Monday, April 12, 2010

Where does the time go?

Do you think if I offered a reward, someone would find me some time? How did a week go by without me having a single chance to sit down and post?

Well, I actually know how the week went by -- busily -- but it still seems like I should have been able to write a quick something.

In any case, part of the reason why my evenings, at least, were taken up was because I was spinning like a fiend, wanting desperately to finish spinning and plying the Wensleydale I showed you all last time. I divided the four ounces of fiber into three bumps (I even weighed them to be sure I divided it all up nicely), trying to keep the same colors in each bump. I then spun three bobbins of singles, very fine with lots of twist, as I knew I wanted a high-twist sock yarn.
The plan was to finish this up on Wednesday night so I could soak the skein and hang it to dry on Thursday morning, so I could wind it up and pack it to take with me this weekend (more on that below). I did, in fact, almost finish plying on Wednesday night, then got up early to get the last bit done on Thursday morning. I skeined and soaked it while handling some phone calls on Thursday and hung it to dry. Alas, I have no pictures (I promise I'll post some this week), but it did turn out beautifully, about 20 wpi and nearly 300 yards, and a gorgeous heathery purple color. The sad thing is that the yarn feels like it would be too stiff to make good socks. Sigh. I'm not sure if it's because the Wensleydale just isn't cut out to be good sock wool (it's a longwool, so on the coarser side), or if I overspun it to start; maybe if I hadn't spun it worsted? But woollen-spun yarn doesn't make for the best socks. In any case, I think it will make a lovely piece of lace, with really nice stitch definition, and it's already wound up in a ball, so I'll have to find the right pattern for it.

I also, during a number of very long and otherwise annoying meetings last week, finished Damson. I have (anyone care to guess what I'm going to say here?) no new pictures of that either, but I'm hoping to do a quick blocking tonight so I can wear it tomorrow. Just to remind you, it's this project:
I'm really happy with the way it turned out, and I think it's going to be the perfect spring shawlet. It's also the shape that I've recently come to appreciate most in neckwear: a shallow triangle that can be worn either as a small shawl, or wrapped multiple times around the neck as a scarf.

Part of the reason why my week was so rushed was because I knew that I had to be ready for another working weekend (warning: linguistics incoming). This past weekend, I took the girls with me up to Wonder Valley (east of Fresno, more or less; about a six-hour drive, depending on LA traffic) for a Master-Apprentice training. The Master-Apprentice program is one of my very favorite language revitalization programs (I'm biased), and I've been lucky enough to be involved with it, one way and another, since one of my graduate advisors first got me involved some fifteen years ago. I don't know if I've mentioned before, but California (prior to European contact) was one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world, with over 100 separate languages (plus their assorted dialects) spoken inside what are now the state borders. That's a lot. (Just FYI, there are about 6,000 languages spoken in the world today.) But, because of its long history of contact, fewer than 50 of those languages are still spoken today, and almost all of them have fewer than 10 speakers still living (many as few as one speaker), and most of those speakers are elderly.

So, Californians who wanted to revitalize their languages of heritage looked to successful programs around the world. Some of the most successful are the revitalization of Hebrew in Israel, Maori in New Zealand, Hawaiian in Hawai'i, and languages like Welsh and Irish in Britain and Ireland. In each of those situations, though, there was only one language upon which to focus available resources and (except for Hebrew, which is a different sort of case for a number of reasons), there were still (at the least) hundreds of speakers, many of whom were still relatively young (by which I mean 50s and 60s). Not so in California. So people here looked to those programs, and took their successes and adapted them. We couldn't easily credential elder speakers to work in classrooms, nor could they easily raise children in the language (obviously), and we couldn't count on university support to develop curriculum (languages like Maori and Hawaiian were taught as second languages in universities even before the language revitalization movements gained ground; that hadn't happened here), so the Master-Apprentice program was developed to recreate a natural learning situation between one elder speaker (a master) and one younger learner (the apprentice) who could then go on to teach the language to his or her children, and/or in classrooms.

It's not easy, though. Each pair has to essentially recreate, on an ongoing basis, an immersion situation within a speech community of two. And each apprentice has to willingly re-live the language acquisition process, going through all of those stages that each of us goes through in our first language(s) (read: sounding silly, getting words wrong, not being able to articulate the thoughts in our heads; much of that is very cute in young children, but doesn't feel so cute when one is an adult). So the program holds trainings, where we talk about how to create that immersion situation, how to leave English behind, how to work as a master to teach the language this way, and as an apprentice to learn it. But the trainings are always more than that.

Doing this kind of language work is almost impossible to describe to people who have never tried it, especially if they've never tried it with languages which are this endangered. It's one thing if I don't learn my mother's first language (French); I can count on all of those people in France to keep speaking it for me. But apprentices feel the ever-present weight of their community's expectations and desires, not to mention the weight of their own expectations, and those of their masters. And masters feel the pressure of knowing that if they do not successfully pass the language on to their apprentices, no one else can. These teams are brave in a way that I have rarely seen. So the trainings are a safe space to talk about that. To celebrate successes, and to grieve the difficulties. To talk about all of the reasons why each and every person involved in the program is sticking with it in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. They're also a place to laugh and cry, to tell stories happy and sad, and (this weekend at least) to learn some pretty fun traditional games (my face hurt with laughing by the end of Saturday).

