exploring the options

Moving from Blogger isn’t exactly breaking my heart but it’s a good thing I’m doing it in the holidays with plenty of time on my hands.

So far:

  • I like the themes better
  • You get better control of how to write and what it looks like
  • When you preview a draft, it comes up exactly how it’s going to appear when you press publish (in Blogger you only see the text, and sometimes the layout gets messed up)
  • It’s easier to manage the sidebar (by drag and drop, and when you want to add a link you just click on ‘add link’)

Also, you can add more pages. So if I ever do take the notion to write an exhaustive critique of, um, anything that’s been annoying me recently, I can put it in its own page and take all the space I like. This is great.



Something has been really annoying me, this ‘festive’ season. Several days ago the person doing Thought For The Day was drawing a somewhat stretched parallel between the misery and despair in the situation of women who end up as prostitutes (and the compassion with which we should regard them) and the situation of Mary in Bethlehem when there was no room for them in the inn. He’d been in a brothel in India, he said, and there was nothing glamorous about it: doesn’t that remind you of the gritty realities that Mary faced, which don’t quite match with the sentimentalised version of events portrayed in nativity scenes and carols.

As he pointed out, prostitution in Britain is almost always, in something like 90% of cases, linked with one or more of these three factors: addiction, abuse, and dysfunctional personal relationships. (This observation not only shows the futility of the arguments in favour of legalising prostitution in this country, but also highlights the sick desperation of the men who provide the demand in this exploitative trade: that by the way.) Prostitution is not a choice, in other words, for the majority of women involved – unless it’s the choice between that and thieving, as one of the women recently murdered in Surrey was quoted in the papers as saying.

But my point is, basically, that the situation of these women is worlds away from how Mary was placed in Luke 2. There was no addiction, there was no abuse, and she was honourably engaged to be married to a very decent man. They weren’t particularly well off, and a manger wasn’t maybe the most luxurious of cots for a newborn baby, but everything was going according to plan and both Mary and Joseph were content with the situation.

All these associations which people try to draw between Mary and women in difficult situations today, don’t really hold water. However old Mary was, she wasn’t ‘a teenage mum.’ Although Joseph wasn’t the biological father, the child was not illegitimate. They might have been poverty stricken, and only able to offer a pair of pigeons for a sacrifice, but it wasn’t a poverty inflicted by substance abuse and inappropriate lifestyle choices.

It doesn’t bother me in the least to think of the gospel message mingling with the grubby realities of our miserable contemporary society. That is, after all, what it’s for – and the even more miserable, grubby reality of our situation is something called sin, and original sin at that, which tends not to come too sharply into focus when Thought For The Day types blether away about society’s problems.

But the gospel message isn’t primarily a message of sympathy – it’s a message of rescue. It may well be helpful to a person with problems to know that someone else has gone through an equivalent tough time, but the gospel is better than that – a way of escape from our misery which is caused by our sin – and escape from the eternal punishment which is the consequence of our sin, and ultimately escape from our sin itself. The reason why the hope and joy of the gospel is lost has a lot more to do with the minimising of the problem of sin which it is designed to deal with, than a failure to find any meaningful parallels between a given person’s situtation and that of some bible characters.

do you have your own bag with you today?

It was with only the tiniest hint of accusation that the woman behind the till in Sainsbury’s asked me this. Actually it’s the first time I’ve heard it put like that: you must be more likely to say yes to this question than no to ‘Do you need a bag?’ Proud to say, I did indeed have space in another bag. Every little helps, we agreed, in spite of that being Tesco’s slogan; she should technically have said, Try something new today. In fact (or so she implied anyway), I’ve just gained us 500 years longer as a planet by making this choice. Good to know eh!

christmas repeal

Radio 4’s Christmas Repeal is not, alas, proposing to abolish Christmas, as I thought for a mad moment of optimism. Instead it means you get to vote for the piece of legislation which you think is Britain’s ‘least useful or most damaging’ law – the votes will be counted on New Year’s Day.

The problem is, there’s just too many to choose from.

The 1967 abortion act?
The ID cards act 2006?
The 1972 European Communities Act?
The Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003?
The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006?

These are just the ones that spring to mind immediately.

And it’s noticeable how recent they mostly are. It reminds me of this article by Nick Clegg (the Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesman), where he says:

“The current Labour government is addicted to legislating; this has led to the curtailment of freedoms, confusion in business and crisis in our public services. In less than a decade in power the Blair government has clocked up over 50 Home Office Bills and created more than three thousand new criminal offences. They have added over a hundred thousand new pages of legislation to the statue book…”

How worried should I be, incidentally, to discover that I agree with almost all his Top Ten To Go?
1. Restrictions on protests in Parliament Square
2. Identity Cards
3. Extradition to the US without proper evidence
4. Police power to impose conditions on public assemblies of 2 people or more
5. Criminalising trespass in areas designated by the Home Secretary
6. Control orders
7. DNA retention of those not charged, or found innocent
8. Removal of the public interest defence for whistleblowers
9. Removal of the right to silence under arrest
10. Admissibility of hearsay evidence in court

wugs for sale

One of the most famous psycholinguistic tasks to have ever been done with children is the Wug Test.

First catch your child (aged about 4 for maximum effect), then show them a picture of a made-up animal-like object. Tell them, “This is a wug.”

Then show the child a picture of two of those objects, and say, “Now there are two of them. There are two _____”

If the child knows how to produce regular plurals in English, they should reply, “two wugs.”

So far, so obvious – but there’s more to it than that. In English, there are at least three ways of pronouncing the plural marker which we write “-s” – either /s/, /z/, or /əz/, depending on the phonological properties of the word you’re attaching it to.

If the word ends with a voiceless consonant, like cat, you use the /s/ version of the plural marker: /kats/.
If the word ends with a voiced sound (consonant or vowel), like dog or bee, you use the /z/ version: /dɔgz/, /biz/.
If the word ends with a sibilant, like horse, you use the /əz/ version: /hɔɹsəz/.

The different versions are called allomorphs – alternative forms of the one morpheme – and as you can see, the choice of which particular allomorph to use is rule-governed (or at any rate, it can be described in terms of fairly straightforward rules).

In the quest to find when and how children acquire this rule, Jean Berko Gleason came to fame with the wug test. As it explains in the Wikipedia article, it takes till about 5 or 6 years for children to master all the different aspects of this allomorphy – but the default /z/ form is usually acquired by the age of about 4. Meanwhile, the endearing little wug itself has taken on a life of its own and acquired an iconic status in the child language acquisition research community.

And in fact, so much so, that wug-based merchandise has in fact been recently made available from CafePress.com. You can get wug t-shirts, bags, aprons, and even a wug mug! It’s so exciting, and all in time for you know what pagan festival as well.

So if you were, in fact, wondering what to get me … well, first of all try Present Aid or Oxfam Unwrapped, but if you were still feeling generous after that, I really don’t feel my life would be complete without at least, let’s say, a fridge magnet to accompany Nelson Mandela’s ‘great generation’ quote and the obligatory humorous ‘sometimes I wake up grumpy’ one. The perfect gift solution, as the saying goes, for the language acquisitionist in your life.