Monthly Archives: August 2017

How Much Do You Know About…Spanish (and other Romance Languages)?


August 6, 2017

veniceIn anticipation of Hector Urrutibeheity’s, Victoria Arbizu-Sabater’s and Luisa Kluger’s upcoming Spanish language classes, we put together a quiz on little-known facts about Romance Languages!

1. Which language below is not a Romance language:

A. German.
B. Romanian.
C. Italian.

2. Romance languages all descend from this original language:

A. Germanic.
B. Latin.
C. Celtic.

3. Which language is the number one spoken language of the Romance Languages?

A. French.
B. Spanish.
C. Russian.

4. Which Romance language is the language used in classical music?

A. English.
B. Spanish.
C. Italian.

5. Although Spanish is a Romance language, it is heavily influenced by:

A. Arabic.
B. Russian.
C. Portuguese.

6. Which is the largest Spanish-speaking country?

A. United States.
B. Spain.
C. Mexico.

7. When did the Spanish language begin (that we would recognize today)?

A. 11th century.
B. Before A.D.
C. 13th century.

Answers.

1. A. German is not a Romantic Language.  German is actually the root of another linguistic family we call the Germanic languages, which English is a part of.

2.  B. Latin. Romance Languages descend from Latin, which was the language of the Romans.

3.  B. Spanish. Of the five most widely spoken Romance languages by number of native speakers, Spanish (410 million) is the most widely spoken.

4. C. Italian. According to Miles Hoffman, author of The NPR Classical Music Companion, Italian is the linqua franca of classical music. “So many of these musical forms—sonata, cantata, aria—started in Italy,” Hoffman says. “Plus, Italian musicians were in positions of prestige all over Europe, so it became the lingua franca.”

5.  A. Arabic. The origin of a lot of words in Spanish can be traced back to Arabic—the language that has had the most cultural influence on the Spanish language after Latin. The Arab presence in Spain that lasted for nine centuries led to the absorption of multiple Arabic words by Spanish speakers. About 4,000 words in the Spanish language are of Arab origin, such as “aceituna” (olive), “almohada” (pillow), “azúcar” (sugar)  and “arroz” (rice), to name a few.

6. C. Mexico. This country has a population of more than 121 million people who speak Spanish, and as such, is geographically the largest Spanish-speaking country. The United States is home to the second-largest Spanish-speaking population, followed by Colombia, Spain and Argentina. Each country is home to many different Spanish dialects.

7. C. 13th Century. It is still not known exactly when Castilian Latin of the north-central region of Spain turned into Spanish. However, the laws passed by King Alfonso in the 13th century that established Castilian as a distinct official language of the government helped to give rise to the language. In fact, when Columbus traveled to the Americas in 1492, the Spanish he spoke would have been understood by today’s Spanish speakers.

 

 

Terrence Doody Speaks: On “Loose and Baggy Monsters”


August 8, 2017
willdorthea
Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw from Middlemarch by George Eliot,The Jenson Society, NY, 1910 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Henry James called the nineteenth-century novel a ” loose and baggy monster.”

James thought the novel ought to discipline itself to a single character’s point of view. This character need not be the narrator because the novelist’s art consists in finding a way to say everything necessary within these voluntary limits. What results is not the omniscient voice of the culture, but the consciousness of the individual, who grows more and more alienated as we enter the twentieth century. If nineteenth century novels are typically long, twentieth century novels are inevitably hard because there is no more all-knowing narrator to tell us what to think and feel.

George Eliot’s Middlemarch is loose and baggy, because it is filled with an unusually wide range of characters across the society of Middlemarch at a time of historical transition. Anna Karenina has fewer characters, a more intense focus, but it is built on the parallel fates of Anna Karenina and Constantine Levin, who is a version of Tolstoy himself. Anna is a tragic figure while Levin is a spiritual seeker. The novel has two endings that prevent conventional closure.

How do these and other novels of the time take us to the very edge of Modernism?

Anna Karenina has two endings that prevent conventional closure. Tolstoy’s style is “simple,” lucid, irrefutable—it is quite simply like no one else’s which is why, by everybody’s measure, Leo Tolstoy is the greatest of the nineteenth century novelists.

James’s The Portrait of a Lady poses American innocence against the Old World’s sophistication, which is seen through the eyes and assumptions of Isabel Archer. Its ending is very provocative, and James is no help at all: his characters are as independent of their author as any in the nineteenth-century—an independence that turns into modern alienation and puts us at the edge of Modernism.