It's an honor to be allowed to be involved, to have the participants make space for me as a linguist to be there, and to welcome my children with me. And it's unreal to see how much progress people have made since the program started. I know apprentices who are now masters of their own teams, who are raising their children using their languages of heritage as first languages in the home, who are teaching immersion techniques at these trainings themselves. I did part of the training on Saturday morning with a young woman who was about eight years old when I first met her, and who now is a fluent speaker of her language, working to take her tribe through the next steps of reclaiming their language as a community language for everyone.

Weekends like this remind me of why I do what I do, and of who and what matters in the process.

Now if only I'd remembered my camera...


Wanderingcatstudio said...

Wow - that's a busy week. While I think spinning is cool, I've got way too many other hobbies - I need to buy my yarn pre-spun! I admire anyone who takes it on themselves

Alwen said...

Well, you can always swatch up a bit of the Wensleydale and try washing it to see what happens. I have some Harrisville wool that I thought was pretty horrible until I washed it.

Mary Lou said...

I enjoy reading the tales of language. What a gift to be part of and witness that process. I often think of how my grandmother's grandparents spoke only Irish, and she spoke only a few words of it. Now, younger generations learn it, even if it may not ever become their daily language.

Jane said...

What a fascinating weekend, it must be so fulfilling to see the results of yours and their hard work paying such dividends. It always seems so sad when these languages die out, seems to take so much of the culture with it too

Nana Sadie said...

Oh my. What a fabulous experience, and I can so see why you do what you do so well...I can't see your face, but you light up the page when you write - I suspect you're as animated (or more so) when you teach it!
I LOVE the pinks in Damson. LOVE.THEM.

Rachael said...

ah, what a fabulous thing it is that you do!!!!

Lori said...

Wow. If only I had a parallel life, I think I'd want to be a linguist, too. :) I'm working on a way to knit instead of sleeping, if I figure it out you'll be the first person I tell.

twinsetjan said...

twinsetellen has fallen to the siren that is spinning. I am yet resisting...but if you keep tempting me with photos like that of your Wensleydale, I might fall down that hole too! Gorgeous!

And I'm thankful we have folks with a passion for language. Thanks for all your work to preserve this heritage and make it come back to life!

Willow said...

I'd have loved to be a little fly on the wall listening to all this!

I often tell people that in learnign a new language one must make at least 10,000 mistakes, so it's best to just start talking and make the mistakes as quickly as possible and use them up.

Anonymous said...

I've always found it sad that there are so many dying or lost languages. It's nice to know that there are some that are being revitalized. It sounds like fascinating work; thank you for sharing.

Lynne said...

Wow! So amazing. I sense that you are truly honoured (not just words) to be a part of it and I hope your girls realise how privileged and blessed they were too.

I wonder if such a thing is happening here in Australia because there were hundreds of different languages and even more dialects spoken here before white man came to stay in 1788.

Helen said...

With all those interesting things going on, you are to be congratulated on finding time to post at all :)

twinsetellen said...

I suppose the invention of new languages (Klingon comes to mind) hardly keeps pace.

Thanks for sharing the wonder of the work of learning that goes on in the Master-Apprentice duo. Knitnana is right, the page glowed with your words (a reflection of theirs, it seems).

And Jan is right, too - that yarn is fabulous. Such wonderful, even, fine singles! Maybe you could be master to my apprentice?

marit said...

It isso interesting to read about linguistics! I don't understand all of it- English is not my first language- but I'm grateful that there are people that see the value in reviving and rescuing some of those languages.

AlisonH said...

I wonder if I'll ever get around to learning Swedish... Apparently my Swedish immigrant ancestor came over on the same boat in the mid-1800's as my daughter-in-law's!

Kym said...

If anyone claims that reward you're offering. . . for more time. . . would you send them my way?

RobinH said...

Fascinating! I hadn't heard of this- wonderful that languages are being preserved this way.

And I too wish for more time. If they ever develop a way for us to safely go without sleep, I'm there!

Gwen said...

Good Work!

And we may think it's cute when children can't say what they mean, but I'm pretty sure they themselves don't think it's so cute. Temper tantrum due to communication difficulties!

(swatch the Wensleydale - cheese! - and see. It's gorgeous!)

(how much posting have I managed lately? this year?)

EGunn said...

I would love to be an sounds like so much fun! (Even given the pressures and responsibilities.) My favorite part of Germany was learning the language. =)

As for the knitting, I love your new yarn, and the colors in the Damson. Any chance that the spinning can be overplied to soften it (and add bounce)?

Good luck finding time!

Bea said...

Such technical spinning terms. Maybe I should get a book or something to figure out what you are talking about!

Can't wait to see Damson. It looks lovely in the work in progress picture.