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December 2005 - Posts

  • Word of the Week - omphaloskepsis

    Maybe any folks out there in the medical field might be able to figure out what the word of the week for this week could possibly mean. Omphaloskepsis is not one of those typical words that you hear, probably due to the fact that the process that it refers to is not one usually practiced. Let's start by saying that an omphalotomy is the technical medical term for cutting of the umbilical cord. That's a pretty normal occurrence considering so many children are born every day, but where does omphaloskepsis come from...

    Well, if you consider that the omphalos part refers to the navel or umbilical cord in Ancient Greek, we're left with -skepsis. Skepsis.....hmm....well what does a skeptic do? Among other things, skeptic tend to look at things in a particular way right? The word omphaloskepsis is a relatively recent addition to the English language but stems from an older practice. In ancient times, omphalopsychics were a group of mystics who would gaze at the navel of people as a means of hypnosis. Therefore, omphaloskepsis is a term that refers to staring at one's own navel as an aid to meditation. I guess that we've got a word for practically everything?!

    Posted Dec 30 2005, 02:50 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Siddha Samadhi Yoga - a recap

    As promised....I did a little more research on the Siddha Samadhi Yoga program that I mentioned a few weeks back. This is the program where the children can learn many different languages etc.....but there's more. It turns out that the SSY is part of a larger organization called the Life Yessence Academy, run by Guruji Rishi Prabhakar an "enlightened sage and universal teacher." The whole premise of the program is to "switch from a problem state to a no-problem state". The academy houses a schools for parents and children that stresses joint family interaction. I hope you will all pardon my lack of knowledge for native Indian languages, but I'll try to figure out some of this stuff as best as I can. The children's education is in a gurukulam in which they learn many different things, within which learning many languages is stressed. They have a memory strengthening program and express that "the children learn to lead men to glory and prosperity." The most interesting part is the application and eligibility portion of the website that requires an intelligence test, basic training in meditation, pranayam, asana, and satvik food. They must also attend a 4 day seva and silence camp twice a year. Children are only allowed to visit home for one month of the year.

    Please send me any feedback on this...questions, thoughts, comments, etc. If you happen to know what any of the above words are or refer to, please also share.

    Posted Dec 29 2005, 03:00 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Holiday reading

    After a grueling semester of LIC and graduate school applications, I was really ready to put down the linguistics books for a while and read something totally non-related for the Christmas holiday break. As I prepared to pack for my trip, I found myself packing some linguo stuff "just in case". I ended up bringing De Saussure's "General Course in Linguistics" (a linguistics classic), some French grammar, and Harry Potter 6. I figured that I would try to kill three birds with one stone and alternate reading the three books on the plane rides back and forth (all six of them). I did pretty well in achieving my goals. I finish Harry Potter while I was home, and I think that it was by far the best written installment in the series. The De Saussure was great as well. I realized that I'm going to have to get back to some solid applied linguistics for linguo core instead of all the sociolinguistics that I had been reading previously for LIC. I really enjoy applied linguistics....well part of it at least. I enjoy the phonology and morphology and even some semantics, but I hate hate hate semiotics. Maybe it would be a good idea for the next few Tuesday trivias to talk about what is entailed in the various areas of applied linguistics, since I already talked for quite a bit about language acquisition studies already. OK...sold...that's what I'll do.
    Posted Dec 28 2005, 02:45 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Some real life language experience

    Well, I've finally returned from my trip up to the Arctic (really upstate NY) for the Christmas holiday. It was a decent trip owing to the fact that it really didn't snow too much. While I was home, I was able to get some real life language practice for a day or two...in Spanish. My cousin Beth lives in Barcelona and came back to the States for Christmas with her boyfriend Rub�n who is a native of Spain and speaks Catalan as his mother tongue and Spanish as his second language. He does not speak or understand very much English, but that turned out to be less of a problem than I had anticipated. I was really proud of my entire family, particularly my sister-in-law-to-be Stacy (who is beginning her student teaching in Spanish this next semester). We all were able to fare well in communicating with Rub�n. My cousin Beth, of course, did most of the difficult translating. I was happy with myself for being able to understand the vast majority of what they were saying to each other, and then being able to facilitate communication between Rub�n and a few of the others who didn't understand much Spanish. I have quite a task of brushing up quickly within the next two weeks, after which I'll be traveling to Europe and making a short trip down to Barcelona from Paris to see them. It was pretty great that my very very very (maybe one more) very conservative family was able to welcome a "foreigner" into the house for Christmas. Even my father made an effort to speak some Spanish with Rub�n. After Christmas had been celebrated, we all headed off away from the parents to a popular restaurant/bar to hang out and have a few drinks. My cousin Dana and her boyfriend Matt (who I incidentally also just met a few days ago and is an awesome guy) also joined us. Dana and Matt both took Spanish in high school and so were also able to join in the conversation. All in all, it was a fun evening where my brother perhaps had a little too much to drink, but he was sure amusing by the end of the night. I'm very excited now to spend the next several weeks cramming spanish and french vocab for my trip....and I'm also a little scared, but that will surely get worse until I get there and see that everything is ok and that I can handle two weeks alone in Europe.
    Posted Dec 27 2005, 02:30 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language of the Week - "H"

