(mostly) daily photoblog

Posts tagged “language

Beautiful interaction

lombok pottery ben

My son had the chance to help this potter make a clay turtle.  He has been taking Bahasa Indonesia lessons at school, but still can’t speak the language very well.  The potter spoke no English, or at least did not let on that she knew.

The language that they spoke to one another was one of gestures, smiles, and touching.  She showed Ben how to mold the clay, how to turn the wheel, and she would take his hand and move it where it needed to be.  She would smile and let him try.  He would smile back and try.

The most poignant lesson I have learned while living internationally has been that communication does not have to be spoken.  Some of the best relationships I have here in Indonesia are the ones where we both struggle to speak, and have to depend on the kindness of the other person to get us through the situation.

I pray that I do not forget this lesson.


My little friend


This is Dini. She and I met yesterday at the Jonooge Primary School near Palu, Sulawesi, Indonesia. I spoke to her in my incredibly bad Bahasa Indonesia, and she stared at me. I spoke to her in my language, English, and she stared at me. I smiled and she stared at me. I walked away…and she followed me. We became friends yesterday. I don’t know what she thought I was, but she, to me, was innocence and beauty and everything worth protecting in the world.

This is Dini. My little friend.



One of the dangers of writing your own signs is that you might think that you’ve written something one way, while someone else may read it differently.  When I placed the words in Google Translate, exactly as they are phrased here – anjing di larang be rak di sini – it came back with, ‘Shelves prohibited here’, with the message, ‘Did you mean Anjing dilarang berak di sini?  This means that ‘dogs are prohibited from pooping here.’  That’s a pretty big difference.  One way, extra storage is outlawed.  The other way?  No pooping.

I’m pretty sure that the writer of this sign is trying to say that he doesn’t want dogs to poop down this alley, but maybe he has a thing against shelving.


I’m not sure how I missed this photo, but back in October I had the privilege of taking forty students to Vancouver to the Writer’s Festival.  While there, I witnessed an amazing poet:  Zaccheus Jackson.  He was born an addict, a product of Canada’s foster child program, a former addict and convict and now a voice for taking life for what it is:  amazing.  Not beautiful all the time.  Not painless.

His poems were brilliant if not manic and restless.  There was a graceful, elegant quality to his words, even as he spits them out, rapid-fire.  He spoke truths of a life that none of my students had witnessed before.  One of his poems pointed to the grace of an eagle, only to be surprised by the graceful eagle’s mistake of trying to take on more than it should have.  The poem is here, but a short word of warning:  it has some inappropriate language.

What he speaks of is wings.  What he lives is a life that has been offered grace, for which he is grateful.

As skinny as a rail…

… is pretty skinny.  I was thinking, as I processed this photo, of all of the phrases that we use that involves “rail”.  Here’s a few of my favorites:

1.  “As skinny as a rail.”  I once knew a guy who was 6’5″ and about 155 pounds.  I watched him swing a bowling ball into the side of his knee and nearly incapacitate himself.  He was skinny.  We used to joke that if he ever broke a limb, we could just hold him up to the light and check on it.

2.  “It drives like it’s on rails.”  I’ll be honest.  I remember this from the movie “Pretty Woman”.  Julia Roberts is an unlikely hooker who meets Richard Gere, who can’t drive his Lotus at all.  Apparently he was never taught to drive standard.  Sad.  Anyway, she gets in and shows him how to drive his car (no pun intended).  I need to make sure that I include that I watched this movie on DVD and very much against my will.  I think my wife made me watch it.  I will never get those two hours back.

3.  “Ride him out on a rail.”  I don’t know what this means, but it seems to mean sending someone away against their will.  Sounds like a phrase I should use more often.

Do you have any favorites?


Ooh…water lilies. Wait…another lily photo?

Here’s another shot of the pond with the water lilies.  I have written pond, but it really requires quotation marks.  It’s a man-made pond in the center of Chilliwack, BC.  It has a big fountain in the middle, more ducks and duck sh*t (which I guess comes with the ducks) than you can imagine.  It’s next to the library and a big hotel.  And it’s a “pond”.  Yeah, that looks better.



Speaking of being little…

It appears that, when it comes to parenting and steering and guiding children, it doesn’t matter into which culture you’re born.  I’ve personally done the “iron-hand-hold-walk-this-way” method of steering my children when they were in places of worship or formality.  It’s like a universal parent language.  Firm, but not constricting.  Commanding, not a suggestion.  Quiet, yet loudly speaking about what is right and wrong.  Physical touch can communicate so much.


Word Association: this makes you think of what?

I’m quite certain this is some guy’s name, or maybe the name of a graffiti crew, but it makes me think of one thing:  Noam Chomsky.  When I saw it on the concrete highway support, I thought that some student of media and communications, or maybe a linguistics students.  Then I realized that it didn’t actually say “Chomsky” – it says CHOMtcki or something.  Too bad, seeing as how Chomsky was a student of language and communication.  When I saw this my mind went back to the first time I watched “Manufacturing Consent” and how outraged I was at how mass media twists and manipulates, often through the simplest means like inclusion vs. exclusion, the popular opinion on major issues.  It was through Chomsky I first came across the plight of the East Timorese and the lack of coverage of their problems with Indonesia.  I also thought back to my earliest years in university when I first started reading Chomsky’s work.

