Q&A Time: Why not let languages die?

And I know I just posted, but I wanted to respond to a question Andy asked in response to the post before that. It’s a question I get a lot, so I may as well make the answer accessible.

Andreo :

Why are you opposed to language death? I haven’t given it much thought, so I’m not sure how I feel about it. Languages change all the time, right? So what’s the big deal? Maybe we’ll all end up speaking major languages, minority ones will die out, and then in a few centuries, it’ll all split up again. Unless you’re into the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Then I could see the argument for preserving linguistic diversity.

I’m not into Sapir-Whorf, but linguistic diversity is still worth preserving.  There are linguistic phenomena which exist in only a few languages–if we allow them to die, we don’t get the opportunity to study those phenomena which could be key to helping us understand language as a whole.

I’m also opposed to language death because language is a big part of culture.  When a community loses its language, it’s never something they do by choice, and it’s not something they can give back. Sure, there’s economic power in speaking a national tongue, but is that worth losing the ability to appreciate your culture’s stories, poetry, songs, jokes, etc.? You’re always going to lose something in translation.

But people from Missouri never incensed me

Lately I’ve been working to put myself in some situations that make me uncomfortable.  Not a bad sort of uncomfortable (there’s a good kind?) but the kind that allows for personal growth. I’m terribly shy, which most people either already know about me or won’t believe when I say. So I’m doing things like reading aloud and taking courses which will require me to put a little more of myself on the line.  I’ve started communicating my thoughts and beliefs a little more.  But if I’m not sure of something–especially if it seems like I should be sure of it–I panic a little.  I’m working on this–partly just by being as prepared as possible.  But re-reading everything a hundred times to make sure I didn’t miss something is not practical. Nor is spending hours on every littlest written assignment. So I’m also working on being okay with being wrong or occasionally sounding silly.  Last semester was really the first time I’ve started communicating with professors–asking for clarification or an opportunity to discuss a point of interest.  Partially I think it was finding a field that met my interests better and having a group of professors who are more approachable.  But I’ll take a little credit too.  And because of those little things, I’m now working on this thesis project (in brief, I’m looking at yes/no questions in which the fronted auxiliary verb and sometimes the pronoun are dropped e.g. “Still reading this?” versus “Are you still reading this?”) which is a good challenge both in that it involves a lot of research and thought and in that I’m going to have to present my thoughts.  It’s pretty exciting, and I think that that, along with a few other activities I’ve fallen into when I dove headfirst into this new department are going to be outrageously beneficial for confidence building, and overcoming a bit of that anxiety.

The title of this post, by the way, is a line from a song (They all laughed) printed at the end of an economics paper I just read.  (Aside: ending a really boring paper with a song doesn’t make it less boring.  But it does mean that there’s a page less really boring paper to read than expected, which is nice.)  It’s kind of an odd line, and I have no idea why it’s in there.  Of course, as someone from Missouri, I think it would be great if you have a high opinion of folks from Missouri.  But people from the Show Me State have incensed even me, so I won’t be too sad if the line doesn’t ring true for you.  In fact, it may be better if it doesn’t.  If you happen to be a word buff, you may know that incense also at one point meant  to “offer flattering homage or adulation to; to flatter.”  Of course, since that doesn’t reflect modern day usage, I’m honor-bound to throw it out, only to be brought up as an interesting example of historical semantic variation (I’m pretty sure that’s how you prove you’re not a prescriptivist–linguists, back me up?).  But I am willing to spin a positive interpretation on the more common “make angry” meaning of the verb.

I’m terribly inclined–as I think many folks are–to allow the status quo to remain unchallenged.  It’s an instinct I do my best to resist.  My closest friends often infuriate me, but that’s a good thing.  It’s a challenge for improvement.  If they agreed with everything I did, I’d remain stagnant.

Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. -St. Augustine

I don’t mean to say that I want to be angry.  Just that it’s good to be incensed by something or someone so that progress can occur.

num sola lingua bona est lingua mortua?

