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 Your book is out of date the instant you send it to press.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