Monday, December 26, 2011

Ancient Greek Vocabulary

Well, I caved and got another Twitter feed. This time for Ancient Greek vocabulary. Nothing helps like having a huge mass of words taken out of context. Right? Right. So that's what I'm doing. I hope someone will find it useful.
That's my first tweet on the feed. I'm trying to get some context on it, but who knows how this will unfold.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

She loves me

She bought the Teach Yourself Complete Old English (Anglo-Saxon).

I don't know that I'll have time to get serious with it right away, but soon enough. Soon enough. I can't wait to dig a bit deeper into the predecessor of the language I call my own: English.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

First word

Little Boy's first word on the road to language appears to be "kitty." Mom and Dad are great, but the cat hauls in first again. Truth be told, he's been saying "ma" and "da" in various permutations as part of his babble for some time now, but I don't think he's got it right enough to call it a word. His repetition of "ma" around my wife indicates that he's correlated the sound with her, but it's not a stable "mama." Sometimes "ma" or "mamama." So I'm not calling it. Same goes for me and "da."

But he's definitely saying "kitty." He says [Idi] or [Iti] in turn. When he hears us say "kitty" it really sounds like he tries to correct with [ɣIdi] or [kIdi]. Depending on what he's feeling like doing. Of course, he won't say it on command. Only when he feels like it. 

So mark it. 23 Dec: Kitty. First word for the second child (and first child as well).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I was poking about Wiktionary and found the page for μέγας. Don't ask. You don't want to know. Something struck me off the etymology section.
much (via OE michel) = magnus = μέγας
And I had never known that before. Isn't that cool?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

End of teaching semester

Well, it happened again. The semester ended for the classes I've been teaching. Once again, I had the singular pleasure of teaching the Vulgate as a first point of unadapted Latin. I really, really, really love using the Vulgate (aka the Bible in Latin) as my first spot of Real Latin™.

I remember my first encounter with Real Latin™: Julius Caesar's de bello Gallico. It was somewhat confounding. I didn't have a strong grasp on reading Latin as we used a pretty grammar heavy textbook. Then all of a sudden, I found myself faced with Caesar. Who were the Latobrigi? Why did I care? Why did the Helvetii want to move? There were countless tribes and Roman politics mixes up with tribal politics. It was a tough enough getting meaning out of the Latin, but once I had done that what did any of it mean? A frustrating experience. (By the way, I don't blame my teacher. I should only hope to have half of her skill.)

Mind you, I tried the de bello Gallico once with students. It was a slog and a chore. I vowed to never do that again. Ever.

I've turned instead to the Vulgate. (Actually, I let the students choose, but I created bias in the Vulgate's favor by saying it is easy.) Now, obviously, working with homeschoolers who are mostly Christian, this is a hit. But for those of you who aren't Christian homeschoolers, I'd like to make it clear why I think this is a great choice.
  1. Many of the stories should be familiar in wider culture—students already have the context for the story
  2. Even if they aren't familiar with the stories, these stories are alluded to in BIG LIT. 
  3. Many of the stories are pretty short. The Tower of Babel, for instance, hauls in at 145 words. Students don't feel overwhelmed by the length of any selection.
  4. No nasty Ciceronian periods. This makes sense, since the Vulgate was written for common people.
  5. Medieval Latin is ever so slightly different from Classical Latin. It gives me, as the teacher, many points to go in and review grammar. Particularly indirect speech. 
Obviously there are pitfalls. The biggest is that the stories are familiar. I was always cautioning students to forget what they knew of the Bible when working with the Vulgate. By this, I mean that they need to forget "Let there be light." when they get to "lux fiat." They mean the same thing, but there is a difference. Pitfalls notwithstanding, this is the best way at real Latin that I've found.

The upshot of all this is that we got through about 6,000 words of Latin this semester. Obviously, it isn't a race to see who can read the most in the shortest time, but I really feel that there is something to volume in beginning reading. The more you practice a skill—in our case, reading Latin—the better you get at it. So if I have to sacrifice reading a few chapters of Caesar, well, so be it.

