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Orthography is interesting, cultural contact and race relations can be frustrating Aug. 6th, 2009 @ 12:31 pm
I'm working on devising my own personal latin-alphabet orthography for Shachop, a language from eastern Bhutan.  I have met one person from Bhutan in my life, that I know of, and we haven't conversed outside a group setting in which we quiz him about the language.  (He volunteered for this, is getting paid, and it is For Science, by the way.)

My reasoning for not feeling like this is horrible cultural imperialism goes as follows:

1) I don't actually know if Shachopka has a script; it's a little-documented language.

2) From what I do know, if it does, it's probably similar to, or the same, as the script for Hindi.  Which just looks like squiggles to me.  ("Just looks like squiggles" is not a value judgement; this is true of all scripts that aren't either the Roman alphabet or Cyrillic.  And I can't actually read Cyrillic either.)

3) Which, since I don't have time to learn a new script, leaves me with IPA symbols, and IPA symbols are useful, but also, horrible.

Allow me to demonstrate.  This is a phonetic transcription I had with an older Aboriginal gentleman on a scooter I passed as I walked to the bus stop this morning, in IPA:

Me: "gʰədʰæɪʔ"

Him: "ɐʊhəlɐʊːhæɔːzɪtʰ"

Me: "hɔːtʰɹaɪdʰ"

Unless you are, in fact, a linguist, I am Better Than You at reading IPA, because I did Phonetics and Phonology last semester, had worked with the IPA in previous units, and am currently spending hours a week transcribing things in IPA.  I can read IPA notation fairly fluently.

That?  Is still much, much harder for me to read than this:

"Oh, hello.  How's it?"
"Hot ride!"

Of course, Shachop sound values are quite different from English, but then, I'm used to reading other languages in the Roman alphabet.  I can sight-read German, French, Japanese, and Zulu with reasonable confidence, and a few others with lesser degrees of confidence.  I am accustomed to coding orthography-to-pronunciation dependant on what language I'm working with.  I can handle reading "dh" as dʰ, and remembering that /d/ is unaspirated (even though consciously setting aspiration levels on consonants is tricksy for a native English speaker).

It's also handy when I want to express this little anecdote:

We were going through some names of animals (having moved on from food, fruit, plants).  Now, I'm periodically irritated already by some of my fellow students' inability to comprehend that what's normal/common in our culture/environment might be rare or unknown in eastern Bhutan, OR a recent enough introduction that the words are simply borrowed from other languages, since we already know that that is in fact something that the speakers of this language do.

We'd already established the various words for cattle (for cow, bull, calf...) and someone wants to ask about oxen.  Only people are talking about "cattle used to pull ploughs" and things like that, and basically giving this really strong impression (e.g. as far as I, as a native English speaker, could tell, these people were in fact saying and possibly believing that an ox is just a bigger, stronger bull, which... they're bovines, but they are in fact distinct in general usage/perception) that they were the same.

And our native speaker was like... well, we don't really use cattle, there are these other things, that are bigger, and different, they're called ja:mtsa.  Not the same as what you normally call cattle.

So I had to sort of intervene, and say that it sounded like ja:mtsa were what we would call an ox in English.

We may work out there is a difference later, but right now... gah.  We are ignorant of this language and largely ignorant about eastern Bhutan, and he is an educated, literate man who is very much fluent in English, but it's not his native language and his grasp of nuance in areas that aren't part of normal conversation, especially in an academic setting, is not necessarily going to be perfect.  (Also, he's living in Australia, and it's not like there are a lot of oxen in the streets of Perth.)

Also, wow, do I not love it when people start to sound condescending.  Assholes, this man is better educated than we are.  He's a teacher, who's here because he's studying for his Master's degree.  Yes, he's soft-spoken, brown-skinned, and has an accent, and occasionally non-native English word usages, but the odds are he's in at least the top five most intelligent people in the room.  Probably top three.  And he's in a clear and outright second place for most educated, behind only the lecturer, who has a Ph.D.

Which reminds me - just on the general topic of "things that are kind of racist" - I stopped by an antiques shop just off Rokeby Road yesterday, because I was passing and have been curious since I saw the sign what sort of stuff it contained.  The place is called "Old Values", and apparently those old values include racism.  (And also very little stuff that's old enough to be interesting, actually.)

Because there are various knicknacks, statuettes, etc that have incredibly racist depictions of African and Australian natives on them.

Which makes me feel all weird and twisted-up inside, because on the one hand: all of those items are from more than fifty years ago.  Things Were Different Then, in a lot of ways.  Racist depictions of brown-skinned people showed up in Superman cartoons.  I see such items as having historical interest value.

On the other hand, selling them in antique shops suggests they're there for people to buy as decorative items, not historical artifacts of hideous racism, and raises the spectre of people buying them as decorative objects for their homes, and that's... really not right.  Product of another era, yes, but it just seems like it's too problematic for me, where other Old stuff can have appeal, even charm.  (Sole item in that shop I was tempted to buy for myself: an ancient camera.)

But I find it hard to articulate why a racist image doesn't bother me, intrinsically, if it's presented with context, and makes me feel all sick and unhappy if it's just presented, without comment, alongside a miniature statuette of Michelangelo's David and a rocketship coin box.

Current Mood: mild pain
Current Music: People chatting in the Guild Village courtyard

Today, in classes Aug. 4th, 2009 @ 12:28 pm
Part One: :lol:

Note: I only ever use "lol" ironically.

Dealing with acoustic analysis of sounds, we have a vowel space chart on which to place a sound.

1) The axes are labelled wrong.

2) The lecturer tells us to place a sound of 579Hz on an axis labelled 0.3 - 0.6 - the chart does not actually indicate that it's labelled in kHz.

3) The chart doesn't match what we know at all. After we raise this as a question, the lecturer blinks a bit and then realises what we mean. "I'm so used to using this..." None of us can see how this data relates to our understanding of vowel articulation at all

Finally he just holds up his hands and says: "Wait. Just wait. We'll find another vowel, and plot that on here, and then you can start to see..."

His wry comment: "So much for the concrete approach."

