Posts Tagged ‘review’

Conversation Exchange, use and abuse

November 21, 2018
celangspic

FIGURE 1:  COMPARATIVE M/F INDICATORS BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

Once my Conversation Exchange partner Kseniya (from the provincial town of X, well-known in 19th century literature) and I discussed the proper use of that resource.

I said that it was useful to have defined topics of conversation to avoid either having the same conversation time after time or getting into details of one’s life, thoughts and feelings that one would not necessarily want to share with a stranger or chance acquaintance. I also said that you needed either a reasonable level of the target language (I think that the site used to say that you needed Upper Intermediate for conversation to be any good–compare the definitions) or a degree of linguistic sophistication so as to make use of material you didn’t necessarily understand immediately.

Kseniya felt that these points were of frightening irrelevance. Her thoughts were that it was very difficult to find an English speaker who wanted to practise Russian and many of those you did find were in fact just looking for a woman.

I said that there were plenty of sites for that and these days you could surely speak to your intended via Skype on one of those. She had asked one of her undesired contacts about this and he had said that all the women there were crazy. I also said that she could look for female conversation partners, but they were apparently likely to want to talk about clothes and cosmetics.

She asked me why such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.  I said that since I wasn’t one of them I didn’t really know.

Anyway, the aim of the present study is to see whether there is evidence of men looking to use CE specifically to make contact with women from Russia/Ukraine (that is, Russian speakers) rather than to enhance their language skills.

The hypotheses to be tested as indicators of this behaviour were:
i) There is an excess of M over F for ENG->RUS;
ii) This surplus is more marked below Upper Intermediate;
iii) This excess is greater for ENG->RUS than for comparator languages.

Here by ENG->RUS and so on we mean English speakers seeking to exchange with Russian speakers.  From the data at https://wp.me/pBfTB-28k we take Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Japanese as comparators, because they seem to be languages of similar importance and popularity to Russian among English speakers and also to avoid excessive labour in counting instances.

We give some results above.  (Data was collected on 18/19 November 2018.)

TABLE 1:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR RUSSIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-RUS via chat M F
Beginner 1205 219
Elementary 276 52
Pre-intermediate 160 41
Intermediate 153 35
Upper intermediate 65 13
Advanced 40 15
Proficient 11 2
TOTAL 1910 377

A comparison of males and females as in Table 1 above certainly showed an excess of males, which is strange in view of the belief that the vast majority of students of modern languages in English-speaking countries are female.  However, this anomalous pattern was repeated for the other languages considered, for instance Italian as in Table 2 below:

TABLE 2:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR RUSSIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-ITA via chat M F
Beginner 675 570
Elementary 332 249
Pre-intermediate 265 154
Intermediate 264 173
Upper intermediate 125 66
Advanced 82 44
Proficient 26 9
TOTAL 1769 1265

Now then, Italian is really only spoken in Italy and Switzerland, so it is hard to see the excess men here all looking for an exploitative relationship with a woman from a poor country.

We can also see from the data above that a great many of the users of CE do not claim to be at a level to make use of it effectively.  But we can compare the difference in the percentage of M and F declaring themselves to be below Upper Intermediate level.  For instance, with regard to those seeking Russian speakers (Table 1), 93.93 % of men assign themselves to a level below UI as opposed to 92.04% of women, a difference of +1.88%, indicating that the men report themselves as less linguistically advanced than the women.  Similarly, the ratio of M to F here is 5.07.

Table 3 below shows these indicators for English speakers seeking the languages indicated:

TABLE 3:  COMPARATIVE INDICATORS OF M/F RATIO AND PERCENT <UI BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

RATIO PCDIFF
ITA 1.40 -3.76
POR 2.87 -4.71
RUS 5.07 1.88
TUR 2.12 -6.81
JAP 2.23 -2.03

These results are illustrated in Figure 1 above.  We see that by comparison with the other languages considered, those seeking Russian are marked by a large number of men relative to women and a large number of these men assigning themselves to lower levels of proficiency.

To summarise:  this study provides support to the hypothesis that such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.

