Category Archives: Uncategorized

Linguistics Sweatpants

Everyone has that favorite pair of comfy sweats. Slipping them on feels like coming home — warm, cozy– or drinking that perfect cup of coffee/tea on a bright fall day. For some of us, that pair of comfy sweats is exactly that: an article of clothing; for others it is a song, a book, a language.


As someone who can speak three languages with additional reading fluencies, I am lucky to have multiple pairs of baggy, well-loved sweats. I can shimmy out of my German Jogginghosen and into my Spanish pantalones de ejercicio, and relax with a book in my Portuguese calça de moletom, sliding back into my English sweatpants when necessary.


Languages are, as the above quote mentions, a type of apparel. They allow us to clothe our thoughts in pretty words to soften blows; they help us to heighten the emotion during rallies and protests. We can even get them tattooed on our bodies or wear a patterned shirt, literally clothing our bodies in words.

With my languages, I can tell someone I love them three different ways –I love you. Te amo. Ich liebe dich–, can wrap myself around them in a linguistic hug, three different ways.


As German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin writes: “In the words Brot und pain [bread], what is meant is the same, but the way of meaning it is not. As to what is meant […] the words signify the very same thing. The difference in the way of meaning permits the word Brot to mean something other to a German than what the word pain means to a Frenchman.” Benjamin describes how two words may mean the exact same thing, and yet, because they come from different languages, their connotations will differ. I cannot speak for the French –although I have heard they do love their baguettes– but in Germany, almost nothing beats a good, old belegtes Brötchen (fantastic little sandwiches filled with lettuce, cheese, vegetables, and occasionally a slice of meat). My memories of Chile are fondly sandwiched by two pieces of white bread held together by manjar (the caramel equivalent of Nutella!).


Dictionaries and thesauruses are the walk-in closets and buffet tables of language. Go ahead, pick out a dress, a sweater, or a pair of stilettos. Will your language make you feel hipster, sexy, warm and fuzzy, or comfy? Grab a slice of that pizza, a scoop of that ice cream, a forkful of that salad. Does your language satisfy you, fulfill your linguistic hunger? But language doesn’t have to be limited to pants or our food choices. As Ludwig Wittgenstein says, “The limits of my language are the limits of my mind”, come up with a new analogy, one which expresses the happy, contented feeling of conversing in another language. What is your sweatpants?


Citation: Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator“ in Selected Writings Vol. 1 1913-1926, eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.


What’s in a Name? How we address our Professors

I am enrolled in Language and Culture with Prof. Donna Perry in the Anthropology Department here at Gettysburg College. This week our class focuses on the ethnography of communication. During class on Monday, December 1, we discussed different aspects of speech acts that ethnographies of communication examine.

While discussing the concept of participants within ethnography of communication, I was struck by an observation my professor made about how different participants in a conversation use honorifics to address each other. Professor Perry noted that here at Gettysburg, unlike the other college she previously taught at in Oregon, students tend to address her simply as, “Professor,” rather than by her name. That gave me pause—and then I realized that I, a student at Gettysburg College, do tend to address my professors simply as, “Professor,” rather than by their first names, or as “Dr. So-and-so,” or as “Professor So-and-so.”

I started thinking about why I address my professors this way. Then my relationship with my advisor came to mind. She and I are on first-name terms—I remember the exact moment that she told me I could refer to her by her first name. It was magical. Here was a woman whose opinion I respected so greatly, whose presence I found so engaging telling me that I could call her by name.

Even though I am allowed to call my advisor by her first name, I would never, ever, address her as such in front of a class of other students. In the classroom there is a certain level of decorum that must be maintained. Addressing a professor by their first name is too lax, but addressing a professor as, “Dr. So-and-so,” feels too formal for my taste.  A happy medium is needed.