It does start to make more sense, at least for me; some of the rest of the class struggle because they don't seem to know the IPA chart very well.

Part Two: Grow Up

Start of the lecture in Language Learning and Applied Linguistics. Three students next to me are chatting. I ask politely that they be quiet, as I'm trying to hear the lecture. They grow quieter, but snigger at me, and whisper and giggle for several minutes more.

This is university, kids. If you don't intend to shut the fuck up at lectures, don't come. Nobody's checking attendance, nobody cares if you're not here, but the rest of us will be irritated if you're drowning out the lecturer.

Part Three: Where Is My Damn Wi-Fi

SNAP access continues to be borderline at best in ALR6 and in FOX LT. It's annoying. But after this lecture I've got a couple of hours to kill, so I'm going to go find somewhere with better access while I do some work on my essay, which I need to get finished as soon as I can - it'll be a relief to get that done, for a range of reasons (including being able to devote unfettered obsession to linguistics for the semester). My basic plan involves maintaining linguistics at minimum levels to avoid falling behind for this week while I write my essay, by which point I'll also start to have enough data to be able to do real analysis of my Field Linguistics data, anyway.

We're discussing prototype theory for categories; someone suggested "penguin" as an exemplar of "bird", which is unusual. I wonder if it has a correlation with geekiness - that student has a netbook running Linux...

Of course, prototype theory actually works pretty well, too, for Chas's contention that Border Collies are the best and most "real" dogs.

I'm only vaguely paying attention in Applied Linguistics, still, because language acquisition is something I've looked at quite a bit. The content here isn't that new to me.

Hee, talking about how children can infer meaning incorrectly from context. My family has a story of this, from the time I, aged about two, watched my mother put her coffee down on her rollykit and declared: "Look! Mummy is using her rollykit as a radio!"

Because we had an ancient radio - about a foot and a half high, made of wood - that was used as a side-table of sorts. The only side-table in the house, really; it was positioned between my parents' chairs and they put their drinks on it. Therefore, apparently, "thing you put drinks on" was "radio" in my forming lexicon.

Another interesting familial anecdata point on child language acquisition: my older sister did not go through a babbling stage. She was a quiet baby. I babbled early and a lot.

I was speaking in complete sentences by my first birthday; my sister spoke later, and didn't speak clearly until she was about three. Only my parents could understand what she was saying, where I could talk even with strangers pretty much from the get-go.

Babbling is believed to the stage where the child is learning to articulate sounds. Articulation is tricky; by babbling, the child's brain learns to articulate consistently through practice and repetition. My sister apparently struggled with this, whereas I had no trouble at all.

I'm also, to this day, good at articulating unusual-to-English sounds. My sister to this day cannot roll her 'r's despite having spent the first four years of her life in a linguistic environment where doing this was common. I was 18 months old when we left, but I can roll mine - which is handy, because there's a sound in Sharchopka which appears to be a voiced alveolar trill simultaneously with a uvular fricative - the French "r" Edith Piaf made famous on its own - and I can pronounce that, which, as far as I can tell, makes me unique amongst my classmates.

My tongue vibrates in complex ways.

Best. Exam. Ever. Jul. 24th, 2009 @ 12:40 pm
So, for my exam, in addition to it ending up deferred, I had Special Conditions.

Those conditions were: a computer to use, so I didn't have to write by hand, and a separate, low-distraction room. Partly, I think, because of deferral, but possibly as a general thing, what I actually had was an Arts Seminar Room containing me and the invigilator - Lee, the retired, totally awesome former philosophy/history departmental secretary who in her day saved the sanity of many of us, including just about everyone who ever had to study under Reverend Borthwick. (A man who is not inherently evil, but does a good impression of it. I think fairly highly of him in some ways, but... yeah, thank God for Lee.)

Another reason Lee is awesome, that also shows that she has her own philosophy background, however informal: upon learning that I have recently changed my full name, she said: "Oh, so it's a whole new identity!" Instantly and intuitively grasping the philosophical significance of it; that a name is important, and that someone changing their full name is almost certainly doing that as a part of changing who they are.

What all this stuff with the special conditions meant was that, in addition to being medicated for ADHD for the first time in my exam-taking experience, the room wasn't full of distractions, and when, halfway through, I couldn't stand sitting still any more, I was able to get up and walk around the room for a couple of minutes before I settled back to work.

Which meant that the questions which I'd looked at before in horrified incomprehension, I found I could still concentrate on, still read, could understand... and could and did answer. It was just such an amazing feeling - instead of spending my exam feeling stupid and frustrated and miserable as I stared at the words and struggled to get them to form sentences in my head, even, I could read and think and work and completed the exam using the full time alotted to answer questions comprehensively instead of writing abbreviated, semi-coherent crap and "finishing" early, but badly.

This is why I really, really wanted an ADHD diagnosis - I wanted it to be ADHD that was my problem, I wanted it to be something treatable, something that could be managed. ADHD means the problem isn't me, in the sense of it being a character flaw, a lack of willpower or dedication that has made me fail so many exams. ADHD means I'm just a little different, neurologically - arguably, biologically adapted to "hunter" more than "gatherer", attuned to my surroundings and unable to ignore them, unable to be passive. Born to multitask.

Just that little bit different. Not worse (or better), just different.

How did I do? Not entirely sure, but I think I actually did reasonably, where at first I looked at it and thought I was guaranteed to fail.

I don't at all regret how little I actually studied, because the stuff I wasn't sure about, I don't think it would have occurred to me to study. *cough* The things that were on my revision list, which I didn't feel motivated to study because I still felt like I already understood it thoroughly, I had no problem with the related content on the exam. Actually, I enjoyed those parts - I really like doing phonological analysis of data that's already been transcribed. It's fun to take a language apart to see how it works, the intuitive rules that underpin it in a way so elementary that native speakers aren't even aware of them.

You want an example? Sure. If you're reading this, odds are you speak English. (If you are Deaf, I apologise, but I don't know how or if this works in signed languages.)

In English there exists a sound, depicted orthographically (in writing) as "n". In theory, this represents the sound that is technically called an "alveolar nasal" - it's a nasal sound, meaning airflow/sound is transmitted through your nose (which is why saying it is so hard when you have a cold). The "alveolar" part means that your tongue is making contact with the alveolar ridge, that ridge you can feel behind your teeth if you trace the shape of the roof of your mouth.

