Hallå, Sverige!

This summer the Roys will be saying “Hallå, Sverige!”—pronounced [haˈloː sværjɛ], we will have to practice!—as we travel to Sweden. I submitted a panel proposal to the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) 2019 Congress and it was accepted! I and two other musicologists who are doing pioneering work on music and childhood/children will give papers on the theme of “The Sounding and Silencing of Musical Childhoods;” more on that soon!

Princess Tuvstarr in the Field  (1913) by Swedish illustator John Bauer.

Princess Tuvstarr in the Field (1913) by Swedish illustator John Bauer.

I am getting more and more excited about this trip, not just because the IRSCL will undoubtedly be an amazing experience, but because I know very little about Sweden and it gives me a wonderful opportunity to delve into its music, language, literature, and myths. By far the most compelling thing I have found recently is Rosenbergs Sjua (Rosenberg’s Seven), a musical ensemble comprised of four female vocalists and a string quartet. Their second album, R7 (1999) consists of arrangements of Swedish folk songs that are singularly riveting and haunting.

Vocal Polyphony

The driving force behind Rosenbergs Sjua is Susanne Rosenberg: singer, composer, musicologist, and professor in the Royal College of Music, Stockholm. Her arrangements for R7 reflect her mastery of an eclectic variety of singing styles ranging from Swedish folk to Baroque to jazz, as the singers create amazing textures ranging from playful to epic to lyrical. The sixth track “Pris Vare Gud”—a nineteenth-century hymn text written by Johan Olof Wallin—begins with a layering of an improvisatory motif that creates a sort of drone for the mournful melody. Alternately track two “Min Bröllopsdag” alternates between tight harmonies in homorhythm and polyphonic scatting.

Kulning

Another sound that adds a certain northern wildness to R7 is kulning, a vocal technique practiced since ancient times in Scandinavia—primarily by women—as a means for calling livestock in from their grazing pastures in the mountains. Different melodic shapes and timbral colors echo and clash with high-pitched intensity throughout track seven “Jorid Lockrop” and offer a visceral example of female vocal power. This is apparently the function of kulning in Karin Rehnqvist’s composition for two singers and percussion, Puksånger/Lockrop (1989), which Rosenberg premiered. (The link in the recording is not professional, but the rawness speaks for itself.)

Fiddling/Riffing

The string section of R7 simply rocks! In addition to several instrumental dance tracks (four “Artos Julpolska and thirteen “Nattöga”) which feature a wealth of idiomatic ornamentation, many of the songs are grounded in heavy, syncopated riffs worthy of a metal band. Listen to the first track “Leja Tjänstepiga” or the epic tenth “Balladen Om Liten Karin”. (The whole effect reminds me of the amazing instrumental arrangements of folk songs by the Danish String Quartet in their Woodworks (2014) album.) The contrast between voice and string in R7 —both equally strident at times—has a sort of hi-fi brutality that I prefer when it comes to modern arrangements of folk music.


Your suggestions for further reading/listening as we look forward to Sweden are welcome! Ha det så bra!

Holiday Blessing: Samin Nosrat, Good Tidings, and "Feuch"

The holidays are here, and with them are all the familiar sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Between last weekend’s pre-Thanksgiving hosted lunch with my parents (lemon chicken, roasted potatoes, green beans, cranberry relish, herb rolls, and pumpkin pie), the bags of aromatic delectables from Apple Hill sitting here on the counter (fritters, donuts, and Fujis), and Jess and Kathy brainstorming potential dessert and vegetable options online (I believe a pumpkin pie à la Zoe Bakes is in the works), I’m feeling the love. Because I’m off from work this week, my mind seems particularly open, and I made a wonderful connection about three seemingly unconnected things.


Samin Nosrat

Jess and I have been enjoying Berkeley-based chef Samin Nosrat immensely. Jess has her cookbook, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, on the shelf (which strives for a freeing sense of wabi-sabi through Wendy MacNaughton’s hand-drawn illustrations), and the Netflix documentary of the same name provided a beautiful, inspiring, and informative investigation of her four foundational cooking concepts. She contends that mastering salt, fat, acid, and heat is not merely a matter of following a recipe, but part of a larger practice of learning to hone and trust your senses.

Samin Nosrat cooking while smiling! Yum!

Samin Nosrat cooking while smiling! Yum!

An interview she gave on Discourse entitled “Engaging the Senses” extend this idea into her philosophy of cooking, in which she sees the kitchen as a place where all people can be welcome because everyone can use their senses.

I think it’s about engaging the senses. That’s something my cooking really focuses on: using your senses to become a better cook. Cooking really does engage all of your senses — at least, good cooking does — but for the most part, I feel like I’ve spent the last fifteen years honing, above all, my senses of taste and smell. —S.N.

