Anyone up for a DPRK tour?

So way back in 2008, I conducted a poll here to find out if anyone here was interested in going to the same unusual places I always wanted to visit. It turns out a lot of people were. (Though for some reason LiveJournal has deleted all the poll comments, and shows most of the poll options at 0.0% support even though lots of people voted for them.)

Anyway, in the last seven years I've only been able to visit one of the places on that list (Iceland) but, thanks to an upcoming all-expenses-paid business trip to Beijing, I'll be able to squeeze in a short tour of North Korea afterwards. If anyone's still interested in going there, would you like to sign up for the tour with me? It starts and ends in Beijing, and takes place from 1 to 6 or 7 August 2015. The tour costs €1700 (£1250), which includes the visa, air/rail transportation to and from Beijing, all food and accommodation, and almost all attractions. (A return air ticket from Europe to Beijing might set you back another £480 to £725, depending on from where and when you fly.) It would be great to go with friends.

"How's your Denglisch?" now published in Babel: The Language Magazine

[cover of the November 2013 issue of Babel: The Language Magazine]

In his recent bestselling book series, Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod, humorist Bastian Sick argues that the German language is succumbing to Sprachverfall, or language decay, and lays the blame squarely on English contamination. There is no denying that the German lexicon has seen significant influence from English since the Second World War. However, this is by no means limited to pristine transfer of vocabulary; many of the borrowings undergo what are, to a native English speaker, bizarre shifts in form and meaning.

How well do you think you can interpret the strange blend of English and German known as Denglisch? Find out in my new quiz, "How's your Denglisch?", which appears in the November 2013 issue of Babel: The Language Magazine. (Babel is a new print magazine all about language and linguistics, published by a team of world-class linguists including David Crystal. You can subscribe on the magazine's website.)


Conference on rudeness, verbal aggression, and mock politeness

The coolest call for papers just landed in my inbox. It's for a conference on impoliteness, to be held in Bydgoszcz in May of next year. Solicited topics include "rudeness, ignorance, aggravation, offence, verbal aggression, sarcasm, and mock politeness". I suppose someone perceived a niche to fill following the shuttering of Maledicta: The International Journal of Verbal Aggression! Below is an excerpt from the CFP.

Impolin: Impoliteness and Interaction

Call for papers

The aim of the conference is to provide an interdisciplinary platform for discussion over linguistic and nonlinguistic impolite behaviour across languages and cultures. The focus of the conference will be pragmatic and sociolinguistic aspects of impolite behaviour analysed both in terms of verbal and nonverbal communication, however we also welcome presentations across a wide variety of topics stemming from neighbouring fields of research, such as social studies, political studies, psychology, intercultural communication, media studies, etc.…

The proposed topics for papers include, but are not limited to:

  • theoretical frameworks
  • Neo-Gricean approaches to impoliteness
  • Discursive approaches to impoliteness
  • Relevance-theoretic approach to impoliteness
  • Cognitive linguistics in impoliteness research
  • Corpus-based studies of impoliteness
  • Sociolinguistic aspects of impoliteness
  • Pragmatic approaches to impoliteness, etc.

Categories of description:

  • disagreement
  • rudeness
  • ignorance
  • aggravation
  • offence
  • verbal aggression
  • sarcasm
  • mock politeness
  • humour and impoliteness
  • using taboo words
  • swearing and expletives, etc.

Possible scope of empirical studies:

  • impoliteness in translation (including literary and audiovisual translation, in particular in subtitles)
  • impoliteness in computer-mediated discourse
  • impoliteness in courtship setting
  • impoliteness in educational setting
  • impoliteness in institutional setting
  • impoliteness in interpersonal setting (face-face and multi-party conversations)
  • impoliteness across dialects and genres
  • impoliteness and power
  • impoliteness and identity
  • impoliteness and miscommunication
  • intentional and unintentional impoliteness
  • impoliteness perception and interpretation
  • impoliteness strategies
  • impoliteness and rapport management
  • linguistic and nonlinguistic impoliteness
  • impoliteness and prosody
  • multimodal approaches to impoliteness, etc.

The organizers really missed the boat in not holding the impoliteness conference in Paris, where the local shop assistants would have been only too happy to show everyone how it's done.

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The prodigious coach

[Photograph of Edward Bellamy]
Edward Bellamy

I'm currently reading Looking Backward: 2000–1887, an 1887 novel by Edward Bellamy. It's written from the point of view of a man who travels forward in time from 1887 to 2000. The most striking differences he notices are not technological but rather social: money and the wages system hves disappeared, and along with it war and poverty. I don't believe the utopian future society Bellamy envisages is truly workable, not least due to the lingering presence of governments, nations, credit, and religion, but also because he imposes on it a very antiquated attitude towards women's social roles and obligations.

