Classes in Brief
I’ve been getting a lot of “how are your classes going?”-type questions lately. I’ve been delaying answering the questions because I wanted to be able to give a more comprehensive answer, but I just found out today that at least one of my classes for this semester won’t begin until October 26th, so I guess I might as well talk about my impressions thus far.
I’ve only had three different classes to date. I will eventually have at least four, and likely five, but the details are still being worked out. The classes I’ve already started are:
- Survey of China (中国概况). This one is just for foreign grad students, it seems. The funny thing is they also make Taiwanese grad students take it. At first I thought it was a little bit silly to force foreigners to take a class like this (after all, any foreigner whose Chinese is good enough to handle grad school in Chinese likely has a pretty decent understanding of China), but later I realized it was a kindness. First, it’s easy. Really easy. It would be stupid to want my first semester in Chinese grad school to be full of difficult classes. All you have to do for this class is attend the three hours a week and write one 1.5-page paper for the entire semester. No exams. Second, it is offered to partially compensate for the credits that foreigners lose out on by not having to take classes in English or Chinese political theory. So far this class is not too exciting, but there’s a different teacher with a different topic every week. In the first two weeks of classes we’ve covered “painting and calligraphy” and “Chinese minorities.”
- Lectures for Grad Students (not sure about the Chinese name). It’s a lot like the Survey of China class, only the topics are a little more advanced and there are a lot more students (most of whom are Chinese). The grading policy and excitement level are pretty much the same as Survey of China too.
Selected Readings by Western Linguists (西方语言学家原著选读). This class is pretty cool, but difficult for me. Although I really like the teacher, she seems to have extremely low expectations of me. I think that will serve to motivate me to do especially well in class even more than if she were especially demanding of me. Anyway, I like the content, but it’s pretty rough reading it in Chinese. I’d like to be able to read English translations (or English originals) to complement the Chinese ones, but it’s proving harder than I expected to track down those papers. It’s really hard to read this abstract theoretical mumbo jumbo in Chinese — I suspect it would be hard for me in English. The linguists (or in some cases, “language theorists/philosophers”) we’re covering are Humboldt, Saussure, Bloomfield, Wittgenstein, Chomsky, and Gumperz.
So far I’m really enjoying learning about Humboldt. The guy’s ideas were way ahead of his time. The basic ideas behind the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and Chomsky’s universal grammar were discussed by Humboldt, and he didn’t take either to such an extreme. Too bad he was so obsessed with blabbing on and on about geist and other funny German words that are a bit of a translation pain.
Humboldt was German, but Wittgenstein was Austrian (and Saussure was Swiss). Still, my teacher has promised us some interesting insights into the thinking processes of Germans versus Americans down the road. Knowing my teacher, I suspect America is going to take a bit of a beating, but I’m still looking forward to the discussion…
This class also has no exams, but I’m required to make a class presentation on one of the linguists. I chose Chomsky. Syntactic Structures (in English!!!) has already been shipped.
The fourth class, which my advisor arranged for me, is in corpus linguistics (语料库语言学). I freaked out a little at first when he told me the Chinese name, because I had no idea what it was. Then I freaked out more because when I looked it up, I wasn’t familiar with it in English either! After a little research on corpus linguistics, however, I’m pretty sure that it will be quite interesting and well worth studying. That’s the class that starts October 26th.
I may take a fifth class with the Chinese as a Foreign/Second Language (对外汉语) department. I have no idea when that would be starting.
My Friday class has been canceled due to the upcoming holiday, which means today is my last day of class before vacation…