Because everyone has the capacity to improve their senses, Samin contends that anyone can cook. This viewpoint transforms the kitchen from something potentially shameful to a place where humanization and amateurism invite participation from all. I love this idea and see many parallels to the ways that I understand musicology, language learning directing choirs…


Good Tidings

My Providence School choirs are in full Christmas music tilt. I’ve taken the traditional “Nine Lessons and Carols” service that has been done in the past and changed it to allow for more instrumentalists and different choral repertoire. I’m calling it “Come to the Cradle: A Service of Lessons and Carols”, and the great majority of the music focuses on various aspects of the postpartum manger, especially the visitation of the shepherds.

Christina Saj,  Shepherd

Christina Saj, Shepherd


This had me reading through the second chapter of Luke for inspiration; if you’re familiar with Linus’ King James monologue from the Peanut’s Christmas Special, one scene goes something like this:

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

However, I tend to read the Bible in different translations, especially non-English ones; I find that this sort of alienated reading is a practice that breathes new life into old stories in humbling and challenging ways. As I read through Luke 2:9-11 in my Scottish Gaelic translation, a certain word popped out at me…


“Feuch”

The Gàidhlig translation that I own, Am Bìoball Gàidhlig 1992, is written in a somewhat archaic style (both ABG and KJV begin almost every sentence with the word “and”/“agus”), and the imperative verb “feuch” (pronounced IPA: [fiax]) pops up twice in that section of Luke 2, corresponding to the KJV “lo” and “behold” that I underlined above. I looked the word up in the LearnGaelic Dictionary and found that it is particularly rich in meanings:

1 feel! (test by feeling)
2 taste! (test by tasting)
3 try, attempt!
4 test!
5 behold, look, lo!
6 reconnoitre!
7 rummage!

The spirit of this word extends far beyond the observational (and archaic) sense that I get from “lo” and “behold”. “Feuch” is dynamic! It involves the senses of touch, taste, and sight; it is messy and exploratory; and it implies a learning curve without any actual guarantee of success.

An illustration by Scottish-born artist Jessie Marion King (1875–1949) from the book  The Fisherman and His Soul .

An illustration by Scottish-born artist Jessie Marion King (1875–1949) from the book The Fisherman and His Soul.


The angel commands the shepherds to “feuch”, to engage deeply and bodily with the good news of the Savior’s arrival, pushing the boundaries of the known and hoped for. Luke the narrator challenges his readers to “feuch”, to rummage and reconnoitre through their minds to understand the palpable intensity of a supernatural encounter that entered reality from seemingly nowhere. And Samin reminds us to “feach”, to seek our way towards a sensitivity to the smells and sounds of cooking and the human connection that such an activity brings.

This holiday, may we all be present to what is immanent, simple things, true things.






Gaelic Advent Treats

My thanks to Daily Gaelic - Gàidhlig Gach Latha for a little season's cheer this year in the form of an emailed virtual advent calendar. There's something thoroughly enjoyable about an advent calendar, about the anticipation, the mystery, the big reveal. It's about unwrapping a present.

Edinburgh, Scotland gripped in the icy embrace of Cailleach Bhèara, the Hag of Winter!

Edinburgh, Scotland gripped in the icy embrace of Cailleach Bhèara, the Hag of Winter!

[Cue pivot chord modulation]

Orthography can be a bit like unwrapping a present. (See what I did there? :)) And sometimes that present seems to have been bound together with layers and layers of duct tape! The relationship between written letters and spoken sounds is not always straightforward even in English, and the rules of the game in other languages has the ability to cause quite a bit of consternation. Scottish Gaelic is notoriously baffling to the neophyte, owing largely to the fact that 18 letters are used to make some 60+ sounds (depending on how you count).

I found the  particular Gaelic advent gift particularly challenging and therefore all the more satisfying after unwrapping; I opened the virtual door to find these words: "Teóclaid teth". Here was my process in unwrapping just the first word.
 

  1. The "t" is next to a slender vowel "e" which means that it is pronounced like "tch" [tʃʰ].
  2. Because there's an accent over the "ó" the "e" is silent and we get a nice long "o" sound [o:].
  3. The "c" is hard [kʰ].
  4. The "l" is beleaguered by broad vowels on either side "ó...a" so it is technically a velarized alveolar lateral approximant, aka a sort of throaty "l" [ɫ] like in "Allah".
  5. The "a" is silent as it's only there to satisfactorily surround the "l" with broad vowels.
  6. As the vowel of an unstressed syllable, the "i" is a short, humble, little "i" like in "fish".
  7. The "d" is next to a slender vowel "i" which means that it is pronounced like the end of "fridge" [ʤ].

Put that all together and you get something like this [tʃʰo: kʰɫiʤ] or (since IPA tends to be just as confusing as Gaelic) approximately "tcho-klidge".

Now repeat it a few times.

"tcho-klidge"

"tcho-klidge"

"tcho-klidge"

...

Still need a hint? Look at this picture:

Photo credit: me. My wife enjoying a cup of Hot...

Photo credit: me. My wife enjoying a cup of Hot...

Chocolate!