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The Burial at Thebes, CSSD 25 July

July 26, 2018

****

burial1

Picture acquired from Twitter

A large audience of thin and good-looking young people followed with interest this version of Antigone, which struck me as a mainstream translation without added Heaney.  The theatre was also quite Greek, with its curved and raked rows of seats and a bare playing space.  The production alluded to Greece at the time of the War of Independence and some effective choruses were sung in a language that was not Attic or Greek or Irish.  The production concept worked rather well and effectively captured the necessary scale of the public and the communal. Our Antigone was probably mad, certainly dangerous to know and definitely her father’s daughter.  I was not sure that Heaney’s version captured the contrast between her language and that of Creon, though he did get some dead monsters of metaphors.

Our Antigone was certainly vehement, but especially at the beginning I had difficulty following her words.  The same kind of thing applied to Ismene, and it meant that Antigone tended to come off worse in her confrontations with Creon.  Creon and Eurydice were the performers who actually dominated the stage.  The Messenger for some reason had a Scottish accent that sometimes turned Irish, especially for constructions like I was after…The production was not entirely in control of time–the narrated deaths of Antigone and Haemon passed by rather quickly, then Eurydice’s death became one more thing after another.

All in all, a production that recognised the issues in staging Greek tragedy and dealt with them thoughtfully, though it did not always succeed in resolving them.

 

The War Has Not Yet Started, Southwark Playhouse 18 January

January 20, 2018
war_one

Picture from British Theatre Guide

This £12 preview had a large and enthusiastic audience–perhaps the actors were famous or something?  They were certainly very very good, and there was at most one early-run fluff that I noted.

Someone in the audience had pointed out that the programme didn’t tell you what the play was about, though there was some suggestion it was connected with war as a metaphor for human relationships.  Then the set was specifically enough a late-Soviet flat though the action of the twelve separate scenes, all with different characters and situations, seemed to be taking more or less in the present.   References to presentations and clients seemed to fix the period, while a character in the first scene drinking vodka and then beer to get calm determined the locale closely enough.

And you could see that war was somehow present in most of the scenes, although the couple copping off at the party and then him saying she was his first and only one might be difficult to fit into that.  And also the robot with an absurdity implant waiting to see the doctor.  The scenes at the beginning did recall actors doing improvisation exercises, which was all very clever but did they need an audience?  Interest did however grow as the evening went on.

A critic on the 172 bus afterwards said she liked the way the women played men and the man played women.  I think that wherever possible Sarah Hadland played a man and Mark Quartley played a woman, while Hannah Britland was not so typecast.  But it did seem to me her T-shirt was artfully billowed to disguise pregnancy–of the woman not of a character–, and so I was frankly terrified during a scene that threatened domestic abuse.

Now then, in his local media  playwright Mikhail Durnenkov gave a very straightforward interpretation of the play–it was meant to fix the period of its writing, when preparations for war were apparent and Russians were subjected to ceaseless propaganda.  That gave rise to incomprehension, hatred and violence in ordinary life.  The play was written with love for humanity and in the hope that Russia would not fall into the waiting abyss. To me that all makes sense:  the inbreaking of war, and rumours of war, result in dislocations–violent dislocations–of everyday life.

And also of sex roles, which might well be more of a shock in Russia than here.  The original text says that the thing is meant for three actors who can play the different characters without regard to age and sex.  Personally I would have gone for masks and probably a chorus as well.  With regard to that text, the translation was more in the line of an adaptation–the original robot just had an absurdity module, while from Thursday I remember an implant, between the second and third vertebrae.  A lot of the dialogue had also been normalised from the demotic and individual to general speech of educated people as well.

Certainly a lot to think about!

Make Elephants Fly

December 13, 2017

*****

elephants

I thought this book was very good!

It stems from the author’s experience in  the world of Silicon Valley start-ups, where venture capitalists will invest in promising enterprises and also take a seat on the board, with the idea of making lots of money at a successful IPO.  So they can involve themselves in at most 10 ventures and one of them has to win big.  Mere survival is hardly sufficient.

The book makes many interesting points, one important one being that technology is not enough, you have to meet a real customer need.  And meet it not too early and not too late–timing is the key here, so it helps to have a diverse team to catch the latest trends.  The success of Silicon Valley can be attributed to having a mixture of technical, artistic and business types in the same place.