Though his solution may be off, his indictment of the socio-economic problems of 1887 could not be more accurate. At the very beginning of the novel the narrator, introducing himself to his audience of the year 2000, describes the time he comes from as follows. Sadly it is just as applicable to our real-life society of 2012, where hunger and poverty are a fact of life for hundreds of millions.

By way of attempting to give the reader some general impression of the way people lived together in those days, and especially of the relations of the rich and poor to one another, perhaps I cannot do better than to compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road. The driver was hunger, and permitted no lagging, though the pace was necessarily very slow. Despite the difficulty of drawing the coach at all along so hard a road, the top was covered with passengers who never got down, even at the steepest ascents. These seats on top were very breezy and comfortable. Well up out of the dust, their occupants could enjoy the scenery at their leisure, or critically discuss the merits of the straining team. Naturally such places were in great demand and the competition for them was keen, every one seeking as the first end in life to secure a seat on the coach for himself and to leave it to his child after him. By the rule of the coach a man could leave his seat to whom he wished, but on the other hand there were many accidents by which it might at any time be wholly lost. For all that they were so easy, the seats were very insecure, and at every sudden jolt of the coach persons were slipping out of them and falling to the ground, where they were instantly compelled to take hold of the rope and help to drag the coach on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It was naturally regarded as a terrible misfortune to lose one's seat, and the apprehension that this might happen to them or their friends was a constant cloud upon the happiness of those who rode.

But did they think only of themselves? you ask. Was not their very luxury rendered intolerable to them by comparison with the lot of their brothers and sisters in the harness, and the knowledge that their own weight added to their toil? Had they no compassion for fellow beings from whom fortune only distinguished them? Oh, yes; commiseration was frequently expressed by those who rode for those who had to pull the coach, especially when the vehicle came to a bad place in the road, as it was constantly doing, or to a particularly steep hill. At such times, the desperate straining of the team, their agonized leaping and plunging under the pitiless lashing of hunger, the many who fainted at the rope and were trampled in the mire, made a very distressing spectacle, which often called forth highly creditable displays of feeling on the top of the coach. At such times the passengers would call down encouragingly to the toilers of the rope, exhorting them to patience, and holding out hopes of possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their lot, while others contributed to buy salves and liniments for the crippled and injured. It was agreed that it was a great pity that the coach should be so hard to pull, and there was a sense of general relief when the specially bad piece of road was gotten over. This relief was not, indeed, wholly on account of the team, for there was always some danger at these bad places of a general overturn in which all would lose their seats.

It must in truth be admitted that the main effect of the spectacle of the misery of the toilers at the rope was to enhance the passengers' sense of the value of their seats upon the coach, and to cause them to hold on to them more desperately than before. If the passengers could only have felt assured that neither they nor their friends would ever fall from the top, it is probable that, beyond contributing to the funds for liniments and bandages, they would have troubled themselves extremely little about those who dragged the coach.

I am well aware that this will appear to the men and women of the twentieth century an incredible inhumanity, but there are two facts, both very curious, which partly explain it. In the first place, it was firmly and sincerely believed that there was no other way in which Society could get along, except the many pulled at the rope and the few rode, and not only this, but that no very radical improvement even was possible, either in the harness, the coach, the roadway, or the distribution of the toil. It had always been as it was, and it always would be so. It was a pity, but it could not be helped, and philosophy forbade wasting compassion on what was beyond remedy.

The other fact is yet more curious, consisting in a singular hallucination which those on the top of the coach generally shared, that they were not exactly like their brothers and sisters who pulled at the rope, but of finer clay, in some way belonging to a higher order of beings who might justly expect to be drawn. This seems unaccountable, but, as I once rode on this very coach and shared that very hallucination, I ought to be believed. The strangest thing about the hallucination was that those who had but just climbed up from the ground, before they had outgrown the marks of the rope upon their hands, began to fall under its influence. As for those whose parents and grand-parents before them had been so fortunate as to keep their seats on the top, the conviction they cherished of the essential difference between their sort of humanity and the common article was absolute. The effect of such a delusion in moderating fellow feeling for the sufferings of the mass of men into a distant and philosophical compassion is obvious. To it I refer as the only extenuation I can offer for the indifference which, at the period I write of, marked my own attitude toward the misery of my brothers.

Looking Backward: 2000–1887 is freely available from Project Gutenberg.