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My adventures began last Sunday at 4 AM EST when I got up to catch a 7 AM flight from Baltimore to Phoenix, which I just barely made. Then I had a 45-minute layover until my flight to Flagstaff in a tiny little plane. Flying down to the airport, the first thing I noticed was that Flagstaff is actually less dry than Phoenix, and the whole place is covered in pines. As I was in the taxi to my dorm at Northern Arizona University (NAU), I saw a bunch of big mountains looming ahead, and the driver mentioned it looked like they were getting some rain. Where we were, it was still sunny. It was clear and dry and about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with lots of pines and shrubs around.
I got to my dorm (which is across from a cemetery I hope to visit soon), where I found Ted and Louise (our coordinator). In the midst of unpacking and making ice cubes in my refrigerator, I noticed that the rainstorm had become a thunderstorm and was now on top of us. So obviously I went outside and stood in the rain a bit, then went in to the lounge to talk with Ted and Louise; it has a bit of Western rustic charm going for it and looks like a lodge. Apparently localized thunderstorms happen very frequently, and when I say localized, I mean that while it is thunderstorming over you, the sky is bright and sunny to your left and to your right. The weather is very schizophrenic.
Then I finished unpacking and (not wanting to write) took a Little Mermaid coloring book and some crayons down to the lounge and proceeded to convince Louise that I am a total girly-girl. While in the lounge I met one of the other participants, a high school teacher of Navajo. She and Louise were discussing what seemed to be state test scores and how she'd gotten her kids up to 66% passing on the writing portion. Apparently this was an especially good number for "the red," in her words. I thought this was a particularly good instance of reclaiming terminology. (Note to self: Indians are allowed to talk about themselves in ways that you are not.)
I then found out where the dining hall was; along the way I passed a spectacular green building that was, unfortunately, not a library. I also passed a lot of local flora that is hard to describe, and decided to document it with my camera. I got to the dining hall, which claimed that only one of its entrances was open. I then followed a music camp group around to the far entrance, and walked into a room full of preppy white middle schoolers. (Okay, so it wasn't that bad.) The food wasn't so great, but it was Sunday and not everything was open. I went straight to the salad bar and found kidney beans, chickpeas, lettuce, and carrots. I also stuffed myself on rice and pinto beans.
On my way back I took pictures of all the local flora, as well as the mountains and some of the buildings (I will upload them later). The NAU waters their lawns and flowers, but they also plant local shrubs and cacti. They tend to go for the wood chip effect, only they use some local reddish sedimentary rock instead (probably good considering the fire hazard). I also heard some crows/ravens and saw a few swallows. (Crows are very large and very loud - and they like to assert themselves in the wee hours of the morning. Outside your bedroom window.)
When I got back I was tired and tried reading a book, but stared falling asleep instead. So I went to bed at 8 PM MST (-3 EST) after almost 20 hours of being awake.
On Monday I woke up exhausted; even though it was 50 degrees outside and my window was open all night, there was zero airflow and I slept badly in the heat. I made it to breakfast and sat with the high school teacher while eating three peanut butter sandwiches. Then I went to class.
I met Paul Platero and and Jared, another student, as well as Irene, the master director, who greeted me in Navajo ("yá'át'ééh"), but I was too nervous to respond. Loraine, another organizer, did the introduction almost completely in Navajo. Midway through I realized she had started a prayer and I recognized it as the Blessingway we translated in Ted's structure class, mostly by the repetition of "hózhǫ́." Then she introduced herself (in Navajo) and asked other people to do the same, starting with Paul. I was getting really nervous until some of the others started codeswitching into English and I got some idea of how to introduce myself.
Then we went over logistics and scheduling and, because we had run well into the first class, were given worksheets to fill out until the second class started. If you've ever experienced the first day of mid-level language class, you'll be familiar with these sheets. Ours had little boxes with things like "My name is" and "My family is," only in Navajo. Loraine helped me fill it out and I finally figured out what my clans are. For those who are interested:
Béésh bich'ahí dine'é nishłí.
Then it was time for the research class, which Ted taught this first week (Speas will be teaching us next week). I was reminded again of how Ted teaches - not that I forgot, just that I'd had a couple months' break. The next three days was spent translating (for those of us who actually know Navajo) and blundering off into the world of syntax. Apparently, Navajo makes syntacticians cry.
Then we all went to lunch. The food bars had miraculously blossomed overnight and there was rice and beans and veggies burgers and vegetables and more vegetables - yes, I was happy. Even though I had some accidental encounters with non-vegan vegetarian food (why do people put milk in rice and eggs in veggie burgers?). If you really want to know what I'm eating, you can always stalk the dining hall's menu here. Unfortunately, I've been told that it's all going to be downsized now that the music camp kids have had their final concert and all gone home. (I suspect this is true since I've only seen the same dish of vegetables for the past three days.) But I am bravely learning to appreciate kidney beans, salad, and root vegetables. Twice a day, every day.
The afternoon was less exciting. I'm in an intro ling class that is somewhat slow for me, although everyone else seems to work very hard. Moslt we go over basic linguistic principles like prescriptivism vs. descriptivism, language vs. dialect vs. idiolect, etc. We also do problem sets and rule-writing, and so far I've learned about Armenian plural, Bostonian r-dropping and r-insertion, the pin-pen merger in the South, and the Appalachian a- verb prefix (as in "I'm a-hunting for some wild strawberries"). We're also reading from The Five-Minute Linguist, which is a really awesome collection of short essays that are really accessible to non-linguists (you can also listen to them through iTunes U).
Then there's the practicum, which is about strategies for teaching Navajo in language class settings. At first I was wondering if I even wanted to stay in the class because it's mostly in Navajo and the point of the class is to develop a lesson plan. I asked Ted and he told me not to worry - we're going to be the guinea pigs they test their theories on. Which means I might actually learn some Navajo.
Dinner was the same as lunch, then I got back to my room and started dozing of around 8pm again. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday that I finally made it to 9pm without feeling like I needed to be in bed. Of course, I'm still waking up at 5am with the sun.
Tuesday was mostly the same as Monday, only I located the bookstore and promptly bought a small stash of Clif bars (no, that's not all I'm snacking on - I'm also filching apples and peaches (yeas, peaches!) out of the dining hall). Oh yeah, and also my Navajo verb class. Remember those verb charts you used to do in Spanish and French class? Well, our verb charts are like those on steroids. You thought stem changes and foot verbs and irregular conjugation were hard? Well, we have classifiers and dual and distributive plural and mods and prefixes and OMFSM the phonological rules T-T But despite all this it's still a pretty awesome class. (You can review Navajo verbs through a guide to Young and Morgan's grammar here.)
By the way, did you know that they wrote the entire dictionary and grammar on index cards using typewriters? This is actually how the writing system developed. The special symbols were made by adding extra punctuation marks over Latin letters, so "L" or "l" plus "/" became barred-l "Ł" and "ł" - the same with apostrophes for high tones and commas for nasals. (This was all told to me by one of Ted's former students, a Swattie alumn and grad student named Elizabeth '08.) You can find more info on writing Navajo at Omniglot, sample conversations on the NLA website, support for Navajo script on this blog, and tons more resources on the Native Languages website.
Aren't you happy now that it thunderstormed this morning so I couldn't go hiking and wrote in my blog instead? I will keep my following posts short and will write by theme, not day-by-day (for the most part).