June 22, 2011

Weird English, Canadians and paragraphs

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:17 pm by changisme

In light of the recent riot in Vancouver, J. J. called for a self reflection as Canadians. I am referring to his article not because it’s a particularly insightful analysis (though the language is nice), but rather it poses a subtle irony in my opinion. Despite the ethnic and cultural diversity in Canada, it remains one of the most patriotic and non-warring state in the world.

In the most recent census, visible minorities cracked 5 million, an all time high, making up 16% of the Canadian population. More impressively, South Asian immigrants surpassed Chinese, the traditional leading minority population. Immigration takes up 80% of the population growth. All this is not even counting non-visible minorities such as Russian and other Eastern European immigrants. Mind you the last census was awhile ago when I was still working with Stats Canada, so the newer one will reveal more interesting statistics.

Canadian societies claim that they differ from from American cultural policy in that they put transculturalism on the pedestal, as opposed to being a melting pot. In theory, transculturalism respects the existence of pockets of differing cultures, while a melting pot reconciles different cultures into one. In practice, however, social interactions are much more complex. I will not talk about the power struggles between races if history didn’t give way, but I am interested in the notion of patriotism, which is certainly part of hockey and part of Canadians’ tireless search for identity.

China is often labeled as a country filled with propaganda, but in the post-Maoist era, aside from a few short instances, patriotism is more on the slogans and less on the individual psyche. Patriotism is simply too empty to entertain anyone.

The US, other than political speeches, also isn’t very patriotic. It’s non-patriotic almost in an opposite way China is though. Americans often aren’t aware that they could compare US with another country. For example, there are definitely people who aren’t aware that there are films and music outside of the US, and hence, never entertain the idea that American movies and music are better than everyone else’s. Religion is another example, some Christians are not aware of drastically different practices within the same denomination but in different countries. Another factor is war, which could split a country into two opposite factions, but it is one avenue for people to become suddenly aware the existence of other nations.

Canada on the other hand has a lot of patriotism, throughout elementary education and commercial cultural practices. A Canadian school teacher is more likely to proudly talk about how Canada is more beautiful and peaceful and great to live in than an American teacher. A Canadian manufacturer is more likely to pride itself as being Canadian than an American manufacturer to pride itself American. In my travels, I most commonly meet Germans, Dutch and Canadians, and the occasional American. Only Canadians like to talk about how great Canada is. Maybe the Germans only say it in German so I can’t tell :(.

I think part of the reason for this is the awareness Canada has about other nations and cultures, most notably, the American mass <everything>. Self criticism in the American media not only inform its own citizens about the deficiencies and absurdities of political and cultural phenomena, it also informs the Canadian audiance, which is also glued to American TV stations. Further, Canadians are either immigrants or live with numerous immigrants, so they are more aware of the differences between societies. Many a times when long term immigrants get reverse cultural shock, the first thing they do is to seek out their Canadian identity.

All this being said, sports fans are always pretty fanatic. It’s not unlike wars. Americans are just fanatic cross state boarders rather than national borders. If there is ever a day when a Canadian team is about to beat an American team in the NBA…

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Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic.

If the subject on which you are writing is of slight extent, or if you intend to treat it very briefly, there may be no need of subdividing it into topics. Thus a brief description, a brief summary of a literary work, a brief account of a single incident, a narrative merely outlining an action, the setting forth of a single idea, any one of these is best written in a single paragraph. After the paragraph has been written, it should be examined to see whether subdivision will not improve it.

Ordinarily, however, a subject requires subdivision into topics, each of which should be made the subject of a paragraph. The object of treating each topic in a paragraph by itself is, of course, to aid the reader. The beginning of each paragraph is a signal to him that a new step in the development of the subject has been reached.

The extent of subdivision will vary with the length of the composition. For example, a short notice of a book or poem might consist of a single paragraph. One slightly longer might consist of two paragraphs:

A. Account of the work.

B. Critical discussion.

A report on a poem, written for a class in literature, might consist of seven paragraphs:

A. Facts of composition and publication.

B. Kind of poem; metrical form.

C. Subject.

D. Treatment of subject.

E. For what chiefly remarkable.

F. Wherein characteristic of the writer.

G. Relationship to other works.

The contents of paragraphs C and D would vary with the poem. Usually, paragraph C would indicate the actual or imagined circumstances of the poem (the situation), if these call for explanation, and would then state the subject and outline its development. If the poem is a narrative in the third person throughout, paragraph C need contain no more than a concise summary of the action. Paragraph D would indicate the leading ideas and show how they are made prominent, or would indicate what points in the narrative are chiefly emphasized.

A novel might be discussed under the heads:

A. Setting.

B. Plot.

C. Characters.

D. Purpose.

A historical event might be discussed under the heads:

A. What led up to the event.

B. Account of the event.

C. What the event led up to.

In treating either of these last two subjects, the writer would probably find it necessary to subdivide one or more of the topics here given.

As a rule, single sentences should not be written or printed as paragraphs. An exception may be made of sentences of transition, indicating the relation between the parts of an exposition or argument.

In dialogue, each speech, even if only a single word, is a paragraph by itself; that is, a new paragraph begins with each change of speaker. The application of this rule, when dialogue and narrative are combined, is best learned from examples in well-printed works of fiction.

Paragraphs are interesting things. Aristotle used paragraphs by putting a horizontal line near a blank spot, denoting the onset of a new paragraph. However, he didn’t really have any other punctuation, so I don’t actually know why people classify that as a paragraph rather than just a sentence. Or maybe the Greeks are just so verbose that their sentences go on forever. The Bible certainly had paragraphs pretty early, in the Council of Nicaea.

Ancient Chinese didn’t really have punctuation as we know it today. They had grammatical components which indicated both the tone (eg. question, exclamation) as well as the ending of a sentence. I don’t actually know how paragraphs evolved in prose.

The kind of rigid paragraph I learned was the Schaffer paragraph, where 3 or 4 sentences are sandwiched between an introductory and a summary sentence. Whenever I use it, I never get any good feedback.

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