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July 2006 - Posts

  • So long Tallahassee!

    The day is finally here, and I'm leaving Tallahassee for good! Looking back, the day definitely did not go as I had planned, but things turned out well in the end. The day began with Mike C. picking me up to get the moving truck, and when we arrived, we learned that we would not be getting the ten foot truck that we had reserved. The Budget man nonchalantly told me that they had no ten foot trucks available but that we would be getting a sixteen foot truck instead. Having just begun to worry that we weren't going to have enough room in the truck, I gladly accepted the sixteen footer. The truck was nearly new and only had nine thousands miles on it. We got it back to the apartment and between Mike, Michael, Marty, and myself (wow, all M's), we packed the truck up in less than two hours. Jamie called to suggest that we all get lunch one last time, so after cleaning up and stopping by work one last time to say goodbye, we headed up to one of our favorite lunch places, Gill's Tavern, and met the crew for some food. I had been having mixed thoughts about what would be the best time to leave Tallahassee. I knew for a fact that I was not too thrilled about driving through the middle of nowhere in Alabama during the middle of the night. I told Michael that I was going to leave early, but I wasn't sure when. Well, early turned into about 2:30 pm. I thought that it would be best to leave when I wasn't tired and drive along and take my time. I got on the road and it was smooth going (although very very hot) up until I got past Birmingham, Alabama. For those of you who have never traveled through Alabama, it sucks...plain and simple. The state is so tall...it takes nearly five hours to make it all the way through. I stopped in Birmingham for gas and then headed on through two hours of nothing until passing into Tennessee. Thank the lord that Tennessee is a flat state, because by the time I hit Nashville, I got my second wind and was ready to press on. By the time I got through Tennessee, it was pitch black out and the roads were very twisty. By the time I made it the next three hours to Louisville, the fatigue of the trip was starting to set in. I had traveled for about 10 hours at that point, and I debated calling it a night and starting fresh in the morning. I saw the lights of Louisville and thought that crossing the Ohio River and heading into Indiana wouldn't be so bad. Well, no one ever told me that the sixty-eight miles that I would be driving into Indiana on a two-lane highway would be a boring and drab drive...especially so late at night. There is literally nothing to see. I think I counted down every single mile until I arrived at my exit at Columbus, IN. I saw the sign that said 38 more miles until Bloomington, and made the decision that there was no way that I was going to drive another hour on back roads at that point. I got a hotel room to sleep for a few hours and then got up to take the last short leg of the trip to Bloomington. Read about the rest in my next post.
    Posted Jul 31 2006, 03:01 PM by christophergreen with 1 comment(s)
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  • Linguistics in the News - The Persian Language Academy

    I apologize for the back-tracked blog entries from the period when I was in the process of moving from Tallahassee to Bloomington. Since I didn't have too many linguistics-related things happening in that time period, I thought that it would be a good idea to go back and add some posts under my Linguistics in the News heading. I happened to find a short article through the New York Times website that caught my eye. The article explains how the government of Iran has formed a Persian Language Academy in order to protect their language from infiltrations and borrowing from other languages, especially those from Western countries. Having such an academy is of course not an unfamiliar thing in many countries around the globe. Perhaps the most famous language academy is the Academie Francaise in France. I've spoken about this academy once or twice in the past when I was in linguistics core class this past Spring semester at FSU. The Academie Francaise was formed to enforce the language policy of France as outlined in the Ordannace de Villers-Cotteret from the sixteenth century, that said that the official language of France would be the French spoken in the Ile-de-France...so basically Parisian French. When other borrowings enter the language, mainly Anglicisms, the Academie is charged with coming up with a suitable French word to replace them. So too will the Persian Academy, or Farhangestan Zaban e Farsi, do the same thing for the Farsi language. There apparently are going to be some leniencies included for Arabic words, since the Quran is written in Arabic. Several other countries, including Spain and Italy also have language academies. It is interesting to note that no English-speaking country has developed a language academy to protect the English language. The article was a short one but an important one that tells us that other countries outside of Europe are becoming concerned with the enroachment of global English and are aiming to protect and maintain the integrity of their language through establishment of an academy. There is no doubt that speakers will still insert borrowings into the language, but formation of an academy can still have many worthwhile purposes.
    Posted Jul 30 2006, 07:31 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Linguistics in the News - New York English Tests

