Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I'd like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

And for anyone worrying about the economy (or anything else), just remember that life's joys wouldn't be nearly so bright without the darkness of suffering to contrast them. In other words, sometimes life's a bitch, but you just have to keep going. Eventually the pain will lessen.

How's that for a bright and cheery Christmas message?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Politicians, Dante, and the 8th Circle of Hell

I was refreshing my memory on Dante's Inferno today (I haven't read it since my freshman year in high school, and a friend made a comment about one of the circles of hell, and I needed a quick refresher. The comment, btw, mentioned hypocrites' place in Dante's hell), and discovered something amusing. Before I get to that, two things: 1) I don't believe that Dante was a big an authority on hell as he'd have us believe (His ideas are pretty self-serving. I mean, assuming that his enemies would be consigned to hell? Not too egotistical.) But for the purposes of this blog entry, his ideas are pretty convenient for me ;)

2) I think we can safely agree that most--possibly not all, but surely a large portion--politicians are corrupt. (Politics and corruption go hand in hand, right?)

So, anyway. It turns out that the 8th Circle of Hell has a space (a bolgia) reserved especially for corrupt politicians. They are immersed in a lake of boiling pitch. Now, I have to say that I think that in this century, we could probably come up with something more creative than that as a punishment for corrupt politicians, but Dante had to work with what he had available to his imagination in the 14th century.

This brings me to this question, though: if we do assume that most politicians are corrupt, and that Dante's right and that sends them to hell (I might address that in a future post. Dante apparently didn't believe in grace or forgiveness.), does hell have enough space? Will Satan have to expand?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jesus Christ: Republican or Democrat?

I’ve seen and heard lots of arguments—from both sides—about whether Jesus would have been a Republican or a Democrat. I’d like to examine the issue, then I’ll tell you what I think.

During his ministry (we don’t know about his life before his ministry, other than his birth and an incident when he was about 12), Jesus spent most of his time with the down-trodden, the poor, the sick, the sinful, and the unpopular. He reached out to cripples, prostitutes, tax collectors (who were considered about as reputable as prostitutes in those days), the blind, the dying, and even the dead. In His own words, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (also see Mark). So, Jesus didn’t work with the people who already had what they needed—those people didn’t need Him (at least, they didn't realize that they needed Him).

What does that have to do with political parties? Well, mostly that I don’t think Jesus would have been either a Democrat or a Republican. He probably wouldn’t get involved in politics at all; he’d be out on the street helping and healing people and telling them about His Father.

Another reason that I don’t think Jesus would be a Dem or a Rep is that he’d actually be a king. The Bible doesn’t ever mention democracy (I’ve read it, and nowhere does the good book talk about democracy or even mention the word); it’s all about kingdoms. Please don’t jump on me here—I’m not saying that I think democracy is wrong or that I don’t like democracy or anything even remotely like that. I do believe in democracy, and I think that the U.S. is an amazing and wonderful country, and I’m blessed and proud to be a citizen. I think that democracy is the best human political system. But the truth is, the Kingdom of God is just that—a kingdom. God is the King, not the president or the speaker of the house or the school board chair. We don't get to vote for who the president of the Kingdom of Heaven is. He's already been chosen. And I think Jesus would have counted any of our votes in our earth-bound elections well-cast (after all, it’s a pretty freaking amazing privilege to be able to choose your government! Jesus didn’t have that option) as long as we spend our time outside the polling booth serving others.

So as to those arguments saying that Jesus would vote this way or that way, that he'd definitely be a democrat or absolutely be a republican? I disagree with them all.

I'd very much like to hear what you think about this subject; please leave a comment!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My book arrived!

Okay, I know it's just a copy of my thesis, but it was still pretty darn exciting to see that the bound copies of my thesis arrived! I ordered them less than a week ago from Lulu (a really easy way to self publish, btw), and I wasn't expecting to get them for a few more days. Anyway, it's really cool to have a book with my byline on it :)


Monday, October 27, 2008

A psalm to the Lord

I'm feeling on fire for God right now, so I had to write Him a love song. Here it is:

God of all creation, You fill the world with glory!
Holy is your name, and holy are your works.
God of heaven and earth, your beauty saturates the earth!
You fill my eyes with your holiness.
My soul cannot contain its joy!
I see your beauty in the sky,
I see your plan in the changing trees,
I see your love in the shining sun,
And I see your grace in each new day.
Your love and mercy overwhelm me!
I am filled with praise you.
I praise your holy name
I glorify your wondrous name
I bless and praise your name!