Now to get off my duff and polish up my materials for publication.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Last of the Latin videos

Well, since I made the post a few days ago, I'll put the video here for easy viewing. For those of you who know Latin, it's not any major revelation. But if you don't, this might be interesting.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Future personal study

I'm not sure, but I'm thinking Old English and Sanskrit sound like fun targets for organized study.

I like Old English because it is, after all, the forerunner of the language I speak on a daily basis. It also doesn't hurt that there is quite a bit of interesting stuff written in Old English. Including wikipedia. I suspect it would be pretty easy to get to a respectable reading level but real work to master it. The cool thing here is that cruddy learning materials shouldn't hinder me too much—there are some deeply intuitive things going on in Old English for native English speakers. Well, from what I've seen anyway. Here's a sentence I cherry-picked from the OE wikipedia.
Willelm I (c. 1027 – 9 Hāligmōnaþ1087) wæs Engla cyning fram 1066 tō 1087.
There's only one word in there that I can't figure out, and I can see it is a month.

Sanskrit also appeals because it is kind rounds out the trifecta of dead languages with bad reputations: Latin and Ancient Greek being the other two. My apprehension with Sanskrit is that it will be Persian redux—cool, but difficult to crack with self-study. I mean look at this:
मनो हि द्विदिधं प्रोक्तं शुद्धं चाशुद्धमेव च ।
I'd tell you what this says, but I don't know. I've never studied Sanskrit.

Speaking of the Farsi debacle, I've been working on this. The idea behind it is to introduce everything with the context of Persian—this should look suspiciously familiar to Latinists. If you are a native speaker of Persian and see any gross errors, please let me know. This is how I am solidifying what I have learned in Persian. Which isn't much. Of course, the whole thing requires that you have a working knowledge of the alphabet. Hey look! I've found a series of videos that do just that.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

LING 401: Textbooks

I've gotten the textbooks ordered. One of them is from some sort of s used textbook clearinghouse called that looks a hair dodgy seems ok. We'll see if they're worth anything. I'll let you know. (Update, 6 Dec 2011: Book arrived on promised day in promised condition, so I don't quite know what the complaints were.)

Here are the textbooks for Linguistics 401: Fundamentals of Modern Linguistics—the class I am taking in the spring:
O'Grady, William et al. Contemporary Linguistics, 6th ed. Somewhere out East       (Boston/NY): Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. ISBN 978-031261851-3.
Matthews, P.H. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics, 2nd ed. Oxford: OUP, 2007. ISBN 978-019920272-0.
The O'Grady book is way too expensive. It retails at Amazon for nearly $90. It is difficult to find used, though I did. While I have no doubt that there are developments in linguistics that merit an up-to-date book, six editions seems suspicious. The fourth edition was released in 2000. What?! Linguistics is moving so rapidly that you need not one, but two updates in nine years? In the age of the internet, that defies belief. Your book is out of date the instant you send it to press. It's just the nature of things.

Well, I'm getting carried away. I suspect the real answer is that the editions coming one atop the other has more to do with making it look like the book is cutting edge. After all, all things being equal, do you want the book that came out this year or last year? Or do you want to read a blog about it?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ancient Greek Pronunciation

I'm curious how you do it.

Here's the Institute of Biblical Greek's pronunciation guide, if you don't know which you use. Why do I ask? I want to make a few videos for introductory Ancient Greek. But I'm lazy: I want to make only one pronunciation. I'd say I can do the Erasmian without too much trouble.

I'm working on using a more Modern Greek pronunciation, because I'm mega-lazy. See, when I go to Greece (hopefully sooner rather than later), I'd like to learn a bit of Greek to help myself find tourist items in Greek. If I use a Modern Greek pronunciation on Ancient Greek, I can save a few seconds of effort when learning the modern version of the language.

If you find this page, please tweet a link to the poll or this very page to help me get a bigger number of responses. Like I said, I'm lazy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rebecca Black Friday

So I was tooling around with the phonetics tool from the University of Iowa, and realized something. There is a sound of American English not represented. And I'm not talking about some limited regionalism or a phoneme pronounced by a small or low-status group. No, I'm talking about a sound that normal people use, by which I mean myself. Where is the glottal stop? Why no love?