    No child left behind has struck again folks...this time the victims are students in the New York school systems who are in the third through eighth grades who need to take their yearly Language Arts test. Thanks to the statutes laid out by the federal government, children will now be required to take the English version of the languages arts proficiency test, so long as they have lived in the United States for at least one year. They will be allowed to continue taking other exams, such as history, mathematics, and science, in their respective foreign languages. This push will clearly make the lives of these students, who are likely struggling anyway, a lot more difficult. It appears that it would be more beneficial to ease these students into English testing by using more scientific or mathematical-based subject matter. Giving a language arts proficiency test in a foreign language after just a single year of language immersion seems like it would be a huge and overwhelming step. Again, let me make sure that you all know that I support the learning of English for immigrants to the United States, just as I would support learning French for American students who move to France or another French-speaking nation. Having skills in the language, or languages, spoken in the place where you live is a great benefit and can increase quality of life in many cases. However, I don't feel that having proficiency in this new language should be a requirement or should be forced upon non-native speakers. How is this different than the governments in Africa...in the Ivory Coast for example...that are forcing French education upon non-native speakers when there is little if any opportunity for them to become proficient or even to read one of the 89 native languages from that country?
    Posted Jul 29 2006, 04:28 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Linguistics in the News - Baby Sign Language

    Today is yet another day where I have found linguistics information making its way to the national news level. This time the article comes to us from MSNBC News and involves a rising fad among parents and other caregivers in California to use sign language to communicate with babies before they develop the ability to speak. I great this article, as I do with many others that promise amazing results before studies can be completed, with a fair bit of skepticism. I actually respect this article more than the one about arts and literacy from yesterday because the author of the piece addresses the skepticism that many people, both parents and scholars, have about this new fad. I gladly recognize the amazing invention that was American Sign Language, and I think that it is a remarkable tool that has continued to grow and develop, therefore allowing those deaf individuals among us to actively and adequately communicate with us and with one another. So what is it about this sign language fad that just doesn't add up? Judging from what was reporting in the article, the first thing that turns me off to the idea is how proponents of the new practice begin by promising increases in cognitive thinking, quicker language acquisition, and increase IQ for children who learn to use sign language in their infancy. From what it appears, these studies have not been carried out long enough to show any concrete results or conclusions about any one of these outcomes, save having quicker language acquisition. I guess my skepticism lies in the fact that these people are trying to get their infants to communicate with sign language, when we all know perfectly well that children of this age can rarely sit still. It's a case of the parents wanting to think that their children are comunicate with them. Even when children begin to speak, family members and parents often think that the child is communicating effectively as they attempt to translate goo goos and ga gas and the like coming from the baby as they continue to develop their ability to speak. Anyone taking a few moments to read a beginning language acquisition book would discover that these sounds being emitted from the child are his or her attempt to imitate the sounds heard and match them. This is much of the way that we all end up speaking with a similar accent as our parents or caregivers. We are rewarded for making correct sounds, and these sounds therefore turn into those that will be later used to create words. Therefore, it seems perfectly logical that an infant can begin to learn Sign Language much they way they learn to speak, however, it seems highly unlikely that these children will be able to communicate effectively in this language any more or any sooner than they would be able to speak. It's all just a fad...if you've got money to throw away, take your baby to sign language class so he or she can "tell you" when to change the diaper, rather than you picking him up to take a look like other parents have been doing for centuries.
    Posted Jul 28 2006, 02:22 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Linguistics in the News - Arts and Literacy

    OK, I don't mean to be whatever, but I read an article this morning and causes me to be a little bit skeptical about this new study linking success in visual arts to success in literacy. The study is sponsored by the people up in New York City who are involved with the Guggenheim Museum. (On a side note, I went to the Guggenheim last time I was in New York...not as good as I had expected) So apparently this study exposes children to art, by having art explained to them, by making art, and by seeing art. Then, the children are subjected to a bunch of testing to see how the exposure to visual art

    affects their cognitive thinking, reasoning, and a whole bunch of other literacy-related items. The article that I read, posted at the New York Times website, boasts how these studies show such wonderful results about the benefits of visual arts for literacy. However (comma) one of the main areas where researchers can not find significant improvement as a result of exposure to visual arts is in the actual language arts portion of the tests. So, allow me to say, "hold up a minute...". How can you champion a series of test and research that are supposed to celebrate a purported link between visual arts and literacy when the language arts portion of the test does not show any significant improvement? The geniuses who conducted these test suggest that it is because the language arts portion of the test actually required the children to read and write...rather than the other portions of the test (i.e. cognitive thinking, etc.) that were given in an oral interview format. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let us define literacy.

    literacy: n: the ability to read and write [ ant: illiteracy ]

    (thanks dictionary.com!!)

