Archive for August 2017

The new Globe Theatre in London

In my senior year of high school, all the students in my English class were required to write two term papers. But two of us were granted a special exception. The teacher gave my friend Nick and me the option of handing in alternative projects in lieu of the second paper. In my case, I had written a funny yet tragic account of an unhappy relationship—I use the term loosely—that I had experienced the previous summer. I was writing it just for fun, but my teacher found out about it and said I could type it up and turn it in as my second essay. I did—and got an A, too. Nick was the only student in class who was not required to type his term papers. As long as I’d known him—since kindergarten—he had said he wanted to be an architect. And he had developed an architect’s handwriting: every letter perfectly formed. The teacher’s offer to Nick was that he could build a scale model of the Globe Theatre out of Popsicle sticks instead of handing in a second paper. He declined, and I always thought that was a pity. We had learned about Shakespeare’s famous London venue in class, and I would have loved to see what it looked like. Besides, I couldn’t imagine that writing a term paper would have been more fun—but maybe that was just me.

I was thinking about this last year when I visited London for the first time. I had heard that the Globe Theatre, destroyed centuries ago, had recently been rebuilt, and I was eager to see it. I didn’t particularly care if I saw a play there; I just wanted to go inside and look around. When we got to the Globe, on the afternoon of our last day in London, they had just admitted the last tour group of the day; the only way left to see it that day was to buy tickets for a play. The box office informed us that the show was almost sold out. There were two options: we could buy either fabulously expensive tickets for seats behind a pole that would obscure our view, or cheap tickets for standing room. We debated which option we’d dislike the least, but by the time we had made up our minds two minutes later, all the remaining tickets for the day were gone. So all I got to see of the Globe Theatre was the outside, the gift shop, and the ticket office, none of which was especially impressive. (Note to self: plan ahead next time.)

I take some consolation in the fact that this combination of comedy and tragedy would probably have delighted William Shakespeare, or whomever it was that wrote the works attributed to him.

Building and Rebuilding
The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 on the south bank of the Thames in London’s Southwark district. The 1599 Globe was not an entirely new building, however. Shakespeare’s troupe had been performing in another theater across the river (called simply The Theatre), but because of the high cost of leasing the land on which The Theatre was located, it was dismantled; the pieces were moved across the river and reassembled, then dubbed The Globe Theatre. Not only was the Globe the primary venue for many of Shakespeare’s plays, he specifically wrote many of them for that theater. The original Globe burned to the ground in 1613, after a cannon went off during a production of Henry VIII and a spark ignited the thatched roof. The Globe was rebuilt within a year, however, and continued to operate until 1642, when it was closed (along with the rest of London’s theaters) by the Puritans who found it morally objectionable. In 1644, 28 years after Shakespeare’s death, the Globe was demolished.

Only a few rough sketches of the Globe survived over the centuries, but based on archeological evidence, texts, and other sources, it has been possible to make some fairly reliable educated guesses about the details of its construction. The original Globe apparently had 20 sides, making it appear almost circular. The central part of the theater was open to the sky; seating was provided in a three-story, covered gallery around the outside. But many theatergoers stood in the central court in front of the stage to watch performances. The audience was expected to interact with the actors in Shakespeare’s time, though in many cases they simply wandered in and out, eating, drinking, and talking with the play going on in the background.

Return of the Globe
In 1996, after almost three decades of planning, a new replica of the Globe—built by hand using authentic materials and construction techniques—reopened in London not far from the site of the original. The designers’ goal was to make the new Globe as similar as possible to the first one, making concessions only as necessary to comply with fire regulations. The replica of the Globe Theatre in London is just one of many around the world, but it is undoubtedly the most historically accurate. As in the early 1600s, actors perform without amplification, spotlights, backdrops, or other scenery, and with only a minimum of props.

The new Globe represents not just the reconstruction of a historically significant piece of architecture, but a way to relive the entire experience of live drama in the 1600s. All the world may be a stage, but if you want to see Shakespeare as the author intended, this particular stage is the best. —Joe Kissell

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More Information about The Globe Theatre…

You can read a vastly more detailed account of both the old and new versions of the Globe Theatre (including more and better pictures) on any number of Web sites, including:

For show times and to buy tickets for a performance at the Globe Theatre in London, see the London Theatre Guide.

The Old Globe in San Diego is perhaps the best-known replica of the Globe Theatre in the United States. Another is in Odessa, Texas: The Globe of the Great Southwest. Yet another replica of the Globe Theatre opened in Rome in October, 2003.

