24-Apr-2010

The Grammar Nazi and the Zen Grammarian

Grammar Nazis and the Zen Grammarian
Towards the fag end of the second World War, a rumour was running through the Allied countries, characterized by this paragraph from Time Magazine:
But what of the top Nazis who cannot hide? With a compact army of young SS and Hitler Youth fanatics, they will retreat, behind a loyal rearguard cover of Volksgrenadiere and Volksst├╝rmer, to the Alpine massif which reaches from southern Bavaria across western Austria to northern Italy. There immense stores of food and munitions are being laid down in prepared fortifications. If the retreat is a success, such an army might hold out for years.”
This Alpenfestung, or Alpine Fortress, was mostly a fantasy; the Nazis of Germany would stand routed with only a few big names making it out alive. But a different group, the Grammar Nazis, have set up a formidable array of such redoubts, in the form of propah professors, competitive entrance exams and meticulous editors. It is the last that concerns this article. Every editor, particularly a fiction editor, has a choice whether to be a Grammar Nazi or not.
The association with the Nazis may come across as offensive, but it isn’t really intended to be, and isn’t really offensive in the world-at-large. There are some things that it is socially commendable to be a Nazi about, like not spitting on the road, or not travelling ticketless on a Mumbai local, or even vegetarianism. Even though ‘Grammar Nazi’ is used by the layman to mock the average pedant who pipes up to correct your syntax in class, I know that there are many who take an evident pride in the label.
I know because I was once a junior, card-carrying member of the Grammar Nazis.
The idea has a certain classical appeal. What Grammar Nazis are looking to build is an ineffaceable edifice, a monument that enduringly presides over the language, rewards its devotees and chides the deviants and the offenders. There is peace in stillness, safety in the solidity of the framework. In general, one of man’s pet bugbears is uncertainty; it takes special training to be able to tolerate uncertainty. Forget about accepting it.
Their arguments are strong as well. If language is to be used for communication, doesn’t it make sense to have a stable framework that everyone can understand? More importantly, long years of associations have lent certain shades of meaning to the “correct” terms and phrases. Won’t these be lost if you loosen the framework, lower the drawbridge and let the ignorant and unscrupulous masses storm the Grammar fortress?
There is one more thing that I would like to say about Grammar Nazis: their assurance is infectious. There is an immediate feeling of respect when you hear a man confidently assert his views, there is an automatic charm in a man who knows what he’s talking about. One of my favourite Grammar Nazis, Henry Watson Fowler, addresses the issue of the stasis of language by introducing two terms, Idiom and Analogy. Idiom is the linguistic convention, the way things are done in language, while analogy is the attempt by people (both who are aware and unaware of the convention and the rationale behind it) to experiment with language.
Here is a passage from Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2 e. (1965), delightfully and idiosyncratically titled ‘The Cast-Iron Idiom’ (my paragraphing and pruning to the permitted 250 words):
cast-iron idiom.
Between IDIOM and ANALOGY a secular conflict is waged. Idiom is conservative, standing in the ancient ways, insisting that its property is sacrosanct, permitting no jot or tittle of alteration in the shape of its phrases. Analogy is progressive, bent on extending liberty, demanding better reasons than use and wont for respecting the established, maintaining that the matter is what matters and the form can go hang.
Analogy perpetually wins, is forever successful in recasting some piece of the cast iron, and for that reason no article in this book is likely to be sooner out of date in some of its examples than this. Idiom as perpetually renews the fight, and turns to defend some other object of assault. 'I doubt that it ever happened', 'He is regarded an honest man',... —all these, says Idiom, are outrages on English; correct them please to ' I doubt whether it ever happened', 'He is regarded as an honest man'...
But why? retorts Analogy. Is not to doubt to be unconvinced? Is not regarding considering? ...Away with such hair-splittings and pedantries! ...I propose to neglect your petty regulations...
Not that Analogy, and those whom it influences, are offenders so deliberate and conscious as this description of them might seem to imply ; they treat regard like consider not because they choose to flout the difference that Idiom observes, but because it comes natural to them to disregard distinctions that they have not noticed."
Note the absolutely wicked pardon proffered by St. Fowler: “not because they choose to flout the difference that Idiom observes, but because it comes natural to them to disregard distinctions that they have not noticed”. That kind of eloquence is rarely possible in a more permissive framework; the grand authoritarian rhetoric gives it its power.
Wherein lies the rub?
The very arguments that Grammar Nazis use turn against them once one views the matter of language from a slightly different angle. This is the small matter of the gap between an existing system and man’s capacity to describe, order and govern that system.
