Monday, October 16, 2017

The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins by Anne Curzan

4 out of 5 stars  ****

A most interesting, scholarly but congenial presentation about the life and history of the English language and its words. It is hard to pinpoint the exact time when English became a language and it is impossible to state how it fares in the future.

There is an array of other languages from which English borrows and Anglicizes. Spoken English, itself, changes within its own region as shortcuts for phrases or polysyllabic words become part of the English lexicon. What we recognize today as new Modern English will eventually be more of a Middle English which differs from Old English.

Anne Curzan narrates her own work in a structured course to a live audience. She maturely handles the curse words, emotive words, with candor and does not exclude them from the discussion like certain dictionaries do, Webster's, for example. She also includes sayings or phrases people use now as well as in the past. Phrases responsible for many English words have their own intriguing history which are all but forgotten, unless one studies the English language. This captures students' interest and continues to excite many who find this subject both challenging and fascinating.

Today's language is rich with new technology, electronics, medicine, and entertainment lingo. Avenues of communication are immediate and evolutionary with the advent of the Smartphone.
Change in English culture influences how one says something as much as what one says. Curzan uses the term, Homosexual, as an example for carrying negative connotations; whereas, Gay and Lesbian, are favorable terms for the same expression.

This course is comprehensive and loaded with information worthy of study. One must listen and review this excellent presentation to fully appreciate all it has to offer.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Story of Human Language (The Great Courses: Linguistics # 1600) by John McWhorter

5 out of 5 stars  *****

Fascinating, educational, and comprehensive describe this work by John McWhorter, The Story of Human Language.The content is so extensive that one needs to pay close attention when listening to grasp all the nuances along the trails and adventures of human culture responsible for the varied languages in the world today.

In this course one learns how quickly language changes over the course of distance and time. New languages crop up from groups of people who expand and settle in regions with a certain language and eventually alter that language in sound because of slang or laziness - it doesn't matter - to form a dialect; it becomes specific for this social group. Dialects are further altered with the introduction of new people into that region with their own languages and dialects. A blend of two or more languages can borrow from one another and in a very short time in history, a different sounding language develops. McWhorter explains how and why diverse groups would come together besides exploration; conquest and slavery are two examples.

Now a region can have new cultures and subcultures within its society and with that comes their street language, which is not a real language but a Pidgin language. Again, over time, cultural influences blend and language may be the first sign of their influences. When a language comes out of pseudo-languages and develops rules which apply to that language and for that region it may be a Creole. This reader learns that Creole is not just one language but a blend of languages that differ from one another depending upon their influences and regions of the world.

As new languages develop, old languages die. This occurs within one culture. English, for example, has Old English, which if heard might sound a bit incomprehensible today. The study of language does allow one to trace ancestral cultures and from whence that culture derives. The author alludes to the fact that when a language dies, that culture also dies. That being said, if a language changes, the culture changes.

This course makes this student realize that there is not a wrong way of saying something, just a different way. One learns the written rules of language and that slows the rate of change. Written language did not exist for most of mankind's existence. Communication via language develops early with mankind and, most certainly, undergoes many changes unhindered by correction from a controlling society who writes the rules. There are those who develop a language meant for global communication but they are, now, just another language with a set of rules spoken by those who wish to learn the arcane labors of an individual. Such languages are not spoken by any society in any region of the world.

There is much more in this course that one may discover about language and, in doing so, learn about cultures of the world. Communication comes in many forms. The Internet shrinks the world and communication with other cultures around it is not just speaking via video or written using text. Texting, itself, is developing its own shortcuts and pseudo-language, some of which is already accepted in dictionaries of the world. The internet opens up languages of icons, emoji's, gifs, etc. This language is pictorial and assimilates easily with varying cultures.

This reader believes that a worldwide language may come from this technological, or tech, industry. It is as if communication is out of the hands of those who desire control and are uneasy with change. Language tells mankind's story of who we are and indicates where we are going. It is a fascinating field to observe and about which to learn.

I was going to write, "It is a fascinating field to observe and to learn about", but that would break the rules - God forbid, I end a sentence in a preposition.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice by Ronald M. Green

5 out of 5 stars  *****

The fascinating and scholarly book by Professor Ronald M. Green,babies by design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice is 10 years old but informs those of us not familiar with the fields of genetics and reproduction about the capabilities in altering human conditions, such as disease, before birth. Society is mainly aware of invitro fertilization, test tube babies, for couples unable to conceive naturally. Green describes many procedures that go beyond test tubes and culture dishes since the completion of the Human Genome Project; like, gene therapy, germline gene transfer, or CRE recombinase treatments. Elaborations of these and other treatments are in the text and glossary but the aim of this book is to enlighten people as to the responsibility that accompanies this human embryonic research and activity. 

