Thursday, July 22, 2004

Word for today: Ừ

One of the things I like about the Vietnamese language is the letter "ư". How do you describe the sound of this strange little creature? Ok, it looks like a standard "u", although the little hook gives it an alien appearance.

Well, the standard dumbed-down approach (ala Lonely Planet) approach would be to describe as "sounding like the letters" [insert letters here] in the word [insert word here]". My personal opinion (as that's after a year learning Vietnamese) is that this tactic sucks. Most languages do not sound like English, nor should anyone pretend they are. Trying to pretend to the earnest learner that they do: well, that's misleading advertising. Come clean at the start, and admit that each language has it's own inventory of weird and wonderful sounds. In fact, it makes it more fun.

So how can one describe it? One tactic I used is to find the equivalent in the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). The "ư" sound is the back unrounded vowel /ɯ/. And what does that tell you? The sound is like the the back rounded /u/ sound, but (here's the point) don't round your lips. The fortunate thing is that /u/ is in English, so it is safe to make a comparison here - for example, it's like the "oo" in "soon". And now you know how to pronounce it: do a "oo" but keep you lips flat. The IPA approach may not be to everyone's taste, but it did help me with most of the pronounciation difficulties in Vietnamese.

"But how does the ư really sound?", you may be asking. "Am I doing it right?" Well, I describe it as a combination of a grunt in the back of the throat and the resonant effect from blowing into an empty wine bottle.

Since "Ừ" is the subject of this post (and it really is), I'll describe what it means: 'yes". Or more appropriately "yeah". As in "yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you, yeah..."

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Down and Out in Sài Gòn: Opening Sale

Why start a blog? Because I want to put in what I get out of reading blogs.

I have been using the Internet - on and off - for a decade. I like it a lot. To say I am an Internet addict is an overstatement. I never got cold turkey when it wasn't available. Often I wouldn't use it when it was available. But when it was present in broadband-amounts, I would overindulge. My relationship with the Net is not the most healthy.

There are a few reasons I am attracted to the damned thing. Firstly, I am an "information junkie" - as described by an ex-flatmate. I like picking up interesting tidbits of data. But pure consumption gets boring really quickly. The Internet is not the TV. It's not just the information - it's the interaction. Newsgroups (at first). Then conversations on email lists. Then internet Forums. Now we have blogs. I was - and am - entranced by the thing.

I have no problem with finding "interesting" stuff - interesting to me that is. The problem is that I sometimes find it hard to stop. More and more, I would look for more "cool shit" on the Net, but in a feeling of exhaustion and increasing levels of boredom, and with the thought in my head: "Maybe I should do some work now?" Eventually I would get around to work - and generally put in a full day's schedule. Unfortunately, I would have to work a few hours longer, and finish up at 6 or 7.

Contribution was always harder. Sometimes I liked the topic of the forum/mailing list/blog etc, but I didn't feel like I could contribute, or was often not interested. Often I could contribute, but it took me 10 times to revise what I was about to say. The results may have been interesting, and there were a few responses I wrote that I could read years later. I'm also glad that I got over my initial insecurity that "no one would find my writing interesting". Except now I was finishing at 7 or 8 revisions.

Let's add one final thing. I have lots of things in my head. I'm an introvert. I can think for hours at a time. They thing is that I don't want to keep thinking the same thing. It seems healthy to write it down - or consign it to electrons - so I can think about something else.

So let's state the problem in a couple of sentences.

  1. I like the Internet.
  2. I waste a lot of time on it.
  3. My pattern is a little bit of consumption, plus a little bit of interaction.
  4. By writing, I use up a lot of time trying to get my thoughts in order.
  5. I obviously need more practice in writing.
  6. I'd like to talk about the stuff I'm interested in.

The solution is to start my own blog, and then devote most of my internet time to writing and updating the damned thing. That's why I'm doing this.