Except sometimes, that's not the sound you make at all. If you say a word like "anthem", you actually make a dental nasal, when your tongue touches at your teeth. This is called assimilation; we're doing it because it's easier for our tongue to make the transition to the "th" sound, which is what's called a dental fricative. (A lot of stuff about articulatory phonetics involves "it's easier".)

Now, to an English speaker, this distinction isn't contrastive - there are no words that are distinct because of the difference between a dental and alveolar nasal, it isn't a meaningful difference. Which, in a demonstration of the odd ways our brains process language sounds, leads to English-speakers thinking they sound the same, even though they don't.

In some languages, that difference is contrastive and meaningful, and to native speakers of those languages, the difference is as obvious as the difference between "r" and "l" is to native English speakers - who, in turn, have a historical tendency to mock Japanese speakers for having trouble with the difference between those two sounds, which are again not contrastive in Japanese. (But most English-speakers can't pronounce "fu" correctly. OH LANGUAGE.)

Anyway. I am kind of hyper, in positive ways based on having finally experienced the process of taking an exam without having to swim upstream against my own neurology, and IT WAS AWESOME SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS IT WAS PRACTICALLY FUN.

... Jul. 23rd, 2009 @ 04:13 pm
So I changed my name in university records.

I noted that they'd got it wrong, changing only my surname instead of other names as well. I pointed this out as I was receiving my new student card. My student card has the correct name on it.

University records, however, according to one of my lecturers, have my name wrong - old first and middle names, new surname.

I have an exam TOMORROW MORNING.

For UWA exams, the student must bring a student card, so that it can be shown that the correct person is taking the exam.

I can only hope that they're not checking against my name on record, because if they are, that gets to be a messy discussion involving me pulling out way too many forms of ID and WHAT THE HELL SERIOUSLY.

*deep breaths*

Okay. I need to study now. (Not really cramming, but refreshing my memory on everything.)

I can almost guarantee none of you know this language Jul. 21st, 2009 @ 11:59 pm
Today/tonight's frustration:

I missed the first ten minutes of my first elicitation class, where the class met Sampa, our native speaker of a language from Bhutan. The section with his speaking was recorded, but the recording is quite quiet on my laptop's built-in speakers, and currently the line-out/headphone jacks aren't working. (Have not yet succeeded in determining why that is. *sigh*) So I can't plug it directly into any other speakers. I can connect to Chas's bluetooth-enabled speaker, but Dean is currently using that.

*takes deep breaths*

And I'm a little fragile right now.

Still, some creative googling - and I had to be creative, because there's not a lot online about a language about which almost nothing has ever been written - finally established the name of the language: Sharchopka. I haven't managed to place the town Sampa's from, but I have a more general idea of what's going on, here - which I need, as I have to do a basic profile of Eastern Bhutan by 2pm tomorrow.

First impressions of the language: I suspect aspiration on /p/ and /b/ is significant, which makes me whimper quietly in my head, because it's an area where I have only slightly less trouble than I do with the extended range of clicks in Bantu languages.

On the bright side, it's nontonal, which is good, because tonal languages make me cry deep, deep in my confused place. Probably more exposure would mean I could get something closer to the hang of them, but as it is... oh, god, basically.

Right now I'm reading the CIA World Factbook entry on Bhutan and setting up my workbook for the unit.

Semester Start: Linguistic Field Methods Jul. 21st, 2009 @ 05:25 pm
Am currently sitting listening to the introductory remarks for Linguistic Field Methods, the unit I've been looking forward to doing for, literally, years.

Linguistic Field Methods is a 12-point unit, which means it's equivalent to two normal units. John (the lecturer) just said that "of all the 12-point units in the known universe, this is the most twelve-pointy". He's explaining that it's a lot of collective involvement, which makes sense, because of what this unit is about.

What it is is this: Working with a fluent speaker of an unfamiliar language, develop a grammar and dictionary of the language. Objectives also include demonstrating an understanding of the ethical and political issues involved in linguistic field research.

I suspect that our speaker will be the lecturer, and the language will be Arrernte - John's area is Aboriginal languages and his particular work has been with Arrernte - but so far he's just talked about "the speaker", so it might be someone else, we'll see.

I've been looking forward to this unit so much because it's real linguistics - the reason I haven't done it is yet is that it has heavy-duty prerequisites and I only finished those last semester. You need to have finished acquiring a comprehensive grounding in linguistic theory and foundations of grammar, phonetics, phonology, all of it, and now what we are doing is learning to do what's necessary to document a language from scratch.

At least two of the Linguistics lecturers I've had did their Ph.D. doing just that. Documenting languages that previously hadn't ever been described, that didn't have dictionaries or grammars recorded. Shelly did his on Gilbertese, a language in the Gilbert Islands, and joked about how it was the best job in the world. Gilbertese people apparently don't place a lot of emphasis on punctuality, so he spent a lot of time reading books on a tropical beach under a palm tree while he waited for people who'd agreed to come talk to him to arrive. (Field research is about the natural forms of the language, so natural settings are preferred.)

Introducing some books on the topic: "If you're not going into the field, some of this may seem a bit over the top - you'll laugh and say, 'Why would I need to take webbing and a revolver?' You'd be surprised... The Anthropology Department at Sydney uni used to have an armoury. Cool, huh? We don't have one of those any more, we just have Frequent Flyer points."

And, wow, we have readings. I've never had one of those for a Linguistics unit before. Fortunately I'm also a History major, accustomed to 300 pages plus a week, so I laugh derisively at this "a chapter" crap. (This unit is going to be a lot of work, but that's more from an actual scientific work perspective.)

Discussing time in "the field", John pointed out that it can involve going to extremely remote communities, but he himself did his in Alice Springs, which has all the amenities you might want for a "middle-class bourgeoisie experience".

