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Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Dream Within a Dream

The American Edgar Allan Poe composed A Dream Within a Dream. The poem questions the difference between fantasy and reality. Here is the poem:

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And in parting from you now,
This much let me avow--
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand--
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep
While I weep--while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

The poem has two stanzas. The first has 11 verses and the second has 13. The narrator explains that nothing lasts forever, and that just like we can't control our dreams, we can't control our lives.

The sea is the setting of the poem. It roars on the shore and the grains of sand slipping through the narrator's fingers represent the passage of time. The poem ends with a question that asks if all we see or appear to see is just a dream inside a dream. In other words, the narrator wonders if our minds shape reality and if life is as difficult to comprehend as a dream.

A Dream Within a Dream is a fascinating poem. It reflects on the passage of time, our immortality, and the distinction between dreams and reality. The poem asks the reader a series of questions to consider on the journey of life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ayran

Ayran is a very popular drink in Turkey. It's easy to make. The ingredients are yogurt, water, salt and ice. Here is the recipe:

one cup plain yogurt
half a cup of water
a teaspoon of salt
ice cubes

Put everything in a blender. Blend thoroughly and serve.



Sunday, May 15, 2016

Burmese Days

Burmese Days is a novel which is critical of British imperialism. George Orwell spent five years (1922-1927) in Burma, now Myanmar, as a police officer. The novel describes corruption and imperial attitudes in colonial Burma.

The main character is John Flory, a teak merchant. He is single and has no European friends in his expatriate community. Though he's unhappy with his lifestyle, he has become so accustomed to life in Burma that it's difficult for him to leave and return to England. Unlike his fellow Europeans, he gets along with the natives and is disillusioned with the Empire.

John Flory has a Burmese mistress, but he is emotionally dissatisfied. Part of him loves Burma and longs for a partner who will share his passion, but at the same time, he feels he can only marry a European. He knows that the English in Burma view the natives as inferior.

It seems his problems are over when Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives. She's the niece of Mr. Lackersteen, the manager of the local timber firm. They spend time getting close and John Flory becomes lost in romantic fantasy. He thinks she'll understand him and give him the companionship he needs, but she's shocked by his acceptance of the natives. John Flory is entirely unaware of her reservations and decides to evict his Burmese mistress from his home.

John Flory is ready to ask her to marry him, but a series of events prevent this from happening. After he manages to bring an anti-British riot under control, Elizabeth finds himself more interested in him, but a Burmese official manages to harm John Flory's reputation. Elizabeth then refuses to have anything more to do with him, and seeing no future for himself, John Flory takes his own life.

Unlike the other English, John Flory is appreciative of Burmese culture. Though he is disillusioned with British imperialism, he accepts that he has high status in Burma and is there for financial reasons. He's a man of indecision- at the beginning of the novel he has a Burmese mistress but he wants to marry a European woman. He has negative views of imperialism and is fond of Burmese culture, but doesn't articulate his views very much when he's with his fellow Europeans. Though he seeks approval from everyone he interacts with, he has a weak identity. His inner conflicts lead to the novel's tragic conclusion.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Words Without Vowels

How well can we read words without vowels? When we read words, we don't read each individual letter. We learn to recognize combinations of letters. Surprisingly, we can read words without vowels very well.

Here are a few sentences to illustrate:

H.w  w.ll  c.n  y..  r..d  th.s?

't  .sn't  s.  d.ff.c.lt  t.  r..d  w.rds  w.th..t  v.w.ls.

Wh.n  w.  d.n't  wr.t.  th.  v.w.ls  .f  w.rds,  w.  c.n  wr.t.  s.  q..ckl..

Th.s  .s  tr..  n.t  .nl.  f.r  .ngl.sh  b.t  .ls.  f.r  .th.r  l.ng..g.s.

Th.s  .s  .  f.n  .x.rc.s..

How well can you read this?
It isn't so difficult to read words without vowels.
When we don't write the vowels of words, we can write so quickly.
This is true not only for English but also for other languages.
This is a fun exercise.

Our ability to read words without vowels indicates that the human mind doesn't read individual letters but words as a whole. The human mind can also read scrambled words as long as the first and last letters are the same as in the original words. This is the reason we can read quickly.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tea

Tea is the second most popular drink in the world. It's more popular than coffee but not as popular as water. Which countries produce the most tea? Here is a list of the top-ten countries:

1. China
2. India
3. Kenya
4. Sri Lanka
5. Turkey
6. Indonesia
7. Vietnam
8. Japan
9. Iran
10. Argentina

India, Kenya, Turkey, Indonesia, Iran and Argentina mainly produce black tea. On the other hand, Japan mainly produces green tea. Sri Lanka produces three main varieties: white, black and green. Vietnam produces black tea, green tea and special varieties such as lotus and jasmine. China produces many kinds of tea. They include oolong, white, jasmine, yellow and puer.

Though coffee is a popular drink around the world, it's less popular than tea. The countries which produce the most tea are China and India. China produces many kinds of tea, but India mainly produces black tea.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Diminutives in English

Diminutives are words which have been modified to indicate a smaller degree of the root meaning. Compared to other languages, English doesn't use so many diminutives. Nevertheless, certain prefixes and suffixes are used to create diminutives.

The suffix -let is used to create diminutives. A few examples include droplet, piglet and booklet. The suffix -y is often used with names. For example, the names Johnny, Becky and Andy are diminutives of John, Rebecca and Andrew. The suffix -ette is also used for diminutives. Words with this suffix include statuette, kitchenette and cigarette.

The prefix mini is short for miniature. It creates a number of diminutives such as mini-bar, miniskirt and minivan.  However, suffixes are used more to create diminutives in English.

Compared to other languages, English doesn't use so many diminutive prefixes and suffixes. The diminutive prefixes and suffixes of English aren't so productive. They can be used with a relatively restricted number of words. This is clearly different from languages such as Italian and Russian which use far more diminutives.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Pronunciation of Old English

The pronunciation of Old English wasn't so different from that of contemporary English. However, there were a few notable differences in the pronunciation of consonants and vowels. Let's look at a few.

The /r/ of Old English was a trill, a sound that we hear in languages such as Spanish and Russian. Though this sound can be heard in varieties, i.e., Scottish English, it isn't so common in the English of today. Most English speakers now use a sound that isn't so common in the languages of the world.

Old English had long vowels and consonants. Though modern English also has short and long vowels such as in sit and seat, the short and long vowels of Old English were quantitative. The difference was not in the quality of the vowel sound but in the length.

Old English had a vowel which no longer exists in English. This was the front vowel heard in the French word lune (moon). It is pronounced with rounded lips.

Old English also had long consonants. Modern English no longer does. In the word apple, the double p is pronounced as a short consonant. In Old English, such a consonant was pronounced long. Languages which have long consonants include Italian and Swedish.

With respect to pronunciation, English hasn't changed so much over the years. The spelling has changed much more. The main differences were that Old English had qualitative short and long vowels, long consonants, a front vowel that no longer exists and an /r/ that was pronounced as a trill.