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A number of books describe the Globe Theatre, especially the story of its rebuilding. See for example Shakespeare’s Globe Rebuilt, edited by J. R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring, Staging Shakespeare at the New Globe by Pauline Kiernan, and for children, William Shakespeare & the Globe by Aliki.

The Ultimate William Shakespeare Collection is a fully formatted, PDF version of the complete works of Shakespeare for $25.

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When I mentioned to Morgen that I was trying to come up with another good language-related topic to write about, she was silent for a moment, then proclaimed matter-of-factly, “Walloon.” This being a term I’d never heard of, I gave her my standard Scowl of Incomprehension, which she met with her deadly Blank Stare of Shame. This silent exchange is what we do when one of us is incredulous that the other could possibly lack some crucial piece of knowledge. Finally I broke down and said, “OK, what’s that?” Still expressionless, she said, “It’s a language spoken in Belgium.” Hmmmm. French I knew about, but not this one. Sounds really exciting. I said, “Is it interesting?” She said, “Maybe.” And that was that.

It turned out, as it always does, that she was right—it is interesting. But the very first interesting fact I learned about Walloon was one she wasn’t even aware of: Belgium is not the only place where native speakers of this language are found. The other is Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Special Relativity
When I think of Belgium, I think of food—in particular, things like chocolate, waffles, cheese, and beer. When I think of Green Bay—which, I admit, is a rather infrequent occurrence—cheese and beer also spring to mind, along with football. I never jumped to the conclusion that there must be a Belgian connection in Wisconsin, but indeed there is. It’s the only outpost in the New World where you can find a community of people who speak Walloon.

Some linguists classify Walloon as a dialect of French, but it began developing a distinct character as early as the 8th century and acquired its own name by the 16th century. The differences are significant enough that many consider Walloon a distinct language (though unquestionably a close relative of French). For example, in French, the word for “the” takes on a different form depending on the gender of the noun that follows it; in Walloon, as in English, the definite article is always the same. Walloon, unlike French, also uses a single word to mean “his” or “her.” Word order is different (adjectives usually come before the noun, whereas they follow the noun in French), and there are numerous differences in spelling, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Furthermore, Walloon itself has four distinct dialects, each concentrated in a different region of Wallonia.

Where’s Wallonia?
Wallonia? Yes indeed, Wallonia is the name for a region covering roughly the southern half of Belgium. Although this is home to Walloon, that is by no means the only language spoken there; French is of course the official language, and there’s also a local, “Walloonized” version of French—plus several other languages in the same family. When thousands of Walloons (as the residents are called) moved to North America in the mid-1800s, they settled in a corner of eastern Wisconsin near Lake Michigan, where there were already some French Canadian residents. By and large, the Belgian immigrants continued speaking their native language, which over the past 150 years has apparently changed less than any of the Walloon dialects spoken in Belgium. Other than Green Bay and Wallonia, the only places where you can still find communities of active Walloon speakers are Brussels and a few small villages in northeastern France.

Estimates of the number of Walloon speakers vary. Most sources say there are at least a few hundred thousand people who actively speak Walloon (though virtually all of these also speak at least one other language)—with as many as a million more people who can understand it to some degree. However, it’s far more common to find active speakers among people over 60 than among children and young adults. Walloon is not considered an official language of either Belgium or Wallonia (um, not to mention Green Bay), so it’s relatively difficult to find Walloon media and educational materials. As a result, use of the language is rapidly fading—especially in Wisconsin. However, there is a movement afoot in Belgium to revitalize Walloon; part of this movement is an effort to apply a single system of spelling to the diverse dialects, which should aid greatly in the propagation of literature and Web sites. There are a number of Walloon magazines and theatrical productions, and the language is heard occasionally on television and radio. Supporters of the language want it to be taught in school as well.

Although my utilitarian side sees great value in standardized languages, my conservationist side feels the same sort of grief about endangered languages as it does about endangered species. If there’s anything at all I can do to help the cause—such as buying more beer—I’m only too happy to oblige. —Joe Kissell

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More Information about Walloon…

The Green Bay Press-Gazette covered the decreasing use of Walloon among Green Bay residents in Old language needs new life by Nathan Phelps.

To learn more about Walloon, visit:

And now, today’s sermonette about editorial integrity
I’ve said this before and sadly, I’ll probably say it again: an astonishing amount of information on the Web is simply copied (often without attribution) from other Web sites—and in far too many cases, copied incorrectly. Consider this (apparently original) quote from

Walloon should not be confused with Belgian French, which differs from the French of France only in vocabulary and pronunciation.

