Tuesday, June 13, 2017

That thing over the pond

There are lot of political things to mention but they're all junk geared up to have you stay aggravated. Do you really want to engage all those arguments?

Do you have a moment for something different?

A long moment.

This is not a pet peeve. Rather, it's something that gets me every single time. I'll own it. It comes from being such a ridiculous literalist. But I'm not the only one.

"That thing over the pond. May not have been a good idea."

This is what is what is seen before making sense of what is intended. 

In my mind.

In her links, Sara Hoyt writing for Instapundit rarely says precisely what she intends for readers to know. You'll have to click over to the link to see what she's on about. For her own reasons she doesn't allow you to decide beforehand link for link if you're interested to know what caught her attention. 

Let's say, never says precisely. It's her style. Take it or leave it. So in the end you do have a say. You can ignore every link. 

Her link reads: That thing over the pond. May not have been a good idea.

Obviously, after the nonsense, she's talking about England. Some political thing in England. Probably something to do with political correctness, or immigration. I don't know. Because I didn't click over. 

The goofed expression comes from Americans attributing the characteristic of understatement to British generally, and then using that understatement whenever mentioning England. So ocean becomes pond. Always. Americans probably use this understatement more than British use it for mentioning United States. Perhaps a British person said it this way one time and the charm of it became so adored by Americans that writers can no longer say simply "England" or "across the ocean." It's still an ocean no matter how many times the distance is described as jumping over a pond, it's still a six hour flight. 

If you care to continue I'll try to show how this penchant for creative mischief affects other languages through Rag'n'Bone Man's song "Human."

The song is shown in ASL with tremendous license in interpretation. It's a wonderful song to show because it's so emotionally emphatic and it's slow enough to be crystal clear. Plus the emotion expressed is fairly universal. Yet it presents unique challenges as all songs do because there is no precise overlap in key expressions. The challenge is similar to interpreting the English expression "over the pond." Visually speaking, there is no pond, so it would be ridiculously wasted effort to show a pond being jumped over. The person receiving the message would go, "wha-a-a-a-t?"

There is no real sign for the English word "human." When you look in dictionaries they show the word "human" finger spelled. Usually. Yet in word combinations like human rights, human comfort, human dignity, human resources, human kindness and the like, then the sign for "body" is used in combinations.

"Blame" is shown like this.  That is the signer putting blame on something else. While sometimes blame is reversed and comes from outside to be placed on the speaker. And that hand configuration is less easy to manage, still, blame goes outward or blame comes inward or blame is spread around. The interpreters come up with different ways to manage the concept of blame being put on the person speaking. Sometimes they have blame drape themselves.

In a variation of ASL that arose among teachers of Deaf from teaching through mastery of English, a system that largely fell out of favor but not entirely, the sign for "body" is adjusted to be formed with two "H" signs instead of flat palms to specify "human" while retaining the root sign for "body." It is a system of making regular signs with letters specific to English. So you might see an English as fist language speaker sign the word "human" made with two "H" signs instead of simply saying "body" and that will mark the person as English-centric. That is, having learned sign from English and still holding English as primary. 

Like me.

If you look up the word "human" in ASL dictionary and are provided a sign then look up the word "body" in the same dictionary and be provided the same sign. 

I learned ASL during this period. So I say the word "human" with two "H" signs. And finally, that's just weird. But, that's still what comes out of me automatically because that's how I learned it. It marks my language as oddly idiosyncratic.

Another key phrase in the song absent in sign is "after all." 

What does that even mean?  You have to understand what "after all" means in order to show it. 

Visually, it means a sequence of events and now you're here. That can be shown as series of rapid karate chops moving along from left to right then all that shoved over to clear a space for now. 

But nobody does that.

In ASL the sign for "finished" has a concept cloud around it that is much larger than the concept cloud around the English word "finished." The sign is used quite a lot and in situations where it wouldn't be appropriate in English. This is one such situation. The sign for "finished" works precisely in ASL for this situation where in English it's too strange to say. 

"I'm only human, finished." 

That doesn't make sense in English. Yet it makes perfect sense visually. As concepts strung. 

So most the interpreters do not use the sign "finished" where it is perfect. Only one person out of five here appreciates the fantastic utility for the sign "finished." It's used all over the place and in a million different type situations with all manner of style and emphasis and directions. 

I notice five versions of this song interpreted in ASL available on YouTube. The two women do well enough with it but their hearts are not in this song. They are without emphasis. They're deadpanning it. The one young woman sitting on a bed is disinterested almost entirely, apparently. The second woman although technically very good, simply isn't into this song. 



Worth watching if you have a few spare moments. 

Long moments. 

While the men really feel it. And it shows. It's as if they are expressing the feeling of the original artist and saying this whole screed to their girlfriends. The song resonated with them and it shows. 

This first guy gives a clear description as if honestly speaking all this. He shows the English phrase "after all" with the sign "over" as a fox jumping over a fence. 

That is, he's relying on the concept cloud surrounding the English word "over" to work in ASL which is more literally, more visually meaning "jump over" or "beyond." The sign does not mean "ended" or "at this late juncture." 

English: "It's over!" clearly means "It's finished!" 

In ASL the concept is shown visually and literally as "finished." The sign looks similar to "bet." Both open hands rapidly dump their invisible contents as flipping a hand of cards. 

There will be no "across the pond" euphemism for ocean intended to mean England in this language or else you're telling some kind of oddly convulted intellectual joke that's unlikely to be appreciated and exactly not showing, avoiding showing, the meaning of the concepts strung together as visual episodes that when run off in sequence amount to a show similar to a film clip. 