Making it through the storm

This is a wonderful devotion on surviving life's storms. Take a minute to read it--it's brief, so it's not a big time commitment--and see if you don't think it's comforting, too.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mimesis and Sound Symbolism

Mimesis is a fun concept that I discussed a fair amount in my thesis. It's a philosophical/literary/linguistic term (it does, of course, have other usages), which means--for my purposes, at least--sound imitating meaning. I relate it very much to sound symbolism (another biggie in my thesis); it's when a word sounds like what it means. Onomatopoeia is a common example of mimesis. When we hear "meow," we automatically think of a cat, or when we hear "moo," we think of a cow. But to what extent is sound tied to meaning? Do we associate a word's meaning with it's sound because the two are actually related, or is it just an arbitrary assignment?

I quote (rather extensively--sorry!) from Magic Words: the Phonology of Fantasy Neologisms below (don't worry; I gave myself written permission):

Is there a meaning behind the words that authors coin? Do the sounds themselves tell us something about the words? ... Sound Symbolism (Hinton, et. al., 1994) is the area of linguistics that discusses the link between sound and meaning. Hinton et. al. addresses the various types of symbolism, including corporeal (sounds such as coughing), imitative (onomatopoeia), and synesthetic (tone, pitch, elongation of syllables for emphasis) These examples show that, whether by origin or evolution, certain sounds, classes of sounds, combinations of sounds, can have meaning attached to them by the speaker and/or the hearer. Hinton et. al. also addresses issues such as the frequency code, which tells us that high tones, vowels with a high 2nd formant (especially [i]) and high frequency consonants are associated with high frequency sounds, small size,sharpness, rapid movement, and closeness. On the other hand, low tones, vowels with a low 2nd formant, and low frequency consonants are associated with low frequency sounds, large size, softness, heavy; slow movements, and far distance. (Hinton, et al 1994, 325; Fromkin 2000, 521) For example, the word tiny indicates something very small, but teeny may be even smaller. This is also commonly seen in how words are diminutivized in English; a small dog is a “doggie,” a small cat is a “kitty,” and so on. Even my name reflects this; my family often calls me Katie (I am both the youngest and the shortest in the family!). Likewise, other languages show this phenomenon. In German, the diminutive is indicated by adding the suffix [xɪn], and Spanish uses the suffix [itə] (fem.) or [ito] (masc.). A former German teacher called me Katechen [keɪtxɪn] (the German equivalent of Katie), and a Spanish professor called me Katiesita [keɪtisitə]. Both of these diminutives—from two very different languages—use a high front vowel to indicate small size. From this, it is evident that this sound-symbolic process is pan linguistic.

Certain phoneme classes are sometimes associated with particular semantic fields. Most commonly discussed with literature and reading in mind, this phenomenon is best illustrated by imitative and synesthetic forms. In imitatives, stops equal abrupt sounds and acts; continuants represent continuing sounds or acts; nasals are used for reverberating, ringing sounds; and fricatives mimic the quick, audible motion of an object through air. (Hinton et. al., 1994, 10) In literature, the sound of words chosen toportray meaning plays an important role. This shows up most frequently in poetry, but may also be present in other forms of literature and particularly in neologism. In linguistics, the major question is, how arbitrary is language form? How much can the form of language be tied to meaning? The answers to these questions, if they exist, are amorphous, but it is clear that meaning and sound can never be fully separated. (Hinton, et. al., 1994, 5)

“The sound of a word is not random. Be it the movement of the lips and tongue, or the sensory experience of saying or reading the word, sounds create certain associations.” (Sedia, 2005) Individual segments can, themselves, create images and impressions. [i] and [ɪ] sounds are often perceived as smaller than [e] or [o] sounds. These impressions are important to our pictorial and verbal thinking, creating a muscle sense that enables us to mesh all of our impressions into a more complex whole. When we read or speak any given word, it feels a certain way. Some words may be thought beautiful or ugly, depending on the feel of them in the mouth. “The words used to build a fictional world…matter,” (ibid) some fantasy worlds endure and some don’t; some fantasy writing is authentic and some isn’t. Appropriate use of neologism increases the chance that the story will be real and endure. “Many authors use onomatopoeic words—words that mimic a natural sound like crunch or slosh…Often we associate certain sounds with certain visual images. This device is often used in fantasy, where good characters have pleasant-sounding names full of vowels and lilting sounds, and the villains have names that are based on sibilants (such as the House of Slytherin in the Harry Potter Books) or burdened with too many consonants.” (Sedia, 2005) ...

