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August 2005 - Posts

  • This is going to fun

    With the first day jitters done and over (for the most part), Language in Contact was a lot of fun on day #2. I've realized that what Dr. J. said about grad seminar classes is 100% true...if you don't speak up and get a word in edge wise, you won't get a good grade. That just won't do, so I'm going to have to learn to be a "rude" grad student and say what I need to say. The problem is, at this point, being the new guy, I'm not always sure that people really care to hear what I have to say. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis know that I have lots to say, but you all are choosing to read it. It's that whole low self-confidence thing that I got instilled in me in the bio department....thanks Dr. Tang! That personality trait will certainly not do in Dr. J's classroom or anywhere else. It's apparent from her springing French on me, to her introduction to class that she wants her students to succeed, even if it takes a little fire. We talked about some really neat things in class, although they were the absolute basics of language contact. I'll try to highlight some of our discussion in my blog posts. Something to think about though...

    Did you know that around the world, English is often thought of as a "culturally neutral language alternative"? Isn't that ridiculous? What is culturally neutral about English? Truthfully, it's very culture dominant, and the dominant culture is ours. The United States is the most powerful, richest, and most influencial country, and therefore, somewhere along the way, our language became everyone else's language. Don't get me wrong, I'm more or less "proud to be an American," but I'm not proud that our language has flourished at the loss of other languages. I'm not sure of the original quote, but I remember David Crystal stating in his book Language Death, "If the world were to become monolingual, it would be the single greatest intellectual loss in the history of the world." Just think about it....it's surely true. Anyone reading this, if you know a second language, SPEAK IT!!! Teach it to your children. Read newspapers, books, magazines. Watch movies in it. Just use it! There is a sad truth about language in our country. Most of our ancestor immigrated to the US without the last 150 years or so. If they came from a non-english speaking country, they were surely fluent in their native language. However, the next generation usually loses that fluency, and the second generation is usually unable to use the foreign language at all. Within just two generations, a line of language can come to a screeching halt. Use your language and pass it on!!!

    Posted Aug 31 2005, 01:15 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • So it starts...

    Hello everyone, and welcome to my crazy life...

    Well, today it started. Working, going to school, doing favors for people, doing homework. Normally, a Tuesday wouldn't be so bad. I really don't have a class on Tuesday, but I also don't usually have to sit in on Mas 'n' Steel auditions for 5 hours. Since I'm taking a semester sabbatical from Mas, I told the director that I would still do my assistant directorial duty and "assist" him in conducting auditions for the coming semester. It's always a long process, and I honestly can't complain about this time. Last spring, we were there for almost 7 hours, so 5 isn't so bad. Here's where the not-so-fun part comes in....I had to go home and read and do homework! OK, actually also not so bad, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do. The syllabus says to read and post on the electronic blackboard (which no one did) and to write a report on the readings. Well, I don't know if I missed something in the 2 minutes that I was late to class on Monday, but I hope someone will clear it up today as to what we're supposed to do. I did write a short report on the readings, and actually did the readings....so hopefully it will be fine for today at least. I guess we'll see at 5.

    Posted Aug 30 2005, 01:03 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • First day of classes

    Today was the first day of classes. I know I sound like a student, but I'm also a full time worker. It's not exactly going to be easy working 40+ hours a week, and taking two classes, and doing an independent research project...but I'm going to try my hardest. Granted, one of my classes is general psychology...a class for the most brain-dead of all freshman, sophomore, and athletes. The first class meeting, the one required by the university, contained about 270 of the "most intelligent" looking people that I've ever seen. And....it lasted a whopping 7 minutes. My other class, Language in Contact, was a complete other story. This is the class taught by Dr. J. for graduate students, and happens to contain myself (an aspiring grad student) and an undergrad honors student both taking it as a DIS. It's going to be fun but intense....and a lot of work. I'm looking forward to my opportunity to perform at a graduate level and to prove myself through my discussion and writing as an up and coming linguistic researcher. I am, however, pretty intimidated by the 6 others in the class. With the exception of me and Mike Como (the undergrad guy), all the others are graduate students, and mostly PhD students. Several of them are multilingual and already have active research projects that they have been working on for some time. I, on the other hand, am still trying to hash out what I'm going to be doing and where I want to go to grad school. It's going to be an interesting semester.
    Posted Aug 29 2005, 02:34 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Good ole' Saturday linguo meetings

