Friday, February 6, 2015

Thesis teaser

The reason I focus on vocabulary to the exclusion of morphology and syntax is two-fold. The first is that in a language textbook, particularly in classical language textbooks, the language accessible to students is constantly moving from simple to more native-like both in the student’s capacity to understand and in what language the book is presenting. So investigating the match of case usage, for example, in one book with case usage in Ancient Greek literature is a fool’s errand. Early in the book all of the cases have yet to be taught and therefore cannot accurately reflect the language in any meaningful way. The second half of my focus on vocabulary is that to some degree vocabulary can serve as a proxy for knowledge of morphology and syntax. For example, the particle an cannot be taught to students before the optative or subjunctive mood is taught. Likewise, the appearance of the verb lanthano is a pretty reliable stand-in for knowledge of accusative case and the present participle.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Catullan corpus

The other day, I finished typing in the whole of the Catullan corpus as part of my Catullus project. Sure, I could have just cut and paste, which would have been a lot faster, but then I wouldn't have been able to get a sense of the whole thing. I'm glad I did it. To be sure, Catullus didn't leave volumes of poetry or mountains of prose. I wouldn't have wanted to do this with Cicero.

In the process I got to appreciate why people have enjoyed his work over the centuries. He's not just a love poet, but he does that very well too. To modern readers, his poems about his life come across as ordinary. What poet wouldn't write about his life? Heaney does. Except that in antiquity, to write about some aspect of your life wasn't the thing to do. You'd write about something epic. Like the Iliad. Or the Odyssey. Or the Aeneid. Or, well, you get the idea. Catullus, along with the neoteric poets broke the norms. Can you imagine poetry as familiar as Catullus's being avant garde? It's really hard to imagine. I also got to see the changing norms of how we present ancient texts, which I blogged about already.

So where to go from here? I don't know. This is kind of where I want to go, but I'm not sure about doing that for each poem. I'll probably want to do a few more movies where I recite the poems. That would be cool. I enjoy the challenge of writing vocabulary in Latin. But am I fired up enough about Catullus to do the whole mess?

Friday, June 6, 2014

When Latin's word order drives you batty

Latin's got a well deserved reputation among English speakers for having a complex word order. I can't argue that it isn't complex from an English point of view. But I'm going to throw out this bit of English song. (If you know the source, fine. But no Google if you don't!)
You can fix this fixer-upper
Up with a little bit of love!
What's going on with the verb fix up? It's been split up with the determiner phrase this fixer-upper, which in turn is derived from the verb it is splitting. 

To make the matter more tangled, there are patients in -er. For example: My wife is a keeper. But keep is hardly a phrasal verb. In deverbal agent in -er, like bricklayer, there's only one -er added to indicate that the word is a noun. But fixer-upper? Both morphemes in fix up get the -er.

English, what's wrong with you? How could you put linguistically complex stuff like this in a kids' movie like Frozen

Monday, June 2, 2014

Changing norms in Latin

And I'm not talking about antiquity. I'm talking about how we present texts. Right now I'm slowly grinding through a Catullus project. And in the course of transcribing the text, I've noticed several differences. In Catullus 62, line 60 is presented this way in a Latin/English edition from 1894.
Non aequomst pugnare, pater cui tradidit ipse,
Similar, yet quite different, is the Perseus presentation of the same line.
non aequum est pugnare, pater cui tradidit ipse
The differences are editorial. The words are the same, but the capitalization and prodelision are gone. The spelling is also changed to fit the standard better.

I suspect that the capitalization thing is a style choice that we have been moving away from in English over the last hundred years. I can't prove it (or rather I'm not going to crunch the data to be certain), but it's my hunch. I'm somewhat surprised at the archaic spelling in a book of this vintage, since that era has always felt like a time of standardization to me. But I could be wrong. Either way, there's an argument to be made. On the one side, it is useful to use standard spelling for less experienced students and simplicity of data management. On the flip side, (provided it's the textually attested form) it is what was written. There's a part of me that feels that we serve the text before it serves us. But this is all a digression.

Where did the prodelision go? It's all over this edition. It's taught in meter. I've heard people do it at conventiculums. It's easy to screw up if you're not smart to it, so a reminder of its existence won't hurt anyone. Besides, written Greek is full of elisions (though maybe not prodelisions). I'm probably just tilting at windmills, but here's how I handled the line from above.
non aequom'st pugnare, pater cui tradidit ipse
It strikes me as a balance and maybe an English speaker's solution. I'm sticking with the 1894 spelling and punctuation. Mostly. I hate semicolons.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Fussell's Abroad

Ancient Roman ship by Valudia
So I'm reading Fussell's Abroad right now. Despite being a literary history sort of book, it's really readable. If you're familiar with and like his work, I'd go so far as to say it's on the must-read shelf.

