27 June 2021

Fears

The encounter with another giant black scorpion in the bathroom, the other day, has left me jittery, and expecting to find them at every turn. Yet, according to my reading, the kind that I found was very likely the Nebo hierichonticus - the Jericho Nebo, which has a relatively non-life-threatening, mild sting - some say equivalent to a bee sting.

Israel is home to 21 separate species of scorpions. What everybody “knows” is that the brown and black scorpions are less dangerous than the yellow ones. But this is not quite true. There are black scorpions with dangerous stings, and yellow ones that are less dangerous. Yet the common yellow scorpion (Leiurus hebraeus) does have a dangerous sting, and is in fact one of the most venomous scorpions in the world - there are occasional fatalities. I haven't much seen yellow scorpions in these parts - maybe once. But coming home yesterday evening from my walk, I was convinced I might have seen one in the semi-darkness of my doorway, up on the wall. I panicked and so did he - he dropped to the ground and ran. But, afterwards, I was not sure what I had seen. It may only have been a harmless lizard. Lizards are often to be found close to wall lights, where they wait for insects to prey upon.

English pronunciation

Growing up in both the US and the UK, and then living away from English speaking countries for most of my life, I have a certain insecurity regarding the pronunciation of words. Some words I never actually acquired from hearing, but from my reading. And I often have an unusual take on how words ought to sound. The word “laconic” is a case in point. I always assumed it to be pronounced lassonic.

Nowadays, whenever I hear a word pronounced differently from the way that I had assumed correct, I look it up, listening to how US speakers say it, and how British people say it. There are often surprises.

The other day, listening to an Indian woman give Hindi lessons, I heard her say “equi-VAL-ent and suddenly doubted that I'd been pronouncing the word “equivalent” wrongly all my life. But no: both Brits and Americans say it in the same way, and probably she had, as I often do, learned it wrongly from reading. Indian English, too, has its own quirks, but I don't think this was one of them. The same happened again, when she said the word ”colloquial", which she pronounced “collokial”.

Then, in watching a history film narrated by, I think, a British historian, he used the word “Byzantine”. Now, I would, like Americans, say “bizanteen”, with an equal accent on all syllables, and a soft “een” at the end. However, a Brit would say “biz-ANT-ine”, which is quite different. Yet this British historian had his own personal variation, BY-ZANT-INE, with a hard Y in both the first and last syllables.

There are some words that I always assumed to have strictly British and American variants, such as “schedule”. Most Brits that I knew would say “shedule”, whereas Americans always say “skedule”. But nowadays, it turns out, British people often pronounce it as Americans do. The same is true of many words that get a hard U in Britain, like “presume”. The tendency, more and more, seems to give them a soft final sound, “prezoom”.

Languages change. Through TV and the internet, there has been a tendency to unify towards common pronunciations. Where I grew up, the word “book” would be pronounced “boowk” and the word “coat” would sometimes be pronounced “koyt”. Those regional differences are less acceptable today. But in some ways that's a shame. There's a charm in such variance. As an international language, I think English can be tolerant of differences. Just as Irish and Scots made the language their own, but changed it as well, Indians have developed a distinctly Indian kind of English. Further East, the Chinese created “pidgin” English, which was their hearing of the word “business”. They created a simplified language for conducting everyday trade. Israelis, too, have their own specific “mistakes” in using English. I was once amused when someone wrote over the gas stove “The gas is licking” (i.e. leaking). In Hebrew, there is no differentiation between short and long vowels, so Hebrew speakers often don't hear the difference. If English became a street language in Israel, as it has in parts of India, the language would subtly change and adopt Hebrewisms.

Links

Messaging app Signal not in compliance with new rules, say officials | Latest News India -Hindustan Times

Irish police to be given powers over passwords - BBC News

Irish police will have the power to compel people to provide passwords for electronic devices when carrying out a search warrant under new legislation.

It's interesting how quiet some websites, like the BBC's become when Javascript is disabled. Though that will break some sites, others simply work better.

India's Farmers and the Neoliberal Playbook - CounterPunch.org

The current struggle should not be regarded as a battle between the government and farmers. If what happened in Mexico is anything to go by, the outcome will adversely affect the entire nation in terms of the further deterioration of public health and the loss of livelihoods.

A good article. More articles by Colin Todhunter (but most from one year - 2017)
https://theecologist.org/profile/colin-todhunter