Add "teth" ([tʃʰɛ:] or "tcheh") to the end and you've got "teóclaid teth" or "hot chocolate". I think there's something so satisfying about deciphering this mystery word. I found myself immersed in the raw musicality of the Gaelic language, riding the waves of half-understood orthographic rules, and found myself surprised by the recognition of the familiar in the midst of the strange.

In the midst of an all-too familiar holiday season, perhaps we could remember to accept the traditional as well as the unexpected. And we could have more hot cocoa! :)

The Music of Language: Gaelic Summer

Summer is for many things—for getting much needed rest, for enjoying the sun, for catching up on all the reading that has been put off, and for rediscovering one's hobbies. One of the passions that I will be pouring myself into during the coming months is language learning, specifically investing some time into my old friend Scottish Gaelic or Gàidhlig.

I've been attracted to Gàidhlig for a long time. I'm sure it has a lot to do with learning to play the tin whistle in elementary school and watching Braveheart in junior high. There was just something about the look of the words, the melodious guttural sounds, the familiar and unfamiliar patterns and structures. I can remember eagerly scouring the internet in my father's home office for lists of phrases and vocabulary, dutifully drilling myself on grammatical constructions with James MacLaren's Beginner's Gaelic (1923) during lunch breaks as a sales associate at Border's Books, and struggling through Prof. Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh's complex phonological analyses at Fuaimean na Gàidhlig.

Credit: Joe Fox,  A82 Bi-lingual Scottish Gaelic English Road Sign Scotland Uk   Link.

Credit: Joe Fox, A82 Bi-lingual Scottish Gaelic English Road Sign Scotland Uk
Link.

As enjoyable and useful as these endeavors were, the approaches all suffered from the same drawback: they all took reading and writing as their starting point. For Gàidhlig this poses a particular challenge due to the complex and seemingly enigmatic relationship between the way the language is written and the way it is spoken. As I learned, I would continually find myself put in the frustrating position of either learning to speak phrases or words incorrectly, or of tiptoeing through a dense thicket of IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) rules. It would begin to feel less and less like learning a vibrant language, and more like doing calculus or pitch-class-set analysis. There had to be another way!

I think I've found another way.

I've written previous posts about a language learning technique called "shadowing". It involves immersing yourself in a language's sounds in real time, internalizing its vocal patterns, rhythmic cadences, and phrase structures. Shadowing is essentially about the music of language; at its base level it allows you to engage with the raw sounds of a language freed from the distractions of writing, semantics and grammar. This is not to say that those aspects of the language are unimportant, but rather that the initial focus upon the musical characteristics of music engages your brain in a unique and powerful manner. It's a way of establishing a strong foundation upon which the rest of the language can confidently stand.

Here is my summer plan:

  • I am shadowing with Litir Beag, a podcast by Roddy MacIean on BBC Alba, the Gàidhlig language branch of the BBC. These "little letters" are for intermediate learners and Roddy specifically speaks the words slowly and clearly—ideal for shadowing! I do not read the Litir Beag transcripts, nor do I read the English translations—not yet. This stage is all about engaging with the sounds. Already I have noticed two interesting developments:
    • I can match sounds with much more accuracy and fluency in Gàidhlig than in a language which I know much better. Shadowing in German, for instance, is more overwhelming because my mind not only listens to sounds while speaking them back, but additionally keeps busy parsing grammatical functions, imagining written text, and visualizing descriptive or narrative meaning.
    • I can begin to intuit meaning through musical and contextual patterns in the recordings. Strings of numbers or dates have their own particular sound and cadence. Also phrases such as "he said" or "she said" stand out loud and clear because of the way Roddy performs the narrative dialogues.
  • I have just begun to shadow to another program on BBC Alba, Beag air Bheag, an educational website. Geared towards absolute beginners, this program takes you "bit by bit" through graded lessons, each unit ending with a conversational dialogue that sums up all the main points of the chapter. Again, I am avoiding reading the transcripts and the translations for the time being. The back-and-forth format of these simple dialogues allow me to intuit conversational characteristics such as questions, answers, frustration, incredulity, and affirmation.
  • The next stage in my plan involves carefully introducing the transcripts and translations to my sound world. The music of the language and the sounds that I've already internalized should continually act as the foundation. As I slowly look through Litir Beag and Beag air Bheag texts, I hope to continually say, "Oh! That's how you spell it and that's what it means!" and not "Oh! That's how you pronounce it!" There should be little to no renegotiation of the spoken sounds, though some tricky ones (such as the hurriedly spoken definite articles "an" and "am") which were unclear in the recordings can now be solidified. The point is that the writing should further illuminate and give definition to the sounds that I already know, not visa versa. 
  • This method should result in the following improvements and opportunities by the end of the summer:
    • I will have spoken a lot of Gàidhlig sounds, continually intuiting its musical patterns, cadences, and rhythms.
    • I will have a better chance of understanding the writing system and its correspondence to the sounds. Now the two can work in tandem rather than in tension and I can begin to read books with confidence.
    • I will have enjoyed myself, succeeding at doing something difficult that I love!
  • Perhaps by next summer I could be in the position to actually speak Gàidhlig with living people. It would be somewhat challenging given and sparsity of Highland villages in Southern California. :) But who knows? Skype has opened up the doors to exciting new communication opportunities, and institutions like Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and Colaisde na Gàidhlig provide plenty of pedagogical resources both through distance learning and on-site visits.
Credit: Steve Greaves,  Scottish Highlands   Link.

