Archive for March, 2008

Timeout – Novels, Human Rights, Languages

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

I finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Parable of the Sower last month sometime. Both are excellent reads depending on your mood. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is light-hearted while Parable of the Sower is fairly dark, though probably not as dark as Titus Groan. The ending of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell might surprise a few readers, but if you understand the characters well, you’ll understand the ending.

I’ve been reading about human rights like I mentioned. Primarily I’ve been borrowing books from the library. I finished reading International Human Rights by Jack Donnelly. It is nominally an introductory to human rights (though the author writes to an American audience). Still it was a good introductory, I suppose. It was published in 2007, written just at the time when the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights was being replaced by the more prominent Human Rights Council. The change is probably a good thing as the UN Human Rights Council reports directly to the General Assembly of the UN (that is, all the members of the UN) rather than just the UN Economic and Social Council (which is composed of only 54 members of the UN, albeit elected by the General Assembly). Aside from this change, the book is fairly up-to-date. The cases in the book are older cases that are of historical note. For more recent news on human rights issues, you can read reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Right now, I’m waiting for a book to become available at the library. I have it on hold.

In the meantime, I finished reading a little introductory book on hieroglyphs. It is mostly about Egyptian hieroglyphs and includes a few chapters on Mayan hieroglyphs. These systems of writing are fairly logical. Aside from learning the meaning of different Egyptian hieroglyphs, it would be useful to actually speak the language because the Egyptian hieroglyphs also consist of phonograms (that is, images that represent sounds not the actual picture). The problem of course is that ancient Egyptian isn’t the same as modern Egyptian. Thus, the problem with translation of ancient Egyptian is that even if you can determine the sound of a word, it’s in ancient Egyptian and the word may have slightly changed meaning over the years. Of course, there are many hieroglyphs that have meanings associated with them and not just sounds making it quite an interesting writing system.

I also started learning how to write Chinese. Well, I knew a bit of the mechanics of how to write Chinese characters. What I’m learning now is mostly understanding Chinese characters and trying to recognize them. In some ways similar to how hieroglyphs work though the pictures over time changed to characters. For example, the character meaning “sun or day” originated from our standard sun circle with a dot or line in the center to a square with a line in the middle. Imagine drawing a vertical line down on the left side, then the top line and right line, then the line in the middle connecting the left and right, and finally the bottom line connecting the left and right lines. Remembering what some Chinese characters mean stems from understanding how it came that way. Other characters can be made from standard characters (called “radicals”). In this way, a meaning may be derived from two or more characters joined together. For example, the character for woman is one radical. The character for child is another. Now, to the Chinese long ago, a woman with a child was considered a good thing. Thus, the characters for woman and child joined together (written close to each other from left to right) means “good”. There are, of course, radicals that have no meaning and serve simply to help group Chinese characters together for ease of organization. Characters may also represent sounds only. Two Chinese words that sound similar except for the tone can be written differently by using a different radical that indicates which meaning to give to the sound. In this way, some radicals act like determinatives in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Interesting, huh? Characters represent syllables, which means that every syllable in Chinese has a character. This means that a word spoken in Chinese may be written with more than one character. Now, there’s this little problem of learning something like 3000 characters to actually be able to read a Chinese newspaper (basic literacy). A well-educated person should know about 4000 to 5000 Chinese characters. In any case, this is something I’ve been meaning to get around to because I really should be able to read and write Chinese. Never mind that Chinese brush writing is artistic in its own way. It gives an added style dimension to writing. (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, speaking Chinese is a separate system. The characters represent syllables of a word, but do not necessarily indicate the sounds you are to say. Thus, you have to learn how to say something in Chinese and associate it with the characters. Otherwise, the characters don’t necessarily tell you what sound to say – not like in English, when you see “t” you say the “tee” sound.)

I’m also learning Dutch. It seems fairly easy so far. It has some similarities to English and hm… I’m wanting to say French and German. I’m starting to remember some words like, “Dank je” (Thank you), “Goedemorgen” (Good morning) and “Doei” (informal “Bye!”), which is reminding me that I should say “Doei!” for now. I have some more reading and studying to do.

~~~CJ