Don't overanalyze...have some fun!

Don’t overanalyze…have some fun!

I tend to be pretty “thinky.” Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I can analyze a situation to the smallest detail until someone makes me stop. At the same time, I tend to overlook or even downplay the important emotional experience in the moment. I have friends who are very empathetic, who are always picking up on the emotions of the room. I’ve learned a lot from these friends about a blind spot of mine.

While this week I didn’t get a lot more done on Somali than usual, I had more fun. A less thinky week. I read aloud my dialogue and I turned to some news sites. I also found some new resources that got me excited. I want to experience fully the excitement, wonder, and discovery of this week, even though I may not speak great Somali compared to last week. I made new connections and enjoyed bursts of delight. Read More

Is translation impossible sometimes?

Is translation impossible sometimes?

This post follows on the 4 points I learned about people from the linguistic theories of Prof. Noam Chomsky. Please refer to “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Background” for a full introduction to this idea, and to the first in this series, “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Grammar is in every brain” and the second in this series, “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Describe, don’t prescribe.”

3. Anything you can say in one language you can say in another.
This above premise contradicts a widespread notion among language enthusiasts. Indeed, when I originally suggested this point, I received several comments by folks who disagreed with it. All over the internet we find lists of “words with no translation” (note that they assume that the target language is English), but the list begs the question of the nature of translation.

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Inspiration pulled me out of burnout.

Inspiration pulled me out of burnout.

I’ve been listening to the “Actual Fluency Podcast,” hosted by the language-loving Dane, Chris Broholm, and a couple recent episodes helped me out tremendously. My language-learning energy has been flagging. I’ve been doing some exercises out of a book and daily vocabulary flashcards. I needed a boost, and the podcast inspired me to take the next step. Read More

Prescriptive grammar just punishes people for talking normally

Prescriptive grammar punishes people for talking normally.

This post follows on the 4 points I learned about people from the linguistic theories of Prof. Noam Chomsky. Please refer to “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Background” for a full introduction to this idea, and to the first in this series, “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Grammar is in every brain.”

2. We describe grammar, we don’t prescribe it.
Rules such as “no split infinitives” or “There’s no such word as ‘ain’t’” don’t exist in the linguistics that I study. Such rules are called “prescriptive” because they prescribe a particular way of speaking that goes against how people actually speak. The linguistic school to which I belong does not impose a certain way of speaking; instead, we aim to describe the way people actually speak. In this way, everyone who speaks a language is  valued equally in how he or she speaks.

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A helmet won't help on an urban adventure!

A helmet won’t help on an urban adventure!

Most people don’t think of Minneapolis as a place for urban adventure or international encounters, but this weekend I found both here.

I pulled up to the Somali Mall on Saturday morning, assuming I would find a place for sambusas, sweet chai, and Somali conversation. Shivering as I paid for street parking, I saw a head peek out of the door of “Safari Coffee.”

Read what happened next

Every brain contains the grammar of a language

Every brain contains the grammar of a language

This post follows on the 4 points I learned about people from the linguistic theories of Prof. Noam Chomsky. Please refer to “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Background” for a full introduction to this idea.

1. Grammar resides in every human brain.
Chomsky defines grammar as the rules that produce and decode language. As a result, grammar resides inside the human language-speaker. It doesn’t exist “out there” in a book or only well-trained minds.. Moreover, this grammar is not something learned in school; it’s acquired as a child engages in the community of your native language. Read More

Languages connect me to others

Languages connect me to others

Last week I had a terrible yet fascinating experience with Somali language and culture. A young son of Somali parents tragically died near us. In community solidarity, my family went to the local mosque for the funeral. At the funeral were hundreds of Somalis, plus a handful of non-Muslim community members.

Read what I learned

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