Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Vice and Virtue

As promised, I finished my 14-stanza poem about Vice and Virtue (hence the title). I hope you enjoy reading it. I think it's fun to read aloud. I don't expect any analysis, but I hope you walk away from it having learned something interesting about yourself and what vice and virtue mean to you. For more information, go to

Vice and Virtue

By Cameron Raps


In shadow stashed and hid from all the world,
I keep my treasure pile, my feast of gold.
I earned it; ‘Tis my right for all my work,
And thieves do roundabout my hovel lurk.
My library is filled with books uncut,
And I walk through the town in lofty strut.
Yet I have found that cave to be quite cold
Since none but I can share in all my gold.


Imparting all by obligation’s throw
I stand above the hungry crowd below,
And drop my coins into the gnashing maws
That in my place would swallow even laws.
They’d tear asunder all, for all I know,
And yet I see some good in those below,
For I could never walk an idle course
By crying children and not feel remorse.


I lie in fallow fields to pass the time,
Letting all the crows upon me dine.
I move as water moves through valleys deep,
Where glaciers have already earned their keep,
For only fools go blazing trails alone,
While I, the wiser, wait until they’re done.
My only inconvenience is the wait,
But I care not to try and skew my fate.


Toil oft and toil out of sight,
Work from dawn to dusk, all day and night.
Hammer, anvil, coulter, shovel, axe;
My only friends, for I cannot relax.
I must complete my project in this life,
And I will see it done through blood and strife.
Diversion shall not touch me while I stand
To chase and drive the ravens from my land.


Indulge the senses, heed each wicked urge.
Let all your passion unabated surge.
I seek no more than all debauchery,
And fighting it is only misery.
Just taste it once and you will wonder why
You ever in this life would dare deny
That you are just as weak a hypocrite
As all who hide the fires they have lit.


The least important part of mortal life
Is seeking after that which causes strife,
Which is to trap the spirit in a coil
That’s prone to fail and weep and sin and toil.
No no, this cannot be, for we must bridle
Every single passion sitting idle,
For temporal desires only prove
To cloud the end to which all things should move.


A feast was laid before a royal court,
Who feasted heartily, as fit the sort
Who have so much they cannot eat it all,
But try they might, and trying always fall
Into the pit of swine that grunt and squeal
And live for nothing but tomorrow’s meal.
A shorter, more delicious life is theirs,
So free of all life’s joys and all life’s cares.


Starvation plagues the layman and the fool
Who fails to conquer Self and o’er it rule,
For seeking food in times of famine dry
Brings thinning hands to supplicate the sky,
And all the while, no rain upon it falls.
We close our ears to mother nature’s calls,
Which ask for nothing more than carefulness
When much is given, for soon there will be less.


The verdigris that graces every cheek
Can poison all the humble and the meek.
The mouths that feed the ghoul are wanton eyes
That swallow truth and grind it into lies.
Lifetimes ruined, enjoyment disavowed
As one offended by them speaks aloud,
For jealous hearts can never bear to see
Others enjoy what for them could not be


Each day that shines with pure elation fair
Within a sea of normal days is rare.
Oft times we tempt ourselves to cope and tread
With promises of fairer days ahead.
Quite valueless these unfair days may seem,
For nothing happened worthy of esteem,
But even the most mediocre day
Is preferable to darkness and decay.


Thunderous and furious, the storm
Tears into the mountain’s steadfast form.
Rain and hail bring boulders to the ground.
While lightning cackles, only fears abound,
For no one takes reward, not even the cloud,
Its life so short, its voice so very loud.
Pity be to all that cradle anger;
Unto the Self it poses greatest danger.


All the fields await the warmer suns,
But some among the blooms are eager ones,
Their zeal in growth led us to call it spring
When all the buds that waited rise and sing,
But those that bloom too early plucked be,
While later flowers, unnoticed, go free.
Of all the time that I anticipate,
The final stretch is where I shape my fate.


