Right, it’s now part-way through August, and apart from my tetchy, disgruntled rant about German vending machines, I’ve been neglecting this. Forgive me.
I moved in with D for 2 weeks, and at the beginning of August, moved to Eching. I say Eching, it’s actually Dietersheim, but apparently that counts as Eching? In any case, it’s a half hour walk to work (and therefore the nearest tube station) and I have pretty much everything crammed into one room. The house is owned by a couple who speak proper There’s-only-five-people-in-my-Kaff-Bavarian, which means that complete sentences are a rareity and most of the conversations we have are guesswork because neither party can understand what the other is saying particularly well.
Oh, and I think I’ve lost the French accent. Shame, I was quite enjoying pretending to be French.
So to catch up:
After I moved in with D, I flew home as a surprise for my mother’s birthday. I flew home the night before and my uncle collected me at the airport, so I spent the night with him and my Gran (he lives in France normally, so when he’s back he stays at the family home) and my Dad came and picked me up the next morning. The thing was, he simply told my mother that he was going out to buy the newspaper. I told Mum that I was going out Friday night and so would phone her during the day sometime. So he came over to Gran’s and we then spent 2 hours trying to wrap up a box big enough to fit me in. I should explain that the day before, I’d doctored an Amazon confirmation of order email and sent it to my mother, so that it looked like I’d bought her something called “Surprise Mystery Box” and that it was arriving on the day. Eventually, we got everything sorted, I hopped in the boot of the car and we drove back. Now, when my father usually goes out to the supermarket he takes several hours, so the fact that we’d taken 2 hours to get back wasn’t too unusual, but I could hear them coming back out to the car (I’d stayed in the boot for best impact) and my mother was none too impressed with the amount of time it had taken him to simply buy a newspaper and a “gift that was too heavy to get out of the car” by himself (thanks, Dad).
Then he opened the boot whilst she was mid-sentence and she saw the Surprise Mystery Box with me behind it. It’s not often I see my mother speechless, so to break the ice I came out with “Mama! Fancy seeing you here!”
Then I had to fly back out the following day because I had to work. /grizzle
The next bit of travelling I did was to take 2 days holiday, and try out the Deutsche Bahn service between Munich and Berlin. My excuse was a house warming party and the fact that I’ve never really properly visited Berlin. This resulted in staying up quite late, having an absolute whale of a time and somehow managing to bring back more luggage that what I started out with.
Then it was back to Munich to work again. (There’s a pattern beginning to emerge here.)
Oh, and in the meantime Ben moved out to Munich, so I now have someone to pester about being bored :D
Except he’s buggered off to Bonn until Monday, so I’m by myself again, but I’ll come to that in a minute.
My next bit of travelling is this coming Wednesday, when I fly home for a week. It’s my Grandmother’s birthday on the Tuesday and I feel bad about not being there. Combined with nobody being in the office, and me wanting to avoid having all phone calls redirected to me, I thought I’d mosey back home.
Oh, and about a week and a half ago, I was sitting at my desk in the office and it was one of those days where I was having to wear my reading glasses. The next thing I know, my bosses show in this random man saying “We don’t have any blonde girls, but we can offer brunettes…”
My first reaction was to think that it sounded like a horribly dodgy deal of some sort. It was in fact, a member of the photography department looking for someone to pose as a Promovierende (kinda like a PhD student) for photos for our new publicity material. Apparently me wearing my glasses was exactly what he was looking for, so I ended up going and taking part in a photo shoot in one of the science labs where we got to play around with petri-dishes full of coloured water and pipettes.
Shame one of my bosses took one look at the finished pictures this week and burst out laughing. Apparently, the colours of the water make the image look like it ought to be part of a Durex promotional campaign. Great.
As a result of all the working, moving and running around, I’ve not had much in the way of time to read – except when I’ve either been on a plane/train for at least an hour or two. I have however, taken a break from reading linguistic material to read trashy vampire novels aimed at teenagers that were on Amazon for under a pound each.
Having said that, I did discover “Don’t Sleep, there are Snakes” – which is a cross between memoirs and linguistic material and presents evidence which yet again bring Chomsky’s theories into question.
I know it must currently look like I have something against Chomsky’s work, but to be honest this is more about me reading theories which go against the mainstream ideas. Think of it as a kind of academic rebellion, if you will. Either that, or just being open-minded.
The book is written by Daniel Everett and offers an account of his work with the Pirahã (pee-da-HAN) tribe in the Amazon rainforest. He originally went as a missionary and to study their language. Whilst there, he made some interesting discoveries, managed to adapt to a completely different lifestyle and culture, began to question his faith and generally makes my current year abroad pale in significance.