    Why is the Hebrew language so cool? I'm sure that there are many reasons, but the one that concerns me the most is that it represents one of the most successful language revitalization projects in history. I know that we spoke previously about the success of language revitalization in Ireland, but the renewed use of Hebrew in Israel is another great example. Hebrew was well on its way to language death (a moribund language) for many years. The language was only surviving, from my understanding, in the religious arena. I won't claim to be a middle eastern political or religious scholar in the least, but suffice it to say that the Jewish population of Israel desired to form a more cohesive national unit, and one step in this direction was the revitalization of their language. Standard Hebrew spoken today is not a direct descendant of any particular Hebrew dialect or biblical Hebrew, but is a combination of old and modern lexicon and grammar. Hebrew has become the official language of Israel and is now spoken as the primary language by nearly all Israelis. The country has taken steps to ensure the success of this project with the creation of a Hebrew Language Academy much like Academie Fran�aise in France.
    Posted Dec 26 2005, 10:26 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Word of the Week - "N" (yet again)

    So yeah, I've lived in Florida for about 5 and a half years now, and it has occurred to me on numerous occassions that my family doesn't really "get" what I do as far as school and what I study. This first dawned on me in my junior year of college when my mother and grandmother were preparing to come down for my saxophone recital (remember that, I got my degree in saxophone performance). My mother called a few days beforehand and asked if I would be playing piano in my recital. I hadn't taken a piano lesson since the 8th grade. A second instance was when, a few months before I graduated from college I started working in a developmental biology lab that used Drosophila (fruit flies) as a vector. For the next year I received phone calls from my grandfather asking me if I wanted him to save the fruit flies that showed up on his tomatoes in the garden. All throughout my language study, when I would call my mother at work she would request for me to "say something in _______" and then put me on speaker phone. These are just a few examples of course, but I think it really threw everyone for a loop when I gave up biology and switched to linguistics. I haven't seen many people from my family in the past year since I made the switch, so flying home tonight for Christmas should be an adventure of retelling the story about what I do.

    The repeat of word of the week "N" is for my mother. Why, you ask? I spoke with my mother this morning to let her know that my flights were all still on time, and she was so excited to tell me this new word that she heard....so excited that she wrote it down to tell me. The word is neologism. I supposed that anyone who has taken the GRE has come across neologism in their vocab studies, but others probably have not heard of it. If you have any experience with Greek or Latin roots, you might be able to figure it out. The Greek "neos" means new, and "logos" means word. That's basically it...neologism is the practice of innovation in language....so...creating new words or expressions. The word showed up in French as n�ologisme around 1800, but similar words were around before that time. So mom, there you go, neologism....it's a new word...ha!...ya get it?

    Posted Dec 23 2005, 01:58 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • BBC Eastern Europe

    I read a really sad article yesterday on the BBCnews website. The branch of the company in eastern Europe is making its final broadcast in several different languages this week and cutting nearly 200 jobs to make way for an expanded Arabic section. The situation is described as an emotion one as many of the reporters and newscasters have been with the program for many years, through world wars and the falls of communism. The eastern european branch was described by the director of bbc world as "beacons of free and independent information during the cold war, but are now in decline." Services are being cut in Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene, and Thai. So that's means that millions of people will now be forced to receive the valuable news that bbc provides in a language besides their mother tongue. That gives children growing up who speak any of those languages less of a chance to get world exposure through news and written material in their languages. It truly is a sad situation. Can you imagine if BBC all of the sudden said....sorry all you English speakers out there, your language isn't important enough to fund anymore...you best start learning arabic if you want to know what's going on. It's ridiculous from our standpoint just as it's ridiculous from the view of eastern europeans.
    Posted Dec 22 2005, 02:33 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Details

