48 Responses to Chapter 3 | Page 84

  1. Kzwix says:

    French reader here. Everything is good, even tenses concordance (which surprised me, in a positive way).

    So you’re fine, at least for this page 🙂

  2. Number 6 says:

    Is it even possible to be fluent in reading a language but have no ability at all to speak or understand it from hearing? I can certainly see how that would be possible if the language had an entirely different symbology, say if he had learned to read Chinese by meaning without knowing how the symbols were pronounced, but French really isn’t all that different from English, relatively speaking. Surely nobody would teach reading-only French, so at the very least Philo would have to be 100% self-taught, and not through reading textbooks designed to teach French (because those would surely cover pronunciation) but by studying random texts written in both English and French. That’s a pretty impressive level of idiot-savant-ness, even for him!

    • Thomas says:

      It is very common in Asia for people to learn a strong ability to read English (e.g. so as to read published English articles and other written resources) and yet have almost no ability to effectively carry on even a minimal conversation in spoken English. Practically, being able to read the written language is useful, but the ability to speak it is not.

      • Number 6 says:

        That totally makes sense, particularly since the rules for pronouncing English words are random, arbitrary, illogical, and only loosely related to the spelling of the word. Still, I would be surprised if that were the case between two closely related languages.

        • HumalaDuck says:

          If I remember correctly, there are eight different ways to pronounce the letter sequence “ough” in English. In many respects, English is a very silly language.

          • Number 6 says:

            Roughly, if one is to think it through and be truly thorough about it (*cough, cough*) I thought there were at least ten, although some such as “plough” and “slough” aren’t all that common, and “lough” and “hiccough” are now non-standard spellings, so maybe those don’t count.

            • Thomas says:

              There is a very direct reason why English pronunciation is so irregular and inconsistent with spelling.

              Historically dictionaries of English were created before the spoken English language was standardized.

              In England you had many different regional variations of pronunciation for words, with corresponding differences of spelling (if one follows the pronunciation). So which spelling do you put in a dictionary, if you are trying to standardize the spelling?

              Choices were made, but sometimes they “bet” on the spelling for a pronunciation that did not win out in the long run. So the end result is that we say the word as it was spoken in one region, while we spell the word according to how it was once pronounced differently in a different region.

              English wouldn’t have been this irregular if it had been able to standardize orally before it was standardized in writing.

              • Thomas says:

                p.s. Plus, if that weren’t enough irregularity, English also has a huge amount of borrowing from other languages, which throws in additional twists and turns.

              • Number 6 says:

                I’m not saying that’s not a reason, but why would English have had that issue more so than other languages, which also would have had many regional variations? Were they just way ahead of their time in dictionary technology?

                • mvandinter says:

                  Dr. Samuel Johnson is largely responsible for standardizing spelling in English. Unfortunately, the famed Dr. wanted to impress his fellow scholars with how erudite he was by using a word’s etymology as the basis for spelling rather than phonetics. Given the choice between a word’s simplest common spelling or an obtuse spelling that reflected a word’s Greek origin, for instance, he would invariably choose the “Look how smart I am” version.

                  • Number 6 says:

                    Aha! So this is the fellow millions of both native spellers and ESL students alike have wanted to burn in effigy for so many years. I can honestly say I learn more from Unearth than for all my other Webcomics I read combined.

                    Unearth: Come for the Entertaining Comic, Stay for the Educational Comment Section!

      • Erik Van Thienen says:

        It many cases it due to rote learning, with hardly any attention to conversation, leading to a lack of confidence in speaking the language. And if you have on top of that a shame-based culture …

        • Number 6 says:

          To be fair, that guy probably can’t even read French with any fluency either. It’s still mind-boggling, though. You could get a computer to make up a nonsense “language” of 100,000 “words” composed of random letters, and this guy could probably memorize it in a few weeks.
          Just goes to show that in athletics or Scrabble or pretty much in any other endeavor, competition at the highest levels goes to the person with the genetic dumb-luck advantage rather than the hardest worker. Not very motivating. That’s why I only strive for mediocrity!

    • mvandinter says:

      It is my understanding that reading-only language skills were not uncommon among well-educated Europeans of the era, especially Greek and Latin. There are also many polyglots and hyperpolyglots who read more languages than they speak. English, as the modern lingua franca, is read by many millions more people than speak it, as was the case when French was the lingua franca.

    • Wyvern says:

      If he learned the language from a French-to-English lexicon, it wouldn’t necessarily have a pronunciation guide (or maybe he just skipped that part).