Ah, looks like it'll be someone Not Him - it seems that the way they get their native speakers of interesting languages is to advertise with the post-graduate students for a volunteer. This being a university with plenty of international students, they apparently always get a range of remarkable languages to choose from (heavily-documented languages being boring, of course, and languages we students are likely to speak are quite useless). Our native speaker is "a teacher" and "working on a Master's", so there will be some educated-person bias in what we get, but I gather they're a very nice person. (Will meet them at 2pm, in our first elicitation session.)

I find myself thinking about the ethical and political issues of language documentation in general. Suzette Haden Elgin wrote a story about it - one of the few linguistics-based stories I've ever read - which I recommend to pretty much anyone, because it actually touches on the link between language and identity, colonialism and power, all of that.

There's this odd thing about language documentation. It's a process that more-or-less depends on outsiders describing the native speakers' language for them. It can't be done from within a community, because a native speaker has all sorts of biases of which they're unaware. (Yes, including English speakers - a lot of the vital work on English has been done by non-native English speakers, many of them French.)

It has to involve them - primary linguistic data, as the slide currently on show says, means spoken/written/signed language produced by competent speakers/signers of the language. But the linguist is going to be an outsider.

Which, in a lot of cases, is just going to throw up issues of colonialism and appropriation, because trained linguists are likely to be from somewhat privileged backgrounds - after all, linguistics is something of a luxury science. It's useful, and I do genuinely believe that it contributes to the general improvement of the world, but languages aren't necessarily a priority in areas that are disadvantaged in immediate, dangerous ways.

At the same time, I think recording languages is vitally important. Not just for "omg science" purposes, not even just because of my generalised love of languages. Language is a part of cultural identity, and there have already been too many languages lost because they were never recorded, and when they were at the brink, there was no recourse for people who wanted to keep them alive. The languages that have recovered from seeming doom, like Welsh, did so partly from an enthusiastic, dedicated program to keep it alive, and partly because the resources existed.

I've read a book about near-extinct languages, too, which is at my parents' house - I'll look up the title when I have internet again. (As I write this paragraph, I'm at a bus stop. I forgot to pack lunch today, and so I'm going home for food - which will also allow me to trade the library books in my bag for my camera, since the weather has turned sunny and rather beautiful, and taking photos assuages my stress levels, but this morning it was raining and my bag was already heavy.) If I forget to edit it in replacing this sentence before I post, and you're interested, poke me for it.

There's an Aboriginal language that, as of a few years ago, had two surviving fluent speakers left. Both were elderly. The woman had some grandchildren who'd picked up a few words, but no more; they had difficulty learning fluency, really, because they didn't grow up hearing conversations in the language. You see, the two speakers couldn't talk to each other due to a tribal taboo.

Dead language walking.

If the language were recorded, when they were older, the children would have the choice of reclaiming it - remembering how it sounded, they could learn the words and how to use them from the records. Or their descendants could, if the children didn't - it would still be there, waiting, an important part of their culture, waiting for them to want it enough to take it.

I think that matters. But there's an element of luxury in my conviction of the necessity of language, because my native language is English, and English is currently unthreatened and has a vast and well-recorded canon, established worldwide through a deliberate cultural colonialism. (No, really. It's one of the things that I found researching my essay that's going to be an important part of it. Quite early in the establishment of the British Empire, various figures were already discussing the likelihood that, like all empires before it, theirs would come to an end. In order to establish the British Empire as one as influential and memorable as the Roman Empire, they decided that, like the Romans, they should establish their cultural canon as the standard across the globe. What somewhat frightens me is the degree to which they succeeded. Shakespeare, Dickens, and everyone in between are The Classics everywhere the British had dominion, pretty much.)

I could make an argument that I could also lay a claim to Afrikaans, which half my ancestry spoke, but it would feel like a reach. I feel no real connection to that side of my family, and the only things I know how to say in Afrikaans are extremely insulting. (Rough translations: "Shut the fuck up" and "Go fuck yourself". Less carnal reference, as it happens - equivalence of sentiment, not literal translation here. Literal translations are "shut your mouth (using the word for the mouth of an animal") and "your hole in a can".)

Anyway, to return to my point, more or less - where a problem sets in somewhat with this is that most linguistics are white men from Europe and America. Which raises nasty spectres, you know?

I think there was more where I was going with this, but I'm now picking it up a number of hours later, when I'm completely exhausted, and I'm going to crash.

Hopefully tonight I'll find energy to do some more work. Among other things, like studying for Friday's exams, I have the first part of my workbook for Field Methods to do. The workbook is an all-semester running assessment thing, which he'll ask for every couple of weeks, and first hand-in point is tomorrow, on the third day of the semester; a background profile of the language we'll be working on and the socio-economic, geopolitical, etc, environment it comes from.

(It's a language from Bhutan. More detail, I don't doubt, will accrue in this journal.)

As I will be keeping my workbook on my laptop, rather than in an actual notebook, just about guaranteed, I have already made arrangements with John, the lecturer, for how we'll work this: when handing in, I print and submit any new material, and make a copy of the whole thing available for his access online. (Him: "Have you got a website?" I was very relieved to be able to reply with a cheerful yes, since for some years now, until a couple of months ago, I had online journals, but not an actual website where I could put things like pdf files, whereas now I very much do.)

I find myself vaguely wondering if I want to do postgrad in Linguistics after all, as I once planned. There's a certain appeal to a career path that could include sentences like: "Make sure you keep the solar panels of your satellite phone charged, in case you need to call for an emergency medical evacuation by helicopter. We can get that to you in about two days, at a cost of $27,000." But I'm more of a natural at history...

We'll see how I go with this unit, I think. If doing real Linguistics work, rather than cranking through theory, goes well for me, it changes things a bit.

Letter from the university Vice-Chancellor to all students: Your Safety and Security Jun. 9th, 2009 @ 12:33 pm
Since this letter is going out to many, many thousands of people, and is an official communication, etc, I feel minimal qualms about posting the text online. My university is responding to a perceived racially-oriented problem.

Dear Student
Re: Your safety and security
Many of you will be aware of recent media reports of attacks against international students in Australia. While most of these incidents have been in states other than Western Australia, there have also been some assaults in Perth, at or near university campuses, as well as in other suburban areas.

