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October 2006 - Posts

  • Head-final languages are exactly what they seem

    I guess I should be thankful that it has taken me almost three months to totally screw up a homework assignment. I also shouldn't be surprised that it happened with my syntax homework. Anyone who reads my blog has heard me go on about how syntax is just not my thing, and today just proved it. In all honesty, the mistake that I made on my homework was not major, but it was something stupid that I should have caught before turning it in. We've spent the last two weeks or so redefining how we look at phrase structure rules and why. We've learned to incorporate new types of syntactic analysis to the rules that we already know as well. I thought that things were going really well, since I was able to complete some pretty complex sentence phrase structure trees, based on the sentences that Dr K has been giving us in class. Last Thursday, he decided to change things up a little bit, and he ended up giving us some sentences in Japanese and Korean to work on for homework over the weekend. He reminded us time and time again, both in class and in an email, that these were head-final languages and to make sure that we keep that in mind. Already knowing fully well what head-final languages are...or so I thought, I went about doing my homework, making sure that the verb phrase structure tree reflected the phonetic output of the sentence in the given language. It wasn't until I got into class on Tuesday morning and we started going over the homework assignment that the light bulb turned on that I had totally missed the objective of the homework. I had immediately just thought "ok, head-final...that means the verb comes last". Never did I put two and two together and think of what head-final meant in syntactic terms. It means the head of the phrase...every phrase...not just the verb phrase. So, although my sentence ended up coming out in the right order, I had the scheme of subordination all wrong. In head-initial languages, the complementization of the sentence adds information to the end of the first sentence. However, when a sentence is head-final, the complementization all occurs in the middle of the sentence, in between the first noun phrase and the final verb. I'm such a moron, and now I'm sure my professor thinks I'm a moron. Hence, I am not looking forward to going to class on Thursday.
    Posted Oct 31 2006, 11:43 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • It's not all Greek to me

    One of those interesting facts about me that most of you probably don't know is that I took Greek to satisfy my language requirement during my undergraduate years at Florida State. With all those other languages out there, and all the ones offered at Florida State for a freshman, I chose Greek. It's really a pretty sad story how I decided on Greek when I think back on it. I remember that, after graduating high school, I had a few older friends who frequented the Syracuse University hill back at home, and at times I would run an errand downtown for one reason or another. When up on the hill, I became very frustrated at not being able to tell what the names of the various fraternities and sororities were, a cause de I didn't know the Greek alphabet. That image of my frustration stuck with me until I made it to orientation for Florida State, and I couldn't wait to get back into a language classroom. It had been several years since I had test out of Spanish in high school, so I hadn't had any formal language instruction in quite a while. I decided that I would try out Greek in order to satisfy my longstanding curiosity about the Greek alphabet. The rest is history. I took Greek for four semesters and ended up learning a whole lot about language, both Greek and English, that I had never known was out there. I learned about grammar, syntax, and case markings...things that we had only scarcely touched on in Spanish in high school. I knew these things existed in language, but I didn't exactly know what they were all about. Sadly, after completed my sequence in Greek, it was time to move on and do other deal with my two majors. As time has gone by, I've tried to pick up my old Greek book from time to time and read a little bit, just to keep myself aware of how the language works. I've also had the opportunity from time to time to use what I know about Greek to make a point or explain a concept in another language, so knowing Greek has been a pretty helpful skill to have. In the last little while, with all the busy times of beginning graduate school, I haven't had much of a chance to touch Greek at least until today. I decided that I would take a break from studying for the upcoming phonology test for a while and break out the old Greek book. Rather than stick to what I usually read, old stories about Dikaeopolis the farmer and his dog Argos, I pulled out a book on Greek for reading the new testament, so Koine Greek. I have to admit that I was pretty impressed with what I have remembered...and I was impressed that I was able to read quite a bit in this book that is about a dialect of Greek that I had very limited exposure to. Man...I am such a language nerd...but I can't help it!
    Posted Oct 31 2006, 05:25 AM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • It's all just a big conspiracy