      • Thomas says:

        Just for fictional fun, consider what happened with Tarzan, who was raised by apes with no access to spoken English. So he couldn’t speak with Jane. …

        Those who know the original story will recognize and recall where I’m heading with that very fictional illustration, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

  3. Number 6 says:

    Vote incentive: Meanwhile, somewhere else, Roddy is looking at those same clouds, and thinking the exact same thing.

  4. Dreadogastus says:

    Damn! You made me look. It was not an an unpleasant experience.

  5. Sturzkampf says:

    Yes, but why does the Frenchman want to go to Devon?

  6. Yakumo says:

    Even Philo’s pride must fall before an appeal to the ultimate authority, Godfrey, and now he is forced to admit his limitation.

    Still seems a little out of sorts that a Victorian gentleman would not have picked up some French, spoken included. It’s the international language of the time AND speaking it is considered a sign of the elite. Granted, Philo can read it, but even a recluse mad scientist had to interact with his peers in school, surely.

    • Number 6 says:

      Philo probably kept mostly to himself, terrified of interaction, his psyche horribly scarred after years of abuse by (m)Alice. Though we at least know he was friends with the ship’s current highly qualified captain in school, so there is that.

    • mvandinter says:

      Of course it’s not impossible or even unheard of that a reclusive English aristocrat only reads French. The expectation that Philo should speak French is why he’s embarrassed. It’s a topic that will come up again, so beware.

    • HumalaDuck says:

      In today’s episode of “HumalaDuck Vaguely Recalls”: I *think* it was a true story, but prepare your salt grains…

      During WWII on some Nazi occupied Greek island there was a wandering priest that all the locals thought was a madman because of the incoherent things constantly emanating from his mouth. Turns out the “priest” was a British spy who had been snuck onto the island. His qualifications for the job? Throughout his studies he had studied Greek. *Ancient* Greek. It was probably only down to the fact that the Nazis didn’t know any Greek at all that kept him from being discovered and summarily executed minutes after setting foot on the island.

      The moral of the lesson is…it is incredibly difficult to over-estimate just how egocentric and out of touch with Europe England has been throughout the centuries. “Why should I learn a language that isn’t my own? If I just speak English slowly and loudly enough, ‘Johnny Foreigner’ will savvy plenty, by jingo!”

      • mvandinter says:

        Facepalm AwardBecause… I want more installments of HumalaDuck Vaguely Recalls!

      • Number 6 says:

        Only because, for thousands of years, Europe has been known to Brits mostly as “that (bleeping) place that (bleeping) keeps invading* us!”
        *and/or planning/trying unsuccessfully to invade, in more recent times.

        I even heard somewhere that once they tried to dig a tunnel under the Channel to invade, if you can believe that! 😮
        Seems a bit dubious, though…

        • HumalaDuck says:

          “Only” is, at best, an overstatement. I mean, some of those invasions were pretty confusing affairs. How many times were the invaders actually the return of folks who were previously British? Or the people who were being invaded were only on the premises because they had invaded decades previously? No amount of scorecards could keep that higgledy-piggledy straight.

          I think a much more probable cause for the abundance of casual Euro racism in Britain stems from the last few hundred years history: the age of modern empires. The time honored method of greasing the wheels of war, to solidify a peoples’ collective national identity is to dehumanize the opposing side. It’s much easier to spend a few decades at a time committing a vast array of inhumanities on man if you’ve convinced yourself and the people you rule that the enemy is something significantly less than human. Also, that whatever conflict you’re about to enter will be “over by Christmas.”

          Hundreds of years of hot and cold war on land, sea and air is gonna leave a mark. I guess then the question for me is “Why does it seem that the Brits have hung onto that grudge longer than the Continent?

      • Yakumo says:

        See, the situation with Philo is different. That was in WWII and dealing with Greece, which is way over there. But in Victorian England, French is in vogue, and even recognized as an international there. After all, the last major invaders, as such, were the Normans, who were controlling both England and (at least a good part of) France.

        Keeping in mind the original Sherlock Holmes stories were printed in the news paper, Holmes would at times belt out some two or three sentence phrase in French, no translation given. Of course, that was written, but the idea was the popular character spoke French.

        For that matter, though his capability and love of the English language did him well in his life, Churchill was considered not that great of a student in part because of his poor ability with other languages, French and Latin included. At least he was honest about. During the Second Great War, when sending a radio message to France, he began with “I apologize, for I am not about to speak to you in French.”

        • Thorin Schmidt says:

          mmmm yes, that and his fiasco with the “ironsides” project. Good thing his Doctor was there is all I have to say…

          • Erik Van Thienen says:

            “However, by being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English.” – Churchill, “My Early Life: A Roving Commission”, 1930

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