Sound and its perceived meaning can tell us interesting things about neologism. Kohler (1992) showed subjects two shapes—one rounded and one angular—and two invented words (“takete” and “maluma”). He then asked them which word went with which shape. Overwhelmingly, the subjects associated “takete” with the angular shape and “maluma” with the rounded shape. The consensus held across a number of different languages, indicating that there is a universal concept at work here. Other researchers have performed similar experiments, including associating the size of an object with words that had either a front or a back vowel (the larger object was universally associated with the back vowel, the smaller object with the front vowel). This further emphasizes the universality of some sound and meaning associations. “Thus, every word, regardless of its intended meaning by its creator, will evoke a certain response in us.” (Sedia, 2005)

The above obviously discusses primarily neologisms, but that's just because that's how it applied to my thesis; it seems that sound symbolism--mimesis included--pervades language.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Verisimilitude, which comes from Latin verum—truth—and similis—similar, is “truth similarity," or the effect of being true-to-life, generally applied to art in some form. What's interesting is determining what true-to life is. What is "life" (reality) for the particular work in question? According to Plato & Aristotle, for a work of art to have significance, it must be grounded in reality. For literature, an author must know what the truth is—the truth of the setting, characters, plot, and themes—and use his tools (dialog, narrative, imagery, characterization, etc.) to create a literary “similarity” to that truth. If he accomplishes that, he has achieved verisimilitude.

Why is that such a big deal? Why do English teachers spend so much time harping on the language in works of lit? Because verisimilitude may be the pinnacle of achievement in literature. What’s exciting about verisimilitude is that it’s different for every single work out there (and, I think, for every reader, too). For Twain, it might be the life of an uneducated backwoods boy. For Nora Roberts, it might be the developing relationship of between the hero and heroine. A novel set in the Russian Revolution will have characters named Ivan or Dmitri, not Bill or Sam. A story about a boy who learns he's a wizard will be filled with moments of discovery and learning of magic, not mundane tasks like walking the dog.

Verisimilitude is—I suspect—a very subtle thing, and easily passes without note, because it’s woven so tightly into the fiber of the story that it should be unnoticeable. Until we look deeper at a piece, it’s hard to see whether it’s made it. It’s possible that verisimilitude might depend on the reader and her interpretation. It’s achieved in the interplay of the artist, the artwork, and the reader. How amazing, as a reader, to be part of a work of art by appreciating it.

What fascinates me about verisimilitude in literature is, of course, the use of language to achieve it. That's a big part of what I got out of my thesis; the roll of language in lit. I suspect I'll be blogging more on this in the future!

Monday, October 13, 2008

One of my favorite things about linguistics

Well, I may not have figured out what I'm going to do with a degree in linguistics, but at least I still know why I like it! In my thesis (on the phonology of fantasy neologisms) (by the way, how cool that it's online! hee hee hee!), I discussed the role of language in literature. Great literature uses language to its fullest advantage. To steal an example from myself: in Huck Finn, Twain uses Huck's uneducated hick dialect to create a verisimilitude (that's a word I had to use a lot in my thesis) that draws the reader into the story. In "Soldier's Home", Hemingway uses his spare language and indirect descriptions (e.g., the bacon fat hardening on Krebs' plate) to pass the characters' feelings on to the reader. Dr. Seuss used rhymes and fun made-up words to make his stories engaging (and really, don't we all believe, deep down, that there are such creatures as Whos and somewhere there's an elephant named Horton?). And sometimes, literature passes its special language on to the lexicon.

There's not really a branch of linguistics that studies this, but I love examining the interplay of language and literature. I could spend all day at it. Oh wait--I have spent all day on it occasionally.

Anyone out there have any other examples of literary language? (Oooh, that could be a book title. Or a rock band. Okay, not a rock band. But I think I'm obligated to write a book called "literary language" now.)

