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June 2006 - Posts

  • Pressing forward

    Despite the setback that I am currently experiencing with Google search engine rankings for my blog, I'm going to press forward and keep up on informing everyone what's new in my life concerning linguistics.

    Although today is Friday, and it has been a relatively uneventful and unstressful day at work, the remainder of the evening and most of tomorrow will be devoted to working on the Senari project. As you might remember from my post this past Wednesday, Sidiky dropped off his analysis of the third tale that needs to be put into code for this weekend's meeting. That means that I have tonight and tomorrow before two o'clock in the afternoon to get it done. It's definitely going to be a long in which I will be thankful that Starbucks is right down the street from my house.

    I was just thinking that I don't believe that I ever explained why we are working on all these tales. Of course we are working on the materials for Sidiky's dissertation, but why the necessity of three tales that all tell the same story? The short-ish explaination for this is that we want to explore the discourse structure of the language as told by different people in different situations and for different audiences. The first version of the tale that we explored was one told by Sidiky himself. It is actually a "corrected" version that is not exactly how the tale was told. (I guess that means that we'll be looking at the "raw" version of the text at some point as well.) We used this corrected text as an example of a formal telling of the tale. The second version of the tale was told by another native speaker of Senari, but was recorded at more of a traditional story-telling occasion. The basic information in the tale is the same, but the telling is totally different. It served to be an interesting way to contrast between formal and informal story telling. The third tale, which I will be most knowledgeable about after this evening, is as told by yet another native Senari speaker. I am anxious to find out in what ways this newest version of the tale differs from the first two tellings. Sidiky informed me that he has even more tales that he has been working to transcribe that he recorded on his last trip back to the Ivory Coast over a year ago. I would imagine that with a mere thirty-one days left in Tallahassee, I will not be getting the chance to work very much on these remaining tales. I have to admit that it is really odd to think about having to walk away from the project as it remains incomplete. I hope that Dr Josserand and Sidiky will keep me as involved as is possible even while I'm up in Bloomington working on my own things. I think that it would be a real shame to have worked on this project for over a year and then to just leave it completely to rest. Alas, there are still plenty of things that can be accomplished in the next month. If Sidiky and I continue to press forward, as we have for the last several weeks, completing large portions of our work at each meeting, I'm sure that Dr Josserand will be pleased with the progress that we will have made when she returns from Mexico. I am doing my best to find the time to set aside to work on things related to this project, as I know that Sidiky has a lot on his plate at the moment, and he needs to finish analyzing, finish writing, and then defend his dissertation before the end of the year. It sounds like a lot, but I think that he is well on his way to his goal. Hopefully when he publishes the work, my name will be on it somewhere too!

    Posted Jun 30 2006, 09:25 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • What happened in Google?

    After having had a near record day of readership for my blog on this past Wednesday, I was distraught to receive a phone call on Thursday from my good pal Mike, of Chomp Blog fame, to tell me that something was terribly wrong with our blogs in the search engines. You might have noticed that my blog has been optimized for certain keyword terms so that people who are searching for information regarding linguistics, sociolinguistics, or multilingualism will be able to find my blog in the search engines pretty easily. All the sudden, late on Wednesday night, Google started to dance. A Google dance is a dreaded thing that happens once every six to nine months or so, where all the web pages that are listed in Google move around. It's something that is wholly unpredictable and something that no one has any control over. Google redefines is search engine algorithm that redefines how things are listed and ranked every so often. Sometimes the outcome is good...but sometimes it is not. In addition to this, no one knows if the initial dance will be permanent or if things will rebound back to normal in a few days. In this particular dance, by blog went from being rank consistently on the first page of google for my terms down to the top of page five. As you can imagine, my readership from the past day or so has trailed off and is now about one third of what it might have been. Luckily, my blog has been picked up by blog directories over the past year and they have now been pulled onto the front page of Google, so I'm still represented, but not as well. Mike's Chomp Blog has dropped in the ranking too, and as we say here in Tallahassee...that's no good Chompy!
    Posted Jun 29 2006, 01:59 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Mission accomplished

