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September 2006 - Posts

  • Getting ready for another midterm

    It's been pretty easy to put syntax out of my mind since the beginning of the semester, since we only have homework assignments on rare occasion. Even when we do get assigned a few things to do for homework, they are usually fairly easy problems and it's pretty low stress since they are problems for us to learn and aren't being graded. This week however, in preparation for our take-home midterm exam that we'll be receiving next week, our over the weekend homework assignment was quite a bit trickier that usual. When we started the semester, Dr K explained to us that we would basically be starting from scratch and building our knowledge of the generative model of syntax, piece by piece. The first thing that we explored was how to interpret phrase structure rules and break apart sentence into tree models. We then learned how to use these phrase structure rules to determine the C-selection properties of various sentence components. C-selection tells us what kinds of environments the components can exist before or after in a grammatical sentence. We then moved on to defining and identifying the various theta roles that a predicate can assign. Things got a little bit more tricky once we introduced this idea though, since we started to delve into competing theories and then proving them wrong by showing how they don't apply in our model of generative syntax. We continued building upon what we already knew and added the Extended Projection Principle, which helps us to explain how expletives (it and four-letter words) work in a sentence. The Extended Projection Principle basically tells us that every sentence needs to have a subject. We then moved along to identifying the theta roles of specific sentence components that seem to defy the rules set by theta criteria and the extended projection principle. Enter the exceptional case marking rule and extra noun phrase analysis. I mean seriously...there is a lot of stuff to know. This is why I'm growing more and more thankful that our midterm (and final) are take-home exams. We can even use our notebooks and other materials to help us out. As you can probably see, things in this class work the exactly opposite of how things go in phonology class.
    Posted Sep 29 2006, 11:46 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • First Phonology Test

    Today was the big day...the first phonology test of the semester, and truth be told, it went really well. I think that I did just the right amount of studying to prepare myself for the exam. I made sure to go over our "word of the day" definition, as well as all the theoretical stuff that Dr D mentions in class but doesn't necessary get put up on the board by our TA. Knowing that kind of stuff really paid off in the twenty-five multiple choice questions on the test. There were a few questions on articulatory features and few that asked us to identify representative sounds from given distincitve feature matrices. The test seemed a little bit frightening at first, since when our TA handed it out, he reminded us all to make sure and complete all seven pages of it. Yikes! Seven pages is a lot for a test! Anyways, there were of course a few things on the test that really made we stop and think, but overall I feel pretty confident about my performance on the test. It's going to be a little bit nervewracking to have to wait until next Tuesday to find out the results though. I'll have plenty to keep myself occupied with this weekend though, since we have a long chapter to cover in our impossible-to-understand textbook and a problem on neutralization rules in Turkish. I know you don't believe me, but this stuff is fun!
    Posted Sep 28 2006, 11:33 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Build your own theory of phonology

    One of the most important things that we've learned about in phonology class so far this semester is that no matter what theory of phonology that you subscribe to, it needs to accounts for a certain number of features in any given language. The model that we study here at Indiana is generative, made popular by Chomsky and his progeny out in Massachusetts. They revolted from an older model of structuralist phonology because it failed to take meaning into consideration. On day one of phonology, we learned that there are actually four main points that a theory of phonology needs to address, and if you think about it, they are actually pretty intuitive. First and foremost, a theory of phonology needs to account for the types of sounds that do or do not exist in a language. Due to the way that the human body is made, there are simply some sounds that can not be made, and there are others that are extremely common. There are still others that we can say are more common than others. Phonology allows us to determine what sounds are in a language and how to describe them in terms of their unique properties. Second, phonology must explain how sounds are distributed in a language. This requirement helps us to explain why certain sounds always occur together, or conversely why some sounds never exist in the same environment as others. Take, for example, the consonant cluster [vtz]. Try and pronounce it. Having problems? I thought's unpronounceable in English. These sounds that encompass three slightly different places of articulation and two different types of voicing just can not occur together. Keep in mind that rules like those that govern distribution vary slightly from language to language. The third thing that a phonology theory has to address is alternations between sounds. We need to be able to understand how and why sounds change from one to another in particular environments and the conditions in which they might not change. By knowing about how these alternations work, we can then create rules that explain them. Finally, a phonological theory must account for allophonic phenemona in a language. I've talked a lot in the past about allophonic rules and the like in my other posts, so if you search around, I'm sure you can find a little bit more about them. Phonology needs to address ideas associated with allophony, like simplicity, assimilation, and markedness. So, if you're thinking about developing some new and exciting theory of phonology to share with the world, I wouldn't go too far with it until it adequately addresses each of these ideas....or else you'll have all the generative linguists up in arms.
    Posted Sep 27 2006, 03:02 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Now we're moving fast

