Monday, May 30, 2011

Nineteenth Word: Dissertation

dissertation: 1610s "discussion, debate," from L. dissertationem, from dis- "apart"  + serere "to arrange words"

I suppose it's time to introduce you to my new on-again-off-again friend Dissertation. We met a while back, mid-April I believe. My professor introduced us. She's obsessed with compound words. Not any old compound words, mind you, but the kind you find in newspaper headlines. Things like 'Greek Debt Talks Widen Euro-Zone Divisions'. I think she's collecting them. You know, when I met her I thought we had a lot in common: a shared interest in words, linguistic persuasions of the lexicalist kind - I mean, I had just finished up a course on English Word Formation. Loved it! So I thought, sure, I'll give her a chance. Well, she dropped a bomb on me a few days later. I thought she was a Lexicalist but I come to find out over a nice cup of tea that she is kind of against that. She said she has onomasiological tendencies. Tendencies, ha! That's like the president of the NRA saying he has "conservative tendencies"! I was really mad that she had been lying to me this whole time. In hindsight though, there were signs. She kept hinting at it, giving me new "reading material". 

You should be glad to know she hasn't converted me. But I'm giving her side a chance. Truly, I like wrestling with her assertions and coming up with counter examples. But really, that's not my tendency as a linguist. I tend to hear a new theory and try and work with it (although this one's a toughie). We've been working through our differences for over a month now and while her theory is pretty progressive, it's still relatively new and there are definitely some holes. What's interesting to me though is she still hasn't given me any good reasons to think her collection of newspaper headline compounds actually work within the framework of her theory. So I've decided to take that task on and run a study, with the help of all of you, to see if we can make some headway. 

Let me explain a few terms you came across in the above paragraphs (if you're still reading, that is). Lexicalism is a theory of word formation (you know...forming words...) in which there are distinct processes like compounding (sailboat), attaching suffixes and prefixes (industrialize, restart), and several others. Lexicalism, the name, comes from the idea of the mental lexicon, which is just the dictionary we have in our heads of all the words we know. My word formation class focused on this school of thought. 

Onomasiologists, however, don't believe that compounding and suffixation etc are separate processes. Semantically (semantic has to do with meaning), all these processes have the same relationships. In other words, the words are related in the same way whether or not you compound or attach a suffix. For example, driver is "someone (the -er suffix) who drives" while a chairman is "someone (man) who chairs". both man and -er mean "someone who does something (a verb usually)". driver is formed adding a suffix while chairman is a compound. It seems the processes aren't different semantically. 

It seems that onomasiology makes sense from this standpoint and it would be pretty complicated to explain why I still hold the Lexicalist view. But I am trying to see how far Onomasiology can stretch as a theory to account for data that hasn't been studied - compounds that consist of 3 or more words (one of my favorites comes from The Atlantic: 'Russian Robot Collie Patent Sketches'. yes, Russian patent sketches for a robot dog. or is it patent sketches for a Russian robot dog? or is it sketches for a Russian patent of a robot dog?) See, the semantics -relationship between words- gets a little weird when you have so many parts.... So that's where you come in. I'm going to test your instincts as to what compounds like 'Russian Robot Collie Patent Sketches' mean. And then I'm going to see how well this Onomasiology Theory stands up to my data. 

Bless you for sticking with this til the end. I promise I won't make you read my dissertation ;)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eighteenth Word: London

London - 
Chief city and capital of England, L. Londinium (c.115), often explained as "place belonging to a man named Londinos," a supposed Celtic personal name meaning "the wild one" (

So, like a guest ale on at the local pub that you've never tried, here am I, Alex, to treat you to tales of shenanigans and misadventures of the trip that Adam, Mike and I had in Longdong. Adam and I traveled all day by plane, train and automobile to get to London where we met Mike. It was like we had the band the back together again. We looked it too, what with our stylish facial hair and their hip black glasses. We said our yo mans, hugged, did our secret handshakes etc. and started walking to the hostel. Thus commenced the walking of the trip. We did a lot of walking.

We got to the hostel and napped a bit before heading out and exploring our area. We were in the Southwark borough, pretty close to London Bridge. We found a pub with a good happy hour special and drank some real ales (slightly chilled, lightly carbonated English brews, cask conditioned and served. Oh, okay, I won't steer off course yet.), had some dinner and ended our Thursday night at a place called the Trinity, an empty-ish pub next to our hostel. It was there that we ran into Dana, a "short-blonde-druggie-hipster-chick" as Adam described her. She was an American that had studied there a couple of years and so knew the city, and was returning to visit some friends. She was super talkative and excited to give us a local's guide to the city. She gave us her map and circled a bunch of places that we should go, for example: Holland Park, an adult playground, with a zipline and a huge tire swing where peacocks run free; Primrose Hill, where we can see great views of the city; Fabric, a pub/club six stories underground with an amazing laser light show. Okay, I guess I don't remember any other place she told us to go, because those were the only places we were really interested in. 

Friday was our big day. We wanted to hit Holland Park for the zipline and peacocks, and since it was past Hyde Park we'd go through that too. After that would be Primrose Hill, and after that we'd grab a drink with Audrey and her boyfriend Lee at near Victoria Station, where they were coming in to London to visit with Lee's aunt for a few days. So. We started walking from our hostel to Westminster Bridge to see that and Parliament Square and Big Ben. Beautiful. Tons of people. From there we walked through St. James's Park and Green Park, then into Hyde Park. On the way we got a frisbee and played next to a lake. It was a beautiful day. We found this tree that was like a house, and we hung out in it for a while before we kept going. So many monuments to writers, important philosophers, Albert, King whats-his-name, the war, yer mom, you name it. We finally got to Holland Park, after going through I don't know how many neighborhoods and parks and stuff, and it seemed like basically a normal park. We found a map of it on a sign and found where the "adventure playground" was, and headed that way. On the way there was an orangery, which I'm still not sure what that is, but it looked cool - old buildings, modern sculptures, giant chess board, you know, normal orangery stuff,  I'm sure. 

Finally, after walking for probably 4 hours,  we arrived at the playground. It was a bit of - okay, a big - letdown. Tons of toddlers with their late 20s early 30somethings mums. Yeah, there was a zipline. Yeah, a big tire swing. But we were hoping to bring beers here and laugh at peacocks fighting while playing on giant adult-sized seesaws. Me and Mike made the best of the tarzan swing while trying to glance away from all of the moms' stares before we said bye-bye. Looking back, we maybe shouldn't have trusted Dana so much. What with all the talk of acid and ecstasy, I'm pretty sure the peacocks must've been a hallucination. Oh well. We saw a lot of London we'd probably never see otherwise. We made it to Primrose Hill (by bus) and that was pretty. At least that wasn't a hallucination. 

Friday night (ha! and you thought our day was over! shhyeah, right!) we wanted to visit the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) Pub of the Year 2010-11, The Harp. It was near Covent Gardens, and we couldn't really find it. We had gone to another pub before that and we were kind of lost as to which direction the pub was in. I was on the phone with Julia and she was on the computer figuring out where we were in relation to the pub ("wait, so you're still on Long Acre?!") and so eventually we just gave up. Continuing down the wrong street, we found this little tiny alley (only about two feet wide) and walked down that, just because. It opened up eventually and there were people drinking in the alley and a door that was propped open. We went in and found the coolest little pub, with 10 or so real ales on and sweet decor. We went out front to see what pub we were in, and of course, you guessed it. The Harp. *Brrrriiinggg!* We stayed there for some nice Sambrooks ales, but because we couldn't find it, it was almost closing time, and couldn't stay long. We left to have a beer on a footbridge over the Thames. "Epic," as one passerby commented.  On the way back, we were taking photos of Mike doing embarrassing things like jumping off of things and stuff, and Adam took the camera and ran off down some stairs. He said he thought we were following him, but we went around to meet him at the bottom. When we got there, he wasn't. We called, and waited, and got mad, and worried, and eventually after an hour or so, took a bus back to our hostel. When we got back to the hostel around 2:30, he wasn't there. We started really worrying then, like what if he got mugged, etc? There were some bikes you could rent by the hostel, and we jumped on them and headed down the route we thought he probably took, maybe down London Bridge, and around that vicinity. No luck. After an hour or so we decided Mike would head back to the hostel and text me if Adam was there. He was. Asleep. Awesome. What a sweet Friday, huh? 

Saturday. Since I've already written an entire book and you stopped reading up before the Harp, I'll put this in nice easy bullets.
-Westminster Abbey costs £16 per person to get into. Plus a really long line, not worth it, for us.
- I saw a zombie dwarf running down London Bridge. Freaky.
- We walked a ton again, this time down Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, and Oxford Circus, just kind of shopping and seeing things. Got some cheap stuff at Primark. Busiest, scariest Primark ever. 
-We went back to the Harp Saturday night and saw Matthew Fox (from LOST) there. Cool.
- I guess that's it.

Overall, London was awesome. By Sunday we were limping like senior citizens from all the walking, but I think for the most part, that was okay. We saw a lot of London for how short a time we were there, and we had a lot of fun. London's got so many different parts to it - an old, majestic part, a cool hipster part (though we never did make it to Fabric), a modern business-y part, a super commercial part with tons of street performers swallowing balloon animals and stuff. And there's tons of cool parks. But you know, any city remotely like that I think is gonna be cool when you're with guys like Adam and Mike. You can't help but have fun, even when your feet feel like they're gonna fall off. 

Say What?
London : Longdong, Fundon... anyone got any other good ones?  

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sixteenth Word: York

York-a city in northern England, O.Eng Eoforwic, earlier Eborakon (c.150), an ancient Celtic name, probably meaning "Yew-Tree Estate"

My family spent Saturday through Wednesday in Edinburgh. We saw all the typical sights: the castle, the palace, the parliament, Calton Hill, the Meadows, Arthur's Seat, Craigmillar Castle, the Royal Mile and Princes Street Gardens. We had tea at cute little Clarinda's on the Royal Mile after visiting the palace. This place is your grandma's house with pencil sketches of dogs, pictures of girls with dolls, and doilies everywhere. We all discovered "cream tea" which is actually a scone with butter jam and whipped cream served with a cup of tea. Delish! We met up with Sarah over the weekend because her group from Calvin was visiting. We had birthday dinner Saturday night. Linnea and Alex made chicken risotto.

Monday we went to North Berwick for my birthday. It's this adorable seaside town with the National Seabird Center. We got to see puffins and all kinds of seabirds that nest out on the rocks in the Firth of Forth. Bass Rock is 3 miles off the coast and is 300 feet tall. It was huge! and so beautiful. It was a rather grey day but eventually cleared up and we beach combed and hunted for seashells in the afternoon. Whereas the Highlands reminded me of the Pacific northwest in a way, North Berwick reminded me a lot of Cape Cod and the east coast. Tuesday we went to the place where Alex cooks, David Bann, for dinner before going to see Alex perform in Rent.

Thursday, we took the train to Newcastle, rented a car, and drove to Housesteads, a Roman fort built in 124AD. We walked along Hadrian's wall, the wall dividing the Roman south from the Scottish/Pictish (?) north. Alex went back to Edinburgh because he had performances all weekend and the rest of us took the train to York to meet up with Sarah and  Mike.

York is so cute! It has a charming little old town, a beautiful minster, and the flowers and trees were all in bloom. Sarah showed us all the typical sights. We visited the minster and it's crypt and walked through the Shambles (a street on which all the buildings are droopy, saggy, falling apart and yet remaining upright-apparently Diagon Alley in the HP books was modeled after it). We rented a river boat and cruised down the Ouse for an hour. We got gelato and ate Yorkshire puddings the size of dinner plates. It was quite a charming town.

On my favorite day in York, we rented a car and drove north to the Yorkshire Moors. We stopped at Rievaulx Abbey which is set in an idyllic valley with sheep, rolling hills, and only about five cottages nearby. The abbey is a huge ruin, the largest I've seen yet and by far the best I've been to. I LOVED it. It was so beautiful (made better by the 65 degree weather!). We traveled through the villages of Helmsley and Hutton-le-Hole. We eventually ended up at Castle Howard (not actually a castle but a grand country estate). It had beautiful grounds that we enjoyed in the warm weather! Back to York for dinner.

Our last day, we stayed in town. Mom and dad went to the Yorkshire museum while Sarah, Nene, Mike, and I got gelato (yes at 10am). We visited the Minster and its crypt, ate at Sarah's favorite cafe Middleton's, and walked the city walls. Another glorious day. To escape all of the Saturday crowds, we rented a river boat for an hour and cruised down the Ouse. York is definitely a place to visit when in the UK. It is very charming and  cute. Made all the better because we could see where Sarah has spent the semester.

I know this blog is way past due but my life after my parents left Edinburgh has consisted of papers, papers, papers. Then Laura, my cousin, visited last week (much fun!) and Adam is here this week and next. I've got an exam Tuesday and my dissertation proposal due a week from Monday ("Meaning Predictability in Compounding and Phrasal Attribution"). We're on the final leg of our journey now but I'm sure we'll make the most of it this summer :)