LINGUIST List 8.472

Sun Apr 6 1997

Qs: Alphabets,Traditional Medicine Research

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  1. Robert_A_FRADKIN, Alphabets
  2. Ruben Z. Martinez, Traditional Medicine Research

Message 1: Alphabets

Date: Thu, 03 Apr 97 17:05 EST
From: Robert_A_FRADKIN <>
Subject: Alphabets

Dear Fellow Linguists,

I am currently offering a course at Univ. of Maryland called
"History of the Alphabets: Hebrew-Arabic-Greek-Russian-English,"
a no prerequisites undergrad. course that fulfills one of the
humanities and "diversity" requirements. I would like to compare
notes with anybody out there who has taught or thought of
teaching such a course. (I teach Hebrew and Russian and do
research in Semitic and Slavic linguistics. This is my first
year at UMD.) If this interests you, please read on.

Some of you have probably given "writing systems" courses to
advanced students in linguistics or "languages of the world" as
a sort of intro. lings. This one is different because it is
given through the Asian + E. European Langs. dept., where I am
coordinator of the Hebrew program, and because my aim is not to
teach linguistic theory per se but to provide enough common
linguistic concepts and terms to be able to talk about all the
languages we need to. This provides a forum for the students of
W. Asia and E. Europe in this newly combined dept. to discover
their odd graphic connection, namely, the common West Semitic
origin of their various alphabetic systems. This includes first
the relation between linguistic--primarily
phonological--structure and its many graphic
representations. (We are learning actively to write Old
Phoenician letters and trace the problems of phonology and order
as they spread west to Greece and east to India.) Besides that
we also explore the historical, political, and religious factors
that go into adopting, adapting, and switching writing
systems--an especially relevant topic in the Soviet/post-Soviet
period. The students are getting a practical hands-on sense for
what literacy "looks like" from Portugal to Pakistan and for the
visual cues that let them distinguish Arabic from Persian from
Pashto from Urdu, Russian from Bulgarian from Serbian from
Uzbek, Hebrew from Yiddish from Aramaic, and closer to home
English from French from Hungarian from Polish from Lithuanian,
etc. They are also required to try to produce the palatalized,
pharyngealized, aspirated and retroflexed sounds they encoutner
in that territory. The goal of that is to reduce the
"foreignness" in foreign languages and to be able to talk to the
rest of humanity about this topic in a more than stupid way. (In
a certain PBS televized lecture series on the history of
civilization, for example, a certain erudite prof. gives the
history of the alphabet in Greece in a single wonderful
sentence, quote: they took Phoenician, added vowels, and turned
it into Greek...)

The course was advertised to the whole campus and drew a
whopping 30, which makes the deans happier than a language
course of 15. Everybody in the class has studied or is native in
another language, and a few have linguistics background. (They
are clearly doing better than the ones who are encountering
stops and fricatives for the first time, but I try to keep
everybody afloat. Some have expressed that there should be a
lings. prereq., to which I counter that they would never have
taken it under those conditions--and the potential pool of
takers would be way too small.) Hardly anyone knew anything of
the ancient Near East--even the several who grew up in the
modern Middle East. Some of the hardest notions for them to
grasp are, e.g., "Greek" as the name of a language with a
certain structure and as the name of a certain script,
separating "letter" from "sound" (an area in which secondary
education has failed miserably with all sorts of awful
consequences--topic for another time) including the terms
"consonant" as "consonant sound" vs. "letter that represents
consonant sound,", of thinking of languages in genetic families
as separate from the writing system any member of the family
might use. They are a good group and I give them a lot of credit
for not dropping when they realized what it actually takes to
talk about language in this way and over such a vast area and
time depth, to boot. They've never complained about having to
learn this apparent esoterica.

My approach was chronological alongside linguistic. After the
first couple of weeks I had the biggest "duh" revelation: I
should have taught it as a "retro-history," working backward
from the familiar so that they could immediately see the
difference between new and old stages. As it is, they are
uncomfortable not seeing where they are moving to because they
don't appreciate how their own alphabet works with their sound

Well, enough. If you are still reading, you get the idea. I'd
like to hear any of your experiences in this field.


Bob Fradkin
Dept. of Asian and East European Langs.
2106 Jimenez Hall
Univ. of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742-4831
tel. 301-405-4250
fax 301-314-9841
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Message 2: Traditional Medicine Research

Date: Mon, 24 Mar 1997 21:34:50 +0800 (PST)
From: Ruben Z. Martinez <>
Subject: Traditional Medicine Research

Dear Subscribers:

I'm currently working on an ethnographic research on traditional
medicine and traditional health seeking behavior. I would like to know
if somebody is working or doing research on semiotic, ethnolinguistic,
or linguistic study with focus on health behavior or traditional
medicine. Thanks

Ruben Z. Martinez
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