American English Dialects: in which we gaze at a super-cool map

Accents are fascinating. If you hear their nuances you can tell a lot about someone’s history—where they were born, where they’ve spent time since then. The differences are remarkable in a small country like the United Kingdom, but the United States has it’s own trove of dialects. Rick Aschmann is compiling mounds of data to draw a linguistic map of English-speaking North America. I haven’t plumbed its depths, but the YouTube links are very handy for hearing an accent in question. The site looks a bit dated, I know. I shudder with excitement at the idea of what the digital humanities scene could do with this idea.

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So You Want to Write a Fugue?: in which Glenn Gould seems cooler than he used to

My dad sent me this video a while ago, and now and then I go back and watch it. I’m particularly fond of two spots:

1) Around 1:20 there’s a nice reference to the circle of fifths, which always seems to be inserted in Bach’s fugues too. I find them warm and comforting.

2) Around 3:55 two themes get together that up to that point had been treated independently. One is the original subject of the fugue (in minor). The other is a secondary theme (I know your thinking, “Hey! That’s Sonata-Allegro form terminology! Shame on You!” I know—you’re right, but I’m using it generically. Since I haven’t done a proper analysis, I hesitate to call it the subject of a counter exposition because I’m pretty sure it’s not). Anyhoo, this secondary theme was originally presented in minor as well, but when it’s laid in counterpoint to the original subject, it’s in major (E-flat) whilst the prime subject remains in minor (c). They are relative keys, but the subject is clearly centered on C minor while the other, given the precedent set by its earlier occurrence, clearly begins in E-flat major.

Cool, no? But not like “jazz” cool. More like “Seventeenth-Century Parody” cool.

Caveat: As a music theoretician, which I hereby decide sounds much more awesome than music theorist (or theoretical musicist, as I had been trying to coin), I have to disagree with Glenn Gould, who states over the course of the piece that if you want to write a fugue, you should forget all the theory that you’ve read and just write one. Such an idea is patently absurd. Perhaps Glenn Gould can manage that kind of methodology (or lack thereof), but the majority of us cannot. Then again, the majority of us can manage things that Glenn Gould could not, like keeping our mouths shut during a performance, so maybe it all evens out.

[This recording of So You Want to Write a Fugue? is performed here by Elizabeth Benson-Guy, Anita Darian, Charles Bressler, Donald Gramm, and the Juilliard String Quartet, according to the YouTube description.]

[EDIT: I actually googled music theoretician and it is used a few places. I’m not alone in the universe!]

Digging Deeper into Film: in which we examine the underlying worldview of 2009′s Star Trek (Part 2)

Technology in Star Trek is rather impressive. I think the transporter is one thing anyone, hard-core fan of the franchise or not, can come away with thinking, “I wish that were real!” Nearly instantaneous travel across long distances—who wouldn’t want that! (Check out other wish-it-were tech from sic-fi here.)

The idea behind it is the disassembling of a person (or item) at the molecular level (kind of like the TV room in Willy Wonka) and transmitting them electronically over a distance.  It’s basically like faxing yourself. Besides possible horrific results, like in the 1958 film The Fly, the transporter raises ethical questions, treated powerfully in The Prestige. Remember, fax machines copy a page and transmit it electronically to another place, where it is copied. The original document never travels, so you’d basically be making a copy of yourself. But more than that, it assumes that all there is to a person is matter.

I’m not talking about the mind per se  so much as the notion of the human soul. In some sense, memory and personality are encoded in neural pathways and [insert impressive brain words], but concept of the soul is not connected with any specific organ or part of the body. The implication of Star Trek’s transporter, then, is that there is no soul.

Star Trek, to my knowledge (which is fairly extensive with regard to Star Trek: the Next Generation, it’s movies, and Star Trek: Voyager, and adequate among the other series), never address the state of religion among humanity. (They also never address waste management and toilets, but that’s another conversation entirely.) They encounter the belief systems of alien races frequently, but I cannot remember a single instance in which they directly address the belief system(s) still practiced among humans. There are weddings and funerals in the show, and both these types of ceremonies often contain religious language or implication—but no.

Are we to assume that since none of the human characters ever practice any religious observance, their entire society is homogeneously atheistic? That’s patently absurd; we might as well assume that humans have evolved past the need to void their bladders because the show never even shows a toilet in crew members’ quarters. No, my guess is that the writers wished to avoid alienating parts of their fan base. Regardless of the intention, the existence and extensive use of transporter technology in Star Trek seems to imply a stance on that worldview. That mankind does not possess a soul and can therefore be disassembled and reassembled somewhere else.

Don’t check your brain at the door.