There is this other language I know. I tend to call it /læʔIn/ in English. I can't think of anyone else off hand who pronounces it this way, but it feels really natural to me so I must've picked it up somewhere. I know I've heard /lædIn/, which kind of sounds weird. And I can think of several people off-hand who say /lætIn/, and they always seem to accent the second syllable unlike the other two pronunciations. It just sounds strange, but I've never said anything about it until right here. But anyway. I say this because I want to underline the validity of ʔ as a standard American English sound. Out of my mouth, even Robert Pattinson becomes Robert Paʔinson.

Of course the highest profile user of the glottal stop in American English is none other than Rebecca Black. She tells us she's "giʔn down on Friday." So with that, why aren't you /gɪʔn/ down already? It's Friday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

2 Greek 2 Quit

Thank you Prof. Major. I didn't know these documents existed, but now I do.

The 50% list is really short. English needs just over 100 lemmata to hit the 50% of text mark. Greek needs 65 (according to Major, and I have no reason to doubt him). Greek hauls in at about 1,200 words for the 80% list. English doesn't get to 80% until about 2,000. No matter how you slice that, Ancient Greek is easier than English on the vocabulary front. I had suspected this, but wasn't sure. 

Not that 80% is all that hot: you need to be at about 95% coverage in a text to be able to guess successfully what the unknown word might mean. This video is an excellent demonstration. Jump to 19:00 or so for the sickening demonstration he performs. The 90% coverage paragraph has words in it that I can't guess, and I'm a native English speaker. It's really shocking.

Next: Major provides a paper on pedagogy. He seems to be saying that a lot of what we do in teaching Ancient Greek is colored by two things. First, we expect that we can go from zero to grad school in about two semesters. Second, Latin's idiosyncrasies color how we teach Greek. Ut triggers subjunctive and the vast mess that subjunctive involves in Latin, so ἵνα must merit the same attention. Right? Major says not so much. He seems to be on the verge of making some general rules for learning Ancient Greek, but stops short. Too bad. Even so, it provides some context for what I found over the summer.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sibling Discourse

Before I forget, I want to write what the kids said to each other. Sadly, the camera wasn't handy.

Little Boy: Ga ga ga ga ga ga!
Little Girl: Gaga [the kids' name for my mother] is in heaven.

Even though Little Boy didn't mean to mean anything with his babble (I don't think), Little Girl interpreted it as such anyway. She interpreted, placed context on it and responded. Astonishing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reading the Gospel of St. Mark in Greek

I don't want to make a habit of specific book reviews on this blog, but this book demanded an exception (and I did work for the publisher for nearly five years). I really like it. I like it enough that I'm posting a review.

It has one small problem: I like it but can't quite figure out what to do with it. Why don't I describe the author's aims? He is trying to present the Gospel of St. Mark in Greek to several audiences. First, obviously, it is meant for students of New Testament Greek who are starting to read the New Testament after initial study, likely two years. Duckwitz, the author, says this style of text has made reading the whole gospel of Mark in one semester of class a reality, which didn't always happen in the past. Duckwitz also says he has used it as a supplemental reader for first year Greek classes.

The next obvious audience, which should be the largest, is people who have no Greek at all but want to read Mark in Greek anyway. I don't know how much this audience would get out of something like Mounce's Greek for the Rest of Us on its own, but certainly with both books at hand this audience should find New Testament Greek quite accessible. For that matter, someone who really wants to read Mark in Greek bad enough should be able to wade through with just Duckwitz's book. In short, this book answers the question "How do I read the Bible in Greek if I don't know Greek?"

Here's how. Its format is going to be familiar to any student of classics. A few lines of text at the top of the page. Under that is a set of vocabulary, which drops high-frequency words after several repetitions. At the bottom of the page are notes. And the notes are really, really full. They explain everything and then some. They explain so much that at the beginning, there are only two or three lines of Greek on each page. To further aid matters, Duckwitz has provided a quick start to reading Greek in the front of the book and a bit of a grammar reference in the back. This is on top of a glossary of high-frequency words. (It even shows principal parts for the verbs—hooray!)

Duckwitz is a professor of classics, and it shows. Flipping randomly to a page, he talks about tricolon crescens in one of the notes. Duckwitz is also aware that he is dealing with a sacred text, and that shows too. On another random page, he states, "Bethlehem claims His birth, Nazareth, the place where He grew up with His family, is His hometown." (Could you imagine the capital H in a book dealing with this strictly as literature? I can't.)