Stand tall and none shall reach you, mighty tree.
To live above the clouds is to be free,
Or so the lofty tree top boldly thought
Until its starving roots began to rot.
It grew so tall and reached so very high,
Advancing toward the heavens, toward the sky,
Until its roots could cling no more below,
And timberfall became its overthrow.


Some heads might only bow when bludgeoned oft,
But others gladly bow to promptings soft,
For they learn wisdom earlier than most;
That happier are souls that never boast.
The quick, the proud, the mighty have their share,
But with the world is tied all worldly care.
The mouse that grovels low is seldom heard,

While archers aim to kill the singing bird.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why English is so "Stupid"

As part of my freshman year at BYU, in Provo, Utah, I had the age-old conflict raging inside me as to what my major should and should not be. I began to Chemical Engineering, but I quickly realized that I was not, shall we say, "left-brained." Sure I did well enough on the AP Calculus AB test to dodge some college math, but I was in for a rude awakening when I realized that my mindset was not proper for anything engineering related.

So I switched focus, trying to cover all of my general classes before making a definitive choice as to what major I'd be pursuing in the near future. I decided to take my History and Writing classes together, along with Linguistics 330, an intro class to the Linguistics Major.

I immediately realized that I was born to be a grammarian. I loved English. I loved language. I just didn't know it yet.

Then reality reminded me that English Majors typically have a harder time finding stable employment. So I'm still unsure about my future, but what I did gain during Winter Semester was a sense of what I'm good at.

And what I'm good at is English. (Ending these last two sentences with prepositions is a big no-no in proper writing, but Linguistics will show you that, as long as its comprehensible, proper grammar is less relevant than the opinion of the I hope you will forgive me when I occasionally end clauses with prepositions). This led me to begin trying to sort out why English seemed so unusual compared to all the other languages in the Indo-European Language Family.

A bit of background. I read a book as part of my History 201 class called In Search of the Indo-Europeans, by J.P. Mallory. It was a very enlightening read, albeit not very entertaining. However, the book gave me a better sense of our language and the languages of the world.

According to Mallory, people began to notice some interesting things about their languages, way back in the days of early European exploration, when Europe was finally beginning to move up in the world and make a name for itself. The found that, not only were the languages of Europe unusually similar, but the European Languages were unusually similar to the languages spoken all across the Eurasian continent, from the Anatolian Peninsula, across Persia and the Iranian Plateau, all the way to the easternmost reaches of the Indian Subcontinent. Not only did they recognize modern similarities through comparative linguistics, but the uncovered ancient texts written in long-dead languages, each of which bore striking similarities to modern languages. (Only a few languages in Europe are considered unrelated to the Indo-European languages, likely "isolates" which predated Indo-European expansion.)

Various names were given to this group. A common one before the advent of Nazi racial ideology was "Aryan," a description of a mysterious ethnic/ tribal group to which all Europeans can trace some of their ancestry.

However, the Nazis claimed that the Nordic stock of Germany was the true and most pure group of Aryans in the world, having mixed very little with so-called lesser peoples of the world. Therefore, the term "Aryan" became associated with extremist racism and Nazi ideology and was subsequently abandoned in favor of "Indo-European."

More on

With regards to the Indo-European homeland, my reading of J.P. Mallory's book showed me that, as much as we can learn about them from the Proto-Indo-European Language (a language reconstructed using comparative linguistics, for which we have no actual written examples), we have almost no idea where they originally came from and what they even looked like (I know...prepositions at the end of clauses...sue me). But what we do know about them suggests that the Nazis couldn't have been more wrong.

Most evidence puts the Indo-Europeans somewhere out on the Eurasian steppe, a vast temperate grassland stretching from Europe to Siberia, closer to the Pontic-Caspian region. (This is based on very complicated comparisons of archaeological dig sites across the steppe which are compared with certain terms we can reconstruct in the Proto-Indo-European Language.) We know that the Proto-Indo-Europeans had a knack for breeding horses. This means that they had to be out in the steppe where horses were common. Horses were not as common in Europe, which had more mountains and fewer wide, flat fields. We don't think that the Indo-Europeans were blonde-haired or blue-eyed. In all possibility, they could have had brown hair, brown eyes, and skin complexion more typical of civilizations in and around the Middle East.

