Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's Imbolc

And that means it's my birthday.

I have decided over the years that I far and away prefer associating my birthday with Imbolc than with Groundhog's Day (although they are not unconnected themselves, actually); this may have to do with memories of being made to crawl out from under my desk in grade school to see if I could see my shadow. I don't know where grade school teachers get ideas like that, nor why they think that such a thing would a) lead to positive memories and/or b) not lead to major teasing throughout my remaining school years, but the upshot is that my general feelings vis-a-vis Groundhog's day are not the most positive.

Imbolc, though, that's another story. Here we are, at the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The sun is truly starting to come back. It's no longer dark when the girls and I leave piano lessons at 5:30, and I'm beginning to have faith again that the day will come when it's no longer pitch black when I leave campus on Mondays at 8:15. That's a good thing to remember when there are still fewer hours of light in a day than there are hours of dark. The wheel is turning, and will continue to turn, so I'll enjoy the light as it comes and remember that next year, I will once again be eager at winter solstice for a time of dark in which to rest.

Meanwhile, today's a furlough day, which means I got to start my day with a lovely walk with a friend, followed by some quiet time spent knitting and reading (knitting on the project that I cannot share right now, alas, but good knitting nonetheless). Then Rick took me out to lunch at Q'ero, which I do believe I've mentioned (whilst drooling on the keyboard) in the past. Love that place. Love love love it. It's been a peaceful day, rare and wonderful, and especially nice after a late-working Monday.

(Fair warning: Some of you expressed interest in the field methods class. This may have been politeness on your part, which I very much appreciate. The reward for your civility is more information than you could possibly want about the class. I'm sorry. This is what happens when someone makes the mistake of showing any kind of interest in one of my passions. Please feel free to skip this bit.) Last night we had our second field methods class, which went really well. Two teams of students were in charge of the elicitations, and they'd met with me last week to plan them all out. This isn't easy, as they've never had to develop questions about the inner workings of a language before, let alone follow those questions up with an actual plan as to what they want to ask a speaker in order to investigate those questions. It's the scientific method in action, but not everyone is comfortable with the idea that one must be simultaneously rigorous and completely open to changing direction based on new evidence when necessary, often on the fly.

I suggested that they start with something simple, and try to figure out whether and how nouns are marked for singular and/or plural, and whether those markings change depending on the role of the noun in the sentence. To that end, the first group developed a set of sentences around intransitive verbs (e.g. The wind blows; The airplane flies; The cat sleeps), and then played with the number of the nouns in the subject (e.g. Airplanes fly; Some cats eat; Cats eat; etc)(those, by the way, are some of the actual sentences that they used). They also elicited subject pronouns (e.g. I sing, you (sg) sing, she/he/it sings, etc), and found (to my delight and their consternation) that second person subject pronouns (you and y'all) distinguish between the very casual (to people younger than oneself and those with whom one is very close), the "regular" (used when talking to people who are one's peers), and the formal (used with those older than oneself, strangers, social superiors). My friend, the speaker of Bengali for this class, is a fabulous consultant, and is very aware of some of these kinds of forms in her language, which means she's good at providing the information the students need; it's a real treat to work with someone like that, and after last night, I think the students really realized how it makes their job easier.

The second group looked at the same kinds of issues for noun phrases which are direct objects, in sentences like, The boy hugs the girl; Some girls hug some boys; Girls hug boys, etc. We're already getting all kinds of neat information (like, plurality is only marked once; if the word "some" is in the sentence, the noun doesn't get the -ra plural ending). By the end of class, the next two groups of students already had some sense of what questions came directly from these data, whose answers should be investigated next week (for example, prounouns for object noun phrases), and some ideas for new areas of investigation (kinship terminology). It's a pretty exciting thing, even if we're all just wiped out by the end. The part that makes it the most unpredictable of any class I teach is that there's no way to tell from week to week what we'll find, and therefore what we'll need to cover the next week. One week's results lead to the next week's questions, in a way that's very organic, and which requires a certain willingness to be comfortable with log-rolling -- always trying to keep up with the bit of log that's under one's feet from moment to moment.

Which is probably a useful lesson for life in general, right? With that, I think I'll go knit a little bit more before getting the girls from school. Soon I'll be swatching for my knitting olympics project, and there will be some knitting that I can actually show off. In the meantime, happy Imbolc.


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday! Also Happy Imbolc!

And your class sounds awesome -- very very interesting. I like the flexibility of it.

Take care.

lori said...

Happy birthday! I lift a glass and my knitting from afar, in celebration. *clink*

Wanderingcatstudio said...

Happy Birthday! I just notice the other day that I was getting home just before dark - it was a nice feeling!

twinsetellen said...

Ah, thanks for reminding me it is Imbolc. Happy day!

