Category Archives: Culture

Guaranteed to Heighten Proprioception: Boston’s More Than A Feeling remixed at the end of the world

In a time when genres like Dub Step (which I adore, by the way) are bringing chaotic and palpable cut & paste erraticism to soundscape, we all need a centering force to be our calming guide.

Enter: StPaulAtTheEndOfTheWolrd, a saint who has recently set out to reclaim your pre-Google attention span.

Like I tweeted in January, StPaulAtTheEndOfTheWorld’s “More Than More Than A Feeling” is the closest experience you can have to floating inside a sensory deprivation tank.  It is ethereal, other-worldly, and downright uplifting to weary souls.  If you are in the middle of comps, mid-terms, candidacy examinations, defenses, or jumping through any other academic hoop – I implore you: take 20 minutes out of your day to meditate on this solid tune – it will make you into a mindful academic with concentration skills unmatched by timid rivals.

More Than More Than a Feeling has hit the SoundCloud charts this week being played almost 170k times in the past 3 days, thanks to an early blog post by Dangerous Minds which scored him an almost 25K overnight boost, and it has been climbing.  I can’t wait to see how far he goes (I heard there is a concept album in the works).

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I was featured in a financial blog giving insight into financial crisis language

Last week I was featured in a column on the investment blog with some comments about financial crisis language like “crash” and “stagflation”.

Check out the feature here.

Like I have said before, linguistics has a lot to offer to other disciplines, hopefully we can continue to work our way into those disciplines and continue to create market value for our skill sets.  It just takes people realizing that cognition and language can be systematically applied to real world situations; which for linguists is already a no-brainer.

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Real Life Applications of Cognitive Linguistics

Shopping's Goat...

Image by ImAges ImprObables via Flickr

I have said it before and I will say it again: ANYTHING that requires thought benefits from a cognitive linguistic perspective.

We use language to help in making sense of the world, this goes for broad and general topics as well as specific expert domains; language is the medium of meaning, wherever that meaning occurs.

The idea I use in my professional life as an organizational culture planner is to use cognitive science to make sense out of the systems of thought expressed in the routine tasks of the organization and to see how they are described through culture in the form of business practices and personnel behaviors.  If I can see how thought and culture relate via language structures (i.e., conceptual metaphors, conceptual blends, force-dynamics, attention, figure-ground relations, et cetera), then I can help grow organizational culture from an informed perspective.


If you take the communication produced in an average business meeting, break it up into sections that identify the underlying conceptual metaphors, see who communicates what message, and trace the outcomes of the meeting, you can start to get a feel for what drives the organization.


Because design is an artifact of human creativity, it reflects the processes of perception.  Pick up any art criticism, architecture and landscape writing, or pulp design magazine, and you will see a range of conceptual structures at play in the terms of the movement of a visual scene, the oscillation of figure and ground (which in many cases roughly correlate to grammatical subject and object), the directing of attention, and the general semiotic structure of the actual design or the commentary; each aspect of the design reflects conception and perception.


Since technology is used in every aspect of life, we can start to see how it becomes a part of culture and cognition; in fact, technology in many respects helps us to distribute our cognitive load across a piece of technology. Pieces of technology are like material anchors that helps us escape from merely thinking with our minds and instead enable us to think with our environment.  This is a matter of conceptual blending, and it plays out in the decisions we make using thought and language, since technology is a tool that helps us learn, decide, and act on collected knowledge.  This is as relevant for super-computers as it is for using a wooden ruler; technology of all forms enables us to actually have something to say about the sensed environment.


When people want to relate to each other, they use language and other models of symbolization to communicate.  One of the most frustrating and most interesting aspects of communication situations is knowing whether communication is actually happening, or if it is in fact failing.  A lot of this depends on negotiating the common ground to see what each party shares.  Since the language we use for communicating relies so heavily on metaphors, it is often interesting to look at which metaphors people use to communicate, and whether or not those metaphors are understood by the other conversation partners. This holds true for relationship counseling, for customer service relations, and for friendships.  Any time people get together, they use meaningful structures to communicate, and cognitive science offers a suite of tools to analyze that communication.

The idea I use in my work is to exploit the nuances in language and behavior to gain insight into what problems the organization is facing.  I use a three-pronged approach to collect, analyze, and present that data.  I then help the organization to see how to use the results in a meaningful way to produce actionable solutions.  What this does for me is invaluable; I get to have a good time working on different problems, and I get to see how different people work together to help me find solutions that work for them.

I welcome opportunities to participate in translating ideas into cultural practices and love to engage in productive collaboration with people who are open and curious.

Let me know if you want to talk. DM me: @SportLinguist, or leave a comment on the contact page.

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Usage-Based Construction Selection

I just posted a seminar essay that I wrote a few months ago to the Cognitive Science Network. You can download the paper here (click the button that says “One-Click Download”) and read the abstract below:


Broadly, the cognitive linguistic enterprise seeks to identify an emergentist approach to language that investigates the motivation of language use, considers the effects of distributed cognition in situated communication, views complex systems of form-meaning pairings as primitives, and views online processing as dynamic. Within this tradition, this essay takes the position that language use is a manifestation of construal operations in the selection process of utilizing appropriate constructions which encode speaker perspective in a situated common ground. What follows is a usage-based treatment of the situated nature of construction selection in adult language informed by research in child language acquisition, discourse studies of communication, and construction grammar.

Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere

Dandelion seeds (achenes) can be carried long ...

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The Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere is a unpublished model of cognition that I began developing in the late ninety’s and early years of 2000 as a result of my training in linguistics and anthropology.  I worked on it before I knew what Cognitive Linguistics actually was and, in fact, it was part of my conversion to CogLing.  With a nod to remix culture and assemblage theory, this model tried to blend together several validated models of discourse and culture in a super feeble attempt to bridge the epistemological gulf between realism and relativism and explain the complete communication picture in a systematic and procedurally elegant way (read: quasi-arbitrary).  This was the early days of my interest in systems theory, but I was really naive about the complexity of complexity.  Basically, the more that I worked on the model the more I came to see that Cognitive Linguistics already had working solutions to a lot of the questions I was addressing.  In fact, when I read back through my notes now, I see that it is actually a model of attention and dynamic construal.  I won’t tell you anything more about the mechanics right now, but I expect that one day I will pull it back off the shelf and show it to the world; in the mean time, here is an analogy from my original manuscript (part of which is in this book) for you to chew on:

“Pick the white puff of seeds on a dandelion clock, pick the stem and hold it in your hand, and meticulously and decidedly, remove every single floating seed, one-by-one until there is only one remaining.  This is what the first thought does when it moves to the second thought.  You have deselected every seed, ignored them all but one, the one you highlighted, the one you lit up – the one you selected.  This, the lone seed on the stem, a sphere at the base, the rod line of the seed body, and the end of the seed a circle of tiny white hairs that extend radially from the stem in many many directions, this seed is a snapshot. You are holding in your hand the most natural visible representation of how your thoughts live and travel.  Now put that last seed up to your mouth and do the wind’s job and send that seed floating.  Where it lands it either develops or dies, just like your thought.”

“If you can take a line of thought and follow it to every dead-end, out every open door and window, to every destination – and catch it resting – you will see simply and plain how lawless and unruly even simple thoughts are in their brief lives.”

You can view images from my portfolio that were inspired through this process at:

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Why I Care About Ontology

Staircase perspective.

Image via Wikipedia

In a broad sense of the term, any particular ontology serves as a framework against which we interpret information; think of it like an organized perspective that we use as a lens to view and understand the world.

When you study a culture you are concerned with figuring out how they understand the world and how they make sense of the world.  This study of sense-making follows the concept that people do what seems logical and rational to their perspective.  I am interested in mapping these sense-making resources and translating them into a format that reveals the internal consistency and relationships between the rationale and the external context and stimuli.

If you look back through the histories of science & philosophy you will see the pendulum swing between two extremes in regard to ontology, one extreme believes that there is a unified and complete ontological structure to the world, the other extreme believes that there are many unified and complete ontological structures.  This is the debate between whether we can know truth objectively, or whether it is known as a perspective.

In my work I explore how we construct global formal ontologies as well as how we generate idiosyncratic folk-ontologies; this is the both/and response – I want to know how we engage in thinking when it is shaped by public beliefs and private beliefs and what it takes to reconcile the disjunctions.

One of the ideas that has kept my attention the longest is that the structure of a thought represents the choices that have been made to arrive at that thought, and that structure also shows us what has been ignored as the thought is being formed.  I want to know how the external world interacts with the internal world.  I want to know how it directs our thinking.  This is the foundational riddle that makes me want to do linguistics.

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Schematic Construals in Favor of Ecological Transportation

If you say the admittedly odd sentence “The baby feeds on mother’s milk.” it accesses a parasitic construal for the act of eating.  Pardon any offense this might cause you; I promise to redeem myself.  I am not saying that babies are parasites, but that the transfer involved could be construed as parasitic at this stage (depending on your nature/nurture views).  Please hang on for a few more sentences.

If you replace the lexical items with items from the same grammatical categories you could arrive at this sentence: “The car runs on gasoline”; this construal is merely consumptive.  All that has been done is replace a subject noun (baby) for another subject noun (car), a verb phrase (feeds on) for another similar verb phrase (runs on), and finally, a noun (mother’s milk) for an another noun (gasoline).

The innocent and non-parasitic behavior of the car in the second example sentence results from the fact that the source of the consumed material is absent from the semantics of the sentence.  Some would argue that it is implied.

So far we have a baby that acts parasitically toward its mother in order to consume a substance in order to operate, and a car that acts consumptively toward a substance in order to operate.

I want to argue that the car is actually parasitic depending on how your worldview construes the relationship between gasoline and its originating source: fossil fuel that comes from within the earth.  A reading of the earth as a mother (which many mythological systems do) would render the car’s unidirectional consumption of fuel a parasitic consumption of a resource from the earth.  If you construe the concept CAR in this parasitic way and realize that it is markedly different from a relationship between a child and a mother (the child later benefits the mother, they have a loving bond, they provide things for each other – exculpating the child from the parasitic framing), it seems reasonable to begin to look for ways to mitigate the parasitic nature of the car.  While some of the emissions from a car may provide positive feedback into the system our earth belongs to, by and large the car does nothing good for the earth, and truly embodies the role of parasite.

