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February 2006 - Posts

  • The day I've been waiting for

    I had to run an errand out to Dr. J's house this afternoon, and on the way, I decided that I would swing by my house and check the mail just in case there was anything important. And there it was...the letter that I had been waiting for, good or bad, from Indiana. I think that my heart moved all the way up into my throat as I started to open the letter. This was it....and then...those magic words.....Dear Mr. Green....we are pleased to inform you........woot woot! I could not believe what I was reading. I am soooo in Indiana! For those of you who don't already know, Indiana University at Bloomington has the most widely reknown program in African Language Studies in the country. They have quite a reputation for just being the best at everything to do with the area. This is, of course, combined with an amazing Linguistics Department all around. It was kind of amazing to stand there and read the letter and realize that I had just been accepted into my number 1 choice for graduate school. It was so shocking that I didn't really know what to feel besides amazement. I still don't think that it has quite sunk in yet. I suppose that I still need to hear back from four other schools...but with #1 and #3 checked off as acceptances, I'm feeling pretty great about things. It will be both exciting and sad to leave Tallahassee after all this time. In the past 5 1/2 years, I've made a lot of really great friends who I'll be very sad to leave. Tallahassee has also become "home". I'm used to the area and how laid back things are here. I am excited to move on to the next stage in my life though. I am so so so ready to back to school full time. Unlike most people I know, I always loved being in school. Going to classes never bothered me (well except physics class), but now I'll be going back to a program that I actually enjoy and WANT to do. I'm sure that over the next couple of weeks, I'll hear back from the other four schools and then get a better idea of where I'll be and what I'll be doing six months from now.
    Posted Feb 28 2006, 03:58 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • "Such a crazy language"

    Every time that we have a Senari meeting, without fail, I will always hear Sidiky exclaim "such a crazy language!" He's right, Senari is a crazy language, I suppose, but I think that he and I have different opinions on what is crazy about it. Sidiky grew up in the Ivory Coast speaking Nafara, a dialect of Senari, which is the particular dialect that we have been studying. When you grow up learning and speaking a language from childhood, you don't always learn all the rules and the whys and why nots. Just look at English speakers...we learn language from childhood with most of the rules in tact, but we don't really recognize what the rules are. We learn that it is pretty typical that we add a suffix -s to a word to make it plural. There is a very famous psycholinguistic test about singular vs. plural, affectionately known at the "wug test". Children given a picture of one "thing" (it doesn't matter what it looks like) and told that it is 'a wug' with then identify a picture of two "things" as 'wugs'. It's just a matter of psychology. We don't innately think of the possibilities like mouse and mice or datum and data. We add an 's'. I am definitely shying away from Chomsky and Universal Grammar, so forgive me for not barking up that tree. Anyways, Sidiky thinks his language is "crazy" because no, at forty-some-odd years old, he is learning the ins and outs of Senari. He is learning what sounds are there and why, and why things and words exist in the sentences, and what the functions of the individual sentence components are. Imagine that! Just think...most English speakers can't even identify an adverb versus an adjective in a simple sentence. In all honesty, I guess I don't think that Senari is all that crazy...there are plenty of more difficult languages out there. I just think of Finnish, Irish, and all those long Eskimo words that I could be learning...now those are "crazy"....not that I have anything against any of those languages.
    Posted Feb 25 2006, 02:25 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • What do grad students do on a Friday night?

    Ahh, the glamorous life of a "grad" student. I put that grad in parentheses because, as most of you know, I'm not a grad student yet. I'm not an undergrad either....just an in-between post-bac trying to get my stuff together so that when I get to grad school next fall, I know my stuff. So anyways, life really isn't glamorous for graduate students...case in point, tonight I spent the entire evening doing homework. Of course, the linguistics kids seem to know how to fancy things up at homework, mainly with the addition of cool music and beer, so that takes some of the sting out of doing work when we should be out at a party somewhere. The work for this week, as I had mentioned previously, was about morphology. Morphology is basically breaking things down to the smallest units that have some kind of meaning. I think that I gave an example a few posts back. We used examples from Swahili, a Bantu language spoken in East Africa, to study language morphology. The reason that we use this language is because it can break readily into small distinguishable morphemes that represent different parts of an idea. For example, (bear with me, I'm doing this from memory) the word ninamtoka....the prefex ni- means 'I', the infix -na- means 'present tense', the infix -m- means 'it', and the suffix -toka is the verb meaning 'do'. Therefore ninamtoka means 'I am doing it'. Pretty cool right? For the homework, we had to break down the parts of the words and determine which morpheme stand for the different subject/tense/direct object/verb, just like above. Another neat things about Swahili is the presence of noun classes, or genders. When English speakers think of gender, we think male or female right? Well, in language, gender goes a little deeper. We have remnants of gender inflection in English, mainly in the 3rd person singular pronouns...his bike vs. her bike. In languages like German and Greek for example, they add a third gender called neuter. One of the most difficult parts about learning these and other languages is learning what words are "masculine", "feminine", or "neuter". Look at the difference in German:

    der Mann, die Frau, das Fraulein....the man, the woman, the young lady

    I use those just for the sake of convenience, but notice that the word for young lady is a neuter noun even though it is obviously referring to a feminine person. This goes beyond physical gender as well. In Greek: (forgive me Greek speakers, I can't write in Greek font)

    argos, krynye, dendrov.......dog, spring, tree.......masculine, feminine, neuter....but not necessarily physically speaking. So I hope you get the point so we can return to Swahili.

    Swahili, has a bunch of noun classes (genders), that refer to different things. People, animals, living things, large things, small things, things found in nature. There are a bunch, but I'm sure that covers some of them. Each of these noun classes carries a whole different system of morphemes that go along with them. Take 'man' for example. Man comes from the noun class of human beings, the m/wa class. Therefore 'man' is 'mtu' and 'men' is 'watu'. Wood on the other hand is from a different noun class, the m/mi class. Therefore 'a piece of wood' is 'mti' whereas 'several pieces of wood' is 'miti'. See the pattern? Anyways, these are just very simple examples to show the idea of of noun class and gender...I hope you get the idea.

    Posted Feb 24 2006, 02:01 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Field linguistics

    I read an interested book this evening about a subject that I had never really thought much about. One of the best things about the linguo Core class is that we get exposure to subjects outside our usual area that we wouldn't usually have the chance or desire to read. I have to admit that I was glad that for "Language and Culture" day...something I guess I should know about...we had several assigned readings on field linguistics. I decided to review a book called "The Methodology of Field Work in Linguistics" by Kibrik (1977). I don't know if it was such a spectacular book that presented new material or was eye-opening, but it surely helped to outline and explain the area of field linguistics in a way that could be easily understood by anyone. For anyone who does not know, field work in linguistics involves (usually) traveling somewhere to go out and find native speakers (informants) of a language (the subject) that you (the investigator) do not have proficiency. The investigator plans and formulates lists of words and questions to ask the informant in order to gain further information about the language, its vocabulary, its grammar, and its phonetic and phonemic system. This was really helpful to me, since apparently, I'm one of the few people in my class who has never done anything that would be considered "field work". There are people in Core who travel overseas every summer to hang out and do their respective type of research. Of course, not everyone goes overseas...take Mike Como for instance...he studies the culture anthropology of Spanish-speaking Salvadorans in the US. He lives on Long Island, an area rather densely populated with Salvadorans (from El Salvador). So, he goes home for the summer and is able to do his field work. Anyways, long story short, this was a really great book, and I'm glad that I stumbled upon it. Once I finished the review for the Kibrik, I actually completed the first comparative method assignment...thank the lord...

    So, before Monday, I still have another book to read and review, about 25 other reviews to read from my classmates, text book readings for class, another comparative assignment, this week's homework to finish, and a Senari meeting on Saturday...joy.....

    Posted Feb 23 2006, 02:06 PM by christophergreen with 1 comment(s)
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  • Homework can be fun

    Tonight was the kick off to another long week of linguistics homework. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work again with my linguistic "partner in crime" Mike Como. Mike and I worked last week on the phonology exercises and ended up doing a really great job, so we've paired together again for morphology this week. We actually ended up getting a lot done, even though we took plenty of breaks from working for chatting, intellectual discussion, music listening, and drink refills....lots of drink refills. I'd like to think that we finished all the difficult exercises, but we have a whole stack of Swahili things to work on. I suppose that that will be for later this week. I still have yet to finish the comparative method homework...I know, I'm a slacker. I also have to work on the readings for this week. It's easy to see how things are shaping up to be busy for the rest of the week.
    Posted Feb 22 2006, 03:04 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Stuck on the comparative method