    Last night was a very productive night regarding the Senari project. Sidiky and I got together out at Dr Josserand's house for our mid-week meeting. I had spend some time last weekend (as you might recall) working on completing the argument structure of the second tale that we have been analyzing. With my work complete, Sidiky was able to edit and make changes to what I had done so that we could make final changes on Tuesday. After a nice traditional friend plaintain and advocado dinner, we sat down to the work. Believe or not, I must be getting pretty good at the argument structure analysis, because there weren't very many big changes that needed to be made. Sidiky caught a few things that I missed, and then we worked together getting through the last few pages of the tale, since I had missed that meeting with him and Dr Josserand and was relying on Dr J's notes rather than my own. We finished everything that needed to be done within just about ninety minutes. I think that is near record time to be getting through the entire argument structure of a tale. Mission accomplished for the night! Since we had both had long days, we decided to call it a night after discussing the plan for this coming Saturday's meeting. Instead of spending the time going through an analysis of the third tale together, Sidiky told me that he had already completed a preliminary version of the analysis. It will be my job to put his analysis into HTML code, as I've done for the first two tales, before this Saturday. That way, we can go through the third tale together and make changes together, just as we did last night.

    Just as we had hoped, now that standards have been set for analysis and argument structure conventions, things are moving along much more quickly now. There are still many more things that need to be accomplished, but luckily there need not be any major delays along the way. Thanks to Dr Josserand's watchful eye during the analysis of the first tale, Sidiky and I ended up very well prepared to take care of these next few analyses on our own.

    As always, Sidiky and my work was dotted with brief asides and discussion about various topics related to the project, as well as other issues that might concern us. We talked for a bit about the history and political situation in the Ivory Coast. I was pleased to find that I remembered a lot of the information that I had read while working on my paper from last fall in Languages in Contact class. Although the paper was about language policy in West Africa, a large portion of the research that went into the paper was learning about how the history in the Ivory Coast (and Benin) has contributed to the current language situation. Sidiky is always eager to suggest future topics for me to explore and to reassure me about the success that I will see in graduate school. He has also let me in on a few things that graduate students can expect to experience that one would not likely realize. I found from his comments that the life of a graduate student in an area like education, humanities, anthroplogy, or other similar disciplines is far different from that of graduate students in the "hard sciences". The moral of the story is that when you are in one of the "soft" sciences, you're working for yourself and mostly by yourself. When you're in the "hard" sciences however, you're working on a large project usually alongside other students, where you work intimately with a professor who is studying exactly what you are. You share in the work and publish together in many cases. I am hesitant to believe that this is the situation in all places, and I'm hoping to be able to develop that more intimate academic relationship with my major professor when I get to Bloomington. At this point, my advisor (who I hope will end up my major professor) will be Dr. Samuel Obeng. Dr. Obeng studies many different things, including linguistic theory, phonetics, discourse, mulitilingualism, language attitudes, minority languages, and language politics in West Africa...all of which I am greatly interested in. I'm so excited to finally meet him and hear what he has to say about my interests and how they relate to his. I can't wait!!!

    Posted Jun 28 2006, 09:24 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Transformational-generative syntax....blech!

    I've officially finished reading my book on the transformational-generative model of syntax, and I have to admit that I was not very impressed. The impression that I got from others was that the material in this particular model was going to be extremely convoluted and confusing, however, the best that I can report about the whole thing is that the descriptions are very long-winded. I'm not saying that the material is very clear or even straight-forward, but I'm not nearly as worried as I was about the material when I first sat down to read. Dr Josserand had suggested that I try to read up on some generative model syntax because my first required class up in Bloomington is going to be syntactical analysis, based on the generative model of course. I am one hundred percent positive that that will not be my favorite class, and I doubt that I will even enjoy it much at all. However, I will do my best to go into the class with a positive outlook, because it can't really be that bad. At this point, I think that my syntax class will be equivalent to how the grad students in the FSU anthropology department feel about the linguistics core class. The thing that I found to be most difficult about learning some generative model syntax was that author did not really do a good job in explaining how the various transformations were different from one another. Without so much as a review paragraph on the different types of transformations, he began offering more complicated examples in which the various types of transformations were done on the same sentences at the same time. There were it-deletions on top of infinitival clause transformations...sheesh! The best part of the book was the introduction to syntactic theory. It just got a little funny when he moved on to transformations. It probably didn't help that this book ended up being my "before-going-to-bed" reading. When you're on your way to falling asleep, deciphering between the deep structure and surface structure of ten sample sentences containing differences of just one word if not an easy thing to do. That was another odd part about the book. Throughout the introduction to syntactic theory, there was no explaination given about surface versus deep structure, how they relate to one another, or even how the tree diagrams that were used were to be read. I mean seriously, the whole book is based on these tree diagrams, and there is no explaination of how to read them.

