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.'" :)


  1. Love that ambiguity story; I forgot all about that!

  2. I'm going to my friend Lindsay's house tonight.

  3. In reading this wonderful piece it is wonderfully clear to me why my Emily so enjoys you!