Monday, 25 March 2013

I take things too seriously

Sometimes I feel like I take things too seriously. Michael McIntyre presented a skit where he talks about people who say "I can't do accents." He imagines an Irish family introducing themselves in typical Irish accents: "Hello, I'm Tommy! This is my wife Susan!" he says in that beautiful Gaelic lilt: "Hello, I'm Susan, Tommy's wife, this is Little Tommy Jr. Say hello!" she says, still with that distinct linguistic flavour. And Little Tommy Jr. says in your average London-speak "Yeah, sorry mate, I can't do accents." I know the comedy comes from the contrast between the two accents and the ridiculous notion that someone born into an Irish family wouldn't be able to "do accents", but then I go and fuck it up by overanalysing it. It's a classic reductio ad absurdum: McIntyre ridicules the idea that English people "can't do accents" by imagining that an Irish person was unable to speak in an Irish accent and so defaulted to an English accent, which is absurd. Therefore, everybody can "do accents" because we can all do at least one.

But of course we all speak according to one accent pattern, the argument fails because we laypeople are saying that we can't do other accents. Indian accents, French accents, Geordie accents, Queens accents; for the unable linguist, mimicking all the subtle accent and dialect features is hard. You have to really sink your teeth into an accent to know all the different ways words are pronounced. Not to mention that the idea that we "speak in an accent" at all is misleading. We grow up and learn language the way our parents and friends speak it. We  never try to "put on" our accent, it's just the way we're taught to use phonetics.

But Michael McIntyre wasn't making an argument, he was doing a comedy sketch. So you've just wasted five minutes of your life reading two paragraphs that weren't even relevant. You're welcome.

Nonetheless, I do take things too seriously. I can't simply come out with something for comedic effect if I know it's fallacious, misleading, or blatantly wrong. Though of course I do present myself a certain way, if I went and told someone that "it's ridiculous to suggest people can't do accents because everyone can do at least one! *Make way for stolen sketch material*", I would feel wrong inside. A cheat. Because a little person inside my fuzzy head would be telling me "Well yes, but that's not the point..."

It's one reason I don't really write blogs anymore. I'd love to carry on talking about exciting and interesting things, but I get to trying to write about them and realise that I don't really know anything much. "Determinism, yeah, that'd be a great subject for a blog post! I'm gonna talk all about that, it'll be great, people will love it, I'll get 117% in my Philosophy exams! Okay, let's go... what do I know about determinism..."

*Ten minutes later*

"Well, shit."

I've wanted to make a website for a long time. It's bothered me for a while that there's no clear tool out there for finding that word you're looking for: it's on the tip-of-your-tongue; presque vu. But it doesn't come to mind. You want a reverse dictionary, a tool to find words starting with this or ending with that, something that gives you synonyms and definitions and a list of words relating to the concept you want to describe. And I've found nothing to solve that problem. Sure, thesauruses (thesauri?) in a pinch, if you know the rough meaning of what you're sort-of looking for and the word just so happens to have a handy synonym somewhere at the bottom of the page. But it's designed to look for alternative words, not to find your words for you. And okay, there's, if you want a reverse dictionary, and a tool to find words that start with that or end with this, something that gives you synonyms and...

Oh. Shit again.

So maybe that's a project that will come about some time in the future, when I can muster the energy to relearn web design. As for the future... heck knows. Over the past months, tutors have been applying more pressure to start researching which universities I want to go to when I finish college, which degree courses I want to do, etc. Me being my terrible procrastinatory self, that research didn't really happen. So many variables, agh! Hundreds of universities in the UK, how on Earth should I work out what I want to study? Do I want to apply to Oxford, or Cambridge? Which college within either of those should I apply to?

My last tutor made things even worse by adding another variable: do you want to study abroad? Why not go to another European university where the fees and cheaper and you can go and learn a modern language? "Learn a language, ooh, that sounds good... and I do want to do Linguistics... I should really do that..." Then that presented a conflict with the advice my mother gave me, which was never to go too far from home for university, because I'll be cut off from my family and regret it seriously when I'm too poor to do shit, living on student wages, in bloody Amsterdam. Shit, what do I do!

There was a Higher Education fair at my college three weeks ago, which was what got me to finally start learning more about universities and degrees, and I came across a great degree option!. I decided that I want to study Linguistics and Japanese joint honours, the latter would give me an opportunity to study abroad in Japan. Hey, I'd learn a new language! Problem solved, I don't have to study... abroad....

But seriously, the prospect of studying Japanese excites me a great deal. I admit that I didn't care a minute for GCSE French at my secondary school: French is a language that British students learn for the same reason that you go round your next-door-neighbour's house when you run out of toilet paper. While I have a great deal of admiration for the French language spoken by natives - it's truly gorgeous when spoken properly - it really isn't the most interesting of languages out there, sharing our alphabet, and a bunch of cognates. Japanese is fresh, exciting, a whole different kettle of characters! Okay, the thought of having to learn around two thousand kanji - the symbols that represent their words - is daunting, but they have two alphabets to learn, as well. Two.

...Okay, they're actually syllabaries, but it's easier to say alphabet. (See? I can never just say it, I have to qualify.)

So if I studied Linguistics and Japanese, I think that would be great for me. I'd learn a new language, get life experience studying abroad, and get to apply the language skills I pick up to my linguistics modules. It sounds like great fun. It just sucks that they offer it in only six universities across the United Kingdom. Six. And these aren't my next-door neighbours, heck no. Not Southampton or Exeter, Reading or Brighton, Winchester or Bournemouth, not even bloody Portsmouth. My list consists of: Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Edinburgh, and SOAS, London. Hey, London! The one university on my list that isn't over two hundred miles away... oeeii :c.

I don't want to study in Scotland. But at least if I do go up to Edinburgh and study Linguistics and Japanese, I'll have an excuse for my posh Southern-English inflection. I really can't do accents.

~Love Leonidas

Edit: I told a lie, it wasn't Lancaster, it was Sheffield. But you never noticed that mistake, did you now ;).

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