Politics Schmolitics

In a few weeks, Americans will have the privilege of going to the polls to choose our next leader. I’m sure that anyone reading this knows the importance of voting, so I won’t harp on that too much.

Here's what I'd like to say to the candidates and to the public (she says wryly, realizing that the only reader of this blog is herself--but hey! it'll make me feel good to say it.):

Character IS important. Yes, policy is important, but don’t leave behavior out of the equation. How can we trust someone who lies, cheats, steals, molests, or is a general sleaze to lead us—regardless of his/her stand on the issues? What example are we setting for our children and the rest of the world? That it's fine to lie, cheat, steal, molest, and be sleazy? That this his how Americans behave? Our children don’t listen to our words, they hear what our actions say. When our actions reflect the opposite of what we want them to learn, of course society is going to be screwed up. The issues are important, but character is vital. Please be honest. Be noble. Be fair. Be worth looking up to. You’re setting the example for the world, and we need you to be someone we can afford to have setting an example.

Remember going on field trips in elementary school? The teacher would always say, “you’re representing the whole school, so behave!” The same goes here. Whoever becomes our next President, all of our Senators, Congressmen, governors, mayors, PTA presidents, etc.: you’re not just representing yourself. You’re representing me, too. And every one of the 300 million U.S. citizens you lead.

I’d like to see all of our leaders give of themselves instead of just giving of the taxpayers. Spend an hour volunteering at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or charity thrift store. Adopt a homeless animal. Volunteer at an animal shelter, give blood, help someone in need. Plant a tree. Find out what your local church needs and help with it. Donate some time, thought, and attention to causes other than politics. Take a tiny step to make a positive difference. (Okay, I have to acknowledge that this goes for me and everyone, not just politicians.)

Just imagine what a difference we could make in the world! (not to mention, the world’s opinion of us.)


LibraryThing is a wonderful tool for those of us who have a lot of books. Since I just (well, okay, two months ago) moved into a new house, I’ve been cataloging my books as I unpack. Granted, I’ve only unpacked two of my many boxes of books, so I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m having fun!

For anyone else who has a few “too many” books (like there’s really such a thing), LibraryThing is a good tool. I like that you’re not limited to using it for books you own; you can create a list of books you want to read, books you’ve read but don’t own, books you’ve sold—whatever you can come up with. I've found it really helpful that I can sort by author, title, publication date, etc. It's helping me find gaps in my collection (or, possibly just boxes I haven't unpacked yet).

Check out my list and see what you think!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Volatile economics

The whole world seems to be in economic upheaval. Stock markets are crashing, and people are panicking. In this seemingly dark and desperate moment, I'd like to offer some words of hope: it will end. None of this will last forever. Just like times of economic prosperity aren't forever, neither are times of hardship. Not only have we seen all of this before (stock markets crashed in the 1980s, 1920s, and 1880s, just to name a few), but we will see it again. So settle in and enjoy--or at least tolerate--the ride.

The economy is cyclical. It always has been, and always will be. We tend to lose sight of that (both when we're prosperous--thinking that the prosperity will last forever--and when we're suffering--thinking that there's no end to the torture), and I think that's to our detriment. If we just keep in mind that this tremendous down-swing will end, plateau, and eventually turn into an upswing again, we'll be much better off. Our peace of mind will soar, and our panic will disappear.

The economic suckiness will last for a while. Eventually it will level off. And then, miraculously, it will start to boom again. Just hold onto that. Keep holding on to the hope, because without hope, the desperation can be overwhelming. But with hope, the panic fades, becoming contentment.

And a note on our human frailties: even King Solomon, widely regarded as the wisest man who ever lived (excepting Jesus, of course!), screwed up and behaved foolishly. So we're in good company! (Don't believe me? Read about how Solomon did stupid stuff, too.)

Sometimes life is really hard. And sometimes it's really awesome. If life seems hard right now, just wait. It means that there's some awesome coming!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

37 Years

Well, Jane did it, so I will too. (Although, there's no way I can do as good a job as you did with your post, Jane!) Mom and Dad have been married for 37 years today.

They've taught us to share, play nicely, love animals, ride bikes, balance check books (well, sort of. Sorry Dad!), drive cars, do laundry, have fun, strive for our dreams, be silly, never settle, help others however we can, be good people, and...well, everything. Flegals are a blessed bunch.