    What better to do on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of August than sit down and stimulate some brains cells reading through and analyzing Senari text? As always, my linguo meeting was great, and we got a lot of things accomplished. I also learned that my DIS with Dr. J. for the Fall semester will not be exactly what I had anticipated. I thought that I would continue along doing my work and meeting independently with her to discuss things and work on my project. AHA! Wrong! She is teaching a graduate seminar called Language in Contact, and my DIS is going to be going to that class. That way, I'll get an opportunity to be in a graduate level class and do graduate level thinking and work. I have to admit that I'm very excited! There will only be 9 people in the class...all of whom are interested in different aspects and facets of language and linguistics. It should be a fun and interesting 4 months!
    Posted Aug 27 2005, 01:58 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Something new

    I thought that it would be nice to try something new and different in the blog. In order to spread language awareness, I figured that once a week, I would talk about a language that is new to me (and probably others). There is a great source for information on languages around the world called www.ethnologue.com . This site has information on almost every known language and the people who speak it. For lack of a better system, we're going to go in reverse alphabetical order. Today's featured language is Zuni. This is Native American language spoken by the Zuni people in New Mexico. From what I understand, the language was once spoken in a wide area around the southwest, but is now mostly restricted to the Zuni reservation near Gallup, NM. As is true with most native American languages, Zuni is experiencing a slow death. All hope is not lost yet, however, as the language is still being learned by children as a native language. Also, all tribal council meetings and religious ceremonies are still conducted in Zuni. Children, however, do not have the opportunity to use their native language in schools, and therefore the use of Zuni trails off as age increases. The Zuni have little written history and therefore literacy in their native language is extremely low. There has been a dramatic effort over the past 20 years among linguists, to study, record, and promote the use of native American languages throughout the western hemisphere.
    Posted Aug 26 2005, 01:35 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Who loves phonology???......oh yeah, I do!

    OK, so I have to admit it...I'm turning into a phonology nerd. The more that I read about phonology and transcribe words into phonetic symbols, the more I've begun to appreciate the subtleties of sounds in language. I finally sat down and recorded how I would say certain sentences phonetically. I then compared these same sentences to how Dr. J. recorded them previously. The differences weren't huge, but there were surely present. The largest variations between the two phonetic analyses were within vowels, as I would have suspected. When we hear people from different parts of the state or the country who speak the same language, we can readily pick out different dialect patterns. Most of these "accents" that we hear are a result of different vowels, as well as vocabulary. I can't help but sit back and just listen when I'm around others. I like to hear how they talk, and how they form different sounds that they use in their routine speech. I often find myself softly repeating certain words and sound patterns to try to imitate the sounds that I hear being produced. The most fun doing this is when I meet with Sidiky. He is the only person that I've ever heard speak Nafara, and I'm anxious to glean any aural information from him that I can. As we analyze his text, he often glosses into Nafara to explain a point to us. Nearly every time, I find a particular word or sound that I repeat for myself to learn how his language is constructed phonetically. Learning vocabulary and grammar is one thing, but learning the sounds of a language is what really brings things together.
    Posted Aug 25 2005, 11:24 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Returning to my fable dilemna

    So, I guess that my fable dilemna isn't as bad as I had thought. Going into using the La Fontaine fables in the first place appeared to be a good idea, but looking back, we struggled from the very beginning. Although I'm going to use different material for my comparative discourse analysis, I think that I'll still use my fables for a different kind of comparison. The problem with the La Fontaine fables is that the author becomes too caught up in rhyme scheme, and this often disrupts the flow and structure of the story line. Imagine trying to tell a story of an experience to someone and having to make sentences or groups of sentences rhyme. It surely would hinder your ability to tell the story effectively and in a timely fashion. Still, this group of fables is a genre in itself. They are by far the most well-known fables in French but have not been picked apart on a discourse level. Dr. J. thinks that it would be wise to take the work that I've done and perhaps do a few more fables, and write a comparative essay on the features that La Fontaine using in the fables and what effect the use of the underlying rhyme scheme has upon them. The hard work has been done, and now it's time to write about what I've found.
    Posted Aug 24 2005, 11:17 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Computer Languages

