Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jesus Christ: Republican or Democrat?

I’ve seen and heard lots of arguments—from both sides—about whether Jesus would have been a Republican or a Democrat. I’d like to examine the issue, then I’ll tell you what I think.

During his ministry (we don’t know about his life before his ministry, other than his birth and an incident when he was about 12), Jesus spent most of his time with the down-trodden, the poor, the sick, the sinful, and the unpopular. He reached out to cripples, prostitutes, tax collectors (who were considered about as reputable as prostitutes in those days), the blind, the dying, and even the dead. In His own words, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (also see Mark). So, Jesus didn’t work with the people who already had what they needed—those people didn’t need Him (at least, they didn't realize that they needed Him).

What does that have to do with political parties? Well, mostly that I don’t think Jesus would have been either a Democrat or a Republican. He probably wouldn’t get involved in politics at all; he’d be out on the street helping and healing people and telling them about His Father.

Another reason that I don’t think Jesus would be a Dem or a Rep is that he’d actually be a king. The Bible doesn’t ever mention democracy (I’ve read it, and nowhere does the good book talk about democracy or even mention the word); it’s all about kingdoms. Please don’t jump on me here—I’m not saying that I think democracy is wrong or that I don’t like democracy or anything even remotely like that. I do believe in democracy, and I think that the U.S. is an amazing and wonderful country, and I’m blessed and proud to be a citizen. I think that democracy is the best human political system. But the truth is, the Kingdom of God is just that—a kingdom. God is the King, not the president or the speaker of the house or the school board chair. We don't get to vote for who the president of the Kingdom of Heaven is. He's already been chosen. And I think Jesus would have counted any of our votes in our earth-bound elections well-cast (after all, it’s a pretty freaking amazing privilege to be able to choose your government! Jesus didn’t have that option) as long as we spend our time outside the polling booth serving others.

So as to those arguments saying that Jesus would vote this way or that way, that he'd definitely be a democrat or absolutely be a republican? I disagree with them all.

I'd very much like to hear what you think about this subject; please leave a comment!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My book arrived!

Okay, I know it's just a copy of my thesis, but it was still pretty darn exciting to see that the bound copies of my thesis arrived! I ordered them less than a week ago from Lulu (a really easy way to self publish, btw), and I wasn't expecting to get them for a few more days. Anyway, it's really cool to have a book with my byline on it :)


Monday, October 27, 2008

A psalm to the Lord

I'm feeling on fire for God right now, so I had to write Him a love song. Here it is:

God of all creation, You fill the world with glory!
Holy is your name, and holy are your works.
God of heaven and earth, your beauty saturates the earth!
You fill my eyes with your holiness.
My soul cannot contain its joy!
I see your beauty in the sky,
I see your plan in the changing trees,
I see your love in the shining sun,
And I see your grace in each new day.
Your love and mercy overwhelm me!
I am filled with praise you.
I praise your holy name
I glorify your wondrous name
I bless and praise your name!

Making it through the storm

This is a wonderful devotion on surviving life's storms. Take a minute to read it--it's brief, so it's not a big time commitment--and see if you don't think it's comforting, too.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mimesis and Sound Symbolism

Mimesis is a fun concept that I discussed a fair amount in my thesis. It's a philosophical/literary/linguistic term (it does, of course, have other usages), which means--for my purposes, at least--sound imitating meaning. I relate it very much to sound symbolism (another biggie in my thesis); it's when a word sounds like what it means. Onomatopoeia is a common example of mimesis. When we hear "meow," we automatically think of a cat, or when we hear "moo," we think of a cow. But to what extent is sound tied to meaning? Do we associate a word's meaning with it's sound because the two are actually related, or is it just an arbitrary assignment?

