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356 Topics: Ask an American – The humanities; another versus the other; however versus conversely; to call it/them like/how (one) sees it/them

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 356.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 356. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. On it, you can visit our ESL Podcast Store, which has some additional courses in business and daily English. You can also download the Learning Guide for this episode and every recent episode. You can do that by becoming a member of ESL Podcast and supporting our efforts.

On this Café, we're going to have another one of our Ask an American segments, where we listen to other native speakers talking at a normal rate of speech. We're going to listen and then of course, explain what they say.

Today, we're going to talk about the humanities, what it is, and why it is important. And as always we'll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

Our topic on this Café’s Ask an American segment is the humanities. What are the “humanities” (humanities)? The word “humanities” refers to subjects such as studying languages, literature, the arts, cultural studies, philosophy, religion – all of these might be considered part of the humanities. The humanities are often contrasted with science, technology, engineering, math. People see those things as being sort of on one side of the intellectual world, and the humanities being on the other. So, when we talk about the humanities, we're talking about those subjects which, in some universities, get called “Liberal Arts” in the United States.

For example, I studied history and languages in a college of liberal arts. At the university, they were different parts of the university, different colleges. There was the College of Technology – what exactly was it called? – the Institute of Technology. “Institute” is just another word here for a college within a university. Anyway, “humanities” is our topic today, and we're going to talk about and listen to some people talk about humanities and the study of humanities on university campuses. We're going to start by listening to Carolyn Martin. She is the president of a college called Amherst, which is a small university in Massachusetts, a small college. Massachusetts is in the northeastern part of the United States.

We’ll listen first as she explains what she thinks the role of humanities is. That is, what is its purpose? Why do we have the humanities? Why do we study them? Her quote is a little longer than what we typically get here on the Ask an American segment, so be patient, listen to the whole thing, then we'll go back and explain it. Here we go.


“I think we need all of the areas of knowledge not only to be well funded, but also to ensure that all young people have the fundamental skills that pertain to each of those different domains. And also, by the way, the humanities are really the integrative arts. Without them, I think science and technology would feel quite empty to people and the question of how to put technology to human uses will be a very urgent question in the absence of the study of culture.”

[end of recording]

Carolyn begins by saying, “I think we need all of the areas of knowledge not only to be well funded, but also to ensure that all young people have the fundamental skills that pertain to each of those different domains.” Okay, a couple of different terms here we want to explain. She starts by saying I think we need all of the areas, all of the parts of knowledge, all the different kinds of knowledge, to be “well funded.” To “fund” (fund) means to provide money for something, for some program or some project. If something is poorly funded, it doesn’t have enough money to operate well. The opposite would be well funded. If it's well funded, it has all the money it needs.

So, a university might have a program for studying Latin or Greek. It might be well funded. It might have a lot of money. It might be poorly funded. Carolyn Martin is saying that all of the areas that we study at the university should be well funded. Of course, she’s a university president, so that’s not surprising! Martin says that not only do we need to have all of these areas well funded, but we also need to ensure, or make sure, that all young people (we're assuming the people in college are young people) have certain “fundamental skills.” The word “fundamental” means basic. Fundamental skills for school might be reading and writing, or even more fundamental skills could be the ability to recognize the letters of the alphabet. These would be fundamental skills. They're not advanced skills. Fundamental skills are basic skills usually, but they're very important. If you don’t have them then you can't do anything more advanced.

Martin says that young people should have fundamental skills that pertain to each of those different domains. To “pertain” (pertain) to something means to belong to something, to be part of something, to be related, connected or associated with something. A police officer, for example, might find evidence pertaining to a crime, meaning it's somehow related to a crime, something someone did against the law. Or if you're an employee in a company, you might ask your boss how this meeting pertains to your work – how is it related to my work? This is another way of saying, “Why am I here, Mr. Boss Man? Why does this pertain to me? How is this related to me?”

In the quote we just heard, fundamental skills pertain to or are related to different “domains.” “Domains” (domains), in this case, are fields of study, areas that we study. It could be history. It could be science. It could be philosophy. Those are different domains of study, different areas or fields, we might say, of study. Domain can, on the Internet, mean the name of the website, the basic name. Our domain is www.eslpod.com. That’s our domain name. But here we're talking about things that you would study at a university. Martin says that humanities are really the “integrative arts.” “Integrative” (integrative) is basically the same as another word, integrated. It means to be made up of different parts and those parts all fit together. They're all very closely related to each other. They are things that work together well. What Martin is saying here is that the humanities take all these different kinds of knowledge and connect them together. They integrate them and that’s why the humanities, according to Martin, is so important.

