Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The God Particle And Why It Might Be OK For Languages To Die

Physics rocks, and other stuff

National Geographic has a very nice piece on the Large Hadron Collider and the quest for the God particle. Links to one page summaries of the Higgs boson are here.

Quote from the National Geographic piece:

And anyone who thinks these big machines are soulless contraptions should listen to Richard Jacobsson. The LHC is replacing a particle detector he worked with for a decade. He came to know every inch of that instrument. He understood its moods and idiosyncrasies. The day the engineers came to rip it out, Jacobsson was overcome with emotion. "I had tears in my eyes," he said. "When they cut the cables, I thought blood would flow out." Now entire lives are wrapped up in the new machine, which physicists have been dreaming about since the 1980s.

Thank goodness we still live in a world where a physicist wells up when his particle accelerator is dismembered. Some hope remains.

In other news, the excellent Language Log has Geoffrey Pullum's review of a review. A Professor Ronald Butters reviews Language in the USA (ed. by Edward Finegan and John Rickford, CUP, 2004) and "...he seems to be fed up with being pushed around by language-loving sentimentalists." Pullum:

Ever want to see some liberal diversity-loving multi-culti-lefty linguists get slapped about a bit, just so they could taste some of their own medicine? This review is for you!
In short, widespread faith in the ideal of linguistic and cultural assimilation should — especially in a democracy — be treated with respect and considered thoughtfully, not snapped at as if it were ignorant bigotry.

Lately, there have been many reports in many places (including NPR) about languages that have been dying out, mostly Native American/indigenous dialects.

An odd coincidence is that in the week that this issue of Language reached me, the obituary of the week in The Economist (February 9th) was about Marie Smith, the last speaker of the now extinct language Eyak. But far from echoing anything like the tough-minded what-economic-benefit thinking that Butters alludes to, the Economist obituarist's discussion of the Eyak language, though well-written and interesting, is entirely devoted to sentimental musing about its many words for trees and roots and spruce needles and resin and abalone and nets and mixing bowls, and the way the word for "leaf" was the same as the word for "feather", as if that were the crucial thing we needed linguistic diversity for.

There's a meta-review of the meta-review here.

1 comment:

Space Bar said...

ah. a very productie afternoon, i see. :D