I quote (rather extensively--sorry!) from Magic Words: the Phonology of Fantasy Neologisms below (don't worry; I gave myself written permission):

Is there a meaning behind the words that authors coin? Do the sounds themselves tell us something about the words? ... Sound Symbolism (Hinton, et. al., 1994) is the area of linguistics that discusses the link between sound and meaning. Hinton et. al. addresses the various types of symbolism, including corporeal (sounds such as coughing), imitative (onomatopoeia), and synesthetic (tone, pitch, elongation of syllables for emphasis) These examples show that, whether by origin or evolution, certain sounds, classes of sounds, combinations of sounds, can have meaning attached to them by the speaker and/or the hearer. Hinton et. al. also addresses issues such as the frequency code, which tells us that high tones, vowels with a high 2nd formant (especially [i]) and high frequency consonants are associated with high frequency sounds, small size,sharpness, rapid movement, and closeness. On the other hand, low tones, vowels with a low 2nd formant, and low frequency consonants are associated with low frequency sounds, large size, softness, heavy; slow movements, and far distance. (Hinton, et al 1994, 325; Fromkin 2000, 521) For example, the word tiny indicates something very small, but teeny may be even smaller. This is also commonly seen in how words are diminutivized in English; a small dog is a “doggie,” a small cat is a “kitty,” and so on. Even my name reflects this; my family often calls me Katie (I am both the youngest and the shortest in the family!). Likewise, other languages show this phenomenon. In German, the diminutive is indicated by adding the suffix [xɪn], and Spanish uses the suffix [itə] (fem.) or [ito] (masc.). A former German teacher called me Katechen [keɪtxɪn] (the German equivalent of Katie), and a Spanish professor called me Katiesita [keɪtisitə]. Both of these diminutives—from two very different languages—use a high front vowel to indicate small size. From this, it is evident that this sound-symbolic process is pan linguistic.

Certain phoneme classes are sometimes associated with particular semantic fields. Most commonly discussed with literature and reading in mind, this phenomenon is best illustrated by imitative and synesthetic forms. In imitatives, stops equal abrupt sounds and acts; continuants represent continuing sounds or acts; nasals are used for reverberating, ringing sounds; and fricatives mimic the quick, audible motion of an object through air. (Hinton et. al., 1994, 10) In literature, the sound of words chosen toportray meaning plays an important role. This shows up most frequently in poetry, but may also be present in other forms of literature and particularly in neologism. In linguistics, the major question is, how arbitrary is language form? How much can the form of language be tied to meaning? The answers to these questions, if they exist, are amorphous, but it is clear that meaning and sound can never be fully separated. (Hinton, et. al., 1994, 5)

“The sound of a word is not random. Be it the movement of the lips and tongue, or the sensory experience of saying or reading the word, sounds create certain associations.” (Sedia, 2005) Individual segments can, themselves, create images and impressions. [i] and [ɪ] sounds are often perceived as smaller than [e] or [o] sounds. These impressions are important to our pictorial and verbal thinking, creating a muscle sense that enables us to mesh all of our impressions into a more complex whole. When we read or speak any given word, it feels a certain way. Some words may be thought beautiful or ugly, depending on the feel of them in the mouth. “The words used to build a fictional world…matter,” (ibid) some fantasy worlds endure and some don’t; some fantasy writing is authentic and some isn’t. Appropriate use of neologism increases the chance that the story will be real and endure. “Many authors use onomatopoeic words—words that mimic a natural sound like crunch or slosh…Often we associate certain sounds with certain visual images. This device is often used in fantasy, where good characters have pleasant-sounding names full of vowels and lilting sounds, and the villains have names that are based on sibilants (such as the House of Slytherin in the Harry Potter Books) or burdened with too many consonants.” (Sedia, 2005) ...