    I'm sure that you all remember last week and the week before when I was complaining a little bit in my posts about how slow we have been going in Bambara class. Well, I guess that I can look at it as my prayers have been answered, because starting this week, we have been going anything but slow. I think that the four of us in the class are all a little surprised at the sudden quickening of the pace of the class. For an entire month, we just learned greetings and benedictions, and then all of the sudden...BAM....tons of new vocabulary. I'm definitely thankful for the increased amount of work...heck, we have even had two homework assignments, and we're going to have a quiz next Wednesday. Although the amount of required vocabulary is definitely picking up, we're still only getting a smattering of grammar here and there, so it's still a little difficult to understand the example sentences that our teacher is giving us. We spent this past week learning a whole bunch of pretty useful things though. We learned about all the different directions; in front, behind, on the ground, to the right, etc., and we learned about common classroom items. We then moved on to some basic transitive and intransitive verbs, although we don't exactly know how to use them properly yet. Lastly, and most importantly in my mind, we started to get some information about the tone system of Bambara this week. This is the final missing piece that I've been wanting to learn about. I think that it's pretty difficult, when you're learning something very new, to learn it without all the information and then to go back and relearn everything you thought you already knew another time. Since the semester started, we've amassed quite a bit of vocabulary knowledge, but we didn't learn where the tones go. Now that we're discussing tones, we have to step back and relearn all the words that we've already committed to memory but now incorporate tones. It's a whole other level of complexity in the language. I'm sure that it will go well, and I'm thankful that we're finally getting to it, but it definitely adds a little bit of pressure to the class.
    Posted Sep 26 2006, 02:35 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Scheduling Conflicts

    In my usual spirit of trying to think ahead, I decided that it would be a good idea to look toward the Spring schedule and see what my classes would be like. One of the difficulties that I knew going into the process was that my schedule would be very "constrained", for lack of a better word due to the requirements that I need to satisfy to meet the conditions of my FLAS Fellowship. The terms of the fellowship state that I need to be enrolled in my language class during both semesters but that I also need to take some other African Studies sponsored class during one of the semesters. Doesn't sound too bad right? Well, add that to the fact that I'm in the linguistics department, and we have our own set of required first year classes. Phonetics and sociolinguistics are both being offered this coming Spring, and times have already been set in stone for them. Enter Bambara, the trouble maker... The proposed Bambara time for the Spring semester conflicts with phonetics, as well as with every other possible African Studies class that I could possibly take. This is party the fault of the Bambara schedule, but mostly the fault of the scheduling of the other African Studies classes. Apparently, the time slot of Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9:30 to 10:45 is an extremely popular time in to teach in the minds of Africanists all over campus. The Languages in Africa class, the SubSaharan African Bibliography class, and the Seminar in Contemporary Africa class, all scheduled through three different departments, are all taught during that time period....the same period in which Bambara will also be taught. Arggh! As luck would have it, with only four people in Bambara to contend with, I was able to talk my teacher and classmates into having the class meeting time moved to TBA status so that it would not conflict with the other classes. Even this semester, the class isn't meeting during it's scheduled time period, so it's not quite a big deal. With a flexible Bambara schedule, I should be able to fit in one of the other classes...and I'm hoping for Languages in Africa. I'm glad that I went ahead and found out some information about all this, because, as it turns out, official schedules need to be turned in to the registrar within the next couple of weeks so that we can register for Spring classes. Hopefully, I've helped to nip the scheduling problem in the bud this time...
    Posted Sep 26 2006, 01:30 AM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Neutralizations actually do make sense