    Ok, so now we know that literacy is the ability to read write, but these children show no significant improvement in reading and writing. Therefore, I'm confused why this article was titled in the way that it was. It could have just as easily said something about how visual art education helps children to think and problem solve, so why the round about crap that fakes progress in literacy. Ah yes...the No Child Left Behind Act...that's why. This study about arts and literacy arose in the wake of possible federal enforcement of No Child Left Behind, which basically reinforces mathematics, science, and reading, while shifting focus (and money) away from arts, music, and sports. The people supporting visual arts needed a sticking point. By attaching art to literacy, that puts them in line with reading, and therefore with No Child Left Behind. Having been in the arts myself...band, theater, choir, orchestra, winterguard, marching band, etc, etc, etc...I am in full support of keeping arts, music, and sports funded, but doing in a way that falsifies what is truly behind these disciplines is not something I think is smart. The arts, music, and sports are what they are. Yes, exposure to visual arts help student to think creatively and solve problems. So what if they don't help students read and write...it's not the end of the world, right?

    The real problem lies in the fact that the government is cutting funding to these vital programs, which therefore causes researchers to scramble for their ways back into the proverbial pork barrel. Thanks again W...

    Posted Jul 27 2006, 01:27 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Linguistics coming soon

    I really have to apologize about my blog over the past few weeks. As things have begun to wind down here in Tallahassee, I have had far less time to devote to my linguistics work. I'm sure you can imagine that it's very difficult to sit down and have an uncluttered and quiet place to work when you're in the midst of packing up an apartment in order to move across the country. I've been doing my best to keep things up to date about my meetings with Sidiky and also my "linguistics in the news" posts, but besides that, it has just been a few things here and there about linguistics things that I encounter on any given day or even something that I might catch in a book when I have an unstressed minute or two to sit down and read. Life will surely pick up once we land in Bloomington and I have new things to report about. I just think about the amount of things that I had to talk about when I was just taking one linguistics class, and now I can't even imagine what I'll have to talk about while I'm taking four of them! Maybe I'll have to up my posts to two a day. I'm sure that I'll be sharing my impressions of Bloomington and Indiana University, as well as my initial thoughts about graduate school. There will be so many new people to meet and things to learn, so there will be fresh names and ideas finding their way in my blog posts. It will be an interesting transition to go from something like the linguistics core class here at FSU, to semester-long classes that are specifically geared toward a particular topic that we spent maybe only one day on in core class. My level of learning and understanding about these particular topics will likely increase by leaps and bounds. I plan to go into each of my classes with an open mind, although the idea of have a full semester of class on the transformational-generative model of syntax is not exactly my cup of tea. My excitement about my phonological analysis class overshadows any wariness that I might feel about syntactic analysis. My first class of my graduate school experience will be my Bambara class...something that I'm very excited about. I have Bambara four times a week, which is double all my other classes. Any of you who know me, know that having a language class more times than anything else is just fine. My fourth class remains up in the air. I need to sign up for advising when I get up to Bloomington to see exactly what my professors want me to take. I don't know if I should take something general, like field linguistics, or if I need to take something geared specifically for my intended program, like a seminar in African studies. I guess I really won't know for a couple more weeks, as advising doesn't begin until the week of the 21st in the linguistics department. I hope that I'll have a few weeks to relax and read up on any last minute things that I need to know. Somewhere in between moving to Bloomington and getting back for advising, I'll be taking a leisurely (I hope) trip up to New York to see my family again. Once I'm back and advised, it's just a few days until linguistics orientation on the 25th and then classes on the 28th! I think I'll just be having one class on Monday and Wednesday and my other three on Tuesday and Thursday. No classes on Fridays for me!!!
    Posted Jul 26 2006, 01:30 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Final Meeting

