I'm free!

I know it’s not quite July yet, but I handed in my final assignment on Thursday (it wasn’t due until next week, but I didn’t want to have to work on it this weekend, so I put in a bit of extra effort during the week (luckily my boss is supportive and kindly turned a blind eye to the fact that some of it got done in work time…) and got it finished early), so I’m finished with this paper!  (Which means only two more papers to do to finish my degree, but I’m not attempting another one until next year – one a year is more than enough while working full time – I’ll need the next 6 months to recover from this one!)
Oh, and for Yetzirah, who asked ages ago: the paper was in linguistics, specifically looking at ways theoretical linguistics tries to account for variation in language (like why do we sometimes say walking and other times say walkin’?).  It’s an area that’s been mostly neglected in linguistics – most theorists try to simplify things by assuming we all speak an idealised version of our language and ignore all the inconvenient messiness of real language (so they’d say that the difference between walking and walkin’ isn’t actually important, let’s just assume everyone always says walking), while the sociolinguists are very good at describing variation (so they can tell you exactly how likely you are to say walkin’ based on your geographical region, age, gender, and social class), but aren’t usually interested in coming up with theories to say why the variation happens in the first place.  So in the course we were looking at the work of various people who’ve tried to bring theoretical linguistics and sociolinguistics together, which has been really interesting (well, interesting to a language geek like me, anyway – whenever I try and explain it to anyone else, I see their eyes starting to glaze over, as I’m sure is happening to anyone who’s still reading this paragraph!)
Anyway, finally not having any assignments hanging over my head, I was able to spend today very productively.  I spent the morning on some intensive cleaning, which the house definitely needed after me having done little more than the minimum of housework all semester.  Then I spent the afternoon baking, because I’m having a few friends round for a birthday afternoon tea tomorrow, and being me, my plan to keep things simple by doing afternoon tea instead of a meal quickly complicated itself into all sorts of elaborate baking plans which required the whole afternoon to carry out.  Or maybe it was just because I was having fun being able to just muck around in the kitchen for a few hours and experiment with recipes, instead of quickly microwaving something then getting back to my books.  Anyway, I produced a seriously impressive looking chocolate fudge cake and a batch of eclairs (well, technically I suppose they’re cream puffs, because I didn’t pipe them into the proper eclair shapes, but it’s the same recipe (which was such fun – I haven’t made choux pastry in years, and I’d forgotten just how satisfying it is)) which just need to be filled with cream in the morning, and I’ve got focaccia dough quietly rising overnight which I’ll finish off and bake in the morning (I probably would have had time to make it tomorrow, but I didn’t want to risk it being too cold in the morning to rise the dough fast enough – this way I know it will definitely have risen by the time I come to bake it).  So there definitely won’t be a shortage of afternoon tea goodies 🙂
I actually took a wee break from studying last weekend too, to zip down to Dunedin, where Jane Goodall (she of the chimp research fame) was giving a talk.  She’s one of my childhood heroes, so there was no way I was passing up the chance to hear her speak, even if it did mean losing a weekend’s worth of essay-writing time.  It was so worth going down there – she’s a wonderful speaker, and had the audience enthralled (she got a standing ovation at the end), plus left us all feeling inspired about conservation efforts, not just in Africa but also here in New Zealand.  And as a bonus, I got to spend the rest of the weekend with Mum, who came down to Dunedin to join me, so we had a proper mother-daughter bonding weekend, which even involved clothes shopping! (a very rare occurrence – Mum and I were famous for our pitched battles whenever she tried to drag me into a clothes shop when I was a teenager… (of course, I’ve grown up a bit since then – now I don’t actively detest shopping, I just tolerate it as a necessary evil 😉 ))  Lots of other adventures were had too – we visited the Chinese gardens, and saw a great film festival movie about punks in Belfast (Good Vibrations), and shared churros from a street stall with a very intoxicated young man (who spent a lot of time reassuring us it was ok that he was drunk, because he was 18 – actually, I suspect he’d ingested more than alcohol…), and giggled over getting chatted up by a rather creepy truck driver from Ashburton, and generally had a lot of fun being tourists in our old home town.
And, yes, I know I still haven’t posted anything about my Australian adventures – I promise I will just as soon as I’ve downloaded the several thousand photos I took – they’re still sitting on the memory card because I haven’t had time to even look through them since I got back.  Hopefully now that I’ve got time to breathe I’ll be able to get on to them soon.

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  1. Actually, I’m interested in why we drop the “g”. I’m from Alabama (southern US) and we more often than not drop the “g” from “ing” words when talking. I thought it was laziness. Did you find the answer? I’ll be waitin’ to hear! 😉

    1. I don’t think anyone’s got a definitive answer for that one. You could say it’s partly about laziness – though linguists would call it efficiency. Talking takes an incredible amount of coordination of many many different muscles in your mouth and throat, plus your lungs, which all uses up a lot of processing power in your brain. So your brain automatically tries to do anything it can to make the process simpler, and hence more efficient – so we drop sounds, or alter them so they’re produced in an easier way (e.g. your tongue has to move a shorter distance to produce “walkin'” than “walking”, because for “n” the tongue stays in roughly the centre of your mouth, which is where it already was for “i”, but for the “ng” sound it has to move to the back of the mouth, so “-in” is easier to say than “-ing”). Of course, there’s a limit to how much you can simplify sounds, or otherwise all words start sounding the same and nobody would understand you. So there’s a balancing act between processing power and comprehensibility. (This all happens unconsciously, by the way – we don’t actively decide to change how we say words (and in fact we’re usually not even aware we’re doing it), so it’s not a case of being “lazy” in that sense).
      Of course, that’s not the entire answer, because otherwise everyone would always say “walkin'”, which we don’t (although everyone, even the most “well spoken”, says it sometimes if you listen carefully enough). Some of the rest of the picture seems to be to do with social identity. You bond with the people around you by using the same language as they do, effectively saying (again, unconsciously) “I’m a member of your group”. So by using a lot of “-in”, you’re signalling your identity as a Southerner.
      But again, that doesn’t explain everything, because why don’t you use “-in” all the time then? And why do I, from a completely different part of the world, also use “-in” sometimes?
      Another piece of the puzzle seems to be something to do with the frequency of the word. A really common word like “walking” is much more likely to become “walkin'” than an uncommon word like “perambulating”. So there’s been a theory recently that maybe how predictable the word is has an effect – my brain knows it can save on some processing power if it’s saying a common word that you’ll easily be able to guess even if I don’t fully articulate it, but if it’s a rare word then you’ll be less likely to guess it so I have to say it properly. Though that then raises all sorts of new questions…
      So yeah, the answer is nobody knows, but it’s fun to speculate 🙂

  2. Hmmmm…. I think that I often speak in… a sort of cant (I don’t know if I am using that word right)… but a stylized form of speaking with a totally fake accent, adding in the interesting twist of putting the accent on an unusual syllable of the word or words just to be silly.
    My sister in law picks right up on it and we can have a whole conversation in some silly dialect until one or the other of us bursts out laughing at our goofiness.
    I love this kind of word play. And you should HEAR my daughter in law do a Minnesota accent. You could DIE! 🙂
    I personally am fascinated by all the different accents you will find in America. There are some places I understand in the far Northeast, that you would swear they are speaking another language altogether!

    1. America has such wonderful regional accents. It was one of the things I really enjoyed about travelling there, hearing all the different ways people speak – so different from the generic “American” accent you hear on TV and movies.
      New Zealand doesn’t really do regional accents – we’re too small and too recently settled. There’s a very slight difference between far north and deep south, but mostly our accent differences are more about social class than where you come from.

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