Does Language Affect Culture? Part 1

As I’ve been working with the Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, I’ve been amazed at the way so many fields are interlinked together and that are applicable to this area.  One subject area I recently discovered was that of linguistics and whether or not it can affect your view of the world.  I picked up some books on linguistics, and then I found that the February issue of Scientific American had an article on the very subject I was exploring entitled “How Language Shapes Thought!”  Such  serendipity has been occurring often as I go deeper into the field of security studies…

I haven’t really taken any English courses since grade school, so I decided a refresher course on linguistics was in order – especially after seeing the new Star Trek movie where Uhura mentions Xenolinguistics as her major.  To that end, I checked out Language, The Big Picture by Peter Sharpe because I wanted a book that was a general introduction to the field.

This was not that book.

It IS a good survey of the research in the field.  Sharpe begins with the origins of language and how our anatomy is related, and then moves on to why language change over time and variations by culture.  He discusses Noam Chomsky, who was the biggest influence on linguistics in the Twentieth Century, and various theories of how language is structured.  This is followed by a survey of semantics – how meaning is formed, and a discussion of semiotics, the symbols and signs of culture.  His final wrap-up talks about the mental representation of language.

This book is probably very good for use in a classroom, but not by someone who has little or no background in linguistics.  To be honest, I was looking for more detail on, as Jim Kirk said, “MorphologyPhonologySyntax.”

I’ll be tackling Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages next.  I also found this video by Lera Boroditsky to be quite fascinating.  In the meantime, does anybody have any good suggestions for an introductory text on Linguistics?


Review of Richard Florida’s The Great Reset

Richard Florida was well-known (and somewhat notorious) when he taught at Carnegie-Mellon University here in Pittsburgh back at the end of the Nineties.  Our politicians were pushing the building of two new stadiums and Florida noted that it wasn’t going to improve Pittsburgh’s economy.
Well, here we are in 2010 with two shiny new stadiums and the city has been through bankruptcy, our Port Authority that runs the buses has had to cut routes and raise fares…I’d say Florida probably pretty much won that argument.
In his newest book, The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity, Florida uses the cycles of the last two depressions to try to get an idea of where the economy is headed after the Great Recession that began in 2008.  Those other two were the Panic of 1873 and of course, The Great Depression.  In each case, full recovery took ten or more years, and led to new living arrangements (what Florida calls “Spatial Fix”) and new ways of living, working and consuming.
Florida notes, for example, that after 1873 the country saw increased urbanization, and after the Great Depression it saw the growth of the suburbs.  In each case, these changes coincided with industrial changes – from agriculture to factories, from factories to knowledge work, and so on.
Today’s world is resulting in numerous changes thanks to the growth of creative work – a theme that has run through many of Florida’s books.  These changes are leading to thr growth of megaregions, a subject covered in Florida’s book, Who’s Your City: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.  For example, Pittsburgh is part of Chi-Pitts, a region with $1.6 trillion in economic output and 46 million people.  At 100,000 square miles it’s the second largest region in North America when rated by these numbers.  Despite the much heralded (and overused) phrase “The World is Flat,” Florida notes that the world is actually “spiky” and that creatives move to these regions to be near other creatives, which causes ideas to compound on each other and boosts innovation.
Florida makes recommendations on how to encourage this.  For example, he notes that light rail will allow smaller cities to be connected to the hubs of megaregions, and that these lines will encourage infill along the routes.  He says that retraining people who are downsized and providing a social net is key to encouraging prosperity.
One of his more controversial recommendations is to note that home ownership as a piece of the American dream is a thing of the past.  Wealth was tied up in houses in the recent bubble, he argues, instead of being put to use funding businesses and basic research.  Also, as job security becomes a thing of the past and people move constantly on to new opportunities, the more mobile workforce will find that a home can tie them down and keep them from going to where the jobs are.  Florida makes several recommendations about how to provide rental options for these workers.
Two areas I was glad to see him cover were service jobs, which are low paying drudgery for many – Florida notes that innovation by these people should be encouraged along with higher wages, and also the infilling of suburbs, which aren’t going away despite the move of people back into the cities.  He notes initiatives to try to turn these areas into so-called walkable communities.  That’s a subject I’d like to touch on in a later post, along with a number of other themes above.
This really only scratches the surface of the content of the book.  It’s a quick read – twenty-three short chapters, and whether you agree with Florida or not, it will give you much to think about…

Coming attractions

Been working much overtime at the moment, but here’s what I’ll be posting on as the year goes by…

I’ve always had an eclectic range of interests. I’m trained and have worked as a mechanical engineer, but also have an MBA and read widely in many fields. Lately, I’ve been consulting with the Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies on tracking nuclear weapons smuggling.

