La Prima Settimana

1 Sep

La première semaine. The first week.

If I haven’t yet blown you away with my trilingualism, give it a few months as my Italian skills continue to progress. My class is good fun, and the professor has quite a personality. Knowing French already is a major advantage in studying the language, since I can usually tell or at least guess what something means based on its similarity to French (or Spanish words that I know); i.e. yesterday/today/tomorrow = (French) hier/aujourd’hui/demain = (Italian) ieri/oggi/domani. So far we’ve only covered the basics, i.e. the alphabet, numbers, days of the week, months, and how to hold an introductory conversation, but I’m surprised at how quickly and easily I’m picking it up. Also, being able to look up sites that explain the phonology and syntax in linguistic terminology give me an extra advantage.

It’s been a long time since I last was a ‘novice’ speaker of a language, although there was the short period where I attempted to teach myself Scottish Gaelic (Ciamar a tha sibh?) – but it certainly feels weird. However, learning another Romance language is like a walk in the park, except it’s difficult to know whether I’m retaining 100% of what I learn, because introductory language courses at university are much more fast-paced than my introduction to French was. Besides, my brain isn’t quite as malleable as it used to be.

I wonder, if I were to start learning French today, if I would be able to pick up the pronunciation as easily as I have. Italian has a much simpler phonetic inventory, except for the ‘gl’ sound which I haven’t quite mastered (it’s a palatal lateral, sort of a consonantal ‘y’ sound but with the tongue in the ‘l’ position).

The other difficulty with Italian is the distinction between the opened and closed pronunciations of ‘e’ and ‘o’, which is not governed by rule, but completely random. For example, ‘seta’ is pronounced ‘say-ta’ whereas ‘setta’ is prounced ‘set-ta’. Although French, unlike Italian, is not a phonetic language, the pronunciation is still strictly rule-governed. As numerous and complex as these rules may be, there are very few total exceptions, whereas a major element of Italian pronunciation is entirely unpredictable.

Additionally, the obligatory pronunciation of double consonants (‘fatto’ as opposed to ‘fato’) can be kind of troubling, since the distinction is never consciously made in English or French, and there’s bound to be some minimal pair that could put me in big trouble if I miss a consonant (lol, linguistic jargon).

If I were to find myself in a sticky situation, the most useful phrase I know is undoubtedly, “Va cagare!”

Ironically, while I have an advantage over my classmates in Italian, the case is no longer the same in my current French class. The class is nearly full of pretentious French majors who have studied in France…but, needless to say, they are more confident and fluent speakers. The professor also speaks very quickly and often mumbles, although so far I haven’t had any difficulty understanding her. It just feels like I’ve really gone up to the ‘next level’, and I’ll have to be more confident in my speaking skills before my fluency can improve.

The class is about “Francophone Literature” – that is, French literature from outside France. This is what attracted me to the course to begin with, since I was looking forward to reading literature from Canada. As it turns out, however, the Canadian book on the reading list was written by a native anglophone. Whatever. At the moment, we’re reading a book by a Vietnamese author (Anna Moï) who will be visiting USC this week. That should be cool.

The full title of the course is actually “Race, Gender, and Power in Francophone Literature”, adhering to the ‘modern’ university ideology that for some reason we should spend all of our time discussing women and people who aren’t white. While I could understand this ‘academic affirmative action’ a long time ago when university studies in this country probably skimmed over some influential women and minorities, at this point I just find it ridiculous and annoying.

The ridiculousness of this concept is embodied in USC’s “diversity requirement”, which requires students to take some course related to women’s issues, homosexuality, minorities, etc. etc. When choosing a course to satisfy this requirement, I selected the one that sounded the *least* painful — The Broadway Musical: Reflection of American Diversity, Issues, and Experiences. I love musicals, so it should be fun, right?

Well, in many ways, it is. Much of the class time is spent simply watching clips from musicals or listening to songs. The work is not challenging, either. However, the discussion topics and the discussions themselves are simply absurd. Although the professor is very nice (and actually from New York, so she knows a lot about Broadway), the questions posed are just…I don’t know. An example: “What is prostitution?” or “Is prostitution a good or bad thing?”

