Tuesday, January 5, 2016

i applied to a graduate program in social work

and i'm really excited about how i've integrated the trauma of my field study experience and found a viable space for myself in the world in terms of service, work, and resilience.

<3 <3 <3

my admissions essay is imperfect but shows a bit of how i made sense of things, so i'll include a link here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Extended Absence

I'm writing again here for the first time in many months, but not because I haven't been thinking about ideophones. I wrote a paper on Pastaza Quechua phonology with my professor and two friends, which we presented at the LSA conference in Boston this January. The paper explores the relationship between prosaic and ideophonic phonology in Quechua, using the metaphor of stretching to describe the systematic differences between the two.

The reason I have not been writing here is more personal than academic; the best way to describe my difficulty is that my brain works on problems in a comprehensive way. By this I mean that I have not been able to focus only on the academic questions involved in ideophone research, because there were so many other huge things to think through involved in doing field research. I have spent a lot of the time between last summer and now processing the issues that arose for me when I immersed myself in another culture and thought about my purpose there and my impact on the people I interacted with.

This led to questions of the purpose (and also the feasibility) of linguistic research in general. How can I do this responsibly? Is there a place for this type of theoretical academic research in a world with so many urgent practical problems? In any case, is it my place to be doing this research or should I be contributing in a more service-oriented way? Have I done everything wrong?

The only one I have an answer for right now is that I did not do everything wrong. I did get some things right and I learned a lot in the process. I'm looking for a way to make my future career more service-oriented. And in the next few weeks/months as I go through my data from last summer more thoroughly, maybe I will post here more often on ideophones. Maybe I will share other big ideas too. I'm sure I will keep working on my own worldview and trying to find solutions to problems (especially those related to communication).

Some examples of readings lately that have been on my mind: Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson; Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, Wittgenstein; Don Quijote, Cervantes; "Prophecy, Process and Plenitude," Givens (and does anyone have secular recommendations for readings about process and idea development? This was from my religion course and I would love other perspectives). More later.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ideophone Infiltration

I'm a fan of ideophones. I think the aesthetic, social and cultural functions of these expressive words makes them fascinating (see writings of Nuckolls, Dingemanse, Doke and others for more information on their form and functions since I don't have the eloquence or brainpower to get into it now). I also have a sort of aspirational attitude about ideophones; I like the idea of ideophones being more widely and productively used in Western languages. This is partly because the eventual demise of many languages worldwide seems inevitable at this point (a prophecy which just about makes me hyperventilate)--so any way humanity might retain some of the unique knowledge and beauty of fated languages is a welcome idea to me. Also I would love them to appear more in English just for the fun of it. Ideophones are a prime area for the creativity of the individual speaker to shine, and for the conversation participants to interact in a vivid experience created by language.

The biggest obstacle to ideophones becoming more productive in languages like English and Spanish is probably that they don't thrive well on paper. Writing is a huge portion of the communicative use of these languages, and often their most highly regarded form. But if they got to be a part of colloquial language, they would creep into movies, right? And lots of dialectal speech variations have been recorded both in print and on film, first in Pygmalion then My Fair Lady, also Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, parts of Faulkner's works and many of the Coen brothers' films, just to name a few. Anyway my point is that film is a great resource for the preservation and distribution of language as it is spoken, so I would love to see ideophones occurring in film even more than in everyday conversation. And I think this would happen if they were to become a common conversational occurrence.

Enough wishing though. I mostly just wanted to write this post because I have seen more Western language ideophone usage on the ground, this time in Spanish. I wasn't good about writing down the specifics the first couple of times I heard them, and even now I don't have everything verbatim, but I have a few actual examples now that I would like to share.

(1) tarararara, imitation of the phone ringing. In this case there was no Spanish verb to indicate that the phone rang, such as sonar, but the ideophone was incorporated basically as it would have been in a Kichwa conversation, indicating the ringing by its appearance and the context. This isn't an actual Kichwa ideophone that I recognize, but there seems to be a lot of room for creation in the realm of onomatopoeic ideophones in Kichwa so I expect it would be accepted if it had occurred in a Kichwa conversation instead.