    I've now moved on to a phonology book in my endless quest to better my linguistic knowledge before starting graduate school. I'm sure this will go much better...ya know...since I actually like phonology.

    Posted Jun 27 2006, 01:07 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Kids blowing bubbles

    It's all over the national news today in the education sections of the papers and websites that children who can blow bubbles and lick their lips are likely to develop their linguistic skills more quickly than children who can not do such things. I have to admit that part of me wants to believe what is being said in this article, since I suppose that it makes sense that if children are exercising their mouths and the other language-making structures, they might have better linguistic dexterity when they do speak. However, that's where I stop seeing the logic. From what I've learned, children learn to vocalize and experiment with SOUNDS when they are learning to speak. They then sort out what sounds they have to be able to make according to the language, and the particular dialect of the language, that will be their native or mother tongue. This is why it is very important to either talk to children or have children around those who are talking (if you're more a fan of the Eastern method of child language acquisition). What good would all this mouth and tongue movement have if we only end up positioning our mouths and tongues a certain way for our particular language? It seems that this is an experiment still in its early stages. How is it that these children end up with stronger language skills than others? Later in the article, the author mentions things like gesturing, playing games, and pretending, as linked to greater linguistic skill. This, I can at least imagine to be true. Such games and skills might equate to higher IQ, intelligence, or common sense, which may then carry over to language skill. For the time being, I plan to take this article with a grain of salt.
    Posted Jun 26 2006, 07:23 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Thoughts while packing up

    Things have really started to hit home about the actuality of beginning my graduate studies now that I've commenced packing up my life into boxes. Being the non-procrastinator that I am, I have packed nearly my entire bedroom, as well as the various closets and shelves around the rest of the house. Getting my roommate to start packing up his things is of course quite a different story. I'm sure that he will continue to pack up until the day we leave Tallahassee. This evening, I began to pack up my books and assorted academic materials into various boxes and came to a point where I had to make a decision. A while back, I decided that it was time to go through all my materials (notes, tests, quizzes, etc.) from undergrad and part with a lot of them. My class notes from biochemistry and old quizzes from physics are not going to do me much good in my linguistics classes up in Bloomington. A few weeks ago, I did a second wave of throwing things away and got rid of everything except my old tests and essays. It was almost as though I wasn't quite ready to leave my old discipline behind. I guess that I should note that I plan to keep some of my materials from my music classes, since my music major was something that I enjoyed doing and didn't ruin my life like biology did. Anyways, last night I sat face to face with the last of my things from undergrad and knew it was time to part with them. I did save essays that I had written and the like, but the remaining tests and quizzes from biology went out with the trash. It was sort of a cathartic and cleansing experience to get all those things out of the house. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of what I accomplished in undergrad with my two majors, but I wish that I had decided to open my eyes to what I really wanted to do in life a little earlier. It would have saved me a lot of grief in the long run.

    For some reason, I'm hesitating packing up all my linguistics books. I finally did pack up all my foreign language materials, which ended up taking three huge boxes. But, my linguistics books are another story. When I walk into my room and see the three large shelves of linguistics books that I have acquired and purchased over the past year, they remind me to keep my eye on the ball and not get stressed about the move. They represent a major accomplishment to me. They remind me of the impossibility that changing my focus seemed to be just a year ago, and how I (with the help and support of others) overcame that impossibility and actually succeeded. I know that graduate school is a long road ahead, but it's a welcome challenge. Knowing that I will be up at Indiana University studying and learning with others who have similar interests as me and getting the best education possible in African linguistics is an exciting thing to me. I can hardly wait to get started.

