Sunday, October 22, 2006

It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter

Recent research carried out at Duke University (North Carolina) suggests that longer working hours and the replacement of real by virtual social contacts have led to a generation of twenty- and thirtysomethings with fewer close friends. Many people lead such busy working and family lives that they fall out of touch with old friends and fail to make new ones. Forewarned is forearmed!

P.S. The quote in the title is attributed to Marlene Dietrich. For more pieces of wisdom about friendship, try Wikiquote!

Gay penguins and bisexual bonobos

The Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo (Norway) has recently opened a remarkable exhibition devoted to homosexuality in the animal kingdom. As the museum explains on its website, one of its aims in documenting some of the hundreds of species where same-sex short and long-term relationships have been observed is to counter the all too familiar claim that such relationships are a crime 'against nature' (hence the title of the exposition, Against nature?).

Pedigree comedy over on BBC Two

BBC Two's new comedy season (branded as 'Pedigree Comedy' in trailers, with a big furry '2' symbol barking boisterously at unsuspecting passers-by), has been a big succes so far, with as its uncontested highlight the second series of Extras, which following The Office is a second hit for Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and which has featured such guest stars as Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter!), Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf!), Jonathan Ross (Friday Night with...), Coldplay's Chris Martin, Kate Winslet (Titanic!), Robert De Niro (The Godfather!), David Bowie (David Bowie!), and many more. If you're quick, you can still watch the last three episodes in full online -- but only until 26 October.

The next big highlight is expected to be the third and final series of The Catherine Tate Show, which starts this Thursday (26 October) at 10pm on BBC2, and is followed by Jack Dee's comedy Lead Balloon at 10.30pm (you can watch clips of this online as well). For those of you who do not know foul-mouthed Nan Taylor (what a f***ing liberty!), Lauren "Do I look bovvered though?" Cooper, Bonnie "How very dare you!" Langford, Bernie the lascivious nurse, and many other colourful characters, here's your chance!

Still on the topic of comedy, a new series of the incomparable topical game show Have I Got News For You got underway two weeks ago. Not always easy to watch if you don't keep up to date with what goes on in the UK, but that of course is easily remedied. HIGNFY is aired on Friday nights at 10pm on BBC One.

Finally, possibly the most intellectually challenging and at the same time wildly funny quiz show is QI (short for Quite Interesting), presented by Stephen Fry on Friday night at 11pm on BBC2.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Look Around You: Germs

"Germs originated in Germany": this and other wisdoms can be learnt from this amusing spoof on 1970s and 1980s educational television from the BBC comedy series Look Around You. As so often with YouTube, there is more where this came from ;) (P.S. Incidentally, YouTube was taken over by Google earlier this week...)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Caroline and Xavier in Maastricht

Hi everybody! As we promised last week, Caroline and I have just created our blog about our eramus experience in Maastricht! We are looking to hearing from you and your comments or reactions.

Here is the link:

See you (very) soon!


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Mister Duval speaks English

Students always think that their English pronunciation is the awfullest in the world. However, before saying so, they should listen to the interview of Mister Duval... Our national car driver has indeed a wonderful way of pronouncing the language of Shakespeare. The text is full of "EUH..." "HEIN..." and it is also full of grammatical misteakes such as "FOR stopped the car...". Actually, it is very easy to recognise his mother tongue. Moreover, the subtitles (for the people who are able to understand) add to the comic of the video.... Just enjoy it!!!!


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I smirt, you stooze, they krump

Don't worry if you don't understand any of the verbs in the above title: they are very recent additions to English vocabulary which have not yet gained wide currency even among native speakers (and may well never). On the basis of information drawn from a large corpus which is constantly being updated, HarperCollins Publishers have recently put out a book of this title explaining new English words such as 'moobs' for 'male boobs' (pardon my French!) or 'smirting' for flirting while smoking outside of offices or pubs. If you want to find out what those other verbs 'stooze' and 'krump' mean, the BBC news website will be happy to oblige. (While you're there, take a look at some of the links under 'See also', which are also about language, for instance about the meaning of the word 'lite' or about possible effects of texting -- sending text messages -- on one's linguistic skills.)

Incidentally, apart from words entering the language, words may also die out for a variety of reasons, for instance because the concepts they denote go out of fashion or even out of existence. Michael Quinion has just published a new book about this phenomenon: Gallimaufry: A hodgepodge of our vanishing vocabulary. As the end of the year is fast approaching, we are (as usual) running out of money for books, but sooner or later we will try to add both books to our collection. (On the plus side, the books The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax and Far from the madding gerund mentioned earlier in this blog have arrived and will soon be made accessible in the Linguistics seminar.)

