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Comma or No Comma? – The 10 Million Dollar Question

There are two kinds of people in this world: those that use the Oxford Comma and the insufferable “English is a flexible language…” crowd – @IAmOxfordComma

The Oxford, or serial comma, is an optional comma that comes before the final ‘and’ or ‘or’ in a list of three or more items. For instance, in the sentence “I would like to thank my parents, George Bush, and Oprah Winfrey”, the final comma disambiguates the three parts of the list as being distinct; in the case where the comma is not used, there is an ambiguity as to whether these are three distinct entities or whether the first part serves as a description of the remaining two entities – which would mean that I was born under a lucky star to be the child of two very distinguished personalities (I ain’t complaining!).

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The Oxford Comma even has its own Twitter Handle (@IAmOxfordComma) where the candid comma unabashedly spends its time condemning Donald Trump for not using Oxford Commas in his tweets.

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The Oxford Comma gets its name from the Oxford University Press where it was traditionally used by editors, printers and publishers. While the Oxford University Press still uses the serial comma, the Oxford University PR department does not.

In most cases, it is easy to disambiguate the multiple meanings in simple lists with the help of context. For example, “I eat meat, veggies and fruits.” – the aforementioned sentence lists three items that are distinctly identifiable as three individual entities and thus, obviates the use of the Oxford Comma. Often clarity can be achieved by simply rewriting the sentence and reordering the list to provide more sense to the reader. For example, the sentence “I would like to thank my parents, George Bush, and Oprah Winfrey” can be rewritten to avoid ambiguity and to eliminate the serial comma as “I would like to thank George Bush, Oprah Winfrey and my parents”. Few grammar debates, however, have gotten language pedants more hot under the collar than the ones currently surrounding the Oxford Comma.

In 2014, three truck drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy over an ambiguous law, seeking four years worth of overtime pay  which they were being denied. Maine law requires workers to be paid 1.5 times of their rate for overtime work.

The following state law stipulates that overtime does not apply to: 

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

The drivers’ case hinged on the argument that since they distribute but do not pack, they ought to qualify for overtime pay. The lack of a comma between ‘packing for shipment’ and ‘distribution of…’ indicates that packing is one activity that results in either shipment or distribution. This means that the act of distribution of perishable foods would be entitled to overtime pay. Moreover, they asserted that ‘canning, preserving, freezing, drying, etc’. are all gerunds (verb forms acting as nouns), while ‘shipment’ and ‘distribution’ are not – therefore the drivers were able to argue that ‘shipment’ and ‘distribution’ are object of the preposition ‘for’. The above argument was supported by the Chicago Manual of Style.  The Appeals Court Judge sided with the drivers (after the district court ruled in the favor of Oakhurst Dairy) resulting in the drivers receiving 10 millions dollars of overtime pay. Although only 3 drivers filed the lawsuit, the amount was shared amongst 75 drivers who earned between $46,800 and $52,000 per year as salary. 

The two main philosophies for choosing one style over the other are clarity and economy. Each side has invoked both rationales in its favor.

Pro: “…use the comma between all members of a series, including the last two, on the commonsense ground that to do so will preclude ambiguities and annoyances at negligible cost.” – Wilson Follett, in his 1966 Modern American Usage

Con: “There are certain places where for the sake of clarity and good form the presence of a comma is obligatory, but on the other hand a too liberal use of this form of punctuation tends to slow up the pace of the reading matter and to create confusion and hesitancy in the mind of the reader.” – 1937, New York Times

Although the Oxford Comma is used for stylistic purposes more often than not, I personally believe that there’s no harm in using one in complicated lists to avoid ambiguity. That way, if the comma is missing, the reader will know for sure that there’s a good reason why. 

“Zinovieff shot over five hundred of the bourgeoisie at a stroke—nobles, professors, officers, journalists, men and women.”

The above statement reads that both men and women were among the nobles, professors, officers and journalists. The lack of the comma suggests that men and women aren’t two additional groups on the list. 

On a fun note, Vampire Weekend recorded a song called Who gives a fuck about an Oxford Comma? Check it out 😀

Also, check out @IAmOxfordComma for some real good grammar laughs! 😛

P.S. What is your opinion concerning the Oxford Comma? 

