Sunday, February 26, 2017

Getting Started - Day One

Today, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is what is called "Cheesefare Sunday." This means that today was the last day to eat dairy products until Easter. Last Sunday was "Meatfare Sunday," so meat is already off our tables.

But today is also Day One of my campaign to learn Russian during Lent. I was busy at Church all day long. We had Divine Liturgy (Mass), followed by a brunch/fundraiser, and then "Forgiveness Vespers," a special service to formally begin Great Lent.

My job at this event has for many years been to serve shots of vodka to the attendees. As I served it, I heard Russians say to me:

Спасибо (Spaseeba)

I think I had previously learned that is how you say "Thank you" in Russian, but it was contextualized nicely today.

As my job continued, I heard someone say:

Большое спасибо (Balshoye spaseeba)

The linguist in me knows this must be the intensifier, "Thank you very much."

When, upon delivering vodka to another table I heard:
 Спасибо Большое (Spaseeba balshoye),

I deduced that the positioning of the adverb was not important.

And look, I don't even know enough right now to know if it even is an adverb. Maybe it's an adjective. I'll pick this up as I go.

My priest and I were going upstairs from the event to get ready for the "Forgiveness Vespers" and I asked him a question. 

I had heard him, the week prior, when giving a woman Communion, use the wrong name when saying, 'The Handmaiden of God [Name] Receives the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 

When he said the wrong name, she corrected him. I then clearly heard him say:

Извини меня (Izveenee menya)

And I assumed that he had said "Forgive me." The "Forgiveness Vespers" involve asking people for forgiveness if we have offended or sinned against anyone.

So I asked him, "Is the way to say 'Forgive me' in Russian 'Izveenee menya'?"

He answered, "No, that is how you say 'Excuse me'. 'Forgive me' is 'Прости меня (Prastee menya)'."

When I got home from this long day of Church, I burned a CD that I will be listening to on my commute. It includes the first few chapters of three different Russian language programs I will be studying from. 

I also filled out Phase One of my vocabulary lists for Russian and read out loud those words. 

Week One begins. Lent begins. A week from now, I must be competent in Phase One and ready to move into Phase Two....

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Let's Learn a Language During Lent!

In my Eastern Orthodox Church, Lent formally starts on Monday (February 27). In the West, it starts on Ash Wednesday (March 1).

I've decided, in addition to the other traditional observances, to announce a Lenten Challenge.

I intend to learn a new language during Lent. I intend to learn Russian.

Now, I'm a linguist and so I'm not naive about what can (and cannot) be accomplished between now and Easter/Pascha on April 16.

But I also know that, with regular study every single day between now and then, one can achieve a certain degree of conversational competence.

I have a very personal reason for wanting to do this. On January 8, 2017, I was ordained a deacon for service in the Russian Orthodox Church. My parish is primarily first generation Russian immigrants. They speak various levels of English, but I consider it my spiritual duty to be able to meet them halfway.

I'm announcing this publicly because it will help me stay focused on the goal. In other words, since I have now said this out loud, I need to follow through!

I invite you to join me, if you are so inclined. I would sure love some company on this journey!

Whatever language you would like to have even a limited conversational ability in, decide that you will add such study to your Lenten discipline and it will happen!

I successfully learned Arabic, Spanish, and Romanian, and along the way I developed a list of the most important vocabulary items to learn in five phases of study. I will be using my lists to create a Russian version. I'll use other resources and blog about my progress.

If you want to learn Arabic, Spanish, or Romanian, I offer my lists of those languages for free, with accompanying MP3 files to listen to. If you have another language you want to learn, I have a blank template of my word lists.

My goal is to memorize the vocabulary of one phase of my plan each week, as well as study the language from other sources. 

If you join me, email me at keith [ at] or connect with me on Twitter @keithamassey and I will be happy to encourage you as you also (please!) encourage me.

Let us begin...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Learning Latin with Pope Francis - February 21, 2017

To visit my archive of Latin Papal Tweets, go to my main page. 

February 21, 2017

Here's a literal translation of the Latin: God knows better than we (about) what we need; it is necessary (that) we have trust (in) Him, because his ways are altogether different from ours.