    One thing I love about my new job, besides the amazing people that I work with, of course, is the opportunity that I have to work with new and exciting computer applications. Something that I particularly enjoy is the ability to create new websites from scratch, and modify and update others that have already been published. Not only does this give me a chance to exercise my creativity, but it allows me to work with language. I'm not talking about Spanish or French here...I'm referring to using different programming languages to build web pages and the applications associated with them. I don't think that many people are aware of the work that goes into building a web page. Granted, some pages are not very fancy at all, and can be created in about 30 minutes by someone who knows what they're doing. Still other sites, ones in which you submit information, or search for something, or buy something are far more complicated. These sites can take multiple days to design and make ready for the internet. When someone writes a web page "for real" (i'll explain later), they simply use a text editing program and input strings of numbers and letters (code) that are processed by your computer and are turned into things that we see on our screens when we open our web browser. Different computer languages are used to do different things for different kinds of sites. HTML, XML, DHTML, Javascript, PHP, Apache, MySQL, dot.net, cold fusion, actionscript, flash....these are just a few of the applications/languages that I'm referring to. There are of course the "true" programming languages like C, C+, C++, and Java to name a few. The first list is what I'm referring to when I talk about building web pages though. Each of these languages has a vocabulary and syntax of its own. Each has a group of "speakers" that use it, and there surely exist many out there who are "multilingual." I hope to be able to spice up my blog by throwing in an entry about "computer linguistics" from time to time.

    Posted Aug 23 2005, 11:03 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • It was good practice I guess

    This past Saturday at my linguo meeting, Dr. Josserand decided that the French fables that I've been spending so much time working on are not going to do. In the long run, I see exactly where she is coming from. The fables that I've been analyzing consist mostly of background commentary by the narrator and little or no dialogue between the characters. We are actually looking for more of a total narrative in which the actions of and dialogue between the characters occupy the majority of the story text. The unfortunate part is, most of the La Fontaine fables that do "work" are too short to do a complete analysis. And, what's more, after speaking to some other French scholars, they can't seem to think of any other fables to use besides those of La Fontaine. It's not looking good! If I can't find these fables, I don't have much of a project. I believe that one option is to analyze several of the shorter fables, but it won't have the same effect as studying one large work.
    Posted Aug 23 2005, 01:27 AM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Baggage of many shapes and sizes......word order

    Yet another feature of the English language that we all take for granted is the use of and variation in word order in our everyday speech and language. Perhaps, we've never really sat down and thought about it, but our language has a very defined pattern of order to the components of sentences. Take a simple sentence:

    John throws the ball.

    John (the subject) throws (the verb) the ball (the object).

    Most sentences in English follow this form. (SVO) It is usually when we want to change the emphasis of the sentence or to speak poetically that the word order changes.

    Throw the ball John!

    Aha! A command! We want John to throw that darn ball don't we? We do a convenient little thing called "fronting" the verb. This puts more emphasis on the action that we want John to do. This order is VOS.

    A different type of emphasis can be expressed using still a third order (OSV). This is a little more tricky, as it is usually found in subordinated clauses within larger sentences.

    The ball John threw went over the fence.

    [OSV] - the ball John threw, although in the OSV order, acts as the S of the whole sentence. Overall, [OSV]VO. Got it?!

    Other languages use these and other orders as their basic sentence structure, much as we use SVO. German, for example, uses the SOV word order most of the time.

    Still other languages that are highly inflected (use cases), have a variable word order. The first example that comes to mind is Ancient Greek. The cases tell the reader which words are subject and object and preposition, so the formal structure of the sentence loses importance.

    Posted Aug 21 2005, 04:20 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • The multi-compartment bag.....cases

    Ask any student of Latin or Greek what initially scared them most about their language of choice, and I could almost guarantee their answer is "cases." Linguistic cases are not something that we were ever taught in English. They exist on some level, but we don't need to give them much consideration or thought in our daily speech. Speakers of the other Romance languages also have the luxury of not needed to worry about cases...but the farther east that you travel in Europe, more and more cases seem to pop up. 4 in German, 6 in Russian, 4 in Greek, 15 in Finnish!!! Let's run them down:

    Nominative: Answers the question "who?" or "what?". Usually the subject of a sentence. This is the form listed in dictionaries.

    Genitive: Usually answers the question of possession. Can be translated "of."

    Dative: Refers to the indirect object of the sentence. "to"

    Accusative: Refers to the direct object of the sentence. (the thing affected by the verb)

    Instrumental: Refers to the object used to do something. "with"

    Prepositional: Shows an object referred to by speech or thought. "about"

    Ablative: Depending on the language, it can have a variety of uses. In Latin it can mark cause or time. In Finnish it is a locative cases meaning "from off of."