No, pale white Germanic Europeans science shows us, are quite a mutated little group of people. They are unusually pale by comparison to all of their contemporary ethnic neighbors. The blue-eyed gene is believed to have been a mutation by many scientists today. And all this blonde, curly hair is also very likely the result of specialized mutations that became prevalent in the populations of Indo-Europeans which settled in and likely mixed with the peoples of northern Europe.

So the point is that the Nazis were ridiculously wrong. Believe what you will about gene mutation, racial phylogeny, and evolutionary biology; but the facts show that the Germanic people weren't all that pure or special compared to their Indo-European cousins in other parts of the world.

The Germans, as it turns out, can trace their language back to Indo-European along the Germanic Branch. This sets the stage for our discussion of English.

I like to say that English is the abandoned child of too many languages. English went through several dramatic stages of evolution before it became the ridiculous language we know and love and argue about today. This might make you think about those lovely people we like to call "Grammar Nazis" on the internet.

Here's a funny video taking that phrase quite literally. You have likely seen it. If not then watch it (I warn you...there is blood in it)

If there is one group of  people that I am most on-the-fence about, it is Grammar Nazis, while I cannot stand when people correct one-another and then fail at grammar themselves, I personally feel annoyed with people who consistently use atrocious grammar anywhere on the Internet. The occasional mistake is fine, but consistent, incomprehensible grammar is just plain annoying and frustrating.

On the other hand, as a linguist, I feel that it is just linguistic evolution, and that I would be a prude to try and stop nature from taking our ridiculously complicated language and making it simpler to speak, write, and read.

As an introduction for the rest of our discussion here, I'd advise you to watch this great video:

Our language was once just another dialect of the Germanic peoples. Then they moved into the British Isles. They were called the Angles, and the land they settled was called "Angle-land," which we know today as England. They wrote in runes and used a vocabulary totally alien to their Indo-European cousins in southern Europe.

Meanwhile, a group of Indo-Europeans was settling in the boot-shaped Italic peninsula (modern Italy, if you didn't make the connection between the words "Italic" and "Italy." (This is related to, but not the same as, the Italic typeface, which originated in Italy, from which the typeface gets its name.)

These Italic Peoples became the famous Romans, speakers of languages related to Latin. The Latin language then became the dominant language for most of Mediterranean Europe (next to Greek, a completely independent branch of the Indo-European Language Family). Latin became Vulgar Latin, a more colloquial form of Latin, which then became the Romance Languages we know today as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and a whole bunch of others.

Then along came the Norman French, who came to the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Britain with their French dialect known as Old Norman, which they then imposed upon the local population. This, along with a large number of Latin terms introduced earlier to Britain with the arrival of Christianity, led to a Latinization of Old English (Anglo-Saxon), transforming into a hybrid Italic-Germanic language we now call Middle English.

This is why terms of Latin origin carry a more "professional" connotation The Norman French introduced the kind of organization common in the Mediterranean, namely imperial governmental structure, political operations, religious institutions, and military concepts, all of which were then run by the Normans.

Meanwhile, the common people continued using terms like "see," "ball," "get," and other terms we now typically associate with childish, non-college language.

An interesting exercise we did in our Linguistics class as part of a guest lecture was transforming the following sentence into legal code.

"I saw the ball."

All of the above terms are of Germanic origin, meaning that they can be traced back to Old English, before the Norman invasions. We then moved some words, swapped some words, and rewrote the sentence into the following.

"I observed the spherical object."

But we didn't stop there. We wanted an even more high-brow sentence, something worthy of being stuffed into some kind dusty book in the library of a law school. By adding some passive voice, eliminating the subject and getting rid of the article "the" and the preposition "on" in favor of Latin equivalents, we arrived at the following.

"Personal observations were made visavi a spherical object."

Suddenly, we had legal code.

But the point of the lecture was to show just how much history has had an effect on modern perceptions of linguistic formality (look at the last few words of that sentence. They are mostly Latin, with the exception of "of"). He then went on to explain how, as a forensic linguist, he was often responsible for clearing up all the confusion that rises out of people who haven't received a college education being mistreated on the basis of legal contracts written in this kind of legal code.