References

http://www.babelzine.com

https://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/22284.aspx

http://mentalfloss.com/article/33637/best-shots-fired-oxford-comma-wars

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10 Foolproof Ways To Learn A New Language

Learning a new language can prove to be beneficial in more ways than one; not only will you be able to communicate with locals when you’re traveling to the place where the language is spoken but it might open up a world of job opportunities for you. Besides, you get to make an impression on your friends and family (Believe me, that’s the most thrilling part). Learning a new language makes you a better learner over all (more on that in a later post); you also develop a new perspective to look at your own culture, your own mother tongue.

Listed below are some of the tried and tested ways to learn a new language in a competent manner. I’ve personally tried all of them and they’ve worked out very well for me. Hope they help you too   😀

1. Know why you’re doing it & set a goal for yourself

Why do you want to learn a particular language? Why German, why not Mandarin Chinese? Is it because you’re traveling to Germany this summer or because you want to apply for a job opening at your dream company? Being conscious of the objective behind learning anything is a sure shot way to keep yourself motivated during the process. Set a goal for yourself and push yourself to reach it.

2. Learn it with a friend, maybe?

You’re often bored to go to class all by yourself? You can’t muster up the courage to speak up in class? Find a friend who is interested in learning a language and keep each other motivated. You can practice your newly acquired skills with them, participate in cultural activities happening in your city and even travel together! Learning with a partner will certify that you have at least one other person to practice the language with.

3. Change the language setting on your phone

This, I promise, is the best way to pick up new words and phrases on the quotidian. In today’s day and age, when we’re perpetually glued to our phones and computer screens, there could be no better technique to learn something whilst spending precious time browsing Instagram and Facebook.

4. Listen to music & the radio

This is going to help you keep up with the actualities in the country whilst building your verbal and auditory skills. Also you get to listen to some really good music! 😀

5. Watch local TV shows & movies

Thanks to Netflix, we have very easy access to all kinds of shows (available in many languages). You can watch your favorite show (I binge watched all 4 seasons of Orange Is The New Black  in French ) in Spanish, French or German (WITH SUBTITLES!!! YESSSSS) or you could watch local shows eg. Narcos (LOVE IT!!!). Moreover, you can now watch some of the best classics in foreign languages without being lost in translation. You get an insight into the culture of the place, you learn really cool ways to speak (in different regional accents) and a lot of colloquial slang! So, if you are going to spend all weekend Netflixing & Chilling, you may as well make the best of it and actually learn something.

6. Talk to yourself

This may sound silly, but we talk to ourselves all the time. Now, the next time you’re thinking about what to wear to the Christmas party or when you’re rehearsing what to say to your crush, think in the language you’re learning. Replace the words you don’t know with English or whatever other language you use to think.

7. Pay attention to grammar

Learning the grammar of a new language may seem very tedious and often frustrating; what with all the similar looking conjugations for different tenses and tens of types of pronouns that you never realized existed in any language. But if you want to be proficient, grammar plays a pivotal role.  You want to be taken seriously and be fluent when writing a formal letter for a job or having an important conversation with autochthones.

P.S.Grammar can be made very interesting using games,quizzes and other fun ways to learn it. 😀

8. Converse with native speakers

You used to have to travel to really put your language skills to use. Now all you need is a smartphone, an internet connection, and a sense of adventure. 😀 Welcome to Tandem *drumroll*. I first came across Tandem a year ago when I was learning Spanish and Portuguese and I jumped right into it. Tandem, available on both iOS and Android, is an application where you can practice your language skills (chat / voice call / video chat) with indigenous speakers of all languages under the sun whilst teaching them your very own mother tongue, if you like! (*excitement level 101*) You can also hire tutors at very affordable rates for a one-to-one lesson on a topic of your choice. Could it BE any easier?!

9. Get out of your comfort zone

Let go of any inhibitions. Embrace your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers you hear speaking the language you’re learning out of fear of committing errors. In fact, strike up a conversation with them! They will be appreciative of you trying and this will be a huge boost in confidence. Participate in cultural activities happening in and around your city. You’ll end up meeting like minded people you can practice your language skills with.

10. Have fun with the language

Use post-its to label common objects in your house in this new language eg.tables, chairs, kitchen appliances, etc. The more you see it, the easier it gets to memorize. Record yourself singing songs in the new language, go to karaoke bars, document your thoughts! The more you invite a language into your daily life, the more your brain will consider it useful and actually care about it.

Which languages do you speak? Do you know of any other methods to learn languages? Please comment below. 🙂

P.S. Don’t forget to learn your mother tongue first! 😀

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Eudaimonic Polyglot – An Etymological Breakdown

A lot of people have been asking me about the name of the blog and how I came up with it. Since the topic of this post is consistent with the theme and the purpose of my blog, I am delighted to share the word by word breakdown of the term Eudaimonic Polyglot.