An example is the ecosystem: we may study it and classify it, but can we really order it or control it? Can we declare what exists as ‘incorrect’? Can we, for instance, dismiss the duck-billed platypus as an error in biology? No; we must make room, we must create a new box for it or admit our ignorance.
Language, though it seems to be in our control because it is the currency of our own species, and does not carry biological inevitability, is as much of an ecosystem. And this is because of an important hierarchy that Grammar Nazis ignore: the authority of spoken language over written language.
Written language comes second to spoken language, for written language begins by being primarily a record of spoken language, a hierarchy dominated by the order of human development, starting with speech and followed by writing. And speech is free and situational, and grammar can go take a hike when someone speaks under the influence of passion, of anger, of fear.
Besides, the number of people who have the desire to communicate far exceeds the number of people who are interested in memorizing the conventions of a language.
I have now come to look upon conventions of language, and some conventions of grammar, as not laws but etiquette: and I have a healthy contempt for etiquette as a rigid code of conduct. Etiquette for me is not about specific, high-brow, snooty knowledge, but about grace, the true marker of distinction and class; if etiquette makes one of my guests uncomfortable, it isn’t etiquette, it is a barrier. Similarly, if my Grammar Fascism makes the person speaking to me uncomfortable, I am creating a greater block to communication than his own ignorance.
Language is flux: to impose stasis on it is not only futile, but also arrogant. Static grammar is both comfortable and limited, but our experience of the world is both ever changing and unlimited, and therefore language will always find ways to break out of its own straitjackets. Communities will be reared on “I ain’t going nowhere notime soon”, and, less anomalously, will say “It’s me” and not the pompous but oh-so-correct “It is I”, and there’s very little the small circle of Grammar Nazis can do about it.
There is another deep failing of Grammar Nazis: they lack consensus. Different grammar handbooks will give you different ironclad rules. What one Grammar Nazi will consider excessive and do away with, another will consider mandatory.
The question becomes more fraught when discussing fiction. Two categories of ideas are at work here. One is the right to use non-standard dialects in fiction, often used to assert individuality in the constellation of fiction written in English. Mark Twain’s use of a dialect in both the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn is an important example. The modern poet John Agard exemplifies the creative use of non-standard dialect to make a political statement in his famous poem ‘Half­­-Caste’:
Explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when picasso
mix red an green
is a half-caste canvas/
explain yuself
wha u mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when light an shadow
mix in de sky
is a half-caste weather/
well in dat case
england weather
nearly always half-caste
in fact some o dem cloud
half-caste till dem overcast
so spiteful dem dont want de sun pass
ah rass/
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
The other tendency is more aesthetic, an attempt to play with language for either rhetorical effect (“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”) or to convey interior mental states (James Ellroy in White Jazz: “Fever-that time burning. I want to go with the music-spin, fall with it.”) or as a formalist device (Finnegan’s Wake famously begins “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” and ends “A way a lone a last a loved a long the”, leaving the book without either a beginning or an end).
How should an editor, particularly a former Grammar Nazi, deal with fiction editing? What can be the aesthetic value of a looser framework of grammar, to compare with the charming assurance, sense of order and clarity championed by the Grammar Nazis?
For that, I will introduce the other half of my title: say hello to the Zen Grammarian. The Zen Grammarian has a particular perspective towards the world; she knows its mutability, and is not militantly attached to anything. She has great love for what she values, but she recognizes that as her preoccupation, as her passion, and does not demand it of anybody else. Nor does she react in horror or despair at its passing. If people will spell definitely as definately, or will say “She is taller than me”, she will be mindful of the situation and only correct them where absolutely necessary.
The Zen Grammarian knows what is important: communication and a level of comfort between those communicating, and she sees language as a tool facilitating that communication. She knows that there is nothing to be arrogant about, and that the richness of the varied uses of language can provide both delight and insight, not to mention the playfulness in tinkering with language.
The Zen Grammarian will therefore nitpick less, listen more, and give a writer the benefit of the doubt.
PS: Readers in the know will recognize that what I have described is an old debate, that between Prescriptive and Descriptive grammar, where the former tries to frame the rules and the latter tries to describe the way language is used in the world, and derive its laws from that usage. Cambridge Grammarians have done some admirable work in descriptive grammar recently, though their conviction is sometimes faintly offensive; the Student’s Introduction to English Grammar by Huddleston and Pullum is a great starting point for those interested in exploring descriptive grammar.

