Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Coming Clean

Many moons ago, Adam asked us to own up to our man crushes. For a long time, I couldn't think of one. But seeing Anatoly Liberman's handsome face at the top of my blog a few times made me realize that I was hiding from my true feelings. So there you have it. Liberman is my man crush.

So here are some Liberman stories:

On the first day of class (History of English Words), he challenged us to identify his country of origin, saying that no one was ever able to place his accent. On the surface, his speech seemed pure British RP. After listening to him carefully for the class session, however, I noticed two occasional "foreign-sounding" elements: a very pure monophthong o and a pronunciation of English w as v. That led me to guess a that his mother tongue was a Slavic language. You'll have to take my word for it, though, since I didn't venture a guess to his face.

He later told us that he is Russian, but when strangers ask about his nationality, he likes to tell them that he's Basque or Faroese. I had no idea that people lived on the Faroe Islands at the time, but I was proud I knew about them a few years later, when I met Neils.

He once parodied the argumentation of Chomskyan linguistics: "Such-and-such is true of every language in the world. Take English, for example." Cut me to the quick, that one. My program required 3 years of a foreign language; but that just exposed me to more Chomsky-deprogramming from Francisco Ocampo.

One day, Frank offered him some candy from his lunch. Liberman replied, "No thank you. I never eat sweets."

I can't remember the exact point, but the biggest laugh he got in class was when he started talking about the sound symbolic value of the phonemes in "fo' shizzle ma' nizzle."

On the other hand, the class nearly mutinied when he made an offhand statement about sign systems such as ASL not being languages in the complete sense. He seemed slightly taken aback by the vehemence with which the students disagreed. No doubt he suspected that political correctness at least formed part of the background of our insistence. I understand the concern, but based on my (limited) exposure to ASL, I stand by the arguments I made that day. I don't know if Liberman has been convinced, though.

His favorite movie is Animal House.

Outside of class, he expressed his distate for the College of Liberal Arts' focus on Race, Class, and Gender. "It's precisely what the Soviet educational system was fixated on." And he would know. I'd love to read his autobiography. Or at least an intellectual memoir.

One last quote: "Perhaps you like to listen to Country Music. Or, perhaps you are politically liberal, so you listen to music that sounds exactly the same but is called Folk Music."

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