Friday, January 21, 2011

Eleventh Word: Dandelion

This etymology has nothing to do with anything but it's an interesting one!
dandelion: early 15c., from M.Fr. dent de lion, lit. "lion's tooth" (from its toothed leaves), translation of M.L. dens leonis. Other folk names refer to the plant's more authentic diuretic qualities, preserved in M.E. piss-a-bed and Fr. pissenlit "piss in bed".

It's a new year and a new semester, and life is passing every more quickly. I can't believe January is almost at an end! I have so many things to look forward to this semester and hardly any of them are school related! My sister and her fiance will be arriving in the UK this upcoming week to begin their semesters abroad in York and London, respectively. Sarah and Mike are planning to visit in the beginning of February. Our first guests from home! My friend Brittany is coming in the end of February, and then my family is coming the first week of April (the same week that the musical Al is in is opening!). Our friend Adam will be visiting in May sometime. I can't wait to show off this city!

This week has been busy catching up with everyone who was gone over the holidays. We celebrated our friend Jason West's birthday last night with some rounds of poker and a game of Huggermugger (a dorky linguists' game that we love). Tonight we are going to see our friend John Green's band play in Grassmarket. A few of our friends from church are in his band so it should be a good time! Al is going to Glasgow with some friends for a Sleigh Bells concert tomorrow night, too. (Bonus points to the English nerd who can tell me how to properly "possessify" the phrase "my friend x's" which I attempted twice in this paragraph! ahem, Sarah VanderMolen and Emily Cutter...)

Now for the nitty-gritty. I'm taking only three classes this semester: English Word Formation, Dialectology of the British Isles, and Optimality Theory (yuck). I'm enjoying having so much free time because I'm in denial about having to select a research topic in the next few months (meaning, I should be in the library trying to find a topic). Still haven't gotten marks back from last semester's work :(

When you're immersed in a field for so long, it's easy to take for granted that other people might have no idea what that field is about. Linguistics is definitely one of those fields because it is so small (relatively speaking). What I love about linguistics, though, is that everyone is a linguist in a way, they just don't know it. Everyone (with veeery rare exceptions) has a mastery of language. Everyone speaks grammatically. Everyone can control and manipulate language according to rules in their brains that they aren't even aware of at a conscious level. The more I learn about linguistics, the more the human brain amazes me. Babies are geniuses! More so than adults, at least when it comes to language. But the sheer amount of linguistic information that our brains process in mere nanoseconds is ridiculous! Computers don't even compare! Linguistics is at the same time, foreign language learning, history, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, metacognition, and mathematics. It is not a field for the faint of heart.

It's hard to convince people why I am in a field that won't make me a lot of money and has limited job possibilities. Those people are very practically minded (and their is nothing wrong with that). But everyday I learn more amazing things about how God made our brains work so we can communicate with others. How can I not want to stand in amazement everyday after a great class or after reading books on language? Money is not as enticing to me as the fulfillment I get from being engulfed in wonderment on a daily basis. If you still don't understand, that's ok. I hope you have something that gets you excited about life and humbles you at the amazing-ness of it. Language is that for me.

Say What?

Ok, this is not a British thing, but Al and I are reading Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct and this is an excerpt (1994: 209):

"One of the first computer parsers [a computer that derives the different meanings of ambiguous sentences], developed at Harvard in the 1960s, provides a famous example [of computers getting it all wrong]. The sentence Time flies like an arrow is surely unambiguous...(ignoring the difference between literal and metaphorical meaning). But to the surprise of the programmers, the sharp-eyed computer found it to have five different [meanings]! (It helps if you re-read the initial sentence after you read each sentence below in order to get how the computer could have rendered that meaning)

1. Time proceeds as quickly as an arrow proceeds. (The intended meaning)
2. Measure the speed of flies in the same way that you measure the speed of an arrow.
3. Measure the speed of flies in the same way that an arrow measures the speed of flies.
4. Measure the speed of flies that resemble an arrow.
5. Flies of a particular kind, time-flies, are fond of an arrow.

Among computer scientists the discovery has been summed up in the aphorism 'Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.'" :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tenth Word: Fond

fond Instead of giving you an etymology, this word has an interesting syntactical usage. It is something called a "transitive adjective." Most adjectives don't take an object (like, "he is mad.") but fond must always take an object. No one can be fond. "I am fond" sounds weird. You must be fond of something. Well, these are things I am fond of.

I don't want to forget these things about Edinburgh. I don't think I will, and I'm sure I'll add to this list, but this is just to share with you pieces of the city that make me sigh, chuckle, or even drool.

1) If you look at a satellite view of Grand Rapids on GoogleMaps you'll notice the all too famous grid pattern of streets and city blocks, houses just far apart enough to keep out of your neighbor's personal bubble, backyards and front yards, space. In Edinburgh (especially Edinburgh), people literally live on top of each other. The city planners must have decided that just because a building was in a certain spot didn't mean they couldn't build something right on top of it, and not in the same style necessarily. There's even two hotels on a street near us that share a wall. Every building is squished together. I love it. It makes for that cute postcard look. But the twisty streets and bridges also make for a complex and photogenic Old Town. Victoria Street (West Bow) is my favorite curved street. It winds up a hill and at the top is another street that basically sits on top of all the roofs of the buildings lining Victoria Street. Plus, it's where the cheese monger has a shop.
The next two streets over are streets running under huge archways on top of which are other streets. The fourth street is another bowed street called Candlemaker Row. It's not only a maze, it's amazing! hardy har.

2) The Mosque Kitchen is this awesome (and inexpensive)outdoor....can you call it a restaurant? You walk in a door to get your (amazing!....or should I say "gorgeous"?) food from the two men serving it and walk back to the covered courtyard to eat the steaming hot curried chicken and rice with a huge, larger-than-a-plate, piece of naan. With all the pigeons, leaves, and the cold, it really has a feel of an outdoor soup kitchen. Everyone is bundled up and eat with plastic utensils. And of course, the delightful sign beckoning you to dispose of your trash is a proud and adorably ignorant display of linguistic ambiguity: "Please clear your dishes when finished in the bins provided." As if one may be having so much fun in the bins provided that they forget to clear their plastic "dishes."

3) The way our apartment faces, Alex and I can never see the sun, but I see the effects of it on the castle out our window. It reminds me of Monet and how he painted the Rouen Cathedral in different lighting. I wake up with that castle and go to sleep with it. It stands out orange against a darkening blue sky; tinges of pink speckle the bricks in the early morning when the sun is in the east; the upward shafts of light illuminate this monument through the long hours of darkness. Sometimes lights are on all night and I pretend a princesses is in a fit of sleepless insomnia as her lover battles the British with William Wallace's army. Ok, maybe I don't go that far, but I do wish I could wear pretty Jane Austen dresses all the time and run around palace grounds like a princess shirking her royal obligation to poise and reputation. You try having a castle out your window sometime and see how your thoughts wander!

4) Edinburgh is rife with fodder for "Say What?". Some of our favorite examples are:

-Bin your litter.
-No dog fouling.
-Beware of pedestrians.
-Park and display ("Have you paid and displayed?")

I guess I should save some examples for "Say What?" shouldn't I?

Say What?

Oregano. No, not o-RE-gah-no. It's o-re-GAH-no. No lie. It's weird.
Shallots. No, not SHA-lots. It's sha-LOTS. Where do they come up with this?
Basil is not BAY-zil, but BAA-zil (like the a in apple).
Corriander is what we call cilantro, both swede ("sweed") and turnip are names for what we call rutabaga, and pudding is any kind of dessert here (but mostly cakes). Our pudding is their custard.
Also, food can be for "eat in or take away" instead of for "here or to go."