I am writing to all staff and students at The University of Western Australia to condemn such deplorable acts of aggression. Whether motivated by mindless hooliganism or by racism, the University abhors such violence. With several of my senior colleagues, I have this morning met with representatives of some of the international student communities on campus to listen to their concerns, and to discuss the University’s commitment to the safety and wellbeing of students. As well as existing safety initiatives, some suggestions made by student representatives will be taken up by the University in coming weeks.

All staff and students at the University have a right to feel safe and secure as they undertake their study and work. We will continue to work with you to ensure your safety while on campus, and will work in cooperation with government and key agencies at Federal, State and local level to better ensure your safety in the wider West Australian community.

The University strongly supports policies of internationalisation and diversity which encourage cross-cultural exchanges in an environment which is free from ignorance, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice.

The University website and campus newsletters will carry information about the importance of cultural awareness, and more specifically, information on support for international students. Staff will work closely with the UWA Student Guild to ensure good communication with students concerning security, and I will meet with international student representatives again in a month, to update them on progress.

I strongly encourage you to speak up about acts of violence or harassment which you witness or experience – by so doing we can combat more effectively any such deplorable behaviour. More positively, I also urge you to contribute to those activities and initiatives throughout the University which increase our understanding of diversity, and which celebrate cultural interaction.

In the meantime, I would draw to your attention two areas of important information for all staff and students:

Security on Campus

Regular security patrols, integrated alarm monitoring, intruder detection, access control and closed circuit television have helped us achieve a reputation for a safe and secure environment. Nevertheless I have also undertaken to address students' expressed need for improved lighting and additional alarm points to create more clearly identified safe walkways on campus. In the meantime, while on campus I encourage you to take the reasonable steps described on the enclosed page to ensure your continued personal safety. And if you are studying after hours, the University’s Security Service provides an escort service to car parks, colleges and accommodation immediately adjacent to the University. To use the service contact Security on (+61 8) 6488 3020 half an hour prior and a uniformed officer will respond.

Report-It Website

The University will not tolerate any forms of violence or other behaviour that makes people feel unsafe or unwelcome, including harassment or bullying.

You can help us work against this kind of behaviour by reporting it. When harassment is reported, the information can help state and local authorities prevent other people from behaving this way, and so help to make others safer. You can make your report anonymously. Your report will still be valuable.

If you have been the victim of an attack please report the details:

If you have witnessed an attack on a fellow student you can also report it:

Remember, your report can be anonymous, but if you leave your contact details you will be contacted by a member of the UWA Student Services team which can offer support.

The University of Western Australia does not tolerate racism. I appreciate the commitment of our staff and students to actively counteract discrimination and harassment.

Yours sincerely
Alan Robson

I can, by the way, confirm that UWA does actually take this stuff seriously. For example, one time, acquaintances hatched a plan to dress up as Crusaders and run around at a Harmony event aimed at promoting a better relationship with the Islamic students and community. This was when the War on Terror anti-muslim demonisation was at its height, you understand, so the University was trying to have a sort of interfaith-except-also-for-atheists-and-others program going to keep from propagating racism and Islamophobia.

I pissed them off by, when argument failed to stop them doing this, reporting their plans to the Guild, thereby producing an instant shitstorm wherein the Guild, backed by the University, intervened with a general attitude of Oh Hell No. However, because this was preventive rather than damage control, the issue was resolved quite quickly. (And without the media being involved, which... would not have been a helpful contribution.)

(I didn't regret pissing them off, by the way; I was quite convinced that I was right, and remain so, and in any case, none of them were actually friends of mine.)

To a fairly significant extent, UWA is part of who I am. It's the uni I always wanted to go to, it's the uni I've attended, on and off, since 2000; it's where I met just about all of my local friends. UWA is the place where, at various times, I've developed tendencies to refer to specific spots on campus as "home" when I slip up.

It's nice to see them still trying.
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And lo, the Essay Spam begins: Part one, Language May. 13th, 2009 @ 12:27 pm
I will, for the sake of the sanity of my readers, make the effort to edit this post, rather than adding new ones, however.

Usual practice: Notes are public, actual proper essay content is locked until after the essay is handed in. If people are interested, they can read the essay itself when it's complete (probably I'll just throw a PDF up). I'm pretty sure that I've granted access to everyone who's subscribed to me, now. Locked content tends to be either Very Personal stuff (although, since I've made a medium-grade effort to keep the hateful trolls who've made me reluctant to post in my own livejournal from knowing this one is here, middling-personal stuff will probably be reasonably open), fiction works in progress, and chunks of essays and the like; if you'd rather be dropped from access for easier filtering of my posts, let me know.

Anyway, essay. )

Current Music: Cold Fairyland - A-jia-li-yalai
Current Mood: working

The Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of Doom, Eighteenth Century Edition Apr. 20th, 2009 @ 11:46 am
(Crossposted with tiny alterations to LJ.)

Because the 2009 edition kinda seems to have died down, and also because I'm not writing an essay about 2009. Mostly the essay part. (Okay, entirely the essay part.)

So, my history essay is about the extent to which Scottish culture was oppressed/suppressed after Union with England (and Wales, but realistically: England). See, the major counter-argument to this being the case that came out of my discussion with my lecturer is that the laws banning Scottish cultural elements - kilts, tartan generally, Gaelic, etc - were generally elements of Highland culture - and the Highlands were only a small part of Scotland, not all that well-regarded even by Scots.

The Highlands, after all, were seen as a backward, savage haven of paganism and popery and nobody liked them; the Highlanders who came to the Lowlands were poor and not that welcome, etc.

And yet, in the eighteenth century and onwards, the Highlands came to be seen as the 'true' Scotland, and Highland culture became seen as Scottish culture.

Around 1:30am last night, I realised that this kind of entails my argument for the essay, because: what's going on here is that the English attitudes were more-or-less redefining Scottish culture to mean Highland culture - a culture that wasn't even favoured within Scotland at the time - and set about suppressing that...

... which has and had the effect, more or less, of writing Lowland Scots culture out of existence entirely. Even my Lowland Scot lecturer seemed (although he may have just been playing Devil's Advocate) to be arguing, when we talked about it, that it wasn't really an oppression of Scottish culture, just Highland culture. (Or maybe he was prodding me towards the exact realisation I've had - or maybe not. We'll see, though it's not directly relevant to producing the essay itself.)