Here's to another 37 years, Mom and Dad!

Love you and hey,

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Figuring it out

I'm almost finished with my thesis--I hope I'll be able to get it into the library by the deadline! (If I don't, I have to register for another semester's worth of thesis work. No big, except for the money.) With the end in sight, I'm looking at my next goal: figuring out what I want to do with my Master's degree. I didn't think that far ahead when I enrolled! I'd really like to find a career that allows me to use my language and linguistics skills. The problem? I'm not detail-oriented. Not even remotely. It's a joke in my family; I'm very bright and creative and capable, I just don't see the details. I try, believe me. I make checklists, to-do lists, priorty lists, take notes, etc. I think it's just not in my nature.

So, what do people who aren't detail-oriented (I can't be the only one) do? Beat's me. I'm hoping to figure it out! I have some pretty important criteria: I want to earn enough money to live off of (it'd be nice if there were a bit left over at the end of the month), have health insurance, and have fun. I'd like to do something that I'm good at and that's rewarding. Does that seem too picky?

Since I don't think I can earn a living reading cheesey romances, I'm waiting for inspiration to strike.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Proud to be an American

After celebrating the U.S.A.'s birthday, I spent some time reflecting on being an American. The conclusion that I came to is that I'm incredibly lucky, blessed, and proud to be one. Jane did the best job of explaining what it is to be American, so I'm going to borrow her words for my definition:

"I am not a Native American, but, I am a REAL American. And my friends are real Americans. In America, most people immigrated and settled there. My ancestors...come from Ireland and Germany and who knows where else, but I am a real American. My friend's ancestors come from Korea, but she is still a real American. Americans come from all over the world...Some of it is definitely geography – I was born in Virginia, so I am American. My parents and grandparents were all born on U.S. soil, so I am American. But there is so much more to it than that.

"I think it is a mindset. To be American is a way of thinking, an attitude, a frame of mind. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness - isn't that kinda what defines Americans? We believe in these things so strongly, that they have shaped our national definition...I am idealistic. “No” and “because” are never legitimate answers to my questions if I believe they shouldn't be. I get to rock the boat and try and change the world. And, even more importantly, I believe I can.

"There are things I just don't understand because I am American – and I will never be able to truly appreciate them. I have never had to live through the pain and turmoil that is part of the very recent history of the people I currently live with. I don't really understand what it is to struggle. My life has been so easy, comparatively, it is a joke. I am privileged, simply because of where I was born. And even now, I am living through the day to day struggles of a developing country with a time limit. I leave after 2 years. That is not the case for the people I am working and living with. This is their life.

"I am free to have all kinds of thoughts about myself and my country. I can think and choose and say whatever I want. I can be the biggest patriot out there – or advertise how bad I think America is. I can be somewhere in the middle. I can question the choices of my bosses and my nation's leaders. And, if I don't like them, I can stand up and say something. Not everyone in the world has that privilege. And I view it as a god given right."

As Jane points out, we are able to think and live according to our own values, to choose our words and actions without fear of oppression, and determine the course of our own lives. We can read and write what we want, we can worship (or not) as we choose, we have the power to overthrow the government if it becomes unjust. No matter where we originally came from, we have those inalienable rights--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--no matter what form those ideals take for any individual. And our government goes out of its way to defend and uphold those rights! That is pretty amazing.

So, thank you to the men and women who had the courage build this amazing country, to those who put their lives on the line to defend it, and to every person who is part of the U.S. God bless America.

Happy 4th of July!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Picking words

This is a wonderful post! I like the point that the author makes about the fact that sometimes, it's just the best word for the situation--even if it is a long one.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

DC Synod Assembly Meeting Weekend

I was at the ELCA Metro DC synod assembly meeting this weekend, and it was a blast! The meeting itself wasn’t all that interesting, but the weekend was wonderful. The meeting was at Roanoke College. It was awesome to see the school again, and I got the chance to see and catch up with people from RC who I haven’t seen in years.

