English and phonetic spellings

So my nephew Samvit, who recently turned 4, has learnt to spell. And he has learnt to use a computer (and phone) keyboard. He seems to love the keyboard so much that he apparently refuses to write using pen and paper.

They say that he’s taken after me in many ways (despite us sharing just 1/16 of our genes – he’s my cousin’s son), and I must mention that my writing output exploded after I had learnt to type and got access to a computer keyboard.

The point of this post is not about his writing, however. Yesterday, they made him spell out a few words, and here is how he spelt them out. One thing I might want to disown him for is that he uses all caps. Leaving that aside, the way he spells is extremely interesting. Here is the list of words he spelt out, as emailed to me by his mother:

THIORI
ELEKTRIC
MAGNET
ANTENA
MYKRO
STRIP
HELIX
PERABOLA
DYPOLE
HORN
GYD
COSMIK
PLANET
ANIMUL
DANS
SING
CUK
DRAMA
MUZIC
HOUS
TEMPUL
SOUND
SOFA
WATUR
AEROPLEN
SHIPYARD
GARDUN
CHOKLET
BRED
JUS
BANANA
ORENJ
AVACADO
ORIYO

As you might notice, it’s all very phonetic. He has learnt the English alphabet, and sounds associated with each letter, and then tried to fit that to the words that he has had to type out. It appears weird at first, but then if you take a closer look, you realise that it’s rather intuitive.

He seems to have figured out the polymorphism behind certain letters, for he uses multiple sounds of U in “Jus” (which is how I think it’s spelt in certain European languages, btw) and in “Gardun”. He hasn’t figured out the polymorphism in i-y though, as he says “thiori” and “gyd”.

Then his use of Cs and Ks for the Ka sound is also interesting, as he uses both of them, and he seems to have a certain logic for using them. I’ve been trying to reverse engineer this logic but so far failed. He says “cuk” and “cosmik”, from which you might think he uses “c” when its the beginning of a syllable and “k” when it’s the end of a syllable.

But then you also notice that he says “elektric” which throws this hypothesis out of the window. And there is “avacado” and “choklet”.

Overall, though, it is fascinating to see how a four-year-old who has just learnt the language spells, Maybe if we get a bunch of four-year-olds who still haven’t been formally taught to spell to spell, we might understand what English spelling should intuitively be like! It might even be possible that going forward the language may evolve to this new spelling!

Are there any other interesting patterns you notice in the other list of words? Are there any other interesting ways in which you’ve seen other kids spell? What does this mean for the English language – should it be simplified?

Ghoti

Arranged Scissors 8: Culture fit with parents

That you are in the arranged marriage process means that your parents now have full veto power over whom you marry. Given that you don’t generally want them to veto someone whom you have liked, the most common protocol as I understand is for parents to evaluate the counterparty first, and the “candidate” to get only the people who have passed the parental filter. Then the “candidates” proceed, and maybe meet, and maybe talk, and maybe flirt and maybe decide to get married.

Hypothesis: The chance of your success in the arranged marriage market is directly proportional to the the culture fit that you have wtih your parents.

Explanation: Given that parents have veto power in the process, and given the general protocol that most people follow (which I have described in the first para above; however, it can be shown that this result is independent of the protocol), there are two levels of “culture fit” that an interested counterparty has to pass. First, she has to pass the candidate’s parents’ culture fit test. Only after she has passed the test does she come in contact with the candidate (in most cases, not literally).

Then, she will have to pass the candidate’s culture fit test. By the symmetry argument, there are two more such tests (girl’s parents’ filter for boy and girl’s filter for boy). And then in the arranged marriage setting, people tend to evaluate their “beegaru” (don’t think english has a nice phrase for this – basically kids’ parents-in-law). So you have the boy’s parents evaluating the girl’s parents for culture fit, and vice versa.

