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September 2005 - Posts

  • Word of the Week - coppice

    Has anyone out there ever seen a coppice? Otherwise, has anyone ever coppiced something? No?!...me neither. Most of us have probably at least seen a coppice before, but we never realized it...until today.

    A coppice is very specific thing...well, a very specific area of trees. If you happen to see a coppice, it looks sort of like a tree farm. If you happen upon a group of trees that has been chopped down to the stump, chances are it's a coppice. People coffice trees for particular purposes, usually to make very specific sizes of wood. Trees are coppiced by chopping them down and letting them grow from the stump for about 5 to 15 years. That way, the wood is rather small and can be used for specific things, like hurdles and broomsticks. So, now you know what a coppice is, so next time you drive by one, use the word in a sentence. "Oh look, that must be a tree coppice. Maybe that's where my broomstick came from."

    Posted Sep 30 2005, 07:17 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language in the News - Words 'can change what we smell'

    I came across an article on the bbc news website that I thought was interesting this past week. If you're interested in looking up the article, it was from Monday, September 26th, entitle Words 'can change what we smell'. The article states that by simply describing a smell by a more pleasant name, we can change the 'way that it smells' to us. That is, simply by the association that we have with a particular linguistic sign (word), we can change mental perception. This article is, of course, written in a way that appeals to everyone, but it brings up some interesting points for discussion. As I've started to say, linguistics signs are something worth talking about for a few minutes. The field of linguistics that deals with 'signs' is called semiotics. Basically, semiotics states that a word does not define something. A word is something that we associate with a concept, and that concept means something particular to each person. This doesn't sound like a confusing subject,....until you consider some different examples. Take something simple....an apple. When I say apple, what is it you think of? What do you picture? Is it red delicious? granny smith? ida red? cortland? macintosh? golden delicious? These are all apples, but they are all different. Therefore, 'apple' is a linguistic sign for 'a round fleshy piece of fruit that grows on trees in autumn.' (That's just a definition I made up) We therefore need more information to modify this sign to describe a particular apple. Apple is easy though....think of dog. Different dogs are far more diverse than different apples. As you can see, language has some intrinsic ambiguities in its everyday use. The concepts that we associate with signs vary from person to person according to our experiences and our environment. It's easy to see where the field of semiotics can be closely related to psycholinguistics and how the bbc article only scratches the surface of our association of signs with mental concepts.
    Posted Sep 29 2005, 05:33 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • What's new in class?

    As always, class this week was a great mix of learning and entertainment. As the group of seven has gotten more comfortable with one another, the tone and content of the conversation has also evolved. Due to the fact that everyone in the class is at a different level of linguistics learning, sometimes a few of the more basic concepts have to be explained. In the long run this helps everyone, because I'm sure we could all use the review...however, sometimes the look on Dr. J's face is priceless when certain questions are asked. Today, someone asked about different language systems.....nominative/accusative vs. ergative/absolutive. No big deal, we all sort of knew what was going on, but a review was welcome. The wide eyes occurred when someone asked about transitive vs. instransitive verbs....yikes! Don't get me wrong, if you haven't been exposed to it, it's totally foreign, and that's no one's fault. I think all this will be the subject of a blog post sometime in the near future...so be prepared!
    Posted Sep 28 2005, 02:48 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Tuesday Trivia - a tribute to my brother

    Today's trivia is a tribute to my little brother. Last Thursday was his 22nd birthday, and I thought that I'd use my next trivia day to talk a bit about the origin of the word 'brother'. I'll also tell you a bit about my bro. Not unlike many siblings, Rich and I didn't get along too well when we lived in the same house. I thought that he was a slacker and he thought that I was a nerd. We also had greatly differing views on my parents' failing marriage and where we fit into the our quickly disintegrating family. We didn't dislike each other, we just wouldn't have hung out together on a regular basis. Things go better as we got older, Rich even joined vocal jazz and sang in the group with me in high school. But, being two grades ahead of him, I was off to college in Florida, and he was still home with the parents. Before I knew it, Rich had decided that he liked to cook and was off to school to be a chef. I think that college really got him onto the right track, and not long after he had been at school, he seemed like a totally different, very mature guy who was a lot of fun to hang out with. Over the past few years, although I don't get to see him very often, when I do see him, we have a good time. He's come down to visit me, and we can hang out and enjoy some tasty beverages or some fine dining. We have also met up a few times in NYC to enjoy all that 'the city' has to offer. Anyways....that's a bit about Rich, so here's where 'brother' comes from.

