Monthly Archives: December 2008

Resident Sparrow

The other day, a sparrow flew into our house.  It snuck in through an open door while my mom was outside removing snow, water and ice from the patio.

You have to give the little guy some credit; he was persistent.  We tried luring him back outdoors with a flimsy broom, but he kept his ground.  He flew from the bookcase to the couch and up into the kitchen light fixture.

After about five minutes of chasing him around, we finally got the pesky bird to fly back where he belongs: outside.  Life, for all involved, returned to normal.

Indeed, it was odd to see a part of nature temporarily domesticated.  Perhaps our resident sparrow had grown weary of the cold and rainy late December night.  Or maybe he simply wanted to see what a human habitat looks like.

Something tells me, though, that while fluttering around the confines of our home, this poor bird never felt so trapped.

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Note(s) To Self

I’m a list-maker, an obsessive list-maker.  Something about planning my day by writing numerous “notes to self” appeals to me.

Right now, I have three lists going: one that deals with things I’d like to accomplish today; another that focuses on things I need to do in the next couple of days; and a third one that projects what I might do in the coming months.

It is, as one might imagine, difficult to keep track of my various lists.  I’ve actually had to remind myself to update my notes by, you guessed it, writing more notes!  This makes my note-writing very postmodern, in that my lists often become highly self-referential.

Does my life move more efficiently or smoothly because I write and plan so many of my daily activities?  Yes and no.  In one sense, I rarely forget what I need to do; however, I spend a ton of time preparing for my life that I often forget how to live it.

“Remember to live!”  Perhaps this should be the only note to self I truly need.

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A Brief Lesson On Linguistic Signs

Let’s take a brief look today at what constitutes a linguistic sign, which contains both the signifer and the signified.

Take the word DOG, for example.

It has a basic material aspect. This word, which is one syllable and contains the letters D – O – G (in this order from left to right), is the signifier. It refers to the signified, DOG-NESS, which is the general category to which a beagle, terrier, poodle, etc. belong. Upon thinking, saying, hearing, and/or writing the word DOG, we automatically think of certain qualities that apply to all (or at least most) dogs: they have four legs; they wag their tails; they bark, etc.

But say you want to talk about your beagle named Betsy. Here, then, the signifier DOG points directly to Betsy, the signified.

The mental concept of DOG-NESS, therefore, leads you to a particular dog, the one you call “Betsy,” the one who right now wants to go for a walk, let’s say! At the same time, when you think of Betsy, the ways in which she fulfills the form of DOG-NESS come floating to your mind, and soon you think back to the signifier that led you to the mental picture of her in the first place. This whole process is reflection of how all linguistic signs work.

At its core, however, the relationship between the signifier and the signified is completely arbitrary. The word DOG, for example, translates into EL PERRO in Spanish.

Which signifier is correct? Well, each is correct as it relates to the ways in which its parent language have been designed; in either case you’d be referring to the same Betsy if you called her a dog and your Spanish-speaking friend next to you called her el perro.

Then again, what we call a “dog” might just as easily been labeled “cat,” or “fish,” or “man,” or “woof-woof,” or some word that doesn’t exist in our standard English language. For conventual purposes, to communicate effectively with others–these are the reasons why D – O – G makes DOG and nothing else. Someone decided a very long time ago to call it thus, and in order for you to discuss Betsy with others you must refer to her as the dog that she truly is.

Of course, she’ll just bark at you. Dogs, after all, haven’t learned this stuff yet!

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Blogger’s Note:

For a more detailed look at linguistic signs and the man who originated serious discussion about their nature, Ferdinand de Saussure, check out this link.

Below is the citation for the above Web page:

English 2010: Modern Critical Thought (Links to Lecture Notes). Mary Klages, Ph.D. Last updated: 06 September 2001. The University of Colorado at Boulder. Retrieved 01 December 2008 from http://www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/saussure.html

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