Her next sentence then follows from this idea. She says, “Without them (meaning without the humanities), I think science and technology would feel quite empty to people.” The idea that you would feel “empty” means that somehow what you are feeling doesn’t have meaning, what you are experiencing doesn’t seem to be connected with life or the things around you. That’s one problem with not having the humanities, she says. She also says that without the humanities, the question of how to put technology to human uses would be a very urgent question in the absence of the study of culture. What does she mean by all that?

Well, she first talks about the problem of putting technology to human uses, to actually using the technology. She says that this issue would be a very urgent question in the absence of the study of culture. When we say something as “urgent” (urgent), we mean it's very important. It must be dealt with or addressed or taken care of right away. If you have an urgent medical problem, you need to go to the hospital immediately. It's something that you need to deal with and take care of immediately, right away. In the “absence” (absence) of something simply means without something. So, in the absence of the study of culture would mean without the study of culture.

The study of culture is just another way for her to say “the humanities” – philosophy and art and music and languages and so forth. She’s saying that if we don’t study culture, if we don’t have the humanities, then we won't know how to put technology to human uses. We won't know how to use it properly, and that would be a very urgent question because we have to know. It's something we need to know now, and if we don’t study humanities, it would be a very difficult question to answer. Let's listen to Carolyn Martin one more time.


“I think we need all of the areas of knowledge not only to be well funded, but also to ensure that all young people have the fundamental skills that pertain to each of those different domains. And also, by the way, the humanities are really the integrative arts. Without them, I think science and technology would feel quite empty to people and the question of how to put technology to human uses will be a very urgent question in the absence of the study of culture.”

[end of recording]

One of the reasons that Carolyn Martin is talking about this issue is that there have been some people who have argued, who have said, that our state and federal governments and our universities should be spending less money in the humanities. They should invest less money in the humanities and more money in science, technology, engineering and math.

The next person we're going to listen to, like Carolyn Martin, doesn’t agree with that, at least not completely. Our next quote comes from a man by the name of Travis Reindl and he’s the spokesman, he is the person who represents the National Governors Association in the United States. This is a group of people who are all governors, or at least the association represents all the governors, the leaders of each of the 50 states. He has his own ideas about how maybe we can combine humanities and science, technology, engineering and math, what they sometimes called “STEM” (STEM) – science, technology, engineering, math. Let's listen and then we'll explain.


“For example, can we create partnerships between universities so that we’re able to tap into their faculty and share certain courses and programs? Can we use technology to provide some programs remotely so that we can continue to provide these essential programs, but we provide them in a way that fits the budget realities that we face?”

[end of recording]

He begins by asking a question. He says, “For example, can we create partnerships between universities?” “Partnerships” are formal agreements between (usually) two different groups, two different organizations to work together. You can also have a business partnership where you have two people or a small group of people agree to work together. “Partner” usually means two people, you and someone else. So, a partnership would typically be between two groups or two people, although sometimes it could be more than that. Travis believes that we can create partnerships between universities, so university A and university B would work together.

Now, why would they work together? Well, he wants them to be able to tap into their faculty. “To tap into” something is a phrasal verb meaning to be able to have access to something, to be able to use something that already exists. We sometimes use this expression when we're talking about water or power: “I'm going to tap into this water line.” I'm going to take the water line, it already exists, and I'm going to use some water from that water pipe or that water line. Well, here we're talking about tapping into the faculty. “Faculty” is another word for the professors. The people who teach at the university are the faculty. So, one university can tap into or use the professors at another university for their students. They can have this exchange, this partnership.

He says they can also share certain courses and programs, certain classes, the things that they teach. He says, again asking a question, “Can we use technology to provide some programs remotely?” To provide a program “remotely” (remotely) means at a distance, so I may be living here in Los Angeles, but I'm teaching English in Tokyo or in London or in Mexico City. I'm teaching those classes remotely. I'm not physically there. I'm somewhere else. There are now universities that offer classes on the Internet and you can be in a different country and still take the class.

Travis also suggests that by doing this, they can continue to provide “essential programs.” “Essential” means necessary, extremely important. He says, “But we provide them in a way that fits the budget realities that we face.” We provide these programs using technology in a way, in a manner, in a form, that fits the budget realities that we face. To “fit” here means to be appropriate for, to match. “Budget” (budget) refers to the money that you spend. “Reality” of course is the truth, it's what's actually happening. So, the “budget realities” refer to the actual amounts of money that we have, and the way he uses the expression, he’s really saying, well, we don’t have a lot of money – that’s the budget reality. So, we need to use technology to make the best use of the faculty and the programs that we have, even if they're at different universities.

