Learning a Living Language vs. Learning a Dead Language

Yes, I know that there is debate about whether or not describing Ancient Greek as ‘dead’ is appropriate or not. I am sympathetic to some of the arguments that Ancient Greek is not ‘dead’. But no remotely-knowledgeable person would seriously question whether or not Mandarin is a ‘living’ language. I’m going to refer to Ancient Greek as ‘dead’ because it is much shorter than ‘totally lacking in living fluent speakers who use the language for everyday purposes, such as new popular fiction, communicating with tax collectors, scolding children, finding the nearest bathroom, and eavesdropping’.

(By ‘Ancient Greek’ I mean everything from the Archaic Dialect of Homer to the Koine Dialect which includes the New Testament – I’m not including Mycenean Greek from before Homer, or Greek that is newer than Koine).

Learning a dead language is easier in the sense that you don’t have to worry about seemingly subtle mistakes sticking out like a sore thumb to native speakers, or even learn any listening or speaking skills. Learning something about Ancient Greek pronunciation is necessary to understand certain points of grammar and to appreciate the poetry, but since nobody nowadays is certain how people in 4th century B.C. Athens pronounced the pitch accents, there is zero pressure to master that kind of thing. By contrast, messing up tones in Mandarin can cause problems. In southern dialects of Mandarin (including the Taiwanese dialect), the only difference between the word for ‘four’ and ‘ten’ is a tone, so I’m in the habit of making hand gestures to indicate whether I mean ‘four’ or ‘ten’ just in case I’m messing up that tone (I indicate ‘four’ by holding up four fingers, I indicate ‘ten’ by crossing my index fingers, which most Chinese speakers understand).

But in the long run, this makes learning dead languages harder, not easier.
Continue reading

From Ancient Greek to Mandarin to Ancient Greek Again

As a teenager, I studied Ancient Greek as a hobby. This stopped when I began college because I needed to put all of my studying efforts into my coursework. And then I got the notion that I wanted to live in Taiwan for a while, which meant I needed to learn Mandarin. This is how more than ten years passed without me studying any Ancient Greek.

I had the thought of taking up Ancient Greek again in 2017, but I couldn’t find my old Ancient Greek books, so I gave up. Yep, “The Books” mentioned in this blog post were all books I got as a teenager when I was studying Ancient Greek. Last autumn, I did another search of the basement room, and found the remainder of my Ancient Greek books. It was striking, how indifferent I was about most of the books I had as a teenager and had been sitting in the basement for years, but how strong my feelings were about my old books for studying Ancient Greek. This was a strong hint that this was a hobby which meant a lot to me. So I took the hint, and last fall I started studying Ancient Greek seriously again, for the first time since I was a teenager.

My experience studying Ancient Greek as a teenager strongly informed my study of Mandarin, and now my study of Mandarin is informing how I study Ancient Greek now.
Continue reading

What Is Digital Is Also Real and Material

Many people contrast the internet / online things with ‘the real world’ or ‘in real life’. This implies that the internet / online things are not ‘real’. I chose not to use this language because, to me, the internet is included in ‘the real world/real life’. If I want to clearly state that something is not on the internet, I usually use the word ‘offline’.

And it’s not just the internet – there is a broad cultural tendency to treat digital media in general, even if it’s offline, as if it has no real or material existence. But that is not true. Take this blog, for example. It’s a form of digital media, but all of the data on this blog is stored on physical memory drives of some sort somewhere (and it would be a good idea for me to make another backup of this blog soon – I need to remind myself). I use physical devices to write this blog and send the information to the WordPress servers, and as far as I know, everyone who reads this blog does it through some sort of device that exists in a material sense, and uses material resources (metal, plastic, electricity, and so forth).

(If you, the reader, are a disembodied intelligence who exists in a purely spiritual plane and has found a way to read this blog without any use of material resources, I’m sorry that I’m leaving you out, I am merely unaware of your existence.)
Continue reading

So, about the notorious difficulties of getting toliet paper…

I’ve heard and read that it’s really difficult to get toilet paper these days. I’ve seen that, at one of the local supermarkets, that the shelves in the toilet paper / paper towel section are the most consistently empty (though it’s been more than a week since I went to that supermarket, so I don’t know if that has changed). This doesn’t directly concern me, because I stopped using toilet paper at home long before the current coronavirus crisis.

