Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Dr Who: Self-Delusion Takes You Away

The recent Dr Who episode "It Takes You Away" (season 11, episode 9) is, at some points, rather touching.  I still prefer "Demons of the Punjab" (the best of the season so far, in my view) but this one is pretty good.

So I've been looking at some reviews to see what others make of it.  On the A.V. Club, Caroline Siede writes:
"The episode leaves it up to the viewer to decide why Erik didn’t try to bring Hanne to the parallel universe to begin with. You could charitably say he didn’t want to risk her life or uncharitably say he wanted to live like a carefree newlywed."
The choice of possible explanations is not so binary or stark, of course.  

It seems quite likely to me that Erik half-suspected or half-feared that Trina was an illusion and that Hanne, though physically blind, might see through it.  As indeed she did.

What I like about that explanation is that it allows for Erik's willingness to be deluded, his complicity in self-delusion.  This is surely a very common human failing, even among people who are otherwise well-meaning and intelligent.*   

Another alternative explanation (which is ultimately less satisfying because it involves more speculation) is that Erik might have told himself that he would bring Hanne over and/or bring Trina back eventually, without ever acknowledging and confronting the depth and intensity of his desire to remain in the Solitract universe with Trina.  This would again be self-delusion, but in the form of wishful thinking, buttressed by a bit of wilful blindness.  A weasel word like eventually, without any timeframe attached or any accountability, would allow Erik to deceive himself about what he is doing and why.  He could potentially spend the rest of his life with Trina, always assuring hmself of his perfectly good intention to do the right thing by Hanne eventually (but never today).

I suppose both of these could be seen as manifestations of a deeper fear on Erik's part: The fear that bringing in Hanne will cause him to lose Trina.  But it's a fear he wouldn't have if he didn't know, deep down in his heart of heats, that Trina was really dead.

~ ~ ~

FN * And if Erik had a perhaps subconscious suspicion or fear that Trina might be an illusion, might not that anxiety have found an outlet or release in his own elaborately constructed illusion for Hanne?  It's not decisive, but I would note that although the illusions differ in their sophistication, both the Solitract and Erik use them in the same way (i.e., to manipulate and control others).

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Vowel Change (Ablaut) Reduplicatives

More inspiration from the Holmes article in A Wilderness of Dragons. Holmes speculates that "great green dragon" might reflect the language rules or syntax of Tolkien's innate "native language" (or I-language).

Of particular interest is his third point, concerning phonology.  He says "there is a self-evident internal logic to the order of vowels that has nothing to do with the rules of E-language or any other cradle-tongue a child may learn" (149).  He suggests the vowel changes of a green great dragon "produce a charming sequence: there, down, and back again," progressing from  mid-central a, to high-front green, to mid-front great, to low-front dra, to mid-back/central -gon.

To me, this also raises the question of whether the vowel change reduplicative pattern found in "green great" (long E followed by long A) is common in English.  I couldn't think of any examples off-hand (the first ones that came to mind were flim-flam, dilly-dally, and ooh! ah! oh!), so I scouted around and found a list of vowel change reduplicatives compiled on Daily Writing Tips.

Their list only includes one long vowel sound, in see-saw.  Breaking it down, they came up with

  • short i - short a (11 examples):
    • chit-chat, dilly-dally, flim-flam, knick-knack, mish-mash, pitter-patter, riff-raff, riprap, shilly-shally, tittle-tattle, zigzag; see also splish splash (visualthesaurus.com), big bad (bbc.com), jibber-jabber (proedit.com)
  • short i - short o (4 examples):
    • clip clop, flip-flop, hip-hop, tick tock; see also tip-top (thoughtco.com)
  • short i - aw (3 examples):
    • criss-cross, ding-dong, ping pong; see also sing-song (viviancook.uk)

  • long E - aw (1 example):
    • see-saw; see also hee-haw (me), geepie-gawpie (viviancook.uk)
To this one might add:
  • short i - long A:
    • ship-shape (Brian Wasko)
  • short i - ah:
    • wishy-washy (Brian Wasko)
  • short i - schwa - short a:
    • bric-a-brac
  • oo - ah - long O:
    • ooh! ah! oh!
  • shot u - long O:
    • hunky-dory (Rastall via Preuszová)
  • long E - long E - long I - long O:
    • eeny, meeny, miny, mo (Preuszová):
As Visual Thesaurus observes: "Of the many reduplications of this type, a striking number show a tell-tale pattern: the vowel in the first component is "short i," or what phonologists and IPA-aficionados call /ɪ/."