    In addition to learning about lexical phonology and second language acquisition this past week in phonology class, we also started to discuss the one main downfall of traditional generative phonology. Shortly after the introduction of generative phonology into mainstream linguistics, Charles Kisselburgh published a paper that was a huge shock to the generative linguistics community (and perhaps made the old school descriptivists smile a bit). Kisselburgh had found a language called Yawelmani to which the principles of generative phonology (at that time) could not apply. Kisselburgh explained that there existed in Yawelmani as group of phonology rules that all combined or conspired to achieve the same result but did so in completely different ways. The problem was that these rules lacked any capability of being abbreviated...something that generative phonology was supposed to accomplish. Kisselburgh also noted that, despite the odd interactions that seemed apparent in these rules, the phonetic output that they created was always transparent. Generative phonologists responded, granted over twenty years later, with a new theory that could account for this type of phonological conspiracy that Kisselburgh discovered. In the early 1990s, Optimality Theory was born. This new theory of phonology addressed conspiracies by proposing a new rule-free way of analzying the phonological features of languages. Optimality Theory (or OT, as it is commonly known) proposes a system of constraints, rather than rules, that a language can have. OT explains why it is better to break some constraints before others. In following years, linguists have discovered phonological conspiracies in several other languages, but now luckily, they can all be explained by the new implementation of optimality theory, and we can do away with all those crazy phonological rules.
    Posted Oct 29 2006, 08:50 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Transferring information from L1 to L2

    We touched on a subject in class this week that I thought was particularly interesting, and it's one that I had never really been exposed to before. We have been working on learning about the differences between lexical and postlexical phonological rules in preparation for our next Thursday's midterm. We talked about the basics of the rules and how to tell one from the other, but this Thursday we were treated to highly unusual lecture-style talk from Dr D about lexical and postlexical rules in L2 acquisition. For those of you not familiar with the L1/L2 concept or language acquisition in general, I'll explain briefly. L1 is our native tongue, the one that we learn first when we are acquiring language. L2, on the other hand, is a secondary language that we learn after we have acquired our L1. A great deal of work has gone into the reasons why second languages are learned the way they are. You might recall a post I wrote a couple months back about our distinguished alumni Dr. Fred Eckman. His work focuses a lot on L2 phonology. So anyways, what about this L2 phonology and these phonological rules? It just so turns out that there is only one type of rule that can be transferred from L1 to L2. Postlexical rules, or context-free rules, such as allophonic phenomena are readily transferred from L1 to L2 by new language learners. This phenomenon is manifested in our recognition of people speaking English with a foreign accent. These L2 learners have transferred portions of their phonological system and overlay it on English. Many of the allophonic rules that we take for granted that govern the phonetic output we produce when speaking are not able to be applied by beginning L2 learners. In many cases, the L2 learner is not able to make a phonemic split between a single phoneme is his or her L1 that is now two separate phonemes in English. In the early stages of L2 acquisition, the L2 learner will mistakingly assign the L1 phoneme in every case. It is not until later that the L2 learner begins to make the phonemic split. When this phonemic split does occur, it will only be realized in non-derived environments. It is not until later stages of L2 acquisition that the phonemic split is complete and is realized in both derived and non-derived environments. The L2 learner has therefore successfully acquired a new phoneme. In every case of rule transfer from L1 to L2, things happen in much the same way. Only postlexical rules that can be applied in non-derived (mono-morphemic) environments can be transferred. Then, it is not until later stages of L2 acquisition that the learner will be able to apply the rule to derived environments. It is helpful to note that there are no rules in any language that apply only in non-derived environments. Lexical rules apply only in either phonologically or morphologically derived environments, and postlexical rules rules apply in both derived and non-derived environments.
    Posted Oct 28 2006, 07:29 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • My Indiana Registration Fiasco

