Monday, October 12, 2009

Linguistics -- fascinating but way beyond my poor brain

So, lately I've been kind of...

BAGMAN: "Don't go there!  If you are about to start whining and explaining why you aren't blogging as much, please spare us!!

BUTLER:  "For once, I agree with Bagman.  Sometimes your excuse-making even bores me."

Okay.  Okay.  So I got a cup of coffee this morning and decided to see what everyone out in Blogland has been up to.  The very first blog I read, posted only moments before was from Rachel.  She is excited about learning the Greenland language of Kalaalisut...because it is an "ergative-absolutive" language. 

BAGMAN:  "I'm not sure where you are going with this -- maybe I'd rather listen to you whine."

I tried to escape!  But sometimes I get attracted to weird things -- apologies to Rachel and all other linquists of the world -- but somehow I felt I had to find out what ergative-absolutive meant.  Or it if was a real word at all. 

Long ago I tried to learn to Japanese. 

BAGMAN:  "Yeah, yeah.  1970, Los Angeles, Judy Narita...never gave you the time of day."

What fascinated me (about the language) was that it didn't fit into my limited preconception of subject-verb-object.  It wasn't like a word substitution code (man, homme, hombre, etc).  I realized that if I not only learned to speak it, but learned to think in it, it would alter the way I thought and perceived things!

BUTLER: "Yes, you and Bagman were big on "mind-altering" back then.  Which is why you never learned to say anything in Japanese except "Hello" and "Thank you."

BAGMAN:  "Wrong!!!  We also learned to say "Beer" and "Will you go to bed with me?"

Embarassing.  But anyhow, this morning I looked up ergative-absolutive on the internet.  And a whole new world opened up for me!!  First I learned that the realization of ergativity can be understood by a discussion of morphosyntactic allignment. 

It was about then that I realized that my future in liquistics is about as remote as my future in professional football. 

BAGMAN: "So how do you say, 'will you go to bed with me' in Kalaalisut?"

BUTLER:  "You weren't listening!  It's not a 'nominative accusitive' language!"

BAGMAN: "I wasn't accusing anyone!  They don't go to bed in Greenland?"

BUTLER: "I suppose they must, but they don't talk about it the same way.  Their alignment is better morphed... this point a fuse blew and all three of us went temporarily brain dead.


  1. The terrible twins are giving away all your secrets!

  2. Bagman may be interested in the traditional sexual customs of the Greenlanders and related cultures.

    Meanwhile, I could bore anyone to tears on the subject of ergativity ;) (But Chinese is the language which has really blown my brain apart - so far - in terms of learning to think differently.)

  3. I have to admit I'm glad the terrible twins don't live with me -- I'd be in trouble every day. I studied German in college, learned Spanish when I lived in Spain -- relearned when I lived in Mexico and learned enough Japanese to get by when I worked for a Japanese company. But it never sticks in ones mind if you don't use it.

    Hope you three have a great day!


  4. I am with JarieLyn, it is over my head. I studied Latin for 4 years in the 50's and it was already dead.

  5. this is a topic close to my heart - I loved studying linquistics - I hate trying to learn Portuguese. course one is concept and the other action. I do much better in theroy than reality apparantly. see my other comments....

  6. just out nutsed me!


  7. Interesting topic. I'm slowly working through Spanish... some day I will get it. As for now, thanks for the short commentary on linquistics (the odd terminology fits the bill perfectly doesn't it?) ;)

  8. It's over my head too. I learned to speak French so I could tell JP off in his own language, Spanish because I couldn't help myself it is so pretty, some German so I could join in singing rounds during coffee breaks at a place where I once worked, and never thought a second about ergativity??????

  9. I am still working on the English language.

    It is good to see Bagman out and about again.

    Fuse blew, eh?

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