First, my grandparents are... well... melting down. I'll spare everyone most of the gory details, since my family makes up probably half of the people who read this site regularly anyway, but suffice it to say that my grandmother's "intermediate"-level Alzheimer's has suddenly progressed to "advanced" ("extreme", "psychotic", pick your adjective). As is typical for the disease, she has 'better' and 'worse' moments, but still, it's a sudden and severe change. The stories I'm hearing involve her not recognizing my grandfather, trying to call the police about a "strange man in the house", calling him names and saying he's "stealing from us", packing suitcases and sitting out on the driveway waiting for someone to pick her up so she can "go live somewhere else", etc. Yeah... it's bad. Part of me is glad I'm up here and not involved, and the other part of me feels like I should be involved. Needless to say, Mom is no longer coming to visit for fall break.
Which brings me to my next point... that I am finally out of school for four blissful days. I'm excited. I had a Persian exam today (which went decently well, if not perfectly - I memorized a ton of stuff we turned out not to need, then forgot how to say the simple words 'nine' and 'also') so she didn't give us any homework, and neither did the phonetics teacher (who even let us out ten minutes early - a first for him). Except... at around 3pm today, my Mayan languages teacher sent us an email detailing two assignments we need to do for next week, then had the gall to end the message with, "Have a really great break!" Sure. Yeah. Whatever you say. Along with that, I have to do my portion of our article report for phonetics, but that isn't a big deal - it'll actually be enjoyable, because Jenna, my class partner, found a really cool article for us to do. It's about whether or not it's possible to obtain a nativelike accent in a foreign language after the supposed Critical Period for language-learning (which ends at puberty). That's something I've often wondered about myself, because so many people have mistaken me for a native Dutch speaker, even though I didn't start learning the language until I was 18. Basically, what the article concludes is that a very small population of language learners CAN develop a nativelike accent, but a number of factors have to be in play, like a high level of motivation to sound native (I definitely had that) and a certain innate ability to adjust the parameters of one's sound perceptions. That's because they say native speakers of one language tend to classify sounds they hear in a foreign language by the same classifications they use for their native language - meaning English 'oh', like 'over', and Dutch 'eu', like 'leuk', actually SOUND the same to them. The difference is plain as day to me and always has been, even from my very first 'vocabulary lessons' at camp with Linde (that's another one! LindA vs LindE... I hear the difference easily, but native English speakers don't), and I always wondered why other English speakers had such horrible accents in Dutch and Spanish. I assumed it was just because they felt stupid trying to 'put on' an accent that didn't come naturally. But apparently it's just because they really can't hear a difference. Amazing.
Aside: I'm starting to like phonetics a little more than I did at first. I got a 100 on the midterm, and ever since then, things have been a little more enjoyable for me in there. We've also moved on to subjects I've had before, like IPA sounds, so I grasp the concepts a little better than I did at first, too. It's by no means fantastic, but I don't dread class anymore. Today we got to look at spectrograms (funny zigzaggy lines tracing people's speech) and try to figure out what was being said. We could usually get the vowels easily, but had more trouble with the consonants. It was a fun game. At one point, there were some letters filled in and others still blank, and after calling out a vowel possibility (which turned out to be right), I started to giggle. When everyone turned to look at me, I said, "This has got to be the weirdest game of Wheel of Fortune I've ever played!" (The whole class cracked up.)
...What I DO dread are syntax and Mayan languages. Syntax, which I at first thought would be cool, is the most boring class I've ever taken in my life (with the possible exception of Mr. O'Connor's Contemporary History class at Stanton), and Mayan languages, which I thought would get better as it went on, has gotten worse. All the grades I've gotten in there have been high, but I'm becoming more and more of a slacker just because I totally hate what I'm doing. Picking out bits and pieces of a little picture, which doesn't even look like what the teacher says it represents, and trying to find similar representations in other places, which look EQUALLY as cryptic... how am I supposed to realize that this particular muddle of shapes is a bird's head and that one is a crocodile? They look exactly the same, and NEITHER ONE of them looks like an animal! And supposedly this one represents the sound 'pi', and this one represents 'tsi', except sometimes the vowels can be different, and sometimes they drew it different ways, and "we don't really know why, that's just how it is." GRRRR. I should have just sucked it up and gotten up two hours earlier every day to take Sociolinguistics - something I'm actually good at and ENJOY. Sigh. Maybe next year.
Anyway, the newest development is that I think I'm going to go to Myrtle Beach this weekend and visit the UF club team. They're going to a meet at Coastal Carolina University, which we were also going to go to except that there wasn't enough interest due to fall break and people going out of town. But it's only a 4-hour drive, and I know Anna and Shannon (two of my closest friends from that team) will be there, and it sounds like it'll be a fun weekend - they have a really nice hotel reserved, right on the beach. I'll probably end up sleeping on the floor, but since I don't have to swim in the meet, it won't matter. I'll just be there for the beach-going and restaurant-meal-eating. :) I really miss everyone and can't wait to see them all again.
Not to get all 'heavy' on you guys, but this is the first time I can remember feeling genuinely EXCITED about something in a while. The triathlon made me happy, as does the anticipation of the new Josh Groban album/tour (I'm on those messageboards almost every day chatting with other fans and looking for info), and the baby I take care of often cheers me up (because you can't help but feel maternal when you go to pick up a sleepy-eyed, tousle-haired, binky-mouthed one-year-old from his crib), but those are about the only things these days. Liz is usually my primary source of amusement/diversion (conversations, pizza, Disney movies, cookies, Bridget Jones, fits of laughter...), and she's in China for another five days. It feels like I'm just going about my business - going to class, doing homework, working out, eating, sleeping - with nothing much to look forward to. I mean, I do like it here in NC, don't get me wrong - but this swim team, although it has a few cool people on it, is nowhere near as awesome as UF's, and that was my primary social connection there. Of my three roommates, Liz is the only one I genuinely like a lot, and of my three fellow new linguistics graduate students, it's Jenna. (She's also the only other one who's a master's candidate like me - maybe that has something to do with it.) So they're basically my only two close friends here - I have friendly acquaintances, sure, but not a lot of people I'm really close to. My first year at UF was this way too, I remember, but I was close to home then, plus I had a network of high school friends that I was still in close contact with, even if they weren't physically present. And I liked my classes back then... that was the beginning of my infatuation with the Dutch language. *wistful sigh* I really needed that Dixie Chicks concert this weekend (with my EIGHTH ROW CENTER ticket!), and this stupid red state couldn't dig up enough people to sell it out, so it got canceled. Boooo!
I can't wait for this semester to be over. My classes next semester are better (Persian II, Phonology, Language Acquisition, and Historical Linguistics), and I can't stop kicking myself for ever signing up for Mayan languages, or for not dropping it during the first week when I had an inkling of foreboding. I COULD technically still drop it now, but I'm in so deep (and with good grades) that it would be stupid, since it counts toward my degree. Ah, well. I'll stick it out. Only nine more weeks of classes, and there's Thanksgiving to look forward to, too.
OK, I'm sure I'm bumming everyone out at this point, so I'll shut up.
Tomorrow = homework, Gray's Anatomy
Friday = drive to Myrtle Beach
Saturday = hang out with the UF team, yay!
Sunday = possibly go see Flicka
Monday = back to school