None of these differences diminishes any one of the novels. They are all masterpieces and the grounds for a nice debate about the relationship between the exigencies of real life and the freedoms of fiction’s aesthetics.

“The Novel Moves to Modernity” begins Thursday, September 7 from 1:00 – 3:00.

Click here for more details.

WIH Debuts Unparalleled Spanish Language Program


August 4, 2017

habla2Dr. Hector Urrutibeheity has created a Spanish program especially for The Women’s Institute of Houston that is unparalleled in this city. Urrutibeheity’s program is uniquely immersive and comprehensive, and he has brought with him two of his doctorate-bearing students from his Rice University classes. We visited with him to find out more.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us more details about the Spanish program that you have developed for The Women’s Institute?

Urrutibeheity: The Spanish program at WIH is designed exclusively for adults who want to learn Spanish. Our teaching method takes into account the fact that adults often have different reasons for learning a language and also a different way of learning. In our classes, for instance, students are given CDs on which each new lesson is recorded with pauses for them to repeat plus oral exercises to complete.

WIH Reporter: There are Spanish classes offered all over the city of Houston. Please explain how this program is different.

Urrutibeheity: All three instructors in our program have doctorates in Spanish linguistics. They have taught Spanish for several years at the university level. They are familiar with the approach I have developed, and both Dr. Kluger and Dr. Arbizu-Sabater were my students at Rice University. All three of us have taught languages in other countries: Dr. Arbizu-Sabater has taught Spanish in Poland, Dr. Kluger has taught in Israel, and I have taught English in Argentina.

WIH Reporter: What reasons do people generally have for wanting to learn a foreign language? Why is this potentially important in a city like Houston?

Urrutibeheity: Most participants in our classes want to be able to communicate in Spanish, whether it is in Houston or when traveling within a Spanish-speaking country. Eventually, they will be able to read original texts (short stories, newspaper articles, novels) written in Spanish.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about learning a new language?

Urrutibeheity: The teaching techniques we use at the WIH were developed by my experiences teaching English, French and Spanish in college courses and in university extension courses. Learners no longer have to memorize lists of words and they do not have to answer questions in the language from the very beginning. The instructor makes sure that every student learns the new materials IN CLASS. They are given a CD on which the materials that were introduced were recorded with pauses for the learner to repeat. Students who can spend a minimum of 15 minutes every day listening and doing the activities in the CD will be surprised to see how well they understand and speak the new language after only a few weeks of study.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do people have about learning new languages?

Urrutibeheity: Learning a language in a context in which the student “wants” to learn is quite different from one in which they “have” to learn it, as in a college course. Students´attitudes have a lot to do with learning not only languages but any other subject. In our language classes, progress of the class depends totally on how ALL members of the class are learning the new material. Again, our instructors do not have “to finish the book”. Their main and only objective is to make sure that participants keep being motivated to learn the new language and avoid the all too frequent frustration that sometimes develops in beginning classes.

WIH Reporter: How is the language program set up?

Urrutibeheity: The language program is organized around three levels: beginning, intermediate and advanced. Each level consists of two, seven-week sessions. The advanced level can be taken several times. Students often take it to maintain their knowledge of the language, to increase their vocabulary and to practice their listening and speaking skills.

For more information on Dr. Urrutibeheity’s Spanish language courses, click here.

Celebrating 100 Years of Auguste Rodin


August 6, 2017
256px-The_Thinker,_Rodin

wikipedia, public commons

In this year, the centennial of Auguste Rodin’s death, Professor Anna Tahinci presents her new art course, “Auguste Rodin and Modern Sculpture“. In this course, students will engage in Rodin’s fascinating artistic career—initially full of rejections, controversies, and scandals, which he managed to transform into international successes.   We interviewed her to find out more.

 

WIH Reporter: What in your opinion makes this a “must take” class at WIH?

Tahinci: Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was acclaimed as the greatest sculptor since Phidias and Michelangelo, boldly bringing the ancient art of sculpture into the 20th century. We are all familiar with Rodin’s iconic The Thinker, but this is the perfect moment to rediscover Rodin and his contributions to modern sculpture.

WIH Reporter: Since Rodin is your specialty, can you tell us what motivated you to study him?

Tahinci:  I studied Greek archaeology in Athens and when I moved to Paris for my graduate studies I became fascinated by Rodin’s passion for antiquity and decided to explore his oeuvre and contributions. At that moment I discovered the archives of the Musée Rodin in Paris and the rest is history, or I should say Art History! I did my doctorate at the Sorbonne on Auguste Rodin and studied at the Ecole du Louvre, while working at the Musée Rodin and the Musée d’Orsay.