Success depends on showing what you mean. Using their tools. As a wordless visual filmstrip. And this "jump over a fence" for concept in English "over" intended for "finished" is not the concept meant to be shown. The interpreter is expecting the Deaf to appreciate the interpreter's English. While the Deaf are thinking, "jump over what?" or "beyond what?"

I sure hope these videos display here. It'd make this a lot easier. 


The second guy is all over the board with interpretation. He does appreciate the utility of "finished." He also appreciates a lot of other ways that work with this English phrase. He switches between "finished" and "back and forth between us" so where the singer vocalizes, "After all, after all" the interpreter signs it two different ways. And he does this throughout the song showing various ways to say the same thing. He will not be pinned down to one way of expressing, and resolutely so, even as the singer is repetitious for emotional effect. 

Because of that you might not be able to guess the name of the song by seeing it. Because the repetitions are not shown as the singer performs them. He's showing his mastery of ASL over his expression of the song as it is sung originally. He's avoiding one of the elements that made this song successful, it's emphatic repetitions, as a man emotionally stuck on certain phrases. 

You know how you get when you're busted up emotionally. You ruminate. You catch onto phrases that roll in your mind endlessly. As a drunk person. This song does that. This interpreter does not.

He says the word "blind" without lifting a bent V to his eyes or even up to his face. I am not familiar with this. It's new to me.


The clearest of all five is shown in Italian Sign Language. At first I went, pffft, why bother?  But I'm glad that I did look. 

All his signs are different from ASL, and yet this man is clearest of all. As if Italian  signs are superior to ours. I enjoyed immensely watching him have fun with this song. 

He takes a moment before starting to explain he's using the (European) sign for "body" to match the English word "human."  Nice touch. Because I'd do the same thing. I'd state all my substitutions beforehand and then stick with them throughout the whole song. It's the first time I've seen anyone do this and I knew I had discovered a kindred spirit. This man is clear. Pure and simple. And true to the song. His signs are foreign yet with English right there in the song his signs are immediately comprehensible. There is absolutely no misdirecting "across the pond" here. I hope you like this so much as I do.  


Oh, for Christ's sake, none of the f'k'n things show. 

After all that.

Wait! They do show. Apologies for the swears. 

The Italian guy's version works. He shows the song like a movie and that's why it's comprehensible even though it's all Italian signs. Almost nothing here matches ASL yet still the whole thing is surprisingly delightfully clear. 

Sign Language or not, your interlocutor or your readers are creating visual images in their minds as you speak and as they read what you write. You put the pictures there. 

Do you want to be clear?
Or do you want to be cute? 
Want to be clever? 
Want to be linguistically imaginative? 

If you want to be clear then you'll drop expressions like "That thing across the pond. May not have been a good idea." 

Look at me, telling a professional writer how to express. How arrogant. I know. 


Amartel said...

"over the pond," "across the pond"
These phrases are a little too cutesy/twee for me. It's definitely not a kill-switch to continued reading, because maybe it's a political column and the author is just going through the motions to set the stage before launching into more interesting and original thought, but it does put me on notice that there may be suspect material ahead (author is English and old, author is American or British and trying too hard to be breezy citoyen du monde or pound the table about the special relationship, some awful hybrid of the aforementioned). Sarah Hoyt has a fascinating background BTW.

ricpic said...

I too plead guilty to literalism. I'm always thrown when someone is described as having a mid-Atlantic accent. You mean, wherever the person might actually be his/her accent is hovering above the ocean, the middle of the ocean?

ndspinelli said...

ric, There are too many varieties of quite distinct accents within mid-Atlantic states to have a uniform one. We Nutmeg State folks have the least noticeable of accents in the northeast.

ndspinelli said...

Sorry to be serious, I like your fanciful take.

Rabel said...

Hoyt is there to keep the ad revenue flowing overnight and to promote her book sales. Nonetheless she is much better than the passive-aggressive anti-Trumpers Green and Driscoll.

Amartel said...

A word that always hits me wrong is "methinks." Just say "I think" if you must preface, or, better yet, just say what you're thinking.

Sixty Grit said...

"Methinks" doesn't bother me too much, but "me thinks" is aggravating.

Being better than Greenie and Eddie is setting the bar pretty low.

And friggin' Connecticut (the second 'c' is silent) accents are the worst. They sound like swamp Y*nkees. Stand out like a Storrs thumb.

Say, you ever been to Madison CT? It looks pretty nice.

Rabel said...

Ran across this just last night:

"Methought I was immersed in a cataleptic trance of more than usual duration and profundity."

-E. A. Poe

Sixty Grit said...

"Inhumation" - WOTD.

ndspinelli said...

Sixty, Been to Madison, CT. many times. It is the home of Hammonasset State Park, where the Spinelli tribe would have summer outings. My mom lived in Clinton, CT, right next door, the last few years of her life. That area is home to some great clam/fish shacks. The "Storrs thumb" is witty.

Sixty Grit said...

That's the place - a friend of mine was at Hammonasset today.

ricpic said...

Here's Wikipedia on Swamp Yankee:

"Swamp Yankee" is a colloquial pejorative for rural Yankees (Northeasterners with English colonial ancestry). The term "Yankee" connotes urbane industriousness, whereas the term "Swamp Yankee" signifies a more countrified, stubborn, independent and less refined lifestyle.

So Sixty, does the term "Yankee" connote urbane industriousness to you?

Maybe I can put him in the hospital.

Sixty Grit said...

LOL - yeah, that's one way of putting it!