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April 2006 - Posts

  • How the "macro" contributes to the "micro" and back again

    At our Senari meeting yesterday, it became clear that we are starting to make some great progress as well as some interesting discoveries. As with most things scientific, it did not seem like that we were making a ton of progress or solving any problems at first. As time went on, and we began to learn the language and how it works, little pieces of information began to solidify. When I look back on a year ago when we started doing the analysis of the tale that we are working on, we had just gone through and identified the basic parts of the structure (nouns, verbs, etc.) After that we looked at the structure of the narrative itself, by identifying episodes, peak events, the introduction, and the moral. After that, we had a brief break so that Sidiky could defend his prospectus, but then returned to address all the "stuff" that we had left out of our first analysis. We had to identify transitive versus instransitive verbs, discourse markers, focus markers, aspect markers, the structure of postposition phrases,...basically a whole ton of stuff. I'm not going to was very slow going at first. When working with a native speaker, it is difficult to get down to truly grammatical ideas right off the bat, because they have likely never thought about their language in a scientific way. Add to that the fact that no dictionary (or other written materials) for this language exist. Our only resource was a dictionary from a related language, however it has different words and different spellings of cognates. It has taken us several months to move ahead on this part of the analysis, but just within the last few weeks, we have been able to use what we have spent so long discussing to push forward. We can now look beyond "what does this do?" to "why does this do?"...if that makes sense. Instead of deciding on a working translation of the tale, we can now look into why a particular construction functions the way that it does. I guess that the point that I'm trying to make is that the macro and micro studies of this particular text (and I suppose language in general) contribute to one another and allow progress to be made. A "micro" phonological study allowed us to create an orthography and transcribe the tale. A "macro" study allowed us to make a translation of the tale. A "micro" study let us determine the pieces of each sentence. A "macro" study let us find the overall structure of the text. Now, a "micro" study is allowing us to address the missing pieces and figure out what they do. Once we have completed this tale, there are a few others to do, but they should go quickly. If we can identify what the typical structure and components are of a particular story or genre, we should be able to readily compare and contrast between other similar works.
    Posted Apr 30 2006, 01:24 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Hearing Tom Brokaw Speak in Person

    This morning, I got a chance to attend the second spring commencement exercises at Florida State to see my roommate graduate with his two bachelors degrees. As with most graduation ceremonies, it was way too early in the morning on a weekend, there were so many people, and it was extremely long. The highlight of the ceremony was that Tom Brokaw (of NBC Nightly News fame) was the keynote speaker. The administration at FSU also bestowed upon him an honorary doctoratal degree. I can't really say that I have watched Tom Brokaw specifically over the years, but after hearing him speak today at graduation I was pretty blown away. Not only was he delivering a great speech, but the manner in which he was presenting was really captivating. He had the luxury of decades of experience speaking in front of large groups, and his speech was just as if he were having an intimate conversation with any one person in the audience. His message was simple, as are most commencement keynote speeches, but the information that was contained in the speech about events in the past and things to look for in the future was really beneficial. I don't think that it is often that people go to these ceremonies where you get the chance to hear a message that actually makes you think and reflect on how what is being said relates to your own life. I'm happy to say that Tom Brokaw made me think...especially about the future and what my life will be like when I leave Tallahassee. Maybe even though my graduation was a few semesters ago, this ceremony was like my real "commencement." For those of you who don't know, commencement comes from the word commencer meaning 'to begin.' I'm finally leaving this town and beginning the rest of my life, even though I will still be in school. It's going to be a chapter closed here and another one begun in Bloomington.
    Posted Apr 29 2006, 06:19 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Foreign Language Skills in the US Government

    I was reading a snippet of an article this morning about how the United States government is incredible short of workers skilled in foreign languages and other multilingual skills. That really amazes me for some reason. I always figured that people would be clamoring for government jobs not matter what they are. Perhaps part of the problem with getting these government jobs is the level of communication skills needed. It is extremely difficult to gain native proficiency in a second, third, or even fourth language if you are not a native speaker of the language. Many people develop extremely high proficiency in languages but might not necessarily develop "native" skills. Back when I was first getting into linguistics, Dr J asked me to take some time and figure out what it is that I want to do with my life in the future, after graduate school. She "pre-informed" me that being a translator would be a waste of my time and energy, but I was curious as to what qualifications went into getting such a job. I started looking at the CIA and other government related websites to see about these jobs. The positions look to be highly selective but good to get into. When I learned a little bit more about language policy and planning, I ventured to the UNESCO website to see what they are all about. I've heard both positive and negative things about positions at UNESCO, particularly from people that I met over in Paris who were planning to visit the UNESCO headquarters and meet with some people about potential future employment. These supranational organizations are even more selective the US government organizations in the people they choose and the level of language skills that people need. Since UNESCO headquarters is in Paris, apparently your French needs to be nearly flawless to even be considered. There appear to be so many choices out there as to what you can do professionally depending on your management and field work experiences. There are even some positions, internships, and fellowship opportunities for certain individuals who work on specific types of projects. It seems like I'm about to delve into a whole new world of things that I don't know when it comes to all these projects and opportunities and the right versus wrong thing to look for in the future. I'm sure that the faculty at IU will be able to shed some light on all these different things.
    Posted Apr 28 2006, 01:43 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Taking a little break

    Is it wrong to want to take a little break for a few days before delving back in to doing all kinds of work? I sure hope not, because that's my current plan. I guess that I have been taking a mini break, since Tuesday at least...if you can call working at my regular job all day long taking a break. I finished up with linguistics core with the final exam on Monday, and then I took my cultural geography final on Tuesday night. After that, I met up with Mike Como and his lovely lady friend Alisha at a local bar, Poor Pauls, for a few drinks. Last night, I met up with Mike C, Jamie B, and Kathy B for some trivia at Gill's. I think it was a little ridiculous that I would have scored better in the Jeopardy game that I watched before trivia that I did in the actual trivia game. Seriously, who cares about the Rolling Stones?! I didn't do as well as I thought I would in the Greek history category, but we did pretty well in current events and movie quotes. We can't they have good categories like "french food" and "u.s. islands" like they had on Jeopardy? We had fun nonetheless, and I came home to read some more of my Linguistics Wars book. I received my copy of Claude Levi-Strauss's Structural Anthropology yesterday in the mail, and I'm debating on when would be the best time to sit back and read it. Maybe before I read that, I should break open one of the few cultural anthropology books that Dr J told me that I needed to read. I really don't know much about the other fields of anthropology besides linguistic anthropology, and hopefully I won't have to take classes in them. That's the beauty of starting in a linguistics core classes will be sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, syntax, phonetics, and phonology. Ahh....beautiful linguistics!
    Posted Apr 27 2006, 09:26 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Books, books, and more books!

    It's been about a year since I started my linguistics studies, and wow...I sure have amassed a whole bunch of stuff. I have papers, notebooks full of reviews, notebooks of Senari materials, tons of books on linguistics and anthropology, and all my own materials from Languages in Contact and Linguistics Core. All stuff that needs to be moved to Indiana! I guess that it's not so surprising when I think about the current state of Dr J's office and then her and Dr H's house. There are so many books and other things, not to mention art and artifacts from their travels to and from mesoamerica for all these years. At this point, I think that I'm well on my way. I decided a few days ago that I would start buying more books on Amazon, Alibris, and if they were at unbeatable prices. A lot the linguistics books that I would like sell new for between $30 and $50 and some up to hundreds of dollars each. If I can find a book for under two dollars, I'm going for it. The one bad part is that you end up paying more shipping than you do for the actual book. I guess you've got to take the good with the bad in this situation.