The entry for Walloon in the Encyclopedia portion of says:

Walloon (Walon) is a regional Romance language spoken in Belgium, which differs from the French of France only in vocabulary and pronunciation.

This is how misinformation spreads. Plagiarism is bad enough, but inaccurate plagiarism is truly appalling.

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1. Never shake a man’s hand sitting down.

2. There are plenty of ways to enter a swimming pool. The stairs ain’t one.

3. The man at the BBQ is the closest thing we have to a king.

4. In a negotiation, never make the first offer.

5. Act like you’ve been there before. Especially in the end zone.

6. Request the late check-out.

7. When entrusted with a secret, keep it.

8. Hold your heroes to a higher standard.

9. Return a borrowed car with a full tank of fuel.

10. Don’t fill up on bread.

11. When shaking hands, grip firmly and look him in the eye.

12. Don’t let a wishbone grow where a backbone should be.

13. If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point.

14. Carry two handkerchiefs. The one in your back pocket is for you. The one in your breast pocket is for her.

15. You marry the girl, you marry her whole family.

16. Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.

17. Experience the serenity of traveling alone.

18. Never be afraid to ask out the best looking girl in the room.

19. Never turn down a breath mint.

20. A sport coat is worth 1000 words.

21. Try writing your own eulogy. Never stop revising.

22. Thank a veteran. And then make it up to him.

23. If you want to know what makes you unique, sit for a caricature.

24. Eat lunch with the new kid.

25. After writing an angry email, read it carefully. Then delete it.

26. Ask your mum to play. She won’t let you win.

27. See it on the big screen.

28. Give credit. Take the blame.

29. Write down your dreams.


Orignal Source – Aaron Conrad –

During college I spent a summer in Indonesia, and naturally I picked up a bit of the language. When I say “the language,” I’m referring to Indonesian or, as it is known in Indonesian, Bahasa Indonesia (“language of Indonesia”). This statement is not as obvious as it may sound; Indonesia is home to hundreds of languages, and of these, Indonesian is not spoken as a first language by the majority of the population. But it is the lingua franca, so it’s useful for citizens and travelers alike. I found Indonesian to be very straightforward and easy to learn, free of most of the irregularities and annoyances of the Romance languages.

What I understood at the time was that Indonesian is, for the most part, the same language as Malay (Bahasa Melayu), the national language of neighboring Malaysia. I assumed that there were some differences, but that the main one was simply the name. I had no idea at that time of how either version of the language came into existence. It turns out that there’s a bit of a modern myth about the language’s origin—but the truth is even more interesting.

Artificial Intelligence
Several months ago while doing some research on an unrelated topic, I stumbled upon a Web page claiming that Indonesian was an artificial language. I’d never heard that before and it piqued my interest, so I searched further. A few minutes of Googling turned up quotes such as the following (identities omitted to protect the guilty):

Bahasa Indonesia is an artificial language made official in 1928. By artificial I mean it was designed by academics rather than evolving naturally as most common languages have.

…Indonesian [is] a very simple Malay-based artificial language, designed by academics, and was the official language for a multiethnic country of over 230 million inhabitants.

…Indonesian is a constructed language made by a Dutch missionary in the 1920s on the basis of synthesizing some local languages.

…[Indonesian] was devised by a Dutch linguist, based on various Malayan and Indonesian varieties…in the 1920s.

The language in Malaysia, Bahasa Malay, is a constructed language, and was designed to be easy to learn, as the various people in Malaysia and Indonesia who were told to form rather large nations after WWII needed a common language.

…every language is artificial—it just depends how many people create it. Bahasa Indonesia is also invented but by a group.

Bahasa Indonesia is essentially a constructed language designed to fool foreigners into thinking Indonesia is a monoculture.

…the other major semi-artificial language of recent times, Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of Indonesia, is a syncretic amalgamation of existing Malay dialects that were still in current use.

Even though it is basically the Malay language, [Indonesian] has in common with Esperanto…the fact of having underwent [sic] a kind of planned restructuration to simplify grammar and reduce exceptions.

With all that evidence, I was very nearly convinced—though I wasn’t entirely certain what I was convinced of. This string of claims sounded a bit like the telephone game, where a message changes just a bit with each retelling. Then a little voice in the back of my head whispered, “Primary sources, Grasshopper.” Every fact on the Web appears to be equally authoritative, but just because somebody says something with conviction doesn’t mean it’s true. So I went to an actual library (two of them, in fact) and looked at ancient documents known as “books”—some more than fifty years old—to see if I could get to the bottom of this story. After all, if a Dutch linguist (or missionary) did in fact invent the language, I should be able to find that person’s name. And if a committee of academics invented it, I should be able to find some record of that momentous project.

