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So long, Farewell

University is most assuredly over. I’ve got results (graduating with a 2:1 – boom), I’ve been given farewell drinks by the university and now housemates are starting to move out. And it’s the last one of those things that’s really made it feel like university is over.

Getting results happens every year and so it doesn’t really say END OF UNI in big solid letters. But the fact that my friends are dispersing is bringing it home. One of my housemates I met on the first day of university. Now he’s moving to Sheffield and starting a PhD in September. And I’m going to be who knows where.

Thankfully we have the internet and mobile technology, which means even if I end up on the opposite side of the world, I can still easily keep in touch with my friends. But it’s not quite the same. There will be no more bumping into my housemates on the stairs and then chatting for half an hour. There will be no more late night cups of tea. There will be no more house.

It is difficult to say good bye, even when I know I can keep in touch so easily. Even when it’s probable we’re going to see each other again. Goodbye in English is so final. At least in German it’s “Till I see you again.”

University has been excellent and it’s mostly due to my friends. Especially the ones I’ve been lucky enough to live with. And I’m trying not to get sappy here, because no-one wants that. And I’m trying desperately not to do the grand public sentiment thing, but dash it all. Ev, Lucy and Ryan – it’s been great. You were excellent housemates for both of the years we lived together. I’ll catch you on the internet. Hopefully in real life too.

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Expanding Empire

We live in a digitally connected world. And as such, I’ve started to build a social media empire. Hopefully with less of the invading and colonising that normally goes along with empires, because imperialism isn’t a good thing. In fact, it’s decidedly a bad thing.

And so, in the name of spreading my social media wings, I now have a Facebook page. Yay! You can find it here and I’ll be linking to my new posts on there, maybe sharing Instagram photos, generally doing the interconnectivity thing. By the by, the cover photo was made by the lovely Oh Look It’s a Kyle, who was very good at taking my word vomit and making a banner that was exactly what I wanted. You can find about using him him for all your graphic design needs here. (Well, maybe not all. I don’t know. He does a lot of things.)

Cover JPEG

So cool. So very cool.

That’s Facebook down. Where next? Well, I already have Twitter where I tweet about life. It’s like my blog but limited to 140 characters. I also have Tumblr where I reblog a ton of language, dance and interesting things. And lastly I have Instagram where I mostly post pictures of pretty things – like cake and sky.

I hope if any of these are your favourite sites and you like this blog, you’ll think about liking/following me on there. Are there any others you think I should check out? I do have Google+ though I’m still figuring out how it works. And what the point of it is.

Happy social media-ing.

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Harry Potter and the German Dissertation

As I believe I’ve mentioned, I’m graduating soon. All I need now is a) my final results and b) a day of wearing a cap and gown, and I will officially be done with my undergraduate degree. Like a lot of people, I had to do a dissertation to get to this point. I really liked my dissertation, so I’m going to nerd out about it here. Warning: much nerdery ahead.

My dissertation began about this time last year in a bar in Bruges. While on holiday with my friends, which you can read about here, I realised that despite my best efforts I would probably have to do a dissertation, and I had no idea what I would write about. A drunken-ish discussion ensued, and the next day I discovered notes on my phone about what I should write about. It turned out I’d been really insistent about wanting to write about Harry Potter.

I think it’s fairly obvious that I am a huge fan of Harry Potter, but trying to come up with a dissertation that included that was difficult. But I eventually made it work. I was going to look at neologisms (made up words) in the Harry Potter series and how they were translated into German. At this juncture, I’d like to point out that my main motivation to write about Harry Potter was so that it would be interesting, rather than necessarily being nerdy enough to write about Harry Potter. Simply put, I desperately didn’t want to write a 4000-7000 word essay on Hitler and the Third Reich.

So I wrote about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I also wrote about a book called Die 13½  Lebens des Käpt’n Blaubär by Walter Moers, which in English is The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear. (It’s an excellent book. You should go read it.) And somehow I muddled through and handed in a dissertation entitled ‘From Albus Dumbledore to Zamonia: A comparison of the impact of neologisms in fantasy novels and their translations between English and German, focusing on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling and Die 13½ Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär by Walter Moers’. Yeah, it’s a mouthful.

Basically, I looked at four different theories of translation and how they could be applied to the translations of made-up words in Harry Potter and Bluebear. And while it took a really long time to do, not least because the first thing I had to do was write out all the made up words in each book (in English and German) and Bluebear is 700 pages long, it was a really enjoyable experience. I mean, as far as writing an essay can be enjoyable.

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Undergraduate research posters. Mine’s the one with the Harry Potter writing.

And while I was doing my dissertation, the Department of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies (aka CLAS aka my uni department) had a post graduate symposium which included an undergraduate poster competition. You could submit a poster of any research you’d done and so, as procrastination, I made a poster of my dissertation. And somehow I won. So that was pretty cool. Especially as when I made my poster, I hadn’t actually written my dissertation.

I had to explain my research to a bunch a postgraduates. I basically said I’m looking at made up words.

I’m not sure if there’s a point to this blog post aside from me going ‘I got to write an essay on this thing and that was super cool, because Harry Potter and linguistics and yes’, but if there were to be another point it would be this: try and do your dissertation on something that interests you. I was terrified that I’d have to write mine on something that I didn’t really care about, that I wasn’t really interested in and that I wouldn’t do very well in. Instead, I wrote about two books that I love with regards to a part of language study that I find fascinating (aka translation with a focus on linguistics). And I got my second highest mark of my university career for it, which was so unexpected. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that Harry Potter got me a first, and if that isn’t magic, I’m not sure what is.