Anyway, I'd be interested in the thoughts of others on this. Right now my lecturer just walked in, so the lecture will be starting soon.

Current Mood: needs more icons
Current Location: uni library cafe

The Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of Doom: Eighteenth Century Edition Apr. 20th, 2009 @ 11:38 am
Because the 2009 edition kinda seems to have died down, and also because I'm not writing an essay about 2009. Mostly the essay part. (Okay, entirely the essay part.)

So, my history essay is about the extent to which Scottish culture was oppressed/suppressed after Union with England (and Wales, but realistically: England). See, the major counter-argument to this being the case that came out of my discussion with my lecturer is that the laws banning Scottish cultural elements - kilts, tartan generally, Gaelic, etc - were generally elements of Highland culture - and the Highlands were only a small part of Scotland, not all that well-regarded even by Scots.

The Highlands, after all, were seen as a backward, savage haven of paganism and popery and nobody liked them; the Highlanders who came to the Lowlands were poor and not that welcome, etc.

And yet, in the eighteenth century and onwards, the Highlands came to be seen as the 'true' Scotland, and Highland culture became seen as Scottish culture.

Around 1:30am last night, I realised that this kind of entails my argument for the essay, because: what's going on here is that the English attitudes were more-or-less redefining Scottish culture to mean Highland culture - a culture that wasn't even favoured within Scotland at the time - and set about suppressing that...

... which has and had the effect, more or less, of writing Lowland Scots culture out of existence entirely. Even my Lowland Scot lecturer seemed (although he may have just been playing Devil's Advocate) to be arguing, when we talked about it, that it wasn't really an oppression of Scottish culture, just Highland culture. (Or maybe he was prodding me towards the exact realisation I've had - or maybe not. We'll see, though it's not directly relevant to producing the essay itself.)

Anyway, I'd be interested in the thoughts of others on this. Right now my lecturer just walked in, so the lecture will be starting soon.

Life is in the small things Apr. 19th, 2009 @ 10:06 am
Reading some links about invisible disabilities and problems attendant thereto, am considering attempting to organise a disabled students' advocacy group at uni, on the basis that separately, people with disabilities are easy to ignore, and rarely have the physical/emotional resources to kick up a fuss even where one is deserved; together we can share the load of advocacy, and maybe even unite with less spoons-deficient allies.

Would be interested in opinions on this, actually.

In other news:

This morning, I conceived of a sudden, urgent need to wash my hair. However, I had a shower just last night, and had, in the meantime, done nothing but sleep (seriously, I went to bed at 7:30pm because I decided that, since I was really really tired, there was no good reason not to), so I didn't feel I needed a shower, and there is a genuine disincentive for me to shower early on a weekend morning in that of the three bedrooms in this house, mine is the only one that doesn't share a wall with the bathroom. Housemates need sleep, so unnecessary bathroom noise is something I avoid when I'm the only person awake.

So I had a "turning into my mother" moment and washed my hair in the laundry sink. It worked, but I note the following flaws in the process:

1) My hair is really really long. In order to get my head under the tap, my hair is partly on the bottom of the sink. Not inherently bad, the sink is clean enough, just an added problem to be considered when trying to make sure hair is properly rinsed.

2) My hair is long and thick; bent forward, with water running on my head from a tap, my hair guides the water away from my face. Having sodden hair and a dry face feels weird, so I wanted to wet my face to stop the weird feeling. Turning my head so water ran on my face got water in my ears. Annoying.

Positives for the process:

1) Uses less water than having a shower just to clean hair.

2) Reduces likelihood of housemates'-sleep-disruption.

3) Is, in some ways, less painful; I can rest my arm against the sink, so my bad shoulder suffers less than it does washing my hair in the shower. Not sure it does so enough to justify doing this regularly, since it is more hassle in a number of ways and trying not to get water all over the laundry is awkward.
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In which things are kind of okay today, unless the library printers crash Mar. 30th, 2009 @ 11:18 am
Category: Best of both worlds

My friend Bear works at SISO, the Student Internet Support Office, at uni. When I have a uni-network-related problem to sort out, I prefer to get Bear to do it, because I know him, and I trust his competence, but also because I know and love him and therefore am okay with handing him my beloved laptop and letting him fiddle with the settings. Touching my laptop is not something I'm comfortable letting strangers do. (Parse that sentence how you will, really.)

However, my favouritest time to do this is when I know he's in the SISO office, because then I get to see him, have a chat, break up the monotony of his workday some, and get my problem fixed by my friend while he's on the clock and getting paid for it.

This morning I went into the office at the same time as a random student, and was pleased that Bear directed the random student to the other SISO person on duty, so I got Bear to set my laptop up to print over the network. Hooray.

... A (male) student just walked past wearing a t-shirt that reads: "Attention Ladies, I Enjoy Grey's Anatomy".

No words.

I am now in the lecture room where my next class is. For my reference: DNE Experiment 1 begun today, 9:47am.

I love having a laptop, I have to say; this morning in passing through the library I walked past the usual queue of students waiting to use the library computers, laptop in hand, and then sat down for my lecture and was able to sit and go over my assignment here. (Couple of minor text edits, but I'm actually fairly happy with it. If my mark is terrible there was a fundamental problem with my understanding of the nature of the assignment.) All other value aside - for example, being desktop-reliant at home would currently be awkward and annoying in itself - it's wonderful having reliable computer access at uni, especially with all my own files and things on it.

Today's lecture is about the development of leisure. Interesting indeed. We only have one lecture instead of two today, so I get an extra hour I'd forgotten about to do my work today. Awesome. (I have a lot to get done today.)

Things Mar. 26th, 2009 @ 12:39 pm
... I have an awesome picture I was going to upload, but it appears that Scrapbook is STILL broken Scrapbook works with Internet Explorer and not Firefox, so:

Image is moderately NSFW. Contains gratuitous Picasso reference. )

In other news, I have a boatload of reading to do in the next four or five hours, so I should get on that...