    I don't usually think of myself as mentally challenged regarding many things, but when I have to jump into a totally new methodology blindly with very little instruction, it would appear to most that am pretty dumb. I'm stuck on these comparative method problems that were assigned to everyone in class while I was on my trip. Dr. J told me not to worry about bothering with them until I got back, so when I returned, I got what I needed and figured that I would start working on them. It's not that the concept of proto-reconstructions is really very complicated, but it's the fact that I don't want to do it incorrectly that is hanging me up. I did get my mini-lecture from Dr J and Dr H on Saturday, however, although they showed me the method really well, we didn't quite get to the part that says what the outcome of the exercise is supposed to be. I keep trying to use what I know about the morphology and phonology exercises that we have been doing to answer these comparative method questions, but it is not coming very handy. I forgot to mention that Drs J and H also said how some of the information on the handouts was preliminary anyways and should really be removed from the exercise. Just great.... Luckily, the morphology homework that was assigned has to do with Swahili, so it won't be so bad. That just means that I can spend my extra time toiling through this comparative stuff. That homework, plus new homework, plus reading, plus reviews, plus Senari...this will be a long linguistic week.
    Posted Feb 21 2006, 08:42 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • First Senari meeting of the year

    As if my Friday was not good enough with my MSU acceptance, today was the first meeting of the year with Dr. J and Sidiky to start back in our analysis of the Senari tale that we were working on last summer. For more info about exactly what we are doing, head back up to my posts in September or October to check out the project. No that Sidiky has his propectus defense out of the way, we can get back to work on the interesting stuff. We had finished a preliminary analysis of the text and event line, but there were some particles and constructions that we decided to overlook at the time for the sake of moving forward. It's time now to revisit them and see what they do. It was slow-going getting back into things, and the ideas that we are working with now are more difficult and often require discussion and possible debate at each step along the way. Decided which verbs are truly transitive or instransitive, assigning rules for aspect markers, figuring out what regularly recurring discourse and focus particles are used for...fun by surely time-consuming. It was exhausting but fun. After our Senari work, I got an amazing two-on-one lecture from Dr. J and her husband Dr. H about the comparative method and how to do the exercises that were assigned while I was gone in Paris. The two of them work together so well, but that is definitely not a big surprise after doing so for all these years. Dr. H is a great phonetician, and I was really very honored to be sitting there learning from him...and Dr J...at the same time! I really can't wait to start graduate school so I can go to school full time and concentrate on linguistics, instead of work and everything else as well.
    Posted Feb 18 2006, 12:53 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Potentially good news = Great news

    Today was a very important day in the grand scheme of my life. I got home from work and was getting ready to go out and have a drink with some friend when I decided that I should check my email one last time before I left. Well, I'm sure glad I did, because sitting in my "inbox" was an email entitled "MSU Linguistics Application". !!!!! I think my heart stopped for a second, because my first thought was "why are they sending me an email!?" Thankfully, when I opened it up, it was a very nice letter from the graduate director at MSU congratulating me on my acceptance to their Linguistics Program! I'm in! I can go to graduate school. I promised myself that I would no longer worry (as much) about the other five schools that I applied to, since I now have somewhere to go. Michigan State is actually choice three out of the six, but an acceptance is an acceptance, so I definitely am not going to complain. One of the great parts about Michigan State is that they actually have an African Languages Department in the Linguistics Department. Another cool thing is that they admitted me for MA status (which is what I applied for), and the letter said that after 1 year, if I pass my comprehensives and all that, I can move directly to the PhD program without reapplying. Score! I passed on this great news to my family and of course to Dr. J. She was very very very pleased. Needless to say, the news really helped my weekend to be a great one, although it was heavy on homework. Now, I just have to sit back and see what becomes of the other five applications. I'm really routing for Indiana and Pittsburgh, so keep your fingers crossed for me. I would really be happy going to any of the schools that I applied to, but I guess we all need to have our favorites.
    Posted Feb 17 2006, 12:44 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Hanging with the Anthro Folks

    In my attempt to get to know the other people in Core, I decided that it would be a good idea to forego eating lunch today so that I would be able to leave work early and head over to campus to hang out with the other Anthropology graduate students at Snookers. They apparently had a huge test this week in their Archaeology class (yuck!) and were ready for some big time relaxing. Nearly everyone who is in Core was there. I usually feel like the outsider since I'm not in the other classes with all of them, so this was to be my icebreaker. I think that it worked out pretty well. We had some good laughs, and I had the opportunity to learn some amusing and embarrassing things about them. I even got invited to the "after party" and future events. I unfortunately had to decline the after party since I had to go home and get to gettin' on my homework. I got to thinking on the way home about the pairing of linguistics and anthropology. Linguistics has been paired with Anthro for such a long time, but the relationship is slowing fading away in the eyes of many departments at universities around the country. Modern linguistics started with the work of de Saussure and a few others in Europe and then spread to the US through others like Bloomfield and Hockett. The ideas of Saussure went along with similar structuralism ideas from psychology and social sciences by Freud and Durkheim (I think?!). When structuralism spread to the US, Boas, Sapir, and Swadesh were anthropologists who had some linguistic interests and help to pair the two disciplines together. It wasn't until the middle of the century that the Chomskyians came along and shook things up. A huge linguistic war was waged between the descriptive/structural linguists and the transformational/generative linguists. The second group moved things in the direction of cognitive science and psychology by concerning themselves more with underlying cognitive structures in language and the presence of an internal universal grammar inherent in all humans. Since that time, the presence of linguistics in anthropology has been dying a slow death. For that reason, you usually can only find one or two linguists in any given anthro department, most of whom are not even linguistically trained. If you want to study something to do with linguistic anthropology, you often have to go the route of linguistics and look into sociolinguistics or language policy. I suppose that the people and ideas are still there but the disciplines have been slightly redefined. All the better for linguistics to add something new but very sad for anthropology to be losing such a valuable field.
    Posted Feb 16 2006, 03:15 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Time flies when you're doing homework