The entire account is fascinating, but what interested me most is the linguistic evidence that the Pirahã culture actively influences their language and that each shapes the other. For example, this is a language which has no words for colour – something I think Chomsky said was “innate” (feel free to correct me; it’s been a while since I’ve read this book) – they focus on the present and only tell stories about things which have recently happened. He began to question his faith when he realised that when you tell stories to people from the Pirahã tribe, you have to be able to justify it – not with literature, but with eye witness accounts, or the whole thing gets dismissed.
So trashy vampire novels aside, that was quite interesting and rewarding to read at the same time.
My current read (physical copy, not Kindle format) is “Through the Language Glass” by Guy Deutscher, who, if you’ve read my other posts, you should already be acquainted with. If you don’t know who he is, then shame on you and go read the post where I first mentioned him.
This book deals with the question that he briefly mentioned in “The Unfolding of Language” to only say that it was fascinating but there simply wasn’t the space in the book. Here, he looks at the influence of language and culture on each other and in the second part, how language shapes cognitive skills and our perception of the world.
Having started it this morning, I’m only part way through the first chapter, which has so far consisted of an analysis of the use of colour in Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad, which probably sounds boring, but actually is quite interesting. If anything, blame a certain Mr. Gladstone (yes, that one).
As previously said, Deutscher’s style is easily accessible and it’s satisfying to read something vaguely academic and be able to understand it without looking up every other word.
I still maintain this guy has the brain the size of a planet, though.
On a related note (how language shapes thought, not brains the size of planets), I found a series of interesting articles in the German language magazine, Gehirn & Geist, which I might try and use for my mammoth task of writing 4,000 words on some Anglo-German cultural relations topic.
It’s not due in for ages, but when I’m given a free-reign to choose what I want to write about, I take forever to come up with something interesting (and good enough). Although what usually happens is that I choose something and then change my mind and write about something completely different the night before the deadline.
Somehow I don’t think I’ll be able to get away with it this time.
Anyway, back to recent events.
This weekend is a long one because tomorrow (Monday) is a Feiertag, or Bank Holiday. I didn’t realise this until Thursday night, otherwise I would have booked earlier flights. So my plan was to go and visit various museums and wander around Munich all weekend. Yesterday I woke up late (result) and ended up missing the bus there and had to walk for half an hour to get to the tube station. I ended up wandering around a bit, did some reading with a cup of tea and came back only to discover that I’d also missed the last bus back. (Cue lots of cursing public transport and living am
Arsch Ende der Welt)
I then saw that on Sundays and Feiertags, there’s no bus service. It’s about 30 degrees today, so there’s no way I’m walking to the tube station. Bugger that for a laugh. So whilst I was planning on wandering around art museums and the Jewish Museum here in Munich to look for inspiration for essay topics, I have in fact spent my time cat-napping, reading and generally lounging about; I can’t say it’s a bad thing.
It has meant that I’ve been reading up on Yiddish in Jewish culture, learning some more Russian and of course reading Deutscher’s book. Unfortunately for my bank balance, this has resulted in me buying yet more books. Oops.
The seemingly random interest in Yiddish has reasoning behind it; it’s not quite on a whim. I was informed recently of the death of a relative, which had one of those profound impacts on me – as something so sudden and tragic often does – and it made me realise that 1) life is too short and 2) for some us, time isn’t in great supply; something which saddens me greatly.
It also reinforces/reminds me of something that was said to me last year by someone who I consider a mentor (or Studium-Mutter if you like) – a fiercely intelligent woman – “wir sind alle sterblich”. Sad, but true.
I remember being told that there is Jewish heritage in my family, but until fairly recently, it’s seldom been mentioned. So I’ve started looking into Jewish culture and more specifically, Yiddish. Yiddish is – quite literally – “Jewish”; “Yid” being Yiddish for Jew. Looking into it, it’s has an extremely complex (and therefore fascinating) relationship with Jewish culture – at various stages it has either been rejected or viewed with pride – and considering both the East End of London (where apparently said Jewish part of my family lived) and Munich have got somewhat chequered histories involving Jewish culture, I’ve been wondering whether it’s possible to compare the two and somehow link it to Yiddish and its status within the respective Jewish communities.
I do realise, however, that it’s beginning to increasingly sound like a dissertation topic or PhD thesis material.
On a final and random note: while at home, I often play about with the English language (my father, easily confused by my creations, calls it massacring) and I tend to add syllables to words, for example “lucozade” becomes “lucomazade”, and “interesting” becomes “intermeresting”. You can imagine my surprise and delight (and my father’s despair) when I found this in the local supermarket: