pizza boxes

What kind of person throws their used pizza boxes out the window into the back garden?

For several weeks on end last summer, various items of household rubbish kept appearing in our patch of the back garden. We eventually realised, through serendipitously happening to be looking out the window when it happened, that our neighbours across the hall had just been flinging them out – from the third floor – we spotted a hand and a box, followed by the box flying through the air and plopping onto the grass many feet below. Pizza boxes, cereal packets, and eventually and incomprehensibly, a blue plastic swing bin itself. Mate, you don’t throw your bin out the window, you use a bin bag and c a r r y it down the stairs when it gets full.

Anyway, that lot moved out, to general relief as they had been anything but desirable neighbours, but to my horror this morning the disgusting pattern of four pizza boxes accompanied this time by a bulging black bin liner has manifested itself again. Not, thankfully, in our patch of the garden, but a couple of doors down. What disgusting people live on my street! I suppose it’s only a pity that the CCTV cameras aren’t pointed at the back garden instead of our front windows.


ten days

I’m alarmed to see how long it’s been since I added a new post: even though I have achieved a holiday in between times, this still must be a record length of posting inactivity.

Well, you shall suffer this silence no longer. Here is a token post as proof that the blog lives, if not my ability to think of anything worthwhile to say.

I had intended, for one thing, to tell you about the biography of William Wilberforce which I read on my travels. However, I must confess that I left it behind at one of my stops – in spite of it being a hulking 600-page hardback and not the sort of thing you might easily overlook in packing. I had at least finished it, but as usual my hopeless memory for narrative and detail means that I can only give my recommendation in the most general terms. The fact that it was written by William Hague was not quite as distracting as I’d feared it might be – and actually Hague rose in my estimation through his generous (though not uncritical) respect for someone who was much more talented, hardworking, and justifiably renowned than I’d realised.

More linguistically, I did also learn some local Caithness words this past month, even though I’ve already forgotten them too, but my rant about the new Gaelic dictionary which I acquired in the process of crossing the Minch is very much forthcoming and will be treated to a post of its own in due course.

the difference between faith and hope

John Bunyan (author of the Pilgrim’s Progress and other classics) wrote a treatise on the text in the Psalms which calls on its readers to ‘hope in the Lord.’ Here I’m quoting an excerpt from right at the start of the book, where he differentiates between faith and hope, two graces which are in some ways quite similar.

“[In the text in question (‘Let Israel hope in the Lord,’ Psalm 130: 7)] that which is preadmitted is Faith. For when we speak properly of Hope, and put others distinctly to the duty of hoping, we conclude that such have faith already; for, no faith, no hope. To hope without faith is to see without eyes, or to expect without a ground: for ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for,’ as well with respect to the grace [of faith] as to the doctrine of faith. … He that never believed, never hoped in the Lord. Wherefore when he saith, ‘Let Israel hope in the Lord,’ he presupposeth faith, and signifieth that he speaketh to believers.

“That which is … [implied] [in the text] is, that Hope has in it an excellent quality to support Israel in all his troubles. Faith has his excellency in this, Hope in that, and Love in another thing. Faith will do that which Hope cannot do; Hope can do that which Faith doth not do; and Love can do things distinct from both their doings. Faith goes in the van, Hope in the main body, and Love brings up the rear; and thus now abideth Faith, Hope, and Charity.

“Faith is the mother-grace, for hope is born of her; but Charity floweth from them both. But now we are upon Faith and Hope distinctly, to let you see a little. Faith comes by hearing, hope by experience. Faith comes by hearing the word of God; hope by the credit that faith has given to it. Faith believeth in the truth of the word; hope waiteth for the fulfilling of it. Faith looks through the word to God in Christ; hope looks through faith, beyond the world, to glory.

“Faith lays hold of that end of the promise that is next to us, to wit, as it is in the Bible; hope lays hold of that end of the promise that is fastened to the mercy-seat. For the promise is like a mighty cable, that is fastened by one end to a ship, and by the other to the anchor. The soul is the ship where faith is, and to which the hither end of the cable is fastened; but hope is the anchor that is at the other end of the cable, ‘and which entereth in to that within the veil.’ Thus faith and hope getting hold of both ends of the promise, they carry it safely all away.

“Faith looks to Christ as dead, buried, and ascended; and hope looks for his second coming. Faith looks to him for justification; hope for glory. Faith fights for doctrine; hope for reward: faith for what is in the bible; hope for what is in heaven. Faith purifies the heart from bad principles; hope from bad manners, 2 Peter 2: 11, 14.

“Faith sets hope on work; hope sets patience on work. Faith says to hope, ‘Look for what is promised;’ hope says to faith, ‘So I do, and will wait for it too.’

“Thus faith saves, and thus hope saves. Faith saves by laying hold of God by Christ. Hope saves by prevailing with the soul to suffer all troubles, afflictions, ans adversities that it meets with betwixt this [world] and the world to come, for the sake thereof [ie for the sake of the world to come]. … Hope has a thick skin, that will endure many a blow; it will put on patience as a vestment, it will wade through a sea of blood, it will endure all things, if it be of the right kind, for the joy that is set before it.”

John Bunyan, Israel’s Hope Encouraged, excerpt from the first section.

trust – the essential ingredient of saving faith

This is the definition of faith that I grew up with.*

Saving faith consists of three things. Firstly there must be knowledge of the truth; secondly there must be assent or consent to the truth; and thirdly there must be an actual entrusting of ourselves to the person revealed in the truth.

When it’s put in this way, it should be clear that the gospel message is fundamentally concerned with presenting sinners with a Saviour. Glad tidings of great joy: a Saviour, Christ the Lord. This person – the person of the Saviour – is what’s offered to us as what we should believe in. And it is important that those who hear this message are assured that Christ is both a suitable and a sufficient Saviour for them – that is, that each hearer of the gospel message should treat this revelation as if it was meant for them and nobody else, and believe it.

But: what’s meant by believing it is not merely that people should consent that the gospel is a good message to hear and agree that the doctrines are true and make sense. Rather, in addition to coming round to consent to the truth of the message, faith must also include this further ingredient which reaches, through the message, to the person of the Saviour himself, and that is the element which I have been calling all along in the current discussion by the name of trust.

Of course, if people get as far as consenting to the truth, that has to be acknowledged as a great mercy, as far as it goes (because too many people don’t agree or consent to anything like it) – and people are, actually, required to assent to the goodness and the truth of the gospel – you cannot be saved without assenting to the truths which scripture reveals, and dissent and rejection are undoubtedly one of the most fundamental manifestations of rebellion and disobedience to the authority of God and his word.

But still, a person can know all this truth and agree with it (and admire it and argue for it and not repudiate one strand of any teaching of scripture) – and still not go the further crucial step and actually entrust themselves to the person who the gospel reveals, taking him to be to them exactly the Saviour he is revealed to be to his people in the truth.

Therefore, while it must be confessed that the gospel message is doctrinal, and propositional, and demands to be acknowledged as true – that it is God’s authoritative truth which must be accepted and obeyed – yet, simultaneously it must be recognised that what the message is about is a person, a Saviour, Christ the Lord. The content of the propositions are always about Christ – as he said himself, ‘The scriptures testify of me.’

The testimony of scripture is a presentation of the Saviour from no end of beautiful angles – as friend, brother, teacher, pioneer, healer – metaphorically as the bread of life for hungry souls, the water of life for thirsty souls, the door to life for dead souls – in his mediatorial offices as prophet, priest, and king of his people. And in each of these ways, he is presented as the one who we must believe on, first and foremost: it is Christ himself who is the object of faith, rather than doctrines about him.

It’s one thing, for example, to know or be acquainted with the fact that Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd …’ it’s another and better thing to concur that Jesus is the good shepherd; but it’s another thing, better still, and crucial to saving faith, to receive and rest on Jesus to be your shepherd. Or to put it this way – while it’s one thing to know that his blood cleanses sinners from all sin, the crucial thing is to go to him for the cleansing that only his blood can provide.

To speak more particularly to the controversy at hand: receiving and resting on him, and going (or coming) to him, are more or less equivalent ways of saying trusting in him, and they constitute, or reflect, that aspect of saving faith which is fundamentally not something that can be done merely with the mind or intellect or understanding. This involves both more than the truth and more than the intellect: although faith necessarily (i) is grounded on the truth and (ii) includes the participation of the understanding, it does not qualify as saving faith unless it also includes (i) a union with Christ who is revealed in the truth, which can be described as (ii) a reliance on him with the whole soul – mind, and will, and emotions, and all.

This is the principal reason why mere knowledge isn’t good enough. Although you do need to know about him, your acquaintance with the doctrines does not answer the purpose of the gospel in presenting him for our acceptance. Food sitting on the table does me no good if I don’t reach out and eat it – and nor (speaking reverently) does all the goodness of God save my soul if I don’t taste for myself and see that he is good. The tasting, the eating and drinking, the cleansing and healing all need to be experienced by my soul, but all these things are provided in Christ, by Christ, on the basis of what Christ has done – they are all out of my reach if I don’t have him, and I must make contact with him by faith, if I am to have any benefit from these things which are the salvation he provides.