And whether it directly concerns me or not, difficulty in distributing toilet paper is far, far from the most important aspect of the current crisis. I wish that there was nothing worse about the crisis than toilet paper supply chain problems. But even though it is far from being the most important thing, it is still a thing. So, toilet paper shortages.
Continue reading

Switching Languages While Reading Coiling Dragon

I found this post that I wrote a few years ago in my drafts. I don’t know why I didn’t publish it before. At the time I was reading the English translation of Coiling Dragon it was still freely available, but now it’s only available via Amazon/Kindle.

Over many months, taking many breaks, I read Coiling Dragon by I Eat Tomatoes. Sometimes I read it in the original Chinese, and sometimes I read the English translation by Ren Woxing (yes, seriously, he calls himself ‘Ren Woxing’, that’s a bit like calling oneself ‘Tom Riddle’ or ‘Anakin Skywalker’, I think that’s why the translator’s name is often abbreviated to ‘RWX’). I read quite a bit of this novel during multiday hikes (only in the original Chinese, because I don’t have the English translation on my ebook reader).

It’s a really trashy and fun novel (or at least it was fun for me, your mileage may vary). It required relatively little intellectual effort on my part. The English translation was particularly low effort for me to because that’s my native language (and that was why I was bothering with the English translation at all – if I took this novel more seriously, I would have insisted on reading / listening to it strictly in Chinese so I would know exactly how the original writer phrased things).

This is the first time I’ve ever read a novel while frequently switching languages. That made the novel more interesting than if I had read it in just a single language.

Sometimes a new concept would come out, and I would wonder how that concept would be described in the other language, and then I would find out. For example, in the novel there are three levels of deities – 下位神, 中位神, and 上位神. If you can read Chinese, then you know those literally mean ‘low position god’, ‘middle position god’, and ‘high position god’. Those terms would sound pretty terrible in English (especially since they are frequently used), so instead the English translation labels them as ‘demigod’, ‘god’, and ‘highgod’.
Continue reading

More Personal Comments on the Coronavirus Crisis

I want to avoid discussing the coronavirus crisis in my regular weekly blog posts (at least while the crisis is ongoing) – so I’m going to say some things now.


During shelter-at-home, I’m learning things I never knew about my parents before. Such as this:

Dad: I haven’t told your mother, but I think I have a cataract in my left eye.
Me: Uh… [I was thinking that this came totally out of the blue]
Dad: It’s like looking out a really dirty pane of glass.
Me: Oh.
Dad: The last time I went to the DMV to get my driver’s license renewed, they made me look at that eye chart on the wall, and I had no problem reading the letters with my right eye. But with my left eye, I couldn’t tell what the letters were.
Me: [trying to remember when my dad last went to the DMV] Wait, this has been going on for that long??!!
Dad: [sheepishly] I was in denial.
Me: I don’t think you can get treatment for that now.
Dad: No, I probably can’t.

Hopefully, both of my parents will survive the current crisis, and thus live long enough for my mother to go all $#!@%$^$%$# on my dad when she finds out that he’s been keeping a visual impairment a secret for years. (If my dad is clever enough, he’ll imply that the cataract started during the coronavirus crisis, and that he didn’t want to stress her out about it during the crisis when there was little possibility of treatment). (No, my mother doesn’t read this blog). (Though if she is reading this blog after all, I’m probably going to find out very soon).


I am glad that I currently live in a household with other people right now, though I am keeping on eye on possible opportunities to physically isolate within the household. That’s mainly because I’m at low risk, and do things like run to the hardware store to get a replacement for the plumbing part that wears out NOW of all times, whereas my parents are at high risk. It would be safer if I could go outside for necessary tasks like ‘get plumbing thingy from hardware store’, and then be isolated from them in case I somehow got infected in the hardware store. But it is hard to isolate when there is only one bathroom, which makes other efforts to physically isolate myself within the household seem potentially pointless.

(Is okay that I was secretly pleased that the thingy wore out so that I had a really good reason to enter the hardware store, where I got a few things other than the plumbing thingy? Maybe if I lived in physical isolation, I’d feel comfortable with going to the hardware store for errands less important than an urgent plumbing problem.)
Continue reading