Credit: Steve Greaves, Scottish Highlands
Link.

I am very excited about this plan and think that it will prove very helpful. By engaging directly with the sounds, I will have more confidence as I move into the more theoretical and structural aspects of the language. Let me know if these ideas are inspirational, confusing, or if you have other techniques that work for you. Bottom line, I am enjoying myself and my summer. I hope you do too!

Operation Trilingual: 22 Week Assessment

It has been 22 weeks since I first began my Operation Trilingual Language Learning System. As outlined in my previous post, I planned on dividing my time between different types of Input and Output to create a perpetuum mobile of linguistic beauty. Now that some time has passed I need to take stock of what has been accomplished and decide whether or not my efforts are pushing me in the direction I want to go.

I recorded my progress on the following chart:

I'm voracious! And color coordinated.

I'm voracious! And color coordinated.

The green column shows the date in weekly groups.
The red section charts German activity and the blue French.
For each day I wrote what type of Activity (Narrative Input, Culling Input, Output), what Material was used (text, audio, flashcard program, etc.), Duration of time spent on that activity, and any special Notes.

That's how it worked; here's how I assess the journey:

  • Accomplishments
    • Daily Incentive: I didn't like having to write N/A and 0hrs for a given day. Kept up my work in both languages daily.
      • Highest weekly total: 16hrs 22mins
      • Lowest weekly total: 1hr 33mins
    • Lots of Narrative Input: By far the easiest Activity, I have made my way through a healthy helping of audio books of C.S. Lewis' Prinz Kaspian (finished) and Der Reise auf der Morgenröte (in progress) in German, reading German translations of stories by Hans Christian Andersen, and reading French, literary fairy tales by the Comtesse d'Aulnoy. Yum!
    • Academic Culling Input: in addition to passing my French language test for UCSB, I had to put in some time to translate foreign documents and articles for my classes and papers. One source included reading a German keyboard treatise from the early 1700s written in a very difficult to read fraktur script.
    • Exciting Output: I got the chance to have a lengthy conversation with a German speaker, exchange friendly emails with a Swiss pianist in German, and send some Facebook messages to a French friend.
    • Free Speak Output Focus: Sometimes it's hard to decide what to yak about. Aaron's Sentence Expansion Drill and Sentence Transformation Drill are excellent to warm up a language's rules and rhythms.

I see these accomplishments as a MAJOR VICTORY given the insanely busy life of the PhD graduate student. It probably wouldn't be an understatement to say that 80% of my Input was done on the bus to or from school and the other 20% in bed while trying to calm down and go to sleep after a busy day.

But the system still requires some revamping:

  • Short on Goals: My way of tracking progress works as a documentation of what I've done, but does not challenge me to meet self-imposed goals. The "do something every day" mandate has been great to keep up the momentum, but now I think it's best to give myself some specific goals I can aim for:
    • Not enough Output: Going forward, I'm going to try to have Output, probably in the form of writing, at least 3 times a week in each language. Perhaps I can make it a running story that I continue to enlarge, or I can rewrite sentences from my Culling Input with verb tense transformation. I'll have to experiment to figure out what works best, but definitely increasing the Output.
    • I need to go to the German restaurant (Brummis) and the French restaurant (Pacific Crêpes) in a few months to keep up the waiter-chatting inspiration.
  • Interesting vs. Useful Materials
    • I've made sure to read or listen to Materials that I enjoy. Thus the great wealth of fairy tales. This has been excellent for my enjoyment, but a little light on the vocabulary that is most helpful in conversation or reading academic documents. Perhaps a little sprinkling of those types would be beneficial. The former may mean more shadowing to podcasts and the latter more Wikipedia articles on composers or musical terminology.
    • (I just got an audio book of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers for Christmas!)

With the new year starting today, I think I'm in a pretty good place as far as my desire to be trilingual. I had wanted to start adding Russian, but I need to wait on that for a while as I take the time to set and meet these goals, especially the Output. Close the loop!

My best to everyone in the coming year on all your linguistic adventures. Keep the fire going!

Operation: Trilingual

A few weeks ago I had my second language learning coaching session with The Everyday Language Learner's Aaron Myers, a birthday present generously given to me by my family. During our first session we talked about directed and motivated ways of breaking through with German, but now I am at the point where I must say "bon jour" to an old friend: français. This will be the fourth time that I've set out to learn French, a language with which I've had an on-again-off-again relationship since elementary school. Back then, I was intrigued by the luxuriant sounds of the language and inspired by my ancestry to francophone Canada. Today I continue to delight in the sounds and the heritage, with the addition of UCSB requiring it for Musicology, the possibility of my PhD work focusing on the 1800s, and close familial co-learning: my brother lives in Europe and speaks it, my sister will eventually move to Ottawa and should speak it, and my wife wants to speak it.

So my question for Aaron was how to resurrect French while maintaining German. It can be done. One must be organized, inspired, and willing to repeatedly assess whether or not they are working in the direction they want. With help from Aaron, my ESL trained sister, and LucidChart here's what I came up with to help me make this work (click on it to make it bigger):

It looks a bit like something you'd find in biology class on cell walls... and I'm ok with that.

It looks a bit like something you'd find in biology class on cell walls... and I'm ok with that.

Here's how it works:

     Input: Language comes at you, flies like a ninja into your ears or eyes! I see two different types of input.

          The first (A) I call Narrative/Music. This is when you immerse or inundate yourself in listening or reading, not really stopping to look up words or checking grammar, just getting with the flow of the story and noticing the cadence of the sounds. (It's what babies do for a good three years.) Because you're not stopping, you develop contextual skills (that intonation sounded like a question, these people must be angry with each other, etc.) to help piece together what you don't get the first time. I'm not at the stage where I can just listen to German radio or watch a French documentary. That would be drowning, not inundating. For me, that means using materials I know pretty well in my mother tongue, using my prior knowledge to fill in the blanks and enjoying the story which I can anticipate and enjoy from a different perspective. At this point, my German listening consists of C.S. Lewis' Narnia series in audiobook form (I'm just starting book 2, Prinz Kaspian von Narnia) and reading consists of short Wikipedia.de articles on composers. I have not figured out yet what I want to do in French, though the audiobook Harry Potter et l'école des sorciers and Perrault's Contes de la mère l'Oye are definite possibilities. I've written a bit about contextual reading in this post on parallel texts.

          The second type of Input (B) I call Word Culling. The Narnia books are a very good level for me; I'm getting about 80% of the words and can fill in the rest with prior knowledge. The 20% I'm not totally sure about becomes an extremely manageable stockpile of words that I can focus on: isolate them, look them up, put them on a flashcard system (I use Anki) and be sure to catch them when I review a chapter or reread an article. I love the bite-sized-ness of this system because it has a high level of exposure, high level of story/enjoyment, and a low level of flipping through a dictionary. But the best way to review these words I've found is...

     Output: You have to dish it out! This is the hard part for me, especially with the horrible dance that some languages produce: is that noun feminine? what sort of preposition is that? is the verb a verb of motion? what's the adjective ending? Here's what I'm working on: I take the words that I've culled from Input B (notice the arrow) and I use them as my wordlist to write or speak. If I just learned the word for "accompaniment" I write a short paragraph about what it's like being an accompanist who accompanies with an accompaniment... Perhaps I send it in to Lang-8 and get some feedback on how that's going. Or I have what I like to call Free Speaking in which I improvise sentences out loud, usually about what I'm doing or have done or will do: Numi, we are walking on the street; I ride my motorcycle to work and the clouds are cold and wet, etc. It feels pretty silly, but it is the only way I will improve in output. You've got to babystep before you can laufen. When you use these culled words this way they morph from flashcard words you didn't know to speech acts that are linked to specific places, situations, and contexts. I'll never forget that in German you pretty much always need to use an adjective when you say the word "wind" (cold, chilly, humid, scorching, etc); according to an editor at Lang-8, it's just funny without it. Then I use this knowledge to better understand my Input (notice the other arrow), catching it when I review sections that I've culled, and catching it faster when I encounter it during other narrative/musical moments.

So that's my method. I'm pretty happy about the diagram and how it reinforces itself. It's like a perpetual motion machine of glorious language learning awesomeness! Let me know if this idea is helpful, what materials you see yourself using in Input, or ways it could be better!

Tchüß!

Salut!

Danke, Lang-8

Today I felt enough self-rejuvenation to rekindle the language learning flame that was ignited back in March when I talked to Aaron Meyers from The Everyday Language Learner. One of my assignments was to cultivate a habit of writing in German — and for that, Lang-8 is a pretty nice resource. As I manned the small circulation music library at the Music Academy of the West (quite a soporific affair) I wrote out and submitted a modest essay outlining my duties. In about five hours I got back a corrected version complete with encouragement! Here 'tis auf Deutsch and in English for your Wednesday evening enjoyment:

That's me in the blue hat and red stockings: standard Music Academy of the West garb.

That's me in the blue hat and red stockings: standard Music Academy of the West garb.