Current Location: Reid Library
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Sanity is just a state of mind Mar. 23rd, 2009 @ 10:55 pm
I have an assignment to do by tomorrow midday. For various reasons, I couldn't/didn't get it started until this evening, and I'm having to work on it.

By this time of night I'm unmedicated.

I have no idea how the hell I ever managed things before. This is so hard.

Things which have been intolerable distractions:

- Other people. I'm hiding in my bedroom now.

- The awareness that I had laundry on the rack across the room.

- My shirt touching my skin. I've had to change out of it.


Fortunately, [ profile] velithya thought of a plan that lets me get through this with sanity intact, and I'm going to get it done, and then for the rest of this semester I will be getting my work done during my Medicated Time, oh hell yes.

Mar. 23rd, 2009 @ 01:00 pm
I keep meaning to write about something I saw the other week. Every time I see a peacock I'm reminded. (As UWA students and graduates will be aware, "every time I see a peacock" is actually "almost every day".)

My History course has two lectures in a row on a Monday morning. Between lectures we get a short break. On one of these breaks, I went outside for fresh air and to stretch my legs, and stood on the walkway overlooking the grassy courtyard in Arts.

Three students were sitting there, one eating. (At any time of day at UWA, you will find someone eating.)

And, giving every appearance of preparing to attack, a peacock and two peahens were walking a tight circle around them, staring at them (and possibly at the one student's sandwich.)

All three of them looked rather disconcerted, but the one with the sandwich, especially, looked freaked as the Attack Peafowl circled.

I realised two things:

1) Hostile peafowl are kind of hilarious.

2) There's a special kind of terror, nigh-hysterical but only with the mixture of fear and laughter, in being menaced by a creature you know you can easily fend off, but would feel deeply guilty about harming in any way (and would probably fear great censure from others for hurting; it's taken as a given around here that one Does Not Interfere With The Peafowl).

Current Location: Reid Library
Current Mood: stressed
Current Music: Aphex Twin - Nannou
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A curious parallel Mar. 16th, 2009 @ 12:36 pm
Despite disapproval from certain quarters, I've been somewhat keeping up with that which is called RaceFail '09. (JFGI.)

I've not written about in my journal yet, and I'm not sure I'll ever write a comprehensive post about my thoughts on it, if only because I should be spending that time keeping up with uni work. If it gets on top of me, it will crush me.

Anyway, the thing is this: at the end of the 18th century, radical movements for social and political change changed from being the hobbyhorse of a few wealthy intellectuals (yes, I'm guilty of gross reductionism, shh) to the product of widespread working-class involvement, thought, activism, argument. The lower orders, as they were known, began speaking up, demanding representation, demanding rights.

This was a problem, and was met with repression, where the previous advocates of universal suffrage and suchlike had been tolerated calmly. The old advocates were eccentric aristocrats. The new radicals were workers. Lower-class, absent all the privileges held by the wealthy and titled.

The lower orders talking about politics, reading "The Rights of Man" and trying to claim they deserved respect and all that stuff? Arrogant presumption.

I think there's still something like that today, with some people's reactions to minorities advocating for themselves; while people might think they believe that disabled people should be accommodated equally with he abled, that homosexuals deserve the same rights in their loves as heterosexuals, that people who aren't white should be placed on an equal footing with people who are (including recognising that centuries of oppression have left their mark, and merely removing active barriers is not enough to put them, as a population, on that equal footing, because someone born in poverty to illiterate, alcoholic parents is not in a position of equality to someone born in better circumstances, and while it is not a firm rule for individuals of any race where they will fall on the socio-economic spectrum, on balance of population majorities, some groups are currently at a disadvantage that needs to be remedied)...

Pause here because that sentence got away from me a little, and I have a lot of reading to do and haven't time to edit it properly.

Yes. While they think they believe all that stuff, and probably sincerely do, some people seem to find it something of an affront when members of that minority group express their own opinions, voice their own experiences, insist on the respect which in theory most of us agree they deserve but only some of us notice they don't get. The idea being that "we" know whats best for "them"; it's probably an intellectual (as grouping) bias, in that intellectuals tend towards believing that We're Right.

And it can feel like a terrible shock, I guess, when you think you're being ever so kind and wonderful, and discover that actually, no, the person doesn't want your help, exactly, they want independent equality.

The thing is that that attitude is condescending. Like a wealthy landowner condescending to talk to his gardener; it's understood that it is an act of kindness and charity for the master merely to acknowledge that the servant is human, with experiences beyond his role as The Gardener. For the gardener to initiate the conversation would be presumption.

The unprivileged demanding equal status with the privilege is presumption almost by definition; it is denying that the unprivileged person should just "know their place", demanding that their place be moved, presuming equality to be their right.

I don't have a point to this, really; I just noticed the parallel between a number of people involved in RaceFail and the behaviour of people 220 years ago.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Current Location: Reid Library
Current Mood: tired
Current Music: Pete Anthony - Introducing Charlotte

and the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls Mar. 16th, 2009 @ 11:55 am
The following is written on the desk I'm at (hidden behind the folio shelves in Reid Library):
Doomsday is coming
9 - 3 - 2010
Hell will rise!

doing lines of dust and sweat off last night's stage Mar. 15th, 2009 @ 01:52 pm
At the beginning stage of working on an essay, I'm kind of a data magpie. I gather everything that might be relevant, then refine it and go over it until I'm ready to start working on writing the essay. In past times, this involved a lot of book-borrowing and photocopying; now that so much is available online in PDF form, it involves a lot of book-borrowing, PDF-downloading, and scanning microforms or photographing ancient books.

Accordingly, my "History" folder now contains 1.43GB of data in 131 files and 8 folders. (I just sorted it.) I have 66 articles from the Scottish Historical Review saved - and I'm not even done with that. Not all of them will turn out to be that useful, but seriously, the reading! (I also have about six library books for my essay currently.)

And the thing is, I'm really not ready to start really working on the information I have in earnest. The essay's not due for over two months, which means I can't get myself out of the mindset of looking for useful sources for quite some time yet. (And I need more primary sources, I do, but I'm still learning how to find them.)