    Now that the semester is over here at Florida State, I have finally gotten the opportunity to clean out the "library" that my car had become and bring the appropriate books and papers into the house and then return others to the library or to their respective owners. I realized that my book shelves were already crammed to maximum capacity and I needed somewhere else for the new things. I also have been ordering from Amazon, as mentioned above, so every day or two I get new books in the mail to add to the collection. I ended up heading out to the Walmart and getting another one of those stackable bookshelves to add to the two of them that I already have. I have those three, in addition to another four-shelf bookshelf that used to house all my biology books but now has the foreign language book and English-type grammar, dictionaries, and theasauri, that did not fit on my "foreign language shelf" anymore. This whole thing started innocently enough with my foreign language books. I needed somewhere to put them, so while on a visit to Tallahassee, my handy grandfather put up a huge shelf that sits above my bed for all my foreign language books. Shortly after that time, I started to buy linguistics books, and being the anal retentive guy that I am, I surely can't mix the two types of books. Even now, I have nine "linguistics" shelves and have difficulty placing books that cover different subjects together. Maybe I need to see someone about this...or maybe I just need another bookshelf?!

    Posted Apr 27 2006, 01:29 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • It's all about Bambara

    I figured that since I'm going to be working with Bambara starting this coming fall semester at Indiana University, I should probably learn just about everything I can about it before I get there. I decided that a good place to start looking would be at Ethnologue. Ethnologue is run by the Summer Institute of Linguistics program and is the very best authority of statistical and factual information on just about every language known around the world. I had been secretly hoping that Bambara would be extremely similar to Senoufo, since that what I have been studying for the last year, but alas it's not. The languages are both members of the Niger-Congo family, but they come from two different branches. Senoufo is a Gur language, wherease Bambara is from the Mande branch of the family. I did learn an interesting fact though...Bambara is very much similar to Dyula, a widely spoken lingua franca throughout much of western Africa. Dyula is actually one of the languages that Sidiky speaks, so maybe I can get some pointers from him on that. Maybe if I can learn some Dyula, I might be better off when it comes to Bambara in the fall. I was surprised to find less information than I thought I would about Bambara, both from Ethnologue and elsewhere. I looked in my Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language as well as my Dictionary of Languages, both of which had very little to say about the language. I did look on the dreaded Wikipedia, only to find that the article about the language was a bunch of crap. The information that was written there did not even make any sense. I had taken a two minute look at a few Bambara sentences, and even then I could recognize that what this article had to say about even basic argument structure was not so correct. As is the case with a lot of African languages, other materials that are available in publication are very difficult to get and are extremely expensive. I remember that the Senoufo dictionary that Sidiky had to get when we started the Senari project was upwards of $800! I hope the good folks at Indiana U. who gave me the FLAS are going to provide the money for books as well. Speaking of the FLAS, it still hasn't sunken in yet...I keep wanting to talk about it, but I don't want to have people get sick of me mentioning it. I would have to say that I'm a pretty modest person when it comes to things that I do well or things that I've achieved, so it's kinda difficult talking about the fellowship. Wow...I just realized that I can put that on my resume! Ah yes, I digress....well, as I find out some more information about Bambara, I'll definitely get it into blog post form. I have a busy week ahead with my "other" African language, Senari. I have to get a good chunk of the argument structure analysis done and in some sort of electronic format before this coming Saturday. Graduation is also this weekend, so my roommate Michael's family will be in town to celebrate him finishing his 5 year trek for two bachelors degrees. True to form, I won't really be able to spend that much time celebrating with work and a Senari meeting on the docket. Is it possible that I'll be less busy going back to school full time then I have been while out of school?!
    Posted Apr 26 2006, 01:35 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • I have a FLAS Fellowship!!! Woot Woot!

    Today has shown me that you just never know what's going to happen...

    While taking a break for a few minutes at work, I decided that I should check my Yahoo email, just to see if there was anything interesting there. I use my Yahoo account for most of my personal stuff, even though I have about ten email addresses at work. And there it email with a suffix that read the subject said FLAS Fellowship. I immediately thought that it was going to be another disappointment judging from the events of the last few days. I opened it and read with incredulous eyes as the email was congratulating me for being offered a FLAS Fellowship to study at Indiana University! For those of you who don't know, FLAS stands for Foreign Language Area Studies, and the one that I applied for was for African Languages, as I'm sure you can't imagine. This was a fellowship that I applied for at the last minute when I was over in Paris this past January. Never in a million years did I expect to get such an award for my first year! Without getting into too many details, the award covers a very generous stipend, as well as tuition coverage. I went from "sorry that we can't offer you aid your first year" to "here's a whole heap of money for you"!!! As you probably can tell, I'm extremely ecstatic, and I don't think that my heart has stopped pounding since I heard about it. I am supposed to be receiving an official letter from the FLAS committee in the mail with paperwork to sign, etc. etc. I already emailed the committee back and thanked them and accepted the award. Part of the deal is that I get private language lessons for the duration of my award. As far as I can tell, I will be studying Bambara, a language spoken in Mali and surrounding areas. It is a Mande language, coming from similar stock at Dyula. Hopefully, I can get Sidiky and Dr J H from our department to give me a crash course in Dyula before I head up there, then learning Bambara won't be so tough! Pardon my babbling, and note the difference in tone between my post from this morning and my post now!