Ein Tag in der Musikbibliothek

Heute arbeite ich in der Musikbibliothek in der Westmusikakademie in Santa Barbara, Kalifornien. Im Sommer veranstalten sie musikalischen Unterricht für mehrere Studenten, die aus der Ferne kommen. Auch wenn es in der Bibliothek ruhig ist, habe ich so viel zu tun! Wenn ich ankomme, setzte ich mich auf einen Stuhl neben einer Auskunft mit Computer, Telefon und Papierkorb. Danach mache ich meine Hausaufgaben. Ich lese zum Beispiel Propps "Morphologie des Märchen" oder schreibe mein musikalischer Artikel. Wenn das Telefon klingelt, dann muss ich den Anruf entgegennehmen und "Hallo, Bibliothek" sagen. Falls ein Student oder Lehrer herein kommt, erklingt ein leiser Alarm und dann muss ich Fragen beantworten, Bücher oder Notenblätter finden oder die Gegenstände mit dem Computer ausbuchen. Aber jetzt weiß ich nur, dass ich nicht schlafen darf!

A Day in the Music Library

Today I am working in the music library in the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. In the summer they offer musical instruction for many students who come from all over. Even though the library is peaceful I have so much to do! [Not sure how to express sarcasm in German yet.] When I arrive I sit myself in a chair behind a service desk with computer, telephone, and waste paper basket. Then I do my homework. I read, for example, Propp's "Morphology of the Fairy Tale" or write my music article. When the telephone rings [it did... once] then I take the call and say "Hello, library." If a student or teacher comes in, a little bell rings and then I answer questions, find books or sheet music, or check out materials with the computer. But now I just know that I can't fall asleep!

Two Observations on Plato, Aristotle, and Harry Potter

I'm taking a Dramatic Theory seminar through the Theater Department this quarter. In addition to the outrageously comfortable conference room chairs and meeting a new group of colleagues, Dr. David King has us wandering through an etymology-strewn, philosophy-riddled history/mind/soul-scape including the Caves of Lascaux, Nietzsche, Horace, Ruth Padel, Benjamin, and so many others. We have one session a week, almost three hours long, after which my sluggish mind, waterlogged with knowledge and hopefully a little wisdom, wants nothing more than to go home and read Harry Potter out loud (lautlesen) as my wife makes dinner. Yet, you can't really halt rumination, and here are two small connections that cropped up:

Aristotle and Plato from Raphael's  School of Athens  probably deep in conversation about why Harry decided to wear the horcrux around his neck rather than put it in the mokeskin pouch  around his neck . 

Aristotle and Plato from Raphael's School of Athens probably deep in conversation about why Harry decided to wear the horcrux around his neck rather than put it in the mokeskin pouch around his neck

  1. The word mimesis is outrageously difficult to define. It can imply imitation, or representation, but also ideas like copytranslationinventionillusion, or lie. It's often used in dramatic theory to talk about the theater as a crossroads of reality and fantasy, not only in terms of whether or not the plot is historically accurate or realistically feasible, but whether or not one thinks of the actor as actor or as character, the prop or the object. At one point Plato, who has an extremely complicated view of theater, uses mimetic in conjunction with the word diagetic to talk about ways of delivering a text. A diagetic delivery involves simple reading of the text, word for word, in your own natural voice; to read in a mimetic manner means giving different characters different voices. Essentially the former is Madeline L'Engle in her audiobook for A Wrinkle in Time (quite monotone), and the latter is Jim Dale reading the Rowling's Harry Potter series or Phillip Schulmann reciting C.S. Lewis' Narnia books (inflected, character-full voices galore). While one is not necessarily better than the other, I am definitely of the mimetic cast, a trait I inherited from my father's inspired readings of Verne, Lewis, and Twain when I was a child. In my mind, it's simply a lot more fun! However, Plato adds an aspect to mimesis that has some of that ancient world magic to it: the mimetic reader, as they invoke the voice of the character they are portraying, will actually, in a way, become that character and even feel what that character feels. A powerful idea! What do you give of yourself when you enter into a part? What might you receive? I caught myself thinking of this as I spoke Voldemort's "high, cold voice" and in a way count myself thankful that I got through it alright.
  2. A smaller observation stems from the intensely etymological exegesis of Dr. King. Two words: splanchnon and peripateia. The first, dealt with extensively in a reading we did by Padel, is regularly translated as stomach or guts. For the ancient Greeks this is the place of emotions, of black fear, of the touching point between mortality and the divine. (Next time you get stressed and feel your stomach clench, that's your splanchnon ringing with the sound of eternity!) The second word, peripateia, is dealt with by Aristotle when he's laying out the proper disposition of a theatrical plot. It involves the moment of a plot's change of direction or reversal or twist, and constitutes an extremely important, catharsis-rich moment in a performance. After reading the Poetics and basking in the import of these two ideas, my eye was quick to pick up on a passing, but perhaps pivotal moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: literally, Harry's "stomach turned over!" There it is! His splanchnon peripateia-ed! Blammo! ... (This is when Jessica shrugs her shoulders and allows me a moment of intellectual nerding-out, before we continue the thrilling saga and and she resumes crafting our dinner (which will soon end up right in my splanchnon!!!!))

Here's to the beginning of Week 6. Cheers!

Reading Parallel Texts

Lately I've found a wealth of encouragement from this Every Day Language Learner post, Language Learning Tip: Using Parallel Texts. I have several books of this type, mostly German (Grimm Märchen, poetry anthologies and collections by Goethe and Rilke), but also a Gàidhlig collection of folk tales and Robert Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid in Middle Scots. Moreover the internet is chalk full of ways to synthesize the concept. In the past, when faced with an intimidating swath of foreign language, I've taken the machete-through-the-jungle approach, with minimal glances at my mother-tongue translation, convinced that the effort of immersion should be assuaged by English as little as possible.

Anne Anderson's princess from  The Golden Bird  doesn't judge a book by its cover.

Anne Anderson's princess from The Golden Bird doesn't judge a book by its cover.

According to Aaron's post, this is not the best way to go about it. He suggests first reading a portion of the text (as much as a single sentence to a whole chapter) in your native language, gaining an understanding of its meaning, and only then taking on a chunk of the target language. This way you spend little if no time looking up individual vocabulary words and have much more contextual or narrative meaning to assign. It also helps clear up idiomatic difficulties and generally keeps you going further longer. This concept has already been at work when I've read sections of the Bible, Harry Potter, or any of the Narnia stories because of my background knowledge.

Since reading this article, in addition to feeling good about being placed in the "Intermediate" category, I've barreled through no less than four Grimm stories with an extremely high comprehension and retention. I've discovered that this method is much more difficult with poetry given the high level of abstraction and grammatical anomalies (although my dreams seem to be haunted by Klopstock's Das Rosenband). My greatest joy has now been to read Friedrich Motte Fouqué's Undine in English, a fairy tale greatly admired by George MacDonald. I had bought the little yellow copy of the story in German while in Leipzig last year, but have always felt as if I should be much further along in vocabulary before I stumbled through it. Now, having read it once over in my mother tongue, to great satisfaction and joy, I am well equipped to take a stab at it in the original. I hope to use this same idea to get through my languishing copies of stories by Kafka, Ende's Neverending Story, and Goethe's Young Werther.

Happy reading!

The Art of Shadowing

I truly love foreign languages. Ever since I was little I have been attracted by the mystery of different linguistic cultures, the sounds, the shapes and configurations of letters, the similarities and differences, the shadowy but inviting veil between confusion and illumination. I think my first experiences with foreign language came from Bible stories, worlds filled with lengthy lists of mysterious names and cities and rivers, and finding my own name among its pages certainly confirmed my place and invited my participation in a life of language learning. You cannot get far in literature or music without coming across a linguistic frontier, and I simply find them delightful and stirring.

Up until this point my language interests have lacked a certain focus. I have never become "fluent" by any technical or personal standard and most forays into a given study have been more in the area of the hobby. (Not that this is bad! I wouldn't give up a moment of learning the Greek alphabet with my brother in elementary school or learning French by casette in junior high. Those experiences have made me who I am today.) This post explores the paradigm shift that I am experiencing in my linguistic study, an exciting change that promises to enrich and focus my already eager passion.

Lava Gull  (1991) by Alan Gouk.

Lava Gull (1991) by Alan Gouk.

It all starts with the blog world. Seriously, type "second language acquisition blog" in Google or click on one of the language blog links to the left. There is a whole world of people who love nothing better then exploring great ways to learn languages. I particularly appreciate the combination of opinion, study, and outright encouragement I find in blogs like The Mezzofanti GuildEDLL, and polyglossic. It's best to stay positive.

Here are the things I've been doing to stay positive. My language at this point is German: the tongue of my maternal ancestors (Bachmans und Luckensmeyers), the language of Vogelweide, Luther, Bach, Goethe, and Schoenberg, and the one in which every musicologist needs to be proficient. Growing up my learning tools have consisted of learning grammar, some vocabulary, and maybe trying to memorize a song or poem. Very solitary, very inefficient, and ultimately discouraging. In 2009-10 I took a year of German at a community college, an extremely uplifting environment that got me enough chops to start reading fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers. Personally, I suggest all these things and would add to them the following unique and exciting technique that I've recently gotten into: shadowing. (Disclaimer: I'm not an expert, just enthusiastic.)

Shadowing goes something like this. Remember when you were in, say, third grade and you thought it would be awesome to "show off your cognitive erudition" (also known as "annoy people") by repeating whatever anyone else says as they're saying it. It's word piggybacking. If you did not ever do that as a child, perhaps you have had it done to you, or maybe you've heard the echo effect in the second verse of Britten's This Little Babe from A Ceremony of Carols. The object is to listen and mimic, immediately, almost simultaneously, the foreign words you are hearing. Additionally one can shadow more effectively by saying the sounds as loudly and clearly as possible and by pacing briskly. That last part is a little awkward at first, but is intended to challenge your brain to multitask and therefore get the language into the "automatic" section of your mind. Interested? Confused? More description here.

