The Laursonian Institute

The Laursonian Institute

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Posts tagged OT


I can’t remember the last time I spent a whole afternoon making optimality theory tableaux.  I think it was 2004.  And I think they were on syllabification in Nuxalk.  The next summer I found a Nuxalk dictionary in a speciality bookshop near MIT while Lewis and I were hanging out at the 2005 LSA summer institute.  I don’t know if I’ll ever really have use for a Nuxalk dictionary, but it’s one of my more cherished silly books.  Doing OT is amusing, though much of the time spent doing the work is making the tableaux, which is just asking for everything that could possibly go wrong with word processing software to do so.  Turns out I have two Linux-related OT problems:  a) OpenOffice doesn’t permit dashed lines in tables (!) so I can’t show my unranked constraints properly, and b) the bomb symbol isn’t in unicode!  At least I finally found my pointing hand.  For a minute there, it felt like OT was going to demand Microsoft Word, and that just seems like a ridiculous presupposition for a phonological theory.

But speaking of the LSA… what am I going to do this year?  In more prosperous times (read: no rent to pay) I would have been there in a flash.  The institute is at Berkeley this year, commutable from home, which makes it seem a bit like an opportunity I couldn’t possibly pass up.  On the other hand, committing 6 weeks of my 12 week summer to commuting to Berkeley every day and not having a job seems like a pretty poor idea.  Coupled with the fact that I could only go if I got a fellowship to cover tuition (admittedly a not-unlikely prospect) and that students with fellowships are required to attend all six weeks instead of one of the two three-week sessions generally open to the linguisty public and furthermore that there aren’t really 8 classes I want to take… makes me wonder if it’s worth going.  I need letters of rec and transcripts as well as a personal statement to apply for the fellowship before next week, and I’m really feeling uninspired and unsure about my summer.  My graduate advisor reaaaally wants me to go (and wants to write one of my letters of rec)… but meh.  Money is a pain in the ass.  On the other hand, infinite time and means seems like a bit much to ask.

I made saurkraut-y cabbage tonight.  It wasn’t intended to be kraut-esque; I used the Chez Panisse recipe for warm cabbage, apple, and onion salad.  But it sure was good, at any rate.  Had dinner over one of my favorite new public television related activities – watching Huell Howser.  When I was in LA, he really used to get under my skin.  Though Pinks did have a hotdog named after him, which should have been a tip-off of his potential greatness.  Anyway, for some reason his boundless enthusiasm and child-like irrepressability warms my heart at the end of a long day.  Who couldn’t use a few more handy facts about out-of-the-way California towns?  Today we learned about Smallsville and Timbuctoo.  High quality.

Structuralist / Anastructuralist

What a ridiculously successful day.  I don’t even really know where to start.  I’m really tired, I should have gone to bed hours ago when I got tired, but I’ve been on such a roll, and there’s so much little stuff I could be getting done.  Lately it’s been seeming like I don’t need as much sleep as I need to get stuff done.  In other words, I’m getting physically exhausted before I get mentally worn out, which is a rarity.  I think this is probably good.

So there’s not actually that much to report from the day.  Feeling of success is mostly stemming from the meeting with my research advisor this afternoon.  Before that I just had Quechua, and it went pretty well, though was sadly full of frustratingly unexplained new and strange grammatical junk.  I guess that’s always what I get in Quechua.  Anyway, after that I met up with my research advisor and sort of brain dumped everything I’d been working on, and through a series of things I don’t really want to rehash it seems that I’ve gotten him really excited about the direction of my project, and I’ve uncovered the threads from which I might unravel some of my fundamental misunderstandings of Optimality Theory.  I really can’t go over how much this excites me.  It’s like a choose your own adventure version of my mental life.  I do a lot of work, I turn a lot of pages, and with every page I turn, another little hint is dropped… thus a whole mental universe contained in pages connected to pages connected to pages.  My own mental labrinth.

I’ve gone astray.  Met later in the afternoon (after a trip with Lewis to Sams… mmm) with my TA professor for a tiny meeting on this week’s homework grading.  Another thing I can’t say enough of:  how nice this professor is to work with.  So far, at least, he’s been really considerate, pleasant, and amiable.  He also ascented to look over anything I need while I’m working on this phonology paper (as he is, in fact, a phonologist).  This is great.  I’m TAing for his Optimality Theory class, so it’s the perfect stage for us to get our brains together on the Optimality Theory portion of the paper I’m working on. As an added bonus, my graduate program advisor had just recommeded him to me as a likely candidate to be on my PhD committee if I am in fact going to go forward with a phonology thesis.  I can’t imagine doing otherwise, so good to get the relevant folks on my side earlier than later!

Saw a colloquium from John Ohala this evening, which was slightly less eventful than I might have hoped.  At first, his presentation seemed to be speaking directly to the conversation I had been having with my research advisor, but then it veered off in a different direction and left me wanting.  It was nice to see everyone I know all in one room at once though, since pretty much the entire lingusitics program – professors and graduate students alike – was in attendance.  It’s always good to see famousy linguists talk though, if for no other reason than it’s healthy to separate the reputation from the man and to see how peers interact in these environments.  I’d like to think I wouldn’t been so star struck as to avoid the risk of making a fool of myself in front of someone big-named  in favor of being meek.  It’s funny how much of my graduate school education lately seems to be learning to operate as an equal and valid individual in such a small field.

Tomorrow… doctors appointment, and only one class!  Also, perhaps, picking out new frames for my glasses!  Could be good times.