song--
Delight in this fine stanza, O bulls!
These poetic formulations, longing for you, have gone,
Protect us always with safe returns home!

Dies Gedicht, diese Lobrede (ist für euch), ihr Asvin. Erfreuet euch an diesem Lobpreis, ihr Bullen! Diese feierlichen Worte sind ausgezogen nach euch verlangend. - Behütet ihr uns immerdar mit eurem Segen!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pindaros Pythionikai 8.95-97

ἐπάμεροι: τί δέ τις; τί δ᾽ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ
ἄνθρωπος. ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν αἴγλα διόσδοτος ἔλθῃ,
λαμπρὸν φέγγος ἔπεστιν ἀνδρῶν καὶ μείλιχος αἰών

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Today's Rig Veda (RV 7.71.5)

RV 7.71.5

yuv'aṃ Cy'avānaṃ, jar'aso (')mumuktaṃ (*mewk-)
n'i ped'ava, ūhathur āś'um 'aśvam (*we'gh-)
n'ir 'aṁhasas, t'amasaḥ spartam 'Atriṃ (*sper-)
n'i Jāhuṣ'aṃ, śithir'e dhātam ant'aḥ (*dheh(1)-)

You two have freed Cyavāna from old age,
You two have conveyed the swift horse for Pedu (presented him with a white horse),
You two released Atri "the devourer" from a tight spot, from the darkness,
You two placed Jāhuṣa down within freedom

Ihr befreitet den Cyavāna vom Alter;
dem Pedu führtet ihr das schnelle Roß zu.
Den Atri erlöstet ihr aus Not, aus der Finsternis;
den Jāhuṣa setzet ihr in Freiheit.

(1) Geldner: "śithir'a- eigentlich locker, hier wie engl. loose (=set free)." 'Loose, lax' from śrath- (<*'kreth(2)-r'o-, see AiGr. I 19), cf. Gk. katharos 'pure'. Likely a "Prakritism."
(2) cy'avānaṃ: accent and vocalism suggest that the root cyu- may have been a Narten present; cf. st'avāna-, stavān'a-, stuvān'a-. If not, we would expect cyuv-ān'a-.
(3) (')mumuktaṃ: could be taken as an injunctive of a pluperfect. This interpretation is further supported by the presence of two other injunctives (spartam and dhātam) in the same verse. The pada text gives the form with the augment. Note "memorative" (tenseless) function of the injunctive.
(4) Jāhuṣ'a-: name of a man protected by the Aśvins.
(5) āś'u- 'swift': Gk. ōk'u-s 'swift'.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Today's Rig Veda (RV 7.71.4)

RV 7.71.4

yo/ vāṁ ra/tho nṛpatī a/sti voḷhā/
trivandhuro/ va/sumāṁ usra/yāmā
ā/ na enā/ nāsat(i)yo/pa yātam
abhi/ ya/d vāṃ viśva/psn(i)yo ji/gāti

That chariot of yours (du.), O lords of men, which exists as conveyor,
Three-seated, laden with wealth, whose driving is at dawn,
By that, O you who bring the sun home safely, drive here to us,
When the all-nourishing [chariot] comes to you (du.).

Geldners Übersetzung:
Der Wagen, der euch fährt, der dreisitzige, gutreiche, am Morgen ausfahrende, ihr Füsten, auf dem kommet zu uns, Nāsatya's, wenn der Allgestaltige (?) zu euch geht.

1. a/sti : often not merely a copula in Vedic
2. voḷhā/ : vah- + -tṛ- n. 'vehicle,' cf. Lat. vector, Av. vaštar 'draught animal;' some interesting phonological processes going on here
3. usra/yāmā : usr-a/- adj. 'morgendlich,' fr. uṣ-ar, old IE endingless locative; cf. uṣar-bu/dh- (Bv.) 'early-riser,' later reanalyzed as a stem: usr-i (loc.), usr-a/s (gen.), etc.
4. Nā/satya- : ?<*nas-a-ti/, 3sg. of nas- 'return home safely,' Gk. neomai, Ger. genessen 'heal;' IE myth of sun carried on a boat
5. viśva/psn(i)yo : *pstana-, Ved. sta/na- 'female breast, nipple,' Av. fštāna-, Pers. pestān 'nipple,' ? Eng. pistachio, looks like a nipple

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Today's Rig Veda (RV 7.71.3)

RV 7.71.3

ā/ vāṁ ra/tham avama/syām v(i/)yuṣṭau
sumnāya/vo vṛ/ṣaṇo vartayantu
syū/magabhastim ṛtayu/gbhir a/śvair
ā/ (a)śvinā va/sumantaṃ vahethām

At the earliest break of dawn,
Let the benevolent stallions roll your (du.) chariot here;
With [your] stallions yoked at the fitting time, O Aśvins,
Convey here [your chariot], laden with riches [and a charioteer with] reins in [his] grip.