20-Apr-2010

The end of the book as we know it?

The definition of a book might soon change.

While we are all used to it's current definition as "a written work or composition that has been published (printed on pages bound together)", advances in technology and increasing expectations from readers may converge to ensure that that definition no longer holds or, at best, is only partially true.

There's no denying that customers want to be in charge and have a say in all interactions they are a part of. One-way communication is just too passe. They want their foods tweaked a little, decide which channels to watch on TV, even decide who wins the next edition of American Idol. It'd be pretty dumb to assume, therefore, that they would be content reading a book without a part to play.

So imagine a situation where Snow White is warned that the apple may contain some poison. Or one where Thomas Friedman is grilled on his notions of a Flat World. All while reading the book.

Technology may just make that possible. Discussions are already happening through instant messaging and other collaborative software. With the emergence of the broadband and improvements in content delivery, it won't be too far away when the book is not just a static collection of words and pages but a dynamic discussion forum. Real time collaboration may make it possible for authors and readers to communicate and offer stories, plots and explanations tailored for the reader. If the book is indeed a source of knowledge, then such an incarnation of the book might indeed allow people to communicate and collaborate and put their minds together in the pursuit of knowledge. Ideas can be debated and discussed threadbare. Nuances can be emphasized.

Interactivity will be key. The book will indeed be a social lubricant.

Any thoughts?

19-Apr-2010

our new logo!!!

We have changed our logo. Let us know what you think about it.







We have also changed our name to "CinnamonTeal Publishing" to reflect the fact that we provide service for all things publishing.

15-Apr-2010

Impending Doom or Misplaced Fears?

There is much debate on whether the printed book will survive the onslaught of its electronic counterpart. With newer devices being produced almost everyday that make e-books easy to access, it seems like e-books are here to stay. While many publishers are apprehensive of the impact of e-books on their business models, it will be, nonetheless, interesting to see how things pan out here in India.

Even today, many Indian villages remain inaccessible because of the poor quality of roads and last mile delivery of goods remains a huge challenge. Primarily because of this, and because literacy levels associated with the rural hinterland are considered abysmal, books hardly make it to the villages in the numbers that it should. This means that those who actually want a good book to read cannot get one. The Government has made a feeble attempt to introduce libraries but barring that and a few mobile libraries that are introduced by well-meaning individuals, finding a good book to read is long shot off.

It is in this context that the impact of e-books must be examined. Mobile connections cover almost half of the country's population and a huge perecentage of the rural populace. The average screen size of the mobile has also increased. That means books, if transmitted electronically, can be easily downloaded and conveniently read. In order to cater to the needs of the vernacular market, innovations will be important. Important strides are already being taken in this direction although more work is needed.

At an important time such as this, the correct steps must be taken. It is important to realise that this need not be a zero-sum game and that e-books and printed books can co-exist. In fact it has been proposed that e-books might actually prop up the demand for the printed versions. Careful thought must be therefore applied before publishers yield to the temptation of enforcing DRM rights and other such controls on the sale and dissemination of e-books.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you think the e-book wave will play itself out in India? Or is it too early to speculate? Are e-books going to change the way publishing is perceived and books delivered? Your comments are invited.

05-Apr-2010

Riding the e-book wave!

It was already about e-books. From the Kindle to the Nook to the very unimaginatively named Sony Reader, e-book Readers were fast to come by and offer those on the move a new way to read books. e-book Readers offered a truckload of choices - from the ability to carry more than a 1000 books at once to the ability to make annotations and notes on the book as you read it.

The iPad has raised the stakes even further. It was always possible to read e-books on smartphones thanks to the likes of the Stanza app on iphones and Aldiko on Google Android phones. With everyone who is someone preferring an electronic version of the book to read, having an e-presence has now become a necessity.

Making your book available in an electronic firm also has an economic aspect to it. With more than half of the world's readers of English books concentrated in North America and Western Europe, it makes sense to cater to these readers, who now increasingly prefer the convenience of e-books. There is also the cost factor. With e-book development being a one-time charge, every additional "e-book" costs nothing to produce. You are earning from each sale and spending nothing.