WIH Reporter: Why is Rodin important for us to study?

TahinciRodin is a key figure in the history of sculpture since he is a bridge, a shifting point between academic sculpture of the 19th century and modern sculpture of the 20th century. He had a challenging career and practice, full of rejections, controversies, and scandals, but he always managed to transform those into future opportunities. As a result, he is an inspirational example of resilience.

WIH Reporter: In what ways did Rodin depart from the traditional sculpture of his time?

Tahinci: Rodin deliberately and systematically broke all academic conventions of his time in at least three different ways: in terms of his subject matters (dealing openly with sensuality without the pretext of mythology), of his style (treating fragments as complete and finished artworks), and his materials and techniques (with his endless experimentation with found objects and archaeological artifacts).

WIH Reporter: What is his legacy?

Tahinci: Rodin explored the expressionistic power of forms (including fragments) while remaining faithful to nature and life. He refused to idealize his figures and at the same time he would embrace accidents and the chance factor in his artistic process. He opened the way to entire generations of sculptors in France, Europe, and America.

WIH ReporterWhere can we see a Rodin sculpture in Houston?

Tahinci: The MFAH has an amazing collection of sculptures by Rodin that you can engage with by visiting both the Beck building and the Cullen Sculpture Garden, such as his iconic “Walking Man”, an amazing example of fragmentation that captures mid-stride motion. It also helps to put Rodin in context by studying sculptures by his master Carrier-Belleuse and by his students Bourdelle and Brancusi, also in the MFAH collection. 

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Tahinci: I am currently in Paris conducting research and gathering material. Thus, the exhibition catalogue of the Rodin centennial is what I am reading. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with my students in the fall.

Professor Tahinci’s six-week class begins on September 5th, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

Contemporary Women’s Fiction: Experience, Style, and Themes


August 6, 2017

contempwomenWomen have been writing up a storm in the twenty-first century, sharing ideas, sufferings, and joys with their increasingly diverse audiences. Laura Richardson’s upcoming class, “Contemporary Women’s Fiction,” explores some of these current literary trends in women’s writing, seeking to identify shared threads of experience, style, and thematic approach in a diverse and interesting set of texts from the twenty-first century.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your class?

Richardson: Our syllabus is exceptionally contemporary. All of the novels we’ll read were written in the twenty-first century—in fact, half of the syllabus was published as recently as 2013!

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about contemporary women’s literature?

Richardson: That women only write about women! Plenty of the texts we’ll be reading feature strong, often emotionally-complicated male characters. I would love for our class to have a lively conversation about what it means for a woman to write a male character and vice versa, especially in the context of contemporary writing.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about women’s experiences as reflected in the books you cover?

Richardson: Perhaps how many similarities there are among experiences of women from diverse backgrounds. Being a contemporary woman in a global community means a worldwide kinship with women’s issues. One of our primary objectives in the course will be to identify and celebrate (or commiserate with) these likenesses.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us about the format of each class…readings, images, the legacy or importance of these women authors?

Richardson: We’ll discuss one novel (or memoir) each class, and three classes will also have “extra-credit” reading that’s meant to enhance or accompany our understanding of the main reading. Class will be broken up into lecture and discussion. I’ll start each day by providing students with biographical information about the author, as well as any important historical context that helps us understand the text. After that, I’ll have a series of questions to pose to students, who are welcome to discuss and/or listen as they feel comfortable.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Richardson: Too many to list all of them here! I just finished John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, which is a short story collectionhilarious and weird. I’m now midway through Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and have also begun rereading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Talein anticipation of watching the TV adaptation. I love book recommendations, so when you see me at the WI, please tell me what you’re reading and loving!

Laura Richardson’s class beings on September 6, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

How Women Won the West


August 6, 2017
calamityJane copy

Calamity Jane, wikipedia

Scott Pett’s upcoming class, “Women in the American West,” students will
learn about the hardships, hopes, and homes of the “American West” through the eyes, voices, and memories of women. Pett plans to use film, memoirs, biographical fiction, and poetry to discover how our ideas of the nineteenth-century and present-day West have been created and complicated. We checked in with the new WI professor to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Pett: This will be a multimedia class. We’ll be reading a few different kinds of writing from different women—some who were born and raised in the West and some who migrated there. We’ll also view excerpts from a terrific film, “The Homesman” (2014), starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones.

