s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: April 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Learning Swedish, part 2 (Reading Comprehension)

I found a really great online Swedish-English dictionary, so I decided to jump into some reading comprehension. (The “really great” part about the dictionary is that it will uninflect entry words, so I don’t have to know anything about Swedish declension or conjugation to use it.) The ever-subversive Petra pointed out that if I could probably get away with learning Swedish in Sacrament Meeting if I was reading a Church magazine, so I’m plowing through the Swedish Friend, which is about at my level. (She also pointed out that reading a work originally written in Swedish is preferable to reading one translated from English, but I don’t really care at this point.)

In Swedish, The Children’s Friend is called

Lilla Stjärnan: För Barn
(Small Stars: For the Child)

The dictionary entry for “lilla” is “liten.” They’re both adjectives, so I wasn’t sure what the difference was.
Another website informs me that “After an identifying word . . . ‘liten’ is changed to ‘lilla’” and then proceeds to give me a list of “identifying words,” which include determiners (more or less) and names or nouns in the genitive. That’s fine, but I don’t see anything in front of “Lilla Stjärnan” at all, let alone an “identifying word.” Just one of the mysteries of Swedish, I suppose.

I guessed that “barn” might be a cognate of the English “bairn,” and the OED confirms it. That’s kind of cool.

Ärlige Morgan
(Honest Morgan)

I thought that “Morgan” might be a cognate of the German “Morgen,” making the title something like “Early morning” (which would go along with the picture of two kids at the breakfast table). The actual Swedish cognate is “morgon”; “Morgan” is just a name (of someone who is apparently honest, or who will be by the end of the story).

En dag körde Morgan sin leksakslastbil över köksbordet.
(One day Morgan drove his toy truck across the kitchen table.)

“Leksakslastbil” is kind of fun because it breaks down into “leksaks” (“toy”) and “lastbil” (“truck”), which further break down into “lek” (“play”), “saks” (“thing”), “last” (“load”), and “bil” (“car”). So it’s a play-thing-load-car. Also, it looks like Swedish does the same thing as German, where the verb and subject switch if the sentence starts with an adverbial time phrase. (And Melyngoch said it had no verb-seconding! Oh du of little faith!)

Morgans lillebror Jacksen satt i sin stol och tittade på.
(Morgan’s baby brother Jacksen sat in his chair and watched.)

“Lillebror” could also be “little brother,” but the picture makes it clear that he’s a baby. (This will become an important plot point later on, when it comes time for Morgan to be honest. I hope I’m not giving too much away, here.)

I think that’s all I have time for, today. Sorry to keep you in suspense about the rest of the story. I’ll try to finish it up later in the week.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Things I get to do, 9b

I wanted to explain how #9 on my list actually works, because it’s kind of cool.

In my supervisor’s desk, there is a special orange card. There are about four of these cards in existence and their purpose is to identify us (as catalogers) to the staff at whatever library we visit. (The U of I library system is huge, with over 40 departmental libraries, so we don’t all know each other by sight.) If we need to pull a book from the stacks, we take the orange card and go to whatever library to find the book we need. (If it’s in the main library stacks, we also have to show student ID to get in because that library has closed stacks.) And then we go up to the circulation desk, flash the orange card, and say something like “Excuse me, ma’am, I’m from 220, and I’m going to have to take this book with me. Little problem with the ISBN. I’m sure you understand.” And then they go ahead and demagnetize* the book for you and you walk out with it.

Unfortunately, this scenario doesn’t always play out quite that way in real life, since the person manning the circ. desk is often an hourly student worker who’s never seen an orange card before and doesn’t know what to do. (“No! It’s the orange card. You just let me take the book and walk out. This was a lot cooler in my head!”)

At any rate, I haven’t had the chance to use the venerated orange card more than a couple of times since I started working in the cataloging department. Including that time that I accidentally deleted all record of a book’s existence from the online catalog. That was sort of bad. (Not entirely my fault, but still not the end result we were going for.)