Something should change.

Because transferral of energy always entails a forward chain of consumption, it cannot be the consumption model that needs to change; it must be the parasitic nature.

One alternative is an epiphytic consumption, something like a solar car.  (At this point you probably see that this is not an article about babies or about cars, but rather construal and schematization).  Whether or not solar cars are a reality, that model would satisfy the need to reduce the parasitic nature of gasoline-run cars on the limited resources of a mother earth.

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Doing Strategic Planning #4: Adapting Existing Organization-External Materials for Internal Use

GDP Composition By Sector and Labour Force By ...

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This is part of the continuing series about Strategic Planning and outlines the process I am using with a particular organization.  I wanted to briefly explain something that I think is a viable pattern for learning from others, namely, looking at their work and seeing how you need to shape your own work in order to be considered a participating member of the industry.

The organization I am working for is trying to draft a strategic plan that also accounts for decision-making policies in how they invest in different causes.  Many of those causes include development work in places that have the shared features of extreme poverty, drastically different cultural values, and non-Western perspectives (i.e., post-colonial environments).  After listening to the organization talk about their vision and mission and seeing the history of their work and recognizing their place of respect in the development community I felt that it was important to make sure that they were at least in line with the ethical standards of similar industries (especially anthropology).  After looking through different industry codes of ethics I decided that the American Anthropological Association had a superb code of ethics and that without violating copyrights I would use it as a research tool to identify the major domains of concern for ethical conduct.  This is an ongoing process and it will be a few weeks before I am completely content with the results.  My approach will include working with my organization to help them see how the AAA code of ethics can inform their own tactics and methods that emerge to meet the strategic goals.  Basically, I hope that the organization can use this code of ethics to continue to drive their own policy and decision-making.

This is following my personal learning strategy: Collect, Analyze, Present.  And I am teaching the organization to collect the views of others, to analyze how they might apply to their own work, and present them in a format that suits the strategic goals of the organization.

Stay tuned for updates.

Post Script: WordPress has a feature that suggests related articles and before I published this article it suggested this interesting link:

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Ham Radio was the original Twitter

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI

Image via Wikipedia

So I was driving home last night and saw an old man in his station wagon, I happened to notice that his license plate was his amateur radio call sign.  This promptly reminded me of a recent occurrence at the Linguistic Society of America’s annual meeting where some of my Twitter friends had a “TweetUp” (for the uninitiated, it is akin to a “Meet Up”). In the lobby of the hotel we started to introduce ourselves by our Twitter profile names.  In fact, most people had their profile name on the back of their conference name badge printed like this: “@SportLinguist” (go ahead, follow me).

As my first exposure to this kind of behavior it was an interesting moment for me.  But this is certainly not the first time this has happened for Twitter users, and it is certainly not the firs time it has happened in technological history.  Pre-internet days had people using Citizen Band (CB) radios where everyone had a “Handle” (aka: radio name), and this was the tool that truckers and road-trippers used to stay connected on the lonely highway.  Before the CB was the Amateur Radio and the “Hams” that used them.  In fact, so as not to mislead you, Amateur Radio still has a strong presence and user base, even recently being used in OUTER SPACE at the International Space Station. Continue reading

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Sample Sentences Using Spradley’s Nine Semantic Relations from The Ethnographic Interview

Cover of "The Ethnographic Interview"

Cover of The Ethnographic Interview

I love James Spradley’s work on ethnographic interviews, componential analysis, taxonomic analysis, and participant observation, but Spradley’s work on semantic analysis has been the most thought-provoking for me theoretically.  Here I list out his nine semantic relationships and give some sample descriptive sentences to show you how the semantic relation describes the two elements in the relationship.  I have to say, however, that none of these sentences are very natural in a natural language kind of way.  In fact, the one concern that I have with Spradley’s view of semantics (from my usage-based cognitive view of language) is that it does not adequately lend itself to a straightforward modeling of the semantics of a natural language sentence.  Instead, if you want to use this for natural language, it has to be on a propositional level.

These semantics are best for modeling culture and the dynamics of a culture.  After all, they were drawn up in a methodology for ethnography.  In the sentences I present below you will find that they have a rigid and non-human sound to them; in fact, I think (and this is my opinion), that if you want to use Spradley’s semantics for anything other than modeling culture, that they are best used in formal system modeling, such as an expert system. Continue reading

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Ad hoc Categorization and the “Virtual City” in Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies”

2 Many DJs (Stephen and David Dewaele / Soulwa...

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Recently I started watching one of my all-time-favorite documentaries again, Soulwax’s “Part of the Weekend Never Dies“; I was struck by a particular film sequence that captured the essence of what I would call a “virtual city” that embodies part of the notion of ad hoc categorization. Continue reading

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Guest Post: The Digital Polis – Nicholas Carson Miller

I invited Nicholas Carson Miller to guest post on the shape of a particular internet culture…I hope you enjoy his work -SportLinguist

I. The New Prehistory

We can’t go ask ancient peoples what was going on when they decided to get together and start building cities. Frustratingly, none of the folks involved in the development of prehistoric communities are still around to ask and weren’t kind enough to leave detailed ethnographic and historical accounts of their experiences. Shame on them. We can, however, connect to the internet and observe the development of a new kind of community.