Let me cut to the chase: as with all myths, this one has a kernel of truth to it. But the claim that Indonesian is an “artificial” or “constructed” language is simply untrue.

This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is Island
Indonesia is an archipelago consisting of over 18,000 islands, of which about a third are inhabited. That these islands—and their greatly varying cultures and languages—should be considered a single nation is a relatively recent (and, ethnographically speaking, artificial) notion. Nevertheless, for centuries, traders sailing from one island to another have needed to communicate with each other. Malay was the local language of Malacca, a port town near the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula. According to legend, local fisherman in Malacca developed Malay as a synthesis of several nearby languages in the late 16th century. However, written records of Malay date back as far as the 7th century, so it is more likely that the fisherman simply integrated new words into the language. (Such borrowing happens in virtually all languages, and the newly incorporated words are known as “loan words.”) In any event, Malacca was a hot spot for traders, and by the time the Dutch colonized Indonesia (then known as the Dutch East Indies) in the 17th century, Malay had already come into widespread use as the regional trade language.

During their more than three centuries of occupation, the Dutch, unsurprisingly, attempted to enforce the use of their own language for trade. In the process, Malay—as spoken in Dutch territory—picked up a number of Dutch loan words, while the Malaysian speakers of Malay developed a somewhat different vocabulary. Meanwhile, due to the influence of Islam, which had been introduced in Indonesia as far back as the 13th century, Malay also picked up a number of Arabic loan words. Because parts of Indonesia were Hindu, Sanskrit also gave numerous words to Indonesian—including “bahasa” (“language”). And since Portugal traded in Indonesia and for many years controlled East Timor, many Portuguese words also found their way into the language. In short: without question, the Indonesian variety of Malay did indeed borrow heavily from numerous other languages, but this was a natural linguistic evolution. However, there’s still more to the story.

The Language of Change
By the 1920s, public sentiment in Indonesia was turning strongly toward gaining independence from the Netherlands. In October 1928, the Sumpah Pemuda (Pledge of the Youth) proclaimed that in Indonesia, Malay was to be called “Bahasa Indonesia” and considered the national language. However, there being no nation as yet, this was more of a rallying cry than anything else. In 1945, Indonesia declared its independence from the Netherlands and stated in its constitution that Bahasa Indonesia was its official language—though it took four years of fighting before the Dutch acknowledged Indonesia’s right to self-rule. So depending on how you look at it, Indonesian became the official language in 1928, 1945, or 1949—though at that time, only a tiny percentage of the nation’s population spoke Indonesian as a first language.

Following independence, the people of Indonesia rapidly abandoned Dutch (to the extent that they had grudgingly adopted it) and began to embrace their new official tongue. It is now the first language of as many as 30 million people, and a second language for more than 140 million. Although these numbers are still small given Indonesia’s total population of more than 230 million, they represent astonishingly rapid growth for the language.

In 1972, the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia collaborated on a project to reform and simplify spelling for both versions of the language; this consisted largely of eliminating Dutch spellings in favor of more phonetic Malaysian spellings. Malay and Indonesian have about an 80% overlap in vocabulary and are mutually intelligible; the variations in vocabulary, pronunciation, and usage have been compared to the difference between American English and British English. Where Indonesian retains many Dutch loan words, Malay typically replaces these with words based on English.

I like Indonesian a great deal; it has such an elegant structure that it’s tempting to believe it could only have been made artificially. But in fact it’s as natural as the next language, notwithstanding its exceptional capacity for absorbing foreign vocabulary—and contributing to linguistic mythology. —Joe Kissell

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More Information about Bahasa Indonesia…

This article was featured in Asian History Carnival #6.

A Short Indonesian History is a high-level overview of Indonesia’s development as a nation.

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To learn more about Indonesian history, check out Indonesia: Peoples and Histories by Jean Gelman Taylor or A History of Modern Indonesia by M. C. Ricklefs.

For more information about the Malay and Indonesian language(s), see (Bahasa Malaysia | Bahasa Indonesia) or the Wikipedia (Indonesian Language | Malay Language). You can also read about Indonesian and Malay in the Ethnologue, a compilation of data on all the world’s known languages.

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Interested in learning the Indonesian language? Try Teach Yourself Indonesian Complete Course by Christopher Byrnes, Bahasa Indonesia: Book 1—Introduction to Indonesian Language and Culture by Yohanni Johns, or Colloquial Indonesian by Sutano Atmosumarto.