    This evening will mark my final meeting with Sidiky on our Senari project. I feel terribly leaving Sidiky at this point, now that Dr Josserand has passed away. Sidiky has worked so diligently on this project, and I hope that no more problems arise as he attempts to finish and defend his dissertation this coming fall semester. Even in the midst of the terrible news about Dr Josserand, Sidiky and I did our best to press forward and continue to work, knowing fully well that Dr Josserand would not have wanted it any different. I think that Sidiky and I feel a little scared about being kicked from the next so prematurely. We both know that we have received great training from Dr Josserand, but I don't think that either of us were mentally ready to be on our own. I hope that Dr Hopkins will be able to assist and guide Sidiky over the next several months however he can, and I will do whatever I can to help with editing and proofing while I'm up doing my own things in Bloomington. Tonight will be our first and only meeting together since we learned about Dr Josserand, and I have a feeling that it will be a productive yet somber occassion. It's an odd feeling to realize that you have suddenly become part of an academic legacy. In one way or another, all the linguists are interconnected, as mentors train their students, who in turn end up with students of their own. I won't soon forget what I learned from Dr Josserand, and I hope that someday my students understand why it's necessary to give them 'tough love'...it will only make them stronger and smarter in the future.
    Posted Jul 25 2006, 01:46 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language in the News - More Medical Interpretors

    Every so often, I find an article in the newspaper or online that is devoted to expressing the need for more medical interpretors and translators to the general population. I recall writing a post several months ago about an article that was advertising specialized training courses for individuals interested in learning how to be a medical interpretor. Most Americans might not realize what a problem the need for interpretors in hospitals and clinics has become. I'm sure many in the United States think that every out there speaks English (or should speak English) at least well enough to get medical attention. The truth, however, is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who do not speak English well enough to do so. The need for medical interpretors manifests itself differently, in various regions and in particular cities across the country. One can imagine that in states along the Mexico border and along the gulf coast have an increased need for Spanish-speaking interpretors, but what about the rest of the country? States along the Pacific rim have a large need for interpretors who speak various Eastern Asian languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Japanese, and Cambodian. Some Southwestern US states have a high need for Navajo speakers. Did you know that Boston, Massachusetts has an extremely high demand for Portuguese interpretors? Florida's demand for speakers of Haitian Creole has also increased dramatically over the past decade. Although it was not included in the article, we could draw a conclusion that some northern European language speakers are needed in the midwest and northern US. I know for a fact that hospitals in Syracuse, NY, where my mother works, have a growing need for speakers of Laotian. This country is full of immigrants (both legal and illegal) from countries all over the world. I will be the first to agree that staffing hospitals with medcial translators that speak the language of anyone who might walk in the door is a ridiculous venture, but I do think that cities that contain large numbers of certain ethnicities should do their part to get at least a few medical interpretors for these languages. If you happen to be bilingual or mulitilingual in English and one or more other languages, you can find out more about becoming a medical interpretor or translator simply by calling your local hospital. Training is available in many instances for those who are interested. It might just be a good way to make a little extra money as well.
    Posted Jul 24 2006, 01:27 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • My sneaky friends

    Well, well, well....my sneaky friends Mike and Jamie sure got the best of me and Michael last night. After treating us to a delicious dinner at our local Carrabba's as our "last supper", we headed back hope to what Michael and I thought was an evening of revelry and rabble-rousing, coupled with booze and Hoopla (one of our favorite board games). We stopped back and our apartment to survey the damage and the amount of stuff still needing to be packed, grabbed the brownies that Mike had requested that I make, and got back in the car to drive around the lake to Mike's house. We entered Mike's apartment, and upon my exclaimation of how amazingly clean the living was, about twenty of my and Michael's closest friends jumped out from out of Mike's kitchen and screamed "SURPRISE!!!". Well, Michael and I were extremely confused at first, but then realized exactly what was going on. Everyone was there!!! (minus Marty, who has been vacationing at his parent's place in South Florida) Ricky and Tami, T-Chris and Amy, Amanda and Sarah, Carlos and Jared, Jenny and Matt, Heather and Jimmy, Kevin and Nina, Bradley Alan, and even Miss Gabriela Mendezibal (who I've known since freshman year!). It couldn't have been more perfect! There were tons of snacks and a ton of alcoholic beverages in every type and flavor available. I don't think I stopped saying "Wow..." all night. It was great to see everyone that we love all in one place to start saying our goodbyes, since it's coming down to the wire with exactly one week until it's time to leave Tallahassee for good. We've already got quite a week planned in advance, with the RD party on Monday, dinner with Sidiky on Tuesday, dinner and Project Runway with Mike and Jamie on Wednesday, Poker night on Thursday, and Indian food with Heather and Jimmy on Friday. That just leaves Saturday, Sunday, and part of the day on Monday until we leave. We're pretty well packed and have started on the cleaning stage of moving out. Wow, I just totally got a wave of anxiety at thoughts of the amount of things still left to be done. Well, anyways, a week is a long time I guess. So yeah, our party was fantastic and a good time was had by all. Thanks Mike and Jamie...we love you guys!!!
    Posted Jul 23 2006, 07:50 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Starting to say goodbye