Early humans, tiring of wandering and hunting alone, began living around one another, trying their hands at farming, trading necessities and surpluses, and finding increasingly productive and complex ways to protect and govern the communities that developed. Early internet users logged on alone, visiting web pages and sending limited communications—but then a need for specialized communal activities lead to email lists, chat rooms, social networks, and, most interestingly, forums.

These internet communities, especially certain infamous and influential forums such as 4chan, Gaia Online, and Something Awful, are beginning to exhibit fascinating cultural trends that are to me reminiscent of early city-states. The development of the culture of these communities should be taken as a possible reflection of the development of real-world communities and is conveniently occurring right before our eyes at a highly accelerated rate. Continue reading

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Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies

I recently created a short interview about my art project “Weaving Narratives” where I describe the process of reading objects that people own.  I hope you check it out and let me know what you think in the comment section [click the picture to view the film].

Also, weave your own narrative using the photo-documentation for this project [a free download to use in your own creative process].

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CONTAINER Is an Ontological Metaphor

Ontological Metaphors are metaphors that give shape to abstract concepts and even contribute to the structure of Primary Metaphors.  CONTAINER is one of those metaphors. Continue reading

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What Is a Digital City? It is Interconnected Collaboration and Flexibility

When you hear the words “Digital City” what comes to mind?  Is it a virtual city created from ad hoc groups of people converging in an electronic marketplace?  Is it an actual physical city boasting all the amenities of technology? Or is it a combination of the two?  For me, when I hear “Digital City” I usually find myself thinking about the third option, an actual place that sustains a physical population but who are networked to conduct virtual lives that interface with physical lives on a perpetual basis. Continue reading

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“Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness”

I remember reading a book about Germans that an anthropologist I knew in England let me borrow for the day. The most striking part of the book, at the time, was the recount of the author’s experience of seeing a dusty car in a parking lot on which some witty passer-by had written in the dirt that the condition of the car was the condition of that person’s inner life; filthy, unkempt, and disorganized.

The state of the artifacts of our life reflect and betray our true self.

My wife recently found a box of her childhood belongings at her mother’s house in the back of the storage room. She opened the box and looked at her cherished childhood possessions – doll clothes from when she lived in Thailand…still clean and folded. She told me that she took care of the few things she owned because she had so little. I love how my wife reflects her inner self onto her outer belongings. She really cares about things.

The state of the artifacts of our life reflect and betray our true self.

This past Sunday, my wife and I were out for brunch, and at the table behind us there was a woman talking about a recent trip to somewhere in Europe – noting how a storage bin like a rubbermaid cost 35 euros. The woman kept going on an on about how expensive it was to buy a box, how she gets them here for 5 dollars. And all I could think about was how much more neat and tidy Europeans are because of how expensive it really is to by crappy stuff. Who really needs the things that they plan to keep in a box?

I will say it again, the state of the artifacts of our life reflect and betray our true self.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

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How I learned to make Instant Coffee taste BETTER than Properly Brewed Coffee

When I was living in West Africa I would wake up around 5 every morning, step outside my door and put my kettle on to boil on this fantastic little green kerosene stove:

I would sit and listen in the morning silence as the water heated in the aluminum kettle.  As the water started to rumble it would get to the point of pre-nucleation as bubbles would start to form around the wall of the kettle and a ring of bubbles mimicking the flame below would begin to emerge upwards from the bottom of the pot and release into steam on the surface of the water.  It was at this point that I would take the kettle off the stove, the point just before boiling when the tiny bubbles were just about to percolate and pour the water into my mug of granulated Nescafe. Continue reading

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HighLevel Issues in EthnoBotany; Interdisciplinary Cross-Pollination

My Shrunken Head - 2008 -

I started getting interested in botany during my undergraduate years when I wanted to complement the technical linguistics training with a tempered understanding of some practical skills.  I have always planned on doing anthropological linguistics and in most locations people grow their own food; learning about botany and horticulture would be good for my survival.  And since talking with people about plants is a great way to collect data I wanted to at least have the competency to grow plants and have some familiarity with the lives of plants.  I took a job working summers and breaks at a 100-year-old tropical aquatics greenhouse where I learned to cultivate Lotus, Victoria Regina, Water lilies, marginal plants, and how to raise fish and maintain healthy ecological systems.  This got me interested in algae, protists, lichens, mosses, ferns, et cetera…

Even earlier in life, during primary school I took part in a Naturalist Aid program which taught me about the medicinal uses of plants, biodiversity, and ecology.  I guess my first encounters with plants was really from a pedagogical perspective on ethnobotany. Continue reading

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How I know it is finals week around the world

I have been laughing to myself each time that I go into the dashboard for this blog because I am noticing some fantastic trends.

Over this past week the viewing patterns for particular posts has been fascinating.

These are so noticeable to me because typically (the default/ground) these particular posts do not get viewed, so when they are viewed, it is a marked instance, and the page load becomes figural in the figure-ground distinction sense.  The page load is attended to as figure.

