Tag Archives: culture

The archaeologist and the languages

Just make a guess: How many languages have I learned in the name of research and archaeology?
I am not talking about Latin and Ancient Greek, or any other dead language or script, like Linear B (okay, yes, actually this is just a funny syllabary of a somehow early Greek dialect) or cuneiform scripts …

Next to English it is Italian, a very poor amount of French, a not that poor but still minimal form of Spanish, slowly increasing amounts of Dutch, and very few nearly forgotten phrases of Turkish.

English is the language I am using regularly and often enough to keep it fluent. My Italian is good, but since my Italian speaking grandfather died, I have no-one left to regularly talk with. And you know how things are with languages you never speak… It’s like a plant without water. So, I try to keep my Italian plant watered with books and films and sometimes I speak to myself.

My Dutch is still in a phase of beginning (actually, I am just preparing my first presentation for my final exam – okay, I should prepare it, I will do it, just after finishing this blogpost!). And now… Why am I learning Dutch?

At least, English is one of the big main world languages, so, there is a reason. Italian – very clear for me, since there was family involved with. But Dutch? In Austria? You might have guessed it: It was for the sake of archaeological research. I had to cope with some Dutch articles and books on our project concerning Celtic divine names on Roman inscriptions in the provine Germania Inferior. There are some deities – it’s very often just their names found on inscriptions, so we have not always an idea what kind of deity. But there are some Inscriptions from the Netherlands and back in the 1970s no-one thought of publishing in English all the way. So, that is the reason why I am learning Dutch. And yes: It is a very funny language, too. 🙂

I have to admit, I am desperatly lost with French – but thank to God, Sarah is not only Latinist by training, she is also a trained French teacher and she can help me with my great task of learning French for academic purpose, meaning reading publications on my material and maybe someday arguing with French colleagues about my views on the material.

I have talked about my language endboss with another colleguae and she is also struggling with French – that is why we will try another way learning it, the two us together this summer.  And Sarah will help us out. 😉

Actually, French is a very important language, if you are working as an archaeologist in the Roman provinces. That means I really should learn some French. At least enough to speak with colleagues and read some papers or listen to talks. I tried it with some courses on University, but that was not a good idea – for the teachers sucked and the courses were incredibly boring.

And that leaves me with my next slightly doomed language experiment for the sake of research: Turkish. I had great ambitions and wanted to go to an excavation to Turkey and I prepared some language skills – this time the courses at University were quite cool and interesting and we had a really good teacher. But you cannot always have your will and I did not get the opportunity to go to Turkey. So, I have done two years of language courses in Turkish, but now, about 6 years later, nothing is left of my skills. You remember the plant at the beginning. My Turkish plant is nearly gone.

My last language: Spanish. Another family matter, because my sister-in-law-to-be-someday married a Mexican, so… yes. Spanish. I took the Langenscheidt version of getting along with Spanish in 30 days. I got to Day 25, but then I was overwhelmed, not because of grammar or just impressions – because of the vocabularies… I just had not the time to learn them in the right way. So, I will just begin again, I think in July. 😉 Never give up on language plants you have to water because of family concerns. 🙂

It is true, you cannot be fluent in every language and if you wish to be fluent in two or three, you have to work hard for it, because you have always to practice a language – you have to keep watering your plant.

Languages are a MUST for the Humanities.
I am very sure that none of my language lessons was in vain – sooner or later I will need them and then will find my vocabularies in a very hidden place of my brain by practicing them again. I love languages and this is one huge advantage when studying any subject of the Humanities. At least, I think so. You need English for sure, because you have to and should present on international conferences. As Sarah said once, another foreign language you are able to present in cannoth be that wrong, so … This is my plan. I want to do it in Italian, if there will be the possibility. Well, I am not sure, if I can talk on any acaemic subject in Italian without anything written down like I can in English, but hey, you can write your presentation down and read it, right? I mean, you are not a native but you have the guts to stand onstage and just do it anyway. I think that a lot of people will be very impressed by that.

Languages open up the ways to travelling new countries and experiencing new cultures.
Never ever underestimate that fact. It won’t hurt you to say some phrases in the mother tongue of business partners, colleguaes from your field, waiters in a restaurant on holidays (my mum always says that the most important things in a foreign language are to know how to order food and drinks, and she is damn right about that), taxi drivers on your way from the airport, … just try it.

So, how many languages have you learned? Are you fluent in more than one language? How do you learn languages the best way?

I hope you enjoyed this little field trip through my language brain – 🙂

Astrid