I am on a first-name basis with many of my professors, and am very comfortable addressing them by their first names within their offices, but their offices are a very different setting compared to the classroom. I like to think that as a senior I’ve earned my voice and the right to make what I have to say heard, but I also recognize that professors here are much more educated than I am and have much more experience than I do. No matter how strong my professional, working, or personal friendships with my professors may be, I still defer to the power dynamic within classroom settings, and I adjust how I address my professors with respect to that power dynamic in mind.

Of course some faculty here at Gettysburg College do prefer to be addressed more formally, and addressing these professors by their first names is a major faux pas. Unless one has been invited by a professor to refer to them by their first name, it is hard to guess whether it’s okay to address an email to, “John,” or to, “Dr. Doe,” or to, “Mr. Doe.”

Each of these addressed convey different levels of formality or intimacy with the recipient. Even using Dr. can be problematic as, even though most faculty do have the highest degree in their fields, most people in academia seem to not use that title. This is why I like using, “Professor.” Professor is sort of neutral—it’s formal enough to be usable in any circumstance without sounding so formal that it is uncomfortable.

Addressing faculty as “Professor” is especially handy when addressing female faculty, especially since it can be hard to determine if they are married or if they kept their maiden names when they married. Even though English conventions allow the use of “Ms.” to refer to women of unknown marital status, most women I know don’t like being called “Ms.” Using, “Professor,” eliminates the guess work.

Then there are professors that it would just be weird to address them as “Dr. So-and-so.” My Arabic professor is one such individual. In Arab culture addressing someone as “Mr. So-and-so” or “Mrs. So-and-so” actually is perceived as cold and occasionally rather rude. This is why it always sounds strange to me when I hear other faculty call my professor “Dr. Ramadan.” Within the classroom and outside the class, I will always address my Arabic professor as Abdulkareem because it would be very strange to call him anything else.

I wonder if anyone else has ever stopped to consider how and why they are addressing their professors in particular ways. Any thoughts?

New game at the LRC: Dixit

dixit box

We have a fun new game in the LRC that can be played in any language! Dixit uses beautifully illustrated cards that players then have to either describe or match to another player’s description. We encourage you to use your second (or third, or fourth) language to play Dixit. Beginners can use single word descriptors and advanced language learners can put together an entire story about their card if they want.

One player chooses a card from their hand and, without showing the other players, gives a clue about the card. This clue can be a direct description, a proverb that relates to it, a story, a pop-culture reference… Anything goes as long as you use your language skills. Let’s use the following three cards as examples:

footstepsfuture picgood and evil

Left: 黒いです
Kuroi desu
It’s black

Middle: 未来の写真
Mirai no shashin
Picture of the future

Right: 時間が眠っているあいだ、二つの大きいな力が戦っている
Jikan ga netteiru aida, futatsu no ookiina chikara ga tatakatteiru
While time sleeps, the two great powers fight

These examples are in Japanese, but Dixit can be played in any language. Even if you only know a few words, you can try something like the first example. If you don’t know a word that you want to use, there’s no shame in looking it up. Rather, it’s an excellent way to supplement your vocabulary. Then you can teach the new word(s) to someone else! You could also try playing in pairs or teams. Two heads are better than one! You can work together to come up with something more correct or complex in your target language. Team members can also work together to figure out what the clue means in English. Then they can better match one of their cards to the clue and play it.

Once all the players/teams have submitted a card that they think matches the clue, all the cards are revealed. Everyone then votes on the card that they think the clue was originally based on. Scoring is based on how many people find that card.

Dixit can be played with as few as 3 people (with some minor adjustments) according to the traditional rules. However, you could also just use the cards to practice vocabulary, creating sentences, or other oral skills on your own or with only one friend. Try drawing a card and making up a story to go with it, or identifying all the visual attributes of the card. Beginners can try naming all the colors used, nouns, or something that uses equally basic language skills. You can do this individually or team up with a friend to help each other and check each other’s work. Alternately, try telling each other stories based on the cards and see if your partner can understand. If one of you is artistic, you could even describe the card and have your partner draw it.

