Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Language Parallels

Defining what language is, seems, at first glance at least, pretty straight forward: Words which combined together communicate ideas to other people. Inevitably the question of wether or not animals have / or use language comes about, and when pushed the answer seems, somewhere down inside, to be no. Only people have language.
For linguists, as one can imagine, the story is much more complicated. First of all language is more than words it is also how the words are combined together, or grammar. Second animals, as it turns out, can use language, just not complicated nuanced language. For example, bees, parrots, and chimps can approximate language but not with the complexity or spontaneity that comes naturally to human beings. Also the question is still out on how language began, wether or not Neanderthals could speak in the same manner as Homo sapiens and how we developed the ability to use language in the first place.
The process began with linguists setting about trying to define the problem, first from a very Homo Sapiens-centric point of view (i.e. lets teach chimps English) and then a wider relative one. Linguists asked began to ask what language was, how it was different than non-language, what were its stages of development, its morphology and how its use shapes the way we view the world. As one can imagine the idea of language became quickly very complicated and increasingly controversial as well. Charles Hockett, for example defined language as having 13 features. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_F._Hockett, Only Human language has all 13. For example, #10, Displacement, or the ability to refer to things in space and time and communicate about things that are currently not present, bees and humans have but apes do not; Noam Chompsky believes that Humans have a language gene.

But dispite the studies, language still remains, for the 'lay person' something much more tangible and viseral.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Political Space

View of the Erechtheion, Athens

To any scholar of ancient Greece, the idea that the "politics" was fundamentally spatial in nature would not be surprising. Because the term politics was pseudonymous for both the city and the citizenry. For the ancient Greeks politics literally did not exist in the country side or for the non-citizen, but only in active member-based participation within an urban context.
It is surprising, or perhaps not surprising, that today our definition of politics is broad, imprecise , primarily relational and almost entirely non-spatial nature. That I can credibly define contemporary politics as "the attempt to influence or exercise control through social interaction" explains a lot about the 2008 presidential campaign. Transcendent of place or group, politics is focused on the perceptions of message and not the locations (were is the TV or Internet located?) or group identities where it takes place.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blog as Question


New to the blog-world, I am at a unique place in my own personal development to comment (and record) what makes a blog different and special to me, now, when compared to other forms of communication. Analogous to the Greek commentaries on the invention of writing, or the cultural discourse in the 50's about the affects of television, this is an opportunity to remind myself , once I become used to blogging, why it was, once, so 'different'. Hopefully it will also make me more conscious of the affects blogging will invariably have on how I communicate. For example, a blog 'thinks' backwards and although someday this will seem natural to me, it doesn't yet and if I want to follow a conversation, I have to start down the page. This is an odd way of thinking. English class teaches us that you start with an introduction, followed by a thesis, the body and conclusion. You build up an argument and let it unfold; there's a clear purpose- a punch-line. A blog, however works in reverse; you read the last segment first. Its like starting with the last page of the novel.

This leads me to my first observations that blogs are, I think, promoters of non-linear thought. Its not that they don't have an order, because they do, but because we don't think backwards (as I alluded to above), we tend to start each new post / entry as something, well new. One post is disconnected from the other: today is a new day and new thought. Or put another way: I feel this now. Comments are in turn diverse, disorganized and secondary. They are momentary, short quips, rants, musing or jabs, that much like a talk show, are really more like an expression of opinion and emotion. Not requiring the legitimacy of fact, an emotional statement carries weight because it is an expression of how one feels. For experienced bloggers this is taken for granted and one learns how to navigate through the conversation. Unsupported and unsubstantiated claims are secondary because, many comments, like a diner party are not meant to convince. Furthermore, even when one 'lists' reasons or enumerates a position, there is no guarantee that it is indeed accurate.

Ironically, this is exactly what I think makes the blog power: the audience, the community, the connectivity, the emotion, the expression and response. A blog is sort of like a public diary. But unlike most a pre-internet diaries this one is meant to present publicly the personal thoughts of an individual. Furthermore, unlike posthumously published diaries, this is live, can be changed, and by definition questions the assumptions it expresses by exposing it for public review and criticism.

A blog, by nature is a question.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Miton's Parallels


by John Milton, 1637

Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more,
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,
And with forced fingers rude
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,
Compels me to disturb your season due;
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.
Who would not sing for Lycidas?
He knew Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not float upon his wat'ry bier
Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of some melodious tear.


-An excerpt from Milton's elegy of the drowning of a Cambridge schoolmate and friend.

Why Parallel?

The structure of a poem, its craft, alliteration, assonance, meter and emotion all have architectural relevance. The sadness of the poem, despite of Samual Johnson's opinion, rubs off on us. Lycidas, like all good poems, needs us in order to be, in order come alive when someone reads them. Just like warm coals glow bright and deep under the below's gust, a good poem allows us to precieve within them a world of our own; a world different from the author who created it, a world which can change and flutter with in our personal indisyncracies.