The Greek language, an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, is often used along with Latin to forge new words for other languages. It has intrigued me for a while now and will continue to do so for as long as I live. After taking up a course on Greek and Roman Mythology on Coursera, I was inspired to use a Greek expression as my blog name.

eu (greek) —> good

daimon (greek) —> spirit

Eudaimonia, a central concept in Aristotelian philosophy and often anglicized as eudaemonia or eudemonia, is a Greek translation for “happiness” – the highest human good. Aristotle, however, argues that if life is to be worth living, it must surely be for something that is an end in itself i.e. desirable for its own sake. Happiness or contentment is a state of mind that stems from or is accompanied by the accomplishment of one or more actions – actions compatible with our virtues. Although the true definition of the term is debatable depending on whom you ask, what Aristotle means by the aforementioned term is “human flourishing” – as opposed to growth or nourishment; something that distinguishes humans from other organisms, thanks to our unique aptitude for reason.

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As for the term polyglot:

A polyglot is a person who is known to speak several languages. Apart from English, I speak Gujarati (my mother tongue), Hindi, Marathi, French, Spanish and a teensy bit of Brazilian Portuguese. I fell in love with this word, pompous as it may be, the first time I learnt it and have wanted to use it since. 😀

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Pic source: http://www.google.com

I want to evolve as a language learner, a teacher and a linguistics enthusiast over time in order to gain a better perspective of the world we live in and to help promote cultural understanding within the society ! 😀 Hence the name.

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A Love of Language

“Language has been recognized for centuries by philosophers, by scientists, as the essential unique human endowment, the striking faculty that distinguishes humans from other organisms.” – Prof. Noam Chomsky 

Ever since I started learning French in the 8th Grade, I’ve been fascinated by how culturally diverse the world is. More often than not, a language class is the first exposure a student has to that culture, and therefore the teacher plays a very crucial role in developing cultural understanding. Initially, it was all about learning new words and scoring in tests as we were told time and again that “French is a very scoring subject“.  I would go out of my way to help my classmates with their French homework, sometimes even doing it for them in the process! I would read the textbook inside out learning all the new words and their synonyms, learning grammar rules and how to apply them by solving hundreds of examples and exceptions, and writing essays on random topics. I was elated  in the 10th and the 12th grades when I scored the highest marks in my school (along with 25 other batch mates) and college; a lot more than when I secured an admission in one of the Top 50 Engineering Colleges in India! Little did I know that soon enough this interest would evolve into a passion or a fixation, if I may,  with learning new languages and analyzing their grammars and word origins. It was only during my 5th semester of Computer Engineering when it dawned upon me that following my passion was paramount and that language was my real calling; and then began the most splendid period of my academics, where engineering took a backseat and I joined the Alliance Française to pursue my first love.

My role as an International Intern at the University of Mauritius through the AIESEC Global Community Development Programme opened my eyes to the realm of cultures and the influence that these cultures have on world languages. Not only did I make long-lasting friendships with some of the most beautiful and brilliant people in the world, but I also gained an insight into their varied backgrounds and languages. My interest began gravitating towards romance languages like Spanish and Portuguese in particular, not just due to their proximity to French but also for the phonological variations in their dialects. I also began to observe similarities as well as discrepancies in their grammars, lexicon, word orders and grammatical genders. Learning Spanish and Portuguese improved my understanding of the nuts and bolts of French and English while helping me recognize certain aspects of my own mother tongue, Gujarati.

“Get out of your comfort zone”, a close friend once told me. Having never flirted with the idea of teaching, I did exactly that and I must admit that I absolutely love it! I’ve never felt more contented about sharing my knowledge with a bunch of people. Teaching a concept helps you understand it better yourself. I read an article a few days ago about finding your calling and here’s what stuck: Your calling is at the intersection of a Venn diagram of three things: doing something you’re good at, feeling appreciated, and believing your work is making people’s lives better. 

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Pic source: http://blog.ed.ted.com/2016/05/10/7-ideas-about-finding-the-work-you-were-meant-to-do/

 

The fact that you can touch so many lives with what you love to do is in itself very compelling. I am extremely grateful to everyone (you know who you are) who nudged me to follow my heart and accepted my painful yet exhilarating decision to change my career path !

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” So, let’s conquer the world one language at a time ! 😀