You can also use Dixit to practice dictation. While one player gives their hint or describes the card orally, the other player(s) write what they hear. This could be especially useful for languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic which have writing systems other than the Roman alphabet that English uses.

Dixit is incredibly flexible, with so many different ways to play, it can be both fun and educational for all language learners regardless of skill or language. Come try it out!

Dear Ryan Murphy, The Infinitive Goes at the End

***Spoiler Alert for Episode Four of American Horror Story***

Potential Trigger: Clowns

Approximately 90 million individuals speak standard German as their first language, with an additional 30 million people speaking variations (Swabian, Austrian German, Swiss German, etc.) And then, not be forgotten, approximately 80 million people speak German as a second language. I may not be a math major and therefore capable of solving the meaning of life (42, if you wanted to know), but basic addition, that I can handle. 90mil+30mil+80mil= 200mil German speakers, one of whom, is me. When American Horror Story (AHS) creator Ryan Murphy announced that the fourth season of his cult-classic television show would be Freakshow, I got excited. When American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy announced that the fourth season of his cult-classic television show would include German, I, and other German-speaking fans of the show, understandably grew apprehensive. American TV shows are not exactly known for their fantastic pronunciation of languages other than English.

That's right hunny, be wary of strange men offering you things!
That’s right hunny, be wary of strange men offering you things!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 arrived, a blustery day marking the beginning of Fall in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As always, my friends and I gathered excitedly in front of the television screen, eagerly awaiting the creepy strains of the theme song.


Cinematically, AHS breaks barriers, daringly experiments with camera angles, and ultimately falls flat on its Arsch when it comes to German.

Less than 10 minutes into “Monster Among Us,“ (the first episode), I cringed. Jessica Lange’s German accent is passable; painful, but passable. Her German “R’s” which occur in the back of the throat are inconsistent, as are her “V’s” which sound like an “S” and her “W” which sound like a “V.” (Don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with the pronunciations!)

“Das Leben will geliebt werden. Life is to be lived.“ is the first German line spoken by Jessica Lange’s Elsa Mars. Immediately my little, German-speaking heart sank.

Mr Clown, that is exactly how I feel when people mess up German during TV shows.
My face when Elsa spoke.

Although this sentence is grammatically correct, the translation into English is not. Geliebt is the past participle of the verb lieben, which means to love, making the correct translation, “Life is to be loved.” Also a good sentence. If the episode writers truly wanted Elsa to say “Life is to be lived,” they should substitute geliebt with gelebt, the past participle of leben: to live. Additionally, the third person, present tense conjugation of werden (to become), wird, would make the sentence grammatically correct: Das Leben wird geliebt werden.

Thankfully, the German was kept to a minimum of colloquial phrases until episode four, “Edward Mordrake: Part 2.“ The second half of the AHS Halloween special, it should actually be titled “Night of the Living Trope,” as the episode grossly misrepresented the Weimar Republic, confused geographic and political terms, and perpetuated portrayals of Germans as depraved, sexually immoral, inhumane Nazis. I am not saying that the Nazis were not horrible people –they most assuredly were!– however, Germany, its people, and its history, cannot and should not be limited to “Nazis!” simply because the trope is too “difficult” to avoid. As a scholar of the Weimar Republic, I had to leave the room; the show’s disrespectful (and historically narrow-minded) depiction of “sexual deviancy” as vulgar and perverted via a voyeuristically debasing camera angle made me sick. To top it off, the German spoken matched the horrific nature of the scene.

Snape is not amused and refuses to watch any longer.
Snape is not amused and refuses to watch any longer.

Fourteen minutes into the episode, Edward Mordrake, a freak searching for a depraved soul to take back with him to Hell, forces Elsa to relive her worst memory–the loss of her legs during a snuff film. However, before she could relate the horrific details of her experience, it was necessary to butcher some German.