Now, let's listen to the recording one more time.


“For example, can we create partnerships between universities so that we’re able to tap into their faculty and share certain courses and programs? Can we use technology to provide some programs remotely so that we can continue to provide these essential programs, but we provide them in a way that fits the budget realities that we face?”

[end of recording]

Now, let's answer some questions that you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from “Kyoko” (Kyoko) in Japan, of course. Kyoko wants to know the difference between two very common words in English: “another” (another) and the “other” (other). Let's start with “another.” Another can mean an additional one of something, the same thing that you are getting now or have just received. So, I go to McDonald’s and I have a hamburger and then I'm still hungry, so I decide to have another – that is, another hamburger, the exact same kind of hamburger that I just ate. Another can also mean a similar thing, but not exactly the same. For example, I went to a restaurant yesterday and it was busy so then I went to another restaurant. Well, it's not the same restaurant. It's a different restaurant but it's related in the sense that they are both restaurants.

“Other” implies that the person who’s talking can see or knows about some additional item or object. It also implies that there's usually only one other thing. When we talked about restaurants, I went to “another restaurant,” I don’t mean there are just two restaurants in the world! There are of course, millions, but when you use “other” it can sometimes mean that there's only one other choice. For example, I have two shoes. Here’s one. There's the other. There isn't anything else. There are just the two shoes, at least my shoes. I could have other pairs of shoes, different pairs of shoes, and notice there that we can use “other” to mean something additional.

The difference in use is that if there's just one more of something, I'm going to use the word “the” in front of other. You may have noticed I said “Where is the other shoe?” or “There is the other, the other shoe,” but when I talked about having additional pairs of shoes, I said “I have other pairs of shoes.” I didn’t use the word “the”. You could also say I have another pair of shoes. That means I have an additional pair of shoes. I could have 10 additional pairs of shoes, but I'm only referring to one of those pairs. A few days ago, I was telling a story to my wife and I thought that she had gone with me to the store or something a few days ago and she says she didn’t. And as a joke she said to me, “Oh, you must have gone with your other wife.” Of course, I don’t have two wives. I don’t have another wife, although maybe she’s trying to tell me something. I don’t know.

Let's move on to our next question. This is from “Theara” (Theara) in Cambodia. The question has to do with the difference between “however” (however) and “conversely” (conversely). Well, “however” has a couple of different meanings in English. We'll talk about some of them here. One meaning of however is simply “but” or” even though,” as a way of connecting two parts of a sentence, often two clauses or two ideas expressed in different sentences next to each other. My favorite color is blue; however, my wife couldn’t find a blue shirt for me. You notice that there's a connection between the first sentence and the second sentence. You see she was at the store with me because she was looking for a shirt. Ah hah! I'm going to have to tell her that!

Anyway, “however” can also be used in different clauses, as I mentioned earlier. Usually when you write a sentence and you have two different parts of it, two different clauses and you want to use the word “however” in the middle to connect them, you put what's called a semicolon before the word however. So, for example, she wants to go to the movies. She doesn’t have enough money. Those are two separate sentences, but I can combine those. I could say she wants to go to the movies, semicolon (;) – which is a little dot and a comma underneath, however, she doesn’t have enough money. That’s a way of using “however” to connect two parts of a sentence, two clauses in a sentence.

“However” can also be used not just as a conjunction but as an adverb. “However much it cost, I will buy it.” It doesn’t matter, is what you're saying, no matter how much. “However much I try, I cannot convince my wife that she went to the store with me last week.” I try. I try. But it doesn’t matter how much I try, she still thinks – I guess I went with my other wife. “Conversely” is similar to “however,” but it always means the exact opposite, so when we're comparing two things, the second thing is the opposite of the first thing. With “however,” it's just different; it's not the same. It may not necessarily be the opposite thing.

So, for example, people in Minnesota think that 60 degrees in the springtime is warm. Conversely, people in southern California think that 60 degrees in the springtime is cold or cool. You notice they have the opposite things going on. I could also have used “however.” I could have said, “People in Minnesota thinks 60 degrees is warm; however, people in southern California think that it's cold,” but conversely gives a more precise contrast or differentiation showing that they are opposite things or telling you that they are opposite ideas. Perhaps opposite isn't the best word. It's the reverse of the first situation. That’s probably a better way of looking at it.