And here's how the grammar of this Latin tweet works:

Grammar Points
nom. sing. masc. noun
Deus, Dei
(than) we
abl. pl. pronoun
nos. nostri
3rd pers. sing. pres. act. ind. verb
sciō, scīre, scīvī, scītus
 (about) what
abl. sing. neut. rel. pronoun
qui, quae, quod; object of egemus
we need
1st pers. sing. pres. act. ind. verb
egeō, egēre, eguī
It is necessary
3rd pers. sing. pres. impers. verb
oportet, oportēre, oportuit
(in) Him(self)
dat. sing. masc. dem. adj.
ipse, ipsa, ipsum
(that) we have trust
1st pers. pl. pres. act. subj. verb
cōnfīdō, cōnfīdere, -, cōnfīsus
his (of him)
gen. sing. masc. dem. adj.
is, ea, id
nom. pl. fem. noun
via, viae
nom. pl. fem. adj.
diversus, diversa, diversum
Prep. + Abl.
abl. pl. fem. poss. adj.
noster, nostra, nostrum
3rd pers. pl. pres. ind. verb
sum, esse, fui

What's a Lifetime? And what are the Implications?

Harry S. Truman
I have a memory from when I was six years old; I was mad that my favorite television show was not on. My mother explained to me, "President Truman died. His funeral is all that's on TV today, you just need to accept that."

The annoyance of the young boy has become now the curiosity of an adult man. I was alive at the same time as Harry S. Truman! 

And this got me to wondering, how many lifetimes removed am I from the founding of our Nation?

Ulysses S. Grant
And so, I investigated it as follows. Who was the oldest living president when Harry Truman was born on May 8, 1884?

The answer, surprisingly, is Ulysses S. Grant, who died on July 23, 1885!

And so, who was the oldest living president when Ulysses S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822?

John Adams
The answer is, unbelievably, John Adams himself!

John Adams, at the age of 90, died on July 4, 1826 (Thomas Jefferson died on the very same day).

I decided now to play this back toward the future, starting from George Washington. 

George Washington
My methodology will be, what future president, alive when a president died, would live longer than other presidents alive when he was born.

George Washington, at age 67,  died on December 14, 1799. Who was the longest living future president who had been born when he died?

James Buchanan
The answer is James Buchanan, who was born on April 23, 1791 and died on June 1, 1868.

In other words, a president born before Washington died saw the entirety of the Civil War.

And who was the longest living president alive when Buchanan died?

William Howard Taft
It turns out it's William Howard Taft, born on September 15, 1857 and who died on March 8, 1930. 

And what future president, alive when Taft died, lived the longest?

The answer is, there are two presidents, who were born before Taft died, who are still alive!

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter was born on October 1, 1924.
George H.W. Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924.

I will admit to being surprised how few lifetimes separate us who are alive today from people we assumed were distant history.

As a Christian, I close in contemplating the following.

What was the year when the last Christian who had a memory of an Apostle died? Based on the spans of lives I show here, it is not unreasonable to assert that a number of such people were still alive in the year AD 150. 

What was the year when the last Christian who learned Christianity from someone who in turn had learned it from an Apostle died? The answer will be, somewhere deep in the 200's.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Learning Latin with Pope Francis - February 20, 2017

To visit my archive of Latin Papal Tweets, go to my main page. 

February 20, 2017

Here's a literal translation of the Latin: If evil is contagious, good also (is) the same. Let us allow ourselves to be infected with good and let us infect with good.

And here's how the grammar of this Latin tweet works:

Grammar Points
nom. sing. neut. adj.
malus, mala, malum; used as substantive
nom. sing. neut. adj.
contagiosus, contagiosa, contagiosum
3rd pers. sing. pres. ind. verb
sum, esse, fui
the same
nom. sing. neut. dem. pronoun
idem, eadem, idem
nom. sing. neut. adj.
bonus, bona, bonum; used as substantive
Le us allow
1st pers. pl. pres. act. subj. verb
sinō, sinere, sīvī, situs
us (ourselves)
acc. pl. pronoun
nos, nostri
with good
abl. sing. neut. adj.
bonus, bona, bonum
to be infected
pres. pass. infin.
īnficiō, īnficere, īnfēcī, īnfectus
with good
abl. sing. neut. adj.
bonus, bona, bonum
let us infect
1st pers. sing. pres. act. subj. verb
īnficiō, īnficere, īnfēcī, īnfectus