For instance:

  • I have received about 25 hits from the same city in India all of which came through a Google query for something like: “symbolic function of language” and they all view the same blog post about the communicative and symbolic functions of language.
  • I have received a handful of hits from another city in the United States, (again, all from the same city) looking for “Dialogue in Stoppard” which takes them to my page on “Ground-before-Figure in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia”.
  • Et cetera…

This is the benefit of good SEO…but that is not my point.

My point is that I know that students around the world are doing their homework and are Googling topics that they find in the questions hoping to get an answer from the web; hopefully I get credit in their bibliographies.

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Delicious Holiday Recipe: Nut & Poppy Seed Roll (Found Text)

I wanted to share this recipe that I got from my great-grandmother (from Zagreb, Republic of Croatia)…I grew up eating this deliciousness and consequently I have become a smart scientist.

Do you like food?

Then you might like an upcoming post series that I am doing in 2011. Subscribe to my updates.

A taste of what is to come:

  • Recipes that I have collected living in the South Pacific, West Africa, and other exciting places
  • A series of posts that deal with the cognitive science in cookery, and
  • Posts looking at how attention works in gustatory domains.
  • Anthropological perspectives on the tools and processes of bread-making
  • SUPER SUPER COOL!  Subscribe!
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The First Shall Be Last: A shift from First Person to Third Person in the Scientific Enterprise

I was reading this article by Ray Kurzweil and immediately connected with an idea that he expressed which I have been trying to articulate over the past year or so. He said that basically, in science there is no first person, there is only the third person. Continue reading

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Timecard For My Future

I am going through the planning process for blog posts for 2011 and as a foreshadowing to a couple of guest posts (one on astrosociology and another on the singularity) I thought I would post a link to the Timecard For My Future which is a list of timers set to remind me of things I need to do over then next several thousand years…if Aubrey de Grey gets his way.  Enjoy!

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Post-Colonial Thought in Literature, Ethics, and Project Design

I wanted to let you know about an online ejournal about Post-Colonial Literature and Culture, here it is:

Post-Colonial Studies in Literature & Culture eJournal

Having formerly worked in two former colonies (one in Africa and the other in the South Pacific), and having lived in Hawai’i which was also colonized, I am interested pragmatically in the ideas of Post-Colonialism.

While I am on the topic, I want to address post-colonial thought not only in literature, but also in project design for development and similar enterprises.

Furthermore, I am interested in how this model informs the ethics of project design and local ownership in situations of development.

I think it is great that development has gained currency with non-development workers, but I don’t want to see industries like micro-finance become another tool of Colonialism for the lay-person.  Avoiding a ‘savior complex’ is part of ensuring the stability of a project in a post-colonial context.

More to come….

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Borrowing Tools Across Disciplines: Blacksmithing to Linguistics

I am going to be exploring what it means to incorporate accrued extralinguistic experiences into professional practice as a cognitive linguist and to start it off I wanted to post an introductory post on my experiences as a blacksmith.

Some of you might know that I spent some time working as an apprentice to an old Italian blacksmith and that much of what I learned from him has been a guiding framework for thinking about problems through the lens of an orthogonal discipline.

For now, I want you to think about something that occurs in all professions, the development of professional wisdom which is reduced into phrasal algorithms that are like bullion-cubes for making meaning.  In other words, the way a discipline perpetuates its knowledge is through building either the recipes or the ingredients for how to do things.  From my experience in blacksmithing, these recipes have been captured in Italian proverbs and English literary metaphors.

Think about those metaphors: “too many irons in the fire”, “lose your temper”, et cetera, I guess these blacksmithing metaphors probably emerged from failures to adhere to the two Italian phrases I heard repeated most in my shop:

pian piano vai lontano

slowly slowly you go far


Il monici dicono in questo mondo di via vera multa paciencia

In this world, the monks say that you have to have a lot of patience

If you don’t have patience you forge ahead, ignoring the fact that you have too many irons in the fire to work them in a reasonable amount of time.

If instead of trying to rush through a process (like tempering a knife blade or a chisel) take it easy, go slowly, it will get you farther that rushing (working too quickly could cause a tool to lose its temper).

I spent a lot of my time writing during the evenings while I was a blacksmith.  During that time I wrote this procedural essay describing the process of forging steel (in this case it is using an acetylene torch instead of my blacksmith’s hearth…but forging is forging.  It is actually the prologue to a book about how the creative process of artists and scientists are parallel.  Anyway, read the prologue.

One of my favorite aspects of blacksmithing is the act of harnessing fire to work metal into a desired shape, I am going to explore this further and describe in future posts how this is similar to the cognitive processes of dynamic construal.  Stay tuned.

Post Script for Metalworkers:

If you got to this page because you are looking for advice about blacksmithing or are interested in toolmaking check out The Complete Modern Blacksmith…and take a look at my Amazon book list for metalworking.

Post Post Script for people interested in other people’s blacksmithing experiences:

Here is a woman who wanted to learn blacksmithing to “keep making history live” [I love it!]. Check out her blog about history and blacksmithing.

