31 August 2006

Corpus Linguistics and Your Mom

It was only a matter of time before I got back to writing about words again. Maybe you are familiar with corpus studies. A corpus is a collection of words. Given the stunning technology of today (powered by faeries and moonbeams, I'm told), in seconds you can search a 100 million word collection of naturally occurring English texts to see just how this little language of ours is getting along these days. This is helpful for everyone I think, but especially homeless men and language teachers who are always being peppered by dumb questions from people who read textbooks. Throw your textbook away, Ms. Tanaka. It's only confusing you.

Oh and by the way, I saw a great sign this morning that read (in Japanese): "皆が見てる、あなたの運転あなたのマナーEveryone is watching: Your Driving, Your Manners." That right there, in seven words, is the best description of Japanese culture I've ever seen. If I had to write the same sign, I would write "Pay some fucking attention".

Day Two

From our apartment window, a cloud, a street.

30 August 2006

Day One

This here is the beginning of a 30 part series I'd like to call, "What My Cellphone Sees." Now, everyday, for a month, I'd like to post a picture (or two) that I have taken on my cellphone, a machine that is smarter than me, I think.

Japan how it appears to me, or Please, enjoy Japan, or Japan enjoys you, I'm sure.

A New Start

I decided to kill the Xanga site in favor of Wordpress. So far, I couldn't be more impressed with the professionalism of this program and, really, how wanted it makes me feel.

The following is what I wrote about myself on my profile:
Stephen Pihlaja is an American English teacher, writer, and cyclist from Chicago, IL. He has been living in Japan for nearly three years and is currently pursuing his Master's Degree in Applied Linguistics through the University of Birmingham (UK). A student of Japanese language and culture, creative written texts, and EFL, he is interested in the effects of social imbalance (in Japan and studied target countries) on the EFL classroom as well as the effect of grammar translation methodology on the soul of the EFL learner. He also is interested in the grammar of this sentence. He teaches English in an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) capacity at a large private high school in Niigata City, Japan, where he also lives with his wife, Yoko. Together, they make a pair.
I didn't write this, but I think it's pretty accurate:
I believe words are mostly meaningless and that everything said in this room should stay in this room. I believe in the inherent lie of an imagine. I believe in hope because there is nothing left to believe in but hope. I believe in the sentence, failed. I believe in me, Yoko and me: that's reality.

29 August 2006

First contact with Carlos

Well, I'm back on the pony, harrassing people from the internet.

Mr. Carlos:

I got to your website through the Scott Hodge site when you were having your Scott Hodge thing. I actually got to the Scott Hodge website when I was having a David Crowder thing: I had written him a kind of angry letter about the tepidity of Christian music and somehow found Hodge's website while I was looking for information about Crowder. Anyway, none of that is important. I subscribed to your podcast and because my i-pod keeps downloading it and I like to have something to listen to on the treadmill, well, I guess I'm sort of a listener now.

I'm an English teacher in Niigata City Japan, who is also studying linguistics through a the University of Birmingham in the UK. I originally came to Japan as a missionary, actually, but after about a year, sort of felt like I had a lot less to say then I thought I did. I don't really like when people ask me about my religious beliefs as I guess I'm not really that sure anymore myself and always avoid the question by asking the questioner a question. This usually works and allows me to listen more, which I like much more than talking, when it comes to things like the Buddha or Jesus.

Also, I saw that you were adopting a baby from Korea, and I wanted to give you and your family a high-five for that. Korea is a really fabulous place that I really love a lot and am happy to hear that you too have a kind of heart for the Korean people.

Okay, so this is why I called. I'm really interested in words (being an aspiring linguist), and especially interested in words that Evangelical Christians use. My letter to Crowder was actually about words, how Christians use words that we don't have an experiential or intellectual attachment to, but rather understand emotionally. Words like *holy* and *king* are good examples. A worship leader can shout out *Jesus is holy, amen?!* at the crowd at most large Evangelical churches, and most everyone will shout back *Amen!* But really, when we think about the words, *Jesus is holy, amen?!* none of these words are words we intellectually engage or experience. Holy means what exactly. We can define it, maybe, but we can't really wrap our minds around it. If you dig into it, for most people, it isn't so much a intellectual concept, but a word that gets them to feel a certain way. That deserves a paragraph break and re-stating.