“Willst die Hunde pissen?” questions Elsa. Translation: Does the dog want to pee? At least, that is what they were going for; the actual translation of this sentence would be along the lines of “Does the dogs want to pee?” The mistakes being made do not involve more than basic, intro-level German; the German 101 students whom I tutor write more complex and grammatically sound sentences, and they have only been studying the language for two months! First, die Hunde is the plural of der Hund (the dog); as there is only one human pretending to be a dog in the scene, the plural is not necessary. Next, subject and verb agreement. In German, the subject of the sentence determines the form of the conjugated verb. The verb used here is wollen: to want to, to will. Willst is the du form of the verb, as described in the table below.

Ich will (I want) Wir wollen (We want)
Du willst (You -informal- want) Ihr wollt (Y’all want)
Er/Sie/Es will (He/She/It wants) Sie/sie wollen (You formal/they want)

Had Elsa wished to ask the man a question, she should have said, “Willst du pissen?” This question is also useful if she is actually talking to a dog. Had her intention been to completely dehumanize the man and ask “Does the dog want to pee?” Elsa would need to say, “Will der Hund pissen?“ Instead, she mixed the two forms and accidentally used a plural. Did Ryan Murphy even consult a German-speaker for this show?

The answer is obviously a resounding “NO,” as Elsa’s next statement is equally grammatically problematic.


“Nay, nay, nay. Du kannst nichts steihen wie ein Mann.” Translation: No, no, no. You cannot stand like a man. The beginning of the sentence is fine. The subject du (you) and the verb können (can, able to) agree; however, the rest of the sentence makes me wince. Nichts (nothing, none), although a proper German word, does not work in this context; only nicht (not) is needed. The following word, which I understood as steihen (no translation available as it is not a word), is most likely a mispronounced version of stehen (to stand). In addition to being mispronounced, it should follow the phrase “wie ein Mann” which is written correctly.
Dear Ryan Murphy, the infinitive goes at the end.


For another analysis of television’s use of “bad German“, please see Rebecca Schuman’s review of Grimm at

American Horror Story: Freak Show airs Wednesdays on FX at 10pm EST/9pmCT.

Try this Arabic Tongue Twister on for Size

مشمشنا مش مشمشكم ومشمشكم مش مشمشنا, لما مشمش مشمشكم ما كان مشمش مشمشنا

[mishmishna mish mishmishkum wa mishmishkum mish mishmishna, lamma mashamash mishmishkum, ma kun mashmash mishmishna]

It means:

Our apricots are not the same as your apricots, and your apricots are not the same as our apricots. When your apricots were ripe, our apricots were not ripe yet.

Of course, I think it sounds better in Arabic.

Searching for a Voice, Hoping to Be Heard

Imagine knowing who you are, but not being able to express that inner knowledge verbally, to tell someone else, “This is me! I am _____________” This inability to successfully expound upon a facet of one’s identity is acutely felt by those of us who identify as a non-binary gender –a gender other than the stereotypical male or female dichotomy– and who speak a language which is heavily gendered. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online (WALSOnline) offers an extremely useful interactive map of the world categorizing spoken languages by their type of gendering. Specifically, I struggle with finding the words and expressions in Spanish, a language classified by WALSOnline as having gender in first, second, and third person pronouns. This pre-set gendering can seem inescapable, and, causes confusion when I say I am neither él (he) or ella (she): I am someone else. They question: How can you exist if there is not a word?


With the increased visibility of non-binary individuals, language and terminology, languages such as Portuguese and Spanish, which operate on a man/woman binary, have come under fire for their inability to include and provide a voice for its non-binary speakers. The grammatical structure of Spanish is based upon gendered nouns, whose gender is denoted by the accompanying article —el for masculine and ella for feminine; a general rule of thumb for those learning Spanish as a second language, is that el words end in “o” and la words end in “a.” This shows that rather than an entire word being gendered, it is only one letter added to the root which genders the word and compels adjectives to add the correlative ending –“o” or “a.” For example, the root of the Spanish word for puppy is cachorr-, the masculine-gendered being el cachorro and the feminine-gendered being la cachorra. Adding the adjective cute, lindo, the phrase changes to el cachorro lindo and la cachorra linda.