Quite possibly, the most annoying part of this essay will be putting together the bibliography. Not least because it just feels like there's a certain number of sources past which you look like you're lying...

Idly, reading archaic texts - 17th-century especially (it's before the period of history I'm really looking at, for the most part, but some stuff still comes relevant) is having weird effects on my reading comprehension. And is threatening to affect my spelling. Possibly the oddest effect is I have trouble reading gender-neutral pronouns; people use "hir" to aim for gender-neutrality, but I'm currently reading a lot of documents where that's the common spelling of "her". So instead of just finding it slightly jarring generically, but parsing it as "gender-neutral pronoun", I'm finding it really jarring generally, because it triggers my brain to try and shift into 17th-century parsing.

Harder still is reading "shoe" as "she". There's one case where I really can see why the /o/ was dropped. (There are some words that have made an interesting journey via Americanism; take "oestrogen", which Americans spell "estrogen", a spelling which is spreading - and changing common pronunciation from "e" as in "week" to "e" as in "edward".) Judging by spelling, pronunciation was a lot more complicated a few hundred years ago. (Unsurprising. Languages tend towards simplification where meaning is unaffected.)

Now I want to look up when the Great Vowel Shift happened, and I can't, because I'm currently at New House and there is no internet yet...

... ooh, thanks for the reminder now I'm at the library, self!

Current Music: Fall Out Boy - 20 Dollar Nose Bleed
Current Location: my bedroom then Reid Library

Hell or glory, I don't want anything in between... Mar. 14th, 2009 @ 12:27 pm
A first: My history research has become obscure enough that right here, in the highly-trafficked Reid Library at the University of Western Australia, I pulled a couple of books in a row off a shelf and had to blow dust off them. (The scatter of dust that leaps into the air as you tug them off the shelf sparkles in the light, and warns you that seriously, blow those puppies off or you will be choosing between reading and breathing.)

Today's books I want to go through:

Basil Williams, The Whig Supremacy 1714-1760

Coupland, The American Revolution and the British Empire

Denis Gwynn, The Struggle for Catholic Emancipation 1750-1829

C. Robertson, England Under the Hanoverians

The problem is, there just isn't time enough in all the world to do as much reading as I want to for this essay, so a lot of the reading I'm doing now is kind of a skim-for-key-chapters thing. But I need to start keeping a bibliography, because if I've used them for my essay, they have to go in...

Speaking of reading, I keep seeing people mentioning [ profile] 50books_poc. It seems like an interesting and edifying concept, something I'd like to try (after all, I do like being exposed to cultural perspectives not native to me), but I'm totally not going to.

(Because I'm clearly a racist. Because I don't read fiction, really, right now. At all. I have mountainous piles of reading to do for history, Linguistics to keep up with, and when I'm resting my mind from history I tend to do things which engage my brain on only the most superficial levels, like watch Japanese kids' shows or play Civ4 or World of Warcraft. And those times are also generally after my ADHD meds have worn off, which means reading any work of fiction longer than about ten pages is beyond me. With sufficient will/incentive, I'm capable of reading novels, but the focus-spoons that requires are currently being devoted to history.)

Just, take it as read that I'm aware of it, so you don't need to tell me and encourage me to take part.

Meanwhile, I am still reading RaceFail09 stuff occasionally. One of the things I've taken from it? I clearly need to return to working on [Kentish and Jude], the story I started writing after doing History in Fantasy/Fantasy in History. Inspired by that course, it's a novel that's deliberately aware of the way ideology underwrites speculative fiction; I've put together a socio-historical background in my head, and each chapter opens with an excerpt from a fictional history book, about the history of that universe. I kind of love it, I just got distracted. (RaceFail brought it to mind, along with [ profile] verb_noire, because of people talking about the dearth of non-white heroes; the two central characters of the story are Kentish, who is black, and Jude, who is a lesbian, although neither of these points is explicit until a couple of chapters in. Which one is the main protagonist, and which one is, in real terms, the Hero? Highly arguable, if I do my job right, because the nature of heroism is also something which I am intentionally letting be a little questionable in this story. Argh, need more time for working on this stuff.)

Current Music: Cold Fairyland - Mula-shabel War
Current Location: Reid Library

The Pink Highlighter stands for Fail. You do not want my pink highlighter ON YOUR FACE. Mar. 8th, 2009 @ 04:11 pm
You know you've been concentrating on tutorial readings a lot when, taking a break to read other things on the internet, you have the urge to highlight bits and write margin notes and comments. That a lot of my online reading at the moment is RaceFail09 links... well.

(In other news, you can tell it's a good article when I'm writing "bollocks!" in the margins on the second page.)

I've been, today, playing Fall Out Boy's Folie a Deux on shuffle/repeat. It's a disconcertingly good album - I don't normally like Fall Out Boy this much or this consistently across an album.

Less conflictedly, I'm also loving the Lucksmiths at the moment, but I want something with more energy right now, while I'm slogging through endless historical discussion for which I have a strong feeling I don't have enough knowledge of the context, of the events in place, and so on. Accordingly, I'm not likely to see people at UniSFA much this week either; it looks like I'll be logging a lot of library hours, plus on Tuesday my between-classes gap is going to be occupied by a mad dash to my psychiatrist's office and back. Apologies to anyone disappointed.

Although, on reflection, attending my Tuesday morning lecture is a recipe for stress and panic. I better plan would be to skip the lecture (and download it when I go back to campus for my other classes), and spend the morning working in the Alexander Library, which is conveniently close to the train station, so getting from there to my psychiatrist's should be trivial. (They have much that is useful to me.)

My highlighter code is as follows:

yellow: salient point
green: could be a useful lead on my research essay
blue: I need to learn more about this, I don't really understand the reference
pink: FAIL - for highlighting arguments I think are deeply flawed

That's more-or-less the order of frequency in which they appear, in most articles, although occasionally I get one which gets quite a lot of pink. Those also tend to come with bitchy margin notes, although the whole writing-causes-pain thing is reducing my margin-bitching this semester.

Current Music: Fall Out Boy - Headfirst Slide Into Coopestown On A Bad Bet
Current Mood: tired

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