Duchamp Descending a Staircase  by Du-u-cha-ha-m-mp-p himself.

Duchamp Descending a Staircase by Du-u-cha-ha-m-mp-p himself.

This is how I do it. I subscribe to podcasts from www.SlowGerman.com a series of talks by Annik Rubens of Münich. I listen to half-minute intervals on my iPod with earbuds, saying the sounds as she says them, while pacing back and forth on my porch, repeating until I feel as though I am matching the sounds and inflections of her voice. Later I will read the text and put together more of the meaning that I wasn't able to glean from just listening. The benefits of this process after a month are:

  • I am exercising my listening skills, something you can't really do by just reading, but something you don't want to leave until the last minute if you actually expect to have a back-and-forth conversation with a native. Identifying words without reading is very difficult for me, sort of like musical dictation, but that probably means its worth doing.
  • I am ingesting the "music" of German. Even if I don't know the exact meaning I can generally identify clauses, verbs, nouns, prepositional phrases, etc. I can especially hear the double-verb sentence endings (...fahren wollen). These forms and sentence chunks become ear-worms that play repeatedly in my head.
  • Afterwards I can babble in German, funny little sentences. Huge boost to the confidence, feeling things roll off your tongue, even if they roll without complete control. With the forms in my head it's just a matter of learning some more vocabulary and brushing up on grammar, mostly genders and adjective inflection. 

If you want something to revitalize and challenge your language learning experience, I would suggest trying out shadowing. It is truly exhilarating (SlowGerman.com is not quite as slow as you might think and sometimes it feels like getting chased by a pack of wolves to keep up) and quite satisfying to glean meaning from repeated listenings without the help of a text.

This is often how it feels to do shadowing, although the consequences of slipping are not nearly as tragic.

This is often how it feels to do shadowing, although the consequences of slipping are not nearly as tragic.

Children of the Sun

Yesterday I read online that the word Spokane means “Children of the Sun.” I thought to myself, “That’s amazing! What a cool city name!” In our visit to the town last weekend I we were challenged and graciously corrected by the locals in the exact or disputed pronunciation of such streets and parks as Manito and Tekoa. This sets my mind a’ thinkin’ and before you know it I’m deep in a linguistic and cultural tangent. And here we are, 24 hours later with a little blurb on Npoqínišcn or Spokane Salishan, the language of the Native Americans of the Spokane area.

Photograph of man wearing traditional Salish dress by unknown photographer.

Photograph of man wearing traditional Salish dress by unknown photographer.

I know very, very little about Native American languages: Paiute Code Talkers of WWII, Kostner in Dances with Wolves, a few words of “the language of the Aztecs” via my brother. My brother also imparted upon me a sense of the difficulty of these languages grammatically, phonetically, and the writing system.

Information on this language is frightfully scarce. The closest I could find to a tutorial is a small Language Program site set up by the Spokane Tribe of Indians. It has sound files, phrases, the alphabet, some songs, and a terrifying tale of a frog and a snake in which the frog ends very badly despite his insistent “Hoy, hoy, hoy, hoys!” This isn’t a language that you’ll find a Teach Yourself… version of. Apparently it is spoken by only about 50 people, that out of a 1,000 total ethnic population in the year 2000. Extremely sad. I was pretty bummed out about that today.

Chiefs witnessing the completion of Colville Dam in 1941 ( source ).

Chiefs witnessing the completion of Colville Dam in 1941 (source).

Still we do what we can and celebrate what will all be gathered up by loving hands someday. Sarah G. Thomason has written a very didactic paper that summarizes the challenging characteristics of this language group. Challenging is a rather loose term. Maybe horrifically Herculean. Or sadly Sisyphus-ian. Here are just a few of the linguistic characteristics:

A. Tons o’ consonants:

          1. Ejectives (or glottalic egressives): some sort of explosive, coughing “k”

          2. Lateral obstruents (or voiceless alveolar lateral fricative): a breathy “l” with a dash of “w”

          3. Voiced velar fricatives: think hard, gargly Gaelic “gh”

          4. Voiceless glottal stop: just what it sounds like

          5. And a phyrangeal approximant: choking

B. Consonant clusters:

          1. Take for example the simple word for “thank you”: lemlmtš

          2. Or “Where is the store?”: čen ɬuˀ sntumistn?

C. Oh yeah, and it’s written in American phonetic notation with all manner of crazy phonological import

D. Grammatical issues:
          1. Agglutination: prefixes, suffixes, and infixes that make one word say a sentence

          2. Some sort debatable nounlessness

          3. Loose word order

As you can see it’s quite baffling. There’s nothing like looking into the world of Npoqínišcn or Old Irish to make you appreciate the relative simplicity of German or French. Check out that Spokane Language Program site and hear the native speakers. It’s quite amazing.

With that I’m off to memorize my key phrase of the day: “I’m going to Spokane!”:

čiq xʷuy č’ sƛ̕etkʷ!