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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.

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.

Comment replies will be forthcoming soonish... Mar. 5th, 2009 @ 01:54 pm
So, I accidentally lost my previous draft of this, but:

So far it's a little hard to tell how well my new meds are working. I was getting a bit distracted from the article I was reading, but the article was somewhat tedious and annoying. It's probably worth noting that the time it took me to lose focus could be measured best in paragraphs/minutes, not words/seconds, and I was able to refocus my attention on what I'm doing fairly easily, without that internal-static sense of impossibility about it. I can do it. My difficulty with the article can quite possibly be ascribed to the part where it was tedious and annoying.

(Any article where I expostulate things like: "So you're arguing that because you're stupid, everyone is?" and "... You sexist bastard." is going to be be a little problematic. But seirously, he argued that a certain change was irrelevant because it barely affected men, and the population-wide percentage change was explained by it affectiong 40% of women.)

Pleasingly, I seem to have made a friend. D. is the woman with the toddler in my Linguistics class from last week. We chatted before class today and now we're sitting together for this lecture. When I turned on my laptop she admired the beauty of Mizushima Hiro on my desktop background. This is clearly a sign that we are meant to get on.

No, really so far I still get distractions tugging at my attention all the time, but it's something I can resist. It's a real improvement, even if it's not perfect yet.

Linguistics, Thursday. )

Lecture ended, I made my way to the library - where, it turns out, SNAP is down so I have no internet. On the bright side, I suppose, I can get the work done I need to do today. On the down side, I have no internet, which means no googling things quickly that I either don't know or want to refresh my memory about, no e-mail, no WoW on study breaks, and this post threatens to become monster.

Interestingly, my anxiety problems seem to be a side-effect of ADHD. A little while ago I had a problem with my computer - no matter which way I flicked the switch that turns WLAN capabilty on and off, it kept reading as off. I couldn't work out how to fix it, and if my computer had somehow broken, that would be really quite a problem.

And I... didn't panic. Didn't even come close. I tried to fix it, failed, considered calling Chas, noted that he'd still be asleep and I didn't want to wake him for something that would be difficult to sort out by phone, and instead took my laptop over to SISO, where [ profile] reaps fixed it in about ten seconds and explained to me what had gone wrong. (This was also where I was informed that SNAP isn't working, so I came back prepared not to be concerned that that wasn't going to work.)

Too easy, as they say. Taking dexamphetamines has made me feel really... calm.

We'll see how I go with rising levels of complexity in my reading for the day, and the ongoing question of concentration. I just thought of writing, as something I've been having trouble focussing on of late, but I realised immediately that I won't be able to focus on that at all, because I will have this relentless feeling of pressure that what I should be doing is my History work - which, coupled with the fact that what I want to do is my History work, means the only thing I'm likely to be able to do successfully is certain. (But will be left as an exercise for the astute reader.)

Also notable: Today is quite a good day for pain levels so far, although as my days have some variation it's too soon to ascribe it to the possibility that ADHD exacerbates chronic pain, even if the possibility seems real based on the physiological basis of ADHD essentially being over-exposed nerves.

I'm having trouble concentrating on this article still. I'm due to take more pills in twenty minutes, but also, this article still sucks. It is tedious, the arguments are rubbish, and the guy is way too impressed with himself, so possibly my minimal retention is based on the fact that I am, as I go, categorising a lot of what he says is rubbish. I can call to mind the salient (for want of a better word) points he's trying to make, which is an improvement, though, so yay for that.

By the way, I recommend the soundtrack to Charlotte's Web (which I bought on CD a while ago for reasons that elude me, since I haven't seen the movie) as background music to listen to while reading annoying things. Very soothing. (I wanted something more pleasant to listen to than people shuffling around with bags at the desks around me. Light music + canalphones is win.)

Hmm. On a better-written article - after taking my second dose of meds, but immediately after, so relevance is questionable - I read the whole thing on one go, only getting vaguely distracted a couple of times, and I was able to refocus quickly and easily.

Is this what it's like for normal people?!

Anyway, now going to take a break between articles to relax for a few with a game, because I have 50 more pages of course reader as target for today, plus another chapter of The Nature of History to get through before I want to go to the Scholars' Centre and get some more research done.

This may take me less time than it would have yesterday, but I also don't want to end the day with my shoulders locked up and serious eyestrain, so.

Yay, SNAP is back!

Current Music: Cold Fairyland - Shrove Tuesday
Current Location: Reid Library
Current Mood: productive

:psy: Mar. 2nd, 2009 @ 06:43 pm
Liveblogging: Tutorial

Possibly fewer notes. )

So intense discussion started and I mostly stopped typing. A couple of people in my tutorial group kind of irritate me so far, but it should be okay, and the unit looks way, way more interesting than I'd thought from the handbook outline.



So I downloaded the video version of my Linguistics lecture I missed while I was at uni, so I could catch up at my leisure with all the lecture slides etc.

Except for some reason? My Linguistics lecture is set with the slides for a lecture on Genomics.

*points at icon and flails*

I have e-mails to write to both my lecturers, now, both about Lectopia. One hasn't got downloadable lectures and the other ended up with the wrong slides.

Uni, day two Feb. 24th, 2009 @ 12:30 pm
My pain continues: I was all set to poke the internet through this lecture, and then discovered... SNAP doesn't reach in here.

Also, the previous class (run, according to comments I overheard by a student who was in it, by "the most boring man on the PLANET") didn't turn on the air-conditioning in here and the room is hot and muggy and sticky. It's not that hot this morning, but it's extremely humid, and this room is currently substantially warmer than it is outside.

I turned the A/C on, because I Know How Shit Stuff Works around here.

(Today is Shrove Tuesday. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. I decided to try and stop swearing for Lent, and I can't remember offhand whether Lent starts today or tomorrow.)

Assessment so far of the class: [ profile] theducks's cousin is in it.

Heh, the lecturer just arrived. Looks around classroom. "Is the air con on?"
Me: "Yeah. But I only just turned it on when we came in."

Him: "Oh. Right."


More random things:

Him: It's really disconcerting for there to be no-one talking when it's still, by the clock, three minutes to ten.
Me: Before you came in we were all plotting against you, but now we've had to stop.
Him: Thank God I remembered to take my paranoia pills this morning.

I am Old and relatively confident, and also, I have met him before more than once, and I know he does in fact have a sense of humour.

There's a MAKE HOWARD HISTORY sticker on the back of a chair a couple of rows in front of me. He was dropped by the nation as a whole in late 2007...

I promise not to liveblog ALL my lectures, but today I am still having focus issues and this helps. )


And now I'm home to post.
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