Archive | April 2015

LA Times Bookfest, CLS, and C2E2

The past couple of weekends have been eventful and a lot of fun (which means this post is going to be long and all over the place). On April 18th, I went to the LA Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California. My main purpose in going was to meet my editor, whom I had never met in person and who was going to be on a panel wearing her author hat. It was fun to wander among the booths too, though I will admit to spending part of my time at the festival drafting a handout on English speakers’ perception of Zulu clicks.

The panel I attended featured authors David Levithan, Leila Sales (my editor), and Tommy Wallach. It was moderated by Aaron Hartzler, and it was a lot of fun. Afterwards, I got in the signing line and met Leila. She signed my copy of This Song Will Save Your Life, and we chatted a bit more after the signing crowd had dispersed.

Last weekend, I went to Chicago for the Chicago Linguistic Society’s conference (CLS), which was also a lot of fun. I flew in on Wednesday evening and attended a few talks on Thursday; in particular I’d wanted to hear the one on homesign and the one on sign language phonological typology. I don’t really expect to ever work on sign languages, but I’m always drawn to talks in that area. I also got to see linguists I knew at Swarthmore or whom I had met on the grad school open house circuit again, and it was great to catch up with them.

I presented my paper first thing on Friday morning. It was nice to get it over with and have the rest of the day to absorb other people’s research without worrying about my own talk. I particularly appreciated Bernard Perley’s invited talk on reframing the rhetoric and metaphors around language death and endangerment (in essence, he would like to see linguists talk about language life instead of language death). I thought what he had to say was hugely important and rightly challenged us linguists to think hard about the ethics of linguistic fieldwork. He also gently (but directly) called out the previous invited speaker on an aspect of her talk, which had been just hours before his. I have no doubt that was an uncomfortable moment, and for more of us than just the invited speaker, but I think Dr. Perley was right to point out what he did because we can’t change what we don’t realize we’re doing wrong.

My colleagues from UCLA were both presenting in the Beyond Field Methodologies session. I was particularly eager for my field methods professor’s talk because it was about me! Okay, not really. It was about our class’s experience taking a monolingual approach to doing field methods on Maragoli and about monolingual fieldwork in general. That evening, our little UCLA contingent of three went out for Chicago deep-dish pizza.

On Saturday, I skipped out on the conference to go to the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2). I’d been planning this ever since I’d learned that author Rachel Hartman would be appearing at C2E2 and that C2E2 was the same weekend as CLS. The timing worked out beautifully. It was my first time at a comic con, and I felt kind of out of my element among the crowds of cosplayers, but the costumes were pretty amazing.

The panel I’d come for was one of the few book-related panels and was about worldbuilding. In addition to Rachel Hartman, there were six other panelists, including the guy who writes the Star Wars Shakespeare (Shakespeare Star Wars?) books. I particularly liked the discussion of creating maps and of the authors’ favorite worlds. And best of all, I had the good fortune of getting to have dinner with Rachel, which was delightful.

Afterwards, I made my way back to the CLS banquet. Dinner was over, but the evening’s entertainment was just getting underway. And by entertainment I mean hours of karaoke, a CLS tradition. Now, I am not a karaoke person; I’ve always declined invitations to UCLA linguistics karaoke. I guess after my solos in the Georgian chorus concert I can no longer say that I do not sing in front of people without at least ten other people singing along with me, but the fact remains that my familiarity with popular music is so poor that most of the time I really can’t participate. I honestly don’t know the vast majority of songs that one could use for karaoke. Indeed, as other people went up to sing songs that are evidently well-known, I usually found myself recognizing the chorus or some chord progression but not knowing the melody, much less the words, to the verses.

It was fun to watch, though, and there were some pretty talented singers as well as dancers. A highlight was a non-karaoke number, in which two grad students sang a Greek song accompanied by clarinet and bouzouki. Bouzouki! I want a bouzouki. People also sang in Russian, Turkish, Japanese, and Indonesian. And Mandarin, which is how I ended up doing karaoke after all. I’d gotten up from our table briefly, and I came back just as a USC grad student I knew was singing a line from a song in Chinese. I said, “Hey, I know that song!”

Long story short, I found myself at the front of the hall with the USC grad student and a third grad student, and we sang the Taiwanese song 對面的女孩看過來, which, as far as I can tell, is about the inscrutability of girls. It brought me back to Chinese department New Year’s parties in the Swarthmore Friends Meetinghouse, which is the last place I sang this song, with the other students in my Chinese class. All I remembered of this song was the first line and the chorus, and although the karaoke video we’d found on Youtube had the words, they were obviously in Chinese characters, many of which I’ve forgotten. So I watched them fly by and jumped in on random pronouns or easy stuff like 很可愛. And the chorus, thank goodness.

So, you didn’t think I’d ever do karaoke? Yeah, me neither. I guess I do better with languages other than English. Maybe next time I’ll attempt a rendition of “Je fais de toi mon essentiel”…

Poisonous Newts and African Linguistics

At the end of spring break, I went to the 46th Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL) at the University of Oregon with most of my Field Methods class. We were all presenting papers on Maragoli, a Luyia Bantu language of western Kenya also known as Logoori, among other names. (In fact, between our six talks, we managed to use four different names for the language, even though we had all gotten our data from the same speaker.) It was my first time presenting at a linguistics conference.