    As promised, I thought I would write a little bit about the neutralization rules that I starting talking about in my post last Tuesday. We spent this past week learning the ins and outs of what neutralization rules are, how to recognize them, and what they mean. I think that I finally have a grasp on them enough to at least say what they are all about. I've talked about allophonic rules a lot in the past and given lots of examples, and in most of them you can see that the sounds in words often undergo certain phonetic changes in certain environments. We can assign rules to a lot of these changes because they are predictable in a given language. They are part of the language specific grammar that we learn during language acquisition, as opposed to the available features that we already know innately from Universal Grammar. We usually look towards rules of simplicity, markedness, and assimilation to explain the conditions in which allophonic rules act and to explain why they do what they do.

    Neutralization rules are kinda different. The thing that is the same between neutralizations and allophonic rules is that you will notice some kind of alternation between sounds is occurring. The alternations that we are concerned with in neutralizations are found due to the addition or subtraction of morphemes to a word. A simple alternation that we come across all the time in English has to do with the plural morpheme -s. It just so happens that the -s morpheme in English can really be one of two sounds, Sleep and Person, depending on what kind of sound it follows to make a plural. Sleep and Person are unvoiced and voiced fricatives, respectively, and they will assimilate the voicing of the sound that they follow. That's why we get cats [khats] and dogs [dogz]. In this case, we can argue that the phoneme /s/ contains the two allophones Sleep and Person. Since they are allophones, we can say that they exist in complimentary distribution. There are cases in English however, where Sleep and Person contrast with one another and are therefore separate phonemes. Take the minimal pair [sip]:[zip]. We see that changes the initial sound changes the meaning of the word. We use minimal pairs to help us show phonemic contrasts. This is a classic neutralization situation. We have alternating sounds that contrast in some conditions but don't contrast in others. In this particular case, we can call this an assimilatory neutralization, because the Person only shows up in complimentary distribution with Sleep when it is in absolute word final position. In cases of non-assimilatory neutralization, it is common to find marked sounds going to unmarked sounds, rather than unmarked going to marked as found in allophonic rules.

    This case is a little bit odd but easy to explain because it's English. A lot of times, we will find the stem of the word undergoing neutralization as a result of adding a morpheme. This the case in the construction of the singular/plural distinction in German. Maybe I'll talk about that soon in a future post.

    Posted Sep 25 2006, 12:44 AM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • A weekend of transcription

    I hate taking the easy way out of things. And nothing says 'doing more than necessary' than how I spent my Saturday. As you all know from my Thursday post, I interviewed Abbie to record a narrative for my Ethography of Communication class. Our assignment is basically to transcribe and analyze a narrative for pretty much anything that we want to look at. I took the opportunity to get some really great interview material that I could potentially use as a jumping off point for some future research on cultural attitudes, leading into language attitudes. I thought that a good starting point after the interview would be to just start transcribing. Little did I realize how long our interview actually was. It's not that in "real time" it was that long, but when you're transcribing things word for word, looking for inflections and lexical choices, it gets really tedious. I spent about eight hours transcribing today, and my brain is pretty much mush at this point. I could have gotten away with just transcribing particular parts of the narrative that I wanted to analyze, but I thought that it would be better to see everything in perspective of the larger piece of information. Well, I'm on page 18, and I'm ready to throw my transcription system out the window. I had a startling realization, in the midst of working today, that I'm going to be doing transcription for the rest of my life...not a piece of positive encouragement at the moment. Alas, I'm continuing to truck through the process, and as I've gone on, it's gotten a lot easier. The trick is to do the transcription in chunks to break up the monotony of it. I'm just looking forward to completing the first rough transcription. After that, it's a piece of cake to go back through and edit things. I'm also sure that doing a short five-page analysis afterwards for class will be no sweat.
    Posted Sep 24 2006, 02:49 AM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Indiana University African Language Club