    I am, however, trying to mentally prepare myself for the potential rude awakening that might occur when I get to Bloomington. There will be so many other talented and passionate people interest in linguistics, many of whom have a lot more experience than I do. Granted, I have been working one on one with two professors and a native speaker for over a year now, and I have taken several graduate linguistics classes, but there are still areas that I will be the first to admit that I am lacking in. A while back, I wrote about how I was used to being the guy in class who actually wanted to do linguistics, rather than the rest of my classmates who were required to be there. I was the "go to" guy for linguistics homework questions and such. Now, I'm going to be the little fish (ghoti) in a big pond. I really think that that fact is a very good thing. Dr Josserand was right (as usual) when she told me last November that although she would love for me to stay and go to graduate school at Florida State and work with her for a few more years, there is really nothing more here for me. The Florida State Anthropology Department is slowly phasing out the linguistics portion of the program and the actual Linguistics Department at the university slowly diminished over the last five or six years. There would be no way to get the training that I'm looking for in linguistics. I am extremely grateful to the faculty at Indiana University for giving me the opportunity to join them this fall. Hopefully I'll progress from a little fish to a big fish over time.
    Posted Jun 25 2006, 03:26 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Surprise, there's unexpected work to do

    In a bizarre twist of linguistic luck, I found out today that I had some unexpected work that I had to take care of before tomorrow. I decided this past week to do Sidiky a favor and stay out at the Josserand/Hopkins residence to give him a temporary reprieve from housesitting for a few days. I came out to the house on Friday evening after work and brought all my materials with me, thinking that I would get a lot of work on the phonology project done during the day on Saturday and then on Sunday morning before our scheduled meeting. At around 11:30am on Saturday, there was an unexpected knock on the door as Sidiky walked into the house. I was just started to get my materials together to do work. As we were chitchatting, Sidiky asked about our plan for tomorrow, something that I hadn't really thought much about. I had thought that starting analysis on the third tale was what was on the agenda. Sidiky had another goal in mind. He asked if I had completed posting the argument structure analysis on the internet. Uhh....I really didn't realize that that was on my list of things to do, so my answer was obviously "no". I decided that for the better good of the overall project, it would be in my best interest to put my personal project aside (again) and spend the afternoon working on the second tale. And thus, that's what I did. Luckily, the marathon of the second season of Project Runway was on Bravo all day long to keep me company. I sat with my laptop and the second tale and spent about five hours coding the argument structure of the second tale into HTML. Although I felt like a zombie when I finished, the important part was that I finished. I called Sidiky to let him know that I was done and that he could look at it before tomorrow and to give him the opportunity to look it over and make comments. I thankfully finished that work before it got too late, so I'll have a chance to get some work done on my project before the meeting tomorrow. On my list of things to do is go back through and re-listen to the elicitation tape and concentrate on what is happening to the initial and final parts of each word. We'll see if that happens...
    Posted Jun 24 2006, 11:53 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Linguistics in the News - Dialect differences in English

    I figured that since my post from earlier today was basically a rant about what I find to be bad reporting on what's going on in the world of linguistics, I thought that I would continue my search for another story in the New York Times that represents what I personally consider to be a great story. I found an article from St. Patrick's Day of this year by Tim Sultan about the sounds differences resulting from different dialects that one finds when traveling from New York City up to central New York and then down to Pittsburgh and back. The article was informative, entertaining, and obviously back up my linguistic research and discussion, as seen from the author's correspondance with Professor William Labov from the University of Pennsylvania. Anyone who knows anything about linguistics know that "Labov is above all other linguists" (thanks Dr Josserand, I'll never forget that one!). William Labov is famous for his dialect studies of the eastern United States, and in particular his study of dialectival differences in New York City. He also is well known for one of his earlier works on the dialect of English spoken by natives of Martha's Vineyard. Mr. Sultan consulted with Professor Labov about his publication The Atlas of North American English. This article explains how Sultan traveled around in an attempt to witness the dialectival changes that occur from place to place in New York and Pennsylvania. He gives amusing commentary on what he heard that shows up as interesting interpretations of speech events by a non-linguist. I found this article particularly interesting, having been born and raised in central New York and knowing fully well the crazy accent that he speaks of during much of the article. I did not however realize until reading this article what the dialect was actually called (Inland North English) and that it is a relative to the English spoken in Chicago. I've always been thankful that my "Syracuse" accent does not rear it's ugly head very often. I was a singer and in drama, so one my teacher's main concerns was that we did not have the "Syracuse 'a'". My roommate Michael, on the other hand, has the full blown Buffalo accent....often asking his customers at the grocery store, "Do you want a payper or playstic baygs?" My accent is never completely gone though, as I've noticed. When I get upset or start talking quickly, I tend to slip back into my regional vernacular, rather than the more standard English that usually have. Listening to my family from back home talk is also an amusing time for me. My cousin Dana and future sister-in-law Stacy particularly make me laugh when I hear them gabbing back and forth. The article closes with some interesting commentary on Pittsburghese, an odder dialect of English that tends to be unintelligible to some people. I know that there are professors at the University of Pittsburgh who have devoted their professional lives studying this bizarre dialect of English. Having never been to Pittsburgh, I can't really comment much about the dialect, but I've heard much about their unique "yins" versus the "ya'lls" found down here in Tallahassee.