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Medicine in the underdeveloped world

In line with this post (My Jungle Medical Kit) I wanted to pass this link regarding establishing expedient medical clinics in remote locations.

These resources come from the Hesperian Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing healthcare related books and documents.

Go to their webpage and check out some of these titles:

  • “Where There Is No Doctor”
  • “Where There Is No Dentist” 
  • ”A Book for Midwives”
  • “Water for Life”
  • “A Community Guide for Environmental Health”
  • “Where Women Have No Doctor”
  • “The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard”

There is even a section on resources for Cholera in Haiti.  Beyond Haitian Creole, many of these resources are available in Urdu, Sindhi and Spanish.

And they are all FREE. 100%.  You can buy paper copies of the books, but these can all be downloaded with ease.

Every document is high quality.  In fact, I have used these with development workers I have helped equip.  These are real world, real genuine content resources.  Some of these are 500 page books on how to establish a medical clinics (et cetera) and train indigenous leadership with the skills necessary to replicate the model.

One of the features of these documents that impressed me (from the vantage point of a professional student of cultures) is that they are not books that ignore the differences in cultural practices around medicine and social attitudes toward the illness and healing process.

Considering that in Western medicine we view disease as a pathological category, illness as an individual category, and sickness as a social category, these books skillfully navigate the ways in which different societies interpret these cultural experiences.

Check it out, especially if you work/live somewhere that medical resources are limited.

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how to talk about linguistics with non-linguists

As a specialist you have a level of contextual understanding for realms of knowledge contained in words for which non-specialists also have normal everyday uses.

Consider words like: “context”, “ungrammatical”, “attention”, and “construe”…these words mean entirely different things to a non-linguist than they do to a linguist (let alone the differences between a cognitive linguist and a generative linguist).

Using these types of words with non-linguists as if they understood the linguistic sense of the word will not work; you will have failed communication. Continue reading

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Francophilia, Phoenix’s 1901 & Daft Punk… Why I Hate Not Living in New York

ugh.  This makes my heart hurt because I wish I could have been there.

This is a fine French thing to do… seeing Thomas Mars perform reminds me of the French Fauvist painter Henri Matisse who said:

“I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have a light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me.”

Mars is so carefree and effortlessly cool.

[So is his girlfriend (Sofia Coppola), by the way, who graces Elle’s upcoming November cover]

And what is more, Daft Punk show up on stage and reinforce the joie de vivre of utter French-ness.  If this surprise visit means nothing to you, consider this: Daft Punk has not toured since 2007.

I could not stop weeping when I watched this clip.


[Clip from:




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Ground Before Figure Orientation and Divergent Activation in Bruno Mars & B.O.B.’s “Nothin’ On You” Lyrics

Driving home tonight I heard a song on the radio, on the local hip-hop and R&B station, and while the song kind of annoys me, I kind of like it too.  Anyway, this song exhibits a characteristic of a marked figure-ground organization for normal American English constructions, and I wanted to point it out.

“beautiful girls all over the world
i could be chasing but my time would be wasted
they got nothin’ on you baby
nothin’ on you baby
they might say hi and i might say hey
but you shouldn’t worry about what they say
cause they got nothin’ on you baby
nothin’ on you baby”

Did you catch that?  That heavy preposed object NP?  “beautiful girls all over the world I could be chasing…”

This marked form is meant to stand out.  You are supposed to want to think about the beautiful girls before he gets to the verb phrase…and then, when he gets to the verb phrase, you realize that he is trying to draw attention to the salient recipient of the song; his woman. Continue reading

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Ethno-Architecture, the Built Environment & Its Role in Conceptualization

While this is outside of the scope of cognitive linguistics, I wanted to share this link because it relates to the types of daily living experiences that people have within the built environment. As a facet of experience in which our bodies interact, the built environment shapes how we think about what we experience, in fact it becomes a stimulus that triggers conceptualization.

What is more, this is the situated context of experience which is the discursive platform for our interaction with the principles of perception. Continue reading

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A Brief Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Summary…

A reasonable summary of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in its tractable form is that different cultures interpret the same world differently and this has an impact on how they both think and construct meaning in language; in fact, language shapes or influences thought to some degree.  The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis combines linguistic relativity and linguistic determinism.  Adherents of the hypothesis follow these two principles to varying degrees producing gradient interpretations from weak to strong versions of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.  Cognitive linguists are among the only linguists to take this “mentalist” position seriously, and most linguists of any orientation reject a strong version of the hypothesis.  Continue reading

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Mashing Ray Jackendoff’s Ontological Categories with James Spradley’s Cultural Dimensions & Wh- Question Words

While I don’t necessarily agree with Jackendoff’s use of the semantic primitives, and while I recognize that this comes from a book that is from the early 80’s, I still want to present these ontological categories because they represent one way that the world is sliced, and they have interesting correlations to wh– question words.

Frankly, they are a little too close to Aristotalian categories for me to have much use for them in the stuff I am doing, but still, this represents an interesting perspective that ties in with ethnographic inquiry [specifically James Spradley’s work in Participant Observation].

Jackendoff proposes categories like THING, PLACE, DIRECTION, ACTION, EVENT, MANNER, AMOUNT and proposes a correlate question word which would access this category.