    Posted Apr 25 2006, 09:12 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • What a doozy!

    Wow! Let's just say that our linguistics core final was not exactly what I had in mind. I can probably safely speak for the whole class when I say that I figured the questions would be more geared towards subjects that we covered more recently in class. To be fair to Dr J, I won't say exactly what the questions were, but wow...I really had to sit and figure out what questions I had the right kind of detailed information to answer. I guess that the rest of the class had similar issues, because nearly everyone stayed until the very end of the alloted exam time. I really enjoyed answering the identification questions though. Choosing 6 out of 12 things to identify was not so bad. Also, with the requirement of only one-third to one-half of a page gives you just enough room to say what you have to say and not BS too much.

    In other news, just when I thought that things would calm down after my test was over, I got back to work and turned my computer back on only to discover that it has something wrong with it. Normally, I would probably not care too terribly much if it were just a "work" computer, however, the computer that I've been using at work is my own laptop that I've only had for less than a year and that I just finished paying off two months ago...fantastic! I was honestly just about at the end of my rope at that point, having spent the entire weekend studying and then getting up early to work before my exam, etc, etc. I met the roommate and my pal Kevin up at our local cheap Mexican food restaurant (El Tapatio) and relaxed with a delicious margarita and some beef enchiladas. When I finally made it home, I fell asleep on the couch from 7 to 10, woke up for about an hour, and then went to bed from 11 to 8. I don't think that I've ever had the opportunity to just go home and crash on the couch. I still feel exhausted today...but time to press on. My boss told me that he would pay for getting my computer fixed since I've been using it for 40 hours + a week at the office. He said that we would also finally get me my own "work" computer since I had to give mine up to the new financial person a while back.

    Tonight, it's time to finish up my joke of cultural geography class. I think I have a 98% for the semester or something ridiculous like that. The rest of the week will be spent working on my part of the Senari project. I got to talk to Dr J after the exam yesterday, and she was pretty excited about the progress that she and Sidiky made this Saturday while I was absent due to studying. I told her that I would make sure to get my part of things swinging. She let me know that she has already devised a plan of action for me and Sidiky for when she's gone to Mexico for a month. Unfortunately, I leave for Bloomington just a few days after she gets back.

    I promise that I will have a better, more linguistics related post tomorrow....but for today, just bear with's been a rough week.

    Posted Apr 25 2006, 04:38 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Today is the big day

    So here it examination day for Linguistics Core. It seems like I've been in this class forever. I suppose that's because I remember sitting in my hotel room in Paris doing homework for core class. This is a day that most people in the anthropology department fear, only second to the comprehensive examinations at the end of the summer. I suppose that most of them fear this day so much since they really aren't interested in linguistics much...if at all. I'm doing my best to stay calm as I sit here at work before going to the exam. I have to admit though that I've felt this "something" in my stomach since Saturday after we studied. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be able to do a decent job on the final, but the idea that it still has to be done is the part that worries me. A three hour stretch to do all this work is pretty intense. It's not like I have ever been one to really freeze or choke under pressure (well, except during the math section of the GRE), so I'm sure things will go fine. Speaking of the GRE, I think back to that day and remember that I was ready to keel over because I didn't get the 1450 that I was aiming for...but everything turned out allright in the end. I think that I planned by GRE and then the GRE biochemistry test too close to one another...only 3 weeks apart. I took the biochem test first, after having studied for months and got placed in the 86% percentile...which isn't too shabby for that test, but then only had a little time to get back the good ole math skills that I hadn't used since...hmm...physics class I guess. Anyways, I think I'm digressing from my point, or whatever I thought my point of this post was going to be. So yeah, today is the final, and my life will be totally different after it's over. No more assigned readings, reviews to read, essay exams to write, famous linguist reports, or late night caffeine-sustained work sessions at All Saints. I will surely still be doing work, but it will be Senari work for the big project, and then maybe...just maybe...I can read something that I want to read instead of something that I've been assigned to read.
    Posted Apr 24 2006, 01:29 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • A linguistics realization