    OK, let's start at the beginning, the first and only problem that I've had since moving to the great state of Indiana has been my dealings with the BMV...that's Bureau of Motor Vehicles for all you non-Hoosiers out there. I know, it's DMV in every other state, but it's BMV here. I went to the Indiana BMV here in Bloomington nearly a month ago to complete my transition from being a resident of the state of Florida to being a real Hoosier. I knew that I had until the middle of the second week in November to complete this transition, so going to the BMV during the first week of October seemed to be a good idea. Five weeks is a lot of time. Was I ever wrong...It has been an absolute fiasco for the last month. It all started out allright, with me going and getting my Indiana drivers license with no hitches whatsoever. I studied for the drivers test of course, because they ask you fifty crazy questions, of which you're only allowed to miss three. I got my license and told the "customer service" rep at the BMV that I needed to apply for my new title in the state of Indiana so that I could get registered here and get license plates. She explained to me that the BMV would have to request a lien release from my lien holder (since my car is financed) before they would be able to help me out. She assured me that it was no big deal and that they do it everyday, at least with anyone who doesn't own their car outright. I gladly filled out the paperwork and sent it away. Over the next week or two, I called the BMV back and inquired about my paperwork, and I got nowhere. No one wanted to even take my name to look in the computer so check on the progress of my request. They told me to sit tight and they would call me when the paperwork got there. Several days later, I got curious about the progress and I decided to call HSBC and see what was the hold up. Well, lo and behold, they had not even received the request for the lien release yet. Note that this is twenty days after the BMV sent the request. I know that we refer to the US postal service as snail mail, but I think that even snails could have gotten from Indiana to California in twenty days. I decided to call the state office in Indianapolis to find out some more information since I wasn't getting anywhere with my local BMV branch. They basically told me that this was a ridiculous hold up and that I should take my paperwork back in and ask to speak to a supervisor. Meanwhile, the state of Florida is sending me letters saying, "tsk, tsk, tsk, you've only got until November 8th to do this, or we're going to suspend 'your life'". Fast forward to Monday (sorry for postdating this blog post)...I still can't do jack crap because for some unknown reason, the Indiana BMV offices are not open on Mondays. That means that I'm going to have to get up at the butt crack of dawn and stand in line at the BMV on Tuesday morning before I have classes to try and find out more information. So I get there, I explain my situation, and as easy as pie they say..."oh, we'll submit a new request, and we'll send it to the address that you told us to last time...ya know, the one that we said we couldn't send it to...and we'll give you a temporary registration so you can get Florida off your back". Well, well, well.....would that have been so hard to do in the first place? I think not. So yes, I now have all the paperwork, and it has been sent to Florida, and although I'm still sans an Indiana license plate, I have now satisfied the request from Florida for my new insurance, new license, and new registration. Moral of story....if you move to Indiana...don't bring car.
    Posted Oct 27 2006, 07:15 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Forbidden Words by Allan and Burridge

    I had the fortunate experience to be asked by a member of Cambridge University Press to read through a new sociolinguistics books that is coming up for publication and talk a little bit about it in my blog. I've been meaning to talk about it now for about a week or so, but I havent' had the chance to really sit down and get to it. It took me a lot longer than I expected to actually get a chance to read the book, owing to the fact that this semester has been such a busy one so far. The amount of reading that we are assigned each week for my ethnography of communcation seminar keeps my "spare time" pretty full. Couple that with regular assignments, studying, and homework for my other three classes, and you can see how squeezing in time to read another whole book is rather tough.

    I did finally get some time two weekends ago to sit down with Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language, by Keith Allan and Kate Burridge. I was immediately fascinated by what the authors had to say about the way that language and certain words in particular have been tabooed in our society. I remember reading a few papers and short articles back in linguistics core class last year about language taboos, but I don't believe that anyone of them covered the subject with the precision that Allan and Burridge do in this book. The book was of particular use to me for my research, as I'm hoping to look into language attitudes from a somewhat historical perspective in certain social and cultural situations, and this book provides a lot of observations that I hadn't thought to consider.

    The book is broken down into several distinct sections, each of which focuses on a particular type of language taboo. I believe that one of the most helpful parts about the book is the first section that introduces the reader to the many different types of language taboos and their origins. It also serves to explain why certain people find certain types of language to be offensive, and conversely why others do not. Sections of the book are devoted to "bad language", such as slang, swearing, and insults, taboos in political language, taboos in naming and meaning, taboos related to words that refer to sexual or anatomical subjects, taboos relating to food, smell, and disease, and there is even a section on word taboos associated with death and dying.

    There is such a wealth of information in this book, and I have marked off so many small sections to talk about, that this informal review could go on for a week's worth of posts. I decided that, rather than bog this post down with specific examples from many of the sections, I would focus on a particular portion of the book that was of interest to me. The fifth chapter of Forbidden Words talks about the notion of linguistic purism, or what the authors refer to as "verbal hygiene". Of great interest to me in this chapter is the discussion about the use of standard language. Many of the bits of information contained in this chapter stem from attitudinal data about the use or non-use of some type of standard language, language that represents a "pure" form in the eyes of a person or population. These attitudes are expressed through formation of language-preserving bodies, such as the language academies found in France and Spain, and also in the words of the people who speak the language as found on television and radio. Expressing language attitudes through such media is quite significant in that the attitudes are spread to a massive number of people. I don't have to explain the great deal of influence such types of media have on the public. It could be observed that perhaps the attitudes of a small group of prescriptivists is therefore having an effect on the language use and attitudes of many others. This is, of course, just a brief overview of what is offered in this chapter.

    Like I mentioned above, this book is a thorough look into many different types of language taboos, and it is particularly strong in its delving into the historical reasons for such taboos. I strongly urge anyone, linguist, psychologist, anthropologist, or any social scientist to pick up a copy of Forbidden Words, by Allan and Burridge when it is available. The book is a quick but fascinating read, and one that can be enjoyed by laymen and scholars alike.

