January 12, 2004

Exam Week

I have exams this week: Russian tonight, Chinese on Thursday, my Russian oral on Friday, then the Chinese oral next Wednesday. Consequently, slow blogging. I have been fairly active on A Fistful of Euros rather than here, but I'm going to put up a fairly political post here soon. Since it's rather to the left of AFOE, I thought this would be a better venue.

I'm not prepared for my Russian exam. Frankly, the textbook is the major problem. There are, according to the prof, no good Russian texts in Dutch, so she picked the least bad of a crappy lot. That means that she departs from the text a lot, and since the text doesn't have vocabulary lists after each chapter, there is no fixed lexicon that I can just study. I have to use my frequently disorganised notes.

That isn't that way I like to study language. Language is something you sort of muddle through until you get a feel for it. Anyway, we'll see how it goes this evening.

I'm much better prepared for my Chinese exam, or at least I think so. The "luister exam" - listening test - didn't go that well, but I did okay. That means I'll have a little time between tonight's exam and Thursday's. So, with some luck I'll get to this big post I have in mind tomorrow. There are a number of threads that I think I can incorporate into something useful: Marx' On the Jewish Question (discussed here), the headscarf issue in Europe (look here and here), this post over at Crooked Timber, and some of the ideas behind Islamic law.

Update: The Russian exam went okay, I think. There were only two questions out of 50 that I had no idea about, and one where I just guessed. Can any of my Russophone readers tell me when the right answer was to this one:

Fill in the blank:

Он _____________, Она бабушка.

[If the Russian hasn't come through in readable form:

On __________, Ona babushka.]

Posted 2004/01/12 15:30 (Mon) | TrackBack


Posted by: vaara at January 12, 2004 23:37

Holy shit! I think that means I got that question right!

Posted by: Scott Martens at January 12, 2004 23:54

Not to pry, but what is your language goal? English, French, German, Dutch, Russian, Chinese....

Pretty impressive. I have a reading knowledge of that many language, but am orally very, very weak in all of them, and my reading knowledge is limited to topics of interest to me (which means that I can read stuff that native speakers often can't, such as Old French or Classical Chinese, but not the daily paper very quickly.)

Posted by: zizka at January 13, 2004 16:29

Zizka, goal? To die aged 130 irritating some cute 20-something language teacher while studying in her second year class in some improbable language. :^)

Chinese started as an investment. Programmers face a lot of age discrimination and I do not want to be a 50 year old UNIX-jockey begging for sub-entry level wages writing spaghetti in some commerical code mill. I can do copywriting, but that doesn't pay very well and it takes time to build up a client base. That leaves me with one other saleable skill: languages.

So, I said to myself, the Soviet Union is gone. Who will America be fighting in 2020? What language will the enemy be speaking? Who will be working in a seller's market as a linguistic gateway to a distant land that people will want to know about, because they're supposed to be the bad guys?

I took a look at the world and put my money on China. If I had known 9/11 was going to happen, I swear, I would have studied Arabic.

Now, it's pure stubbornness that keeps me working on Chinese. I will not give up just because it's hard. Besides, my ego is at stake. I can't properly speak a single non-Indo-European language. Bahasa would have been a simpler choice, but Chinese... Man, when people think you can speak Chinese they know you're good with languages.

Russian is actually useful. I've had quite a lot of success drawing out-of-the-mainstream ideas from Russian academia, and I'm hampered by my lack of knowledge of the language. Besides, it too is an investment. In 20 years, Russia will be Europe's Mexico and somebody's going to have be the go-between.

In my dreams, none of this is strictly necessary. I get a PhD, a cushy academic job, do some research in cognitive science, write a couple books, win a Nobel Prize (in what? God only knows, this is a fantasy), and live secure on my personal fame and prestige. But, I thought it might make sense to have a back-up plan, and languages are it.

I'd like to learn a Bantu language as well - my family connection to Kikongo makes me want to give that a shot - and maybe relearn Inuktitut and take a shot at Eastern Cree again. Bahasa actually looks pretty easy and I liked Malaysia, so I might try that too. Arabic would be nice, but it's too big an investment for me to think about now. Spanish I could probably pick up pretty quickly.

Will I do any of this? I don't know. I can't really claim to have a fixed goal. I just like languages, and I endeavor to have someone pay me because of it.

Posted by: Scott Martens at January 13, 2004 17:40

Молодец! (I hope that worked.)

Posted by: vaara at January 14, 2004 12:23

Something tells me that the Babelfish translation - "fine person" is missing some nuance.


Posted by: Scott Martens at January 16, 2004 15:26

You know, Scott, there still isn't a good Burushaski/Nivkh Nivkh/Burushaski dictionary available. You could make writing one your goal.

Posted by: zizka at January 18, 2004 7:12
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