So, some things I’ve been into in the past year:

1.) Mathematics. I’ve gone deeper into algebra, geometry and calculus. I’ve touched on abstract algebra and topology. I’ve even done some reading in chaos theory.

2.) Complexity theory – this applies across a wide range of disciplines such as social networks and physics. It may be applicable to terrorist networks.

3.) The future of work – outsourcing, of course, but also globalization, economics, and telecommuting.

4.) the future, period. Bob Kaplan’s gated communities, Richard Florida’s creative class and Great Reset.

5.) Economics and the stock market – are we really in a recovery or just still sliding into Great Depression 2?

6.) Terrorists and nuclear smuggling – as part of my gig at Pitt.

7.) How do many of the above subjects tie into the future of Pittsburgh (which is where I live)? How does the concept of city states apply, and is it a viable model for the future for the region?

These are all subjects I hope to keep exploring, and I hope to write more about them here on my blog.

My Books Read in the Last Year

Due to a unique confluence of events, I had some time to read this year. Below are the books I completed this year.  As you can see there’s a pretty good mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and many, many subjects.  In future posts, I’ll be touching on many of the subjects I read about.


1) Hard Times on the Prairie – Little House chapter books (with Jacob) – Laura Ingalls Wilder

2) Chaos – James Gleick

3) Frontier Family – Maria D. Wilkes – Little House chapter books (with Jacob)

4) Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer – C. S. Lewis

5) Makers – Cory Doctorow

6) The Story of Mathematics – Lloyd Motz

7) Vivaldi’s Virgins – Barbara Quick

8) Forgotten Algebra – Barbara Lee Bleau

9) Star Marines – Ian Douglas



10) The Music of the Primes – Marcus du Satoy

11) The Best Christian Writing 2006 – Edited by John Wilson

12) Geometry DeMystified – Stan Gibilisco

13) Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White

14) The Confusion – Neal Stephenson

15) Coyote Rising – Allen Steele

16) The Elegant Universe – Brian Greene

17) East, West – Salman Rushdie



18) The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

19) Anno’s Hat Tricks – Mitsumasa Anno

20) The Civilized Engineer – Samuel C. Florman

21) Infinite Worlds – Ray Villard and Lynette R. Cook

22) Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions – Edwin Abbott Abbott