The Holy Cross group (Pastor Jones, Pastor Johnson, Sylvia, Jen, and I) carpooled—God bless Syl for driving! We left the Church around 10 on Thursday and arrived at RC mid-afternoon. After checking in, we went straight to the first plenary session. We had missed the “opening ceremonies”, but none of us cared (and it turns out, what we missed wasn’t worth being there for! Besides, to get there for the opening sessions, we would have had to leave Church before the a.m. rush hour. It would have been brutal). It was a long afternoon, with not much interesting from the meeting itself. Lots of legalese and submitting resolutions to do things like “send our concern…” or “offer gratitude…” In other words, not actually doing anything, but saying a whole lot! It was eye-opening, if boring. (And I really don’t understand why we need to vote to send our concern or condolences or whatever—I mean, really, is anyone going to complain if the synod tells the people in Illinois who are recovering from devastating floods that we feel for them without getting a vote on it? Seriously.)

The best part of the weekend—okay, there were a few best parts—was spending time with the HCLC folks. We had so much fun (and learned things about each other that we probably wish we didn’t know!) together laughing, talking, joking…It was some really great fellowship. Added to that, I got to spend an hour chatting with Dr. Ogier at Mill Mountain. It was fantastic to catch up with him. We talked about languages, travel, school…it was awesome. We hadn’t seen each other since I graduated six years ago, so it was long overdue! I also got to see & talk with Mark & Terri in Info Services—it was great to catch up with them, too. They’re going to work on setting up an RC IT Alum reunion. I hope it works out, because I’d love to get together with all the IT folks again. I also got to chat with Iris, the Language Lab Goddess, and Becky, who used to work in the Chaplain’s office but now works in the President’s office. The one person I didn’t get to see who I really wish I had is Rev. Henrickson, the school Chaplain. I opted to take an afternoon nap instead of visiting more people—an equally valid decision! Next time I make it down to RC, though, I’m definitely going to swing by & see him. It was wonderful to see all the people I worked with and studied with, as well as getting to know the Holy Cross delegation better, so I’m definitely glad I went.

To top off the weekend, when I got home, I got to go to the 'rents house & pet sit for them. Am I lucky or what?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More inspiration...

J.K. Rowling (best author ever!) recently spoke at Harvard's graduation ceremony. Check out the transcript of her speech. It's definitely worth reading or watching. I find her words to be comforting and inspiring.

Another interesting site

I discovered instructables yesterday, and I think it's pretty cool. I do have to say, though, that I'm not sure whether the general public really needs to know how to create a high-voltage supply. I mean, do we really need more ways to wreak havoc and destruction?

Here's another one that my friend Shanon passed along to me. Click on the "blog blog blog" link at the bottom, and watch the video titled "Life=Risk" from May 28. It's pretty inspiring! To view the video directly, go to the youtube site.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Artcyclopedia is a really cool website with all kinds of information on artists, works of art, artistic movements, and so on. If you're curious about anything related to art, it's a fun site to explore!

Letting the Spirit Lead You

This article really grabbed me. I often forget that God wants to guide me in my interests. It's a great reminder to trust & follow Him.

Monday, June 9, 2008


This is another neat website I've found in looking for linguistics-related stuff. I would like to point out that while Ruhlen does seem to have his head on straight (and know his stuff!), he overlooked the fact that Old English is the "parent" language of Modern English much the way that Latin is the parent language of Spanish, French, and Italian.

Oh, I know it's not entirely the same. Latin is the (dead) forebear of a whole family of languages (the Romance Languages), while Old English is the (dead) ancestor of just one Germanic Language, but I think it's a shame that he doesn't point out the fact that the Germanic (and Slavic, etc.) Languages do have ancestor languages, and we do have written documentation of some them, it's just that they don't all stem from the one parent language like the Romances do. I think that, since Old English was contemporary to at least some of the time period when Latin was spoken, he should point that out. I agree, though, that there must be some proto-Germanic and proto-Slavic tongues that gave rise to the various Germanic & Slavic languages we speak today. And more to the point, that there is likely some proto-everything language from which all of our tongues come.

Maybe it's proto-Babel.

The never-ending thesis

I started working on my thesis last fall. I realize that 10 months isn't really that long to be working on a thesis, but it feels like it sometimes! It's at the point that when I edit any of it, I don't really see what's on the page anymore. I don't even see what I think it might be when it's finished. I see what I feel like it should be now. (Which, to my mind, is a flawless page-turner of an essay. Oops! I thought I had gotten rid of my academic perfectionism in college. Oh well. In this case, I think a B might really not be good enough for me.)