    It's just about that time where I have to start saying goodbye to all my friends here in Tallahassee. It's been a long stretch between when I started my undergraduate work in the Fall of 1999 and now. Sometimes, I tend to daydream and start thinking about the what-ifs of many different scenarios compared to where I am now. Back towards the end of my undergraduate days in 2003, I often thought of how different my life would have been if I had accepted the offer to begin my undergraduate studies at New York University, rather than at Florida State. Having been the first in my family to be going to a four-year university, no one was really sure how the whole process worked or any of the details involved with going to college panned out. When my parents saw the price tag on New York University compared to that of Florida State University, they essentially made the decision for me as to where I would be going. UNC-Chapel Hill and Miami never really even made it into the considerations. After having been bored throughout my entire high school career and sick of the snow, when I came down to visit FSU and saw palm trees and seventy degree weather in January, I knew that it was the place for me. I got to Tallahassee in August of 1999, ready and eager to go. I think that I planned my entire coursework schedule for biochemistry before classes even started. It only took a month for me to figure out that I was going to be bored at FSU too, since I came in with enough credits completed from AP courses and dual enrollment that I could graduate in two years if I wanted to. I had enrolled in campus band to keep playing my saxophone, and I was "discovered" by the band director who asked me to speak to the saxophone professor, Pat Meighan. When I met Mr. Meighan, I knew then that there was no turning back...I would be getting a second major in music. The rest of the story is pretty much history. I completed my two totally different degrees in just over four years. I had done indepedendent research projects for both majors, studying gene cloning with Dr Robert Reeves for my project in biology and arranging for saxophone ensemble with Mr. Meighan. I completed two solo recitals, one chamber recital, played in over one hundred other concerts and recitals, and learn how to play steel drums...not to mention all the stuff on the biology side of things. I was to graduate in a Fall semester, and at that point I was gung ho about studying viruses for the rest of my life...curing Ebola, to be specific. At that point, I was really into it, just having completed my DIS with Dr. Reeves and landing a job in a budding molecular genetics lab with Dr. Deng. Although I loved playing my saxophone, I was burned out and was ready to focus on science. My time in the Deng lab was stressful but rewarding, as I got to learn a lot while helping Dr. Deng build his lab from scratch. The following October, I heard a candidate for a new professorship, Dr. Tang, speak, and the fact that he was going to be studying viruses was amazing to me. Dr. Tang learned of my interest and approached Dr Deng to see if he would be willing to "share" me and work in his lab. I gladly accepted, a decision that would turn out to be the best and worst that I'd made since arriving in Tallahassee. Two talented young professors, two different lines of work...and lots of it kept me more than busy for the next nine months. I began to be forced to neglect some of my projects in the Deng lab so that I would have more time for times in the Tang lab. My relationship with Dr Tang also started to head downhill when he realized that I had my own opinion about things and wouldn't be treated like a drone. I think that in the long run, he felt that I was lazy or disinterested, but it wasn't until I was leaving his lab that he realized that I was neither. I had nearly completed a complex project on the ability of cells to shuttle a particular protein when exposed to specific drugs that inhibit different biochemical pathways, when Dr Tang approached me to ask about my graduate school plans. I had taken the GRE subject test for biochemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology and done pretty well, but something just wasn't right. I sat back one day and realized one thing...I did not want to become another Dr Tang. Yeah, of course he is a brilliant and successful young scientist with a nice house, a good job, and a great car, but he was also at a point where he was going to be struggling to build a lab and a name for himself for the next several years. I wondered if it was worth it to fight to get into a good grad school, kill myself for five to seven years of PhD research, find a post doc, work for another 5 years at least, and then find a professorship somewhere, and struggle to build a lab, get tenure, and forge a career. Two years out of school and in the "real world" of two big labs taught me that I should at least figure out what I really wanted with my life. I decided to start looking into other possibilities....possibilities that were on my own terms. It was time to do something for myself, rather than what anything else thought I should do. Out of curiosity, I decided to look into the field of linguistics. I remember back to the times, just over a year ago, that I was not aware of what semantics, morphology, or syntax really was. The day that I met Dr Josserand for the first time, I knew I had found my true calling. I was going to be a linguist. I returned to the lab and told Dr Tang that, although I was still condering molecular biology and virology, I was looking at other possibilities. I told Dr Deng the same thing. I was met with overwhelming supported from Dr Deng but not Dr Tang. I soon left the biology department and found a position in a small web design firm in town and quickly developed a fantastic relationship with my coworkers and my boss. My boss was very supportive of my future plans and allowed me to adjust my responsibilities and hours accordingly so that I could attend a few graduate linguistics classes in my preparation for applying to graduate school. I've moved on over the past year, and I have never once hesitated about my decision or even looked back. I miss my friends from the biology department greatly, but they were witness to what I was put through in my two labs. Now, here I am, starting graduate school in just about a month, at one of the most prestigious linguistics departments in the world, thanks to the training and support of my teachers, friends, and family. So, why is it that I've gone through the telling of this whole drawn out story, you ask? Well, to put it plainly in the words of my father, "sometimes you just have to take your head out of your ass and look around." When I made my decision to leave biology and move on to what I wanted to do, I really had to take a step back and re-evaluate where I had been, where I was, and where I wanted to be. I think that it's really important for anyone who might be reading this to realize that when you step back and re-analyze any situation and make a decision about your future, it's really never too late to change your mind if you're going to own the new decision that you're making. Just because you got your bachelors degree in something doesn't mean that you have to do that same thing for the rest of your life. There is always room for change. There is always going to be a time to mold what you want to do with your life. Don't settle for something that your heart and mind are telling you are wrong for you.
    Posted Jul 22 2006, 07:58 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Commas in a series

