Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spring Quarter

I am going to a few different courses this quarter. One with Sandra Thompson on Syntax- the thing about her lectures is that she takes all the jargon, theories and rhetoric of linguistics and elegantly explains it, in clear simple ways.

For example, she very concisely clarified in our last class two things that I had previously not quite got a grip on. One was 'head vs. dependant marking'; Sandy says: either the verb or the nouns (predicate or arguments) will carry the necessary information you need to understand the relationship between the nouns and verb in the sentence. If it is the verb (like most polysynthetic languages) then it is 'head marking'; if it is the noun (e.g case marking) then it is 'dependant marking'. A language can have both, such as Latin; or use alternate means, such as word order. So simple eh?

The second thing was trickier ; 'unergative ' and 'unaccusative'. The first thing that made it difficult to understand was that I didn't know it had to be in a 'split S' system, so it means that where you have the three core arguments, A(agent of a transitive), S(subject of an intransitive) and O (object of a transitive), the S sometimes is marked in the same way as A, and sometimes in the same way as O, in the same language. When it is like A it is called 'unergative' (what awful terminology!!) and when it is like O it is 'unaccusative'.

I am also auditing a course on Corpus Linguistics, using a programming language called R to analyse/manipulate corpora. It is difficult, occasionally I get a glimpse of all the things I could do if I really knew how to use it well, and I feel a bit heady with excitement. But I don't know if that day will ever come.

Finally I am sitting in on a course on Professionalism, how to write a good abstract, apply for grants, publish in journals (all the joys of academia explicated in one short course!!!). The teacher suggested (and I think it is good advice)- to write your grant proposal as if 'for a very smart professor of music'. This in itself is a good reason to know what 'unergative' means, because if any professor of music ever comes asking (having received grant proposals to review), I will be ready.

Two things the lecturer pointed out about submitting an abstract: there DO exist reviewers who, on a bad (or maybe even good) day will reject an abstract based on the authors using data as a singular noun, i.e. it should be the data show, and not the data shows. I wonder how they would feel about the datum shows.... or the datums show (but then that does sound a lot like day-time shows..). I had no idea about this. She also told us that to split an infinitive could have the same result, so never write: to clearly show how the data patterns...

I also came across something from the same lecturer (Marianne Mithun) that I admire very much. When writing an article she always cites who specifically provided her with the data she is using. This means at the beginning of every example she said who had spoken the language, full name and place where that person identifies as being from. She then uses their initials in brackets for further uses of the data they provided. It reads very nicely and gives the kind of credit to speakers of these indigenous languages that needs to be acknowledged. This is a practise I have never seen in Australia and would like to start doing myself. All of the speakers I have worked with freely give their permission to use their name when citing the data ( it is not like usual discourse recording practises).

One last thing, in a recent LISO talk a professor suggested there be a round of questions at the end, JUST for graduate students (of which we were many). This is a very good idea. I think all conferences, workshops, seminars, if there is time, should have a call for questions at some point from the students in the audience. Maybe just so we get used to asking things like, BTW I enjoyed your talk, but could you clarify 'unaccusative'?


Blogger bulanjdjan said...

As I listen to the new MIssy HIgins Cd (SO EXCITED!!), I marvel at the education you're getting over there...

Melbourne Uni has just announced it's planning an overhaul of its undergraduate courses, modelled on the US and Eurpoean systems. My jury's out on it at the moment, but if they're also planning to introduce a US style graduate degree of 2 years graduate coursework plus 3 years thesis, then that's a great thing in my mind.

I greatly feel the lack of graduate coursework. Honours graduate corusework was GREAT! It felt like 'Finally! Now we really get to get at some interesting stuff!' and once that year was over, 'nope, you're not allowed to do coursework designed by specialists for an advanced audience anymore, run along and do your own narrrow topic now.' Sigh.

And the professional development you've just described is FANTASTIC! Very jealous Ms Sophie!

5:09 pm  

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