    Allright.....do this....make a "b" sound....like in butter. Now, make the "f" sound...like in fun. Now alternate between them. "b" "f" "b" "f".....can you notice the difference between them? OK, now throw "p" (like pat) in the mix. In this order "p" "f" "b".....notice the difference now? OK, why am I making you do this? Because that's what happened to pronunciation throughout the years. Let me explain a little bit about phonetics and consonant shift. Phonemes (the smallest units of phonetic sound) are characterized by what part of the oral cavity is used to make them and the air needed to make them. These phonemes change naturally throughout time and studies have been done to determine these regular changes as seen throughout different languages of the world. Grimm and Verner are most well-known for their laws of consonant shift. So, back to brotherꑒ. The /p/ sound is unvoiced bilabial stop�hold on�don�t get worried. Unvoiced meaning no production of sound in the vocal chords, bilabial meaning you use both lips to make the sound, and stop meaning that the air stream stops. Not too bad. Over time, it�s been seen that these unvoiced bilabial stops became aspirated /p/ to /ph/�that is they turned into unvoiced labiodental fricatives. Unvoiced�you got that, labiodental � formed by the lips and teeth, and fricative meaning that the airstream is forced through a channel creating friction. As this occurred, it became difficult to differentiate these sounds, and so the /ph/ became a new sound. The /b/ developed from this change, and it is a VOICED bilabial stop. The only difference is that voiced stops created a sound with the vocal chords. Again, as time has continued (like what is happening now), these voiced stops have become �too difficult� to make and they are becoming unvoiced again, /b/ back to /p/. As you can see, the /p/ has come full circle. So, how does this relate to brother? Well, the earliest recorded use of the idea of brother is the Latin or Greek �frater�. The initial syllable had already become an aspirated fricative (step 2). Many assume that �frater� came from proto-indo-european �prater� if Grimm�s law is correct. From �frater�, along with a vowel change and shift of the /t/ to the aspirated /th/ the word became /brother/. Today, in the case of Black English Vernacular, the initial /b/ is starting to be unvoiced, and thus will eventually revert back to an unvoiced bilabial. Pretty cool stuff huh?! So anyways... Rich, this one�s for you. Happy Birthday Squeak!

    Posted Sep 27 2005, 01:30 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language of the Week "U"

    Today's language of the week come to us from the isthmus of central America. Uspanteko is a native language of the Maya in Guatemala. The Uspantecs, along with many other Mayan tribes, have seen the use and promotion of their native languages rebound from a sharp decline over the past several years. Many indian languages are now being spoken as a mother tongue by people of all ages in Mayan culture. The development of the Mayan Academy through the cooperation of linguists and the Mexican government has allowed for recording, analysis, and development of educational materials in Mayan languages. While in the case of Uspanteko, the literacy rate still remains low, the numbers are growing. Since 1999, a working grammar has been developed for Uspanteko, and the Summer Institute of Linguistics has also recently compelted a translation of the New Testament into the language.
    Posted Sep 26 2005, 01:51 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Psycholinguistics in the News

    My grandmother is pretty computer savvy. My friends at work find it amazing that she talks to me every day on AIM and also has a blog of her own. In addition, she is also an avid reader of my blog and very interested in my linguistics work. She even writes me notes in French for fun. The other day she happened to come across an article in U.S. News having to do with some psycholinguistics, so I thought I'd include it as today's post. Enjoy....

    Jokes abound on how the person sitting next to you at the bar becomes more attractive with each martini you drink. But it turns out that not even a sip of gin is needed to feel a boost in attraction.
    Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that male undergraduates were far more likely to consider women attractive if they had just been
    exposed to alcohol-related words like "keg", "drunk", "wasted", and "booze". What's more, the men didn't know they were seeing the words, which were shown for 40 millliseconds on a computer screen and disguised so they could not be identified. The men were asked ahead of time if they thought that alochol fueled sex drive. Most said they thought it did. Those who thought it didn't found women's photos less attractive.
    The findings build on a decade of research in "social cognition" which has shown that people's actions are far more influenced by subtle social cues than most of us would like to believe.
    Posted Sep 24 2005, 01:06 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Word of the Week - "Bob's your uncle..."

    As much as I love learning and studying foreign language, every one in a while I have to sit back and marvel at the unique mish-mash that English has become. English has become of melting pot of words and phrases from other languages both from the past and today, and it's this quality that has allowed such rich and colorful usage throughout the years. Many times, certain words or phrases are heard in English, and we don't even think twice as to where they came from. I guess that's where I come in....I'm gonna tell you about them! Today's amazing English is "Bob's your uncle...". Who's Bob? And why would he be your uncle? Well, here's the story about Bob. Over a century ago in England, there was a prime minister named Robert Cecil. During his tenure, he practiced a bit of nepotism, and hence appointed his nephew Arthur Balfour to several political positions that he was not quite suited for. Balfour went on to do some pretty nasty things to the Irish over the years, but still retained his office at the demands of his uncle. It became commonplace that others in the United Kingdom knew that to have Bob as your uncle was a guarantee of success. So, you see, when something is very easy and has a sure outcome...."Bob's your uncle!"
    Posted Sep 23 2005, 01:34 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language in the News - Hurricanes