(2) pag, in reference to a cashier being caught for stealing from the register. This same ideophone occurred again just a bit later in the conversation, used by someone else to refer to the act of stealing. Unfortunately I didn't get to write this down until well after the conversation so the context is mostly lost, but pag (also pronounced with a devoiced or even fricative final consonant) is a common ideophone in Kichwa. It might or might not be used by Kichwa speakers in this context, since its usual sense has to do with a falling object, but I have also heard it used in a few other ways and it might be broad enough to be acceptable here as well. If I were to guess, tak would be the best Kichwa ideophone for the idea of grabbing something, which was the context here. (3) tas, to describe the act of relocating a joint that is out of place. Two speakers used this one several times in a conversation, in place of a verb but with accompanying gestures and expressive force. It took me a minute to figure out what they meant by it actually, since they didn't use any Spanish words for "joint" or "relocate," I had to derive it from the context of two different stories.
First, a woman expressing concern about an injury to her hand, planning to go to a doctor but worried that the doctor would go tas to fix it and it would hurt. Then her friend told a story of seeing a boy fall on his bike, comforting him and then going tas without warning him, which both frightened and essentially fixed his problem.
In this case, tas would absolutely be an acceptable ideophone in Kichwa to describe the action of popping a joint back into place, since it describes "an action... considered as accomplished and complete... in space" (Nuckolls 1996). That is an abstract (and partial) definition, because it's a rather broad and abstract ideophone. It's also a very common one from what I have heard.

I have heard a few other uses of Kichwa-style ideophones in Spanish conversation, but unfortunately my observational energies aren't turned up to 11 in Spanish conversation like they are when I'm listening to and speaking Kichwa. Luckily my comprehension is at least ten times better. It's frustrating to me how much I feel like I'm guessing here, especially since I'm just transferring notes from after the conversation and I don't have a recorded version to refer to again. But I think even these poor examples are enough to point out a trend that deserves some more attention, and I will try to continue to pay attention and make notes on this... Even though it has nothing to do with any of my projects directly.

It's also worth noting that all three of these examples come from native Spanish speakers, people who don't speak Kichwa fluently and have no inherited ties to the language or indigenous culture. They are Ecuadoreans who interact with Kichwa speakers occasionally, sometimes professionally, and who most likely have picked up Kichwa phrases here and there (like US citizens often do with Spanish).

So it looks like overall, there is some evidence for my hope of ideophone infiltration in Ecuadorean Spanish. Now if only it would occur more reliably, and spread to other dialects of Spanish as well. I don't know much about language contact, but I would not be surprised to hear that this sort of thing is happening in other regions near ideophonic languages as well, at least a little.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

one of those good news/bad news kind of days

I've had some of the most encouraging experiences this week, alongside some of the most frustrating ones.

First for some of the pleasant news. A friend of mine has taken to dictating sentences to me lately, often in my own voice, watching to make sure that I write them down verbatim. This is a painstakingly slow way to communicate, but it's her idea for how to make sure that I don't forget any Kichwa. ñuka rimashka, ñuka rimashka, killkangi, she commands (I speak, I speak, you write), adding a gesture of dragging her finger across the tablecloth for emphasis. The exciting part of this story was a few sentences into her dictation, but I'll provide a transcription of a whole paragraph here for good measure, to give you a bit of a feel for Kichwa:

escuelata tukuchirani; colegiota tukuchirani, kunan universidadbi mauni, yachauni.
I completed primary school; I completed high school; now I am in University, constantly learning.
Runa shimita maskauni, yachangawa.
I am searching for Kichwa, in order to learn it. (she said it just the way my blog is titled!! woohoo)
Shuj watata rirani Iyarinai runa shimita yachangawa, sachata purirani, riksisha sachata.
One year ago I went to Iyarina [field school] to learn Kichwa, I walked in the forest, becoming acquainted with the forest.
Canoa Yakuta, pichka kilómetro purirani. Chimanda ñuka suerte kunai churirai armarani, supai tYuka uktuta riksirani.
In Canoa Yaku stream I walked five kilometers. From there I bathed in a waterfall, a demon-spit waterhole.

A few disclaimers. First, that last line still sounds off but I wanted to somehow communicate what a great image supai tYuka is for waterfall, the spit of a spirit/monster/demon, and then uktu is the hole part of that, referring to the pond at the base of the waterfall. Second, I would have liked to include a more professional breakdown of morphemes and a literal translation along with the Kichwa and English lines, but I'm already subpar on the blogger formatting so I think it would take a long time and still turn out atrociously. Also the Kichwa is roughly phonetic but obviously not IPA. Some other time I'll provide a better transcription, more like I would put in an actual linguistic paper.

Now for some of the more frustrating thoughts. I haven't worked through them but I was glad to see my friend Rem articulate some similar frustrations in his post about the frustration of not being around other academic-minded people while in the field. As he mentions, you can send emails and keep in contact with peers about such highminded topics (as Rem called it, postmodernism), but it would be so much more satisfying to talk to people right here in the thick of it, to share ideas and have discussions and arguments and develop thoughts together.