    I'd like to thank Cambridge University Press for providing me with the opportunity to review this book.

    Posted Oct 26 2006, 11:08 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Tagged again!

    Oh Mike Catania...what have you done?! You've tagged me again haven't you? For those of you who aren't familiar with the way that tags work, here's a little bit of an explanation. When someone tags you in their blog, it has been decreed by the internet gods that you must answer the tag that they've given you. Most of the time, these tags come in the form of questions, quizzes, or something of the like. This time is no exception, as I have been tagged to respond to a pretty odd request that I've never heard of before. My instructions are as follows:

    Simply load your entire playlist on your favourite music-playing device (be it an iPod, WinAMP, your 99-disc CD changer, or a comely soprano named Katya) and hit the Shuffle button. Then, use the shuffled playlist make the soundtrack for the movie of your life, using the life events in the table below. The choices Shuffle bestows upon your life will range the gamut from completely nonsensical to eerily perfect.

    Why does this request frighten me you ask? Remember that I was once a music major and that I listen to a lot of different types of music. The music on my Ipod ranges from classical, to pop, to rap, to musical theater, to Mongolian throat singing. I'm a little bit scared of what's going to come on when I hit that random button. Here goes nothing...

    Opening Credits- Whitney Houston, I'm Every Woman - This is NOT the way this needs to start. I don't even have a workable explanation for this...

    Waking Up- Ryan Cabrera, True - OK, this is much more my style. I wouldn't mind waking up to something mellow like this in the morning.

    First Day of School- Dire Straits, Walk of Life - Perfect! Wow this song totally reminds me of when I was a kid. My little brother used to refer to this tune as "the piggy toe song" because the bass player wore no shoes in the video.

    Prom- Mariah Carey, Always Be My Baby - Wow, this would have been so much better that our actual prom song. I think for my senior prom it was "Wonderful Tonight" which I had never heard at the time.

    Life's OK- Michelle Branch, Everywhere - this is Life's OK, I'd hate to see what kind of lame song is Life's Not OK.

    Driving- Incubus, Drive - I'm seriously not joking!!! It doesn't get more perfect than that! As the directions above imply, this is eerily perfect.

    Falling in Love- Break through to the other side, The Doors - Oh man...I've never done drugs in my life, however should I ever chance to, it would be helpful to have this song playing.

    Breaking Up- Get your freak on, Missy Elliot and Nelly Furtado- Hmm...this seems counterproductive if you ask me.

    Mental Breakdown- Ride wit me, Nelly - Well, if I was going to have a mental breakdown, this wouldn't so bad. This song reminds me of fun times with Mike and Jamie....."hell no...are you for real?"

    Reconciliation- The Eagles, Hotel California - haha...."this could be heaven or this could be h-eh-eh-ll" That says it right there.

    Wedding- I'll fly with you, Gigi D'agostino - ya know those songs that you always wonder how they have made it onto your ipod?...yeah, this is one of them.

    Sex scene- Diggin on You, TLC - Aww...left eye salut! Not a bad tune...nothing like old school TLC!

    Birth of child- I think god can explain, Splendor - wow, perhaps this was an unexpected and/or unwanted child

    Dance Sequence- We built this city, Jefferson Starship - yeah, this totally works. I definitely karaoke-d and danced to this song at my aunt and uncle's wedding when I was five years old

    Flashback- Vanessa Williams, Save the Best for Last - uhmm, this is a little bit creepy. I don't know exactly why...but definitely creepy.

    Final Battle- Sade, Smooth Operator - apparently the battle ended very very well. Incidentally, I always think about Mike Catania when I hear this song...but that's such an inside joke.

    Death scene- O holy night, Nsync - perhaps I possess some divine quality that I am not aware of

    Funeral Song- Nothing else matters, Metallica - somber...yes, but I don't's not really me.

    Closing Credits- Can't get you outta my head, Kylie Minogue - It's because I'm just soooo unforgettable!

    I tag Marty, T-Chris, and Elena!!!!