Finally, “Hamed” (Hamed) in Iran wants to know the meaning of an expression he read or heard: “I call ‘em how I see ‘em” or “I call ‘em like I see ‘em.” To “call something like you see it” is to express your opinion without hesitation, without thinking about it, without worrying about whether someone is going to be mad at you for giving your opinion. So even when you give a negative opinion of something, you're still going to say it. You're going to be honest. That’s another way of saying it. So, if your girlfriend says to you or asks you, “How do I look in these new jeans? Do they make me look fat?” And you say, “Well, I call ‘em like I see ‘em. Yes, they do!” Well, [laughs] she won't be your girlfriend for much longer, my friend.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com. However, we get a lot of emails so we may not be able to answer it for a little while.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on The English Café.

ESL Podcast English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

well funded – with all the money a program needs in order to operate

* The politician has a very well funded campaign and high name recognition among voters.

fundamental – basic and necessary for greater, more complex development or advances

* Society is based on a few fundamental principles about how people should treat each other.

to pertain – to belong to something; to be related or connected to something; to be associated with something

* Please avoid making comments that don’t pertain to the discussion.

domain – a field of study; an area of responsibility

* She worked in the public domain for years before accepting a job in the private sector.

humanities – subjects like languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion

* People who have a degree in science often find a job more easily than people who have a degree in the humanities.

integrative – integrated; made up of many different parts or components and those pieces work together well

* This company’s success results from the integrative efforts of each department.

urgent – important and pressing; must be addressed or dealt with right away; needing an immediate response

* Please don’t interrupt the meeting unless something is urgent.

in the absence of – without

* My employees became very lazy in the absence of supervision.

partnership – a formal agreement to work together for a common purpose

* The two companies formed a partnership to market their products together.

to tap into – to be able to access or use something that already exists

* How can we tap into the international market?

remotely – at a distance; without being on site; without actually touching something

* Scientists are developing technologies to let doctors perform surgery remotely.

essential – something that is extremely important or critical and must continue

* Landlords are responsible for providing essential services like heating and garbage collection.

budget realities – a situation where a program or institution wants and needs a certain amount of money, but only a much smaller amount of money is actually available

* Given the budget realities, we may need to cancel all international business trips this year.

another – additional; different

* Would you like another cup of tea?

other – something different yet related, implying there is only one alternate item

* She almost bought the blue sweater, but then decided to buy the other one.

however – but; on the other hand; even though; no matter how much; no matter which way; whichever

* They want to buy a home. However, they haven’t been able to get a loan.

conversely – opposite of; contrary to; a word used to introduce a statement or idea that is the opposite of one that has just been made or referred to

* The new job could be the start of a great career. Conversely, it could wear her out and reduce her ability to perform well.

to call it/them like/how (one) sees it/them – to express one’s opinion without hesitation (stopping to think or select the right words) or reservations (thinking that one should not say something, or not say it in exactly this way), especially in a situation where the opinion may be negative

* I really admire James as a politician, because he always calls it like he sees it, even when what he says is unpopular with voters.

What Insiders Know
Great Books of the Western World and the Great Books Program

Many people and organizations have “compiled” (put together; created) lists of the “great books,” or the best and most influential books that have helped to “shape” (form) Western culture. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. published a series of books called Great Books of the Western World. The great books were written by Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare, Descartes, Milton, and many other author. The length of the list and which books “make the list” (are included in the list) has always been “controversial” (with different opinions about something).

The Great Books Program is a “curriculum” (a plan for what students should study and how) that is based on studying the great books. Students are expected to read the great books and study them in detail under the “guidance” (direction, supervision, and advice) of their teacher or professor. The students write a lot of “essays” (analytical papers) about what they have read, the books’ importance, and the books’ influence on historical events or modern society.

Many universities have “experimented with” (tried to use or have) great books programs, but they are not “universal” (found at all universities). Some of the best-known great books programs are at smaller schools, such as Gutenberg College in Oregon and Wyoming Catholic College in Wyoming.

The Great Books curriculum has been controversial in recent years because of growing interest in “multiculturalism,” or the idea that society is not “homogenous” (all the same; without variation). Any “attempt” (try) to “draw up” (create) a list of great books is influenced by the individual’s cultural “upbringing” (how one is raised), so it might be impossible to have a single list that everyone would agree on.