    It was an exciting day today at Indiana University. Today, Abbie and I got approval from the director of the African Languages department to go ahead with the formation of the Indiana University African Languages Club. Abbie and I had been very interested in learning whether or not some kind of African languages club has ever existed at IU, and we quickly learned that no such thing that ever been done. The director of the African Studies department also gave his two thumbs up in support of the idea. We had been brainstorming over the past several weeks about ideas for the IUALC and what we'd like it to accomplish now and in the future. We put an informal proposal together and presented it to the Director of African Languages, and she immediately loved the idea. She invited us to come to a meeting of all the African language instructors and to pitch our idea to them. After explaining our idea to the instructors, we were met with a lot of enthusiasm. The instructors were very happy to have students interested in taking a more active role to promote the department, the classes, and the languages. I think that our Bambara teacher, Bouba, was a "proud papa" since it was his two students who are taking the reins on the project. With the full cooperation of the the Director and the instructors, Abbie and I now have a lot of work to do to get things up and running. Our hope is to start out small and to not bite off more than we can chew. Our first goal is to meet with other graduate students and some higher level undergraduates who have similar motivation to promote the African Languages program here at IU. We feel as though it's best to get some representation from all of the languages taught here, including Swahili, Twi, Zulu, and Bambara. Once we find out who is interested, we can move on from there with organizing a formal meeting to discuss goals. As they say, many hands makes light the work. I'm going to head up getting a website for the IUALC. One thing that many students around IU notice is that, although the web technology is readily available to have great sites, a lot of the groups are stuck in their ways and no longer have searchable, usable, or functional websites. With just a little bit of extra work, we can have a really beautiful but very usable website so that interested students can find out more about African languages very easily. Another thing that we'd like to implement sooner rather than later is having a presence with other groups at new student orientation and at organization fairs at the student union. These happen before the beginning of every semester. We can show our faces so that students can see that these languages are offered and they can act as a good alternative to taking regular old Spanish, French, or German to satisfy language requirements. I think that the best part about this venture is that Abbie and I are both going to be here for a while, so it will give us ample opportunity to "grow" a great group.
    Posted Sep 23 2006, 02:33 AM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • An interview with my academic twin

    Our next big project for Ethnography of Speaking requires us to transcribe and analyze a narrative. Over the past month, we've been reading papers for class on different types of narratives, how they are recorded, and what types of things can be discovered by analyzing them. Since I don't have many tapes of interviews that have already been recorded to use for the assignment, I thought that I would take the opportunity to try and start something new. Most of you probably know that my interest in linguistics focuses a lot on the language attitude of people who have been discouraged from using their native language for one reason or another. Language attitude and attitude in general can play an important role in policy formation and the success or failure of a lot of different programs. Since I'm not really at a point where I'm ready to be doing my full-fledged research for my dissertation, I thought that I would start out by doing an interview that had to do with attitude, but not necessarily about language. My academic twin, Abbie, and I have talked a lot about her experiences of in Africa. She's actually been there three times for various reasons. I had remembered her mentioning in passing that she had had great experiences in Africa each time that she was there, but on each occassion something happened that made her feel like she was in danger. I thought that it would be interesting to hear Abbie describe these particular incidents where she felt in danger, because it goes along with our most recent book for class that looks at the discourse of people who panic. I figured that I would interview Abbie and ask her to recount her most positive experiences from the trips to Africa, as well as the instances where she was in danger to see the ways in which her speech changes. After reading many of the papers and books for class, I thought that it would be appropriate to look at changes in inflection, voicing, and lexicon, among other things in Abbie's retelling of the stories. So, where does the attitude part fit in right? Well, it is a common misconception that going to Africa is a dangerous undertaking. The news media continues to focus on Somalia and Darfur, and that therefore begins to define Africa in the minds of the rest of the world. What many people don't realize is that many places in Africa are peaceful yet simple. I'm interested in seeing how Abbie explains her positive experiences versus her negative experiences in Africa, knowing fully well that she has chosen (just as I have) to include Africa in her life in the future. I'm interested in seeing the ways she uses discourse to express these two types of experiences. What I would like to do for comparison is to conduct the same type of interview with someone who has a different connection to Africa to see the different ways in which they express these same types of experiences.
    Posted Sep 21 2006, 04:54 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • From hurricanes to tornadoes