Geldners Übersetzung:

Euren Wagen sollen am jüngsten Morgen die wohlwollenen Bullen-(hengste) herfahren. Lenket, ihr Aśvin, den gutreichen (Wagen), bei dem die Zügel die Hände (Strahlen) sind, mit den zu rechter Zeit geschirrten Rossen her!


1. avama/- : pronominal declension
2. syū/ma-gabhastim : Bv. cpd.; the interpretation of this is tricky; syū/ma- : cf. *sieuH-; gabhasti- : perhaps a Prakritism, <*gṛbh-hast-i- ? Macdonell: 'drawn with thongs;' cf. syūma-gṛ/bh- 6.36.2c

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sacralis /u/


Der Ursprung der indogermanischen Deklination / von Franz Specht. --
Neudruck. -- (BA16972082)
Göttingen : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1947
vii, 432 p. ; 23 cm
注記: Reprint of 1943 ed ; Includes bibliographical references and
著者標目: Specht, F. (Franz), 1888-1949

Today's Rig Veda (RV 7.71.2)

RV 7.71.2

upā/yātaṃ dāśu/ṣe ma/rt(i)yāya
ra/thena vāma/m aśvinā va/hantā
yuyuta/m asma/d a/nirām a/mīvāṃ
di/vā na/ktam mādh(u)vī trā/sīthāṃ naḥ

Come driving here, O Aśvins,
to convey desirables with [your] chariot to the mortal worshiper;
Keep us from dehydrating ailments (lack of elixir) and illness;
O lovers of honey (holders of the "honey whip"), protect us day and night!

1. vāma- n., va/nas- n. 'wish', Lat. venus, veneris
2. trā/sīthām : s-aor. opt. 2du., long ī is probably read as short; not the expected *trā-s-īyā-thām
3. a/n-irā- f. 'lack of elixir, refreshment,' cf. i/rā- (RV: 1x), i/rāvat- (RV: 6x)
4. 2ab: 7.70.3

Geldners Übersetzung:
Kommet her zum opfernden Sterblichen und bringet auf dem Wagen Gutes mit, Aśvin! Haltet von uns Verdorrung und Krankheit Tag und Nacht, ihr Süßesliebende, ab (und) schirmet uns!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Today's Rig Veda (RV 7.71.1)

RV 7.71.1

a/pa sva/sur uṣa/so na/g jihīte
riṇa/kti kṛṣṇī/r aruṣā/ya pa/nthām
a/śvāmaghā go/maghā vāṁ huvema
di/ na/ktaṁ śa/rum asma/d yuyotam

Night withdraws from her sister Uṣas (Dawn);
The swarthy one yields the path to the ruddy (rosy-colored) one (the sun);
May we call on you two, O generous givers of horses and cows;
Keep the arrow [of sickness and death] from us by day and by night!

1. nakt- f. 'night' <*nek/gu-t-: Hitt. 'grow dark'
2. kṛṣṇī/- : hapax form; Thieme suggested the possible etymology 'tilled (=upturned black earth)' for kṛṣ-na/-
3. aśvā- : long vowel metri causa; another interpretation is as the old feminine collective
4. The verb hā- 'leave behind' may be a departicular verb from *g'he 'back, behind'; see Vine
5. huvema : a-aor. opt. 1pl.
6. cf. 1.124.8ab
7. śaru- 'arrow' : "sacralis -u-"

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ruki and the Bodhisattvas

The so-called "ruki-rule" is a phonological change that affected the Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic branches. After *r *u *k or *i, the sibilant *s became Skt. and Av. š. In Slavic, *s became the voiceless velar fricative x. Baltic shows a similar development as Avestan, but the change doesn't appear to have spread throughout the whole language.

*r *u and *k are articulated in the back of the mouth and therefore caused *s to be articulated further back (for example, retroflex in Sanskrit). However, I am not sure why the front vowel *i would also cause such a change. The vowels *i and *u form a natural class in that they are both high vowels, so this seems to be the conditioning factor--not necessarily whether the vowel was front or back. In broader terms, the ruki-rule is simply an assimilatory process (see Wackernagel, Bd. 1, section 203).