Of course, there are students eager to respond to these questions with some kind of pretentious argument about feminism, but most of them come off as total morons who feel like making a big issue out of something trivial. Worse are the students who are ridiculous Broadway musical buffs (e.g. they have no lives), who feel the need to give a lengthy synopsis and professional critique of every musical brought up. They think they’re hot shots in the class, but they’re really just wasting everybody’s time.

While I can’t really complain about the class (it will probably be an easy A), I think my frustration can best be witnessed in one of the PowerPoint slides from the first day of class. While I don’t remember it verbatim, the slide was very close to something like: “What is Diversity? -any point of difference -the act of being different -some difference -etc.”

On the other end of the spectrum, we have my most difficult course, Japanese History to 1550. I’ve never actually taken a course in the history department before, and this course is full of history majors, so I feel myself at an inherent disadvantage. While the subject matter is fascinating, there is an incredible amount of detail in the readings, and it’s impossible to retain everything. To make matters worse, the professor is insistent on thorough note-taking, but it’s impossible for me to complete the readings *and* take comprehensive notes on them in the time I have. Besides, I hate multi-tasking.

At any rate, I’ll attempt to soldier on and see what happens when a pop quiz or exam shows up. I do really enjoy the topic, however, although sometimes it’s easy to lose track of who’s who and what’s what with the plethora of Japanese names thrown at you.

But enough of my complaining! Wait – that’s not true. I feel the need to complain about my room:

I suppose “cozy” is the best word to use? Ironically, Megan has a bigger bedroom (to herself) in a big house and pays less rent than I do. Curse you, Megan!

I often retreat to the living room for some extra space, which although not much, is a nice change from being confined to a dorm room:

And hey, we’ve got AC in there! Good thing, too – I’m not fond of the constant heat here.

Ok, now I’m done complaining. Instead, I’d like to mention some of the things that I’m actually looking forward to this semester in LA!

1. The Emmys. They’re practically across the street from me. Although I have no idea whether it’s possible to be a spectator of the red carpet, I might just hang out in the area and see who I can see. Heck, I’d be satisfied with watching the red carpet for the Creative Arts Emmys!

2. Avenue Q. This musical is offered free to USC students as part of the “Visions and Voices” program, as long as I RSVP on time. I love the music, and I can’t wait to laugh my arse off while watching the show live.

3. John Williams concert. This is really the icing on the cake – a free concert of John Williams music, conducted by the man himself, right here at USC. However, I’m sure this concert will be in extremely high demand, which means I’ll have to RSVP online immediately at 9am on the day when RSVPs will be accepted. I’m sure plenty of other people will have the same idea, so hopefully we don’t crash the system. God I hope I get to see him.

4. Video Games Live Concert. I’ve always wanted to go to one of these video game music concerts, and fortunately there’s one in LA this semester. I already have my ticket, and I’m psyched (despite having to take the bus there and back). I just hope they play good music. Zelda ftw!

…and that’s only through October, so there might be more cool stuff going on in November and December. I might try to go down to San Diego, or maybe up to Santa Barbara for another retreat from the big city. And hopefully I can do some stuff around Hollywood…we’ll see.

Of course, I’m also looking forward to going home for a weekend in October. And on that note, I’ll leave you with the youtube montage of my photos from this summer (accompanied by music from Kikujiro):

New England Summer


2 Responses to “La Prima Settimana”

  1. megan 4 September 2007 at 21:32 #

    Ahahah, you know you’re welcome at my place whenever.

    However, you -do- have A/C. I cannot describe number of times I have died over and over in this weather, and the house offers no respite. The only thing we have is cold Yosemite water…

    Once it cools off though, this house will be excellent. 🙂

    3-person bedroom, woohoo! 😉

  2. megan 10 September 2007 at 21:21 #

    I just realised, for the first time, that you spell “colourless” with a “u”!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: