Jun. 29th, 2010

A very branch-y language post.

I'm trying to review three languages, two with their own syllabaries, at once. This may break my brain.  )

May. 30th, 2010

(More) conlanging -- and natural languages!

Debating about whether changing the phonology of Darynese would be a good idea. Right now, 'tr' is the only consonant cluster in an otherwise (C)V(n,m,r,l,s,z) language. (For those of you who don't know that notation, it means syllables are made up of an optional consonant, a vowel, and optionally one of six terminal consonants. So, for example, ginkgo would not be a valid Darynese word, but ginko would be... well, if the Darynese distinguished between g and k*.) Anyway... I suppose it's not too unusual -- Japanese, for example is (C)V(V)(n)**, but I kind of want to throw in more stop + r consonant clusters.

Shows what happens when I declare a language 'finished except for vocab'. Mostly it's overcoming this one barrier -- the fact it would mean changing something I set a while ago.

Also my friend Shoshe traded a summer Sanskrit course with a friend of hers in the language department at Cornell for 'astronomers at your beck and call to answer questions'. Right now I have the 'homework' of memorizing the Devanagari alphabet. I will say that I like Sanskrit's consonants, in that all the stops and nasals follow the same system. Mostly it's getting the hang of the retroflex consonants (say 't', 'd' or 'n' with your tongue curled up a bit, rather than near your teeth) and the fact Sanskrit distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated stops -- basically when an English speaker says 'pit' there's a puff of air with the /p/ that doesn't occur when she says 'spit'. I think I can control my aspiration on unvoiced sounds (p, t, k, ch, and retroflex t), but voiced sounds are harder.

A lot of learning language for me is speaking it, even if Sanskrit is like Latin in that it's more a historical language preserved for religious and cultural reasons, so is more often read than spoken. I could probably mentally convert all the letters to the Roman letters we use for transliteration, but I want to be able to hear it.

* This doesn't bother me that much -- English does distinguish between g and k, but not voiced and unvoiced th. (The 'th' in 'this' versus that in 'thin'.)

** English is (s)(C)(r, l, w, y)(V)V(C)(C)(C). English loves its consonant clusters.

Jul. 18th, 2009


This is a story about my dad, Ireland, and the Moon. And also the past and the future. It happened nearly exactly forty years ago.

My dad's parents were very big on their Irish heritage, and they made sure that my dad and his brothers and sister learned some Irish. Part of that was sending them away from Dublin to the countryside, where the language was still spoken, and in an immersion program. The idea was that by not speaking or hearing English all that summer, Dad would be able to speak functionally in Irish. Ireland did have television in the 1960s, but it was all in English -- I don't know if they now have Irish-language programming, though all of the street signs in Dublin now are bilingual.

As it happened, that was the summer of 1969, and Dad, like any young geek, wanted to see men land on the Moon. He wasn't confident he could explain to his guardians why this was so important. Perhaps because they were trying to reclaim a past lost to them, and Americans landing on the Moon was such a futuristic thing. So, he ended up sneaking out to the nearest town and watching it there. Wikipedia tells me that the landing was at 20:17 UT on July 20th and the first moonwalk was at 3:00 the next day.

I don't have that difficulty, of course -- I've watched Shuttle launches from my computer, and attended the Mars Phoenix landing party at Cornell. Neither does Dad -- as it happens, he owns property down near Cape Canaveral, and was able to see the Mars Phoenix launch. Until he heard the rocket go up, he thought it was just a spring break party late at night on the beach, and then he realized that he was probably hearing spectators of the launch, rather than rowdy college students.

On the other hand, while Dad can read Irish well enough to be amused when a Irish-style pub in Laramie, Wyoming does a bilingual menu*, he still trips over it when speaking. At my sister's wedding, he read a traditional blessing in his mother's tongue, punctuated by his apologies about his shoddy pronunciation. Of the attendees, maybe his sister and two of three brothers (the third was not present), plus Mom's sister's husband, would actually be able to tell. I don't speak a word of it myself -- the title of this post was gotten via googling for an English-Irish dictionary, and typing 'moon' in it.

* I don't remember the name, but it was next to a bar called The Library, that was right across from the dorm I stayed in for my internship. Apparently they sold T-shirts saying 'Don't lie -- tell your parents you're at The Library'. For that matter, he even complimented the owner, who told him she had an Irish-speaking friend do the menu.

Jun. 13th, 2008

My Life and Ancient Mayan

So, I've been trying to track down why I'm not sleeping well -- I usually go to bed at 11 PM, then spend two hours staring at the ceiling/doing crosswords. Current theory is that me brewing tea with dinner is keeping me up. Which annoys me, since I do it because tea leaves are good for at least two refills of the pot -- probably 4-5, if you don't mind the last couple of cups being slightly brown, tasty and fragrant hot water. I don't mind weak tea in the evening, but it means drinking four cups (or two pots) before I head to work in the morning. Like I have time for that.

I tried to test the theory, but ended up falling asleep after dinner when I was waiting for my headache medicine to kick in, then waking up at 9:30 PM. As a result, I didn't sleep well for reasons having nothing to do with caffeine.

So, Matt has started an ancient Mayan glyph-reading group.  )
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