In certain environments, however--such as at the seam of a compound, the seam of a verb and its prefix, reduplicated verbs with the sibilant, etc.--this change was not obligatory. Such is the case with the word bodhisattva-, where the s is not changed into a retroflex as we would expect if the ruki-rule were to be strictly applied. The processes underlying the ruki-rule and its exceptions are quite complex and probably deserve a more in-depth look. Wackernagel's treatment in section 203 is the most thorough explanation that I am aware of.

I plan on writing more about the behavior of s in later posts.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Journal Articles

This will help me keep track of the various journal articles I've read.

1. Sakamoto-Goto, Junko. 「SAmaJJaphalasutta(沙門果経)とVeda祭式」
2. Koster, Jan. "Is Linguistics a Natural Science?"
3. Eijck, Jan van. "Discourse Representation Theory"
4. Janda, R. D. et al. "Linguistic Borrowings from Biology: Cross-Pollination or Cross-Bollixation?"
5. Goto, Toshifumi. "Comments: From the Viewpoint of Indo-Iranian Philology"
6. Goto, Toshifumi. 「人類と死の起源 リグヴェーダ創造讃歌 X 72」
7. Goto, Toshifumi. 「新資料 VAdhUla-anvAkhyAna の伝えるPurUravas と UrvazI 物語」
8. Goto, Toshifumi. 「インド・ヨーロッパ祖語における動詞表現の諸カテゴリー 枠組み再建のスケッチ」
9. Thieme, Paul. "The Comparative Method for Reconstruction in Linguistics"
10. Lubotsky, A. "Vedic Samaha 'Verily'"
11. Norman, K. R. "Notes on the Ahrauraa Version of Azoka's First Minor Rock Edict"
12. Vine, Brent. "On the Metrics and Origin of Rig-Vedic Na 'like, as'"
13. Sakamoto-Goto, Junko. "Mittelindische Absolutivbildung auf -tvA/*-tvAna(m) und verwandte Probleme der Lautentwicklung"
14. Kirchner, Thomas and Sato, K. T. "D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War"
15. Yoshida, Kazuhiko. 「印欧語史的形態論研究: 中・受動態動詞の先史」
16. Takubo, Yukinori. 「現代日本語における2種のモーダル助動詞類について 推論の方向性とメノマエ性の観点から」
17. Vijunas, Aurelijus. "On the Pronunciation and Development of the Proto-Indo-European Sibilant */s/"
18. Oettinger, Norbert. "Perfect and Related Categories in Proto-Indo-European: Some New Thoughts"
19. Goto, Toshifumi. 「インド伝統文法学をめぐって」
20. Pind, Ole Holten. "Studies in the PAli Grammarians I"
21. Goto, Toshifumi.「ユーラシア言語史の現在」
22. Vine, Brent. "PIE Mobile Accent in Italic: Further Evidence"
23. Sasaki, Tsuguya. "Sociolinguistic Typology of Jewish Languages and Their Speech Communities"
24. Ota, Fukiko.「チャンドラキールティにおける仏身論」
25. Jamison, Stephanie W. "Voice Fluctuation in the Rig Veda: Medial -anta in Active Paradigms"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Buddhism and Science

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is often applauded for his standpoint that science and religion can be compatible with each other. The majority of liberal humanities scholars seem to share this view--Buddhism has become "scientific" in the eyes of many educated people.

A quick search confirms the recent flood of books in this vein. Here's a sampling of titles:

Alan Wallace:
Buddhism and Science

Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness

Choosing Reality: A Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind

Matthieu Ricard:
The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet

Donald Lopez:
Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed

Vic Mansfield:

Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics

Shinzen Young:
The Science of Enlightenment


Alubomulle Sumanasara:

An excellent critique of the "science and religion are compatible" camp is Jerry Coyne's piece in The New Republic. Edge has published an entertaining set of responses to Coyne's article.

The following is a well-known quote from the Dalai Lama that appeared in the November 12, 2005 edition of The New York Times:

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.
This statement seems to make the hip religious and humanities scholars feel all warm and fuzzy. The idea hits you in the same place as a warm piece of apple pie. Isn't it wonderful how open and honest Buddhism is to the advancements of science! What a mature philosophy (it's not even a religion!) Buddhism is! A typical response of this sort can be seen in Jeffery Paine's article in The Boston Globe:

The Dalai Lama has even declared, "If the words or [sic] the Buddha and the findings of modern science contradict each other, then the former have to go." Try to imagine the pope or an ayatollah making a similar statement about the New Testament or the Koran.
The pope would never make such a risky statement! Isn't it impressive how open the Dalai Lama is! He would even go so far as to reject certain tenets of Buddhism if they were found to contradict what modern science tells us! Alan Wallace and many other compatibilists often bring up this quote.

