Monday, November 2, 2009

On forgetting Noam Chomsky



The weather is warming up, the sun is out, the beach is calling: it must be exam time. Today, for my younger daughter, it's linguistics, and she's produced a page and a half of super-condensed notes which mainly hinge on ghastly jargon. Nodal trees and transformational generative grammar - oh how well I remember it! Actually, that's all I remember well, just those two terms, which I've trotted out over the years whenever the subject's been mentioned. Everything else, including the meaning of the terms, is entirely lost - proof, if needed, of what a waste of time it all was, even for someone who's been an English teacher.

On the other hand, I have no trouble remembering the big ginkgo tree in the corner of the English-Classics quad, or that the tree on the left is a magnificent copper beech. I can even remember the clacking of my wooden clogs echoing off the walls as I trotted through here from the library to the StudAss building for a break. But allomorphs and deixis? Gone.

So is Canterbury University - from here, at least. I was lucky to be in the last generation of students to complete a degree on Townsite, before everything moved out to the spacious but soulless Ilam campus. The mock-Gothic buildings are now craft workshops and a weekly market, ballet schools, a theatre, galleries - all very appropriate, and it's still a lovely place. It really comes to life in January when the Christchurch Buskers' Festival takes place, now internationally famous and enormous fun.

I passed through ChCh on my way to Kaikoura in autumn: a glorious drive to a spectacular setting for a town, tucked between the snow-capped Seaward Kaikoura mountains and the sea where a deep trench of very cold water is alive with fish and home to a permanent population of sperm whales. There are seals and dolphins too, and famously crayfish - infinitely tastier than the lobsters they're so proud of in Boston, and which you can buy from caravans beside the road - no longer still warm from the pot, wrapped in newspaper and only $15, alas, but still worth a spin up this beautiful coast.

2 comments:

Hattie said...

Just discovered your fascinating blog through the Queen. Definitely want to get to New Zealand some day.

Pam said...

Welcome, Hattie! I hope you visit often. And do come to visit NZ too - I promise you'll love it. We're in Lonely Planet's latest Top 10 Countries to travel to, you know!

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