    Believe it or not, I was witness to a debate about a feature in grammar, in which I was not one of the key arguers or information-givers. In the midst of a friendly poker game, I stupidly made a comment about my pet peeve of people not using commas before the conjunction in a series of three or more items. Well good Lord, did that ever open up a huge can of worms!!! I promptly got an affirmation from T-Chris ("t" for theory) about the heinous crime that it is to leave out this essential piece of punctuation in a series. Jamie however took up the opposing point of view, explaining that although it might be correct to use a comma before a conjunction in a series, it is also perfectly correct and acceptable to leave it out. Voices were raised, and the claws came out. A few of the others and I tried to add in our two cents, but to no avail. I think that it came down to the proverbial "we'll have to agree to disagree". Well, being that I am a linguist...and that my opinion as such did not matter last night, I decided that I would look and settle the debate once and for all by consulting some English grammar resources. I was not surprised to find that, in every case, the grammar addresses the debate between the two forms, but states that the second comma has only come to be left out due to the perpetuated misconception that it doesn't need to be there. Proper English, that is, written English accordingly to established grammar says that a comma must come before the conjunction in a series of three or more items. And here's why...

    "And", "but", "or", etc. are called coordinating conjunctions. These conjunctions serve to join words, phrases, or sentences. They show that whatever is on one side of the conjunction carries the same syntactic function as what is on the other side. When we use a conjunction in a sentence such as, "I have red, blue, and green shirts", the 'and' shows the sentence level coordination that red, blue, and green are all syntactically equal and they all describe my 'shirts'. If you were to say, I have red, blue and green shirts", the absence of the comma before the coordinating conjunction suggests that I have red shirts, and I have blue and green shirts (maybe stripes, who knows?!).

    There are some other antiquated ways to show sentence level coordination that demonstrate why it is necessary to have two commas. While it may be grammatical correct to say "I have red and blue and green shirts" or "I have red, blue, green shirts", these help to explain why the sentence is typically "I have red, blue, and green shirts." The first example with all the 'ands' is called a polysyndeton, which means 'many coordinators'. Note that there are no commas in this. The second example with no 'ands' is called an asyndeton (the 'a-' is known as the alpha-privitive and comes from Greek...it means 'not'). Note that the asyndeton has commas but no 'ands'. In the case of the polysyndeton, the 'ands' show immediate sentence-level coordination. In the case of the asyndeton, the commas can replace the 'ands', but it's an all or nothing situation. Syntax tells us that it would be ridiculous to have a sentence that reads "I have red and blue, green shirts."