    Yesterday afternoon, five of us from Linguistics Core class sat at my house for almost seven hours and studied nearly nonstop for our upcoming final exam. It was an interesting study session, as I had already made an outline of what we needed to know and had studied on my own during the week. The others were busy finishing up writing papers and taking other exams, so they were just getting started with their studying. It was a great time for me because I got to field questions and really think about what I knew and how to explain it. That's really my favorite way to study. As we got further into the material, we started to tread in the dangerous waters of generative linguistics. As we started to talk about Noam Chomsky, his ideas, and his students, I realized that I was having a more difficult time explaining what I knew. I realized that I was letting the fact that I don't necessarily agree with what Chomsky did to linguistics get in the way of just learning what I needed to know for the moment. I decided that it was time to break out my copy of The Linguistics War by Randy Allen Harris and check out the first few chapters that talk about the Chomskyan Revolution. I guess that it's not that I mind new ideas or even expanding on old ideas, but I think that Harris says "Chomsky turned linguistics on its head and gave it a spin." The ideas that Chomsky brought to the table had grown men screaming at each other like children. In order to concentrate on what Chomsky contributed, I suppose that it is necessary to put aside all the conflict and controversy and focus on the facts. Chomsky introduced generative grammar to linguistics. Generative grammar is basically the set of rules in a language that one uses to construct (or generate...get it?) usable sentences in that language. Chomsky felt that each human possessing some underlying biological ability to construct and process language that allows them to create grammatical sentences from linguistic raw materials...the famous Universal Grammar idea. Chomsky also wanted to look into the differences between surface and deep structure of language....the surface structure being what we can see and hear and the deep structure being the underlying abstract material, like meaning. It is in this way that Chomsky disagreed and departed from the teachings of Leonard Bloomfield...ideas that many linguists followed in the early half of the twentieth century. Chomsky was a linguistic revolutionary, but not right off the bat. He wrote one of the most famous publications in linguistics in the past century in 1957, called Syntactic Structures...a piece that really shook things up, but not until a while after it was published. He has become one of the most quoted and most prolific writers in history, surpassed only by the Bible and Shakespeare.
    Posted Apr 23 2006, 12:54 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • "Labov is above all other sociolinguists"

    In addition to teaching our Linguistics Core class, Dr J also teaching an undergraduate class called Language in Culture. Apparently, her students have a difficult time remembering the names and ideas of the various linguists, so she has made up little rhymes to help them out. My personal favorite is the one that I've used for the title of this post..."Labov is above all other sociolinguists." It's so great because it's true! Labov has made a great number of significant contributions to the area of linguistics, and specifically sociolinguistics over the past fifty or more years. His researched defined the subfield of microsociolinguistics, which is basically tracking, identifying, and explaining the distribution of specific linguistic variables in a particular population. Labov is well-known for his studies that involved the role that social status plays in various linguistic phenomena. One of his earlier studies from 1963 involved observing the native population of Martha's Vineyard and analyzing sound patterns changes in their speech. The study was appropriately called "The Social Motivation for Sound Change." The basic idea was that the people of Martha's Vineyard were exceptionally proud of their particular variety of English and aimed to protect it from slowly acculturating towards the starndard English vernacular. Labov later spent several years working on the presence of postvalic 'r' in New York City. One of his most books resulted from these studies in 1966, entitled "The Social Stratification of English in New York City." I wrote a little bit about this article when we covered it in class back at the end of March. You can go back to that post with THIS LINK. One of my favorite contributions that Labov made to the linguistics world was his 1972 paper called The Principles of Linguistic Methodology. It's basically the how-to guide for sociolinguistic studies. It covers so much! A few years later, Labov started his studies of African American Vernacular English...a rather contentious subject at times. He published a pretty amazing work in 1984 that described the use of what he called 'sounding' among African American teenage boys. The "art" features the use customary use of explitives and other cutting remarks in order to establish one's place in the social group. It also suggests that these boys will purposefully use substandard language among their peers to fit into the group. As you can see, the few publications that I've mentioned only span about twenty years. Labov is alive and well and still researching. He also still teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.
    Posted Apr 22 2006, 12:34 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • What happened in 1492?