    Posted Oct 26 2006, 01:52 AM by christophergreen with 1 comment(s)
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  • CP/IP Analysis

    The time has finally come. The mysterious new form of analysis in syntax that we've been waiting for for the entire semester was finally introduced today in class. Although it may not seem like a big deal, it feels as though we have finally graduated to being able to talk about syntax like real linguists. This of course is not even true, since we have a long way to go in syntax before even touching on optimality theory, but getting into CP/IP analysis is a good start. So what is it about this new analysis that makes is Well, it has a lot to do with how we consider that sentences are formed. Previously, we had used terminology in our phrase structure rules that referred to the fact that sentences are comprised of a noun phrase, some auxiliary tense, and a verb phrase. Of course it gets a lot more complicated than that simple three-part analysis, by adding determiners to noun phrases and lots of different kinds of adjunct phrases into various specifier or complement positions depending on the particular sentence. We then learned that it was a better idea to put all of the information about tense and agreement in a sentence into a category called INFL, which would replace AUX in our phrase structure rules. Finally, we learned about the wonders of complementizers like 'that', 'who', 'for' and others that allow us to imbed lower level sentences into a larger phrase. That was a pretty big step, but then we turned everything into X-bar theory. It basically just gave a new way to label things. Noun phrases, formerly NP, became N'', adjectival phrases, formerly AP, became A'', and so on and so forth for all the different types of phrases. We had to find a way to deal with this INFL thing and complementizers, because they don't exactly fit into other phrases. Somewhere along the way, some generative linguist decided that we should go ahead and consider the entire sentence to be based off of the tense that it carries, and therefore INFL is actually the head of some phrase...the INFL phrase, or IP. Therefore, we had to do a little rearranging again so that an IP, or I'' now, now takes the place of S for a sentence. The final piece of the X-bar theory puzzle came along when Dr K introduced us to the idea of the complementizer as the head of its own phrase. Aha...everything has it's own phrase...even the determiner (but that's a different story). So now, we have learned all the necessary tools in order to create the proper phrase structure rules for any sentence, analyzable in X-bar theory. It's a small step in the right direction as we continue to build our model of generative grammar, but it's a huge step in facilitating our understanding of how syntax really works.
    Posted Oct 25 2006, 01:33 AM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Happy Eid ul-Fitr

    Normally, my academic commitments on a typical Monday aren't that extensive, but today they were even less so. My Monday mornings are usually early ones, as I get up around 7am to make the trek onto campus for Bambara class. Today however, in celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid ul-Fitr, we ended up not having class. As some of you might know, today marks the end of the Muslim month of holy month of Ramadan. Seeing that we are learning a language spoken in a predominantly Muslim country, our instructor helps to teach us a blend of culture and language so that we can fully understand how and why the people who speak Bambara do so in the manner that they do. One of the most important parts about learning a language is learning about the social and cultural components of the language. It is for this reason that we spent such a long time learning the complex custom of greeting and leave-taking, and the strong influence of religion on Bambara culture explains why we spent a good deal of time on learning various benedictions for the many different situations that one might want to bless someone else. So back to Eid ul-Fitr...this is a very important day, because it marks the end of a month of fasting, meant to help achieve enhanced piety. In Bambara culture, there is even a special and specific greeting that one uses on this occasion that acts also as a type of benediction. I thought that it would be appropriate and respectful for me to include this blessing in my blog. I will put the blessing in Bamanakan first and then a freely translated version in English. Happy Eid everyone!

    A sanbe sanbe

    sitiya la

    fatiya la, batiyala, musotiyala, chetiyala, dentiyala

    San nyon kene, an kene k'a seli

    K'i si ke neke bere ye

    tumun kana don a la, sanko baka-baka

    Ne sen te juru la, ne bolo te juru la.

    "May we come each year to eat.

    May we be the owners of long life.

    Bless fathers, bless mothers, bless wives, bless husbands, bless children.

    May we pray for 100 years

    May your life be an iron post.

    May you not die and waste away.

    My feet are not attached, and my hands are not attached."

    Posted Oct 24 2006, 01:12 AM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Degrees of abstractness in phonology