    So what's the moral of the story, you ask? The only way that you can override the power of the comma is if you treat the sentence as a polysyndeton. With this in mind, our Modern English grammar has become such that when we separate words in a series of three or more, commas can replace the 'ands', but unless the sentence is a polysyndeton, a comma must come before the final coordinating conjunction.

    Posted Jul 21 2006, 01:24 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Dr. J. Kathryn Josserand

    The field of linguistics and anthropology suffered a great loss two days ago. I received an email from Dr Hopkins that Dr Josserand has passed away. Both Sidiky and I are extremely shocked and upset about this unfortunate and unexpected news, and we have been doing our best to contact all the necessary people who need to know about her passing. We have quickly learned just how many people's lives and academic careers she has had an impact on. First and foremost all of our thoughts go out to her husband of 35 years, Dr Nick Hopkins, and we, her students, are also devastated by the loss that we have incurred in her passing. I am so happy to know that she was able to see her student Kevin Pittle complete his doctorate this past fall semester, and I'm glad that Sidiky, Stephanie, and I were able to be there to share in her joy at Kevin's celebratory party. Although Dr Josserand did not have any children of her own, it has always seemed that her students were like her children, as we always understood and appreciated the "tough love" she gave us. Her two newest students, Brooke and Ivy, had barely gotten a chance to know her. It is sad to say that I fear the linguistics department at Florida State Anthropology will likely be phased out without Dr Josserand around to fight to keep it alive. We all already have concerns about what will happen in the coming year...the linguistics comprehensive exam next month, her planned classes for this fall, and of course her planned 6-month Fulbright funded sabbatical to Guatemala in Spring 2007. She remained active until her final day, as you all know, she had been in Mexico for the last six weeks collecting field data. She and Dr Hopkins have had a tremendous impact on linguistic anthropology and linguistic archaeology as a result of their thirty years of work on the Mayan languages of Mexico. They also maintain an active touring company that brought eager and excited individuals and groups each year to visit the Yucatan peninsula and the southern Mexican and Guatemalan highlands. I felt a very personal loss when I learned about Dr Josserand's death, as she has been a tremendous influence and a strong support during the time that I knew her. She steered me in the right direction and gave me the materials and training necessary to pursue my dream of becoming a linguist myself. Without the guidance of both Dr Josserand and Dr Hopkins, I am positive that could not boast the linguistic successes that I have had thus far and would surely not have been accepted into such a presitigious graduate program.

    Having just returned from New York upon the passing of my grandfather, I realize how important it is to have others who have been left behind to come together and celebrate someone's life. I just hope that Dr Josserand was aware of what an important place she had in the hearts and minds of her friends and students.

    Posted Jul 20 2006, 01:10 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Something I knew, but didn't

    When I was in linguistics core class, I recall that we spent a lot of time talking about the family tree method of language classification that was popularized by August Schleicher to explain how languages are related to one another. What I didn't realize was all the details and history associated with the Staumbaumtheorie (as it's known in German) and what those who opposed it supported instead. Perhaps I just missed this stuff because I wasn't paying attention, or perhaps there was just too much to talk about in our once-a-week class that it didn't get covered. Either way, I was sitting down to read for a few minutes last night when I came across some interested information about the Staumbaumtheorie. I had not realized that August Schleicher was the mentor of many of the people who would become the NeoGrammarians (or Junggrammatiker) as well as the people who opposed the NeoGrammarians Hypothesis of linguistic change. This theory basically said that sound changes are regular and every word is subject to them. It does not account for contact induced change after divergence. Some of the most famous ideas to stem from the NeoGrammarian Hypothesis were Grimm's Law and Verner's Law...both of which explained specific regular sound changes in the Germanic languages.

    In opposition to the NeoGrammarians was a group of people, the most well-known of whom was Johannes Schmidt, who proposed a different theory of linguistic change called the Wave Theory (Wellentheorie). This theory suggested that rather than sound change being regular and absolute, each word had its own particular history of change. The theory proposes that sound changes and changes in form for a particular feature eminated from a central point, from which the change was most concentrated. As one moves farther away from the central location, the frequency of the central form decreases. Linguists have been investigating the Wave Theory for years with the creation of dialect geographies. A dialect geography is a graphical representation of a particular word, form, sound, etc. characterized by isoglosses that show the extent of the feature away from the centralized point. If you've ever seen a weather map with isobars on the weather channel, it looks much like that...

