espite appearances, I haven’t disappeared off the face of the earth. I’ve just been kind of busy. Semester started two weeks ago, and it was very much a case of straight in the deep end as far as workload goes. I’m loving the course though – it’s much more hands-on than the last paper I took (which was all theory all the time). This one is on linguistic field work – how you would investigate and describe a previously unknown language (which is something “proper” linguists spend a lot of time doing, because there are a LOT of languages out there that have only a few elderly speakers left, so the race is on to document them while we have a chance, both for the benefit of future generations in that culture who might want to revive their language, and because every language adds data that helps us understand how language works overall). Anyway, that’s what we’re learning to do in this course.
Unfortunately, the department’s budget doesn’t stretch to sending us all off on a field trip to some remote Pacific island, so we’re simulating the experience by having a speaker of a Pasifika language come in to class to work with us. Her language, Bislama, which is spoken in Vanuatu, is actually reasonably well described in the literature, but we’ve all had to promise not to look up any previous research on it (or even Google it), so that we can have the experience of studying a completely unknown language from scratch. It’s really fun (in a geeky linguistics sort of way) – we spent the first two weeks getting an idea of the phonology (i.e. which speech sounds are in the language) and collecting some basic vocabulary, and this week we’re going to be working on some of the morphology and syntax (grammar). Bislama is a “pidgin” language (actually, technically it should be called a creole), which is really interesting, because so many of the words sound almost but not exactly like English (e.g. to say “the cat is in the house”, you say something that sounds roughly like “puss-cat eestap insite long house”), but from what I know about creoles (promise I haven’t broken the rules and looked anything up – this is just general knowledge picked up from previous courses) , there should be some really interesting things going on with the morphology and syntax – and in fact, we’ve already picked up a bit of that just from the few sentences we got while we were eliciting vocabulary (that word “eestap” for example (or it might be two words, “ee stap” – I haven’t figured that out yet) – it’s possibly a copula (like “to be” in English), but it’s behaving kind of oddly and not turning up in other sentences where I would expect it to be. So I’ve picked that as my first topic for investigation – I’m planning on eliciting a lot more sentences of the “the cat is in the house”, “the cat is on the chair”, “the cat is fluffy”, “the cat is hungry”, “the cat is sleeping”… variety in this week’s class.
Sorry, I’ve probably completely bored you all by now (not my fault – my current bedtime reading is a book called Describing Morphosyntax, so you can’t expect normal human conversation out of me!). Anyway, in other news, after dragging on forever, we finally got our contract situations (sort of) worked out. Unfortunately our attempt to get the programme permanently established failed (sort of – it was more of a “not right now” than an actual “no”, so we’re going to try again in a year or two), but they did at least give us decently long-term contracts this time, so I’ve got a job until the end of 2017 at least, and hopefully by then the university will be in a better financial situation so we can try again for permanence.
I can’t remember if I mentioned here that I’d applied for another job as a backup, in case CEISMIC didn’t work out. I actually got offered the job! The job offer came at the same time as the news that they wouldn’t be giving us permanent contracts for CEISMIC yet, so I had a few days of soul-searching while I decided whether I wanted to take the safe but relatively boring new job (which would have been a permanent contract), or stay doing what I love with CEISMIC and risk being out of work in a couple of years. In the end I decided life is much too short to waste on taking the sensible boring path, so I turned down the new job and signed the fixed-term contract for CEISMIC. I’m certain I made the right decision (though ask me again at the end of 2017 if they don’t renew our contracts…) – if I’d taken the other job I think I’d always be looking back at CEISMIC and regretting having left.
So yeah, I think that’s pretty much all the news. Work and study, that’s about the entirety of my life right now. So don’t expect to hear a lot from me here until November-ish.
See you on the other side!