And seriously, did the teacher make just you crawl out from under your desk? Or the whole class? Either way - huh???? Wilson and I were just reminiscing over the brown paper with a tracing around our body shapes as a nap mat for a kindergartner (we both had this experience in totally different schools) - who had that idea? I think it was the same as your groundhog teacher.

Mary Lou said...

Happy Birthday - you saved me from wandering around trying to figure out Candlemas/groundhog day/Feast of the Purification. In the Catholic Church they blessed all the candles, and the following day, the Feast of St. Blaise, we had to line up and have our throats blessed so we didn't choke on fish bones. And I did enjoy the description of class.

Hope the rest of your day was just as much fun!

Willow said...

Happy Halfway Day! And Happy Birthday!

Your descriptions of class brings back memories, most of them positive, a couple frustrating as I recall getting unexpected answers.

All the kinship terms and relationship markers fascinate me!

I hope your special day ends with more great food and lots more knitting.

Rachel said...

Happy Imbolc Jocelyn and Mazal tov too :)

I really like this class of yours I would have considered being your foreign language person if I lived close enough, it sounds like a fascinating process to me. I don't know if Hebrew is rare enough though.

KnitNana said...

Happy Birthday and Happy Imbolc, and whew, yes it's getting lighter, the warmth might return yet (but don't quote me, as I have absolutely NOTHING MORE THAN THAT to go on...in these parts all is COLD and white)
The class sounds utterly fabulous. But I know the "log under your feet" feeling means you have a hard time prepping...

Gwen said...

Happy Birthday!

(Ooh, I bet the flexibility part is particularly hard for some. I can hear it now...)

And I'm astounded at your very strange teachers. Why did they not have every kid crawling around looking for shadows? Hmmm? Or even better - no one?

Evelyn said...

Happy Imbolc Birthday! I feel a kinship with everyone whose birthday is in February.

May I ask whether the Bengali pretends to be monolingual for the purposes of this exercise, or whether your students are simply asking her to translate sentences they provide in English?

Monolingual would seem awfully diffiult, but on the other hand, I wonder if presenting sentences in English, to a naive informant, might cause him or her to re-formulate some sentences to make them closer to English, or whether asking a person to go back and forth between 2 languages might influence their explanation of their native language in unexpected ways? (if this were for real, rather than just for practice, I mean.)

Long long ago I looked at a book written for missionaries and anthropologists facing a completely unknown language with no go-between language, and the methods one might use to make a start at penetrating that language, and I've been fascinated with that idea ever since.

PammieJR said...

I hope you had a great day!

And I can't believe your teacher did that to you...sometimes people just do NOT think!

So does this mean you are in the Ravelympics?

Miss 376 said...

Looks like you found the perfect way to spend the day.
This class sounds fascinating, I would love to be a fly on the wall

Nic said...

Belated birthday greetings!


I don't think I ever knew until this year what February second meant, that was a midpoint between solstice and equinocks. Are there similar celebrations for the other three in-betweens?

Belated Birthday! All the best to you this year. I, too, have a birthday this month, later on, and it used to be the only thing in February that I enjoyed, having grown up further north where spring is a long time coming.

Enjoyed your description of class.

Alwen said...

What kid wouldn't think it was fun to be called groundhog for the rest of her life? (Argh.)

We took the Christmas tree down for Imbolc.

I find the language stuff fascinating. I lived in a house with a French major and a guy from Spain in college, and it's so interesting to see how languages work and influence how you think about things.

(Verification word, stuterse, a terse stutterer?)

Bea said...

Happy Birthday! I think its nicer to associate with Imbolc then with groundhog day too. Class sounds fun.

Kathy said...

Happy Birthday and Imbolc. I lit a candle and welcomed the light back in. I do love the winter and the muted peace it brings and I'm a little sad to know that it is speeding up it's departure.

Rachael said...

All that emailing yesterday and I didn't realize that it was actually your birthday! Bad friend!! Happy Belated Birthday!

Lynne said...

Happy belated birthday. I'm just catching up with your blog as I've had some connection problems whilst on vacation at the beach!

Thanks for the description of your field work class - it sounds interesting (but still scary).

Stell said...

Thank you. I didn't ask but I live hearing about how your students (witha little guidence) discover how to go about learning, I would have loved to experience something like that-but it didn't happen in the sciences when I was a student,it was all facts, and integrating and analysing much less interesting stuff. Take care

Carrie K said...

Happy Belated Birthday!

And very useful. Not to mention intriguing.

EGunn said...

I didn't know about Imbolc. Have to love a new thing to celebrate (especially one that has to do with the sun coming back). So much better than Groundhog Day! Happy birthday!

I, for one, find the linguistics fascinating, so carry on. It's so much fun to dissect a language and see how it works, and even better to model that discovery for your students. Sounds like a great class. (Wish I lived close enough to take it!)

Another Joan said...

Belated Birthday and Imbolc Blessings. G-h Day was my favourite brother's birthday so it is a special day. Thanks, too, for the methods tutorial - really interesting. Please keep us posted.