    Some of the lesser known cases from Finnish are:

    Inessive: "in"

    Elative: "out of"

    Illative: "into"

    Adessive: "on"

    Allative: "onto"

    An example you say?....hmm....allright...an easy one.

    Maria gave the ball to Tom, after she pushed her brother into the pool.

    This is just an example, and I'll mix cases found in different languages just for the sake of making a point.

    Maria is the subject, so that would be in the nominative case. The ball is the direct object (it was dropped), so that would be in the accusative case. Tom is the indirect object (he received the ball), so that would be in the dative case. Brother is qualified by "her" and marks possession, so that would be in the genitive case. And, finally, stealing from Finnish, into the pool would be in the Illative case.

    Fun stuff right?!

    Posted Aug 20 2005, 02:00 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • The Louis Vuitton baggage.....different scripts

    I know, I know.....who's Louis Vuitton, right?! Louis Vuitton is a very famous French designer, well-known for his expensive handbags and luggage. The thing about his products is that although they are beautiful to look at, in the long run, they are entirely unnecessary. I apologize first for the bad analogy, but hear me out about how this relates to different scripts and alphabets in language. To you and me, this "fancy" script that we write in is a very necessary piece of our language. However, to a tribesman in the African jungle, or an Aborigine in Australia who have never known a written system of their language, they would probably say that one is unnecessary. Therefore, although having a writing system is a great linguistic commidity, in the long run, we really don't need it to use a language. The script and alphabet of a language are simply symbols used to convey messages encoded in a language. There is an entire disciplie called semiotics (meaning of linguistic signs) devoted to the discussion of this topic. I personally prefer having a written language system in which to record history, prose, poetry, and news...among other things. Can you imagine not having any of these things though?...and therefore not being able to read??? What role does literacy have on our society and economy? What businesses and industry would never have come to be without a written system? Yikes!

    Well, it's only fair that I actually talk about the "baggage" part of these scripts and alphabets, since that's what I set out to do. Our writing system using a 26 letter alphabet and a Roman script to get across almost anything that we need to write down. On occasion, we incorporate some foreign letters or symbols when we use loan words from other languages. Our alphabet and script however, is not universal by any means. Many of the European languages that we know use some form of Roman script, but often it is necessary to add many additional letters that we do not have in our English alphabet. The French have the soft "C" or cedilla , the Germans have the Ess-set and the two little dots above vowels known as the umlaut. The Spanish have the tilde...the little squiggle above the N. There are plenty of others, including the odd looking "O" with the circle through it, see in Scandanavian languages. But, what about when we get away from Roman script? Perhaps most of us are familiar with the Greek alphabet? This alphabet is from where our Roman script is partially derived. Hmm....can't even leave Europe yet....what about the Slavic languages? There is the daunting but beautiful Cyrillic alphabet to think about. There are not only a bunch of extra letters, but also two "sounds" that are written into the language. Moving on to Asia, we have Arabic, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and a whole bunch of Indonesian languages...many of which have their own alphabets and scripts. I can't even call the far Eastern language scripts alphabets...they are characters that do not represent individual letters, but syllables. Interspersed between these main groups are surely many others that we could spend days talking about. Don't forget the languages based on symbols and hieroglyphics, some of which still exist. (Egyptian, Akkadian, cuneiform, Etruscan, Mayan...just to name a few.)

    Posted Aug 19 2005, 01:28 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Baggage contents....accents

    I remember back when I first started studying a foreign language. I was in 7th grade, and I decided to take Spanish "because the nerds took German and the French teacher was a freak." Spanish sounded like a good alternative. I recall catching on very quickly to the vocabulary and being able to converse fairly well within a few weeks. (I even one the contest for being able to say the alphabet quicker than anyone else!) There are a few things that I remember that I just didn't bother with. I thought that the idea of say "to _______" for the infinitive was ridiculous. It wasn't until later that I realized what an infinitive was that I knew that was an essential way to translate the word. I also remember thinking...."Accents? no one pays any attention to those...so why should I?" Again, my foreign language naivety at age 12, being an English speaker, accents just seemed like something added to make you mess up. Fast forward to freshman year in college, Greek I, rude awakening. Every word in Greek takes an accent!....either acute, grave, or circumflex!!! Yikes! It was then that I learned about tonal inflection, and that a word may mean different things depending on how it's accented. I can't really give any examples here, as this blog editor doesn't allow for special characters....boo!!! But honesty, I realized that accents were a very important thing, in a very short amount of time. Many languages around the world are inflected tonally....Greek, Native American languages, many western African languages, and most importantly the dialects of Chinese.