Personally I think it would be perfect to do linguistic/anthropological field research as a partnership with someone (especially after meeting an amazing couple from UCLA who came to speak to us last year). Even apart from that dream, though, it would be so great if I could spend time with local scholars, people who see the culture from the inside but still share my background of Western-style critical thought. I guess that's where it breaks down, that style of thinking is culturally based so what I'm missing might just be a part of my Culture Shock. Or maybe critical thinking is so superior that it successfully transcends the boundaries of culture and really does provide us with the most important thing in life, Truth with a capital T. (tongue in cheek, guys)

Either way I am looking forward to processing all of this when I get home and immersing myself fully in academia again, because I'm enjoying real human interaction here too much to be in the same theoretical frame of mind that I was during the winter. Does that make sense? What I'm trying to say is, while I was preparing to enter the field I was exercising the abstract academic part of my brain, and now I'm exercising the practical language-learning and human sociability parts, and I can tell that some of the former is slipping away a bit. Maybe one day I will get better at holding both at once but for now I'm (relatively) content with the trade.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Anecdotes and Photos

I'm so jealous of my friend Holly's blog update, full of rich description and bursting excitement. I hope that the posts I have written so far don't make it seem like it's boring here or so stressful that I'm not having a good time. I think I forget to mention how beautiful it is here and what my daily activities are because it seems like the norm to me. I was here (well close to here) last year with a group of people, and I forget that no one else knows quite what I'm up to down here. Also I'm used to writing blog posts that come from questions that have been itching my brain.

So in the interest of sharing some of my experience so far, here are some pictures and anecdotes:

rambutan. This fruit is native to Thailand but grows well here because of the tropical climate. It's quite fun to eat, but not very flavorful in my opinion. It wins my heart in the looks category for sure.

a kitten (cause how can you not love them). I have noticed a few differences in the treatment of pets here from in the US, though I can't say how well these differences apply in general. Dogs are seen on the streets a lot more here than in the US, but usually keep to themselves and only bark if they're close to their house. In the Runa household that I visit most often (almost every day), there are about 4 dogs and 5 cats who survive on table scraps and what they catch themselves. To my mind the dogs seem just as affectionate and needy as dogs I know in the US, but they are given little to no physical attention from humans. The cats are played with by girl children and one kitten is my particular companion as well, but adults usually don't pay them attention except to shoo them away from the food in the kitchen. Similarly for dogs, their main attention is in the form of negative commands, stop barking (when someone passes by the house), get out of here, etc. Again I don't know if this treatment is how it is for most people but I would suspect it's similar, even if more well-to-do families buy manufactured pet food. And the animals all seem to be doing fine, it's been interesting to watch this difference without making one way or the other worse. (I could easily feel contempt for the American pet culture with its smothering and unnecessary commercialization, or worry about this culture and whether or not the dogs are being loved enough, but I won't spend too much time thinking about it.)

God on the bus. Christianity is pervasive here, both the Catholic and Protestant varieties. I especially notice on buses that there are lots of religious images and sayings, in various states of legibility or disrepair. I wonder if the reminders that Jesús te ama are noticed by others here and if they bring a bit of light into people's day the way I assume they are meant to, or if they fade into the background. I don't think there is a corresponding culture of atheism or agnosticism here, or bitter rejection of Christianity as there sometimes is in the US. I mention this only because I thought of how these images would be viewed if they suddenly popped up everywhere in the United States, and it would be uncomfortable at best. (Not that I'm aligning with the "Christianity is so persecuted in the US" mentality. But it is more secular, perhaps because it's better for business.)

There was a parade for my birthday. Well, the 12th of May also happens to be the anniversary of the founding of Puyo as I mentioned before. It was a good activity for a birthday far away from home.

my current residence.You can tell that my landlady's family and friends (especially those who have lived here before who she considers to be a part of her family) are very important to her. Even though I'm not living with a Runa family as I had originally planned to try to do, it has been very helpful to have her support and some space of my own.

local greenery. I am living and working in town, but every empty or natural space reminds me of the lush jungle that was even closer last summer. It's still breathtaking to me.

So I'm noticing that these were all taken on my iphone, many altered using the instagram application. It's the only digital camera I brought (I also have some disposable ones). What a typical representation of American international travel these days, ah well. It has been such a useful device on this trip, and even though I justified getting it in order to record videos for my research it has been a whole lot of fun to have, too. I'm keeping in touch with family through internet-enabled SMS messages, making friends with kids by lending it for them to play games on, and of course using it for research and personal documentation. Thanks MomenDad.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I have no excuse for not updating my blog on schedule (that would have been three days ago according to the syllabus). This week has been difficult, my brain is exhausted from understanding only 5-30% of the Kichwa spoken to me during the majority of each day, despite the feeling that I understand at least 80% of the words spoken. When I'm not listening to or attempting to speak Kichwa, I'm usually listening to or attempting to speak Spanish. Or reading something in English in order to "relax," which hasn't been helping lately.