Ethics and morals pose difficult questions when science meets humanity with its religions, laws, and values. Athletes using steroids and human growth hormone (HCG) to gain that physical, mental edge over their competition makes headlines at every exposure. Committees, leagues, and regulating boards punish the users making a public spectacle out of them. Judges must now regulate substances that benefit an athlete if it goes beyond regular vitamins and minerals during extensive training. Humans continue to push the envelope to get that edge regardless of consequences, and there are some drastic consequences to this drive. The ethical consideration of these choices that athletes make is that they are performance enhancing and not therapeutic necessities. "The non-therapeutic use of cells, genes, or genetic elements, or the modulation of gene expression to improve athletic performance" is known as "Gene doping" (p. 261)

Green also refers to the way Hollywood and Science Fiction treat this subject. Books and movies, such as Brave New World and Gattaca reveal the negative side of gene manipulation by creating a class of people seemingly superior coupled with human nature's greed for control and power. It is an entertaining way to display the issues surrounding man's increasing knowledge and abilities to alter humankind. 

On the religious front, many cry out that this field of science should be banned because it is man playing God by trying to change what God has made, and what God has made is perfect. Green considers all of these issues and compassionately understands why so many feel the way they do. His objective is to teach what is possible as well as why any endeavor involving gene therapy should be undertaken or not. Identifying what a better informed society is willing to accept is the dynamic facing the field of ethics in reprogenetics, "The merging of reproductive and genetic technologies." (p. 266) In closing, Green refers to the ethicist-theologian, Ronald Cole-Turner, when he points out that the end does not justify the means; the means is as important as the end, itself.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis (The Great Courses) by Louis Markos

5 out of 5 stars  *****

Life and Writings of C.S. Lewis is a lecture from The Great Courses by Louis Markos. Markos admits that the subject is a favorite of his, personally, because C.S. Lewis influences this author profoundly. The course is broken up into 12 chapters, each describing the events affecting Lewis at the time of his writing.

I learn a lot about this prolific writer who encompasses so many genres from children's literature to explanatory assignments from Oxford University on 16th and 17th century English literature, like John Milton, 1608-1674, a poet who wrote Paradise Lost in 1667. Another tidbit of information is what Lewis answers to, the nickname, Jack, since childhood. I know of Lewis's eventual conversion to Christianity later in life but I am unaware, until I listen to this lecture, that an estranged relationship between he and his father occurs after his mother dies and he is shipped off to boarding school. Only after his father's death does Lewis become Christian. Closure with the father figure and the prodding by his close friend, J.R.R. Tolkien allows Lewis to drop his resistance and develop Christianity's best apologetic arguments to date.

Markos excitedly delves into the stories and their deeper meanings with each interesting lecture. The Narnia Chronicles are a favorite of his and his children. The symbolism is rich in his tales that display Lewis's knowledge of scripture and its meaning. I enjoy this course immensely and have a greater appreciation for C.S. Lewis because of it. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, Narration by author

5 of 5 stars  *****

Neil Gaiman narrates his excellent literary research in the entertaining mythology of the Vikings or the Norsemen. These ancient tales include the origins of nine unique realms, fantastic creatures, gods, and men. The author lends his passion to these mythological stories that become the foundation of nordic societies before their Christian conversion.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Gods of HP Lovecraft by Aaron J. French (Editor), Martha Wells (Goodreads Author), Adam Nevill (Goodreads Author), Laird Barron (Goodreads Author), Bentley Little, David Liss (Goodreads Author), Brett J. Talley (Goodreads Author), Christopher Golden (Goodreads Author) , James A. Moore (Goodreads Author), Jonathan Maberry (Goodreads Author), Joe R. Lansdale

3 out of 5 stars  *****

A group of Science Fiction writers pay homage to HP Lovecraft by writing short stories of horror which include the creatures of HP's imagination. Some of the stories are a perfusion of descriptive elements of speech and some are less elaborate in expression. The variety of authors accounts for this stylistic diversity. The stories, themselves, go beyond the mundane human slice of life to the history of living, intelligent beings who predate homo sapiens but interact with mankind either by time travel, dreams, dimensional gates, or misadventure. The short stories become gruesome and terrible before a climax, usually of doom or despair. Such scenarios have their own place in Science Fiction and its own following.

This reader/listener discovers tales of horror to be less entertaining and more intriguing when in a certain but random frame of mind. Listening to The Gods of HP Lovecraft becomes tedious and a bit annoying as the same narrator seems to blend one short story into the next. For these reasons this collection of literary work gets three out of five stars. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Why I Am a Christian by John R.W. Stott

5 of 5 stars  *****

What an inspirational book that also deepens one's understanding of the Old and New Testament. The common denominator in that scripture being Jesus of Nazareth. John R.W. Stott eloquently writes about his accepting Jesus as Christ, the Messiah. He uses scripture from both Old and New Testaments to reinforce his belief and also quotes great minds such as Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, Bertrand Russell, and Bornhoeffer. 

One appreciates the academic mind and logical rationale of Stott's interpretation throughout this book. He summarizes and further explains each component of the claims about Jesus Christ that confirm his abiding belief in Christianity. For example, the crucifixion's purpose is atonement of sins, revelation of God, and conquest over evil. These three points expand in that chapter's elaborations.

Why I Am a Christian is a short book but a powerful message of profound importance. It would behoove any reader to acquaint themselves with this work for the ability to discern truth in a world filled with lies and deception.