ling 110

Le français, a "word-final stress" language.
  • Prof: CApitaNO.
  • Italian student: No, the stress is wrong. CA...pitano.
  • Prof: CA... pitaNO. How's that?
  • Italian student: Uh, not really.
  • Prof: Oh well, never mind. These are the rest: caRAttere, capiTAno, capitaNO.
  • All students: (nod)
  • Prof: CApitaNO. I just can't get that one. I practised all afternoon!
  • All students: (aww)
  • Prof: Anyway, I can do this one. Si bistiCCIAvano un GIORno il VENto di tramonTAna e il SOle... yes, the North Wind and the Sun are still disputing.

Today I had my first session with my ‘language consultant’ for the Ling 110 term project.

The project:

Find a native speaker of a language you don’t know (that isn’t commonly taught in American high schools, i.e. not French/German/Italian/Spanish), and try to figure out the phonetics, phonology and some suprasegmentals of that language.

Otherwise known as 'intro to fieldwork’.

Thankfully, my 'language consultant’ is simply a very good friend who was actually the subject of someone’s Ling 110 project last fall, so he has an idea of how many times he’ll have to repeat a word while I mangle it repeatedly.

The good thing about Hindi is that its vowel system isn’t too different from that of English. The consonants, however, are another thing entirely. I seem to be proficient enough in producing retroflex stops, but the retroflex flap [ɽ] is really causing me problems. Then there’s aspirated [b], which I can only get right by accident, never intentionally.

The other difficult consonants are dentals – Hindi is one of the few languages that have true dentals, i.e. the tongue does not touch the alveolar ridge at all. Plus, Hindi distinguishes differences between [t̪] and [d̪] and their aspirated forms. Mandarin has [t̪ʰ], which is somewhat helpful, but only just somewhat.

My admiration of all my professors who document rare languages has just shot up. Immensely. You can know how hard a task is but not feel it until you try doing it.

“Today’s French word of the day is chaleur. It can be written as [ʃalœʀ]. It means… what is the English word… heat. It means heat. It is so hot today!”

— Prof Vilain, who is French, and whose hilarity makes a Friday 3-4pm lecture slot much more bearable. I wish she wasn’t just a visiting prof.