23) Geometry the Easy Way – Lawrence S. Leff

24) It’s only too late if you Don’t Start Now – Barbara Sher

24) Daemon – Daniel Suarez

25) The Killing Man – Mickey Spillane

26) The Math Gene – Keith J. Devlin



27) Trigonometry the Easy Way – Douglas Downing

28) Carnage and Culture – Victor Davis Hanson

29) The Seven Daughters of Eve – Bryan Sykes

30) A Tour of the Calculus – David Berlinski

31) The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

32) The Drunkard’s Walk – Leonard Mlodinow

33) Forgotten Calculus – Barbara Lee Bleau

34) Poker According to Maverick


35) Descartes Secret Notebook – Amir D. Aczel

36) Terraforming Earth – Jack Williamson

37) Death Troopers – Joe Schreiber

38) Social Intelligence – Karl Albrecht

39) The Quants – Scott Patterson

40) The Periodic Kingdom by P.W. Atkins

41) Forces and Motion – Physics Today by Amy Bug

42) Star Strike by Ian Douglas

43) In the Company of the Courtesan – Sarah Dunant

44) Practical Intelligence – Karl Albrecht



45) Eat the Rich – P.J. O’Rourke

46) The Shack – William P. Young

47) Prayer – Philip Yancey

48) Under the Eagle – Simon Scarrow

49) Rules of Vengeance – Christopher Reich

50) Bones of the Hills (Genghis #3) – Conn Iggulden

51) Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford

52) Chanting the Psalms – Cynthia Bourgeault



53) Galactic Corps – Ian Douglas

54) A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World – Wm J Bernstein

55) Bait and Switch – Barbara Ehrenreich

56) Bright-Sided – Barbara Ehrenreich

57) Nickel and Dimed – Barbara Ehrenreich

58) Foundation – Isaac Asimov

59) Unknown Quantity (Algebra) – John Derbyshire

60) Fault Line – Barry Eisler

61) The Myth of the Oil Crisis – Robin M. Mills

62) In Afghanistan – David Loyn

63) Foundation and Empire – Isaac Asimov

64) 25 Ways to Win With People – John Maxwell

65) In the Name of Jesus – Henri Nouwen

66) The Trojan War – Barry Strauss

67) Spiritual Direction – Henri Nouwen

68) Ripples of Battle – Victor Davis Hanson



69) Art Kills – Eric Van Lustbader

70) The Bible Jesus Read – Philip Yancey

71) Murder Is My Business (Mike Shayne) – Brett Halliday

72) The Virtues of War – Steven Pressfield

73) Grant Comes East – Newt Gingrich / William Forstchen

74) The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved (Symmetry) – Mario Livio

75) Eat This Book – Eugene H. Petersen

76) Acedia & Me – Kathleen Norris

77) The Confessor – Daniel Silva

78) A Death in Vienna – Daniel Silva

79) Industrial Marketing Strategy – Frederick E. Webster, Jr.

80) A War Like No Other – Victor Davis Hanson

81) Mathematical Sorcery – Calvin C. Clawson

82) Prince of Fire – Daniel Silva



83) The Messenger – Daniel Silva

84) The Cloister Walk – Kathleen Norris

85) The Blitzkrieg Myth – John Mosier

86) The Power of Place – Harm de Blij

87) When Gravity Fails – George Alec Effinger

88) The Coming China Wars – Peter Navarro

89) Second Foundation – Isaac Asimov

90) The Calculus Diaries – Jennifer Oullette

91) Cyberabad Days – Ian McDonald

92) The Well-Educated Mind – Susan Wise Bauer



93) Budayeen Nights – George Alec Effinger

94) Crisis Economics – Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm

95) The Shadow Market – Eric J. Weiner

96) The Pythagorean Theorem – Alfred Posamentier

97) Foundation’s Edge – Isaac Asimov

98) Zero History – William Gibson

99) The Enough Moment – John Prendergast and Don Cheadle

100) The Bottom Billion – Paul Collier

101) The Rapture Exposed – Barbara R. Rossing

102) The Verbally Abusive Relationship – Patricia Evans

103) The Accidental Guerrilla – David Kilcullen

104) Foundation and Earth – Isaac Asimov

105) Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C. Clarke – re-read

106) Smuggling Armageddon – Rensselaer Lee

107) The Box – Marc Levinson

108) Nuclear Terrorism – Graham Allison



109) Future Savvy – Adam Gordon

110) The 10,000 Year Explosion – Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending

111) Halo: The Cole Protocol – Tobias Buckell

112) The Collapse of Complex Societies – Joseph Tainter

113) The Dervish House – Ian McDonald

114) The Elephant and the Dragon – Robyn Meredith

115) The Edge of Evolution – Michael J. Behe



116) Too Big to Fail – Andrew Ross Sorkin

117) Guns, Germs, and Steel – Jared Diamond

118) McMafia – Misha Glenny

119) The 21st Century Economy: A Beginner’s Guide – Randy Charles Epping

120) The Starfish and the Spider – Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom

121) The Ingenuity Gap – Thomas Homer-Dixon

122) The Celtic Way of Prayer – Esther de Waal

123) Survival: Species Imperative #1 – Julie Czerneda

124) The Paris of Appalachia – Brian O’Neill

125) Complexity: A Guided Tour – Melanie Mitchell