ProEdit suggests: "In linguistic terms, you could say that a high vowel comes before a low vowel. The i sound is considered a high vowel because of the location of the tongue relative to the mouth in American speech. The a and o sounds are low vowels."

In her 2017 Bachelor Thesis, Preuszová refers to these vowel change reduplicatives as "ablaut reduplicatives – a group which consists of reduplicatives with alternated vowel."

"Green Great Dragon": Mapping the Great Colors

I'm partway through the first of two essays in A Wilderness of Dragons about Tolkien's early encounter with culturally mandated adjective order.  In "'A Green Great Dragon' and J. R. R. Tolkien's 'Native Language,'" John R. Holmes looks for usage patterns of green great vs great green in various databases, and (thus far) seems to conclude that Mabel Tolkien was correct.

But of course this got me thinking about how green great/great green stacks up against other color choices.  So I played around with google Ngrams to see which combinations were most popular over time.  In the process, I noticed that the first Ngram phrase is always in blue, the second is always in red, etc.  So for synergy, I decided to list the colors in an order that coordinated with the thing described, i.e. the blue line would show data for blue great/great blue.

Predictably, the great [color] formula was much more common than the [color] great formula.

But I was more interested in which colors are more "popular" in the great [color] formula.  Of the five colors considered, great red has historically been most popular, followed most nearly by great blue.

great [color] in 1700-1800 (red, blue, green, orange, violet)

Then, around 1970, great red declined as great blue ascended.  And now great blue has taken the lead.

great [color] in 1800-2000 (blue+, red-, green, orange, violet)

For what it's worth, I can think of phrases such as "great blue marble" (referring to Earth) which I associate with the 1970s/1980s, and a song that began "Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts..."  Of course, google has some other suggestions, in the following order:

  • great blue (omitting two instances of "great blues"):
    • ...heron, 
    • ...hole belize, 
    • ...heron facts, 
    • ...lobelia, 
    • ...whale, 
    • ...north, 
    • ...heron habitat, 
    • ...heron diet.
  • great red
    • ...spot, 
    • ...wine,
    • ...dragon
    • ...dxd, 
    • ...spot definition, 
    • ...elekk, 
    • ...sox players, 
    • ...sox pitchers, 
    • ...dragon bible
    • ...shark.
  • great green
    • ...cleaning, 
    • ...wall, 
    • ...macaw, 
    • ...gobs
    • ...wall africa, 
    • ...bush cricket, 
    • ...supermarket, 
    • ...arkleseizure, 
    • ...cleaning reviews, 
    • ...wall china.

There were relatively few instances of [color] great in 1700-1800 -- each appeared only once, except for violet great, which did not appear at all -- so I'll just show the diagram from 1800-2000:

[color] great in 1800-2000 (green+, blue-, red, orange, violet)

Here, it is interesting that blue great was by far the most popular of these unpopular formulations of the phrase, though with green great spiking now and then.  But after 1980, green great took over.  I can't help wondering if that might reflect the rise of Tolkien scholarship, and specifically discussion of his story about his childhood story about the "green great dragon."

For those who are curious, here are close-ups of the 1970-2000 period:

Bonus "Rainbow-Plus" Edition
(not color coordinated)

Finally, just for kicks, here's the rainbow plus black, white, gold, and silver.  Turns out great white and great black take the lead -- though I would assume the name "great white shark" probably skews the results a bit.  Here's what google suggests for those two:
  • great white (omitting one instance of "great white sharks"):
    • ...shark, 
    • ...fleet, 
    • ...buffalo, 
    • ...band, 
    • ...shark attack, 
    • ...north, 
    • ...way, 
    • ...shark facts, 
    • ...shark cape cod.
  • great black
    • ...hawk, 
    • ...wasp, 
    • ...hawk marine, 
    • ...hawk portland maine, 
    • ...backed gull, 
    • ...wasp sting, 
    • ...movies, 
    • ...swamp, 
    • ...wasp nest, 
    • ...shark.

great [color], rainbow-plus, in 1800-2000

[color] great, rainbow-plus, in 1800-2000

close-up of [color] great, rainbow-plus, in 1800-1900

Ngram searches (for ease of cutting and pasting):
  • great blue,great red,great green,great orange,great violet
  • blue great,red great,green great,orange great,violet great
  • great red,great orange,great yellow,great green, great blue,great indigo,great white,great black,great silver,great gold
  • red great,orange great,yellow great,green great,blue great,indigo great,white great,black great,silver great,gold great