Sythyry (sythyry) wrote,

On the Failure of Socio-Prosodical Research

Mirrored from Sythyry.

An explanatory, apologetical essay by Vind, Alzagond, Hrone, and Invincible Fire Demon.

The authors of this essay recently engaged on a detailed socio-prosodical study of the ‘tofyof’ phenomenon in Hanija, from the vantage point of the great university in Barency. Some conclusions were reached that seemed remarkable — seemed to say important, if not crucial, things about all primes everywhere! The conclusions, while not precisely endorsed by Prof. Mump, were strongly supported by him, the methods verified in detail, and the study urged to continue.

However, upon arrival in Hanija, it was determined to be utterly wrong.

In this essay, we explain what went wrong.

The single most terrible mistake was that we did not understand the true significance of the word ‘tofyof’. Hanijan language is not quite the same as standard Ketherian. The Translating Dictionary of Gi-Shozempi the Great translates ‘tofyof’ as “registered concubine, in the special sense of Hanija”. We followed Prof. Mump and our predecessor students, who decoded this “special sense” to mean “other-species”. The decoding was based on many love-poems written to a tofyof, in which the tofyof is clearly of a different species than the writer.

There is nothing wrong with these love-poems. They are, in fact, an utterly commonplace instance of tofitude, and a quite standard piece of the poetic life of tofyof-keepers. However, they miss the point altogether, and substitute for it an utterly divergent point that, while true, is not the essense.

The true nature of tofitude will be discussed in a later essay. For the moment, the question is — how could we make this error?

Upon thinking about it at some length, the question should be — how could we do otherwise than make a thousand such errors? For the following reasons!

  1. We are reading about Hanija — or a thousand other distant places — from books. In our favor, the books are actual books from the region of Hanija, or translations thereof. In this regard, socio-prosody exceeds in accuracy other disciplines, such as socio-geography, which credulously accept the most sensational traveller’s report or often-repeated story as data for statistical understanding. However, if we do not understand the books, what kind of good research can be done?
  2. Hanijan often uses unitary pronouns, which do not reveal the species of the person in question. In Ketherian, one will often write “re loves rer”, to say that one Rassimel loves another. In Hanijan, one may well write “pe1 loves pe2″, (translated as “the former one loves the latter one”), using the general pronouns that can refer to any primes. In Ketherian, this would often be deliberate coyness, concealing the species of the lovers, and therefore hinting at an improper conjunction of species. In Hanijan, it has no such connotations; the ‘pe’ pronouns for primes are simply more commonly used.
  3. Our books and poems are generally translated by graduate students, who are not proficient in Hanijan. This introduces certain inaccuracies. We showed our sources to native speakers. A poet describes his lover as “shingzung”, which we translate as “hooklike” and find quite enigmatic. In fact, “shingzung” means “mint-scented”, quite reasonable as she is garlanded with herbs. “Shing-zung” means “hooklike”.
  4. We have many primary sources from the Hanijan region. Some significant number of these are from countries which are opposed to Hanija, or by people who are personal enemies of that city-state. Some of the most definitive information about the prevelence of transaffection in Hanija comes from polemicists who are trying to make Hanija appear as wicked and disgusting as possible. This cannot make the basis of good statistics.
  5. Poetry does not provide a good statistical sample of a civilization. In our corpus of 618 poems, 38 are from a single collection, “Love Song Ding Dong”, by a single poet, written over the course of some three months, to the same tofyof. They are regarded in Hanija as exceptional poetry — but they put an unduly heavy statistical weight on one Rassimel-Orren pairing. Another 202 poems are from a compendium of love poetry to tofyofs (produced as a possible gift from a keeper’s spouse to the keeper on the occasion of getting a tofyof), which severely distorted our conclusions about romantic devotion.

    We did not realize this at first. When we analyze the poems, they are written (in translation) on large cards, and shuffled and put into piles. Several of us never even saw the original books.

  6. The translation process introduces other flaws. Three poems in our corpus are, in fact, the same poem, from three different collections, translated in substantially different ways; we did not realize this until quite recently. Seven other poems were duplicated.

After a mere weeks in Hanija, we understand that remote studies are all but useless. We propose a new discipline, socio-vacationing, in which researchers visit remote sites, accumulate data there, and perform statistical analyses to understand and interpret their information. It will incorporate the methods of socio-prosody, but with greater accuracy, as the poetry will be collected with important, crucial contextual information. We expect this new discipline to give the perfect understanding of distant places that socio-prosody was thought to do.

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