    I've had a request for more personal stories about things up here in Bloomington from my pals back in Tallahassee, so I guess it wouldn't hurt to stray from linguistics every so often to let everyone know what I'm up to here in B-town. It's actually sort of funny that this came up the other day when I was talking to my best pal back home, Mike Catania. I was thinking about how different it is between Bloomington and Tallahassee, just in general. Every year down there in Tallahassee, we had to endure a constant barrage of hurricane warnings that usually only brang torrential downpours with them, and usually nothing else. Thankfully we had Chompy the dog there to scare the hurricanes away out of the general Tallahassee area. I never really noticed the hurricanes when I was in school though. It wasn't until I was working in biology hell that it became a problem that I would have to trek into work, hurricane or not, holiday or not, weekend or not. Here in B-town, there's a different threat looming in the air...the dreaded tornado. When I was a kid, I remember that my first ever career aspiration came when I was in second grade, when we read an article about storm chasers. I thought that that would be the coolest job! At that point, any weather phenomenon besides the weekly Syracuse blizzards was a welcome occurrence. Being the science-minded kind of guy I am, I decided to look into the tornado strike frequency here in Monroe county, and it turns out that a tornado hasn't struck here in about 15 years. I guess that we get a lot of tornado warnings, and I guess the warning siren even goes off every so often, but it's pretty hilly around here, so not many tornadoes actually touch down. So anyways, yeah, that's one of the many differences between Tally and Bloomington. It's kinda crazy, because I was discussing these types of differences just the other day with a new friend of mine, Amanda, who is in a few of my classes. She's from southern California, and we were discussing the ideas of being 'west coast' versus 'east coast' types of people. I realized that if I had come directly to Bloomington without a six year stop in Tallahassee, that I would likely be going crazy right about now. It's a big difference between living in a big city versus here. Tallahassee was at least close enough to civilization (at least there were two real malls) that it wasn't too much of a shock. Bloomington is a lot like Tallahassee, but without all the commotion of a capital city that has three colleges. However (comma) for some reason, Bloomington is exactly what I need at this point for some unexplained reason. I really hope that all you guys down there in Tallahassee, and even the old pals up in Syracuse, get a chance to visit here. It's really quaint and quiet, but it's got a lot of character. The people who are from here or who have lived here for an extended period of time call it "an oasis in southern indiana". I'm even surprising myself that I like it so much here. I'm definitely 'east coast' kind of guy, surely more comfortable in the fast paced daily life of New York City, but this is the perfect place to come to concentrate and do work, and that's why I'm here after all. OK, that's all for now about Bloomington...more to come later...
    Posted Sep 21 2006, 02:59 AM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Neutralization Rules

    No matter how much you learn about something, there will always be something else that adds on to it or contradicts it. This was demonstrated today during phonology when our professor introduced to the wonderful world of neutralization rules. I can safely say that I had never heard about these rules in phonology before. My previous exposure to the subject had focused on the presence of allophonic rules where we needed to determine which sounds in a language occurred in complementary distribution and were therefore allophones of one phoneme. I guess that I had just supposed that these rules applied to all languages one way or the other, but like I said, I hadn't really given it much thought. One recurring theme that I did notice with allophonic rules was that they always showed the way in which unmarked sounds were changed to marked sounds. They explained, for example, why voiceless consonants become voiced or why high vowels get lowered in their respective contexts. We started to see some example in class this week that challenged the ease of applying allophonic rules to sounds changes in a language. We saw cases where assigning an allophonic rule would violate the three criteria of simplicity, assimilation, and markedness. Sometimes it seemed easier to go the other way around and suggest that the marked features become unmarked instead. That was when Dr D dropped the bomb that this was wholly possible. Using these new things called neutralization rules, we are able to account for the alternation of sounds in which, for example, voiced consonants become unvoiced...marked to unmarked. There will surely be more on this to come once I figure out the hows and whys for myself.
    Posted Sep 19 2006, 04:30 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Mental Health Time