    Things are progressively getting weirder and weirder in phonology class as the semester goes on. To think that it was a mere ten weeks ago that we were talking about simple allophonic rules is pretty scary. This past week we delved into the area of phonological abstractness, which as the name implies, is pretty abstract. We learned, by using examples from a bunch of different languages, that abstractness in phonology comes in many different forms. Naturally, we started by addressing instances of least abstractness and then progressed to some really 'out there' cases that took a little bit more 'umph' to understand. Our professor, Dr D, explained that there is somewhat of a hierarchy to categorizing the degerees of phonological abstractness among languages. The best place to start when looking for pontential abstractness is to look at the underlying representation whatever word or segment that you're analyzing. One of the first and most important things to figure out is whether or the sounds that end up comprising the phonemic inventory of the show up in the phonetic inventory. To recap, the phonetic inventory are the sounds that we actually hear vocalized in the language. The phonemic forms are those sounds from which the phonetic forms are derived. Believe it or not, there are some languages that have underlying sounds that never get pronounced. These are the languages with the highest degree of phonological abstractness. If the language does happen to contain sounds in the both the phonetic and phonemic inventories that are the same, it's best to next look at whether or not there is any allomorphy in the forms that you're analyzing. When looking at allomorphy, it's necessary to compare the underlying and surface representations of each form. In some languages, these two representations will differ without the possibility of any type of alternation on the surface to suggest the form of the underlying representation. This is the next least abstract phonological form. If there is some type of allomorphy on the surface that suggests the underlying form, we have to then look at the individual properties of the segments that we're analyzing. If the segment has some characteristics of the underlying form, but is not identical to it, it is slightly more abstract than the least abstract case in which the allomorph is identical to the form of the underlying representation. Does that sound abstract to you? Yes? I thought so. It's pretty confusing, and it takes a lot of working through several problems in a bunch of languages that demonstrate the concepts to really get it straight.
    Posted Oct 22 2006, 02:16 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • A strangely not busy weekend

    Well, so much for getting all my work done in advance so that I would have lots of time to work on my ethnography project. As you know from my last post, Dr S pushed back our amount of work and the due date for our next big project in ethnography class by two weeks, so all the time that I had set aside to be working on it is now sitting before me with nothing pertinent to occupy it. Those of you who know anything about me know that I don't deal well with having too much free time on my hands. I need to be busy constantly...not so busy that I get overwhelmed, but busy enough that I feel like I'm making progress on something. So, with no real homework to do besides the phonology assignment that I already finished, I was faced with the daunting task of just reading for the entire weekend. I'm always thankful for lots of time to read, but sitting down and concentrating on reading is a much more difficult task. Again, it's very difficult to feel like you've accomplished things when you finish reading, because you haven't actually got anything to show for it, besides what you've stored in your brain from comprehending. There is no paperwork to hand in or talk to give, it's just what you've learned for yourself. I've tried to combat this by taking lots of notes while I read. I try to evaluate the paper or the chapter that I'm reading as I go along and begin to formulate relevant questions to what I'd like to study. At least that way it helps me feel like I'm working towards a goal. Maybe it's a mental thing, or maybe I'm just a little bit compulsive...both are surely possibilities. I've begun to catalogue everything that I read as well. I have different lists depending on the function of what I'm reading for. Things that I'm reading for classes or that won't necessarily be things that will go towards my personal research end up on one list. Things that will end up on my actual reading list for my research go in another place. I'm trying to keep on top of things going on all over the field, and not just in my particular area of interest, by reading some of the "big" articles that come out in some of the main linguistics journals. Some of them are still a little bit over my head at this point, but I'm trying to find something useful or potentially relevant to my research in everything that I read.
    Posted Oct 21 2006, 07:56 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Language attitude surveys

    Just when I start to think that I might be enjoying my ethnography of communication/linguistic anthropology field methods class, we end up having some pointless discussion that makes me want to roll my eyes and walk out of the class. Such was the case this past week in class when we began discussing our upcoming assignment focusing on language attitudes. Instead of having a pre-decided-upon assignment or task for us to do, Dr S decided to wait and see how things developed throughout our class to see what would be an appropriate project to work on over the next week. Having previously placed my total trust with Dr S since he had given us such great assignments before, I thought that he was just waiting to see what point our discussion got to before giving out the appropriate assignment. I was very shocked to hear him suggest that we, as a class, were going to decide what the assignment would be. OK, so I didn't check out immediately, but as my classmates began opening their mouths one-by-one and emitting ridiculous ideas that had nothing to do with what we were trying to accomplish, my level of irritation with things began to elevate. We centered on the topic of language attitudes in southern Indiana, since of course, that's where we are. People in the class decided to speak up and therefore speak on behalf of the whole class about what we should do, and it ended up coming to an all out verbal brawl between several members of the class whether or not we should be interviewing people who are natives or non-natives of the area. We also got into quite a discussion about whether or not the southern indiana accent is a 'southern' accent or not. Several of us looked pleadingly at Dr S as we began to run over our alloted class time and still nothing had been decided or even discussed in a civil manner. We asked that he just email us with the information that he would like us to find out, and we left it at that. Thankfully, Dr S came through by providing us with a sample survey to ask to non-native southern hoosiers (indianians). It would have been very difficult for many of us who have just moved here or haven't lived here long to stake out natives of the area without going door-to-door, and who even knows what that would yield. Having only lived in the area for three months now, I don't even have an opinion or a hypothesis as to what information I might potential gather from these language attitude surveys. I don't even think that I know anyone who is actually from here. With that said, I am grudgingly completing the surveys, and hopefully the information that we all collect will not yield another anthropological brawl as we had last Tuesday night. I'm sure that one of the few native southern hoosiers in the class will refute whatever information we collect....just mark my words.
    Posted Oct 20 2006, 09:37 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • A sigh of syntactic relief

