Surprises…good and bad

One of the best, and worst, things about doing research is the way that it can surprise you. I’ve had a couple big surprises in the last month or so:

1) Bad: My original experiment had to be completely scrapped. The analysis that I’d done on Mandarin was done first by Moira Yip. So it was back to the drawing board…on the plus side, she’s the world’s leading expert on tone in East Asian languages, so I’m not too upset. Starting my literature review over again in English set me back a good month, though.

2) Good: A very respectable linguistics lab can be fit in a tote bag. That’s a carotid condenser mic, stand, adapter/power source, cables, computer, consent forms, pens, a tape measure (to ensure subjects are a consistent distance from the mic), and headset. It still weighs less than ten pounds. All I need is a power source and a desk. Another plus? Excluding the computer, it cost less than $100 to outfit. I can’t imagine trying to put together a chemistry, physics or even psychology lab on that sort of budget.

3) Good: Every single piece of software I’ve used on this project, from the recorder (Audacity) and presentation software (RAM 4)  to the analysis software (Praat) and word processor (Open Office) has been free and open source.

4) Bad: It took me two and half hours to annotate just under three minutes of speech. (I’m isolating specific sounds, so it’s both labor intensive and unautomatable.) I have around thirty such snippets. This is going to take a while. I can really, really understand why professors have research assistants now. 🙂

5) Good: Why was I worried about finding a grad school? The more research I read, the more two or three institution names pop up again and again. Even better, the more one or two people pop up–people whose research is interesting, vital and in the field I want to go into. Hopefully, I’ll be doing grad work under one of them.

As you can see, the good outweighs the bad. Even better, I’m finding this out now, as an undergrad, rather than halfway through writing my master’s dissertation. The best part? The more research I do, the better I think I’m suited to it. The combination of tedious repetition and sudden insight is one I find comfortable and enjoyable.

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There is no language like the Irish for soothing and quieting. ~Synge

Well, it’s the end of my first week here in Carraroe, or An Cheathra Rua as it is known an Gaelge. We’re right in the middle of the Connemara Gaeltacht, which means an area where Irish is still spoken as the primary language. While I’m not scheduled to begin attacking the archives until my class is over in 3 weeks, I’ve already made some progress searching them out online and I’ve double-checked all the requirements and made sure I’ll be able to get what I need when I make it into town at the end of the program.
Being here has been a fascinating experience, even after just a week. Our bean a teach (house mother) Bairbre is wonderful, and very helpful whenever we have questions. The Gaeltacht is by definition a place where the old traditions are still very strong, and the continued struggle these traditions face to survive makes for a very interesting parallel to my research regarding the Tudors and the Irish bards of the 16th century. A guest lecturer visited the school the other night and spent a fascinating two hours addressing the question of Irish literature in translation. His thesis seemed to be that because Irish was relegated to the rural, outer edges of Ireland beginning around the 15th-16th centuries, they missed out on the printing press, and consequently faced a huge disadvantage in the literary field for the next four or five hundred years. He discussed well-known literary figures from Ireland who wrote in the English language, as well as outlining the history of the movement to begin writing and publishing books in Irish, and the limited success of said movement. the literary genre that first began to make headway in Irish was that of the autobiography early in the 20th century. It occurred to me that their might be a connection between the personal nature of such books in the 20th century and the praise poetry of the Irish bards. Perhaps it was this personal acknowledgement of the Irish as a people and as individuals that the British objected to. This is obviously not the whole story, but it might be something to consider in my quest for the truth. 🙂