For instance, prisoners filing for parole are given a large stack of papers, most of which as written in legal code. The average inmate has not gone to college, and occasionally he or she has not graduated from high school. Many did not learn English as their first language. To give them legal documents and expect comprehension is, based on the circumstances, unfair to them.

Now we all have our opinions about inmates and what they deserve, but fairness often transcends circumstance, and therefore this professor who spoke to us told us that he and others have been working to try and simplify legal documents and the language used therein.

English is a very hard language to learn because of its complicated origins. We can't even definitively place it in one spot on the Indo-European Language Tree because it has two relatively unrelated parents. English then went on to have a couple big shifts in both grammar and pronunciation, leading to one of the most complicated and ridiculous excuses for a language the world had ever seen.

And now it's the language of franchise for anything involved with the United States, and we love it as the language we grew up speaking. But many of us don't realize just how hard it is for non-native English speakers to learn our complicated language. Not even native English speakers are willing to learn anything about grammar. Our language is extremely complicated. We have a whole set of fancy Latin terms that we have to use in professional contexts, but then we go to our homes and our friends and use simple words of Germanic origin.

(Even "cuss words" can be explained this way. While no one would blame you for saying the word "defecate," you would get a lot of complaints if you went around saying its Germanic equivalent, the "S-word.")

But my main point is that we should be more careful when we tell people to learn English, or when we try to push the United States government to declare English as its official language. Remember how ridiculous our grammar is. Before you correct someone, even a little child making typical mistakes, first consider why they might be making that mistake, and what it reveals about our language as a whole.

For more on this, watch (If you didn't already click on the link above).

Or this is cool too:

Cambot Out.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gutenberg's Monster: Slender Man and the Information Age

If you have grown up with the internet like I have, then you are all too aware of its most recent offspring: The Slender Man, a strange ethereal entity born of the internet. I won't get into the details of the Slender Man mythos or its related video games and YouTube off shoots. Those can be found on the Slender Man Wikipedia page.

A great (albeit grammatically faulty...get over it...I can, and I'm a Linguistics Major) introduction to our discussion today can be found  in "Behind You: The Cultural Relevance of Slender Man."

When I first read the Wikipedia article on Slender Man (since I gained a fascination for the myth and the monster in my freshman year at BYU), I found, at the end of the article, a mention of the "Gutenberg Parenthesis."

"Professor Tom Peddit of the University of Southern Denmark has described Slender Man as being an exemplar of the modern age's closing of the "Gutenberg Parenthesis"; the time period from the invention of the printing press to the spread of the web in which stories and information were codified in discrete media, to a return to the older, more primal forms of storytelling, exemplified by oral tradition ancampfire tales, in which the same story can be retold, reinterpreted and recast by different tellers, expanding and evolving with time."
* For the full story, go to the original radio story titled "Tales." This is a great listen.

The above audio bit discusses the concept of the Gutenberg Parenthesis by exploring how storytelling changed with Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the movable-type printing press, and how storytelling changed dramatically during that ~400 year era. Literature became the dominant source and medium of storytelling rather than oral tradition (campfire stories, etc.). This time period, says Father Walter Jackson Ong, PhD, Jesuit Priest and professor of English Literature, can be called a "Parenthesis," in during which human information exchange took on a unique and abnormal tendency.

Stories, particularly fictional stories, became solidified in print, and therefore a work could be read, studied, forgotten, and reread without any variation, allowing some of the greatest tales of the Gutenberg Parenthesis, such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, and so many other famous works of fantasy and science fiction, have endured to the modern age largely unchanged from their original incarnations.

Slender Man, however, never was quite solidified, giving him an aura more akin to campfire stories, like those of the Boogeyman. Therefore, we cannot place the Slender Man in the same category as the stories common to the Neo-Classical, Romantic, Victorian, Modernist, and Contemporary writing traditions. Slender Man is much more a sci-fi/UFO campfire story with a unique internet origin.