At CinnamonTeal, we are doing our best to help our authors leverage this channel. We have tied up with myebooks.com and Smashwords™, both respected book channels in their own right. Our association with them allows our authors access to a large number of platforms thus making their books accessible on most devices whether on mobiles or on dedicated e-book readers. To know more about this service, click here.We also offer an e-book development service for a variety of formats.

04-Apr-2010

Everything you wanted to know about the ISBN but were too afraid to ask

Many authors seem perplexed when faced with the question of whether they prefer an ISBN for their book. They are not sure whether an ISBN is required, what are its benefits and how it should be obtained. Here is an attempt to answer these questions.

Much of this is borrowed from here. Joel Friedlander's is a blog every person wishing to self-publish must visit.

1. What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a 13-digit number that is assigned to one book and one book only. It is accepted universally.

2. Why does a book need an ISBN?

An ISBN is required to identify a book uniquely, irrespective of where that book originates from. It is also used to differentiate one edition of a book from another. The ISBN also serves the purpose of being able to identify the publisher of each edition of a book. Booksellers, distributors and libraries the world over rely on the ISBN to accurately catalogue and retrieve each book.

3. Does my book need an ISBN?

The short answer is that it is a good idea to have an ISBN assigned to your book. If you plan to have your book distributed and sold, more often than not your book will be expected to have an ISBN.

4. Does the ISBN have to be assigned by a publisher alone?

This rule differs from country to country. In India, ISBNs are assigned to publishers who then assign it to books. They are also assigned to authors. You simply need to contact the ISBN issuing authority in India.

Note that an ISBN is issued to a publisher (or author). Whoever "owns" the ISBN is recognized as the publisher of the book.

5. Does the presence of an ISBN guarantee a copyright on the ideas included in the book?

It does not. An ISBN is not a registration of copyright, it is a unique number by which your book can be identified and tracked down during trade. That said, an idea once penned down into a book is automatically protected by copyright law, whether or not a copyright is filed for. Hence filing for copyright may not be necessary unless in some unique cases.

6. How much does an ISBN cost?

In India, it costs nothing. Any publisher offering you an ISBN must also do it free of cost. In some other countries, an ISBN must be purchased.

7. Can I reuse an ISBN?

No, you cannot. Once assigned to a book, an ISBN cannot be reused.

8. Where do I put the ISBN in the book?

You’ll print it on the copyright page (sometimes called the imprint page), and it's included in the Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) data block, if you use one. Otherwise, just print it on the copyright page and on the back cover as part of the bar code.

9. So does there have to be a bar code too?

Again, a matter of choice. However, if you plan to have your book distributed through physical book stores, your book might be expected to have a bar code. You can have your bar code generated here.

10. I am publishing a paperback and hardcover version of my book. Do I need two ISBNs or can I use the same one?

You need a separate ISBN for each type, to identify them for anyone who might want to find them in directories, catalogs and databases.

The jury is still out on whether an e-book needs a separate ISBN. While the book sellers are asking that an e-book be assigned its own ISBN, many publishers don't see why that is needed.

11. If I revise my book, do I need to give it a new ISBN?

If you only correct minor typographical errors, and don’t make any substantial changes to the text, you don’t need a new ISBN because it’s considered a reprint and not a new edition. A new edition would contain substantially new material, a major revision, or the addition of completely new elements. Anything that makes it a new book is likely to create a new edition and, therefore, will need a new ISBN.

A change in the cover of the book alone does not require that a new ISBN be assigned.

12. I had self-published my book and now an established publisher has picked it up for publishing. Will the book need a new ISBN?

Yes, it will. Since the ISBN identifies, among other things, the publisher of the book, it is necessary for the next publisher to issue you a new ISBN. Please note that the first ISBN cannot be reused.

CinnamonTeal Print and Publishing offers a free ISBN for every book it publishes.

Our first sales!!!

On the 29th of March, 2010, Mira Koreth's bookpad at Banerghatta Road, Bangalore registered its first sales. For us at fivex5, it was a vindication of our belief that fivex5 was a concept whose time had come.

First some background. fivex5 was conceptualized as an alternate channel for selling books not because the other channels had dried up but because they were proving to be inefficient and expensive. Those familiar with the brick-and-mortar supply chain will tell you why it is expensive. Publishers get only a small pie of book sales and the money is realized after many days. More importantly the supply chain is hardly efficient. Only a tiny fraction of books make it to the large bookstore chains. The situation gets even worse as one moves away from the cities and towns.

