Stellenbosch Update #11 (Posted Wed Feb 20)

Monday and Tuesday were busy with mundane things. I have read about six books on cognitive linguistics, relevance theory, vocabulary acquisition, and translation theory. While most of it is pretty technical, there have been a few little quotes from one book (Understanding Utterances by Diane Blakemore) which I thought were worthy of a wider audience.

“Poetic utterances are distinguished from the more mundane cases of communication by the way that they encourage the hearer to take a greater share of the interpretation process, so that the extra effort she invests is rewarded by a wide array of very weak implicatures, which she is encouraged to explore.” [Implicature: a term introduced by Grice for any aspect of meaning that could not be analysed in truth-conditional terms]. This one was actually for Ros, since she works so hard to make people see the value of poetry.

“To say a phenomena is ordinary and everyday is not necessarily to say that it is uninteresting.”

“Metaphor is the dream-work of language” (Blakemore is actually quoting Davidson here).

I guess all the other notes I have that I thought were so wonderful are pretty interesting only to me, so I’ll move on.

I’ve met with Christo several times to discuss some of the reading and to think through (out loud) some of the research to see where it might be productive for our work. I’m still having a hard time focusing on putting a schedule to paper. I have one from last May, but we are revising it. Christo also wants me to work in writing some articles.

I’ve also had some time to meet with Andrea, Christo’s masters level student who is from Texas. Her husband is Mexican and he is missing tortillas. He is studying international relations and may (or may not) want to work for the CIA or for the foreign office. I tried to answer her questions about Accordance and Mellel (some of the software I use on my computer). I also shared with her some of the handouts that we use in our Hebrew program at WTS.

The past few days have been exciting times for rugby and cricket players (and fans). There have been almost constant tournaments going on across the river. At night there are thunderous refrains of some foreign chant that hover in the air. Drums and the stamping of feet often accompany the singing. We’re not talking about African chanting (necessarily), but just thousands of Maties (Stellenbosch University students) screaming something in unison for sustained periods of time. It sounds quite rowdy, but it isn’t a cacophony. They definitely are chanting together.

As I mentioned in my interim update, I was approached on the campus street today by someone who needed directions. I was amazed that I was asked, and even more amazed that they asked for directions to a place that I actually knew about.

With only a few days left, I’ve been trying to pick up some items to bring home. I went in a rare book and antique store and found some amazing things (most of the really unique things were not for sale). One thing was a ball-like bag with a handle made out of some kind of animal skin. It probably could hold 8-10 gallons. It was labeled as something used to carry butter. Then there was the very strange musical instrument. It had a string bow (which looked more like a bow for an arrow). The instrument itself had 3 strings and was carved out of one piece of wood. It had a carved bird at the place where a violin scroll would be. The bottom bowl (or body) of the instrument was hollowed out, but only the bottom half was covered. The covering was an animal skin. I took a photo of it because it was so unusual. Oh, and they also had some old Tolkien Lord of the Rings books which were labeled ‘first edition’ copies (3rd, 4th and 10th printing- but the dustjackets were not from the real first editions). And way too expensive for the quality and condition of the books (R6000). I did decide to bring back one thing made out of an animal skin. I bought a small ostriche leather change purse. That store is right next to the place where you can get ostriche burgers. Hmm.

I did pluck up enough courage to go out on my bicycle toward the outskirts of town so that I could get closer to the Jonkershoek mountains which tower over Stellenbosch. I kept reminding myself of what Rosemarie G. told me: keep your left elbow on the curb. So, I was able to navigate the roads and stay on the right/correct side (that would actually be left side) of the road. Left turns are easy, it’s the right turns that get a little nerve-wracking. And the roundabouts are the hardest in traffic. But, I had a nice time out and back. It’s just so beautiful. But, then again, after the trip to Capetown, I realize just how insulated Stellenbosch is from some of the ugliness of the country.

I’m still trying to find a way to get back to Capetown so that I can climb/hike on Table Mountain before I come home. I’ve been trying almost everything (talking to the BTK club at school, which is the Mountain and Touring club; asking at the local outdoor store for suggestions; talking to a few tour group organizers; asking Christo, etc). So far nothing has come through, but one person said they might be able to work out something if I was flexible. So, my backpack is ready at an instant if they call my cell phone.

I’m trying to find a ride back to the airport on the weekend. Christo has obligations and can’t take me. We thought the international office would arrange a ride (they are supposed to provide transportation free the first time that students visit). However, they informed us today that they don’t make arrangements for on the weekend. Christo suggested that he arrange a car for me and I could drive myself (PANIC!!!). I don’t really want to navigate the highways to Capetown by myself. So, we are still working on a plan. I’m not too concerned. I do have a back-up plan, but I’m getting more frugal the longer I am here and I hate to spend money that I don’t have to.

University fact of the day: our mascot is a squirrel. I guess it is because we value the oak trees on campus and have an oak leaf in our logo. It must be a fierce squirrel.

Today I sat in on one of Christo’s first year classes. This section happened to be in English. Most of the classes must be taught in Afrikaans (at the undergraduate level). He is in the second week and it won’t be until tomorrow that they begin the aleph-bet. This is because he spends the first lectures describing the Ancient Near Eastern cultural and linguistic context.

I’ve started to be more aware of some of the subtleties of the lines of racial distinction that still exist. For example, in Java CafĂ© all the wait staff (female and male) are young and white. All the people in the kitchen and behind the bar (making the coffee, etc) are colored. The wait staff wear stylish black tops and skirts/pants with half aprons, usually with a good amount of skin showing. The colored staff wear black dresses and aprons and draw less attention to themselves. They never interact with the customers directly. People are definitely changing in their attitudes and in the opportunities offered to browns and blacks, but you can see that there are so many repurcussions of apartheid that will take a very long time to work through. As in many things, the political situation is much more complicated than it looks. I’ve had some really helpful and enlightening conversations with people to broaden my understanding.

I found some maps in a store and was able to figure out the exact route we took the other day. I also now have names of peaks and mountains. My recollection of some of the order and locations of the trip was not quite right, so having the maps makes it easier to identify where I took my photos. I’ll try to update some of those. Just thought it was funny though that one of the mountains we took lots of photos of is called Karbonkelberg. And the one that Mark commented looks like the Prudential rock is actually called the Sentinel or Hangberg.

Back in Stellenbosch, my gastehuis is just a half block from the Theological Seminary. But that’s just a plain boring name. The real name for a seminary here is a kweekskool. Kweek is a verb which can mean to cultivate or train. And a kweekhuis is a hothouse. As in a place to cultivate fruits. I didn’t make that up, that is what my little dictionary said!

And the closing note for the day. Worlds collide when you taste South African brie cheese with chiles.

Postscript: it appears that the spoofing of my domain has finally run its course. At least for now.