* Some day maybe I will tell you how I grew up with lots of definitions of lots of things and knew the bible and catechism inside out, and had the entire scheme of redemption worked out perfectly in my head – and how this suited me fine, until I started to realise that if this body of knowledge carried on staying in my head, I would still be lost unless it would also take possession of my heart. It’s those crucial eighteen inches, as a man who was much taller than me said – if the truth doesn’t travel down from your head into your heart, you’ve missed its whole point. These things are written so that you would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you would have life through his name. John 20:31.

the requirement for faith

According to the reformed way of thinking, humanity’s basic problem is our distance from God. The problem more specifically is that our distance from God is sinful – it is our sin, I suppose – and it is characterised by a such preference on our part for maintaining this distance between us and him that we disable ourselves from ever beginning to make a move towards him.

It’s into this situation that the gospel message comes, to offer the hope of reconciliation to every sinner distanced from God by their sin. The briefest possible summary of the gospel message that I can imagine is just, “There is a Saviour for sinners,” but of course there needs to be more information than that. The precise nature and extent of the sinfulness of these sinners is one area which needs further elaboration (although here I’ll just refer you to this and this part of scripture without going into too much detail). We also need to know more about the identity of the Saviour – fundamentally that he is the Son God in human nature (Luke 1:35, eg), and perhaps some other things, the more the better, such as the fact that he acts as Saviour with God’s approval, and has all the qualifications necessary in a Saviour of sinners.

But in addition to this, we need to know how sinners, and the Saviour provided for sinners, can meet. It’s one thing that there is a Saviour, but how can he be my Saviour? It’s in God’s infinite grace that he does provide a Saviour, but if I myself personally am to benefit from that provision, there has to be a way that he becomes not only available to me but actually possessed by me.

Of course, you can’t tell the whole story without explaining God’s part, and how God puts his provision into the possession of the sinner. But I’m only talking about our side of the story, and on the part of the sinner what is required is faith.

And it is faith specifically that is required for a sinner to be saved. When the question is asked directly, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ the answer is straightforwardly, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ That is, ‘by grace ye are saved through faith’ rather than anything else; ‘The scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?’ (References here, here, and here.)

Clearly, as sinners, prior to conversion, we are lacking in every grace – not just faith, but also love, and obedience, and patience, and godliness, and brotherly kindness – we are guilty for our sins of omission and commission in all these areas and more. And the Christian (the sinner, in other words, who is saved) is expected and duty-bound to show evidence of all these things, and is obliged to grow in grace in every way. But without faith, it is not possible either to have or to grow in any of these other graces.

It presumably goes without saying that people who don’t love the Lord cannot be saved, and that the same holds for those who don’t obey or worship or repent towards the Lord. But faith is necessary for salvation in a unique way – as the one grace which, by taking hold of the Saviour, closes the sinful distance between the sinner and the Saviour, and puts the sinner in a state of reconciliation with God who they have offended. What faith is, in other words, is the means of connection between the graceless sinner and Christ the gracious Saviour who saves graceless sinners.

Before there can be any spiritual life in the soul, then – before the soul is saved, and before there can be any sign of these other graces which always accompany faith – the soul needs to make contact with the Saviour by faith, and any kind of faith that falls short of uniting the sinner to the Saviour cannot be a saving faith.


Having fled the halls of academe in search of recuperation, I am now ensconced with my internet connection in an uncharacteristically sunny part of the country.

I haven’t forgotten the ‘what is faith’ discussion but am still trying to see how many words I can un-italicise in my draft of my promised response. I might also write a couple of auxiliary posts for purposes of filling in the general background so that the original point itself doesn’t become too badly lost in wordage … but I’ll see how it goes.

(The by-now-somewhat-ancient paper trail is as follows:
The cause of faith
Faith is the substance of things …
What is faith?
Bonar (and Sievewright))

But really I just want to sleep, a lot. Conferences are decidedly not holidays, even if you are granted a free afternoon half way through. In addition to realising that some very brilliant researchers are not very good at presenting their research, I also decided that, henceforth, on principle, I will never ever blot my career by starting off a powerpoint presentation with a slide devoted to an overview of my talk. Considering that most talks begin with an introduction, proceed to methods, are followed by results, and round off with, oh, some conclusions, the only possible response to the fourth ‘overview of this talk’ in one day can only be a sad recognition that if there was ever anything innovative about this procedure, it is now only desperately dull. Particularly when talks are as short as 15 minutes, whoever invented the mantra, ‘tell them what you’re going to say, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them,’ ought to be shot. The mantra itself is mind numbingly repetitious: when implemented, it only generates a stupefying quantity of redundant information and is utterly grindingly predictable.

In my humble opinion, anyway.