Well, I made my decision. I’m taking Polish. Again. Still. Some of you are wondering why on earth I’d do such a thing to myself. Others why on earth it was even a question. Mostly you’re probably glad that I’ll stop complaining about having to make the decision.

I’m an economist, so I know better than a lot of people how awful decisions are. For every dollar I spend, I don’t think about how I’ll have a dollar less in my pocket, I think about how I can now spend a dollar less on every other good in existence. It’s not so much that learning is finite–not even language learning. I fully intend to always be working on a language in some capacity until the day I die. But I can only work on so much at once. I had intended to go to Poland this summer, but I decided that putting myself in a better position to get into grad school was more important. It probably was, but I still regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to actually use this language that gives me such grief, and that so many people have given me grief over taking. It’s a hard language–one of the more different languages (from English) you could pick out of the Indo-European family. I can’t pronounce things very well (I still feel like I’m choking myself as I force out the retroflex fricatives, not to mention all those consonant clusters!), I can’t understand rapid speech save a few isolated words, and the word stock is largely foreign to me. But the grammar has just the right combination of natural chaos and logic and when spoken by a native the language is fully beautiful.

Maybe it’s not as useful as a handful of other national languages I could be learning, but that’s the trap that the world is falling into that causes language endangerment and death. If you don’t already know this about me, I’m kind of opposed to language death.

the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated

Remember that one time when I had a blog that I occasionally updated? I think I’ll do that again. I thought about doing so on a new blog name (I even reserved one), but I’ve moved so many times this summer, I don’t want to do so again, even electronically. Sorry to those for the pause–don’t worry, I didn’t die. I don’t have much excuse other than that I was busy living, which is really probably the best excuse I could have.

Yesterday was the first day of classes for the semester, and I’m so excited for this semester that I can hardly believe it myself. The summer was absolutely wonderful–I met a lot of awesome people, I had a great job, I had some firsts (granola making, apartment finding, et cetera), I learned a little of two languages that round out my linguistic experience a little more (Indonesian and ASL), and I generally enjoyed myself, having found some places/groups/et cetera where I fit well. I’ll miss lots of things–hanging out in Ecohouse, the walk home (very cool houses and friendly neighbors), and the general flexibility that comes with summer. But I know that progress is inevitable, and I really do want to move on with my life. A little taste of research has made me hungry for grad school (GRE got taken care of this summer too!) and this last school year is going to be used preparing for that, but also taking advantage of this place and working with these people as much as possible while I’m here.

I’ve only been to one MW class so far (normally I’d have 3, but the professor of 2/3 of those is away for a conference this week so those two will start next week), but I have every reason to believe that all the courses will be great.  I know all the professors (and they know me), and they’re all topics I’m interested in. 4 linguistics courses and one economics course. Once they get going a little more, I’ll probably report on them. I’ll also be working on a senior honors thesis in linguistics. I hadn’t planned on it, but I chatted about it with a professor, and we worked out a topic that I’m very excited about. Look out for a report on that soon too.

For now, I’ll leave a list of some (but not all) goals for the coming year.

  • Complete all assignments. That sounds pretty obvious, but can become tough when my hesitance to turn in less-than-perfect meets not enough time to make it perfect
  • Work on learning Indonesian.  I may or may not be taking language courses this semester, but I’ll go crazy if I’m not actively working on one.
  • Read for fun.  Right now I’m working my way through every Sherlock Holmes story ever (well, that’s a lie. I’m just working through the canon stories).
  • Apply to grad school. I don’t that needs any explanation. But I guess I’m still figuring out what would make a grad school right for me, so there’s that to do too.

and i’m so hot cause i’m in hell

I am fairly positive that something terrifying lives outside my building.  What evidence have I got? Well, let me tell you.  On two separate occasions, there has been an animal leg on the sidewalk between here and campus.  Like, a dismembered leg.  The first time, it was some kind of bird.  And it was there for a while and bloody and gross and awful and ewww.  Then there was some smallish mammal leg.  What kind of sick beast devours an animal… except for one leg? I do not know, but I very much hope that I do not run into it.