    I know that the title to this post is a slightly loaded question. Most people know what happened here in the New World back in 1492...Christopher Columbus ended up here thinking that he had landed in India (hence why we incorrectly refer to Native Americans as Indians). Some other very important things happened back in Europe in 1492 though. Back in Spain, where Christopher Columbus left from, there were big things happening that most people are not aware of. In 1492, the Spanish expelled the last of the Moors and also expelled the last of the Jews from the country. Pretty significant events if you ask me. There is still another event that was pretty important, at least in my thinking, because it had to do with linguistics. Before 1492, the only attempts at writing down a grammar were made by philologists studying Latin, Greek, or other classic languages. It was this year that the Nebrija wrote a grammar of the Spanish language. This was a big deal since, in that day and age, many considered any of the vulgates (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) to be corruptions of the Latin language. Consequently, Nebrija's grammar was done on Castillian Spanish, the Spanish spoken today. Castillian Spanish became the choice dialect of the language due to King Ferdinand of Castille. Nebrija opened the door for early linguists to start studying the formal structure of many different languages. So, there you have it, four big things happened in 1492, three of which you probably did not know!
    Posted Apr 21 2006, 07:49 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • A whole lot of attitude

    As I've been going through my materials in order to study for my Linguistics Core final exam, I got a chance to read over the reviews from a lot of lesser-known papers and books on language policy and language planning. One of the readings that I particularly enjoyed was from Sjoberg about the development of standardized orthographies for preliterate societies. For people who aren't familiar with language planning or orthography development, it's not just a matter of giving people an alphabet in which to write down their language. There are a whole bunch of opinions that come into play, and along with them, a lot of attitude. If you think about it, you've got the linguists who are trying to create the orthography, you've got the government or authority group who are sponsoring the work, and then you've got the people who will be speaking the language. Among those three groups, there is the potential for a lot of disagreement about how things will pan out. It doesn't seem that it's ever really clear at the get-go the concerns of which group will win in the end. One of the interesting points from Sjoberg is that a lot of the preliterate cultures out there are very particular about the structure and function of their new alphabet and orthography. One of the most difficult parts for the linguist is finding a practical but accurate orthography to use that also satisfies the government and people. Preliterate people are historically in a disadvantaged position compared to others around the world, mostly in terms of money and political pull. The people of these societies are looking to better their chances at a future, whether that means making more money or simply having enough food. For this reason, they do not want their new writing system to look "strange". Accent marks, glottalized phonemes, nasalized phonemes, and other diacritical marks often receive disapproval due to their absence in dominant world languages like French, Spanish, or English. (Granted, Spanish and French both have accents, but I'm referring to extensive use of accentuation in the orthography.) Many of these preliterate people speak languages that use many different sounds than these dominant world languages, so it begins to be a great challenge to orthography developers to take all these things into consideration. Add to this the challenge or finding usable computer or keyboarding programs that can readily make any "strange" characters that are necessary...or...heaven a price that these people can afford. I know from my personal experience with Senari that getting a computer program to type characters used in the correct orthography has been a difficult task. The program that we use took years to develop and is extremely expensive...not to mention it only works correctly part of the time.
    Posted Apr 21 2006, 02:23 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • My Comparative Method Lightbulb

    By Jove, I think I finally got it! For those of you who don't remember, I was having some issues with working on the comparative method back at the beginning of this past semester in Linguistics Core. It isn't that I'm dense or anything, it's just that Dr J is big into pushing the concepts behind the method, and I missed all that in the two weeks that I was gone to France. In the mean time, we were supposed to write an essay about the comparative method and how it worked, and I didn't exactly write what she wanted...hence my only B+ for the semester. Now that I've sat back down and started studying for the final, I got a chance to really look at what is supposed involved in the comparative method, it all makes so much sense. There are a few main steps to the defined methodology of the comparative method as used in linguistics. Some linguists, both now and in the past, have decided to use lexicostatistics or glottochronology to assist them, but these techniques should be secondary to the original method.