    After a week of waiting and a scary evaluation of how the class did as a whole, we finally go our syntax midterms back today. As Dr K was handed the papers back, I could hear my heart pounding in my head. The way that our class is set up, we only have three grades for the entire semester. One third of our grade comes from just being in class, participating and asking questions, and completing our homework every week. Our homework isn't graded necessarily, but we still have to do it to get credit obviously. We don't even have quizzes. The other two-thirds of our grade comes from a midterm exam and a final exam. Both of these exams are take-home, and we have one week in each case to complete them. This may sound very very nice (believe me it is), but it is also very nervewracking to know that you only have two real opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge and get a satisfactory grade. So now you can imagine why I was pretty nervous as we were getting 33% of our grade for the semester handed back to us. Luckily, I ended up doing very well. I actually expected to do very well, but as time went on, I became more and more nervous about what grade I would actually get. I feel pretty good about my chances for an A for the semester now that I got my midterm back. With that 'A' and I imagine an 'A' for homework and participation, I'm definitely on the right track. There is, of course, a long time between now and the final exam and a lot more material to learn. I think though that I understand enough about syntax and enough about how Dr K grades that I'll be able to do as well if not better on the final, thereby dispelling all the fears about syntax that I had coming into the class. I can safely say that the class has gone (at least up until this point) nothing like I had imagined when I started IU. Syntax makes a lot of sense, but like I said before, studying it in detail is just not 'my thing'. Perhaps sometime in the future I'll have to take advanced syntax, and I guess that will be allright, but I'm satisfied with having nearly cleared the first hurdle that I feared in graduate school...doing well in and understanding generative syntax.
    Posted Oct 19 2006, 08:35 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Andrea is keeping me on my toes

    I'm very excited that there have been many people lately who have responded to my blog posting both in the comments section and through emails to me for a variety of reasons. I have had students writing me to ask questions about various things that they don't exactly understand from their classes, I have had publishing companies contact me offering me new books to read and review, and also I have had people like Andrea who are fellow students in linguistics who offer comments and suggestions about what I write and really keep me on my toes. I think that it's more helpful to me to use my responses to these types of questions and comments as a new post, so that anyone who reads my blog can benefit from the discussion. In this post, I'm responding to some comments that Andrea out at UCLA left regarding an ongoing discussion that we've been having about generative syntax and perhaps generative linguistics in general. I'm doing my best to keep up with the argument, but as you all know, I'm new to this generative stuff myself, having received all my training before starting at Indiana in the older descriptive tradition. Now that I'm at Indiana, I'm trying to embrace the generative model of linguistics, and I'm having an easier time grasping the concept in phonology rather than syntax. That being the case, I'm doing my best to attempt to support generative syntax with what I have read and learned thus far.

    Andrea had asked me to justify my reasons for using the phrase "give a second thought" to something in order to explain ideas of innateness in universal grammar. I fully admit that that wasn't exactly the best analogy to use when describing what linguists think happens. It's true that we don't give a second thought to a lot of things, like Andrea mentioned, picking up a fork, etc. However, I believe that the point that I was trying to get across was the fact that humans do not actively think about assigning grammatical case, etc when they are speaking or otherwise constructing sentences. My argument is that universal grammar provides every human the ability to learn any given language and that every human language possesses a certain amount and type of underlying features that our brain then manipulates into language-specific rules depending therefore on what language it is that we learn as our mother tongue. When we acquire language as a child, we have inherited universal grammar, and then the acquisition process (and socialization) teach us the language-specific things that we need to know to be a competent native speaker of any given language. So yes, we learn these things, like how to assign case, etc. in a language, but it's a different process. Our mothers and fathers need to teach and show us how to use a fork through demonstration, etc., but never do they sit down and tell us what part of the sentence is the subject or object, etc. Our language acquisition machinery allows us to figure those details out on our own, even though we don't know what they are until much later. So in this way, the capacity to learn these features of language is what is innate in humans.

    With that said, Andrea asks about a potential genetic substrate for language learning, and from what I recall reading and hearing about in linguistic anthropology, there has been suggestion of precisely that. If universal grammar does exist and we do have this ability to learn any human language, there may perhaps be some genetic substrate for language learning...a language acquisition gene, if you will. Andrea mentions that this would be "a very strong claim given the latest neuroscience." I don't think that I'm familiar with the material that that references, so could you fill me in on that please Andrea? I'd really like to know about it.