It is kind of weird, however, to see what came to my mind through a mistake in reading.  This got me thinking: how much of what I read is what is actually written and how much of my experience while reading is a direct result of where my mind goes while I’m reading?  How much is a result of my own experience that, while it may be somewhat non sequitur to the reading material, shapes my understanding of what I read, of how I see the world.  If a misread word can conjure up memories of my earliest years in post-secondary academia, what happens when I read things properly?  I have taught introductory psychology courses and I know, basically, how my brain works.  I also know that both “nature and nurture” play a big part in how I have become who I am today.  But what if the way I see the world is entirely different from the way you see the world, but we both believe that we see it the same way because we only have the vocabulary we share to make sense of it?  Words would, then, make our ability to express our experiences less personal and more communal, thus bringing us together when our own perception is moving us apart.


Maybe I need some sleep.

I don’t know what it says. Do you?

I am a lexophile.  I love words.  I love learning new words.  I love crossword puzzles, when I have the time, which is nearly never.  I love using a lovely or antiquated or cryptic word in a sentence only to notice that no one near me understands.  I love having someone say, “Well, if that’s what it means, why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”  I’ll tell you why.

I love the sound of a word.  It may mean the same thing as a more pedestrian word, but the more pedestrian the word, the more insipid it tastes and sounds.  In a time when the best imperative words are seen as bossy, when spelling seems to be under attack, when Twitter only allows me 140 characters, I take refuge in a nice, possibly polysyllabic, impossible-to-define in a word, word.

Here’s ten of my favorites (in no particular order):

1.  Queue (because it’s where I spend too much of my life).

2.  Antithetical (because I’m not living if I’m going along with everyone else).

3.  Aesthetic (because beauty can bring me to my knees) .

4.  Counterintuitive (because it is a route by which many people have found genius) .

5.  Feckless (because it describes too many people I know).

6.  Ennui (because it describes the state I wish to avoid).

7.  Altruism (because it’s what I’m striving for).

8.  Loquacious (because it describes me).

9.  Pulchritudinous (because it sounds exactly like what it is not).

10.  Voluptuous (because it sounds exactly like what it is).

Please feel free to post your favorite words here.  I love learning new words almost as much as I like using them.

Oh, and those of you wondering where this is all coming from?  I couldn’t read the word in the graffiti I’ve posted above, so I thought I’d talk about language.  Good enough?  I hope so.

Let me shed some light (on bad puns)

I’ve noticed a horrifying trend in my life:  the older I get, the more I use puns in everyday conversation.  This worries me.  If it were just a fad, a short-lived obsession that ends nearly as quickly as it began, I wouldn’t worry.  The fact that, over the last few years, this fad has grown into a full-blown trend has made me think I might become a stereotypical “Dad.”

The title of this photo, taken from the upper level walkway between the W.A.C. Bennett Library and the West Mall at SFU looking toward Burnaby, is just a minor indication of the problem.  A symptom, as it were.  I’ve begun making the same jokes my father does.  If there’s an obvious pun, I have to use it.  No, I need to say it.  I used to think it was just my overflowing wit, a cleverness that could not be contained.

Now that I think about it, it began when my daughter was born and worsened after my son was born.  Is it a condition that all fathers suffer from?  Is it the universe’s way of making sure that all fathers embarrass their kids whenever they can?

Is there a cure?

Why does French have all the cool words and phrases?

Let’s start with the fact that this coast shot is in Nice, France.  Nice, pronounced like “neece”, but also one of the nicest coasts I’ve ever seen.  The Mediterranean is truly beautiful and impressive – I’ve spent the bulk of my years on the Canadian west coast, very near the Pacific and I’ve never seen blue water like I saw in Nice.  So their place-names are cool, but what about those other phrases and words?

How about “l’esprit d’escalier”?  It means, literally, the spirit of the stairs, but what it actually means is that moment when you think of a witty comeback or remark on your way down the stairs, when it’s too late to unleash your massive wit against your defender.  How cool is that?  A phrase that encompasses one of my most frustrating moments (and there have been many of those moments).

Or let’s try the words connaitre and savoir.  We have the word “know” and it’s supposed to cover all ways of knowing.  But the french have two words (that I know of – ha!  see what I did there?) to convey two different meanings.  Savoir is a verb that means to know a fact or something committed to memory.  Connaitre is a verb that means to know someone.  It implies familiarity and intimacy.

Okay, so maybe that’s not all the cool words and phrases, but there’s a couple of my favorites.

Pentax K20D; Pentax DA 18-55mm AL; f32; ISO 100; 1/10 sec.