    So when someone wants to look at a bunch of different languages by use of the comparative method, the first important thing to do is to gather an extensive cognate list, preferably one that adequately represents the entire language. Once you have a cognate list, you can construct correspondence sets of the cognates. What really happens is that you break apart the cognates into their consitutuent phonemes and determine in what distribution they occur in different words. Correspondence sets help to track the divergence of languages from the other members of its family. The next thing to determine is what sets of phonems are in complimentary distribution to one another. Basically, this means that you look for what phoneme is represented in the same position, in the same cognate, in every language. For one...take the Romance languages for a sec...and our word three...

    in Spanish....tres, in French...trois, in Portuese...tres, in Italian...tre, and so forth. The /t/ at the beginning of this cognate exists in complimentary distribution among the compared languages. Non-complimentary distribution is a whole other story (hehe). So after we determine the distribution, we can propose the proto-phonemes. If phonemes are in complimentary distribution, it is likely that the proto-phoneme is the same, so for the "three" words, the /t/ at the beginning of the word was likely */t/ in proto-language. Well, we know that Latin was the "proto-romance" language, and it has the phoneme /t/, so that's an easy one to check. It gets much harder. The final step of the comparative method is determining if the different phonemes contrast with one another or if they are allophones. This is way difficult to explain in English, but in some languages, voiced and unvoiced phonemes are actually allophones of one another. Words containing these phonemes may be spelled a certain way, but the sounds change according to their placement in the word of their relationship to other surrounding phonemes.

    I just realized, in trying to explain that, that it is extremely difficult to do without getting into the very specialized linguistics jargon...and I apologize for that. I hope you (2nd person, plural) understand, and please feel free to ask questions.

    Posted Apr 20 2006, 02:41 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • So many things to know

    I don't know if my fellow classmates will agree with me, but we have so much to know for the upcoming final. I know that Dr J said that we would not have to know the ins and outs of the things that we've already written about on our essay exams, but I don't know if I exactly believe that. I have a feeling that, in some way or the another, she might sneak something in. Rather than "play the fool", I'm going to make sure that I can at least reference some of the materials from the five essay exams. I got things started with the studying last night by going through my entire class notebook and making a rough outline of all the concepts that we covered and the interesting tidbits that Dr J adds in that she will want to see on our final. The first two things that I wrote down we those that she mentions all the time but that no one remembers.

    Panini wrote down the Vedas in Sanskrit to preserve them around 500BC because he noticed that the rhyme scheme was changing - and - Sir William Jones started modern linguistics when he wrote a comparison of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit in 1786, starting the comparative method.

    I think I have those two down. There is so much more though. We have to know the basics about phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics, as well as historical linguistics, primate communication, language acquisition, structuralism, generative linguistics, ethnoscience, cognitive anthropology, contributions of archaeology to linguistics, ethnography of communication, gender roles and differentiation in language, sociolinguistics (macro and micro), language planning, language policy, literacy education, and writing systems. Yikes yikes yikes!!! After going through my class notes, I started to go through individual readings and the notes that I had taken on them. I started with my note cards...a failed attempt, although I made it about half way through the semester. I realized that I am more of a "write on something and take notes" kind of person, rather than a "make note cards" person. Note cards have never worked out for me, which actually makes me laugh since I went on a wild goose chase through Paris looking for them in January. I think that if I were to take notes in that fashion, I would rather keep them in a large notebook compilation. Anyways, I finished up the notecards and then starting on the readings from the second half of the semester. I hit ten pages of outline and decided that it was time to go home after nearly five hours studying. I do have a week to get all this together, and I already feel pretty comfortable with the material. I just need to get on learning the publications and dates.

    Posted Apr 19 2006, 12:59 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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