Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar / Linguistics

GIS – 26/10/12

Last week’s GIS promised to be so interesting, that I delayed a departure to the Lake District for the weekend in order to be able to attend.  (My chairing, however, may have suffered as a result of my excitement at the prospect of wide-open spaces…)  The seminar did not disappoint.  Our headliner for the week was Fran Middleton, giving a paper on ‘Translation for Bilingual Readers: boundaries and turning points in the ‘Ilias Latina”.  Using the Ilias Latina, a ~1000 line summary of the Iliad, as a case study, Fran explored the ways in which translation not only changes a text, an idea with which we are all familiar, but also actively helps to mark out cultural differences and boundaries.  She showed how the Ilias Latina, a text highly regarded in the Middle Ages but long since dismissed as a puny imitation of Homer, in fact plays with the genre of epic vs. elegy, and oral vs. written tradition, in a highly sophisticated manner.  Discussion expanded on these ideas, and harked back to Fran’s earlier snippet; I think we can all agree that Fran’s paper avoided the pitfalls of reception theory which she highlighted a few weeks ago.

This week’s snippet came from Matt Scarborough, who has been having difficulty with Thessalian vowels, particularly what sound Thessalian inscriptions are intending to represent when they write ei and ou. (Apologies – I’m not sure how to re-create Greek letters in blog format!) I think I can speak for most of the audience when  I say that I was slightly apprehensive about what, if any, assistance I could give Matt, since I am almost entirely lacking in formal linguistic training.  Certainly a rather stunned silence filled the room as Matt filled the whiteboard with technical diagrams of what, we learned later, is a schematic drawing of the human mouth.  But I think I can also speak for the audience when I say that the discussion which followed Matt’s presentation truly shows how strong the snippet format can be, even when the topic is outside the ‘comfort zone’ of many of the seminar participants.   Our naive questions about why Attica is used as the first port of comparison, rather than the regions that lie between Thessaly and Attica, gave Matt new avenues of geographical comparison, while our persistent interest in the context and content of the inscriptions he was looking at led to a potentially useful investigation of inscriptions recording the letters of Philip V, written in two different dialects.  (Have we pointed Matt in the direction of the Thessalian Vowel Rosetta Stone?  Time will tell…) I for one hope very much that Matt will give us an update on this issue at a later GIS.  In the course of discussion, too, we learned that Daniel Unruh can draw a surprisingly accurate map of Greece in a surprisingly short time…

When, after about half an hour, discussion disintegrated into us all attempting to make gradations of vowel sounds (and sounding rather like distressed wolves in the process -Aaaeeiiiouuuu), it was generally agreed that it was time to adjourn to the pub (or, in my case, the cold and windy North)…

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