    By comparing the isoglosses of many different features, linguists can then determine the lines along which dialects differ. Often times, these dialect boundaries mimic geographical, political, or social boundaries. Although dialect geographies are very useful in linguistics and sociolinguistics, they are very difficult work. It is necessary to travel around an area to many different villages and settlements to get the information that is needed. In particular areas of high diversity, the lines of intelligibility may be blurred in some cases, making the task of communicating with informants all the more difficult. These and many other considerations are often covered when linguists train in their field work classes.

    Posted Jul 19 2006, 12:55 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Mutual Intelligibility

    The thing that I'm going to write about in this post just happened to me a mere five minutes ago, so it's very fresh in my mind. How does one deal with instances of mutual unintelligibility between dialects of the English language without being rude? Although I consider myself to be a rather worldly guy and able to communicate with just about anyone, there are some instances when even I get a little 'farklempt' when it comes to having to interpret when someone who is not speaking Standard English. It's not that I have a problem with the actual instance of the misunderstanding, because I one hundred percent wholeheartedly support that there are other dialects of the English language out there that can be used in certain situations and settings. What I do have the problem with is when there is an obvious instance of unintelligibility and I give an "excuse me?" or "i'm sorry?" or at least look 'confused' and then I get a response of the exact same thing. No clearer, no more detailed, no closer to Standard. In the particular situation that I just experienced, this went back and forth three times before I finally figured out what he needed from me through some crude sign language on his part. He then made another comment to a co-worker, and again, I had no idea.

    In linguistics classes, they teach us through our lectures and reading that in situations such as this, it is often the case that when speakers of different dialects of a language encounter an instance of unintelligibility, they often begin to shift style to a style of speech more similar to the Standard. I mean come on, that's why it's the standard, right? If it had not been clear that he was speaking an English dialect, I don't believe that I would have been so frustrated or so hesistant to tell him that I didn't understand what he was saying. So, at this point, I supposed that I need to tell you that the man was African American and therefore speaking what linguists call Black English Vernacular. Now wait, before you go and start waving any flags at me, remember who's blog it is you're reading. I'm going to be spending the rest of my life working with people of other cultures and ethnicities, and I'm getting my degree in African Languages and Linguistics...therefore I hope that you can determine that I am so so so not racist and don't carry prejudices, I'm just trying to be objective and explain, question, and analyze the language contact situation that I was just in. I guess part of my question about this whole thing has to do with differences between what we would consider to be codeswitching and what is diglossia or style shifting. In order for a speech event to be codeswitching, it is necessary that the two (or more) indiviuals participating in the exchange to be fluent in both languages used so that they can move from one language to the other proficiently. Does this requirement of proficiency stem into the diglossia/style shifting situation? If proficiency is required for a diglossic situation, and we find that the person that we're trying to communicate with is not proficient, do we just end up with unintelligibility with no chance of a successful speech event without the use of other signs (in this case, him waving the thing to sign at me)? There is of course always the possibility of a situation such as those discovered by Labov in his work in Martha's Vineyard back in the mid-1900s where individuals refused to use any dialect of English besides their own for social reasons. I suppose that I can't really rule out the possibility of that, and that's fine if it was the case. I guess that I'm just stumped.

    At this point, I could open up a whole other can of worms about the debate about Black English Vernacular in the United States and how linguists have argued for decades about whether or not the language has developed as a pidgin or a creole. I'll leave that for another time.

    Posted Jul 18 2006, 01:14 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Jingles

    What do you think about jingles and linguistics? Do you think that anyone has ever done a linguistic analysis or a discourse analysis of television or radio jingles? I was thinking about this this morning as I sang the "Free Credit Report Dot Com" jingle for the hundredth time. We usually think of jingles as catchy because of the tune, but what about the words underneath the music? Is it easier to identify or guess the words from the music or the music from the words? It's too bad that I can't include any sounds clips in 'this here' blog, because I think that it would be an interesting test and a way to get some input. I mean seriously, consider some of the car insurance commercials out there. If I said to you, "this is how life should be"...in any context, chance would have it that you would readily identify this seemingly simple phrase with Progressive Auto Insurance. I would also be willing to bet that if I hummed the tune to that jingle with no words, the majority of people would also be able to pair it up with that company. So, how are these other groups competing? Well, I guess that Geico is using that stupid gecko...that all of the sudden ended up with some bad cockney British accent...and Ditech has the annoying fat guy. So, where is the real power in a jingle?...the words or the music? This is just food for thought of course.
    Posted Jul 17 2006, 01:02 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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