The online store was supposed to change all that. Online stores do provide a much larger catalogue to choose from and offer large discounts that benefit the buyer. But publishers still gain little and the low Internet penetration in India is not helping matters. Websites can support Indian languages to a very limited extent so displaying titles in languages other than English remains a challenge. Besides, customers are still, albeit to a lesser degree, reluctant to pay for the books using their credit cards. Finally, many customers would still rather hold and feel a book before buying it.

If there was ever a possibility of marrying the catalogue-rich feature of online bookstores with the personal attention and rural reach that only brick-and-mortar stores can provide, fivex5 can make that happen. While there is a large online catalogue to choose from (and at the rate publishers are joining in, it can only get better), customers still get a chance to hold a book and view it before buying it.

With fivex5, we hope to develop many small bookstores instead of a few large ones. These will be scattered across villages and towns thus providing publishers with channels to the remotest of areas. What we have also observed is that people in many cities have also expressed a desire to own a bookpad. This can only mean that the presence of bookstores in large cities still leave an unsatisfied need for books.

01-Apr-2010

Meet Our Authors
- Dr. Shiva C. Aithal and Abhay B. Solunke

This is the first in a series of blogs where we will introduce you to our authors. Our authors have chosen to follow the self-publishing route for many reasons, yet propelled by one underlying desire - to make their work accessible to everyone.

The authors we cover today are distinguished persons in their own fields. Their first steps towards self-publishing and print-on-demand were tentative but they have now mastered the process and have completed their third book. Meet authors Dr. Shiva C. Aithal and Abhay B. Solunke.

Dr. Shiva C. Aithal received his Masters degree in Microbiology from Marathwada University in 1993 and his Ph.D in Microbiology from Swami Ramanand Teerth Marathwada University, Nanded. His Doctoral studies are associated with Agro-wastes utilization and biofuel production. He serves as an Asst. Prof. in Microbiology at Undergraduate and Post graduate level in Dnyanopasak Shikshan Mandal’s College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Parbhani (M.S.) A recognized PG teacher in Microbiology and Biotechnology of Swami Ramanand Teerth Marathwada University, Nanded, Dr. Aithal is involved in teaching students at graduate and postgraduate level and has to his credit several papers published in the field of Microbiology in National Journals and Symposia and several books in Microbiology.

Abhay B. Solunke completed his M.Sc. in Microbiology from Marathwada University in 1993. He is a recognised University PG teacher in Microbiology and Biotechnology of Swami Ramanand Teerth Marathwada University, Nanded and has taught at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. He has several research papers to his credit and also research projects. He has introduced M.Sc. Industrial microbiology as an innovative subject in UGC X plan program. His Ph.d. work is associated with Mushrooms and the bioconversion of Agro-wastes. He is currently serving as Head-Department of Microbiology and Industrial Microbiology and also as the vice principal of Sant Tukaram Collge, Parbhani.

Their books:

Pollution Control by Microorganisms – Bioremediation, Biocontrol and Other Emerging Technologies

This book presents an authoritative explanation and discussion of a wide range of problems, in three sections, related to the environment, at a level suitable for practitioners and students in science, engineering, medicine, administration and planning. This book will be of particular importance for the increasing number of teachers and students involved in degree and diploma courses in environmental science.

Microbial Catabolism – A Review

This book contains 100 pathways for microbial catabolic metabolism of primarily xenobiotic organic compounds. It includes information on most known microbial catabolic reaction types and the organic functional groups they transform and provides a thorough overview of research and developments being carried out in the field of microbial degradation of xenobiotics compounds that cause harm to the environment. This compilation can also be used as a book for advanced courses in Microbiology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Environmental sciences, Enzymology and Metabolic engineering. This book is a part of UGC Xth Plan Innovative Programme M.Sc. Industrial Microbiology curriculum.

Air Microbiology: A Environment and Health Perspective

This book is currently the only one solely devoted to Air microbiology. Considering the importance of air in our lives, and the fact that very scare or little information/literature is available on the subject, an attempt has been made to give comprehensive and exhaustive information regarding all the aspects of Air Microbiology. This book covers all the important aspects of air microbiology which is essentially a part of study for Microbiology, Content wise, the book is rich in latest and modern methodologies including nucleic acid sequencing and microbial strain typing.

All three books are published by CinnamonTeal Print and Publishing Services, Margao, Goa.