    Since the first day meeting anyone in linguistics here at IU, I have heard continuously that it is very important that all of us graduate students have something outside of the field that we can devote ourselves to so that we can take our minds off of the subject for a little while each day. I thought that when I first heard this suggestion when I went into the department for the first time in August, they were just being nice and trying to make it seem like it wasn't going to be necessary to devote our entire attention every day to linguistics. Then I heard it come up again at orientation and again during the first week of classes. I've heard the idea being passed around among my classmates, and I finally figured out that they were right. I'll be the first person to admit that I am extremely motivated when it comes to my schoolwork. I think that, at this point, I'm nearly two weeks ahead on everything that I need to be doing for classes. I've never really known what that evil thing called procrastination is all about. However, I have realized that there is only so much that you can do in one sitting or even in one day. Every so often, it's really necessary to just step away from the computer and away from the books and do something else. Well, being the kind of person that I am, it's not enough to just plop down in front of the television and waste time to get away from doing school work. I need to be doing something...just not work. Some of you may not know that when I graduated from Florida State, I got two degrees, one in biochemistry and one in saxophone performance. Even when I was working in biology labs after I graduated, I always managed to use my music as a mental health retreat. I would try (but not always succeed) to play my saxophone or even play piano for a little while each week. When I moved Indiana, it became a little bit easier to make this come true, since I basically had a month to spend doing something before classes started. I pulled out my saxophones and figured I'd see what I could still do. It became clear right off the bat that I needed new reeds and to get some things adjusted on my saxophones, but I still knew what I was doing. Over the past two months that I've lived in B-town, I've taken the opportunity to revisit my saxophones. I got them fixed, I got some new equipment, and I made a personal commitment to myself that I would not forget that I am also a musician. I may no longer be a professional musician, but I've been playing an instrument since I was four years old, and I don't think that there is any reason to give that up now. It was slow going and pretty rough at first when I started playing again on a regular basis. There are a whole bunch of muscles that I hadn't really used for about two years, and they were not happy about being put back into use. Now, when I go up to practice my saxophone, it's not something that is a hassle or something that I'm doing to fulfill a requirement or to give a recital. It's something that I enjoy doing and something that I'm doing for myself. It's something that I can do when I feel like it and when I have time. No matter how much I love linguistics and the fact that I'm finally doing what I want to do, I don't think I'll ever be able to give up my music.
    Posted Sep 18 2006, 03:48 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Phonology Time, and the Studyin Ain't Easy

    I'm sure that you can all probably gather from my posts from last week that the idea of having another phonology quiz this upcoming Thursday is pretty stressful. In addition to the quiz, we'll also have to turn in our first homework assignment in which we had to analyze a language to determine the distribution of its phonemes and provide allophonic rules to account for them. The language for this week's assignment was Zoque, a Mayan language, and honestly, the only part that made it a little bit more difficult was the fact that we only had about twenty-five words to work with. I feel like it's pretty chancy to decide on some kind of linguistic rule for a language when you only have one or two representative words that demonstrate what you're trying to determine.

    I ended up meeting with both Abbie and Amanda to work on phonology stuff today. The new study hangout is turning out to be the Copper Cup, a coffee house much closer to any of us than Starbucks, and always not too crowded. Ahh, I remember the good ole days in Tallahassee at All Saints Cafe studying linguistics with Brooke and Mike Como. Anyways...we got together and worked through some related phonology problems sets...since it's been an unwritten and sort of unspoken rule in this course that we're not supposed to asked questions about or discuss the actual assignment. That's kind of a difficult thing to get used to. When someone asks a question, we're supposed to dream up some example from something else so that we're not referencing the actual problem. I personally think that that is a load of crap. How are we supposed to learn how to do these things without talking through them. I think we all know better than to just copy down the answers from someone else, because, after all, when it comes time to take the next quiz, the midterm, or even the final, each individual is going to be responsible for knowing the material. It seems like it would be in the best interest of everyone in the class to 'learn' at homework time' while still doing our own analysis and writeups, but then to demonstrate our acquired knowledge during exams. This is the approach that is being taken in syntax class. We're all able to work in groups to discuss things as long as our writeups are unique, and our homeworks are not heavily graded. They are basically a check/or check-minus type grade. This then places emphasis on our midterm and final exams during which we can show what we can learned and how much we understand.

