Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday and other thoughts

This morning I slept in until 6:30. I wanted to sleep even later because of my late night last night, but at this time of year, if you wake up too late, you cannot go out walking with a dog at all. Dogs don't wear straw sun hats or dog shoes to protect their paws from the hot summer pavement.

After watering my sunflowers, feeding Yuki and Jesse, and letting Jesse roam outside a bit, Yuki and I set out for our walk. I stashed some coffee money in Yuki's leash pocket and off we went, into the quiet streets of my neighborhood, out into the sweet heat of early morning Tucson.

Near the University we saw Michael with Bernard, his little dog that has a face like the Grinch. I think Bernard is related to the bulldog, but more compact and without jowls. Michael, Bernard, Yuki, and I walked swiftly towards campus and coffee, with little Bernard setting the pace.

We got coffee at Espresso Art Café. I wanted to drink my coffee out of a ceramic cup rather than from a to-go paper cup, so I sat under an umbrella at a sidewalk table with Yuki to drink my americano. Michael took his coffee in a to-go cup and he and Bernard walked over to campus. The café owner said that Yuki looked like a Japanese Spitz. "He has a Japanese name," I said, "Yuki!"

I asked the owner of Espresso Art Café where he was from originally; was his English accent Turkish? Greek? From where, I wondered. He said "Romania", which instantly made me think of Andrei Codrescu's voice and his humorous NPR essays on life in America. I asked him whether he'd ever seen the documentary, Road Scholar (1993), about Codrescu's trip through quirky America as a newly licensed driver and an American immigrant. He said he hadn't, but that he saw Codrescu on PBS just a few days ago. He brought some water out for Yuki in a plastic dish.

Done with my americano, we headed over to the lawn by the Arizona State Museum. The grass is so nice and cool in there and Yuki likes to sniff at the bases of the date palms and olive trees. I thought I'd let Yuki run around in the shadows of the olive tree area. But, a large group of around 25-30 people were in a circle near the roses with a leader standing in the center saying something, and I wanted to see. I wasn't close enough yet to hear the language being spoken, but from their faces and clothing, I thought they could be Chinese, maybe the Falun Gong group I have seen doing exercises in the same area.

I could hear a low chanting beginning as we got closer to the circle, then something else that I said to myself must be "speaking in tongues". During the time they chanted and spoke those sounds, I listened as unobtrusively as I could, leading Yuki around to sniff trees, close enough to hear, but far enough so as not to intrude. Yes, that must be speaking in tongues. In a flash, I remembered one of my Korean friends from MIIS who told me of her joy in learning to speak in tongues with her church.

When the circle of people began to form a line and walk onto the main sidewalk, I walked Yuki in their general direction in order to hear what language they were speaking. Ahh, they were speaking Korean. I asked a woman who they were and what they were doing. She said they were from a church and I saw hangyul (Korean letters) on some of the name tags that they wore. She added that they were walking through the campus praying for the safety of the university. "Oh", I said, and we both smiled. A few people turned to admire Yuki with those familiar oooh and ahhh sounds I've heard often over the years I've walked with Yuki.

* * *

Yesterday before the Soirée, which was a lot of fun, by the way, I read an article from The New Yorker I'd received that afternoon via email from another MIIS friend. The article is mainly about the language spoken by a group of people in the Amazon, the Pirahã, and the American linguist who has been studying their language and culture for 25 years, Dan Everett. The Pirahã "have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” or “few”—terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition" (p. 2).

The big claim is that the "Pirahã displays no evidence of recursion, a linguistic operation that consists of inserting one phrase inside another of the same type, as when a speaker combines discrete thoughts (“the man is walking down the street,” “the man is wearing a top hat”) into a single sentence (“The man who is wearing a top hat is walking down the street”). Noam Chomsky, the influential linguistic theorist, has recently revised his theory of universal grammar, arguing that recursion is the cornerstone of all languages, and is possible because of a uniquely human cognitive ability" (p. 2).

Here's the link to the entire article, published on April 16, 2007. It's a long read, but quite intriguing about the language of a tribe in the Amazon.

"...the tribe embodies a living-in-the-present ethos so powerful that it has affected every aspect of the people’s lives. Committed to an existence in which only observable experience is real, the Pirahã do not think, or speak, in abstractions" (p. 10).

* * * *

I read the article.
The article was interesting.
The article was long.
The article was about recursion.
Were Dick and Jane Pirahã?
And Spot, too?

1 comment:

kathy whilden said...

I read that article and also thought it was intriguing. You make Tuscan seem so wonderful, I am slowly changing my prejudices against Arizona.