*Strictly speaking, they magnetize it when it goes out and they demagnetize it when it comes back in. Most people, even those who work in library security or circulation, have it backwards.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Learning Swedish, part 1 (An IPA Rant)

By a curious twist of fate, I had the opportunity last year to research online introductory Swedish tutorials as part of my answer to Board Question #26659. (Eleka Nahmen seems to have been surprisingly prescient in the matter. Is it possible that she has inside contacts at the mission office?)

Now that I’ve committed myself to learning Swedish, I have to go back and take my own annoying advice about focusing on my ultimate linguistic goal, finding a support base, blah, blah, blah. (Actually, I think it was sound advice, especially the part about learning what you can for free. It’s just more fun to give advice than it is to take it.)

So I’ve been looking over the resources I originally linked, plus some new ones I’ve since found. I’ve learned that Swedish has two genders (common and neuter), two cases (nominative and genitive), three extra letters (å, ä, and ö, but not ø – that’s Danish), a “voiceless palatal-velar fricative” which may or may not actually have two places of articulation (Melyngoch promises she will determine, once and for all, if this is the case), as well as 9 vowels which comprise 17 phonemes.

As it turns out, that last one is a bit of a problem, since the phonetic transcription of these 17 vowels (plus another 18 consonants) is very inconsistent. One website described a sound as “a soft ‘ch’.” What does that even mean?! I’m guessing it means either /∫/, /ç/, /x/, or even /t∫/, but I’ve no idea which one. Another sound is described as “the vowel in ‘awe’,” which is fine, but there’s a significant difference in the pronunciation of that word between speakers of various dialects of English speakers, and how am I to know which one he’s referring to? I recognize that IPA isn’t the most intuitive transcription system in the world and the symbols can be a bit finicky to display online, but the beauty of it is that you only have to learn it once, and then you can figure out how to pronounce anything that’s written in it, instead of having to invent and decode arbitrary transcription systems on the fly. And you can still include phonetic approximation for the lay person, you just have to say “this sounds like /ɔ/ which is the vowel in ‘awe’.” (And I can say “Actually, in my dialect, that vowel is /ɑ/, but now I know exactly what vowel you’re referring to and can proceed accordingly.)

Seriously, people. IPA. It’s the future. (Just like the metric system.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Things I get to do

1. Eat in the library.
2. Talk in the library.
3. Laugh and generally be loud in the library.
4. Write in books.
5. Mutilate books with a knife.
6. Go through the doors that say “staff only.”
7. Open software packages in books that say you can’t open them.
8. Take books out of the reference room that aren’t supposed to leave the reference room.
9. Take any book out of the library without checking it out.
10. Take an entire truck of books out of the library without checking them out.

I love my job.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


For those who haven’t heard, Melyngoch has been called to the Sweden, Stockholm mission. (So I guess that makes her Sister Melyngoch, come July.)

All day Thursday and Friday I was texting and emailing her to see if she’d gotten the envelope yet or if she’d opened it. I wanted to tell people at work that my best friend was waiting for her mission call, but I wasn’t in the mood to explain what a mission call is or how the whole process works. (Mel’s roommates were quite surprised to find out that you don’t get to pick where you go, for instance.)

So, for those of you who don’t know, it is a Mormon tradition that the missionary’s best friend also has to learn the mission language. OK, not really, but I tend to suffer from serious language envy, so we agreed that I’d learn whatever language she ended up learning. (Or if she went English-speaking, I would learn Old English. And if she went Cantonese-speaking, I would brush up on my Welsh, because I refuse to learn Cantonese. It’s hard.)

Since she’s been planning on going for a mission for a while, we’ve had a lot of time to speculate about where she might go. You don’t get to pick where you go, but the mission office does take some things, such as linguistic experience, into account. (A friend of mine spoke fluent Mandarin because his family had lived in Taiwan when he was in high school. He and his younger brother both went—surprise!—back to Taiwan. Of course, my cousin who tried to teach himself Swahili so he’d be sent to Kenya ended up serving in Uruguay. C’est la vie.)