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English is widely regarded as a complex language, full of unpredictable spellings, irregular verbs, and etymological inconsistencies. Many other languages are easier to learn (at least for adults) because they’re more consistent. For example, people who speak both French and English often regard French as the more elegant and coherent of the two languages. But some things about French have always puzzled me—such as gender. All French nouns have a gender attribute, and your choice of modifiers and adjective forms to go along with the nouns depends on whether the noun is masculine, feminine, or neuter. But there’s apparently no rhyme or reason for why a given noun has a given gender. Logically enough, the word for man is masculine and woman is feminine, yet masculinity is feminine and vagina is masculine! Likewise, I can see no reason for aphorism being masculine while platitude is feminine. If there’s a logic behind French gender categories, it’s not apparent to most non-native speakers.

Lots of languages assign gender to nouns, and speakers tend to regard these odd inconsistencies as “just one of those things”—something one must memorize when learning a language, without trying to read too much significance into it. But nearly all languages have some implicit method of grouping certain nouns into categories, and some of these category divisions, which go way beyond the two or three so-called genders, are extremely thought-provoking.

Thinking Outside the Boxes
George Lakoff’s 1987 book Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind takes this notion of linguistic categories as its starting point. Lakoff, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, was interested not only in a description of linguistic categories or even how they came about, but more deeply, in learning what the categories in language tell us about the nature of reason. His goal was to argue against the traditional, objectivist account of reason that says all categories in the mind must correspond to real categories in the world; if words share a category, that can only be because the things they represent share objective qualities. Lakoff wanted to show that the organizing principles behind some linguistic categories cannot be objective, but rather must be based on metaphor, imagination, and other “fuzzy” concepts. In other words, he wanted to paint a picture of reason as being a distinctively human faculty, not simply an abstract set of computational rules.

The book’s title comes from an Australian aboriginal language called Dyirbal. In this language there are four different categories for nouns, each of which requires a special classifier word to be used before the noun. It so happens that one of those categories includes women, fire, scorpions, the sun, and a variety of other things that might be considered dangerous. Another class includes nouns like men, kangaroos, the moon, and rainbows; a third includes fruit and other edible things, except animals; and a fourth includes everything not in one of the other three categories. What’s interesting about these categories is that unlike French genders, they are not learned arbitrarily; speakers confronted with a novel object will invariably agree on which category it belongs in. This means there must be some logic or pattern to the categorization, and Lakoff spends considerable time discussing the complex inferential mechanisms humans use to form such categories.

The Long and the Thin of It
Another example Lakoff cites is the Japanese classifier hon, which is normally used to mark nouns in the category of “long skinny things”—pencils, candles, hair, rope, and so on. This classifier also applies to nouns that don’t objectively fit that model, but which have some indirect connection. A volleyball serve is hon, for example, because the trajectory of the ball is long and thin; a roll of tape uses this classifier because it’s long and thin when unrolled; telephone calls are hon because they are made using wires, which are long and thin; and TV shows are hon because of their similarity to telephone calls. There are many other examples, but what Lakoff wanted to show was that even though a volleyball serve, a roll of tape, and a TV show share no objective quality, Japanese speakers automatically group these things together because of a mental category that depends on metaphor.

Even in English, we implicitly group words in classes. For example, Lakoff points out that we put time in the same category as money—it’s something that can be “spent,” “saved,” “earned,” or “wasted,” even though time is an abstract concept that doesn’t have any objective characteristics in common with money. Recognizing these unconscious connections can lead to rethinking one’s assumptions about the way the world works. —Joe Kissell

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More Information about Linguistic Categories…

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Unlike most linguists, Lakoff has written not only highly technical linguistic monographs, but also several books that distill complex concepts from cognitive science into everyday terms. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things (1987) is pretty solidly in the realm of linguistics and cognitive science, though other books delve into the cultural and political implications of linguistics. His newest book, due out today according to, is Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate—The Essential Guide for Progressives.

Lakoff has authored or coauthored a number of other books, including:

Lakoff’s bio can be found at UC Berkeley’s Linguistics Department Web site. I first encountered Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things while studying Linguistics in grad school in the early 1990s; it was a textbook for one of my classes. I later met Lakoff at a conference, where we discussed his book Moral Politics (which was still being written at the time). Lakoff is not only one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met, he’s also one of the most articulate. In particular, he has a gift for making highly complex material both easy to understand and entertaining—something I aspire to do myself.

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