I have probably also been worn out by the constant attention to trying to behave in a culturally acceptable manner, which instead of being calm and self-possessed about I have decided to handle with the maximum amount of anxiety possible. I know this is counterproductive but I do it anyway. But enough complaining.

First an update on the situation I wrote about last time. I am now living in a small town outside of Puyo and I have noticed that the harassment here is much less. People here often greet each other as they pass, and if I am walking in town with my landlady we will undoubtedly run into several people she knows along the way and stop to talk for at least a minute. If I am out alone I still sometimes get stares or whistles, but I'm going to attribute at least part of that to my foreignness rather than my gender, and the rest doesn't feel nearly as aggressive as it did in Quito. So overall it has become much less of a concern, and I'm not slipping into the paranoid antisocial spiral that I feared at first.

However I still have a few questions about how to build a working cultural framework for concepts like sexism. What I mean to say is, in the United States I have no problem feeling indignant about all sorts of things that happen within my culture and which I think should change, manifestations of sexism, racism, homophobia and the like. And in a lot of ways our collective culture has changed in a positive direction, even though there are plenty of things to be concerned about. But when I'm in another culture, I'm not sure I have the right to judge anything. I'll go for racism and marginalization of indigenous communities within the larger context of Ecuador, but that's about it. Mostly I want to be an effective ethnographer and participant observer, so I want to be in a descriptive mode for the time being rather than an evaluative one. But somewhere along the way, that breaks down.

On one hand, I'm concerned that I will compare the two cultures and judge my own to be superior. This would be anthropological blasphemy, wouldn't it? At first I think of course I don't think my culture is better, if I consider the culture of the US to be mine, because there are a lot of things about it that I reject. But then I realize, the US is not "my" cultural region if I reject so much of it, and besides it's too heterogeneous to count as just one region. My actual cultural alignment is in large part to a very small sector of the population, actually several different groups including linguists, NPR, and academia as a whole (obviously some overlap). And the strongest cultural attachment I have is to questions of Right and Wrong. Luckily I don't have too strong an attachment to the Right and Wrong ways of eating, drinking or riding on a bus, so I can adapt to new ways of doing those things mostly without judgment. (Although I will admit to slight apprehension on the drinking clean water front--it's my weakling American body, can't handle the same types of microbes as strong Ecuadoreans can.) Even in the realm of religion I feel I have a very strong opinion that the Right way to handle things is to pretty much always respect other people's beliefs and when possible to try to understand why their spiritual beliefs are valid and valuable to their lives. So that seems to balance things out-- I explicitly don't have an opinion about whether or not other people's religions are right or wrong for them, I just trust that they are right for the most part.

Interestingly though, I'm finding there are still lots of things* that I have a moral attachment to or judgment on, and I don't know quite what to do about it. *(See previous list including racism and sexism, those are big ones.)

Okay pardon the rambling since I'm composing this without much editing, but I suppose I do know what to do about it. First, observe my judgments without necessarily trying to prevent them. Second, allow this question to remain unsolved in my mind without being an anthropological "sin." That's how it's done, right? Apologies for the lengthy and quite possibly confusing blog post. If I stop to edit any more this will never be published.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

quick notes from the field

My father left for the field yesterday too. Well, the military field; he´s in Qatar for about 75 days. He should be back before I return and will be in an air-conditioned office more often than in the cargo plane (C-130) that he pilots. Probably even safer than my adventure, and I daresay less exciting.

There is a festival in town this week, so there are banners hung between buildings and a few streets were closed to cars yesterday for a parade (I think; I didn´t see it myself). I think the reason for the celebration is the anniversary this Saturday of the foundation of Puyo on May 12, 1899. The coincidence of this event and my birthday seems like a good omen.
(Yes, I will use superstition to lighten my mood; especially at a time like this.)

Research updates: I went to visit a few of the people I know here this morning. They are willing to talk with me and help me learn Kichwa, so now I just have to get down to work. I have forgotten too much of the language and need to be prepared to be more talkative than I naturally am if I am going to get any research done.

My sociableness (and therefore my potential for effective research) has been affected by my interactions in the past few days: after training myself not to make eye contact with men and not to hear their whistles, hisses and whispers I have become even more withdrawn than usual as a result. In contrast I have been mostly ignored by women. I want to get out of the antisocial mood this defensiveness has put me in so that I can make more friends and reach out to the women who might be able to help me. I will have to work on initiating contact with those I want to know as well as continuing to reject contact with others.

Anyone else in the field feeling frustrated by gender issues? It´s not as if I didn´t see this coming but it´s a hassle, and difficult right now for me to decide how to view the situation in terms of ¨cultural values¨ or other things we were supposed to have learned in the field studies prep course...