Posts Tagged ‘latin’


linguistic entropy and me could have a bad romance

October 6, 2010

I’m working on a paper right now for my “senior seminar” independent study in literature that involves me making the head of the literature department read Chomsky. So I’ve assigned myself, in this, the task of writing a squib next week about UG as an analogy for narratology. Meanwhile, my housemate is doing some work in phonology class that leads towards (but not exactly to) OT.

So, all that plus some pumpkin ale and listening to Bad Romance over and over has led to an exciting new pet theory, which I shall now inflict on y’all: The Gaga artistic project is a realization of the asymptotic approach of poetic language towards the removal of all constraints within optimality theory.

My argument is mainly in the use of lyrics like the “ra ra ah ah ah” line (as it is typically transcribed by non-linguists), which is essentially a repetition of minimally marked phonemes (schwas and glottal stops) within a minimally marked prosodic template (heavy single syllables, and one trochee; in short, bimoraic feet). This line is not semantically void, and the phonological patterns which it takes to the extreme do color the rest of the pronunciation of the lyrics in the song. When I can talk my pet phonologists into doing so, through threats or bribes, I will show some more detailed data which demonstrate this. The point is, this kind of poetic/linguistic representation of entropy is essentially the eventual conclusion (which, since it is an asymptotic approach, no language will ever reach) of markedness constraints.

Meanwhile, I’d argue that a similar thing happens in the syntax/semantics realm with Kenji Siratori’s book Nonexistence, a book which many from my Cyberpunk class with Professor Godzich reported to be essentially gibberish and (to a bunch of literature majors) thus a little traumatizing. Originally I sort of agreed, but later found this essay on the matter, which I quite enjoyed. To extend further the idea of reading like a nonhuman entity, I would argue that this smorgasbord of synesthesic symbols comes a breakdown of the links between writing and sound, and furthermore between language and meaning. By introducing to a linguistic creature (say, a hundred lit majors) a pattern of things that resemble linguistic behavior but in fact are not language, you cause an upset. Why did no less than three students cry in Professor Godzich’s office that week, and seriously consider switching out of their literature majors altogether? Because the very foundational assumption of their field– the assumption that linguistic material signifies semantic content– was being directly challenged.

It’s that assumption that holds OT together against entropy, too: to combat the markedness constraints that should push us all into “rah rah ah ah” territory, there are faithfulness constraints which bind sound-signifiers to semantic units which they represent. You cannot, within the faithfulness constraints, stray too far from the original signifier without confusing the heck out of your listener. When, however, you strip the semantic connections, as both Gaga and Siratori do, you can get either meaningless sequences of wordlike things (Nonexistence) or you can get meaningful sequences of unwordlike things (Bad Romance).

This isn’t actually going anywhere, if you’re curious.

Um, also I think UG is neat. The end!


Pronominal Theory: it’s not FOR you

January 29, 2010

An important note on Pronominal Theory mentioned below: I really really wanted to read more about this. So, naturally, I asked Prof. Godzich how one would do such a thing. His first question: do I read German? No. No I do not. However, like a FOOL, I told him that I do read Latin. So, later, when emailing for the reference, it turns out that the Latin translation was published in 1531 in Italy, and apparently the Professor just… knows a dude who knows a dude, so he read the manuscript in one of the libraries there that has it. He helpfully informed me that the Huntington probably had a copy (it sort of does; I mucked around in their catalog a lot) but it then turned out that no way in hell are they going to let me touch it without three or four more degrees than I have currently. I thought maybe offering to translate the Latin to English would be an awesome excuse, but no one wants a secondary translation and if they did they could probably get someone better than an undergrad linguist, so, it looks like I do not get to breathe near the Grammatica Speculativa, like, ever. This depresses me because no one seems to want to put it in English or helpfully scan the Latin or ANYTHING, and this is the single most obnoxious part about the Ivory Tower: sometimes I forget my keys and no one wants to throw down the spare to let me in. Damn it.

Read the rest of this entry ?


So three linguists walk into a bar…

August 26, 2009

(I’m not going anywhere with that, it just sounds funny to me. Like how many linguists does it take to change a lightbulb? Depends on the arguments of changing.)