Speaking of terrifying things, I was checking out my old xanga and found two things of note: angsty teenage poetry and imood.com.  You know those “I feel today” refrigerator magnets (why do I always want to add a d to that word?)? I’m addicted. And I forgot how much I enjoyed being able to choose from SO MANY moods (though not as many faces as moods). For example, right now I feel The current mood of PeaceDoggi at www.imood.com.  If you want to creep on my current mood (actually, some of you probably should.  It’d help you out in dealing with me) that little indicator now lives on my tumblr. As for the angsty poetry, I’ve started writing it again. It’s pretty bad.  Because now I write angsty bilingual poetry.  At least intitially I felt a lot younger speaking Esperanto than English. I’d guess that has something to do with relative confidence levels or something.  Perhaps Esperantist!me is awkwardly a teenager now and therefore the poetry is more or less expected? Or maybe that class is getting to me more than I realized…

in for a penny, in for a pound

Have you seen Black Swan? If not, go see it now.  And not (just) for the lesbian sex! It is just a really good movie. And emotional. And powerful. And uncomfortable in a good way. And go see it now.

Oh, and did you know that I have a tumblr ? ( a tumblelog, even) I haven’t really sorted out a purpose for it yet, but it’s kind of fun. Mostly pictures and quotes and stuff.  Perhaps you want to check it out.  And if you use tumblr too, you should direct me to yours, because I follow an embarrassingly small number of people (because I only follow friends, as of now. And while I am approachable, I try to be snarky enough to avoid having too many friends).

One recent post (okay, the most recent post as of this writing) was a poem I read today. You may know that  I adore e.e. cumming’s poetry.  Somehow I never read (or perhaps just never fully appreciated this poem).  Or maybe this ridiculous poetry class I’m taking has gone to my head.

a total stranger one black day
knocked living the hell out of me-- 

who found forgiveness hard because
my(as it happened)self he was 

-but now that fiend and i are such
immortal friends the other's each

It’s pretty much a constant journey–forgiving one’s self and generally quieting the inner battle that goes on inside of us. But I’m not really sure if you really should be friends with yourself.  [*aside* In high school, I took a class with a description: "learn to be your own best friend." We watched lots of Lifetime movies, made collages, and had a more in depth sex-ed than I would guess most anyone else in the Midwest.]  But of course you don’t want to be attacking yourself or too slow to forgive.  I guess it’s really hard to describe the sort of relationship you should have with yourself.  For one, you’re only one person.  I was at first tempted to suggest a frenemy sort of interaction, but that’s generally characterized by pettiness and passive aggression–not the makings of a good relationship.  Maybe it’s my definition of friend that faltered initially.  In fact, I’m fairly certain that is the case.  I was taking ‘friend’ to mean someone who unconditionally agrees and allows you to get away with anything.  But a true friend challenges you to be your best, and can point out when something needs to change.  That friend will also be forgiving and supportive.  Okay, maybe you should be your own best friend. e.e. cummings, you’ve convinced me.

In other news: weird-o dreamland is back!  Sometimes I’ll go for what seems like forever without remembering a dream.  This weekend, I had multiple memorable ones a night.  I should probably just start posting my dreams since they’re more interesting than my life. I’m also pretty interested in dream analysis. A few highlights from this weekend’s batch:

  • drinking a beer which changed from a Sam Adams Boston Lager (which I don’t like) to a Sam Adams “Indiana Ale” (yes, Indiana, not Indian) when I remarked that I liked the beer and went to read the label
  • having all the windows in my house shatter
  • finding that Professor McGonagall had broken into my friend’s house along with a mutual friend of his and mine
  • deciding to take econometrics halfway through the semester and cuddling with the professor
  • experiencing actual pain, and making it go away with advil (I can’t remember feeling pain in a dream before)
  • meeting Professor Dixon but waking up too soon to ask him the SUPER IMPORTANT linguistics question I had

And searching some key words in an online dream dictionary:

  • you are punishing yourself over a useless cause or inconsequential action on your part
  • need for physical and/or emotional contact.
  • happiness, fogginess, or inspiration. It also indicates that you have quite a social life
  • a metaphor that you are literally at your breaking point.
  • you need to start preparing for the real world.
  • your character is being questioned. You feel the need to defend yourself. You are feeling stressed, vulnerable and helpless.
  • You are expressing your satisfaction with life. Alternatively, the dream may be giving approval to move forward with some decision or action

I feel a little awkward about how… unpleasant most of those are.  But I love that it says I’m happy and inspired and satisfied with a social life! Phew! So… crazy stress but in the end I’m doing okay? I guess that’s good. :]

i do not answer the call if i do not know who is calling

What’s in a name? You probably already know that actually, names are super important. If you call a rose something other than a rose, it doesn’t smell as sweet (unless you, like me, don’t like the smell of roses–in that case you may may make it smell better).  I’m studying philosophy of language this semester and a lot of it has to do with naming of people and objects. Does the name have meaning? Does the name define the object?

I, of course, have quite the experience with changing names.  I was Christy to the family, so up until high school I was pretty much always Christy, except when in trouble, of course.  Then I decided that gender ambiguity was more fun than a barrel of monkeys.  It started out online, and then I took the name with me to the real world (or meat space, if you use cooler lingo than I do).  But then I got sick of telling people who saw my name on a list that they could drop the last syllable.  And Christine felt pretty adult.  If you’ve never had a two syllable name at Starbucks, you might not know this, but it is pretty risky trying to get a drink with your name on it.   So Chris stuck for coffee orders.  Some folks (okay, I think one person) noticed that, and started calling me Chris. So now I’m Chris again, in some circles (ekzemple: Esperantujo).  Where did Tofer come from? That was from a  friend.  Who has also gone through Kristof, Tofur (it has tofu in it, so it’s funny), Christopher, and a variety of other names for me.  This is why you shouldn’t keep friends around so long (just kidding–<3 you, LB!).  Then of course when I’m feeling especially Esperanto-y, I’m Krisjo (mi ne ŝatas la nomon Krinjo.)

Nicknames can be great to differentiate people with the same name.  My phone is full of Matt/Matthews, Andy/Andrews, et cetera.  But I’ve never had to take on a nickname for that reason.  I’ve had Christinas and Tinas and Kristins and currently a Kirsten, but never a Christine. Now, however, I have a professor Christine.  “Why don’t you just call her Professor Surname?” Well, because she said to call her by first name. And the real confusion comes when the other professor (We have two professors for this course. Don’t ask me why. Or do ask, but I’ll have no answer for you. Unless I make up an awesome story for you.) talks about both of us in one sentence: “Christine and I were discussing_____, but then Christine asked______ and Christine brought up ________.” It’s exhausting.  So I offered to go by Chris.  Guess who else goes by Chris? >.< The good news? I couldn’t have been an omelet. (That’s pretty much all I’ve learned in this class that has thoroughly stuck)

Am I a terrible person for thinking it is absolutely hilarious that SAVVY (the veg group on campus) gave out gelatin containing gummy bears today? Sure, I’d have been severely pissed had I eaten them, but still, I about died of laughter when I got the apology email. You’d think that the judgemental folks there would have taken a few seconds to read the ingredients. And why gummy bears? If I were planning the event, I’d have put out something that’s always vegan, lest I give the impression that gummy bears are always (and clearly they aren’t) vegan. How about something like Swedish Fish? They’re gummy and gelatin free. I guess I am kind of a jerk, but my first introduction to these people was one gossiping about how so-and-so who claimed that he was a vegan was eating yogurt and how could he wear a pro-animal t-shirt when he was such a hypocritical and generally terrible person who would eat yogurt? I’m pretty sure I’d have weaned myself off dairy sooner had I not feared becoming one of *them*.  Yet another reason why some people should just not be allowed to open their mouths. There are so many people I have liked until I’ve heard them speak. That’s one of the three things that are automatic turnoffs, in case you’re keeping track at home: gauges (yuck!), annoying voices/annoying things said, and not smelling awesome.

 

 

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