Sober Sabbaticals

February 17, 2014

Haters disperse: Zürich is legit. In Zürich [ˈt͡syɾi] (in the local dialect) they speak Swiss German. Oftentimes in standard German the phoneme /x/ is realized as [ç]. In Swiss German it’s typically either a back [x] or [χ], and it’s always heavily-fricated. The phoneme, whether realized as a voiceless velar fricative [x] or a voiceless uvular fricative [χ] is a very recognizable sound and I got used to hearing it constantly.

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Zürich

I’m just returning from my first trip to Switzerland. Switzerland is right in the middle of Europe, which makes it even more inexplicable that I hadn’t been there up until now. I managed to visit Liechtenstein, the microstate on the border between Switzerland and Austria, while I was there as well; inching ever closer the the achievement-unlocking status of having been to every country in continental Europe (only a few left at this point).

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A serendipitous juxtaposition.

I had a free weekend and found a cheap ticket, so I figured I’d jog over while I had the chance. Unfortunately the visit to city with the most clubs per capita in Europe coincided with my month of sobriety in February. I’m sober every February, but rarely do I wish I wasn’t as much as this February. Zürich has a ton of great bars and clubs, so I guess I’ll just have to visit again to get a proper experience.

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Note the portrait below.

The city itself is quite small with a modest overall density, but it’s very walkable and the public transport is phenomenal. It doesn’t have a super high capacity mode like a metro system, but the surface rail and trolleybuses do a great job of moving people around the city efficiently. The city center is fortunate to be quite sparse of cars, so the transit is able to effectively navigate with little delay. Plus they have 25 meter double-arcticulated ETBs which are mental.

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Hess lighTram BGGT-N2C

I woke up at a little after 4am on Friday morning after having gotten maybe two hours of sleep to head to Trg Slavija in Belgrade to catch the airport bus at 05:20. I ended up in Zürich and navigated my way to the hostel with the hopes of being able to sleep a bit, but alas check-in time wasn’t until the mid afternoon. I relied on heavy coffee consumption and constant exploration to get through the day. Most of it involved walking around and finding neat little cafes and bars and wishing I was in them drinking a cocktail. Ten-or-so cups of coffee later and I ended up not getting to sleep until the wee hours of the morning again.

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Stadler FLIRT EMU with some unimpressive scenery in the background.

The following day I woke up at a comfortable hour and decided to head to the little country of Liechtenstein [ˈlɪçtn̩ʃtaɪn] a few hours away. Liechtenstein is a strange place, I’m not sure what their primary import/export is, but they still have a prince that lives in a castle in the the capital of Vaduz [ˈfadʊts]. I got off the train from Zürich in Sargans [zaːˈgans] on the border and hopped on the bus toward Vaduz. I got into town and wandered for a little bit. I was stopped by a group of women having a bachelorette party; apparently it’s customary to take a Polaroid-style picture with the bride, receive a party pack of hair conditioner and an airline shot of some alcohol derived from figs in return for giving them some money to finance their party. The picture didn’t really turn out, so all I have is a bleached-out photo, conditioner I left at the hostel, and an airline shot I can’t drink until March 1st. The town of Vaduz is quite beautiful, nestled in the alps and covered in vineyards. That’s about all it’s got going for it though, there’s really not a lot going on.

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The prince actually lives there…

The following day I explored more of Zürich on foot. My primary goal was to visit the Chinese Garden, but I ended up completely on the other side of town due to a poor understanding of the street network. After walking for many countless miles, I ended up at the Chinese Garden. It was closed, like LITERALLY EVERYTHING ELSE on Sundays. I’m used to European Sundays, but it’s unbelievable how dead this place in particular is on the Sabbath.

I love the city and I met some great people while I was there. I’m definitely looking forward to making it back and properly exploring the bar/restaurantscape.

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The only memento of the bachelorette party I have.

Aids to Language Learning

February 14, 2014

Learning a language is hard work. The thought of it is romantic and enticing, but a huge majority of casual language learners give up on a language long before they approach any sort of proficiency because it’s simply an unending slugfest of brutal, difficult, and time-consuming work. Practicing the language can be logistically difficult and is always utterly exhausting. Working the brain like this in ways it hasn’t been worked before is often even more exhausting than physical exercise.

Everybody learns in different ways, and what comes naturally to one person may not so easily to somebody else. I argue that vocabulary is the critical piece to learning a new language. Grammatical rules fall into place with repetition, as do new words, but you can’t fill in the template of grammar without words. With that said, I typically focus most of my energy on simply learning words. We stumble our way through the structural intricacies of a new language and make many mistakes along the way, but you can get your point across if you know enough words. The more often you practice that process the more natural the rules become.

Unfortunately, studying vocabulary is probably the most exhausting part of language learning (for me, at least). I used to simply skim my notebook of terms that I’ve written down and quiz myself to commit them to memory. This isn’t hugely helpful and requires a lot of motivation.

The good news is help is here. I’ve recently discovered a website designed to aid in this process called Memrise. It’s free to use, and more importantly it’s fun and engaging (neither of which did I believe until I started using it). If you’re at all interested in learning a language (I have at least a few friends in mind whom this will certainly help) I urge you to visit the site, create an account, and dedicate a little bit of time each day to further your knowledge. There are tons of courses available, even on obscure languages such as Greenlandic and Wolof, so whatever language you’re trying to learn probably has at least one course on there. The organization of the courses caters to embedding vocabulary terms into memory for quick recollection and is designed around learning sets of new words and then “watering” them with repetition.

Seriously, give it a try.

A sad day befell us this February 4th, 2014. The last known native speaker of the language we call Klallam, Hazel Sampson, died in Port Angeles. The Klallam language, known natively as Nəxʷsƛ̕ay̕əmúcən [nəxʷst͡ɬʼaj̰əˈmut͡sən], was a Straits Salish language originally spoken around the Olympic Peninsula near my home town of Seattle.

Typical of Salishan languages, Klallam was known among linguists for its extensive consonant clusters, complex phonological system, and patently un-English interaction between nominal and verbal constituents. While the loss of any language pains me greatly, we’re at least fortunate to have had linguists like Timothy Montler compile a grammar and dictionary of the language while it was alive. Nobody remains a native speaker, but we do have a detailed snapshot of Klallam to look back on.

Now that that’s out of the way, I want to give you all a brief update of what’s going on in my life. I have certainly not given up on maintaining this blog, it’s just another hiatus in the grand scheme of things. The truth is, nothing particularly noteworthy has happened recently. I’m currently back in Serbia (wishing I was still in Finland), but I’ll be heading back to Seattle the weekend before my birthday in March. I should be back home for about a month before heading to New York and India for work, then hopefully back to Finland. If all goes well over the next couple of months I should have some fairly big news to announce. In between now and my return to Seattle I’ll be visiting Zurich (for the first time), Budapest (again), and Paris (for the first time since 1997), so there should be ample material for a couple of updates in the coming month or two.

Stay tuned, my loyal readership, and you shall be rewarded with scintillating tales of action and adventure from abroad.

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A gentle reminder of where I should be, seen in Belgrade the day after my arrival.