    Tonight, I had the opportunity to get together with a good friend of mine who is taking the Core class with me. He was also one of the members of the LIC class from last semester. The thing that makes us unique in respect to Core is that we're really not supposed to be there. He is an undergraduate honors in the major student who is working on his thesis but is interested in linguistics, and I'm...well....I'm not exactly an anthropology graduate student, but I'm there anyways. Mike and I decided to work together on a bunch of homework assignments on structuralism. You can learn about structuralism by reading my post from a few days ago. Anyways, Mike ended up coming over to my place and we got down to some business with analyzing the phonetic makeup of three different languages from Mexico. With the help of some delicious chocolate chip cookies, we actually made a lot of progress. To be completely honest, it was a very eye-opening experience because we definitely started to "get it" as we moved through the exercises. One of the most difficult parts about what we are doing is being able to identify phonemes (units of sound) without using their "letter" name. For example, think of 'bat'. The first sound in 'bat' is /b/...which is not 'b' but is the English 'voiced bilabial stop'. The 'a' is /a/, the English 'central low vowel. The 't' is /t/ and is the English 'unvoiced alveolar stop'. I know, it sounds confusing, but it is actually really neat. Once you condition yourself to get away from referring to things as letters, things fall into place. One of the other neat parts is taking a list of representative words from a particular language and making a chart of these phonemes and finding out what sounds actually exist in the language. After we find what sounds are there, we can figure out rules for where and when the sounds occur in words. We can them decide if these 'phones' (sounds) are actually one in the same but have different instances of use as 'allophones'. I know, I know....linguistics nerd....I've accepted that....
    Posted Feb 15 2006, 02:45 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Who was Valentine?

    Apparently there has been some confusion and controversy over the years about who St. Valentine really was and why we celebrate a day in his name. The best information that I can find says something along the lines that Valentine was a priest in the Catholic church back in the third century. (that's the 200s AD) At that time, there were a whole bunch of crazy wars going on. The Roman emperor had decided that unmarried men were better soliders than married men who had to worry about a wife and children back at home. The emperor decreed that young men of fighting age were not allowed to marry until they passed an age where they were able to fight. Valentine thought that this decree was terrible and secretly conducted marriages for young men and women against the orders of the emperor. When the emperor found out, he had Valentine arrested and sentenced to death. While in jail and out of the priesthood, Valentine fell in love with the daughter of the jailor. Before his death, he wrote her a love letter and signed it "Your Valentine". The tradition has continued ever since...
    Posted Feb 14 2006, 02:58 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • A great class to break up a crazy day

    Work could not possibly be crazier with my new responsibilities in full swing now. I actually look forward to getting out and heading to linguo core on Monday afternoons. The down side?...oh yeah, I have to come into work at about 6:45, work until 2-ish, go to class from 2:30 to 5:30 and then come back to work for another hour. Today was definitely worth the extra effort though. I got to the anthro department with a few extra minutes to spare and was able to catch up with the others in the class who I only get to see once a week. Most of them seem like really nice people...the others just don't talk all that much. We got to talk about one of my favorite subjects in linguistics...structuralism. The basic idea of structurlaism says that in order to describe something fully, you have to say what it is "not". An example? Ok...

    Say you meet someone who has no idea what the color purple is. You could sit them down and show them a whole bunch of examples of what is purple, you could even drill them all day. But most likely if you ask them to pick something up that is purple among a group of items, they won't be able to do it. Why is that? You need to tell them what is not purple. You have to specify purple from blue, purple from red, purple from pink, etc. Then they will know what is NOT purple, and therefore what IS purple.