    Finally, I think that I left my response to Andrea's question about the importance of meaning a little bit flat. I mentioned something about the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign, but I didn't exactly explain myself. The reason that I mentioned the sign was in reference to underlying structures versus surface structures of particular concepts. I believe that Andrea first suggested that people respond to lack of meaning rather than lack of grammaticality in forming sentences. My suggestion is that when people see symbols "flying by" these symbols only carry meaning according to the particular language that they belong to. This is why we can call the fuzzy four-legged creature that purrs a cat in English, un chat in French, un gato in Spanish, or jakumah in Bambara. The underlying concept has been assigned some symbol (a word) by speakers of a language that serves to represent that concept. In the generative model, meaning comes later. Don't me wrong, semantics (the study of meaning) is very very very important, but the semantic interpretation of a sentence is one of the final components of grammar. In a very simplified way, the generative model of grammar tells us that we have a lexicon of words that represent signs that are subjected to syntax. This overt syntax is the knowledge of mechanisms that create structure from words. From overt syntax, two forms emerge...a phonetic form and a logical form. The phonetic form simply allows us to interpret sounds. The logical form however is what prepares us to be able to apply semantics to the output of overt syntax. The output is this interpreted semantically as a final step in the overall model of grammar.

    It's very obvious that this is just one interpretation, and these interpretations are modified and revised constantly, but in the Universal Grammar Model from Chomsky, this is how we can account for why ungrammaticality is accounted for in underlying features and why meaning is accounted for on the surface of an utterance. Each part of grammar can be explained indepedently but all portions must cooperate and conditions must be satisfied to create a grammatical sentence in a given language according to its language-specific rules that modify the language-universal underlying features.

    Sorry this is long-winded Andrea, but I hope that I at least explained my thoughts a little better this time. I appreciate the invite for a coffee. It would surely be nice to get away from the frigid midwest and visit sunny california. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the post.

    Posted Oct 18 2006, 04:09 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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  • Simplicity in a phonemic inventory

    I keep trying to explain to a few of my classmates that it's not that I don't like syntax, I just don't like syntax. Ya know what I mean? I understand syntax, and I do well in syntax, but it's just not 'my thing'. On the other hand, phonology is much more 'my thing'. Rather than sitting in class and scratching my head trying to figure out exactly how and why something is happening, like I do in syntax class, I always walk out of phonology class feeling totally amazed at the theories that we learn and energized about finding a way to apply what I've just learned to my own research in the future. One of the things that I find difficult to cope with in syntax class is the ways in which all these theories and concepts continue to change drastically over the years, and rather than become more succinct and believeable, they become more abstract and often times confusing. Back to phonology again, it seems like what we are learning in that class is going in the opposite direction. We spend our class periods (and our homework) taking complex problems and phenomena and explaining them down to a few rules. Of course their are exceptions and some confusing things that occur, but the underlying theme here is that we are simplifying the material rather than making the concepts more abstract. We continue to learn about how the simplest answer is likely the correct one when it comes to phonology. For instance, just the other day, we were in the midst of proposing a phonemic inventory for a particular language. Dr D explained to us that if two people go about analyzing a language to determine its consitutuent phonemes and both come up with feasible ways to account for the phonemes that work, it's likely that the person who suggested a more restricted phonemic inventory (fewer phonemes) is likely to be correct. Why you ask? When you posit that a language has a particular set of phonemes, you are saying that these sounds are unpredictable and have to be learned. The more phonemes, the more unpredictable things for every person to learn. If two solutions are possible and one requires that fewer things have to be learned, the solution with the lesser requirements will win out in the end. It's all about simplicity. There are plenty of cases of abstractness in phonology, but again they can be explained by rules that simplify them. At first I felt a little bit guilty about not being as enthusiastic about syntax as I am about phonology, but then I realized that none of our professors expect us to like all things about linguistics equally. I think that the important part about taking these core classes is that we learn what material and theories are out there and what research has been and is being done in many different areas. It's important that we are introduced to everything, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to be exposed to all these different areas of linguistics. However, being in graduate school means that we need to start narrowing down and specializing on something that we are willing to devote ourselves and our years of research to. So what if I'm not going to be a's still important to learn the material so that I know what to do if something syntactically relevant comes up in my future research.
    Posted Oct 17 2006, 06:55 PM by christophergreen with no comments
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