    Posted Sep 17 2006, 02:32 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Testing the water with Greenlandic Eskimo

    One of the coolest parts about phonology class, both here and back at FSU, has been the opportunity that we have to get little glimpses into a bunch of different languages through our various sets of homework problem sets. Having finished up with the basics of phonetics in class this week, we were able to delve into real phonology and start on determining allophonic rules. The best way to learn about these rules is to use actual data, and this is where the problem sets come into play. The first set of data that we were given was a bunch of phonetically transcribed words in Greenlandic Eskimo. I would imagine that it was a pretty difficult place to start for some people in the class, because languages from this particular family are very exotic looking to the amateur linguist. The Eskimo-Aleut languages have lots of long vowels, uvular sounds, consonant clusters, and other marked features that speakers of English and other Indo-European languages aren't used to seeing on a regular basis. Nonetheless, we looked at Greenlandic Eskimo to determine its three vowel phonemes from its five vowels by looking for and assigning allophonic rules from their distribution. Figuring out the distribution wasn't the difficult part, rather it was figuring out how to use the generative phonological distinctive features that we've spent the last three weeks learning in order to describe the minimally required conditions for a given rule. Rather than giving a lot of specific information on the particular conditions in which the given vowels exist, the technique is to look at the situation from a broader perspective and to give the most general description possible without being false. This was a technique that I was never taught in my linguistics classes at FSU, we were never even heard of the concept of distinctive features. We used the 'old school' descriptivist terms that we've all come to know as phonetics party talk here at IU. It's not exactly a difficult concept, but it's definitely something that takes a little getting used to. Anyways, after our in-class analysis of the Greenlandic Eskimo vowels, we determined that the language's three vowel phonemes are /i/, /a/, and /u/. As it turns out, there are two other vowel sounds Email and Time, but they exist as allophones of /i/ and /u/ respectively but only show up in front of uvular consonants. Because they are allophones, we can say that Email, for example, is in complimentary distribution with Idea and therefore they are allophones of the same phoneme. Since Email only occurs in the very specific instance of before a uvular consonant, the phoneme that we choose to represent the allophones is /i/. Not too bad right?
    Posted Sep 16 2006, 07:33 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Distinguished Alumni

    Today was a pretty big deal at the IU Linguistics Department. All the faculty and staff from our department, along with many other from around the university and the country gathered in Bloomington to honor Dr. Fred Eckman with the Distinguished Alumni Award. This award has been given every two or three years since the early nineties to scholars in the linguistics field who completed their doctoral degrees at IU-Bloomington. Over the years, very big names in the linguistics, including Dell Hymes and Joseph Lakoff, have received this prestigious award. This year, Dr. Eckman accepted the award and came down to Bloomington from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to give a lecture. For those of you who aren't familiar with Dr. Eckman, he has been a huge influence over the years in the field of second language acquisition. Having not been exposed to much information and literature in applied linguistics, I learned a lot about the field and about Dr. Eckman's work and contributions to linguistics last night at a little pre-lecture non-technical talk and reception that was hosted at the IU Memorial Union. I have to admit that the "technical" lecture today was a lot more enjoyable, because it really got into the actual material that he was working with. His lecture focused on the acquisition of phonemes by second language learners in a bunch of different languages. The greater portion of the work that he presented focused on native Spanish and Korean speakers who were being tested for phoneme acquisition in English. Over the two-day Eckman extravaganza, professors did not cease reminding all of us graduate students that this is something that we have to look forward to. Although a little bit intimidating, it's very true. There is a lot of hope for a future in the field of linguistics. Dr. Eckman has been employed and fully funded in his research endeavors for years after leaving IU. Perhaps not all of us want to go into academia, but it's comforting to know that there are some great opportunities and professorships available out there. It was the first real chance that the new graduate students like myself got to have a glimpse into both the history and the future of linguistics that are all connected through Indiana University. Motivation!!!
    Posted Sep 15 2006, 07:21 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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