I flew from Los Angeles to Eugene on a little plane. To reach our gate at LAX, passengers on my flight had to take a shuttle to what felt like an outpost of the airport. The shuttle drove on the same thoroughfares as gigantic airplanes, which was both weird and interesting. During the flight, I saw an isolated mountain liberally heaped with snow that I think was Mt. Shasta.


This is the only thing I photographed on my trip, soon after I arrived on campus in Eugene.

I arrived in Eugene and made my way to the campus of the University of Oregon, which was picturesque and wonderfully green. It felt like it was properly spring there, what with the daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinth, and hellebores. I made some notes on my talk handout and met up with one of my classmates. After registering for the conference at the Linguistics Department, we explored Eugene on foot. It seems like a really nice town.

That evening, I met up with our Field Methods professor, who had driven down from Portland with a Nigerian scholar she’d picked up at the airport. I met the Nigerian linguist, who was going to be in the same session as me, and then my professor and I went off to borrow camping equipment. In the spirit of spring break, we were making a camping trip out of ACAL.

That night, we camped by Hult Reservoir on Bureau of Land Management land. We drove there in the dark, and just looking up through the window of the car I saw more stars in one night’s sky than I’ve seen in the entire time I’ve lived in LA. We heard frogs croaking by the side of the road, and sometimes we drove through fog. Once at the campground, we set up our tents near the reservoir and went to bed.

In the morning, I went down to the reservoir. It was in a bowl formed by steep hills, and the bowl was filled with thick fog, so that I could only see a little ways out across the water. I spoke briefly to a fisherman on the shore and then crouched at the edge of the water and dipped my hands in. The water was clear and cold. I saw what I thought were newts swimming in the shallow water. (Indeed, later research suggested these were rough-skinned newts, which are highly toxic, but only if you eat them. An Oregon man once swallowed a 20-cm long (!) specimen on a dare and died. Another Oregon man once ate five of these newts and survived, though not without medical treatment. I think the moral of the story is clear.)

We broke camp and headed back to Eugene for the first day of the conference. I spent a good deal of the day in the Luyia tone workshop, trying to absorb reams of tonal pattern data. I also attended two of my classmates’ talks and met various linguists, including Famous Linguist #1, who was cited a couple of times in my talk, and Famous Linguist #2, several of whose Bantu problem sets I shepherded my Phonology I students through last fall. We also got to meet other linguists working on Luyia languages like Maragoli.

I’d hoped to make it to the Eugene Sacred Harp singers’ singing, which was fortuitously the Thursday I was in town, but alas, it was not to be. Instead, my professor, another classmate, and I headed to our next campground, Hobo Camp, which is along Brice Creek in the Umpqua National Forest. Our professor made hot chocolate and oatmeal on the camp stove, and then we retired, falling asleep to the sound of the creek rushing in its bed.

The morning drives back to campus were the most beautiful parts of the trip. We’d follow somewhat winding roads through forested hills and past little houses with smoke coming out of their chimneys. We saw old covered bridges and handfuls of sheep, horses, cows, goats, and even an alpaca. Wisps of cloud would be hanging so low you felt like you could reach up and snatch them down.

Friday was the day of my talk. I went to the phonology session in the morning and then skipped out on the next to make final preparations. My session was after lunch and was chaired by someone who just graduated from UCLA last year. Unfortunately, it was also concurrent with the session that my professor and two other classmates were presenting in. Famous Linguist #2 had asked me earlier why the organizers had scheduled two Maragoli talks simultaneously and then told me he was coming to mine. He was indeed there, though Famous Linguist #1, somewhat to my relief, was not. The talk went well, attendees asked me questions, but not aggressive ones, and then I was done!

The conference banquet was that evening. By then, our consultant, to whom we owed all our research, had arrived from LA. The meal was supposed to be African-themed, and there was this spicy peanut stew with chicken that I thought was pretty tasty, but by the time my table was called up to take food, they had run out of rice. Tragedy! (Eventually there was more rice.) This being Oregon, there was marionberry crisp for dessert. There was also post-dinner entertainment by a marimba ensemble playing Zimbabwean music. My tastes in music have a distinct tendency to run towards doom and gloom, but this was infectiously happy music, and I really liked some of the pieces. Some people got up and danced.

The following day, my classmate and fellow camper, our Field Methods consultant, and I flew out of Eugene on the same flight. I saw Mt. Shasta from the air again, and then it was back to LA and school.

The Clivia Show at the Huntington

This spring break, my family managed to replicate almost exactly this day from last year’s spring break, from Newport Seafood lobster to the Library Exhibition Hall, the Chinese and Japanese gardens, and the North American Clivia Society’s show at the Huntington.

Clivias are native to South Africa and resemble amaryllises. Their flowers range in color from red to orange to yellow to green. Here are some of my favorite specimens from the show:



Look at that longitudinal variegation!




Seed pods!