But the Dalai Lama has no need for concern. He's not sticking his neck out one bit by making such a statement. As its claims are unverifiable and unfalsifiable, Buddhism gives nothing that science could grab hold of. How could science reject the position that there is no unchanging "self"? How would science show that reincarnation is not possible? Could science design an experiment to falsify twelve-part dependent arising? How about proving through scientific means that Amitabha in fact didn't succeed in creating a pure land?

As a Buddhist, you are free to believe any of these concepts. And according to the Dalai Lama, you are justified in your beliefs until science can show you otherwise. The thing we must not forget though is that the time to accept a claim is when there is evidence for the claim. It's a fallacy to claim validity for your claim simply because the claim has not been successfully falsified yet. That's not how the game works.

It seems to me that many of the people who are drawn to Buddhism are drawn to it because of their rejection of monotheistic religions like Christianity. Many highly educated people are quick to reject Christianity, but maintain a soft spot for Buddhism with its peaceful images and smiling faces of guys like the Dalai Lama. I've seen audiences soak up all sorts of nonsense simply because it's coming from the mouth of a Buddhist monk.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All About the Beat

I enjoyed this book and agreed with most of its message. Here are some of my favorite parts:

"Hip-hop is an upturned middle finger--which is different from really working on how to help people."

"Too often for it to be an accident, I have found that people making big claims about the potential for hip-hop to affect politics or create a revolution have mysteriously little interest in politics as traditionally understood, or political change as it actually happens, as opposed to via dramatic revolutionary uprisings."

"Hip-hop is all about the beat, but real world activism is all about the work."

"I once attended a talk by a black academic who decorated his points with lines from old blues songs. Every time he chanted one of those lines, a good portion of the black people in the audience would mm-hmm warmly...What warmed them was the sheer cadence of the man's utterance of the lines. Each time he quoted a line, it was like bringing the audience to church for a few seconds. He went over well--but the truth was that, that night at least, he never actually said much of anything."

"People who think hip-hop is politics are falling for the visceral sense that beat, pulse, feel, is meaning, and in a "realer" way even than words, sentences, logical connections, genuinely "conscious" thought."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Test results

I passed the damn thing!

Time for some wine and celebration...

Finished with my tests!

Oh man it's been a rough few months! I finished a 100-page translation project, wrote a paper to submit with my application materials, and then hit the books hard to prepare for my entrance exam.

I spent every day studying and studying. For breaks I took walks now and then at the nearby shrine, but most of my time was spent cramming. I used all the ink of a whole pen to completely fill up a notebook with definitions and examples of important terms and topics in linguistics. Because of my knowledge of Sanskrit, I was strong in historical linguistics and certain areas of phonology and morphology.

I first tackled phonetics, defining all the types of articulations and learning how to express them in Japanese. Having to do all my studies bilingually was a huge pressure too. After I felt I had phonetics covered, I focused on syntax. Some of the students at Kyodai helped me with syntax, and I was able to borrow some introductory texts on syntax in Japanese. Syntax, especially Chomsky's contributions, are fascinating to me but the terminology and formality of generative grammar can be intimidating at first. Once you see what's being explained, it is usually pretty straightforward. I was nervous because I didn't want to get hit with a technical syntax problem on the test.

I then did a lot of studying about the history of modern linguistics. Most of the schools of linguistics have an underlying philosophical basis, so I tried to cover these philosophical stances also. This paid off because the second test on Thursday had three questions: Out of the following three questions, pick two and describe the history of (1) phonological research (2) syntactic research (3) comparative linguistics. I chose to write on syntax and comparative linguistics, and I felt pretty confident with my answers.

The first test on Monday was hell. About 200 of us lined up early on Monday morning outside the faculty of letters. We were divided up into groups of around 30 people and led to the examination rooms. The first round was a foreign language test. I had to take Japanese, and I think that most of the other students were taking an English test.

Before starting the test, we were told to change answer sheets for each question. I checked my test papers and found that although there were two questions, there were actually three answer sheets. This threw me off at first and made me quite nervous--I thought that the third answer sheet was there in case people needed more space.

Anyway, I did very well on the Japanese test, but I think I could have done better if I hadn't had that uncertainty in the back of my mind. You never know--in Japan they might reject you if you screw up on the order of your answer sheets, regardless of how well you did on the test!

After the language test, it became clear that many other people made the same mistake as me. The examiner apologized for not being clearer in his instructions and reassured everyone that our mistakes on the order of the answer sheets wouldn't affect our score! That was a great relief. I didn't want to be put back another year just because I didn't use the damn third answer sheet!