So anyway, I got preliminary comments back from one of my readers with some basic changes I needed to make to improve the quality of my argument. Essentially, I messed up the transcriptions of most of the diphthongs and needed to make a few quick & easy changes to fix it. Whew! I'm glad he caught it, because I never would have seen the errors. I've been working on this thesis--and all the little parts that make it up--for long enough now that I even when I see something that's a glaring error, it looks correct. It's like if you rehearse a piece of music (or a line in a play, or whatever) with a small mistake in it, you get to a point that the mistake is what feels correct, even though it's not what you're supposed to be saying.

Anyway, I'm really glad to be in the final stages of my thesis!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Speech Accent Archive

The Speech Accent Archive is a fantastic tool for anyone who wants to learn about accents. It has speech samples of hundreds of people--whose native languages range from Afrikaans to Zulu--speaking the same paragraph. (It also has some pretty fabulous information on the phonetic inventories of all of the native languages covered in the Archive!) It's very interesting to hear the many different people with their many different voices speak the same words.

I highly recommend that everyone spend some time looking through it. It's a lot of fun, even if you don't have any knowledge of or interest in linguistics!

Phonetics and Phonology

I'm a linguist (well, I have a degree in linguistics, but I'm not really sure if that makes me a linguist! At any rate, I think linguistics is really exciting! I guess that goes to show how much of a nerd I am), and my favorite branch of linguistics is phonology. (Other branches include syntax, semantics, historical linguistics, psycho- (or neuro-) linguistics, computational linguistics...)

Whenever I mention that I like phonology, people ask, "oh, so is that like phonetics?"

Well, yes and no. Phonetics is a separate branch of linguistics, but it's related to phonology, and you can't do much phonology without phonetics.

Phonetics is the study of sound. That is, the sounds humans make and how we produce them with our voice apparatus (the anatomical parts we use to produce sounds--lungs, vocal cords, tongue, teeth, nose, etc.) Phonetics defines the sounds, how they're made, and has a symbol to represent each distinct sound. Phonology is the study of patterns of sounds, especially the patterns found within a language. (For example, a fairly universal pattern--aka a phonological universal--is that nasals match the place of articulation of the following consonant. This is why we say impossible instead of inpossible--the nasal sound transfers where it is produced with the voice apparatus to match where the next consonant is produced. Since the p is produced with the lips, the nasal that precedes it--in this case the m--matches the place of sound production; the lips.

So, that's the difference between phonetics and phonology! Phonology uses phonetics to study what sound patterns exist, why, and how they work. (By the way, I love phonetics, too! Especially areas like acoustic phonetics and such...)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Stress relief!

This is almost as good as the real thing! Not to mention, it's a good way to waste time...

Bubble wrap!Link

For those of us who struggle with money

I have a confession: I'm terrible at budgeting, and I'm terrible at managing my money. It's not that I'm not motivated enough or intelligent enough to take care of my finances, I'm just not good at it!

Anyway, here's a fun website with good money- and debt-management info. It's worth checking out if you, like me, struggle with this!


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Some cool sites

I just had to share these links.

Hip-hop violin
I love how these guys combine classical sounds with hip hop to create the amazing music you hear in this clip.

This guy has discovered a major musical secret: everything comes from classical music. Pachelbel Rant

Okay, okay, it's really just that there are a lot of patterns in music, and they show up all over the place. Still, this is really fun :)

I like that these two clips show us both how much fun music can be and how universal it is.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Lexical gaps

A lexical gap is a word that should exist, but doesn't My favorite example of a lexical gap is gruntled. What the heck does gruntled mean? Well, it's the logical opposite of disgruntled. Only gruntled doesn't actually exist; it's a lexical gap.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


What do these words have in common? Grinch, muggle, majestic, snorkack.

Answer: they're all neologisms first seen in literature ("majestic" was created by Shakespeare. Presumably he just used English morphology rules to change "majesty" into an adjective.). They also happen to be neologisms I mention in my thesis, but that's an aside.

Neologisms are a vital part of language. They allow languages to grow and change, and they enable us to express new ideas for which we don't have a word. In other words, neologisms rock. Some of my favorite neologisms are the Seussian: grinch, Yertle (yes, names can be neologisms), ooblek, wocket, sneetch, and Jabberwocky (okay, that one's from Carroll, not Seuss. But still, it's a cool word!). These are fun to read and say.