Live from Saarbruecken, for Grant

Here’s a talk by some people from my department! There’s too much technical terms for me to make it sound terribly accessible on the fly so I’ll just tell you what they’re saying.

They basically want to know if segmental and suprasegmental information is processed together, or independently of each other.

The study used nonsense sequences differing in both segmental information and prosodic information, embedded in taken out from carrier sentences and spliced into the preposition ‘in’ each other; it was a two-choice classification task – participants had to decide if the stimuli contained ‘d’ vs ‘g’, or consisted of one word vs two words.

The predictions were subtle and clever enough to have intelligent members of the audience nodding quietly and with satisfaction, althoug

The results of the study confirmed neither of the predictions about whether processing was integral versus spontaneous independent. When there was an F0 (pitch) cue to word boundary the stimuli seem to have been processed in parallel – using it perhaps to anticipate when the target consonants would appear, although this was only a tentative conclusion.

In the question/discussion session, one questioner worries that the acoustic cues are inadequate because they don’t perform the same function out of context as they do in context. The presenter agrees that the stimuli don’t sound very natural, but this was not relevant for the purposes does not change the conclusion of the experiment.

And now I need to press publish before my very feeble battery runs out.

[Edited by the speaker herself!!!]

heading off

. . . hopefully, for sunnier climes, and certainly for lots of phonetics fun.

I’m going to be away all of next week at least, and unlikely to be very active on the blogging front. Unlike Grant, I didn’t have the foresight to prepare any posts to publish into the future.

Of course if anyone wants some live blogging of presentations on coarticulation, voice quality, and nasalisation, feel free to leave your begging comments below :)

ID cards on File on 4

I listened to File on 4’s ‘A Question of Identity’ through headphones on my walk home last night. Since that included walking through a couple of fire engine sirens on what turned out to be the windiest route I could have chosen, some bits were certainly lost to me.

However, there was an unmistakeable feeling that this is a project doomed to cost the earth – someone actually said that in meetings with the Home Office, the government refused to give an estimate even to the nearest billion pounds. (This was in a quiet part of town: I don’t think I misheard.)

The Home Office also came across as distinctly amateurish in their attitude to the project – not fully understanding either the possibilities or the limitations of the technology they’re trying to make use of. Their plans keep changing (it’ll be a completely new database – no, it’ll be an expansion of the government’s current databases), their separate departments can’t agree on what they actually concretely want the database for, and nor have they ever provided estimates of how much they are each prepared to contribute to it.

The only thing that’s clear from the government’s side is that they really, really want to create this database, and it needs to have as much detailed personal information as possible about every single adult in the population, because it will be really, really beneficial for us all. What precisely those benefits are meant to consist of has never yet been pinned down.

(Yes, I know it was meant to be a cure-all, solving in one fell swoop every conceivable type of crime from terrorism (naturally) to illegal immigration (umm…) to ‘identity theft’ (or plain old fraud as I’ve decided to keep calling it in the interests of realism and a sense of perspective). But we’ve been here before, and unfortunately for the government, databases just don’t have the power to achieve any of these things.)

What the programme didn’t cover was any argument from the civil liberties perspective (I’ll just have to refer you back to No2ID for that). Or try this prize-winning essay in the Times if you’d prefer. But if people aren’t interested in the civil liberties principles, the next most annoying thing possible is to be forced to pay through the nose for something you don’t particularly want, won’t do an awful lot to help you, and has more than the potential to make life really rather unpleasant – and if the fear of a white elephant is enough to harden public opinion against ID cards and the identity database, that’s good enough for me.

The programme itself is available here to listen again, although I’ve no idea how long it’ll stay available. It lasts 40 min but any 10-min chunk should be enough to creep you out quite comprehensively.

householder’s asthma

Right now I’m reading ‘The primacy of writing’, a fascinating chapter in a 1971 book by Fred Householder (an American linguist at Indiana University who died in 1994 at the age of 80). It’s an attempt to integrate orthographic information into the kind of phonological grammar which Chomsky and Halle had presented in their 1968 Sound Pattern of English, which I think is deeply misguided, but which does include a very valuable discussion about the relation of writing and orthography to linguistics and phonology.

But that’s a digression. (How wonderful, to start off with a digression, she adds parenthetically.) The question I really want to ask is, how do you pronounce the word asthma?

There are three options so far:

  • /azmə/, ie with “z”
  • /asθmə/, ie pronouncing “th”
  • /asmə/, ie with “s” and not pronouncing “th”

One of these options is provided by Householder and the other two come from the OED. Two of them I find surprising, but I’m prepared to believe there could be regional differences.

Footnote: I’m allowed to file this under ‘phonology’ because it mentions SPE. The pronunciation question is of course completely trivial from a phonological point of view :)