There is a lot of ground to cover (bad pun intended), so the class will be focused on breadth rather than depth. I will start each class with a lecture and discussion about particular women artists, activists, and public figures like Georgia O’Keefe, Laura Gilpin, and more. We’ll talk about representations of women in Hollywood westerns like Westward the Women (1951), which is almost too laugh-out-loud ridiculous to be offensive. We will also discuss the suggested texts for the course. And, if anyone would like to do a brief presentation on an ancestor of theirs, I think that would be a lot of fun.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about the American West and women?

Pett: Perhaps the biggest thing is that we tend to think and talk about “the West” in the singular. For some reason, it’s easier to talk about the West that way, as one big region. There is a kind of romance to it; the singular West gives us some closure to and hope about the supposed destiny of American nation building.

But in fact, there are a plurality of “Wests” with distinctive geographies and overlapping social histories. Do we mean the Rocky Mountains? The US/Mexico borderlands? The plains of Oklahoma? The Pacific islands? “The West” is all of these.

Of course, we also have to make sure to think about “women” as a plural category, rather than singular. We tend not to think about the experiences and voices of black women in the American West, nor do we give much thought to places like L.A. It doesn’t fit within the master narrative of a singular “West,” which conjures images of wild, rural, lowland landscapes.

WIH Reporter: People are fascinated with Native Americans, and the interaction with settlers of the American West. Abductions of women were rare, but there were many stories about this. Although your class deals with literature, and this concerns chronicles or newspaper articles, can you comment about the interactions?

Pett: What little I know about this subject, I’ve learned from reading Mary Rowlandson’s account of her experience (1682), the novel Hope Leslie (1827), Dorothy M. Johnson’s story “Lost Sister” (1957) about Cynthia Ann Parker, and lastly the account of a young Mormon girl named Olive Oatman.

Captivity narratives were often sensationalized. They made for tantalizing reading in periodicals like Saturday Evening Post, while also reinforcing perceptions of American Indians as savages and white settlers as enlightened. Such a spin made it easier to justify the destruction and displacement of indigenous peoples in the name of protecting white womanhood.

With the exception of Rowlandson, who was kidnapped later in life and only separated from her family for a few months, these women and the literary characters they inspired had a difficult time being reintegrated into white communities. In the case of Cynthia Ann Parker, Texas Rangers “recaptured” her. Newspapers recorded how “she vainly tried to escape” white society. After years of being away from her family, she had come to identify culturally and ethnically with her tribe. She had become “thoroughly Indianized,” to use the words of an article purporting to tell the story of another woman taken captive, Frances Slocum, who also later refused to leave her Native family.

But, depending on an author’s agenda, there were competing narratives about the dangers of settler abduction. Propaganda novels like M. Emilia Rockwell’s A Home in the West (1858) were written to reassure women who were afraid to emigrate to places like Iowa because of captivity narratives. In her novel, Rockwell assures her readers that Indians, while “savage,” were not a threat. The goal was to convince women that westward expansion was in the best interest of both their families and the nation.

Q: What would surprise us to know about the American West in terms of women’s experiences?

One surprising thing is that in certain places—Wyoming and Utah territories, for example—white women were allowed to vote up to 50 years before the rest of the country! They didn’t necessarily do this for the right reasons, for example to make sure black citizens remained disempowered, and there were efforts to repeal in both cases. In Utah, women’s suffrage was later repealed as part of an effort to prevent the normalization of polygamy, which was its own unique experience for some women. I find that whole history very fascinating.

WIH Reporter: Do you have a quote from a woman of the American West from literature that symbolizes the experiences of women there?

Pett: For me, there is probably no more interesting and important figure than the ambitious writer and illustrator Mary Hallock Foote, an East-coast transplant whose work captured the life of mining communities in places like Idaho and California. She also lived in Mexico, Colorado, and South Dakota. She was likely the first woman to illustrate an American novel, which happened to be Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. She was very accomplished, but is now mostly forgotten except for being the inspiration (and sometimes direct source material) for Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Angle of Repose (1971). Over a period of 35 years, Foote carried on a very intimate, conflicted, and beautiful correspondence with her friend Helena Gilder, which allowed them to express “the cries that one woman utters to another.”

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from a letter from Mary to Helena:

“I read in the Bible last night that a ‘meek and quiet spirit’ is the only thing for a woman. But how can one ever do or be anything if meekness and quietness are the best things in life. I know plenty of women who have meekness but they have attained it only by giving up all hope or thought for themselves. I could not do that without giving up ambition too.”

Scott Pett’s class begins on September 8th, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.