So today I was in the Pacific Cookie Company enjoying a cookie and scoop of ice cream with my friend and fellow literature major, Heather. We were discussing our majors and class selections and what languages we were planning on learning throughout the course of our degrees, when who should walk by but the head of the linguistics department, Jim! (That’s Professor McCloskey to you.) It’s always distinctly odd to see one’s professors off campus, and even more so when you’re pretty sure they have no idea who you are. However, before I could help myself, I waved at him. To my utter shock, he saw me and came in to greet me.

This is notable primarily because our department’s not small, and our school’s just gargantuan, so usually undergraduates only bond with their T.A.s and peers that way, not with the upper ranks of the tenured and the published. It speaks to the amazing coziness of the Santa Cruz linguistics department that the chair not only recognizes his random undergrads by face, but remembers what other majors they’re doing, has random advice on the languages issue (Latin and Greek are okay! I don’t actually have to subject myself to any more live ones if I don’t want to!), and will take time out of his day off to dispense said advice with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.

I am not at all ashamed to admit, I half expected him to offer me a lemon drop. (And I’m not terribly disappointed that he didn’t.)


Googleability and Nomenclature

February 6, 2009

I’ve been googling myself a lot lately. It’s rather silly, because I haven’t really done anything notable yet, but I still like seeing my existence validated in the collective consciousness. Due to my rather unique name, I’m very easily googleable–my full name will get you articles and pages in which I am mentioned, rather than someone else with the same name, or unrelated pages that happen to use my name as separate terms. If you put quotes around it, you of course narrow it down even further, but it’s quite unnecessary. I’m lucky that way.

Other people I know (and Google) are rather harder to track down. Both my parents have rather common names, and it takes some creative Google-fu to pin them down precisely. The problem with common names is that of course there are always people out there with the same name. (There is no other Kirby Conrod on the internet. Don’t bother checking, I already have. Extensively.) You still get people, though, which shows that at least the name is recognizably a name. My Latin teacher, on the other hand, is virtually ungoogleable by name alone. Christian Blood (yes, that’s really his name) of course gets hundreds of thousands of results, but none of them refer to people. They refer, predictably and overwhelmingly, to the blood of Christians. It’s only if you hone the search string to include a mention of his academic context or somesuch that you get results that have anything to do with him, and even then it’s only because his papers have won a few awards, not because he has any real presence on the web.

Now, this all would be sort of pointless and boring if it weren’t for my most recent line of thought, which is baby-naming in terms of search optimization. Kirby is frequently a surname, not to mention a brand of vacuum cleaners and a video game character, so my given name alone is completely useless. However, with the addition of my surname–an alternate spelling of a moderately common one–the search is far, far narrowed down. If my name were Kirby Smith, I would be harder to find. If my name were Alice Conrod, I’d be harder to find. So naming a person so as to optimize their ability to found is a tricky balance– you want something that’s recognizable as a person’s name, but adequately uncommon so as to be unique when it’s a full name. If, as I plan to, I name one of my children Eureka, a search on her first name alone will get all sorts of non-people results. However, if you google “Eureka Conrod”, you’ll notice there are no results. (Yet. This blog entry will be the first.) That empty space is, effectively, a hole for Eureka-the-yet-unborn to fill, with whatever notoriety she manages to scrape together for herself.

(I’d be worried about Christian finding this blog and being a little peeved for my mentioning his name, but I am fairly confident he has better things to do than Google himself like I do.)


Scholarly Wankings

February 1, 2009

I’m largely eschewing programming and writing this weekend in favor of Latin flashcards. I’m about fifteen chapters behind on flashcard-making, technically speaking, but this is primarily because I loathe data entry with all my heart. And what is vocab-memorization but a particularly strenuous form of data entry into the database of my mind? It’s always what holds me back when I’m trying to learn new languages; I’m far more interested in the syntax and the semantics than I am in the straight-up lexicon. Thus I’m excellent at Latin when I have my glossary open in front of me, but quite poor without it. And apparently the only cure to this is to waste trees and exacerbate my carpal tunnel syndrome.

(Still, it probably does me good, as a linguist. The more words I learn, the better I’ll grasp the morphology of it all. Or… something.)

I’m also half-heartedly poking at this Spook Country essay that I’m writing for the midterm paper of my Cyberpunk class. I should have started this at least a week ago, and I’m beginning to worry that I won’t be able to find enough textual evidence for my rather ambitious thesis. I’m half tempted to email Gibson and see if he’s especially busy, and if I might fly up to– is he still in Vancouver?– have coffee and ask him a couple things.

And perhaps visit that long-lost sister of mine while I’m up there, who knows.