Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ancient Egyptian anyone?

The Aspiring Polyglot is wondering why Ancient Egyptian isn't among the must-haves that language collectors feel a need to have studied at least a little. She notes:
They may tackle Ancient Greek, Latin or Sanskrit but few dare to touch hieroglyphs, even if they have an affinity for character-based languages such as Chinese or Japanese.
I think the big problem is that in a lot of ways, Ancient Egyptian is closer to Indo-European, or at least proto-Latin, than Latin in terms of a) the quality of study materials and b) the amount of concrete knowledge we have to go on. While too many texts for Latin, Sanskrit, etc, aren't very good and are directed to specialists or, at least, the overly educated, language-wise, there are some good texts for ordinary people out there. Other than the Dover texts of Wallis Budge stuff, there isn't a lot of popularizing stuff out there for Egyptian. And Budge isn't exactly the best language teacher that history has brought us.

I have said before that these languages ought be taught as living languages. In a case like Indo-European or Ancient Egyptian, it would be nice to find a few scholars confident enough to spend less time on asterisks and footnotes and more time laying out how they think of the language in their own mind, so that we could learn, say, the Collier or Kamrin dialect, as a starting point for thinking in the language. In recent years, we have seen Aramaic and Latin in the Passion of the Christ. And Ancient Egyptian has appeared in Stargate and the Mummy. Notes Penelope Wilson, in Hieroglyphics: a very short introduction:
[Stargate and the Mummy] are genuine attempts to create something in a dead tongue for modern ears, and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs may turn out not to record such a dead language after all. Perhaps, then, we really will be able to think in Ancient Egyptian and begin to create a clear image of the past. But will it be in our image or in theirs.
Wilson's quote is interesting because it gives hope to us language enthusiasts that another object of study may appear that we can truly enjoy. But it probably terrifies at least some of the scholars, whose aim is to preserve Ancient Egyptian well enough to do their best at getting the Ancient Egyptian understanding, and who would view our hobby as a bit trifling compared to the decoding of an ancient civilization.

In Collier, if I recall correctly, the idea of speaking the words in some way, any way, that helps is encouraged. In Janice Kamrin's Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, it's emphasized before one even meets the alphabet that you won't be learning to speak Ancient Egyptian. Which brings the question: When Kamrin reads a hieroglyphic text, does she read by English understanding, by a conceiving of roots or by mumbling her version of what Egyptian sounded like? I suspect it's the last of these, and I wish she'd share so that at the conclusion of her book her readers would know there's at least one person they could chat with.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Chinese 101 and Conversational Latin

I got Chinese 101 (from the travel linguist) in the mail today. Basically, it's a 3-part DVD: in part 1, they give you each word at normal pace, and slowly, with an opportunity to repeat; in part 2, they give you the word; in part 3 you have to come up with it yourself. As language learning systems go, it's neither the best nor the most sophisticated. But it's inexpensive ($19.99) and has one great feature: its brevity. This program teaches a little over 100 words and phrases. And unlike, say, Instant Chinese (by Boye de la Mente), with 100 categories, this is really around 100 words and phrases. That is, if you really want to learn just a few words of Chinese for basic communication, they're here, picked out and demonstrated. You even get a little sheet listing them. If you want to learn more Chinese words, there's an accompanying CD-ROM that they call SpeakMore Chinese, but which is really just a re-packaging of the Before You Know It program (found at Bottom line: If you want to become proficient in a language, this is not your program. But if you want a few words - total, or to get started - this isn't a bad deal.

Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency. This is a fairly reputable publication from Bolchazy-Carducci, your premier source for Latin and Slovak (their blog is linked at left). I'd love to do a review, but I haven't gotten the book, just a mailing with a special offer for the paperback with audio. For those checking out my language goals, Latin isn't a priority right now. (Neither is Chinese, but I feel guilty about how much I've lost.) However, I'll track down the paperback in due course. After all, I've whined more than once about the need for resources that teach Latin as a language to use and enjoy, not just translate, and if this may be it.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Sanskrit Fun!

Between my reading about inductions for self-hypnosis and Sanskrit conversation, an idea formed. Not necessarily a good idea, I'll concede, but the idea's been had and acted upon, so it's too late now. now features enough Sanskrit learning for playing along with the teeniest, tiniest conversation, and it's written as a 2nd person story using some of the structures that pop up in self-hypnosis scripts. It's not actually a self-hypnosis script, and while it may relax you a little, you should not start feeling very sleepy... but if you've always wanted to be able to walk up to a Buddhist monk and say, "Hi, I'm so and so, who are you..." in Sanskrit, your time has come!