It is best to use an off-the-shelf product and adapt it to what you want to do.  As a corollary, a very good place to start is the targeted prototype, where the customer sees a front end but the actual work can be done by hand if necessary.  Similarly, If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. The important thing is to figure out the one thing that customers want, and this is linked with the question What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

If you don’t want to innovate, try to get it right first time.  The important thing is to get to failure as quickly as possible, so that you can change direction and try something else.  Facebook has the principles 1. Move fast and break things  2. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  3. Put people at the centre of things.

Details:  Make Elephants Fly: The Process of Radical Innovation by Steven Hoffman ISBN-13: 9780349418834.

Antigone, Greenwich Theatre 30 October

October 30, 2017

**

antigone_drone

From AoD trailer

This was the first Actors of Dionysus production I had seen.

It was noisy.

For a large amount of the time, I sat huddled-up with my eyes closed wishing it would do away.  There was no poetry and no heroism and very little chorus, just people running and shouting and 1980s radiophonic effects.

Antigone did what she did with no inner conflict or anguish and she and Ismene shouted at each other.  Then Creon’s world fell on him and it was over.

I think the generality of the audience may have understood what the obeah woman Tiresias was saying but I didn’t.

On the positive side, well, drones, it was the first time I had seen a drone and know I know what they look like.  Three lines of actual Sophocles at the end suggested what might have been, in another world perhaps.  The description of Emily Davison’s death might also have become something if given a chance.

Dismiss me.  Enough.

A History of Wales (John Davies)

October 24, 2017

*****

IMG_2255[1]

Reduced *and* patriotically rained-upon

I thought that this book was excellent, and enjoyed spending 765 pages in the company of somebody in such complete command of his material.  As well as relieving my complete ignorance of Welsh history, reading the book gave me some interest in and understanding of English medieval history, seeing it through the prism of how it affected Wales.  I was especially interested in the idea of the English national consciousness as being founded on recovering lands from the Danes, and hence inherently imperialist.

It was interesting to see how the idea of Wales as a nation came in and out of focus at different periods, and it would have been interesting to get Davies’s idea of what Wales as a nation actually was.  He quite rightly says that there is no genetic difference between the Welsh and the English and treats Herderian ideas of nationhood with some reserve at one point, but also seems quite attached to them.

Remembering A Winter in the Hills I might get worried about the lack of agency ascribed to Welsh people here–they rarely get to initiate action as opposed to having things happen to them or reacting to events.  But it could be a fault of history and geography, not John Davies.

The question that really interested me was how it came about that Welsh survived as a widely-spoken language when Irish did not, given that Wales was far more interpenetrated with Anglophone Britain.  The answer given here is that the development of the coal and steel industries meant that people could see hope for a future where Welsh might be relevant while in Ireland they could just see starvation.

Any of our readers interested in Russian literature will wish to know that it was probably on a rail bearing the letters GL (Guest Lewis, the trade mark of Dowlais) that poor Anna Karenina met her end.

Bacchae in Oxford, 21 October

October 23, 2017
bacchae

Picture from OGP20217 FB page

It cannot be said that my trip to Oxford for the Greek Play was a great success.  I discovered that the classical section of Blackwell’s had been moved up a floor to make way for the coffee shop )and the second-hand section had been reduced as well).  I felt mildly interested by a Collected Papers of Milman Parry but not enough to buy it.  I also visited the Oxfam Bookshop, as one does.

At the Oxford Playhouse, people had been moved forwards, sometimes into seats already occupied by others, and the masses of private school pupils were silent like a field of turnips.

Gosh, it was just so boring!  It seemed to have been reimagined as a ballet from the 1930s with music by Sir Arthur Bliss and an Art Deco cube for the set, but the chorus hardly moved, never mind getting off the ground.  The idea of having three Dionysuses meant there was never even an illusion of Pentheus confining them or him, and though Pentheus delivered his lines effectively that would not hold my interest on its own.

Then the thing had ground along so slowly there was an INTERVAL, so I rushed off to the station and quite by chance came across the rather lovely Chiltern Railway train to Marylebone, which also had decent free WiFi.  And there was a trilingual announcement in English, Arabic and Chinese at Bicester Village Retail Outlet.

Gosh, that was so exciting!  And not so long after I was back in South London!

