Nostalgia (from Greek algos “pain, grief, distress” (see -algia) + nostos “homecoming,” from PIE *nes- “to return safely home”; Transferred sense (the main modern one) of “wistful yearning for the past” first recorded 1920).
Severe homesickness. Wistful yearning for the past. When I claim to be a nostalgic person, such dramatic descriptions are usually not what I have in mind. I don’t really mourn the fact that there is no such thing as a time machine. If something can’t be recovered, there is no use it can serve.
No, I’m the kind of person who likes to take things of the past which can be recovered, and put them to use in the present. There is no need to be homesick or wistful, because the object of your desire is right there in front of you. For example, right now I am looking at a copy of Goodwin’s Greek Grammar from 1895. Even 118 years later, it is genuinely useful (well, at least if you’re a geek who is fascinated by the languages of past civilizations).
But that sort of example is a bit extreme, isn’t it? So let’s see if I can come closer to present time. One of my best friends while growing up used to have a Commodore 64. This beige breadbox of a machine came out in 1982, but it was light years ahead of its time and massively popular, surviving even into the nineties. Its graphics and sound capabilities made it an ideal machine for games. I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I visited this friend a lot.
Today, you don’t even need the physical device in order to enjoy that experience, thanks to the existence of emulators. So in effect, technology is being used to resurrect technology. There are websites dedicated to the games, the original music, remixes, in fact every aspect of that particular phenomenon. No time machines required.
Logic is a fascinating study in its own right, no less so for a student of language. Indeed, I think the relationship between language and logic is an especially interesting topic. But studying logic is a bit like learning how to ride a bike for the first time, even though reasoning itself is something that comes quite naturally to us.
There are some pitfalls which you should know about from the outset:
Fundamentally, logic is about what follows from what. When we use logic to evaluate arguments, the real issue is not the content of the argument in question, but simply its form.
Any argument of the following form is considered valid:
(1) If P, then Q.
(3) Therefore, Q.
There is no way that you can have the premises (1) and (2) be true but the conclusion (3) false.
Here is an example of such an argument:
(1) If Newton was a physicist, then he was a scientist.
(2) Newton was a physicist.
(3) Therefore, Newton was a scientist.
Since the premises happen to be true, the argument is also sound. But now consider the following:
(1) If Chardonnay is a car, then Paris is the capital of Spain.
(2) Chardonnay is a car.
(3) Therefore, Paris is the capital of Spain.
Something must have gone wrong, because the conclusion is obviously wrong. Paris is the capital of France, not Spain. And quite clearly, Chardonnay is a wine rather than a car. But not only is the argument valid (because it has exactly the same form as the previous argument), but the first premise is true! How can this be?
It’s important here to understand something about how conditional sentences work in logic. A statement like “if P, then Q” is only false if the antecedent (P) is true but the consequent (Q) is false. Since they are both false, there is no way for that to be the case. This is known as material implication.
Another odd thing is that you can infer anything from a contradiction (known in technical terms as the principle of explosion).
For example (note that “or” here is inclusive, not exclusive):
(1) Water is wet and water is not wet. (Assumption)
(2) Water is wet, from (1) by conjunction elimination.
(3) Water is wet or Elvis is alive, from (2) by disjunction introduction.
(4) But water is not wet, from (1) by conjunction elimination.
(5) Therefore, Elvis is alive, from (3) and (4) by disjunctive syllogism.
If it’s any consolation (I’m sure it isn’t), these things get less confusing with practice.
Linguists tend to focus on natural languages, like English, German, Arabic or Japanese.
And quite honestly, I’m not an exception to that. But I do have a history with and fascination for constructed languages (popularly called “conlangs”). Of course, one reason to invent a language is simply to entertain its creator. But the most intriguing reason is to enable groups of people who may speak completely different languages to communicate.
Today, English often serves the role of such a lingua franca internationally (and that’s at least part of the reason why this blog is written in English). This is not without its problems: the communication does not take place on a level playing field, because native speakers in the Anglo-American world have an obvious advantage (although I’ve been told that my English is not too far off). Besides, there is a definite tendency to overrate English proficiency around the world: I’ve travelled extensively enough in Europe to know that there are a great many people who barely speak the language, if at all. You can also use an online writing service for successful learning and correct writing on foreign language.
I remember being especially intrigued at the age of 11 when I discovered the most successful of the invented languages, Esperanto. With a simple and completely regular grammar (which can be summed up in 16 rules), a small basic vocabulary which can be expanded indefinitely with the help of affixes (for example, “granda” means “big”, and if you add the prefix “mal-” you automatically get a word with the opposite meaning “small”, malgranda), and even a fair amount of literature, it has managed to gain some momentum over the years.
Since those days, my enthusiasm has cooled off somewhat and I have become more cynical. I doubt whether any language, whether it is natural or constructed, could really fill the role of a global lingua franca properly.
So at the end of the day, I prefer to learn a new language so I can speak with people directly. There is nothing that compares to it.