You can find your First Conversation in Sanskrit here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Welcoming back Aspiring Polyglot

After a short hiatus, the Aspiring Polyglot popped back up in early March, though the lack of updates at Nederlands Newbie had led me not to check in until yesterday when, lo and behold, new posts were there, including an update on her language goals. And promises of something new to come.

Confessions, for its part, will continue to putter along at its present pace - more posts when work is slow, fewer when the office gets busy. Which also tends to describe my study habits, come to think of it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Extra Listening Practice

The other day, one of Edwin's commenters made reference to NextUp reading software. There's a free 15 day trial. The neat thing about the software is it can do the accents for a handful of languages. If you're interested in Mandarin you're out of luck. But for English, French, German, Spanish and Russian you can listen to text in your language instead of having to hunt for spoken mp3s. The quality is not the best (with the free voices, don't know about the ones for purchase). However, a trip to, followed by selecting of content in your target language gets you a chance for instant listening with a transcript - the article it's reading to you. I would not recommend this for developing your accent - better get real voices - but for listening comprehension it's worth a look.

Monday, March 05, 2007

How much have you learned?

Edwin is working on his French vocabulary using the Leitner method. But there's a lag in that system - and any system - for tracking between what you've actually learned and what you're just trying to learn. His solution is to stop tracking for how much he's learned according to the different levels (or decks, as it were), and resolve instead to keep growing the stock of words he's learning at a steady rate.

When they drag out the old saw about "it's the journey, not the destination," it doesn't quite fit with language learning. Because the journey is all there is. If you're not born a native speaker, you'll never be a native speaker. You may be in practice well enough to pass for one in a lot of interactions, but even at that, the lacunae in your knowledge will be in the wrong places. For example, you may know that TNT is what we say for high-energy explosives in general, and that it refers specifically to trinitrotoluene. But do you know what it means if someone complains that their sweater got "all wuzzled up" and now it looks funny? This is not to discourage, but simply to point out that this is a long-term effort. So pick an approach that will keep you moving forward, not one where you're focused on when you can stop. This is, I think, what Edwin has done.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Resolutions Update

It's that time again, time for another monthly review of the resolutions. They're posted below, with updates in italics.

Low-level conversational: Able to tell stories, use past, present and future and have basic conversations without those awkward "I know this but I have to remember" pauses.
-Regular reading from self-teaching manuals to get structured examples of the language in use.
-Regular reading of stories and poetry in Spanish.
-Read Borges' Ficciones in the original.
-Learn 4 songs in Spanish.

Learn in Your Car 1-1st 7 lessons; Lonely Planet grammar section; Mastering Spanish - 1st four chapters; section I of "El Inmortal" (Borges); Selected poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, first half of El Poder del Ahora, first three chapters (short) of La Inmortalidad by Kundera; first unit of Tell Me More Spanish completed. First 6 chapters of Spanish Among Amigos completed. "Escucha atento" learned.

Really low-level conversational: Able to handle basic conversations in the present tense.
-Michel Thomas Beginning and Advanced Italian courses
-Regular reading from self-teaching manuals to get structured examples of the language in use.
Update: Starting with Assimil's L'italien sans peine.
-Read Pinocchio in the original.
-Learn 4 songs in Italian.
Progress: still first 5 pages of Pinocchio; "Come se non fosse..." memorized.

Regain at least basic functionality.
-Michel Thomas Beginning and Advanced German Courses
Progress: nada

-Re-read Les Misérables.
-Finish my translation of "Melancholia" from the Contemplations.
Progress: nada

Turkish (a curiosity language):
Slightly greater familiarity
-Finish Pimsleur Turkish Basic Conversation (16 lessons).
-Read Le Petit prince in the Turkish translation.
Progress: First 5 pages of Petit prince read, first 6 Pimsleur lessons finished.

Uzbek (a curiosity language):
Slightly greater familiarity
-Learn at least 3 songs in Uzbek.
Progress: nada

General note: Lately, I've found myself really focused on Spanish. While I've been listening to Italian and French music, active learning has been relatively restricted. How does this fit into the multilingual scheme of things? I'm using three languages which relative confidence, though the usage of Spanish is less than perfect. And I'm understanding Italian fairly comfortably. German and the Turkic languages, on the other hand, are on hold at the moment.