Anyway, I mention it because it is a seminal work in the discourse analysis of travel documents. (I suspect mainly because it shows the way more than anything else.) And applying that sort of analysis to various works from antiquity would be interesting. I'm sure someone's already done the Odyssey, if for no reason other than it's the travel writing of antiquity familiar to non-classicists.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few more:

  • Xenophon's Anabasis
  • Herodotus's Histories
  • Pausanius
  • Lucian's True Story
  • Vergil's Aeneid
  • Caesar's de Bello Gallico
I wonder why Greek sources come to mind more easily than Roman sources. It's not like I'm more familiar with Greek literature (because I'm not). Sure they were skilled sea-faring people, but it's not like the Romans weren't famous for building roads.

Anyway. More mental fodder.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Teaching morphology

So last night I was working with a student, and I realized that we teach inflectional morphology but not derivational morphology.

In fact, the bulk of Latin instruction is inflectional morphology. It's the guts of the grammar for Latin. Sure there's stuff like making sure that adjectives agree with their antecedents, but even that's just inflectional morphology. More to the point, inflectional morphology is regular and has grammatical effect.

Derivational morphology is another story. You'd have to be a dull student of Latin to not catch the similarity between these two:
cīvitās, cīvitātis – citizenship
auctōritās, auctōritātis – authority
pietās, pietātis – sense of duty
But there's something fishy here. The -tās ending is obvious. It forms an abstract noun. But look at the roots.
cīvis, is – citizen
auctor, ōris – a do-er (more literally, an increaser)
pius, a, um – dutiful 
Cīvis is a noun. Auctor is a noun. So far so good. Pius is an adjective. How are we supposed to teach that? What's worse is that it's not freely productive.
*imperātōritās – ain't no such thing
Even though someone who knows Latin can analyze that word. So you can't even predict that it will work at all times. About the only thing we can say about the -tās ending is that it is the abstract noun that deals with the attached root.

Anyway, the potential non-productivity of derivational morphemes is a frustrating feature of language.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The odd morphology of remembering and forgetting

I realized that the verbs for forgetting and remembering have odd morphology.

oblīvīscor, ī, —, oblītus sum – to forget
—, —, meminī – to remember

That forgetting should be deponent doesn't surprise me given the origins of Latin's deponent. It is somewhat a folly that happens to you by you. Easily explainable with the stop at middle voice before heading off to deponent. But why on earth should the verb for remembering be odd? It's only perfect?

Yeah, I've seen the explanation in Gildersleeve's. I'm not sure I buy it 100%.

Anyway, just one of those I was in the shower realizations.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Utopia as a political attack

So this is the result of my discourse analysis class. It might be the best class I've ever taken. Don't get me wrong, the other classes in the program so far have been good and useful, but discourse analysis might be one step better than that. Better even than the Coastal Ecology of the Florida Keys class I took as an undergrad.

Of course it could just be that I had the chance to talk about Utopia.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Discourse analysis

So I'm taking a DA class this semester.

I'll be honest: the formal linguistics stuff fascinates me. I'm only interested in the applied insofar as it relates to acquiring language. Particularly L2 and L3. But I've been taken by discourse analysis. The first thing is that it is hard. Not in the sense of hard science, but difficult hard. The reason is two-fold.

I'll get an example that is based off of what I'm doing. I'm fiddling with More's Utopia right now. The main angle I'm working on is that Utopia is a political attack on Henry VIII, which was not a safe thing to do. So the first trick is to show that it's a political work rather than religious. So I've done a frequency analysis of the vocabulary. I feel pretty confident that Utopia is political in nature. Why? I've compared vocabulary frequency of Cicero's de re publica against Utopia. A lot of the frequencies for critical words line up pretty nicely. Especially "publicus" and "magistratus". It's a nice sleight of hand trick. So now that I feel I've established Utopia as a political work, I want to show how More deals with Henry. Mostly I'm going to cast it as a politeness thing. By putting social distance between Utopia and the king, More increases his safety.

So as you can see, it requires a lot of clever work to make a good point. You can't screw around with sloppy thinking. Except that they do. By which I mean dragging in that old scheißkopf, Karl Marx. Marxism is a terrible political philosophy that put too many people on the wrong side of the dirt in the 20th century. If that weren't enough to discredit a philosopher, I don't know what would be. But yet I keep seeing his name dragged up as if he had something useful to say. And that just makes me angry. And this is the second class I've seen a book mention him, so it's not exactly accidental.

Anyway, I wish there were a less ugly philosophy to analyze some of this stuff from. Maybe we need a Misesian angle. I'd tell you how I'm the one to develop it, but I'm not.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Of articles and names

So in syntax class we've talked about how names in English don't (usually) get determiners and keep their usual sense.
*The Peter writes this blog.
We don't like that in English. Except for one person. Dwayne Johnson's persona: The Rock. How do I know? Wait.
Can you smell what the Rock is cooking?
I thought so. And since Peter means rock in Greek (ὁ Πέτρος), you can just call me the Rock when you see me.