So right at the beginning, the arranged marriage process has six layers of culture fit. And even if all these tests are passed, one gets only to the level of the CMP. (given that very few filter down to this level, i suppose a lot of people put NED at this stage and settle for the CMP).

Without loss of generality, let us now ignore the process of boy’s parents evaluating girl’s parents and vice versa (the problem is complex enough without this). So there are basically four evaluations, made by two pairs of evaluators (let us consider parents as one entity – they might have difference in opinion between each other occasionally but to the world they display a united front). Now for each side it comes down to the correlation of expectations between the side’s pair of evaluators.

The higher the “culture fit” you possess with your parents, the higher the chance that you will agree with them with regard to a particular counterparty’s culture fit. And this chance of agreement about culture fit of counterparty is directly proportional to the chance of getting married through the arranged marriage process (basically this culture fit thing can be assumed to be independent of all other processes that go into the arranged marriage decision; so take out all of those and the relationship is linear). Hence proved.

Now what if you are very different from your parents? It is very unlikely that you will approve of anyone that they will approve of, and vice versa. In such a situation it is going to be very hard for you to find someone through the arranged marriage process, and you are well advised to look outside (of course the problem of convincing parents doesn’t go away, but their veto power does).

So the moral of the story is that you should enter the arranged marriage market only if you possess a reasonable degree of culture fit with your parents.

(i have this other theory that in every family, there is a knee-jerk generation – one whose “culture” is markedly different compared to that of its previous generation. and after each knee-jerk, cultural differences between this generation and the following few generations will be low. maybe i’ll elaborate on it some other time)

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 2

Arranged Scissors 3 – Due Diligence

Arranged Scissors 4 – Dear Cesare

Arranged Scissors 5 – Finding the Right Exchange

Arranged Scissors 6: Due Diligence Networks

Arranged Scissors 7: Foreign boys

The Perils of Notes Dictation

Thinking about my history lessons in schools, one picture comes to mind readily. A dark Mallu lady (she taught us history in the formative years between 6th and 8th) looking down at her set of voluminous notes and dictating. And all of us furiously writing so as to not miss a word of what she said. For forty minutes this exercise would continue, and then the bell would ring. Hands weary with all the writing, we would put our notebooks in our bags and look forward to a hopefully less strenuous next “perriod”.

The impact of this kind of “teaching” on schoolchildren’s attitude towards history, and their collective fflocking to science in 11th standard is obvious. There are so many things that are so obviously wrong with this mode of “teaching”. I suppose I’ll save that for else-where. Right now, I’m trying to talk about the perils of note-making in itself.

Before sixth standard and history, in almost all courses we would be dictated “questions and answers”. The questions that would appear in the exam would typically be a subset of these Q&A dictated in class. In fact, I remember that some of the more enthu teachers would write out the stuff on the board rather htan just dictating. I’m still amazed how I used to fairly consistently top the class in those days of “database query” exams.

I’m thinking about this from the point of view of impact on language. Most people who taught me English in that school had fairly good command over the language, and could be trusted to teach us good English. However, I’m not sure if I can say the same about the quality of language of other teachers. All of them were conversant in English, yes, and my schoool was fairly strict about being “English-medium”. However, the quality of English, especially in terms of grammar and pronunciation, of a fair number of teachers left a lot to be desired.

I can still remember the odd image of me thinking “this is obviously grammatically incorrect” and then proceeding to jot down what the teacher said “in my own words“. I’m sure there were other classmates who did the same. However, I’m also sure that a large number of people in the class just accepted what the teacher said to be right, in terms of language that is.

What this process of “dictation of notes” did was that teachers with horrible accents, grammar, pronunciation or all of the above passed on their bad language skills to the unsuspecting students. All the possible good work that English teachers had done was undone.There is a chance that this bad pronunciation, grammar, etc. would have been passed on even if the teachers didn’t give notes – for the students would just blindly imitate what the teachers would say. However, the amount by which they copied different teachers would not then be weighted by the amount of notes that each teacher dictated, and I think a case can be made that the quality of a teacher is inversely proportional to the amount of notes he/she dictates.

