April 30, 2006

Negation day in the news

A report by Kerry Grens on All Things Considered, 4/29/2006, starts like this:

Today is negation day. The class works out how to say something wasn't, isn't, didn't or won't. Seven linguistics majors arrange themselves in a loose circle around native Kisii speaker Henry Gekonde, and press him for data.

The subject is a language documentation course at the University of New Hampshire, taught by Naomi Nagy, and focusing this year on Kisii or Gusii, with MA student Henry Gekonde acting as language consultant.

There are many such courses around the world -- though not as many as there should be -- but Prof. Nagy's course has at least one uncommon characteristic: local radio and TV crews, and a media page.

I've always thought that such "field methods" classes are not only interesting to linguists, but also inherently mediagenic. Even for people without much interest in other kinds of linguistics, it's fascinating to watch that kind of exploratory analysis unfold. But I never did anything to act on this belief, and I'm impressed that Naomi has involved local journalists in documenting her documentation course.

This particular course has a good personal-interest story line as well: Gekonde, who has a journalism degree from Indiana and worked as a copy editor on a paper near UNH, is getting a linguistics MA and plans to return to Kenya to create a dictionary for his native language, which is spoken by a million and a half people in Kenya but is not normally used in written forms.

[Naomi Nagy got her PhD in 1996 from the University of Pennsylvania, where I teach. Her dissertation was on Faetar, a Francoprovençal dialect displaced about 1,500 kilometers from southern France to a couple of villages in Apulia, near Naples, where migrants (soldiers from the army of Charles of Anjou?) settled some 600 years ago. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 30, 2006 12:33 AM