    I guess that's really all I have to say about the article. Thank you Tim Sultan for a great article! I hope that all the people who had a chance to read the article enjoyed it as much as I did.

    If you'd like to read the whole article, here's a link:

    Tim Sultan's article

    Posted Jun 23 2006, 09:26 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Linguistics in the News - Teaching Irish in the US

    I found an article recently in the New York Times that talks about the increasing success of Irish language revitalization and its transfer to the study of Irish in United States universities. Although the article highlights a positive observation about the revitalization of interest and skills in a formerly moribund language, it also plays to readers who might think that revitalization is a joke by including inserted rhetorical comments about the program. For example:

    "Still, a language that has few practical applications besides deciphering road signs in Connemara and reading old Irish literature is a less obvious choice."

    Thanks a bunch Brian Lavery of the New York Times. I'll bet that all the Irish people out there really appreciate that you reduced their culture and language down to deciphering roadsigns....because you have any clue about the situation anyways, right? If you knew anything about the Irish language, you wouldn't be referring to it simply as Gaelic. There are several Gaelic languages, Scots Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, and Manx. A simple Google search would have provided such information. And here's a newsflash for you, the Irish people prefer that their language is called Irish...not Gaelic.

    Focusing on the positive part of the article for a moment...there are now 51 universities around the world that teach Irish, and 29 of them are in the United States. The Fullbright Association is now even offering students the opportunity to travel overseas to learn and/or teach Irish.

    How about another lovely quote from the article? Allright...

    "Irish-language schools and an Irish-language television station are booming in popularity, despite Gaelic's seemingly unpronounceable strings of consonants."

    Hmmm....have you ever read or spoken English Mr. Lavery? More often than not, English words are not pronounced even remotely close to what they look like in the standard orthography. Moreover, have you ever heard of the hundreds of languages around the world that are unwritten. I'll bet it doesn't matter to the people who speak those languages whether or not they contain "seemingly unpronounceable strings of consonants". Maybe try to do a little bit of research about what you're writing about next time instead of just writing some slop for the hell of it.

    Posted Jun 23 2006, 01:29 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • A giant hurdle cleared