From The House Of The Dead, WMC Cardiff 08 October

October 9, 2017

****

wnohod

This was certainly very impressive as music, but didn’t really make a personal impact on me, which I think was the point. This was really a matter of the production I think, though more of a lyrical-romantic inflection in the playing (which I think is possible) would have been welcome.

Perhaps the prisoners should have been more individualised and less spread out, while the pantomime of Don Giovanni and Kedril just seemed pointless here–with neither a point of its own nor in reactions from the prisoners. At the end we did not have an eagle flying to freedom but rather a projection of a shadow, which didn’t really cut it.

And surely Shishkov’s narration as the final one of the prisoners’ stories ought to both be affecting and to sum up or exemplify what has gone before–the senseless random murderous cruelty and the spark of God within each one also. Unless that was just meant to stay with Dostoevsky…

Khovanshchina, Cardiff WMC 07 October

October 8, 2017

***

171008khovanshchina

Photograph from WNO site

The choral singing here was wonderful, and on a different plane from what I had heard in some 350 previous evenings at the opera. On the other hand, the attempt to universalise the action by setting it in the early Soviet period while adding in Samurai warriors and a gas chamber did little to clarify the action, centring as it did on the attempts of various groups to appose the accession of Tsar Peter I (or Peter the Great).

Musorgsky suffered from various difficulties with the scenario, such as being dead drunk much of the time, not being able to finish it, and not being able to portray any members of the Romanov dynasty on stage. Still, one should attempt to make things more rather than less clear. The scenario does at least give a coherent and probably accurate picture of Old (Pre-Petrine!) Russia as violent, lascivious and God-haunted, which doesn’t really fit with the early Bolshevik period.

Apart from the choruses, it was Shaklovitsky’s patriotic peroration that made an impact, but we were left with no clear idea whether he was meant to be Edmund or the Duke of Kent. So why did Khovansky take a bath in his (albeit bloodied) trousers while the Persian Slave ended up naked? (Probably because she constituted an allusion to Hella from The Master and Margarita.)

Probably Dosifei came off rather too sympathetically in the absence of any real competition, while it was far from clear what his Old Believer followers were up to in the end, in terms of burning themselves to death or indeed anything else…

Perhaps the main interest was in comparing the Welsh surtitles with the English ones and with what was being sung in something (occasionally) like Russian. I was gratified to find that А ты in Russian was ‘A ti’ in Welsh, and interested by all of the Latin words in Welsh–a legacy of the lost Romano-British culture or (more probably) of deliberate language planning in more recent times.

Aida, ENO 3 October

October 5, 2017

****

DK2O9K8W4AAkDRN

Photo acquired from Twitter at about the right angle

While the reviews from the first night were rather lukewarm, and there were also half-hearted bag checks to negotiate on entering the building, this proved to be a worthwhile investment of £30 at the Leicester Square ticket booth.

Latonia Moore’s Aida reminded me that it seemed to be a long time since I last heard a heavyweight operatic role dealt with so masterfully and the conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson really got on with things.  From where I was sitting, Ms Moore and Ms Wilson often seemed to be roaring each other on, determined to triumph in spite of every obstacle, and generally they did.  Gwyn Hughes Jones had a real tenor ring as Radames and Eleanor Dennis was simply outstanding as the High Priestess.

The production was…strange.  There were some striking stage pictures that really might evoke an alien civilisation.  There were also many occasions that recalled illustrations of opera in years gone  by, with hero and heroine centre stage facing the conductor, embarrassed in strange costumes, her bending his eyes toward him as the only acting allowed.  Michelle DeYoung’s Amneris ended up looking like a toilet roll holder, quite possibly a pregnant toilet roll holder, and also sounding a lot like Aida’s Mum and not at all like her bitter rival.  The quite long period where she was downstage facing the audience and addressing Radames who was in a cage behind her was not a very good piece of direction.

As with many operas, Aida has scenes of climactic emotional conflict (which is what opera is really there for), scenes of grand public display, and scenes that advance the plot.  In this production, the first two worked pretty well and the third didn’t.  The translation also offered up some embarrassing feminine rhymes plain for all to see in the surtitles.

I would certainly recommend a visit–there’s plenty to think about even where it doesn’t exactly work.