Spradley talks about 9 cultural dimensions: SPACE, OBJECT, ACT, ACTIVITY, EVENT, TIME, ACTOR, GOAL, FEELING, and looking at these nine dimensions in a matrix provides an ethnographer with 81 questions to keep their observations focused. But Jackendoff is more interested in seeing how these types of categories are manifest in linguistic structure, and less interested in modeling culture. Continue reading

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“Dad Jokes” about ballet and perfume in French

Tonight on the way to the ballet my wife and I were riding in the car with one of her friends.  It came up that my sister-in-law’s roommate’s cat pissed in a cardboard box full of her purses.  Our friend made a joke about my sister-in-law wearing a new perfume that smelled like cat piss.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chime in with a joke of my own and said that she was probably wearing “piss de chat” (it sounded like a French perfume name…).  No one laughed.

We kept driving.

I couldn’t let it pass.

I said, “No one laughed at my ballet joke.”

They did not know what I was talking about.

I said: “Pas de Chat is a ballet jump and it means Cat’s Step.  I switched the Pas with Piss to make it into a French name for a perfume that smelled like cat piss.”

No one laughed this time either.

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Disambiguate Me! #19 [Perspectives on Hierarchy in Society – Ongka’s Big Moka]

Coat of arms of Papua New Guinea

Image via Wikipedia

Perspectives on Hierarchy in Society

There are societies which organize hierarchically, in which dominance may be held over an individual for a variety of reasons that relate to social status.  There are also many societies in which one individual may not dominate another individual.  These two approaches affect the way that we interpret identity and membership.

I recently viewed an ethnographic film called Ongka’s Big Moka that tells the story of a man called Ongka from the Kwelka people group in the highlands of Papua New Guinea where reciprocity and giving fill the role that social hierarchy fills in my own people group in my part of America.

Reciprocity enables social order. Continue reading

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Disambiguate Me! #16 [Clues about Cultural Membership in Online Social Networks]

Description: Social Networking Source: own wor...

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Clues about Cultural Membership in Online Social Networks

We leak information about our various cultural memberships with each and every action that we take.  Locating that information is not difficult; a quick survey of your own information leakage will provide you with volumes of qualitative and quantitative data.

The quality of statements made in status updates can reflect or disguise the feelings that one identity has about a situation or individual, and can provide transparency during a trigger happy update which is left unchecked and uncensored by the immediacy of the posting.  These are self-revealing statements that enhance or detract from the perception of the individual. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #13

Viewers of the Jonas Burgert painting Second D...

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In the book The Artful Mind (edited by Mark Turner), Merlin Donald describes art as being characterized by seven features:

  1. Art is aimed at influencing the minds of an audience, and may therefore be called a form of cognitive engineering.
  2. It always occurs in the context of distributed cognition.
  3. It is constructivist in nature, aimed at the deliberate refinement and elaboration of worldviews.
  4. Most art is metacognitive in its role – that is, it engages in self-reflection, both individually and socially.
  5. The forms and media of art are technology-driven.
  6. The role of the artist and the local social definition of art are not necessarily fixed and are products of the current social-cognitive network.
  7. Nevertheless, art, unlike most conventional engineering, is always aimed at a cognitive outcome.

[Merlin Donald, page 19 in The Artful Mind]

This list of characteristics gives me a good sense of context for how to approach art as a producer and a consumer in a way that recognizes and honors the important role that Art has played in the evolution of social cognition.  I appreciate the imagery of cognitive engineering – this is the “magic synthesis” as Arieti would call it.  I want to engage more in the act of engineering cognitive understanding through my art, for me this means approaching the creative process from the vantage point of an artist and a scientist, a generalist and a specialist, a teacher and a learner. Continue reading

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Disambiguate Me! #15 [Life as a Consumer & Embedded Information in Consumer Data]

Life as a Consumer

Consider the range of simple and easily collated consumer data that currently exists which betrays some information about the relations that an individual has with the world:

  • Financial Data (taxes, loans, rate of settling loans, debt-to-income ratio, etc)
  • Possessions (deeds, titles, licenses for different equipment, receipts)
  • Media Consumption (bookmarks, cable bill, movie rental, internet speed, etc)
  • Consumption (shopper’s savings cards, marketing data, contents of recycle bins)
  • Movement (triangulation of credit cards at gas pumps, tolls and speed and time and distance calculated b y GPS chips in personal electronics, ATMs, airfare, visas and passport usage, type of bus pass (weekly, single use, monthly, student) Continue reading
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Ethnocentrism in Parenting

I just started reading an ethnomusicology book and I was struck by this definition of ethnocentrism.  Being an anthropologist I am conscious of the dangers of ethnocentrism in my practice and I can look at members in their context and not force my own values onto those members in my evaluation.  But still the clarity of this quote haunted me a little.

When the commonsense perspective dominates the attitude of anyone confronting new and strange experiences, it becomes ethnocentrism.  Ethnocentrism is the common tendency to view all human behavior from the value system of one’s own society, often including the tendency to consider other practices inferior and misguided.  The scholar must therefore avoid the commonsense perspective of his or her own society, and seek to understand other people’s practices from their point of view. Every society has its own commonsense perspective, and part of the task of understanding music in other societies is to understand the commonsense perspective commonly held in those societies.