    After a few rescheduling issues, Sidiky and I finally met yesterday evening to get some work done. The plan for the evening was to finish up any corrections to be made to the argument structure analysis and to tie up any loose ends about terminology that we are using in the project, as well as standards for abbreviations and notation. We had started working on the argument structure corrections this past weekend, and at quitting time, my assigned job was to go through the text before the next meeting and apply all the "early" corrections to the second half of the analysis. I took care of that assignment on Monday evening, and it paid off well for Wednesday's meeting. Sidiky had also gone through the second half of the text and caught the mistakes that he wanted to address. We started working around eight pm and sailed through what we needed to do with just a few relatively small bumps along the way. Unlike Dr Josserand, I am not really that good at arguing things with Sidiky. Dr J has decades of experience with other languages on her side, but all I really can do is voice my opinion or dissent. If Sidiky argues back, how can I argue with a native speaker? The meeting was an exhausting one for me, because I had to sit there in front of a computer screen writing and correcting code...something that I do for at least eight hours a day already. Luckily, I was treated to a delicious dinner of fried plaintains and salad from Sidiky (with mango for dessert) before we got started. We decided after we had finished with our argument structure analysis of the first text, that we would begin on the argument structure analysis of the second one this coming weekend. I imagine that since the standards of analysis and abbreviations are now set, that we will move very quickly through the next text. We also have two more complete texts to go through and analyze. Uh yeah...did I mention that I'm supposed to be working on a phonology project and packing up my life to move to Bloomington as well?! Yikes!!! Even though there is a lot more work to be done, the fact that we completed the argument structure analysis of Sidiky's first text was like clearing a giant hurdle. There will still be plenty of analysis work left for the text, but I doubt that I will actually be around long enough to do any of it. One of the big things coming up is to analyze the text to account for all the things included in the famous SPEAKING model of Dell Hymes. (I think that Dr Hopkins, some years ago, re-worked SPEAKING to be GEPS KA NI to group common things together.) SPEAKING stands for Setting and Scene, Participants, Ends, Act Sequence, Key, Instrumentalities, Norms, and Genre. I believe that this was written about in Hyme's book Foundations in Sociolinguistics and had played a role in establishing the consideration to be made in ethnopoetic analysis. Another great Hymes book to check out if you have the chance is In Vain I tried to tell you, which defined the method of ethnopoetic analysis that many individuals working on discourse of folk tales and such use for their work.
    Posted Jun 22 2006, 01:12 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Linguistics in the News - Tribal Colleges for American Indians

    Could it possibly be??? Linguistics has made it to the national news for two days in a row. The article that I happened to find today as I was looking through focuses on the subject that is near and dear to my heart...language revitalization. Truth be told, I really don't know much about the programs and groups that are working to revitalize Native American languages, but I think the message that is found in this particular article is one that anyone can identify with. The article tells mainly about one man who has been wanting to have the chance to go to college to pursue a degree but has not had the ability to do so because of having a job and a family. The man from Oklahoma has been interested in learning how to teach Native American languages so that he can become a teacher and continue the revitalization process with the next generation of students. Until recently, there has not been much opportunity for individuals to learn such skills. I believe that the article cites that up until the 1970s there was no program that offered such coursework that focused on the linguistics of Native American languages. There are now over 40 programs that offer these opportunities in the United States and Canada in 2006. Many of these programs are found in tribal colleges, where the majority of the student body are people who have family and are in the work force and are looking to head back to school to expand their knowledge and potential for their future. Due to the fact that there are many Native American languages that have been poorly recorded, and even some that remain unwritten, the increased focus on Native American linguistics is doing a great deal for the entire process of revitalization. The article does highlight the uncertain future of these programs as well as the difficulties that tribal colleges have faced along the way. It appears to come down to the classic tripartite problem found in cases of language policy and language planning, that consequently can be applied to other areas of study. It is necessary for the government, the planners, and the people to work together in order for programs such as these tribal colleges to work. The article mentions that some members of the reservations where these tribal colleges are located are not even sure why they are needed. Some people appear to be uninterested in revisiting are preserving their cultural and linguistic heritage, but rather to assimilate themselves further into mainstream American (and English) culture. This is a major blow to the success of such programs. If the people for whom the program is intended are not interested in perpetuating its success, it will die a slow death. There is also the problem of government funding. The United States government, in particular, has historically been very stingy with any money devoted to Native American interests, and as such, these tribal colleges must use the revenue gained from gambling proceeds, etc. to fund the programs. The third part of this is finding properly trained linguists or anthropologists who are ready and willing to take on the difficult task of revitalization. Of course, I can only speak from the standpoint of a linguist, but when you know you're going into a situation with some of the intended people uninterested and also an unsupportive government, it is difficult to make the decision to immerse yourself fully in such a situation. As with most academic endeavors, it turns into a true labor of love.
    Posted Jun 21 2006, 01:12 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Linguistics in the News - Trouble for Arabic Linguists

    I found a very interesting article today in Newsweek about the problems that Arabic-speaking linguists are having when applying for jobs today. You may recall a post that I wrote a few months ago that highlighted an article stated how the United States government was in dire need of individuals skilled in foreign languages and linguistics from the Middle East and South Asia. By visiting an of the US government agencies that hire translators and the like, one can attest that this need is very real. Today's article talks about an extremely skilled native speaker of Arabic who has applied all over the place with the US government and other agencies involved in the wars overseas and has passed interviews with flying colors but has run into a different kind of problem. This particular gentleman is having difficulty in passing the security clearance to get a job at any of the US intelligence agencies. It is not because he has a marred past or is connected to any kind of terrorist activity, but it is because he still has family in the Middle East. Every since the tragedy of 9/11 and the continuation of threats to the nation's security by terrorists, the government has stacked up security clearance odds against people, namely linguists, who grew up in the Middle East or South Asia and learned the languages of the area with native fluency. Often times, these people, if interested in language and linguistics, travel to the United States to further their skills. The man that I've been speaking of in this article got a degree in Middle East and Islamic Studies here in the US. I suppose that it is refereshing that the US government, for once, is being too cautious rather than too lenient on its security policies. It has appeared that we don't learn about the lapses in our nation's security until the security has been breached in one way or another. It seems that one of the main things that these increased security measures are negatively affecting is the ability for skilled linguists and other workers skilled in such areas to get jobs here in the US. This is sort of a catch 22, since the US intelligence agencies want individuals with native speaking abilities but won't hire them.
    Posted Jun 20 2006, 01:30 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Linguistics can bring people together

    I know that you're not going to believe it, but linguistics really can bring people together, as I found out in an unexpected way today. One of my best friends when I was in college was a fellow saxophone player named Scott Howard. For several years, Scott and I were pretty much attached at the hip due to the rigorous practice schedule expected in the saxophone. It's always a lot easier to practice up to five hours a day when you have a practice buddy. We were also in two ensembles together, so those rehearsal times were also spent in the proximity of one another. Long story short, Scott was a music education major, and eventually had to leave town to do his internship. We fell out of touch, and didn't speak for at least a year. One day as I was walking up my stairs, I happened to glance at a collage of pictures that I had nearly forgotten was there and saw a picture of Scott and others from a trip we all took to Epcot a few years back. I was instantly determined to find him and see what he's up to. Well, it took some researching, but I finally found his sister, who then provided me with Scott's new cell phone number. I talked to him briefly around Thanksgiving time of last year, in the midst of me going crazy doing research for my up and coming paper on Language Policy and Planning in West Africa. Scott explained that he and his wife (he's married!!!) had recently moved and he gave me their new number. In the piles of sociolinguistics journal articles and linguistics and history books, I wrote the number down thinking fully well that I would be able to find it. I also put it in my cell phone. Somewhere around Christmas time, my phone SIM card decided to die. I lost the number...but where had I written it down? When I wrote my paper for Language in Contact class, I ended up with nearly one hundred sources. Things got busy again with the holiday, a friend's wedding to sing at, a trip to Europe for two weeks, and graduate school applications, and I forgot that I needed to look for Scott's number.

    Well, this week as I had begun to pack, I started going through old piles of paper, and one happened to fall out on the floor. When I leaned over to pick it up, I realized that there was a Naples, Florida phone number on it! I had found Scott's number! I immediately called him to chat and apologize for not returning his call six months ago. We talked for quite a bit like nothing much had changed. I told him all about finally leaving Tallahassee and heading up to start my graduate work in Bloomington. I tried to explain to him about how I had received a fellowship to study an African language and that I would be doing linguistics full time. He was very excited for me, and then the conversation turned to our old saxophone days. I promised to send copies of some of the old compact discs that have us on them. All in all, it was great to hear from Scott and to hear what he's been up to. One of these days, I hope I'll get the chance to head down to Naples and visit him and his wife Janet in their new home.

    Posted Jun 19 2006, 01:09 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • A mixed agenda

    I met Sidiky out at the Josserand/Hopkins residence this afternoon, where he has been housesitting while the profs are in Mexico. We knew that there was a lot of work to get done, since it had been just over a week since the last time we met. Our mid-week meeting did not happen due to a conflict that I had with work, and then Saturday was a wash as well. I had the opportunity to sit down this morning before the meeting to finish up transcribing the vocabulary list. With that completed, I went back through the list of over one hundred words and made an inventory of the sounds that I had recorded. I ended up with a list of most of the consonants that I had expected, as well as a massive list of vowels. It's not that there were a bunch of strange vowels, but rather voiced, devoiced, lengthened, and nasalized forms of most of the vowels in the language. Knowing that I didn't have the time to proceed, I just threw my work in my bag and brought it along to see if we would even get to it.