It would appear that everything in Spanish must be gendered; however, it is important to note that there is a difference in the inclusivity of the spoken language and the written language. Over the past few years, starting in an academic context and moving outwardly into the cotidiana (everyday), two alternative forms of word-endings have emerged. The first to arrive on the scene involved ending a word with both the “o“ and the “a“ and using both articles at the front: el/la cachorro/a. The slash is meant to create a separation between the gender and the word which allows for a mediocre version of gender-neutrality and a rather unwieldy vocabulary if one must always say “el/a cachorro/cachorra.“ The second gender-neutral ending to emerge involves the replacing of the typically gendered “o” or “a” ending with an “x,” a completely gender-neutral letter. However, this does not account for the preceding articles; one still has to write: el/la cachorrx. This creates gender-neutrality and a visual break from the typically gendered endings in the written language but still lacks a corresponding vocal. The most utilized gender-neutral ending for Spanish again seeks to combine the “o“ and “a“ endings through the use of the @ symbol: el/la cachorro/a becomes l@ cachorr@. Sadly, this form lacks a vocal, a spoken component.

Now, one would think that adding gender-neutral terms to a language would be seen as revolutionary –inclusivity and all– however, there has been some push back. Part of the reason for the resistance comes from the perception that the addition of gender-neutral pronouns would actually remove gender from the language, which would then disrespect and attempt to invalidate the gender identities of people who know that “I am a man!“ or “I am a woman!“ The addition of gender-neutral terms is not to eradicate gender, but instead to provide a linguistic space within which non-binary individuals can explore and express sus propias identidades (their own identities), within which they can bend the rules and establish new ones. From this space, they can proclaim to the world “No soy hombre ni mujer, soy nonbinari@ y llámeme ____!“ (I am not a man nor a woman, I am non-binary, and you call me by ________!)

The Young Ancestors Revive Tewa

Did you know throughout North America there are over 25 million speakers of approximately 800 indigenous languages?[i] Of those 800 plus languages, only about ten are considered secure. The remaining 790 or so are considered threatened or endangered. The level of endangerment a language faces is based on several factors, including the size of the population that speaks that language, the number of individuals who link their ethnic identity to that language, the use of second languages or use of a particular language as a second language, the attitude towards the language within the community, the age range of speakers, as well as several other levels of use (for information on the classification of endangered languages, see  If steps are not taken to revitalize these languages, many can and will be lost within a generation or two.


This semester, I am taking Language and Culture with Prof. Donna Perry in the Anthropology Department here at Gettysburg College. The last few classes examined the death of languages. I apologize if my post seems overly general—I want to focus specifically on one example of a native group fighting to revitalize their language, but first, I need to discuss in brief what has led to the death of so many languages in North America.


Many indigenous people have been forced to give up their mother tongues because of assimilation policies that the United States and other governments have enacted. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States government passed legislation that required Native Americans to move from their traditional lands onto parcels of land set aside—reservations. The treaties signed between the US government and many indigenous nations (notably the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek and the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie among others) also required that Native Americans send their children to government–run boarding schools.[ii] These policies, designed to integrate the indigenous population to the settlers’ culture, resulted in the genocide of entire populations.


At these boarding schools, children were forbidden from speaking their native languages. Through pain and humiliation, they were forced to use English: any use of a native tongue resulted in a beating. Many people who were forced into the boarding schools, bit-by-bit, forgot their language. When they had children, they elected not to teach their children their native languages because of the associated stigma. They loved their children and did not want their children to experience the pain they had gone through.