    This concept applies all over the place in linguistics as well as in other fields. The famous structuralist Ferdinand de Saussure popularized this idea which then influenced many others in linguistics and other fields, like the social sciences, anthropology, and the natural sciences. We talked a lot about structuralism today in class and also did some fun examples of how to use the theory by categorizing phonemes from different languages. I know....you may think it sounds boring, but I guarantee that it's really interesting, and very worthwhile.

    I'm excited about this week coming up, because we get to work in groups, and the few of us from LIC will be working together, and probably partaking in some deliciously fermented beverages in the process. Sounds like fun to me!

    Posted Feb 13 2006, 02:57 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • The day of the essay

    The beauty of having linguistics core one day a week is surely not that it ends up being a three hour class. The beauty is that you have a whole week to do the vast amounts of work assigned for the next week. Each week, in addition to reading the text and reading other book and doing reviews, we always have a little something extra to do. There are problem sets on comparing languages, identifying phonemes, and reconstructing proto-languages, but there are also language family tree projects, famous linguist reports, and my least favorite...essay exams. This week, essay exam number two was assigned. It's not that it was a difficult assignment or even a tedious assignment. The difficult was that the material to be included in the essay was covered while I was out of town, so I was forced to rely on what I remembered reading in reviews posted by the other people in my class. Normally, this would not be a problem, but Dr. J wanted us to abstain from using notes and looking things up. Why?...because essay exam #3 will be in class, timed, and no notes...just like a real comprehensive exam. I did my best to not look things up, but I really had to wrack my brain for names of theories and names of the famous linguists and anthropologists who made them up. Besides writing my essay, the weekend has shaped up to be a relaxing one. I think I'll even get a chance to fall asleep on the couch watching some reruns on the Style Network. Ahh...Saturdays...
    Posted Feb 11 2006, 01:19 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Taboo

    What a great day...that's what is really comes down to. Everything at work went so well, and then a bunch of us decided to hit up a popular downtown hotspot (ha...in Tallahassee!) for happy hour and dinner. I was really excited because the majority of my favorite people were all meeting together, something that rarely happens. After having a few drinks and some chow, people decided to come back to my house for more drinks and to hang out. My roommate and I decided that it would be a great time to break out the Taboo game, since it's a great way to break the ice and have fun among new friends. Why do I love Taboo you ask? Such a simple answer...it's a game about words! For those of you who don't know the premise behind Taboo, I'll explain. There are cards with a "target" word on them but also words that you can't say. You have to describe your target word without using any of the other words and without rhyming, gesturing, or using any form of any of the words on the card. It gets tricky and frustrating, but it's generally a lot of fun. You can only skip one card before you're penalized and you have to get as many correct guesses by your teammates in 60 seconds. My personal best is 9 cards! Anyways, we played Taboo through nearly the entire deck and then got into a brief political discussion (boo!) and then the night was over. It was great seeing old friends and hanging out with new ones as well. I'm sure we'll do it again!
    Posted Feb 10 2006, 01:12 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Problems?

    I have to admit that I'm having problems getting back into the swing of things with my blog after my trip. When I can back to work after heading over to Europe, I had essentially "graduated" to a new position that leaves me with less time to devote to thinking about creative and fun new things to put in my blog. I still really enjoy blogging and I'm glad to keep it going, but it just takes a little bit of extra time lately. I also find it easier to talk about my actual daily linguistic experiences at this point, rather than have a schedule of random "word of the day", "language of the week", etc. It all comes down to the fact that I used to spend a while researching and preparing to write my blog entries for the day. Perhaps I've graduated in the world of blogging as well. After all, a blog is a "web log" right? I suppose that my life is a little busier but I still have linguistic related things going on every day. I guess that the purpose of this blog started out being to talk about that in the first place. It's kind of exciting now that I actually think about it. A certain portion of each day always gets devoted to linguistics whether it is homework, class, reading, researching, etc. I suppose that's a pretty good habit to get into since it will be like that (but so much more) within the next six or seven months.


    On another note, I've been trying to track down Nadine, my roommate from when I was in Paris. I haven't had much luck so far. When she left, I gave her my email address but never wrote hers down since she assured me that she would write when she got back to South Africa and got settled into life again. I suppose that she's only been back for a little over a week now since she spent an additional week in the south of France working on her project. I tried looking her up in the phone directory for her province of South Africa, but I think that their idea of directory assistance is a slightly less developed than what we have here in the States. Every time I think that I'm getting somewhere, it tells me that service "X" is unavailable. I suppose that I'll just have to wait to hear from her by email. Kristina, on the other hand, should be moving to Paris this week from London. I plan to drop her a line sometime later this week and see how the move-in went. I gotta keep in contact...since she offered a place to stay if whenever I head back to Paris someday. Woot woot!

    Posted Feb 09 2006, 01:01 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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