The Mysterious Tree

People, we just encountered this sensational tree and can’t get over it:


The roots grow down from the branches until they reach the ground and plant themselves. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?

Of course, the locals are of no help.

“Yes, I’ve been living in [this very tiny town] for 33 years. Tree? Which tree? Right behind me? Where? Oh, this one! I have no idea what it’s called. I’m guessing it must be old.”

Does anybody know what the tree is called?

Language Communities

You know what’s weird? If you have an accent, even quite a small one, people assume that you must have a limited vocabulary. You have no idea how often I hear, “Oh, you know the word “efficient”? Wow!”

Even when people know that I have a PhD from Yale with a dissertation I wrote in English and that I have published an award-winning book of literary criticism in English, they still can’t help looking stunned when I say “rambunctious” or “outlandish”

I know somebody with a PhD in linguistics from a top-ranking school, and even this scholar can’t help expressing surprise when I use 3 – syllable words. And that’s after 8 years of knowing me.

It’s especially annoying when folks with those ugly South Carolinian or Bostonian accents assume that I must be an illiterate because of my accent.

Things are even worse for the native speakers of English from India or Africa. People tend to praise their “good English” in tones usually reserved for bright 5-year-olds. A colleague from India says people tend to raise their voices and enunciate VE-RY CLE-AR-LY whenever they hear her pronunciation. And telling them that she’s a native speaker of English doesn’t help.

By the way, this never happens when one speaks Spanish to Spanish-speakers. Unless your language skills are very limited, nobody treats you like an idiot because your pronunciation differs.

The cost of being admitted to a language community is vastly different for speakers of English and Spanish.

The Refugees’ Destination

An article in El Pais points out that almost all of the refugees who come to Hungary are not planning to stay. Their real destination is Germany or Sweden. And what do Germany and Sweden have that countries like Hungary don’t? Exactly.

There is a lot of discussion of what the refugees are fleeing (war, poverty, etc.) but not nearly enough of what they are traveling towards. For instance, these refugees don’t seem interested in fleeing to Russia, in spite of its very porous and extremely long border and its depopulated areas that could easily house a hundred million people. Even Serbia and Hungary – peaceful and prosperous countries – are of no interest.

No, the refugee wave is moving towards a very specific destination. Germany and Sweden stand for “the most robust welfare systems in the world.” That’s the refugees’ goal.