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Things I wish I’d known: Year Abroad edition

Even as my time at university comes to an end, I still have friends who have yet to reach their final years. And some of those people have year abroads to go on (Hi Helen). Leading up to a year abroad is scary, because moving to a foreign country will always be at least a little terrifying, and so I thought I’d share some things I wish I’d known before my year abroad.

1. Your language skills need work.

Moving to Germany showed me how lacking my language skills could be. Most notably in the first week I was in Ilmenau, trying to buy a sim card became a huge production because I didn’t know the word for account and the woman at the shop didn’t speak any English.

But it’s okay. You’re not meant to be great at your language yet. That’s why you’re doing a year abroad. You’ll muddle through, with half learnt words and charades and a lack of every day vocab, and a few weeks/a month/two months in you’ll realise you can actually speak the language, and have been for a while. It’s all going to be okay.

2. You’ll be exhausted.

Having to speak your second language all the time is really tiring. Between trying to remember vocab and grammar and then pronunciation and then understanding replies, you’re probably going to be knackered for a while. Don’t worry. Sleep and it’ll be fine.

3. Things take time.

Getting used to the new country, making friends, not being bone tired at the end of every day – everything’ll happen. But it takes time. Which I think is the most parent-y thing I’ve ever said. But it’s true.

4. Cultures are different.

I didn’t think Germany would be that different to home. It’s a western European country after all, only separated from Britain by France and the English Channel. And while in broad strokes it wasn’t that different, it was the details that tripped me up. I found myself missing Sunday opening times for shops, for crying out loud. Be prepared for ridiculous things to be different.

5. It doesn’t have to be the best year of your life.

My university, like many other universities I assume, get enthusiastic fourth years to talk to second years about their year abroad, and the phrase “It was the best year of my life” gets bandied around like there’s no tomorrow.

Your year abroad does not have to be the best year of your life. If it is, that’s awesome – I’m really happy for you. But if it’s not, that’s legitimate too. You don’t have to come back for your final year and be that fourth year who talks about their year abroad for half an hour.

I feel like maybe my advice has painted a bleaker image of a year abroad than I intended to. They’re great, I really enjoyed mine. But sometimes I think all the “it’s the best year of your life” marketing makes people forget that it’s still real life. And nothing is ever perfect all the time.

If you’re heading off on a year abroad, I hope you have an amazing time, whether or not it’s the best year ever. If you want to read about my misadventures in the middle of Germany, they’re all Year Abroad posts in reverse order. And if you have anything you wish you’d known before your year abroad or questions, or you just want to say ‘hi, I go to Spain in September and I’m scared. Will everything be okay’, leave a comment. And yes, everything will be okay.

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When Science meets Languages

We live in a world built on binaries. And one that is seen so frequently at university is the Sciences versus the Arts. Most degrees at a British university are split between BScs and BAs. There are a few others, but the vast majority of students will be getting a qualification in the Sciences or the Arts.

I do German, and in about a month and half they’re going to give me a BA. Languages are an Arts subject and I often feel I can’t argue that. With literature and history often heavily on the menu, it does seem a very Arts end of the spectrum subject. But then there’s linguistics, which feels like a Science. My linguistics essays always had an awful lot of tables in them considering it’s an Arts subject.

In my house, there are three Science students and two Arts students, and when there’s discussion of various degrees in the living room, you would probably agree that the Science people do Science and us language students definitely do Arts. But like I said, linguistics blurs that line a little. And now thanks the American Museum of Natural History that line doesn’t really exist anymore.

Like most museums, the AMNH has lots of stuff in storage that visitors never get to see. I mean, I’ve never been to America so I’ve not seen any of their stuff but that’s besides the point. And to show off their collection to its fullest potential as well as showing off research their scientists have done, they’ve started monthly videos called Shelf Life.

The Shelf Life series trailer

I found out about this because a publicist for the AMNH emailed me (guys, a publicist emailed me! It shouldn’t be as exciting as it is), and I’m really glad did she did. Not just because having a publicist email me makes me feel like my blog is doing okay, but because otherwise I might not have seen this. And it’s really interesting.

This month’s episode is called “The Language Detectives”, and it’s a collaboration between an anthropologist (Peter Whitely) and a computational biologist (Ward Wheeler) in order to study ancient languages. More precisely, they work together to trace the evolution of Native American languages, specifically the Uto-Aztecan languages. I can’t lie – I’m really interested in language change. No matter what the language, I find it ridiculously fascinating. So I was always going to think this video was great.

The super interesting Episode 7.

But the interesting part about it is that they treated language like DNA, drawing a parallel between phonetic sounds and the A C G T building blocks of DNA. Six minute video short, they apply scientific principles to linguistic data in order to create language family trees and then narrow it down to the most likely evolution of the Uto-Aztecan languages and where they probably originated from.

Everything is explained simply though not patronisingly, and there’s some really cool research in the video. It’s subtitled and the choice of pictures and videos are well done, helping to aid understanding. But the video isn’t all there is.

If you go to the web page, rather than Youtube, there’s an article underneath, whose headline “From A(ztec) to Yaqui” had me from the wordplay. Again, I love it. The article briefly outlines the video before going on to talk about 12 objects, picked by Peter Whitely to brush the surface of the cultures who spoke and still do speak Uto-Aztecan languages. From moccasins to medicine bags to a photograph of Chief Severa and his family of the Ute people, the objects are an introduction into the life of the people who used and use these languages. Using the video as a touchstone, the article allows the museum to share objects that may otherwise be buried in storage for decades.

As I said, Shelf Life was brought to my attention by a publicist, but I’m really glad that it was. It was a fascinating ten/fifteen minutes, and now I have six episodes to catch up on. I’m hoping they’ll be just as good.