Category Archives: Language

‘What Is The Sign?’

One of the clearer, more lucid statements in this book – which is saying something, eh? I will never understand the impulse to obfuscate good ideas within ridiculous prose, but it often seems to me that few theorists of the Continental school had any sense of style… *grin* Anyroad, this may be a useful entryway for those intrigued.

Excerpted from: Of Grammatology, by Jacques Derrida.

The reassuring evidence within which Western tradition had to organize itself and must continue to live would therefore be as follows: The order of the signified is never contemporary, is at best the subtly discrepant inverse or parallel — discrepant by the time of a breath — from the order of the signifier. And the sign must be the unity of a heterogeneity, since the signified (sense or thing, noeme or reality) is not in itself a signifier, a trace: in any case is not constituted in its sense by its relationship with a possible trace. The formal essence of the signified is presence, and the privilege of its proximity to the logos as phonè is the privilege of presence. This is the inevitable response as soon as one asks: “What is the sign?,” that is to say, when one submits the sign to the question of essence, to the “ti esti.” The “formal essence” of the sign can only be determined in terms of presence. One cannot get around that response, except by challenging the very form of the question and beginning to think that the sign is that ill-named thing, the only one, that escapes the instituting question of philosophy: “What is …?”

On Couch-Surfing

I’ve been working on finding my next couch-surfing hosts and, holy crap, I have been at this a long time to-day! I sat down in a coffee shop early this morning and have been working at it all morning & afternoon (it is 1530 as I begin this note). That’s the down-side: it can be time-consuming.

On the positives, it works very well! I have met two lovely hosts so far, and I have plans to meet a couple other people to round out this first week in Tel Aviv. Early next week — probably on Monday — I am going to head south and bop around the northern Negev between Be’er Sheva and Sderot (yes, that Sderot — the one that gets all the rocket fire from Gaza, *lol*). I have lined up hosts for what seems to be at least the first week, probably two, of July. Add to that the tentative plans/offers for places back in Tel Aviv in late July and I think I’m doing all right. It’s complex, it involves a lot of time and travel, but it has me moving around and seeing a lot.

I’m doing well at recovering my functional Hebrew — how to get by in restaurants, with directions, etc. So far I’m not building any conversational ability, but hey, I just got here and I’ve been spending much of my time finding places to stay! I’ve had offers from several upcoming hosts to work with me, so perhaps we can begin to move from my fragmented vocabulary to some actually useful skills. Heh.

I decided to spend a bit more time on this side of the Green Line and work on those language skills, since it will be even hotter in the Negev come August. If I can make enough progress in the next three weeks I may reward myself with a trip to Jordan to see Petra. But only if I do well! I haven’t even looked for places to stay in Eilat, so I’m not putting the cart before the horse — work before play!

I’m going to spend the next few hours walking and listening to some tapes, I think. My current hosts are in eastern Tel Aviv and there’s a lot here I haven’t seen up close. I was going to spend some time on an e-book that a friend sent to me, but I spent so many hours arranging my next couple weeks’ lodging that I’ll have to put it off until to-night. I’m sure this Aroma location would like their window seat back for a patron who’s spending a bit more on coffee than I am… *grin*

Language Learning, Part One

I’m planning to post some of my reflexions on language study in the coming months; this is the first such.

As some of you know, one of my major objectives on this trip is to work on my language skills in both Hebrew and eastern Arabic. There is really no substitute for being in a country with native speakers when you want to learn a language. You can practice with native speakers over the Internet now, but it’s not the same as being totally immersed in the culture and surrounded by sights and sounds in your target language. This is especially valuable for me since I have a curious difficulty picking things up aurally.

My memory for printed material is quite good, but my verbal memory is quite bad. If you want me to remember an instruction, do not tell me, write it down! If I want to remember anything — someone’s name, a list, a number — I scribble it on a handy index card. The acts of reading and writing better consolidate memories and allow me to go on to the next thing. In fact, I learnt much of my -native- language through reading, which accounts in part for my curious prosody. Most people draw all of their inflexions and early vocabulary from speakers around them, whereas a portion of mine came from reading dictionaries and suchlike. (Weirdo.)

I had an easy time with reading and began teaching myself long before formal instruction began, but from the beginning my social/auditory memory has been problematic and inconsistent. You can teach me a single new word and I will forget it fairly promptly. This makes it tough to learn something like a new language from others directly, but that’s really the only way to pull this off. It makes me work a little harder, having to scribble things down to myself when I can, ask for repeats, look things up later, etc.

In the past I have taken this as an excuse for frustration, which made things even harder for me. What I needed instead was a lot more diligence and patience. This time I am trying to keep even-tempered and open-minded, working to pick up as much as I can from the conversation around me, and paying close attention when someone is trying to teach me something. It may be more difficult to learn from auditory cues, but that does not preclude me from succeeding. Now, if I can only maintain my resolve and confidence throughout this trip it should be my most successful yet. *grin*