    For those of us down in the south, it's time to think hurricane again as Rita pummels her way across the gulf towards Texas. I was curious as to the origin and maintenance of the names that the NOAA assigns to storms. Before 1953, storms were not given names, but were assigned clunky latitude/longitude names, but now the World Meteorological Organization has standardized a list of names used to name tropical storms and hurricanes. The WMO got the idea to name the storms from people in the West Indies who would name the storms after saints, depending on which 'saint's day' the storm fell on or near. Only the letters ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPRSTV and W are used. AND...it wasn't until 1979 that women's names were used in the list. Something that I hadn't realized...there are 6 lists of 21 names that are rotated, and the only time that a name is retired is if the hurricane was so costly or deadly that the re-use would be upsetting. In the event that more than 21 named storms occur in one season, the storms will then be given names corresponding to the Greek alphabet....alpha, beta, gamma, and so forth.

    Posted Sep 22 2005, 01:28 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • This week in class - The Japanese Version

    Classes with Dr. J are always exciting and interesting, if not a little intense, but today surely was able to "take the cake." Instead of discussing our assigned readings, Dr. J brought in a movie called the "Japanese Version" that she had mentioned a few weeks ago in class. The movie was made in the early 90's and highlights the extent to which the Japanese have gone to be like Americans. Western cultures pervades every aspect of life in that movie, from food, night life, to wedding ceremonies and clothing. It's really a ridiculous movie, but it gets the point across. This movie is surprisingly available to purchase from amazon..and if you're in leon county, it's available from our public library. Ya'll (ha!) should check it out.
    Posted Sep 21 2005, 07:36 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Tuesday Trivia- The Iroquois Nation

    I've realized that their a lot to talk about from New York State, so I'm going to stick to the mother land again for this week's trivia. I remember in 5th grade social studies talking about the Iroquois nation in upstate NY and the 5 tribes that made it up. At that point, I wasn't really all too interested in history, especially not Native American history. In all honesty, the Amerindians aren't really my chosen area of interest, but their language and the resulting place names are really fun to learn about. It's sad to report that there is not much information available about this particular group of languages, in comparison to other native american languages that are still around today. Speakers of the languages of the 5 nations are few and far between and there don't appear to be any monolinguals remaining. (That's the subliminal message to support native american language revitalization!!!) Anyways...

    As you have seen, there were five member tribes of the Iroquois nation...Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Mohawk. Anyone from NY will probably recognize that those are also bodies of water. The Seneca tribe lived furthest west in NY, between the Canandaigua Lake and the Genessee River (in and around Rochester roughly). Their name is Onodowohgah, meaning "people of the hill top". The were also known as "the keepers of the Western door", as they were the largest tribe and kept out invaders from the west. The Cayugas were the next furthest west. They lived just west of today's Syracuse. Their name, Guyohkohnyo, means "People of the Great Swamp", appropriate because they lived in the moist and marshy areas between the finger lakes and Lake Ontario. The Onondaga (woot woot!...yeah i'm from onondaga county) tribe is named Onundagaono or "People of the Hills." Being centrally located, the Onondaga area was the political center of the nation and this tribe was responsible for keeping the fire. Members of the Onondaga nation are very few in number today, and live just south of Syracuse in Nedrow, NY on a reservation. Moving east, we come to the Oneida tribe. The group, known as Onyota'a ka and called "The People of the Standing Stone" and their tribal lands extended from the St. Lawrence River down to Pennsylvania. The final group is the Mohawk or Kanienkehaka. Their original lands surround the Mohawk river, running west to east along the center of Eastern NY state. The Mohawks were "keepers of the Eastern door."

    Posted Sep 20 2005, 01:55 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language of the Week "V"

    This week's language is brought to you from the western African country of Ghana. Vagla is a great example of an thriving indigenous language, when so many around the world are dying. I find Vagla particularly interesting, as it is a cousin language in the Gur family to the language that I study, Senari. Ghana and Cot� d'Ivoire are next door neighbors, so as you can imagine, they share languages due to the fact that boundaries are strictly political. This language has a written form, but materials in the language are hard to come by, and thus the literacy rate is only about 5%. The Vagla people also speak Waali very widely, and their literacy rate in that language is almost 15%...not too bad for that part of the world. This language is being passed on as a native tongue from parents to their children, and a dictionary and formal grammar have been developed. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has also completed their translation of the new testament into Vagla.
    Posted Sep 19 2005, 01:34 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Themes

    It's been about a month and a half since I've started my linguistics blog, and it's been a whole lot of fun. Sometimes, thought, I find myself at a loss for what to write on a given day. I often flounder back and forth between topics, trying to recall enough information in order to keep reader's interest and still submit some relevant academic information. I decided that since there are some features that are started to be regularly included in my blog, that I would assign each day a "theme" so that I can have a little structure for myself and some motivation to be thinking ahead about posts. The following list is what I'm proposing:

    Monday: Language of the Week

    Tuesday: Trivia

    Wednesday: Weekly Topic in Language in Contact

    Thursday: Linguistics News

    Friday: Words

    Saturday: (not sure yet)

    Sunday: My week in review

    Posted Sep 17 2005, 01:07 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Word of the Week - Auxetic

    I always have enjoyed stumbling across new words that I've never heard before (or so I thought). Back when I was in junior high school, we had a class for the "talented and gifted" (ha!) kids that they called simply Humantities. Each one of us in the class was assigned a different area of humanities to which we were to actively provide information to the class. My area was sociology, and as part of promoting general learning and class rapport in a sociological means, I provided a word of the day each day, and then we were tested on the words by using them in journal entries. As you can probably imagine, I still like stuff like that, so I'm going to offer you today's word...auxetic. When I first looked at auxetic, I didn't think that I had any idea what it was, but as I read through the definition, I realized that it has a parallel to biology...but I'll explain. Auxetic comes from the noun auxesis, meaning to increase or grow. I believe that this comes from the same or simnilar Greek root as our word "augment." Auxetic materials are often used as filters and sieves, as increase their cross sections when you pull on them. This is the opposite to most things you think of that become increasingly thin and string-like when they are pulled. There is also a plant hormone that some of you may have heard of called auxin. The action of this plant hormone allows the plant to increase the cell size without the cell dividing. So...there you have it! Auxetic! Try using that in a sentence today.
    Posted Sep 16 2005, 01:21 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • An old but exciting article

    I always find it fun and exciting to find articles written in newspapers and magazines having to do with language. As I was looking around for language revitalization materials on the internet this afternoon, I came across an article from 1996 in the Portland Press Herald. The article was about a man, Barry Dana, who is a member of the Penobscot Indian tribe who is attempting to do his part in revitalizing the dying language of his people. He is quoted as saying that his ultimate goal is "for everyone in the tribe to have a working understanding of Penobscot." As he approached adulthood, Dana realized that fewer and fewer people in his tribe could successfully use the language for more than a couple words or to read names of streets in his town. Dana began teaching on the tribe's reservation and has passed information along to his students from the last native monolingual speaker of Penobscot from whom he took lessons for years. Dana has taught students at the primary level but is pushing for continuation of Penobscot education in both secondary school and for adults. We surely need more people like him to push these revitalization efforts forward.
    Posted Sep 15 2005, 09:02 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Borrowing and Interference

    This week in Language in Contact, the discussion centered around the concepts of borrowing and interference in bilingual cultures. I know that these phenomena exist in my own language use, mostly because of the exposure that I have to different languages within a typical day through reading, writing, translations, and speaking. But, I tried to think about others around me, and how borrowing and interference exist within a culture that in not 100% bilingual. Where do subtle instances of these two phenomena come into play? Everyone borrows....plain and simple. Borrowing can be thought of within English itself to understand the larger concept. We pick up slang from people around us...our friends, our coworkers, our SO's, television, reading, you name it. Anywhere that we have exposure to language, chances are that we will borrow from it. I would imagine that this borrowing can apply to speech and writing. I remember from working at The Gap for several years, that I developed a habit of using quite a few phrases that were borrowed from my coworkers. One in particular that I still use and that has become more mainstream in today's vernacular is "I know, right." I can remember back when that phrase was not in my vocabulary, but as soon as I started hanging out with Mandy Feruzzi and Alex Hancock..."I know, right" was in. Another "Gap-ism" is "yeah....that's not cute." I love that one! I say it all the time. I've noticed, much to some of my friends' dismay, that they've started using my Gap-isms in their own speech. One can also borrow inflections and other features of speech from other people. Interference, on the other hand, is a more difficult concept to grasp. This more readily applies to bilingual situations, in which a person has two or more options for one concept. Hmm...trying to think of an example...

    Ok...I'm going to try to apply this to myself. I'm pretty fluent in French (although I'm a little shy about using it) and I'm obviously fluent in English. I learned English as my native language and French later on. Call it bilingual if you want....either way, when I have the opportunity to speak or use both languages, I mostly have no problem separating the two. However, depending on the subject or situation, I may reference off of one language or the other. One of the languages (usually the native language) prevents or "interferes" with my ability to come up with the correct word or concept in the second language. It gets complicated, but I'm sure you get the idea.

    Posted Sep 14 2005, 03:55 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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