Anyway, give this book a swing if you're curious about the New Testament in its original language. Even if you don't know Greek. It's affordable, informative and a page-turner.

Purchase information:
Duckwitz, Norbert H. O., Reading the Gospel of St. Mark in Greek. ISBN 978-0-86516-776-6. From the publisher. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Speaking in America

If you were ever curious about what languages were spoken where in the United States, the MLA has a very fun tool.

It's not super-super-super comprehensive, but there are enough languages and ways to slice and dice the info to keep you busy for awhile. They are using the US Census data, so it should be pretty thorough. Nosing into the map, I can see that there are somewhere between 100 and 500 Greek speakers (don't get excited, it's modern) in the county I live in. Polish speakers? Somewhere between 200 and 500 in my zip code. Crazy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Latin resources

Just like with Ancient Greek, but now with exciting Latin flavor.

1. The introduction

2. A bit of history

3. Resources for beginners

3 1/2. Resources for not-so-beginners

4. Sample of real Latin

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Not just for beer. This is a pretty cool site that will show you the mouth mechanics of the sounds of American English, German and Spanish.

I like what they've done. Handy. I only wish that this could have included every sound in the IPA inventory. Well, maybe not every possible sound, but the basics. If you want to know what a retroflex sounds like, you're out of luck. On the other hand, r-colored vowels are featured on the American English section.

Anyway, a nifty toy for the linguistically curious.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Campus tour and a jaw dropper

I took a cursory campus tour with my advisor today. I found out where most of the linguistics classes meet. Necessary, but um, not very exciting. I found out that as part of my fees I can use the school's gym. Also useful, but not too exciting. I also get 750 copies per semester as part of my fees. Really? Why not just cut $75 off my fees? Because I can hit 750 pages, no problem at all.

Anyway, for all of you paying exorbitant tuition (and I'd call my tuition affordably priced), make sure you find out just what your fees include to squeeze the maximum out of them. 750 copies! Un-real.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Indirect Speech

Yeah, I think about grammar crud like this. Mostly because it came up in class last week.

And I had a realization: for once, English isn't the odd man out of the IE tribe.

In most Indo-European languages, indirect speech is pretty easy. Here's an example in English:
Direct: He's a good driver.
Indirect: I think he's a good driver.
The grammar machinery is pretty easy. Drop your head verb (which doubtless has a technical name) and your indirect-speech-itizer on your sentence, and presto! You're in indirect speech. Other IE languages do the same. Ancient Greek uses ὁτι, Persian uses که, English uses that and Spanish uses que. So easy. So simple.

But classical Latin can't do that. It has to do something very different. It has to press an accusative noun into duty as the subject of the indirect speech. The verb can't be a standard conjugated verb: it has to be an infinitive. So Latin, using our example above, does something like this:
Direct: Ille est gubernator bonus.
Direct: He's a good driver.
Indirect: Puto illum esse gubernatorem bonum.
Indirect: I think him to be a good driver.
And it's just weird. So congratulations to Latin for being the odd man out of the IE tribe for a change.

Note: As you see in the translations, English can do this bit of weirdness if needed. Ancient Greek can too. What's odd is that Latin doesn't have the easy "add in that for indirect speech" formula. Of course now I suppose I'll hear from all sorts of people telling me, "Dude, Armenian is just like Latin that way" or the like.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Off-book teaching

As usual, I'm teaching Latin. Yesterday we had a fire drill that interrupted the last few minutes of class. Did I let that stop me? Not a chance. As soon as we got to a useful place to be, we started back up with Latin class. (Now I do need to confess that I've got some really wonderful kids who are all in class voluntarily—the wonders of working with homeschoolers.)

Since our books were still in the church basement school, we obviously had to do something different. So I took it viva voce. We talked about how to express that we are hungry or cold, since we were sneaking up on lunch on a near-freezing day. I also took a chance to show that those verbs were normal and conjugated like all the others through some simple interaction with the students. We also talked about what sorts of foods we liked, which required learning about "mihi placet." This is worth mentioning since you can't say "I like…" in Latin. "Mihi placet" has about three odd things packed away for English-speaking students. I explained none of them. I just used "mihi placet", and the students followed. Did they understand? Enough, but certainly not completely. Is that bad? No. It's fine. We'll get to that in the future. I fully expect it will be easier for them then.

