Tag Archives: humanities

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

The “D”- and the “H”-part

It was a post of my dear LaTeX ninja, talking about the pros and cons (okay, basically the pros) of one getting started doing Digital Humanities (you can find the original post here). I just flipped through it, until the following sentences:

Because the whole point of DH is that you’re not either a programmer XOR a Humanities scholar. It’s the combination of both. Most people see that combination as some sort of 30/70 or 40/60 kind of thing. I think it has to be 100/100. And yes, that means you’ll have to be a freak with a 200% workload. I’m pretty alone with this opinion, however, so don’t panic. Most people don’t see it like that at all.  I’m generally a bit of an eccentric and maybe some might perceive my opinion to be extreme. Well, sorry, but I like extreme. I think that “real DH” should mean 200%, or even better: 300%. 150% programmer and 150% Humanities. Be hardcore at both. At least that’s my personal goal.

So, I learnt that she is somehow extreme and liking it, what I actually always thought about her, and I learnt that 100/100 is a quite ambitious goal. And then I started thinking about myself and my abilities in DH. I splitted it up, there is an “D”-part and an “H”-part. So, I would like to start with my “H”-part, meaning the humanities, basically Archaeology and Classics. I am archaeologist by training, as well as ancient historian. I sometimes like my description of myself as an archaeologist with “special features”. You know, coming from a field dealing with images, but also able to read ancient sources (well, of course, all my colleagues are able to read, but I discovered that many historians and philologists keep thinking that an archaeologist just does not use written sources –  or at least, in the wrong way).

But my special features are not just my “reading skills” all alone. I did some courses in linguistics and in geomatic engineering as well, some workshops on digital methods in the humanities, …

So, if the “H”-part, meaning my archaeology-me by training, is 100%, because I have a degree and doing my PhD, then how does my “D”-part look like?

My first tries with SFM – I worked with freeware and was amazed by the quality. Here you can see a relief side of a sarkophagus with some holes, because my photos were not that good.

I told Sarah that my “D” part is about 24.6%. The workshop on Digital and Practical Epigraphy in London (click here to read the whole post) increased my knowledge about 4.2% (don’t get me wrong, it was a 100% success, but a 100% in my “D”-part are standing for a degree, so I had to convert it). So, we are located at 28.8% by now. The moment I can run my first Python scripts in a way the are meant to run and work out, I think, my rating will increase up to 36.9%. 🙂 Cheers to that, I think.  I am convinced that this is a great number, for the sum of 3 and 6 is 9… Isn’t that beautiful? Okay, enough with the maths.

Then I thought about which part is more important to me. Basically, this is like the question, if I like bones or late antique Church Fathers the most. I cannot decide, so it is quite unfair. I need both parts, never mind how much percent they have. I am convinced that my archaeology-part is sometimes at 120%, 20% are just crazy happiness, e.g. because I am allowed to take photos in a museum on monday (so, when all museums are normally closed and it is just me and the artefacts). Sometimes ist about 84,7%, because I am that exhausted after a very concentrated climbing session or my fitness workout. My “D”-part is like a static shadow behind my the “H”-part, smiling on the archaeology-me playing with bones or being fascinated by stones. The “D”-part does perfectly know that its whole existence is mainly about my archaeology-me letting it be. So maybe the “H”-part is first place in a hierachical structure. The “D”-part comes second and is caused by the “H”-part. Does sound like some kind of splitted personality, am I right? (Just a reminder: Yes, we are all crazy here, trust the Hatter, I tell you that).

My photos are better, my knowledge of the software has increased. But still, there are a lot of “mysteries” for a happy noob like me. And I like mysteries. 🙂

So, if I had never ever found the idea of being able to do SFM and 3D-stuff fascinating, if I had never ever the interest in photography, I would never ever have ended up this way. I am a trained archaeologist, capable of mastering the “H”, and a proud and happy noob, dealing with and experiencing the “D”, while learning on the job. I think, this is a very good mixture.

What about you? What is your “D” to “H” ratio? How are you working on yourself and your skills?

All the best,

Astrid (currently 28.8%/105% – because I could post some of my screenshots of my SFM-journey…) 🙂