Saturday, October 16, 2004

From blog correspondent Samer al-Batal
Via Juan Cole’s blog:

Seymour Hersh speaks at Berkeley University about Iraq (video footage)
My government has a secret unit that since December of 2001 has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and the Argentineans did. Rumsfeld decided after 9/11 that he could not wait. The president signed a secret document…There's a team of people, they fly in unmarked planes, they fly in Gulfstreams, they have their own choppers, they don't carry American passports, and they just grab people. And maybe in the beginning I can understand there was some rationale. Right after 9/11 we were frightened, we didn't know what to do ...
He {Hersh} talked about an Israeli, a longtime veteran of the troubles between his country and the Palestinians, who had emailed him to say, in essence, "We've been killing them for 40 or 50 years, and they've been killing us for 40 or 50 years, but we know that somewhere down the line we're going to have to live with those SOBs…If we had treated our Arabs the way you treated them in Abu Ghraib, the sexual stuff, the photographs, we couldn't live with them. You guys do not begin to understand what you've done, where you have put yourself in the Arab world."

Via Dappled Things and LRC today:

Study of languages physically enhances brain
¡Sí, claro! Verum et bonum est. Да, конечно!

S al-B: Good to know, as this blog pays tribute to languages and their study. [End.]

Funny how language and even accent work for most people (except quick studies and natural mimics): very young children come pre-programmed with all the sounds of the world's languages but before they actually talk they narrow those sounds down to the ones they actually hear. Even after that there's a window in which exposing the child to two (or more?) languages makes him fluent in both. I've seen this! Second-generation people (children of immigrants) vary a lot depending on whether or not the parents decided to use and teach the native language at home*. I've met people born in 'the old country' who came here very young and know only English but I also know and have known two people born in the US whose first language is Russian, not learning English until they went to school, and today they speak both languages well.

There's a window too with accents for most: if the parents move, most kids end up sounding like their friends, not their parents. The now-grown and lovely Mischa Barton (from the scariest scene in The Sixth Sense - emetophobes beware) is English but has an American accent - she came to the States when she was 4. Just like the late Bob Hope. I understand the dazzling Gillian Anderson, born in the States, has a North London accent in real life - that's where she spent her childhood.

That window closes for most people around age 14: if you move after that, chances are you won't end up sounding like a native of your new home. (Famous example: poor Loyd Grossman, who after 30 years of living in England sounds like a stupid tourist who just stepped off the plane at Heathrow from Logan Airport in Boston and is trying to talk like the Queen. My God, man, either cut it out or take some elocution lessons! You were on the box for crying out loud**.)

Probably true of languages too as the article says - ironically around the time most kids start studying a language formally!

*Blog member John Boyden tells me that expats' kids in Italy sometimes end up knowing only Italian for that reason.

**Henry Higgins alert: Every time this guy opens his mouth there are about four things going on all at once: bad overlays of not one but two English accents, posh and downmarket London; general American and some Massachusetts (Boston) such as the o in demonstrably.

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