Words in worship experiences are triggers for *worshipful* feelings, I think. *Jesus is the King* doesn't mean anything, but it does get me to feel a certain, *worshipful* way.

Basically, I think this is really weird, and if I was more religious, I would say that it's dangerous. Because all these super-convicted Christians are in these darkened churches all over the country (or world) saying things that they make them feel good without thinking about why they are saying them. This has a way of being used in all sorts of evil ways, and could be argued (although I don't want to argue it) to be playing a strong role in our current conflict with Saddam and the Iraqis or the whole Middle East in general.

I was thinking about this when you were talking about Amena Brown. Why, I wondered, is this good? It's basically everything I have heard from Christian artists, only spoken, so it gets some attention. But really, it's fundamentally the same tired, over-used symbols that people don't engage so much as feel. The key to this is that it can't cross-over, right? If a non-Christian can't engage it or can't value it artistically, then it can't be good, can it?

Now, let me say, I don't think just feeling music is bad. Of course, sometimes we just feel music. But in my opinion, good music is when you can feel it and experience something intellectually fulfilling from it. I just saw the Bob Dylan documentary that came out a couple of years ago and was really caught by that in Dylan's music. Everybody in that generation could feel it, but when people went into the lyrics and started thinking about it, it was even richer. And you weren't required to hold a very narrow spiritual or political view to enjoy it. It appealed broadly.

Okay, what does this have to do with you? I'm not really sure, actually. But I thought today as I was running and thinking, that maybe you might have some thoughts on all this.

Thanks for your time. This letter is too long. I apologize for that. Thanks for the podcasting. As long as my ipod keeps downloading, I will keep listening.


21 August 2006

Did I say enough?

I think I've decided to restart for real this time, but I need to make a couple of observations first, set out some ground rules.

One of the things that I think is most reprehensible about the internet is my ability to say something and not be held accountable for it. This happened earlier this year when I made a comment about Scott Hodge that was really groundless and silly, but I made it because I thought there would be no consequence and let's face it, without consequences, I'm an asshole. His reply to my comment (or simply his awareness of it) really got me thinking. When I started up again in July, I thought I had gotten over that, when a similar kind of silly, critical comment on my entry appeared and reminded me again why I stopped in the first place.

See here's the problem, we can all say anything we like here and never really address each other. Even if you leave a comment here, on my site, it's really not a comment to me as it's visible for everyone. What we really do when we comment on someone's blog is make a public statement, using someone else's platform. And really, to be honest, that really chaffed my balls last month. Because it's not real. You aren't really talking with anyone. Suddenly, you can say something to me without saying actually saying it. Which really, is unfortunate.

So here I am, back, but you'll have noticed that I have disabled the comments on my site. Stephe-o, you're saying, you're a coward, you can't take any criticism? Well, perhaps, but I guess more importantly, I want you to say something to me if you have something to say to me. I realize that in writing here, I make public statements that people may or may not agree with, and people will think one way or another about me. I realize that there is a lot of exhibitionism involved in blogging, and I'm okay with that. I'm okay with you knowing more about me than me knowing about you. But really, if you disagree with something I've said and you really think you need to talk to me about it, let's use the e-mail.

I think that's all.

I was in Seoul this last, last week, my third time in Korea. This time, I actually had a purpose as I was attending a seminar for my MA studies. A couple of professors came down from Birmingham and lectured for a week. It was really a fabulous time. I don't think I learned a lot so much as got some of the motivation I've been lacking. I felt like a student again and got a good vision of what I need to be doing to finish well in the course and continue in my studies. A Ph.D. on the cards? Well, time can only tell.

Korea, and especially Seoul, is such an interesting contrast to Japan. So much more... well, real I guess. In Korea people shout at each other, hold hands in public, kiss, laugh, fight: all these things that humans do, they do them. The Japanese rarely shout at each other, they rarely fight. They kiss when they have sex and hold hands when they're teenagers. Adulthood here requires a kind of sterilization. There is no conclusion to this paragraph.

The wife and I have finalized plans for the honeymoon, bringing us to Rome and Malta in October. I'm really looking forward to the food and coffee in Rome, in the autumn. I imagine we will come back with all sorts of secrets.

01 August 2006