Many of the last speakers of the incredibly endangered languages native to North America are elderly. Often less than ten fluent speakers remain for many of the endangered languages. Most adults and middle-aged people are not able to use their native language to communicate, and are thus unable to transfer the language to a younger generation.


But not all hope is lost.


The Indigenous Language Institute (ILI) is committed to reviving endangered languages while speakers are still alive in order to pass on their knowledge by using tools and training to help indigenous groups revive their languages within their own communities.[iii] Their work is urgent, and many of the 800 languages present in North America may disappear within 10 years if the Institute’s work is not successful.


One group of indigenous people working with the ILI is the Pueblo Nation. In 2009 the Santa Fe Prep School announced the creation of a Self-Study Curriculum wherein a group of teens from Tewa Pueblos would study Tewa alongside a mentor.[iv] Their experiences are documented in the film The Young Ancestors. In this documentary five teenagers describe their efforts to learn the language of their ancestors. Jeremy Montoya describes how his fluency has increased, and how he is now able to understand the elders’ prayers at Tewa ceremonies.[v] For Jeremy Montoya and the other teens involved in this project, learning their traditional language is important because without their language, their traditions and ceremonies lose meaning. To learn more about their struggle and their triumphs, watch The Young Ancestors, available through Musselman Library right here on campus.


[i] Native Languages of the Americas
2013 Native Languages of the Americas: Preserving and promoting American Indian languages. Accessed 29 September 2014.

[ii] William T. Hagan Norman
2011 Assimilation Policy. The Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Accessed 29 September 2014.

[iii] Indigenous Language Institute
2009 Indigenous Language Institute. Accessed 29 September 2014.

[iv] Camino Verite Films
The Young Ancestors Synopsis. Accessed 29 September 2014.

[v] Aimee Barry Broustra, Dir.
The Young Ancestors. Camino Verite Films. Santa Fe, NM.

LRC Student Staff Member: Marianelly Rios

Getting on a moto-taxi in Suchitoto, El Salvador (January 2013).
Getting on a moto-taxi in Suchitoto, El Salvador (January 2013).

The new semester has begun, and we are featuring profiles of our multilingual and multi-talented student staff members.

Hola! I’m Marianelly Rios, a junior Psychology major born and raised in New York (Astoria, Queens). Fun fact #1: Each person on my mom’s side of the family is 100% Salvadorian while each person on my dad’s side of the family is 100% Colombian…I’m the only one from both sides that is just 50% each (I may or may not have realized that about two weeks ago). Fun fact #2: Out of all my family members, I’m also the first to be born in the United States and to receive an American liberal arts education.

I was raised speaking Spanish at home and started learning English when I entered school. In taking an Education course this semester that fulfills a college requirement, I’m able to look back on how big of an impact teachers have in aiding ESL students during class; I believe my family owes a lot to Mrs. Visconti for her caring methods as a bilingual kindergarten teacher. Fun fact #3: I began taking French classes through a scholarship program called Prep for Prep the summer before seventh grade and absolutely loved it! I continued in the language through high school and aimed to prefect my pronunciation in a French course last semester.

Aside from my affinity for languages, on campus I’m involved with Swing Club (meets at 5pm in the Multipurpose Room in Jaeger), Students for Life (meets in Breidenbaugh every other Monday at 6pm), Migrant Education Mentoring (Mondays & Wednesdays at 3:30pm in the Junction), and DiscipleMakers Christian Fellowship (meets in Bowen Auditorium on Fridays at 7pm)! Fun fact #4: I’m also a PLA for all levels of Spanish so please email me (riosma02) if you need help studying or if you just want to practice your conversational skills!

In the future, I’d like to use my background in Spanish to help immigrant families feel more comfortable with English. Growing up in the United States has led me to see just how important language is when you’re surrounded by people who are from different countries and of different cultures.

Fun fact #5 (last one): My favorite meal in Servo is Chicken Bruschetta which is only served on the last Thursday of every month. A rare, yet delicious dish! See you around!