Teachers will not change because dictation is the way that they have been taught to “teach”. The onus needs to go to schools to make sure that the teachers don’t pass on their annoying language habits to the students. And a good place to start would be to stop them from dictating notes. And I still don’t understand the value of writing down notes that you don’t really bother to understand when you have a number of reasonably good text books and guide books available in the market. I agree that for earlier classes, some amount of note-making might be necessary (I think even that can be dispensed with), but in that case the school needs to be mroe careful regarding the language skills of people it recruits in order to dictate these notes.

How do i describe my job?

One of the “problems” with my job, if I can describe this as one, is that it’s tough to explain my job to a layman. There are multiple levels of disconnects here, and multiple “pitfalls”, if I can call them that. So when someone asks me about my work, it gets tough indeed to describe to any degree of accuracy while at the same time being concise, and at the same time talking in Kannada.

I am a quant at a hedge fund.

My work involves coming up with trading strategies, and then developing them to a level where I can have the ultimate fighter – a computer – to trade using these strategies. Then, I will need to figure out how the computer is going to implement these strategies and this part involves some heavy engineering work. And finally I code. Ok now I haven’t been accurately able to describe in one paragraph, writing in English, about my job. How do you expect me to describe it to the layman speaking in Kannada?

Coding is a part of my job, but I’m not a coder.

I deal with financial products – equities and equity derivatives. But I’m strictly not a finance guy – as far as I’m concerned, each security is just a time series. A time series on which I can trade and make money. In fact, apart from my short stint selling interest rates swaps in London, I haven’t really done any finance. My entire view of the markets is based on my idea that a security is just a tradeable time series. I think I should do a separate post on that. Anyways, I’m not strictly a finance guy also.

One of my degrees is an MBA. A PGDM to be precise, from IIMB. But I’m not a manager also. I don’t manage people apart from myself.  I’m not sure I’ll find that interesting either – I sometimes think managing is too fighter a job for me.

And so on.

And then, I work for a hedge fund. Most people don’e have a clue what a hedge fund is. I sometimes make an approximation and tell them I work for a mutual fund. And immediately I get bombarded with questions like my opinion on whether the markets will go up or down, and about how long the recession is going to last. And then there are those who start telling their sob stories about their investments in the markets when the Sensex was at 20,000 and about how markets can’t be trusted any more.

Another level of contradiction is that I’m based in Gurgaon. All finance companies are supposed to be in Bombay, right? Surely, given that I’m in Gurgaon, I must be doing some back office kind of work?

Last night my uncle was filling up some arranged marriage exchange registration form for me. And he asked me to describe my job in a short phrase. I immediately came up with “trader” and that got quickly shot down since that would give the image of a lala sitting behind huge weighing scales. Next I tried “financial trader” and “quantitative trader”. No go.

Then I wanted the simple “quant”. My highly stud uncle himself had trouble exactly figuring that out, so fat chance anyone would appreciate that. So out again. I relaxed constraints a bit and said “hedge fund professional”. But most people wouldn’t understand “hedge fund”. “mutual fund” was no go for a written form. “quantitative analyst” was considered too country by my uncle. He then asked me my designation. “Associate” doesn’t mean anything, he said and shot that down too.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve unnecessarily complicated life for myself by choosing the path that I’ve chosen. If I were working for some software company I could’ve just written “software” over there and all would’ve been fine. The whole world would’ve understood, or at least claimed to have understood. Or even better, if I were living abroad, I wouldn’t have even been required to say that much. I’d’ve been just qualified as a “foreign huduga”, with most people not even caring for which city I was in.