Sound and its perceived meaning can tell us interesting things about neologism. Kohler (1992) showed subjects two shapes—one rounded and one angular—and two invented words (“takete” and “maluma”). He then asked them which word went with which shape. Overwhelmingly, the subjects associated “takete” with the angular shape and “maluma” with the rounded shape. The consensus held across a number of different languages, indicating that there is a universal concept at work here. Other researchers have performed similar experiments, including associating the size of an object with words that had either a front or a back vowel (the larger object was universally associated with the back vowel, the smaller object with the front vowel). This further emphasizes the universality of some sound and meaning associations. “Thus, every word, regardless of its intended meaning by its creator, will evoke a certain response in us.” (Sedia, 2005)

The above obviously discusses primarily neologisms, but that's just because that's how it applied to my thesis; it seems that sound symbolism--mimesis included--pervades language.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Verisimilitude, which comes from Latin verum—truth—and similis—similar, is “truth similarity," or the effect of being true-to-life, generally applied to art in some form. What's interesting is determining what true-to life is. What is "life" (reality) for the particular work in question? According to Plato & Aristotle, for a work of art to have significance, it must be grounded in reality. For literature, an author must know what the truth is—the truth of the setting, characters, plot, and themes—and use his tools (dialog, narrative, imagery, characterization, etc.) to create a literary “similarity” to that truth. If he accomplishes that, he has achieved verisimilitude.

Why is that such a big deal? Why do English teachers spend so much time harping on the language in works of lit? Because verisimilitude may be the pinnacle of achievement in literature. What’s exciting about verisimilitude is that it’s different for every single work out there (and, I think, for every reader, too). For Twain, it might be the life of an uneducated backwoods boy. For Nora Roberts, it might be the developing relationship of between the hero and heroine. A novel set in the Russian Revolution will have characters named Ivan or Dmitri, not Bill or Sam. A story about a boy who learns he's a wizard will be filled with moments of discovery and learning of magic, not mundane tasks like walking the dog.

Verisimilitude is—I suspect—a very subtle thing, and easily passes without note, because it’s woven so tightly into the fiber of the story that it should be unnoticeable. Until we look deeper at a piece, it’s hard to see whether it’s made it. It’s possible that verisimilitude might depend on the reader and her interpretation. It’s achieved in the interplay of the artist, the artwork, and the reader. How amazing, as a reader, to be part of a work of art by appreciating it.

What fascinates me about verisimilitude in literature is, of course, the use of language to achieve it. That's a big part of what I got out of my thesis; the roll of language in lit. I suspect I'll be blogging more on this in the future!

Monday, October 13, 2008

One of my favorite things about linguistics

Well, I may not have figured out what I'm going to do with a degree in linguistics, but at least I still know why I like it! In my thesis (on the phonology of fantasy neologisms) (by the way, how cool that it's online! hee hee hee!), I discussed the role of language in literature. Great literature uses language to its fullest advantage. To steal an example from myself: in Huck Finn, Twain uses Huck's uneducated hick dialect to create a verisimilitude (that's a word I had to use a lot in my thesis) that draws the reader into the story. In "Soldier's Home", Hemingway uses his spare language and indirect descriptions (e.g., the bacon fat hardening on Krebs' plate) to pass the characters' feelings on to the reader. Dr. Seuss used rhymes and fun made-up words to make his stories engaging (and really, don't we all believe, deep down, that there are such creatures as Whos and somewhere there's an elephant named Horton?). And sometimes, literature passes its special language on to the lexicon.

There's not really a branch of linguistics that studies this, but I love examining the interplay of language and literature. I could spend all day at it. Oh wait--I have spent all day on it occasionally.

Anyone out there have any other examples of literary language? (Oooh, that could be a book title. Or a rock band. Okay, not a rock band. But I think I'm obligated to write a book called "literary language" now.)

Politics Schmolitics

In a few weeks, Americans will have the privilege of going to the polls to choose our next leader. I’m sure that anyone reading this knows the importance of voting, so I won’t harp on that too much.