Our culture, of course, is more characterized by sci-fi than fantasy. Since such franchises as Doctor Who and Star Trek, television and movies have carried the outlandish and other-worldly ideas of the masters of science fiction--Wells, Asimov, Clark--to the common rabble in retellings that explored already-present sci-fi concepts and transformed them into dramatic plays and movies for all of us to enjoy. Something similar happened with Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press several centuries earlier (find the full story on YouTube). With the printing press, quality stories could be delivered to the masses unchanged from the source. Increased literacy allowed people to be able to enjoy stories on their own without storyteller. This all began with perhaps the most widely-known story of all, the Gutenberg Bible.

* For more on Typefaces, Fonts, and Gutenberg, watch "A Defense of Comic Sans".

But with Slender Man, all those years of literature as the dominant source of great stories was challenged by a rising, internet-born urban legend of a strange, ethereal, semi-corporeal being of unknown origin, motive, ability, or limits, with an evolving story that ebbed and flowed with time and space, and which was reborn with each new retelling. For the first time, a well-known idea was disseminated memetically, in which information is shared, person to person, mind to mind, (this is the actual definition of the word "Meme" so popular on our internet today). This is the way information was shared by our distant ancestors. No one person could claim to be the source of a legend back then. Sure, one person could say that they thought of the original concept (even though Victor Surge was technically the creator of Slender Man), but the expanded concept, the fan fiction, could not be trademarked or copyrighted. Slenderman is an urban legend, a purely democratic monster, born of two parents: the Information Age arguably begun by Johannes Gutenberg, and the primal fears of the human condition, to which all of us that ever surfed the net contribute each day.

Slender Man embodies every pitfall of the Information Age: While answers can be found by anyone, anywhere, regardless of class or status, just the way Gutenberg intended, there are some things which might not be explainable by the internet. While one may look up the original version of a story to save themselves from fearing it as a possible real-life account, some things cannot be explained or understood by the internet, leaving us in the dark, staring at a faceless, elongated figure in a business suit, painting all of our indescribable fears onto the canvas that is Slender Man.

For that reason, I chose to buy a white Morphsuit last Halloween and wear it underneath my formal suit. I got a lot of screams and laughs out of people in my escapades as Slender Man, and thereby, I learned first-hand of the primal fears inherent in all of us. (I'm only 5'9". Give me a break. Slender Man can change the length of his limbs at will.)

"Tye Van Horn, a writer for The Elm, has suggested that the Slender Man represents modern fear of the unknown; in an age flooded with information people have become so inured to ignorance that they now fear what they cannot understand.[15] Troy Wagner, the creator of Marble Hornets, ascribes the terror of the Slender Man to its malleability; people can shape it into whatever frightens them most."

I don't think I could say it any better myself. It is Slender Man's appeal to both the flaws of Gutenberg's Information Age and our human nature that compelled me to include him as a villain in my science fiction series (which we may discuss in a later post).

Slender Man can reveal a lot about our culture and how we think. A glance at history will show you that our behaviors today are not all that different from those of our ancestors. The only difference, it seems, has been technology. But with the closing of the Gutenberg Parenthesis, and the evolution of secondary orality, brought about a sort of counter-revolution, allowing stories to evolve and grow as they once did, long ago, in the age of faeries, witches, vampires, werewolves (not from Twilight), dragons (Dovah!), and everything else that went bump in the night.

* A drawing I made while still at BYU, on March 8th, 2013.

Cambot Out.

P.S. For ideas on future topics, please give your input in the comments below. I would be happy to hear from you.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sojourns in Somnolence: An Introduction

Sojourns in Somnolence

The sojourn taken all too oft,
On cloudy wings, we make aloft.
While darkness veils the hemisphere,
We drift and shift both far and near.

In somnolence we lie in peace,
For wonder is the mind's release.
In somnolence we stand and walk
And write and draw with mental chalk.

So be it dark or be it light,
Forever let your soul take flight,
For nothing more and nothing less,
Will lead our world to happiness.

By Cameron Raps
7 March 2013