Good poems, like good buildings make us feel, think and question our existence. Why do we die, why do we grieve, why am I here? They are spatial, have corpreal presence, are metaphysical and are economical. For me, parallel means non-direct, non-frontal, tandem relationships.

Good poems have parallels.

This of course also calls into question what is 'good'.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Parallel Definitions

The word Parallel, by definition, is contradictory and complex. Fundamental to it, is an oddly unquantifiable, spatially related near-simultaneity: two elements existing in related locations, never crossing or intersecting, but also never deviating from their perceived relational existence.

In order to BE parallel, there must first be a perceived relationship or a connection. A parallel relationship often assumes that one parallel object shares characteristics or traits with the other parallel object(s). This parallel condition has the tendency to "rub off" characteristics between the objects.
Being parallel requires at least two; there can never be a parallel of one. However within this relationship of two, there are limits of its two-ness. Because two parallel objects or conditions perceived as "too" separated, too far apart that they no longer are understood as related, are no longer really parallel, even if in fact at some distant scale they are. However, where this boundary lies is undefined and relative to the perceiver. Furthermore, nothing in the parallel definition states that two parallel objects/ideas can't change the relational "distance" between them. Mathematically speaking, two parallel lines that are at one moment 1" apart and the next moment 2" apart, are still parallel. Nor do both of these lines have to be the same in thickness, height, outline or texture or even constant state. Both lines don't even have to be of the same time. Similar lines, say 3 minutes a part, can be parallel.
The parallel condition also requires direction. For example: 2 circles side by side are not parallel. Their form and proximity suggests that they have relationship to each other but, because of their non-directional nature, they are parallel. 4 circles, equa-distance apart, again are not first and foremost parallel. They are a grid, they are a pattern but not necessarily parallel. However 6 circles, in two rows, equa-distance from the circles adjacent to it, are parallel. Technically speaking the previous examples given were all parallel, or at least have parallel qualities, but because of their form (circles), their other more dominant characteristics took precedent, smothering the parallel and making it unrecognizable. Does this mean that the 'parallel' of the first two examples goes away?- no...well maybe.

Friday, September 19, 2008



  1. Being an equal distance apart everywhere: dancers in two parallel rows.

  2. Mathematics
    a. Of, relating to, or designating two or more straight coplanar lines that do not intersect.
    b. Of, relating to, or designating two or more planes that do not intersect.
    c. Of, relating to, or designating a line and a plane that do not intersect.
    d. Of, relating to, or designating curves or surfaces everywhere equidistant.
  3. Having comparable parts, analogous aspects, or readily recognized similarities: the parallel lives of two contemporaries.
    b. Having the same tendency or direction: parallel motives and aims.
  4. Grammar: having identical or equivalent syntactic constructions in corresponding clauses or phrases.
  5. Music:
    a. Moving in the same direction at a fixed interval: parallel motion; parallel fifths.
    b. Having the same tonic. Used of scales and keys: C minor is the parallel minor scale of C major.
  6. Electronics: denoting a circuit or part of a circuit connected in parallel.
  7. Computer Science
    a. Of or relating to the simultaneous transmission of all the bits of a byte over separate wires: a parallel port; a parallel interface.
    b. Of or relating to the simultaneous performance of multiple operations: parallel processing.


In a parallel relationship or manner: a road and a railway that run parallel.


  1. Mathematics: one of a set of parallel geometric figures, such as lines or planes.
  2. One that closely resembles or is analogous to another: a unique event, without parallel in history.
    b. A comparison indicating likeness; an analogy.
  3. The condition of being parallel; near similarity or exact agreement in particulars; parallelism.
  4. Any of the imaginary lines representing degrees of latitude that encircle the earth parallel to the plane of the equator.
  5. Printing: a sign indicating material referred to in a note or reference.
  6. Electronics: an arrangement of components in a circuit that splits the current into two or more paths. Used chiefly in the phrase in parallel.

tr.v. par·al·leled also par·al·lelled, par·al·lel·ing also par·al·lel·ling, par·al·lels also par·al·lels

  1. To make or place parallel to something else: paralleled the ditch to the highway
  2. To be or extend parallel to: a trail that parallels the crater rim.
  3. To be similar or analogous to: claimed that fetal development parallels the evolution of the species.
  4. To be or provide an equal for; match.
  5. To show to be analogous; compare or liken: critics who have paralleled the novel's plot to an ancient myth.

[Latin paralllus, from Greek paralllos : para-, beside; see para-1 + allln, of one another (from allos, other; see al-1 in Indo-European roots).]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by

Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.