Here's what I'd like to say to the candidates and to the public (she says wryly, realizing that the only reader of this blog is herself--but hey! it'll make me feel good to say it.):

Character IS important. Yes, policy is important, but don’t leave behavior out of the equation. How can we trust someone who lies, cheats, steals, molests, or is a general sleaze to lead us—regardless of his/her stand on the issues? What example are we setting for our children and the rest of the world? That it's fine to lie, cheat, steal, molest, and be sleazy? That this his how Americans behave? Our children don’t listen to our words, they hear what our actions say. When our actions reflect the opposite of what we want them to learn, of course society is going to be screwed up. The issues are important, but character is vital. Please be honest. Be noble. Be fair. Be worth looking up to. You’re setting the example for the world, and we need you to be someone we can afford to have setting an example.

Remember going on field trips in elementary school? The teacher would always say, “you’re representing the whole school, so behave!” The same goes here. Whoever becomes our next President, all of our Senators, Congressmen, governors, mayors, PTA presidents, etc.: you’re not just representing yourself. You’re representing me, too. And every one of the 300 million U.S. citizens you lead.

I’d like to see all of our leaders give of themselves instead of just giving of the taxpayers. Spend an hour volunteering at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or charity thrift store. Adopt a homeless animal. Volunteer at an animal shelter, give blood, help someone in need. Plant a tree. Find out what your local church needs and help with it. Donate some time, thought, and attention to causes other than politics. Take a tiny step to make a positive difference. (Okay, I have to acknowledge that this goes for me and everyone, not just politicians.)

Just imagine what a difference we could make in the world! (not to mention, the world’s opinion of us.)


LibraryThing is a wonderful tool for those of us who have a lot of books. Since I just (well, okay, two months ago) moved into a new house, I’ve been cataloging my books as I unpack. Granted, I’ve only unpacked two of my many boxes of books, so I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m having fun!

For anyone else who has a few “too many” books (like there’s really such a thing), LibraryThing is a good tool. I like that you’re not limited to using it for books you own; you can create a list of books you want to read, books you’ve read but don’t own, books you’ve sold—whatever you can come up with. I've found it really helpful that I can sort by author, title, publication date, etc. It's helping me find gaps in my collection (or, possibly just boxes I haven't unpacked yet).

Check out my list and see what you think!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Volatile economics

The whole world seems to be in economic upheaval. Stock markets are crashing, and people are panicking. In this seemingly dark and desperate moment, I'd like to offer some words of hope: it will end. None of this will last forever. Just like times of economic prosperity aren't forever, neither are times of hardship. Not only have we seen all of this before (stock markets crashed in the 1980s, 1920s, and 1880s, just to name a few), but we will see it again. So settle in and enjoy--or at least tolerate--the ride.

The economy is cyclical. It always has been, and always will be. We tend to lose sight of that (both when we're prosperous--thinking that the prosperity will last forever--and when we're suffering--thinking that there's no end to the torture), and I think that's to our detriment. If we just keep in mind that this tremendous down-swing will end, plateau, and eventually turn into an upswing again, we'll be much better off. Our peace of mind will soar, and our panic will disappear.

The economic suckiness will last for a while. Eventually it will level off. And then, miraculously, it will start to boom again. Just hold onto that. Keep holding on to the hope, because without hope, the desperation can be overwhelming. But with hope, the panic fades, becoming contentment.

And a note on our human frailties: even King Solomon, widely regarded as the wisest man who ever lived (excepting Jesus, of course!), screwed up and behaved foolishly. So we're in good company! (Don't believe me? Read about how Solomon did stupid stuff, too.)

Sometimes life is really hard. And sometimes it's really awesome. If life seems hard right now, just wait. It means that there's some awesome coming!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

37 Years

Well, Jane did it, so I will too. (Although, there's no way I can do as good a job as you did with your post, Jane!) Mom and Dad have been married for 37 years today.

They've taught us to share, play nicely, love animals, ride bikes, balance check books (well, sort of. Sorry Dad!), drive cars, do laundry, have fun, strive for our dreams, be silly, never settle, help others however we can, be good people, and...well, everything. Flegals are a blessed bunch.

Here's to another 37 years, Mom and Dad!

Love you and hey,