For the record, my listing application records my profession as “financial services professional”, as country as it sounds. This was the only middle ground where my uncle and I didn’t disagree. And in it went. It increasingly looks like I’ll have to put fundaes to Cesares about why the stock markets have gone down in the last one year in order for them to allow their daughters to marry me. I have half a mind to start describing Ito’s lemma the next time someone asks me where the markets are headed. I’ll probably start off describing to them a random walk. And say that it’s a drunkard’s walk. And perhaps use that to change the topic. I think I might need to start practicing this. In Kannada.

I’m a quant at a hedge fund.

Search Phrases – February 2009

I don’t plan to make this a monthly feature, but will write this whenever I find enough funny search phrases to make a post on  them worth it. Googlers and google seem to have had a field day this month,

The top search phrase that has led to my blog is of course “noenthuda“. In second place is the fairly boring “blog.noenthuda.com” .  Third place is extremely interesting – top reasons marriage engagements break in pakistan. And I’ve got over 50 people who have searched for this phrase in the last month and then landed up at my blog! Now it makes me wonder what the top reasons are for marriage engagements breaking in pakistan.

Here are a few other gems from the month gone by.

  • gay in iimb (17 hits)
  • 3-letter word for pertinent
  • aunties in chickballapur (chickballapur is my father’s native place, for the record; it is famous for its extremely spicy chillies)
  • best english speaking course in north india
  • can we put the shoes and chappals near the entrance of the house
  • cricketers animal names
  • funny message for my cousin who wants to move back to bangalore
  • i am working in singapore what do i need to do to buy a car in delhi
  • i don’t know how to speak english but i know hindi can i work in delhi
  • iimb course to be on your own
  • job interview edition on savitabhabhi.com
  • karwar muslims
  • matha amritha, things she does
  • number of north indians settled in south india
  • societal influence on a bastard child
  • the true story of a man who learnt fluent spoken english
  • which indian breakfast item can be made with bread?

Ok that has been a very long list indeed. Much longer than I intended it to be. But it only reflects the brilliance of googlers and google in the last one month.

why is the level of English in North India so low?

I had sent this mail to a mailing list of 60-odd super-intelligent people. unfortunately, in their fondness for Savita Bhabhi, Vidarbhan farmers and child-eating, they weren’t able to come up with any convincing explanation for this. So I thought you super-intelligent readers of my blog might be able to help. I begin.

Three months back I moved to Gurgaon from Bangalore. And one thing I’ve noticed is that here practically no one can speak English. I’m referring to service providers here, people who are typically from the lower middle class. Taxi driver. Electrician. Waiter. Accountant. etc.

None of them can speak a word of English, and  I mean that almost literally. In Bangalore and Madras, we can see that people in these professions at least make an effort to speak English, and even if you don’t know their local tongue you will be able to communicate with them and get your work done. Here, unless you know Hindi, it is impossible. There is only so much you can communicate in Dumb Charades, right?

I suppose one argument will be that people in the North would have never had the need to learn English since most people they come across can speak Hindi. And that since linguistic regions are much smaller in the South, there is greater incentive for people to pick up and learn new languages. And since they know that a knowledge of English helps get them more business, they make an effort to pick it up.

But again – even if you exclude those who haven’t gone to school, the knowledge of English here is horrible. Isn’t it aspirational in North India to send kids to English medium schools? If not, I wonder why this is the case – given that in the South practically everyone want to send their kids to English medium schools.

Ok here is my hypothesis – remember that it is a hypothesis and not an argument. I wonder if people who are native of regions where the same language prevails over a large geographical area are linguistically challenged. because everyone they need to interact with know their language and there is no need for them to learn any new language. and this affects their ability to pick up new languages. on the other hand, people from linguistically diverse regions will tend to find it easier to pick up new languages.

extending this, it might actually help if the medium of instruction in your school is not your native tongue. having learnt a new language early, you will find it easier to pick up new languages as you go along.

sometime last month I was at a high-end restaurant with a couple of friends. spoke to the waiter in English and he didn’t understand. one of my friends who was with me said “don’t bother talking to these guys in English. if they knew some english, they’d’ve been working for Genpact and not become waiters”