    One of my favorite times each month is when my news Details magazine arrives in the mail. Details is a men's fashion magazine full of interviews with designers and witty and/or sarcastic editorials about many amusing things. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that there are few things that I would rather do than go shopping, preferably not in Tallahassee of course, so you can imagine that reading my Details is an escape out of the shopping hell of this town. In the December issue of Details, there was a particular amusing story entitled "No one cares what your kid say today." The story, of course, is not a scientific paper on childhood language acquisition, but it is a funny insight into how parents behave when their children are going through the language learning process. This area of linguistic study often goes hand in hand with some psychological research. Language acquisition specialists and scholars study cognitive pathways involved in the development of language in children. From my understanding, children are born with the ability to process language on both sides of the brain, but as they age, the brain's ability to continue this rests in the left hemisphere in Broca's area. Amazingly enough, people who have suffered brain injury or trauma can be seen to start processing language in the corresponding region in the right brain hemisphere. The brain therefore compensates for the loss of function. Children begin the language learning process in the babbling phase where they take all the sounds that they learn and practice them in nonsensical ways. The child then learns the correct sounds by continued repetition and through the operant conditioning of praise they receive for saying the right words. Granted, these "words" like dada or mama simply represent the first consonants that they learn how to form with their muscles and oral anatomy. They hear "mommy" and "daddy" so often that they learn the /d/ and /m/ first in many cases. They then progress through the one-word and two-word stages and then into the phase known my psycholinguistis as the telegraph stage. In this stage, the sentences resemble telegraph messages....daddy hit ball. doggie eat treat....Not "my daddy hit the ball to me" etc. The children simply haven't learned the ins and outs of the language. Hmm...where was I going with this? Well, either way, the point is that language acquisition is a widely studied field in both psychology and linguistics. There also exist many theories about language acquisition, one in particular that I mentioned in my post this past Monday. Universal Grammar by Chomsky....this theory posits that every person has the innate quality for acquiring language and that we do not biologically have a predisposition for one language or another. If I had grown up in southern India, I would just as easily have learned Tamil as I learned English growing up in upstate New York.
    Posted Dec 21 2005, 02:39 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Hospitality

    I've been blogging now for nearly 5 months. I started the linguistics blog on August 1st of this year, and it's been an interesting ride so far. I've been trying very hard to find my blogging niche that will bring you interesting and valid linguistic information but still give my posts a personal twist to keep people coming back. As many of you have probably figured out, a lot of my posts have to do with certain things that happen in my life that I end up relating to linguistics one way or another. If you like that approach, then you'll be pleased with today's post about hospitality. My co-worker Christine suggested that I write about hospitality to chronicle our rather unhospitable experience at the company holiday party. So this word hospitality...where does it come from?...that might be a good place to start.

    Believe it or not, the idea of hospitality stems from the proto-indo-European stem *ghostis-, meaning stranger. (Don't forget that the asterisk in front of the word means that it is constructed by linguists) It was 'hospitem' by the time it reached Latin, meaning lord of strangers. By the time it reached Old French in the twelfth century, it was 'hoste' and meant person who receives guests. That's closer to our current meaning of host, I would imagine. The idea of hospitalit� arose a few centuries later meaning the act of being hospitable. I suppose that in every culture, people have a different definition of what being hospitable is, but I would imagine that most people have some agreement about what is means to be hospitable in a restaurant.

    The restaurant owners and workers at Restaurant X last evening had a skewed perception of hospitality. Granted, I party of 13 is no easy task, but for the "best" restaurant in the city, you would think they could handle it. Just for a quick rundown:

    It took 20 minutes to get our drinks, 1 hour and 15 minutes to get salads, and a whopping 2 hours and 25 minutes to get the entr�es. Once the entre�s were there, they were barely warm and they had substituted items without letting us know. All in all, it was not a very hospitable experience. It was great having everyone all in one place, and the White Elephant gift giving experience was fun. I think it's safe to say that we will all look for hospitality elsewhere in the future.