    Posted Aug 18 2005, 01:27 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language and its necessary baggage

    Yesterday, I concluded my post by bringing up some of the "baggage" that languages carry with them. This baggage is usually the stuff that make others shy away from particular languages, and often makes people dislike anything to do with a foreign language. So, what is all this stuff? Noun classes, accents, different scripts, cases, alternative word orders....hehe...language goodness. The reason why many native English speakers consider these items baggage, is that English doesn't have an extensive system of any of these things. And, what we do have, is so ingrained in our heads, that we don't think twice about of it.

    Noun classes are often found in many languages in Africa and in a few native American languages. Bear in mind that I'm making a lot of generalizations in my descriptions for the sake of this blog post. In noun classes, there is often a root of the word, to which some affix (a prefix or suffix) is added. Depending on the language, these affixes can either totally change the class of the word or define its gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter) or number (singular or plural). For example:

    in the East African language Swahili, the word for person is derived from the root -tu. A singular person is mtu and a group of people is watu. Therefore, this noun class that is comprised of living beings, is formed by using the stem and adding the affix m- for singular and the affix wa- for plural. Pretty cool, right? That, of course, is just the beginning. In the language that I study, Senufo, there are seven noun classes, formed in a different way than Swahili:

    Living beings, inanimate objects, large objects, small objects, collective masses, plural living objects, and plural nonliving objects.

    I think that this is a good topic to stick to for a few posts, so I'll keep going with another description of linguistic "baggage" next time.

    Posted Aug 17 2005, 01:31 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • "The Quagmire that is English"

    As I was surfing the internet today, I came across a link to a site that caught my eye. The title of the page was "The Quagmire that is English." At first, I just did a double-take, and then I laughed to myself a bit, but then I got to thinking about the title. What is it about English that makes it such a quagmire? Is English really more difficult than any other language? The folks in language acquisition tell us that we are not pre-programmed to be better or worse at any one language, and that no language is any more complete than another. So, why do people have such a hard time dealing with English? Granted, English as a second language is something that I'm thankful that I never had to encounter. English does have some little peculiarities that a foreign learner might stumple upon, but it's often that native speakers have a more difficult time speaking proper English than to foreigners. It's also seen that school children continue to perform poorly in language arts, because they can not seem to grasp onto the concepts of their own spoken language. If you ask the average 12th grader to read the following sentence and pick out the adjectives and adverbs, I could almost guarantee that he or she might break a sweat.

    "The young girl descended slowly into the chilly pool water before leaping unexpectedly upon the raft floating nearby."

    So which are the adjectives and adverbs? I imagine, though I may be incorrect, that if you're reading my LINGUISTICS blog, that you can probably pick out these parts of speech.


    Well, what do adjectives do? They describe a noun or pronoun, right?! Yikes, more scary linguo terms. Well a noun is a person, place, or thing, and a pronoun takes the place of a noun. And then the adverb...it describe the verb (the word of action). There are also a whole bunch of other particles that exist in this sentence, but we'll leave them for now. So, let's break it down.

    Adjectives: young- describes the girl

    chilly and pool - describe the water

    floating nearby - (tricky one) - describes the raft

    Adverbs: slowly - describes how she descended

    unexpectedly - describes how she leaped

    nearby - (tricky one) - describes how the raft was floating

    Now, try to take out all the adjectives and adverbs and see if the sentence still makes sense -

    "The girl descended into the water before leaping upon the raft."

    This is away to check to see if you grabbed anything incorrectly, as the sentence should still make complete sense without the words of description. These seemingly simple concepts elude most students...and often times most adults. People use their language unconsciously, with no respect or concern for how it works. In short....this makes me sad. What I love about language is how it works, how it fits together, and how changes in it occur slowly and measuredly over time. These features are present in almost all languages...none of which I would classify as a quagmire. Sure, some languages have more baggage than others...in the form of noun classes, cases, and alternative word order, but they all work and they all get the job done.

    Posted Aug 16 2005, 01:04 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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