    Sidiky and I started out by addressing the changes in the argument structure that we were assigned to review and update. Sidiky had gone through the first half of the first tale and caught some things that he wanted to change. My job, on the other hand, was to correct notational things and to make sure all of our symbols and abbreviations were consistent throughout the entire tale. As with the original analysis, the first time through is always the toughest. When we were first analyzing Sidiky's tale, it took us a long time to figure out exactly what we were doing and how we were going to account for things. By the time that we had finished the first tale, we were already set to start on the second. We completed the analysis of the second tale in just about two weeks. I imagine that this will be the same idea for the argument structure analysis. We have struggled through getting everything exactly as we would like it to be. In all honesty, the majority of the changes being made are those of notation. We have had to decide on a consistent way to identify syntactic structures, and the decisions made at this step will have to carry through later analysis, as well as the whole of Sidiky's dissertation. I'm sure that once we have this first argument structure analysis all said and done, the second and others will be plenty easier. We went through the first half of the tale and made Sidiky's corrections, and all the while, I was scrambling to re-identify pronouns and deictic markers, among other things. My job before the next meeting will be to go through the text and analysis with a fine toothed comb and catch all the "little things" that need to be changed.

    After we had finished talking argument structure, we spoke for a bit about the phonological analysis project. I didn't have too many questions to ask Sidiky right off the bat. Many of the questions that I have up to this point are more things for Dr Josserand and Dr Hopkins about the best ways to proceed with the data that I have or what types of things need to be repeated or collected. I have an idea of where I need to go to make more progress, and that is precisely what Sidiky spent our time talking about. We discussed other research about phonology that involves other dialects of the Senari and what I can actually do to expand the project in different directions. As far as I'm concerned, I need to go back through the list a second time and re-transcribe and listen more closely. Now that I have a run at transcribing under my belt, I can become a more critical listener. I also feel like I have a better grasp of the tones of the language, and that is something that I will have to pay more attention to this second time around. My second time through the tape, I will listen for the beginning and ends of the words to find out exactly what is happening there. The ends of the words will create a particular difficulty I'm sure. As we all know, the ends of words have the potential to change significantly depending on whether or not they are followed by another word...and even then it makes a big deal whether that following word starts with a vowel or consonant. I hope to be able to address some of the rules in the mean time, and compile a list of minimal pair questions to ask Sidiky. This will not likely happen before our Tuesday meeting, but I should have it ready by next weekend. Stay tuned for more updates!

    Posted Jun 18 2006, 01:32 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Working amongst the clutter

    Today marked the first day of the pre-moving purging/cleaning/organizing that will get us ready to make the move up to Bloomington in just over a month. I had fully intended to get up this morning and get working on transcribing the rest of the words off of the elicitation tape. I had spent quite a while working on transcribing earlier in the week, but still had about thirty words to go. I received a phone call from Sidiky around noon, informing me that he and I would not be getting together to work this afternoon, so in my mind, that gave me full license to put off working a little bit and get started on moving preparations. I didn't intend to spend all day on getting things going, but I did end up spending the majority of the afternoon doing various things. I tore apart the entertainment center, rearranged the furniture to have places for boxes, packed up all the VCR tapes and DVDs, and cleaned out the front closet and utility closet. Between my roommate and I, we also amassed seven bags of clothes to take to the Tallahassee Refuge House, as well as two old desktop computers, jackets, shoes, and some old fans. When I would need a break from the heat and the clutter, I would take a few moments and sit down to read. I had my phonetics books and my syntax book handy on the table, so all I had to do was clear a spot on the couch and relax for a bit. Although I didn't get a lot of linguistics work done during the day, I did get a lot of other things accomplished that needed to be done. After the day of organizing and throwing things away had completed, I did sit down for a while before going to bed and do some transcription. I think that it's a lot easier for me to get into the mindset to do linguistics "homework" at night since that's when I've been doing that type of work over the past year. I finally talked to Sidiky in the evening, and we set up a meeting time for Sunday, so knowing that I would be spending several hours doing linguistics work then made me feel less guilty about not getting a lot done today.
    Posted Jun 17 2006, 01:22 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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