[2-3, Kaemmer, 1993]

When I read this passage it reminded me of my own fears of ethnocentrism in my life.  My fear is that one day I will have a child who values a different type of creativity than I value.  Actually, it is not necessarily a different type of creativity as much as it is a preference for a different aesthetic in my child’s progression into self-expression.  I am embarrassed to even admit that fear. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #10

This quote is about how to achieve a natural translation.

‘And again,’ went on Claudius, ‘have your French composed by a Frenchman. You gentlemen may pride yourselves on writing good French, grammatical French, but a Frenchman reading it would know it was not written by a Frenchman. I’ll go further than that, gentlemen, Give a Frenchman a passage in English and tell him to render it into French and a Frenchman will still be aware that all is not well when he reads it.  You must have your French composed ab initio by a Frenchmen, contenting yourselves with merely outlining what is to be said.

C.S. Forester ‘s Hornblower and the Crisis

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Cognitive Mindfulness #9(b)

Martin Creed 'Work No 850' at Tate Britain

Image by Loz Flowers via Flickr

This is part two of Cognitive Mindfulness #9, and continues the Evans & Green passage.

“The difference between the domains of TIME and SPACE is that while TIME has the property of progression, SPACE is static.  ‘Progression’ means that the quantity within this domain is made up of a sequence of distinct representations because it changes from one instance to the next.  By way of illustration, imagine photographing someone engaged in an activity like stroking a cat.  Each of the photographs you take will be different from the previous one, and together they portray the activity.  In contrast, change is not an inherent property of objects, although of course objects can be involved in processes of change.”  [515-516, Evans & Green, 2006]

Immediately this reminds me of Dave Eggers and his quote about relationships from his work “You Shall Know Our Velocity!” Continue reading

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Overcome Writer’s Block With Semiotics [Free Download]

I just posted a free download of an excerpt of my semiotics project which will be available as a paperback in September.  I encourage you to check it out and let me know what you think about it.

Most of the textual content is absent; I wanted this excerpt to be visceral and intuitive.

The backbone of the project actually came out of an art piece that I made a few years ago that was intended to question identity and the formulation of identity out of memories and possessions [You will read about it in the Disambiguate Me! series on this blog].

As I developed the art project I realized that it could stand in place for a generic narrative that depends on the ways in which the objects are combined and recombined along a plot line that suggestively emerges from the set of objects as a whole. Continue reading

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V is for Visceral, That’s Good Enough For Me…

I admire Lady Gaga’s desire to produce work that is more visceral and less conceptual (as she was recently quoted in a fashion magazine), but visceral presupposes the ability to conceptualize embodied experience in order to make sense out of it.  In a way, Lady Gaga is like a typologist, she looks at a wide swath of humanity and cultures and tries to abstract upwards to find patterns common to that superset of humanity.  Visceral in that sense means that she wants to find something with which all people can connect and understand.

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Who I’d Like To Meet

  1. anyone who has a story to tell me.
  2. anyone who can see that they belong to numerous multidimensional plot lines.
  3. anyone who can see that they relate to society to solidify current culture.
  4. anyone who can see through self-deception.
  5. anyone who loves looking at things and relating those experiences to others.
  6. anyone who remembers what their childhood goals are.
  7. anyone who acts on their childhood goals.
  8. anyone who knows when to stop talking.
  9. anyone else.

Cognitive Mindfulness #7

Portrait photograph of Jack London

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Take this advice from Jack London:

“When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped.  To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand.  This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes.  It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.” [21]

London, J. (1982). To build a fire and other stories, Bantam Books (reprinted from Novels and Stories by Jack London)

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Who I’d Like To Meet

  1. Anyone who speaks a language without an alphabet.
  2. Anyone who does not have electricity.
  3. Anyone who lives outside the usefulness of cash.
  4. Anyone who lets things decay which cannot be repaired.
  5. Anyone who measures distance in the # of days it takes to walk there.
  6. Anyone who has never seen an outsider.
  7. Anyone who eats with their hands.
  8. Anyone who sleeps on the floor.
  9. Anyone who makes everything that they need.
  10. Anyone who thinks so organically that the work of their hands descends from the fabric of the universe.

Organic Thought in Linear Context

In my view, language is an imposed organization of organic prototypes into a linear composition structure and matched to a cultural schema that reflects notions of meaning in communication situations.  That’s all for today.

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How to Observe – Guidelines for an Open Mind

at the fish market

When we encounter unfamiliar situations or find ourselves in cultures which we do not understand, it is best to gather the facts before jumping to conclusions about what is going on.  Some ethnographers use Kohl’s three-stage process of Describe, Interpret, and Evaluate (DIE) as a rule of thumb to ensure the quality of information when engaging in cultural description.  These are crucially ordered activities; straying from the sequencing will eliminate the value of your observation by producing uninformed and biased data.  It is a little morbid, but if you remember that in order to learn about a new culture you have to DIE first, then you will approach the learning situation with an open mind and leave with new cultural understanding. Continue reading

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