We were sort of assuming she’d go Russian- or Slavic-speaking, given her two years of college Russian (со мной), but I think we can live with Swedish, especially since Melyngoch wanted to learn Old Norse at some point. (That girl has an obsession with dead languages. Necrolinguiphilia?)

Anyway, the country that brought us Swedish fish, the Swedish chef, and my great-grandmother can’t be all that bad. Off to learn Swedish!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Things Learned over the Weekend

1. Hermes handles really well on the interstate.
2. This means that Melyngoch likes to drive him really fast.
3. This makes Katya cranky.
4. Katya and Melyngoch are not a good navigating team.
5. The third floor of H&M is the best place, ever.
6. Buying mission clothes at H&M makes Melyngoch do a happy dance.
7. The Cheesecake Factory has the best food, ever.
8. Mishkin loves having company.
9. He’ll even sleep on the couch, play chauffeur when Katya and Duchess don’t feel like walking places, and drive Melyngoch back to Bloomington when Katya randomly decides she won’t.
10. I need to move somewhere close to Paper Source.
11. They don’t call it “The Windy City” for nothing.
12. There are lots of sailors in Chicago. (This has me baffled. Where, exactly, are they sailing to? Canada?)
13. The lines at the Shedd Aquarium are too long.
14. The lines at the Field Museum are too long.
15. The lines at the Museum of Science and Industry are not too long!
16. Trains are cool.
17. Robots are cool.
18. The whispering room is cool.
19. The thermal imager is the coolest thing, ever.
20. Katya really does have colder hands than anyone else.
21. Magnetic rocks are cool.
22. Slinkies are cool.
23. Duchess can fit all of the PVA into her suitcase if she tries really hard.
24. Katya can say incredibly dirty things on accident. (Note to self: When telling a story about a guy who was carrying a large box, one should probably avoid phrases like “he had a HUGE package.”)
25. The drive from Chicago to Urbana is an hour shorter than the drive from Bloomington to Urbana, but it’s a lot more boring.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Post-Lenten Thoughts

This year, for the first time in several years, I didn’t give anything up for Lent. Having already given up corn, potatoes, dairy, and eggs because of food allergies, I wasn’t really interested in giving up anything else, even temporarily. (I realize that I could have chosen to pick a non-food-related vice the way that people who can’t fast from food and water can still fast from something else, but Lent is not supposed to be an exercise in the theoretical limits of deprivation; I’m feeling deprived enough as it is.)

I had worried, over the past few years, that my yearly Lenten abstention had somewhat cheapened Easter for me. (The holiday had come to represent the day I could once again have chocolate, first, and the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, second.) However, not celebrating Lent this year made Easter drop almost entirely off my radar screen. I had a vague idea that it was coming, since it was almost April and we’d had General Conference, but I wasn’t aware of the actual date until I talked to my mother about planning my trip to Boston and she pointed out that I’d be flying back on Easter Sunday. (For the record, Easter Sunday is a lovely day to travel; there was no one ahead of us at the ticket counter or in the security line, and the plane landed forty minutes ahead of schedule. Oh! And the jet we flew back on was so small that we got to do the whole thing where you walk outside on the tarmac and up the stairs to get inside!)

So we landed in Indy and I drove Melyngoch home and on the way back we stopped off at a grocery store and bought an Easter ham and LOTS of chocolate (because Mel had given it up for Lent) and I stayed for a bit of Easter dinner and tried to pretend that I still didn’t have another three hours to drive home.

I left Mel’s place a little after 10 pm and set out for home. About an hour into my drive, I turned my CD player off and drove the rest of the way in silent darkness, which turned out to be a very peaceful way to end the day. And if I could have one wish for Easter (Do you get Easter wishes?) it would be that next year I’ll be feeling well enough to observe Lent.