    Posted Dec 20 2005, 03:46 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language of the Week - "I"

    I have to admit it, I am afraid of the Irish language. I truly respect any and every Irish man or woman who has a grasp on the language. I know that any Chomsky-lover out there would have a heck of a time lecturing me on Universal Grammar and all that goodness, and I understand where that is all coming from. I can not, however, muster up the courage to tackle Irish. I guess that I should start out by saying why I chose Irish for the language of the week today. Irish was nearly dead and forgotten until the people and government of the country (as well as governments of other countries) began an effort to revitalize the language. It worked! Irish is supported by the government and the people speaking it have tremendous national pride concerning their language. The language has been recognized of the first official language of Ireland and is the official language of education. English is also used but as a second language. Earlier this year, Irish was also officially recognized by the European Union and will be added as one of the "working languages" of the group in 2007.

    So what makes Irish so scary to me (and many others)? In my opinion, it's the orthography and phonology. For those of you who don't know, the orthography of a language is the system with which it's physically written. It's the ABC's, sort of. The phonology is the system of sounds corresponding to the characters in the orthography. It's not that the language is difficult per se, it's just that these two components are so different from those sound in English. There are also accents, lenition (the lengthening of vowels), rules for vowel-initial words, and a verb-subject-object word order. Let's try speaking VSO instead of the usual SVO that we use in English.

    Went I to the store. Bought I some apples. Gave to me the cashier my change. (I apologize that I dont' exactly know what to do with the prepositional phrases or indirect objects, so Irish people out there, have mercy...I just want people to get the point that it's very different)

    Anyways....I wish I knew more about Irish and that I had more time to devote to sitting down and learning more languages. Either way, congratulations on your revitalization Ireland! The rest of the world can surely learn something from your efforts!

    Posted Dec 19 2005, 03:41 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Word of the Week - newel

    When I was growing up, my parents did the best that they could with the jobs that they had and two kids to raise. When I look back now, I try and think what I would be doing right now if I had a family and a mortgage and all the expenses and responsibilities that go along with it. When my dad was my age (nearly 25), he had one kid (me) and one on the way (my brother). We always had everything we needed with my parents both working full time. I think back now to things they bought, enormous things, like my $5,000 piano when I was 5 years old. Do you know how much money that was in 1986?! As I've grown up, I've really learned to look back and appreciate all those things that, at the time, didn't seem like any big deal at all. We lived in a little house in North Syracuse, NY, with shag carpets, and a basement re-done so that I could have my own bedroom. It wasn't bad, or I didn't have any problem until I started hanging out with my friend Fabian. His parents owned a beautiful house in the most upscale neighborhood (or development as we called them in the 'Cuse) in the area. I remember the first time that I went to his house was for a Halloween party in the 2nd grade. (I dressed up as a mailman in my dad's uniform) I was just amazed...they had a spiral staircase....in their house! They were the epitome of cool! Incidentally, this story all came about because the word of the week is newel, which is the center pole around which a spiral staircase...uhh...spirals. I digress......anyways, within a few years of hard work on the part of my parents, we eventually moved out of our little house and into one in the development across the street from Fabian and his parents. Good job mom and dad for that one! It's really strange to think about this stuff because it makes me feel like kind of a spoiled brat, but I guess it's more important to recognize these kinds of things as you get older and start functioning on your own.

    Well...that wasn't much about linguistics, and I apologize for that, but it was a true story nonetheless...

    Posted Dec 16 2005, 02:45 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Wikipedia in the news

    The popular encyclopedia website Wikipedia made national and international headlines today after a study done by various researchers decided that the information available on the site is of the same level of accuracy as using the traditional Encyclopedia Brittanica. This got me to thinking about Wiki and how often I use it and how convenient of a resource that it is. It became even more useful recently when it was expanded to include the Wiktionary several months ago...not to mention other things like Wikiquote and Wikinews that I haven't personally used yet. Wikipedia is available in alternate formats in ten different featured languages and several less common ones (about 200 in all). For those of you who don't know, Wiki allows its users to contribute information on a particular subject if there is no information currently available for the entry. Users are also invited to add information to existing entries. I'm interested to see more how this works, because they advertise as the "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." Anyone???!!! That makes me a little wary of using the site now that I think about it. You can have any Joe Schmoe out there adding his or her two cents about whatever they want to talk about. Does anyone know if there is a review process, and if so, who does the review and research to make sure what is being submitted is for real? I think that a good point was made by reviewers from Nature magazine (one of the big three in the science world), that many of the Wikipedia entries were "often poorly structured and confused." I'm not one to argue that Wiki is a good quick resource on certain subjects and good for being a multiple language resource, but as suggested by an article in the BBC News, they really need a good editor to correct information that people submit and also a team of researchers who can verify information before it is posted to the site. Why not check out Wikipedia and let me know what you think. I'm interested to know what people who are first time Wiki users think, compared to those who use it all the time.
    Posted Dec 15 2005, 08:01 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Last day of LIC

    Sadly (or not), today is the last day of Languages in Contact, and as such, Wednesday posts will be a little different for a while until the new semester begins. I suppose that it is only appropriate that I talk about my new class once it starts....Linguistics Core....scary stuff, but I'm going to love it. This class will also be taught by Dr. J and it will be significantly bigger than the LIC crew. Every first year anthro student is required to be in the class, so there will be quite a few people. As far as I know, I am going to be the only "linguist" in the class, and I imagine that I've already a lot of the books and articles that we will be discussing thanks to my previous work with Dr. J. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will be called on quite a bit, and that is scary and exciting all at the same time. I have the luxury of at least understanding quite a bit of what we will be talking about. I really excited about formally learning a lot of the linguistics basics that I had only previously discussed or read in books. I'm also glad that three of the other LIC kids will also be in Core (that's how I'll refer to it from now on). It will surely be a new experience to not have the three older doctoral students there to protect the rest of us, but I suppose that it will force us to grow up...and quickly.

    I guess that in the mean time, I'll have to find something new and exciting to talk about on Wednesdays.

    Posted Dec 14 2005, 04:32 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Tuesday Trivia - The origin of panic

    Do you know anyone who is susceptible to panic attacks? Have you ever had one yourself? If so, you might be especially interested in my post for today that is all about the origin of the word and concept of panic. I recently had my first panic attack, owing to the stress of working a full-time job, taking two classes, and preparing my graduate school applications. I didn't really realize what a panic attack was until I "caught" them from my pals at work. I'll explain more about that later.

    As most people probably know, Pan was the earthy Greek god who was half human and half goat known for playing the reed pipes. Don't know what reed pipes (or pan pipes) are?...remember Zamfir?...if not, look it up. So how did good ole Pan bring panic to us? As told in myth, Pan would travel down to the places near the water where the reeds grew to gather supplies to make his pipes. He would rustle around in the tall grasses finding the right reeds for his pipes and then he would construct them and try them out. These eerie sounds were known to frighten passerbsy and cause them to feel an unnecessary fear or sudden anxiety. This anxious emotion came to be known as panic.

    Scientists have found panic to be a uncontrolled and contagious physical emotion that can spread to those around you. You usually hear about panic spreading through a crowd, but it can surely spread between a small group of individuals, or even two people.

    ....this one's for you CN

    Posted Dec 13 2005, 04:08 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language of the Week - J (or D)

    The language of the week for this week is another of my personal favorites. It's not because I speak the language but because I've studied the culture of the people who speak it. The language is called Jula (or Dyula) from the Ivory Coast and surrounding areas. Owing to its particular history of use in West Africa, Jula has become a very interesting language to study. The people who speak Jula descended from the Malinke people who lived on the southern outskirts of the Mali Empire. These people moved farther south to settle and developed widely popular trade routes between the Atlantic Coast and the African interior. The Jula were able to spread their language due to this widespread trade, and this prominence has carried into the region in the present day. Jula has become what is know as a lingua franca (a language of wider communcation) in the Ivory Coast since over 65% of Ivoirians speak the language. This overshadows the number of French speakers in the country (even though French is the official language), who only comprise about 20% of the population. So, why is French so widely used? As with most things, it's a political issue. The French speaking Ivoirians comprise the elite class who gained their prestige from dealings with France during the colonial period. They were members of the Baul� tribal group but have all but given up their ethnic heritage in their connection with France. Jula represents a positive ray of linguistic hope in the Ivory Coast, but it must be endorsed by the government before it can be used for any educational or political purposes. Unfortunately, Ivoirians have bigger problems with a split of their country from north to south and continued political unrest.
    Posted Dec 12 2005, 03:00 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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