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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Decline and Fall of the English Language

BOOK REVIEW

EMPIRES OF THE WORD
A LANGUAGE HISTORY OF THE WORLD
NICHOLAS OSTLER
p. 2006

   An English speaker/reader of 2010 could be forgiven for a spot of triumphant jubilation. Though English may not be spoken by the most people on Earth, it's status as a "lingua franca" or international trade, science and culture is unmatched.  How could English disappear from the face of the Earth, joining extinct but in their time important languages like Sanskrit and Latin?  Nick Ostler writes this very interesting book from the perspective of a modern English speaker.  It's no secret that his Language History of the World ends with a Chapter on the extraordinary career of modern English.

   However, Ostler holds his hand on English- other then the last chapter, the rest of Empires of the Word is a straight forward "language history of the world."  Particularly interesting are the chapters on the language families of North and South America prior to Contact, and the history of Sanskrit and it's progeny in South Asia.  Ostler builds up to the big Western Languages towards the end of the book and then starts asking the big questions like "Why did German never take off as a World Language?"  Ostler seems to maintain the position that English's run as a world wide lingua franca is bound to come to the end, but I'm hard pressed to see what will succeed it on the world stage.  It seems to me that the internet might create some polyglot machine translation influenced successor language to English.  I don't know.

 

Monday, November 01, 2010

What's Next: No Joy, Best Coast & Dirty Beaches

   Upcoming events in November for San Diego, CA....

       This Sunday November 7th,  No Joy, La Sera (Katy Goodman of Vivian Girls/All Saints Day), Heavy Hawaii and Dirty Beaches are playing the Tin Can Ale House.

      One Wednesday from now, on November 10th, the San Diego edition of the Best Coast/ Sonny and the Sunsets tour comes to town with locals the D/Wolves and Dirty Beaches playing in the Atari Lounge.  Dirty Beaches, unlike some bands, will actually be appropriate for the Atari Lounge space.

   I  also wanted to mention that I attended the Heavy Hawaii record release party at the new Till Two club and I was impressed by both the venue and the Espirit de Corps of those present.  A thought I had at that event was that if it is clear that core group of any musical "scene" is going to number +/- 50, growth requires that those 50 people work hard to draw in non-members.   It is incumbent of each member of whatever group to proselytize to outsiders in an attempt to increase the group size in a dignified manner.

     You can see an effective display of this in the rise of any "blog" band.  The phenomenon is actually best described as the increase in size and volume of a specific artists' fan base in geometric, rather then arithmetic fashion.   Arithmetic progression is one person telling another about an artist and "converting" that person.  Geometric progression is twittering something and having 20 people retweet it.

    The phenomenon of "blog bands"  also represents the point at which music professionals take notice of a certain artists' geometric progression out of obscurity.  You take as the starting point for any artist as "0."  Perhaps one of a hundred thousand artists will draw professional attention at zero.  However, as the attention level rises, professionals will increasingly become interested in that artist regardless of the "quality" of that attention. Music bloggers are particularly effective at racing the attention level from "nothing" to "something."  Getting from "something" to "success" requires the assistance of professionals in every case.

   Would that music blogs more actively focused on the mechanics of raising public interest in a specific artists from "nothing" to "something."  I think that is a very interesting subject, worth of much contemplation.

     It is also true that effective networks of artists can generate this movement of the meter from "nothing" to "something" THEMSELVES.  Unfortunately, artists themselves are less skilled then amateur music enthusiasts, perhaps because artists are so cramped about expressing appreciation for other artists.

  One of the great mistakes amateur artists make is to assume that there is some mysterious "other" that is actively keeping track of their artistic activity.  This is simply not the case.  The expected level of attention of any new public artistic project has a median of "zero."

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