In the end, I think some real learning happened because we went off-book. I wish we could do that more often, but meeting once a week makes that tricky. Or maybe I'm just not creative enough for pulling that trick off yet.

Anyway, if you're teaching a language, you never know when going off-book may cause some real learning to happen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ancient Greek resources

This doesn't exactly pertain to my formal education, but this really is the heart of self-education: teaching yourself a new language.

I taught myself Ancient Greek over the summer. It took me a few tries over the years to get this to a point where I could read unadapted Ancient Greek, but I finally did it. Here is a series of videos to explain what I did, but it all boils down to this: throw stuff against the wall until it sticks.

1. The introduction

2. A short bit of history

3. Beginners' materials

3 1/2. Not-so-beginners' materials

4. A sample of Herodotus

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Registered for class

Or did I?

Apparently I have to register online, since I can't register in person. I don't like this, since I'm way old school. Anyway, I did manage to register online, I think. Why? The online registration area blew up on me. I couldn't check back to verify. No e-mail confirmation. Nothing. Grumble.

I guess this is my love-hate relationship with the internet. At least I think I'm registered for classes. I'm sure when I bring payment, it will be very obvious. I hope I can pay in person! Hahaha. We'll see. I'm headed in to campus next Tuesday for a variety of reasons. First installment of tuition is what I hope to take care of. Maybe a nice college shirt or sweatshirt.

Class begins 9 January 2012.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Motivations for going back to school

It may seem odd to someone stumbling across this: why is a man in his late 30s with two small children and a decent part-time teaching gig going to grad school? Aren't I busy enough?

Well, I suppose I might as well get it out: my mother was diagnosed with a serious illness this fall. I had been toying with going back to school for many years but never really got serious. I had written to the linguistics faculty at NEIU over the summer, but I can't say I was in any big rush to hear back from them. Time seemed abundant.

Then came the cancer diagnosis. My mother is not old.  Not yet 61. Suddenly time seemed short. I now had a big rush. Here we are now. I writing. You reading. I hope that the development of this blog as I go through school is of value to you.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

School e-mail

It looks like the school runs a webmail server. This is good, since I don't know how else I'd have access to my sparkly .edu-style address. It also has Blackboard: keeping class discussions behind closed doors. But I can't imagine who would be interested in the bulk of that. There's also a page to navigate all of the library resources. It's also pretty customizable. Sounds cool right?

Wrong. It's fully off line at least six hours every day. Twelve on the weekends. Um, ah, er, on the internet?

********* / ********* system normal hours of operation:
  Monday - Friday    6:00 AM to Midnight
  Saturday/Sunday    9:00 AM to 9:00 PM

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Initial Paperwork

I'm starting to get all of the form letters and paperwork from the school. So I guess it is all real.

While I know that I'm perfectly qualified, part of me thinks that I've managed to pull the wool over several peoples' eyes. Sadly, my wife is not one of them.

We had a small bet the other day: which word was the older word? Fall or autumn.

I'll drop the big hint: neither is the original English word for the season. The original Anglo-Saxon word is still in use: harvest. It now describes something that happens during the season as opposed to the season itself.

Highlight for the answer: According to the OED, Autumn is older by a few centuries. Fall, as a name for the season, is a much more recent thing.

I lost.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I just got accepted into the Masters program in linguistics at Northeastern Illinois University. And I love dead languages. Hence the blog name, get it? Get it?

I think Latin is cool. I think Ancient Greek is cool. I speak one, however hesitatingly. I read the other, however slowly. I think you should give 'em a try if you haven't. If you have, I hope that some of what I post is of value.

I think linguistics is pretty cool. What's the fuss? It's only the study of a tool we all use every day. A lot of what I post will be musings about what I'll be learning in the program. I hope some of that will be of value.

If I'm lucky I'll manage to make them both happen in the same post.

And other times, I'll write about other things. I'm not at all sure, since this is a work in progress. In the mean time, have a vicarious trip to grad school on me.