We had a short break and then started the second test, which was to test our general knowledge of our respective fields. It was a long long test! The answer pages were large blank pieces of paper, and the questions were designed to weed out the real guys from the fakers. The first question was on Optimality Theory and had four sub-questions where you had to give examples of generative phonology from Japanese or English. I knew the information and felt that I did pretty well, although I noticed at the end of the test that I had the order of my answers mixed up!

But that was just the first question! Just that one question could take over an hour, but you had to go on to the second question: There was a list of about 70 words in the Masaai language, and we were asked to describe the phonological processes and distributions of stops and fricatives. I started work on it and fortunately it kind of "fell into my hands" quite easily and I was able to draw out the conditioning environments quite quickly. Then we had the third question: we were to choose 3 terms out of 5 linguistics terms and give a concise explanation. I didn't find it too hard.

My interview also went quite well, so I think I have passed the test! The results will be out this evening. I'm happy to at least be done with it.

This was the toughest exam I have ever taken--IT WAS TOUGH! The fact that you have to go back on Thursday if you make it past the first round is very taxing mentally. There were about 25 people in my exam room on Monday, and when I went in on Thursday only nine people were left! Huge chunks of people had been cut! I really felt like a survivor at that point. I'm just glad that I pulled through to the end. We'll see if I passed this evening...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

50-book Challenge

Happy New Year! I've decided to take the 50-book challenge this year. I'll update this post as I read.

1. John McWhorter, Understanding Linguistics, 204 pages

Very informative and entertaining book and series of audio lectures. McWhorter has a gift for explaining things in a humorous, memorable way. Some parts even had me laughing out loud.
2. Peter Roach, A Little Encyclopaedia of Phonetics, 93 pages

Like the title says. Clear explanations and examples of key phonetic concepts.
3. 『言語学』(第2版)風間喜代三、他. 274 pages

This was one of the texts I used to study for the entrance exam. It is well-written and gives an accessible explanation of many of the subfields of linguistics. I thought the chapter on semantics was particularly good. An curious thing about this book is that it discusses phonetics not at the beginning but at the end of the book. Most linguistics textbooks tend to begin with phonetics.
4. 『言語学を学ぶ人のために』西田龍雄(編)、346 pages

Nishida Tatsuo, the editor, is a professor emeritus at Kyoto University. His research focused on the Tibeto-Burman languages, and he contributed greatly to the deciphering of the Tangut language, the official language of the Xi-xia (西夏) empire. This book was published in 1986, so it is quite dated in many areas, but it has a useful overview of some of the most important works in the history of linguistics.
5. Ohio State University, Language Files, 7th ed., 495 pages

My advisor gave me his copy of this book, and I found it to be quite helpful. This book is up to the 10th edition by now (I'd like to see that too). This book is geared at undergraduates who have no background in linguistics. Each section contains numerous exercises to practice what you've learned. Some of the exercises are quite challenging. I wish they would publish an answer key along with the book.
6. John McWhorter, All About the Beat--Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America, 187 pages

This book was a good read and was a welcome break from more academic works. Although it was well written, I think I enjoy John as a speaker more than as a writer. I have another book of his, The Power of Babel, on my reading list so I will have to see. I agree with John's take on hip-hop: although there is a lot of hype about it and it is seen as hip by many intellectuals, there is a problem with turning that "hipness" into action because when you get down to it, the music sounds good but really isn't saying much of anything enlightening.
7. John McWhorter, The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, 336 pages

An excellently written book! It includes an informative discussion of pidgins and creoles and a description of what happens when languages are built from the ground up. I enjoyed his critique of Proto-World at the end of the book. His advice that we should look to pidgins and creoles when imagining what the first language may have been like is good fuel for thought. I like his stories about his cat in his books.
8. George Yule, Pragmatics, 135 pages
An easy-to-read introduction to the concepts used in pragmatics. The section on deixis was particularly interesting.
9. 『言葉を復元する』吉田和彦、184 pages
This book provides a good introduction to Indo-European linguistics. It is written in clear language and although detailed at points, doesn't get overly technical. The examination of Kurylowicz's principles of analogy reminded me of a similar section in Hock's "Principles of Historical Linguistics." The last chapter, which looks at phonological change from the standpoint of generative grammar, was quite helpful. Memorable are Kurylowicz's following statement (p. 132): 「雨がいつ降るかは予測することはできない、しかし、いったん雨が降れば、水が排水路を流れていく方向はわかる。(雨=類推、排水路=類推がはたらく方向)」. Bloomfield's statement that the causes of phonological change are unknown is also interesting to consider, particularly in light of evolutionary theory--a la the blind watchmaker.