Post edited

This post is just to let you know that I have added to my post entitled "some news from abroad" two links which might be interesting. The first link goes to a page showing how our ID card from the university looks like (on the page it is the second one); the second one is a link to a brief explanation of the course that I am following in the first blok.

I also wanted to make a little comment and say that this blog is a very good idea and I feel that I am going to make much use of it. So thank you mister vandelanotte (and the others if more persons were involved in the idea of this blog).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some new information

Here in Maastricht the late-summer weather has gone and autumn is around the corner, getting nearer and nearer as the days pass away...anyway, that is not the point of my post.
As a consequence of the marvellous idea of Flo and Aline who created a blog to show pics from their life in Ireland (Cork to be precise) where they are studying at the University College Cork, Caroline (Robert) and I have decided that it would be nice if we would do the same for our life here in Maastricht. There are no photos (like Flo and Aline have) of our trip and arrival here but well... it will still be interesting I think. So keep an eye on what happens here; we will let you know the address as soon as the blog will be online.

Kisses from Caroline and me to all of you.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Some news from abroad

Hello you guys! I wanted to give you some news from Maastricht. In spite of the proximity of Maastricht from Belgium (it is indeed only 10 km from the border), life in The Netherlands is quite different from ours. Maastricht is very cosmopolitan: you have here Russians, French, Italians, Spaniards, Polish and people from the Czech Republic as well as Americans and Canadians! It is very impressive because Maastricht is so international and thus everybody is at least bilingual (Dutch-English) and many persons do know some French or German(because the German are the most represented foreign nationality here; 3 cars out of 5 are from Germany). It is also very surprising to see that Dutch people apparently are not able to conceive that their language is taught abroad and that there are people who learn it. Each time we speak Dutch, they are filled with wonder and tell us that we speak very well(while we are thinking that our accent is bad and that if we were to speak like this at an exam with Ms Metttewie we would only get a 10). Maastricht is also very modern. For instance, your student card has a chip so that you can use it as a bank card (provided you link the card with a bank account). It also serves to open the lockers at the library.

Anyhow, I think that one of the most striking differences is food! Two weeks of life there are enough for you to understand it. The food here tastes very bad - nay, it does not taste bad; it rather has no taste. The majority of the dishes that I have eaten here were insipid. I miss the burgundy life of Belgium, where everything does have a taste. What I do not understand is that Maastricht seems to be famous for her burgundy life...The second striking characteristic for food here is that everything MUST be separate: on a plate, in the ready-made dishes, whatsoever, everything is apart. That is to say that you have a compartment with the potatoes, another one with the meat, and so on. This "craze" about setting everything apart is so deeply anchored in the minds that there are ads on television for a brand of meals where the potatoes are cooked with the rest and the moral of this is "it is delecious, even if has not been cooked apart"!
Apart from this, I must say that the cost of life is rather high here in comparison with Belgium, especially the food. A sandwich costs here about 4.5 euro. Yet, they have something that I find quite useful: long breads. It is 3 breads in one, it is very cheap (0.75 euro) and lasts 3 days. If you would buy those breads separately you would pay 2 euro.

In the blocks of houses, something has also struck me, namely that in the afternoon everybody gets out of the house, sits on chairs in front of the house and chat with one's neighbour. It is very curious to see. Also, they often let the house front door open, not fearing for thieves. There is often some music coming out from the house at a loud volume and apparently it does not disturb the neighbours, while all the houses are attached to one another.

Of course another big difference here is the system of teaching: Here there are no lectures as such, it is a system of tutorials. It is called "Problem Based Learning". It functions by groups of about 15 students with one tutor (it may be a senior student), but the tutor is not very active. It functions in 2 steps: A first meeting where we discuss a "problem"(from the "blokboek", a syllabus) which is rather a theme of discussion, a situation. It begins with a statement that will encourage us to think about the problem. The topics have all something in common: it is about minorities. Generally, Caroline and me already know something about them: emancipation of woman and feminism, slavery (discussed with Ms Leijnse), black slaves' emancipation, homosexuality... So it is nice because, for instance, when we spoke about feminism we talked about Mary Wollstonecraft, who we knew from Mr Delabastita's course. So proffesors, we are grateful for this background knowledge that you provided us with. Along the discussion, we activate all the knowledge that we have and gradually we define what is still unclear,and what are the things we have to learn. This is formulated under the form of questions. These are called our "learning goals". Then begins the self-part of the work. We read texts about the topic and we make research on the Internet. Then come the second meeting, where we share everything we have found and formulate together answers to our learning goals. And then it goes on and on... I must also mention that among the students there is always a chairman who is controlling the evolution of the discussion, making sure that everyone speaks and having a look at the time. There is also a "notetaker" who takes notes on a board of all the ideas that are being discussed. Each student has to take this role in turn. This course is called " Minor Crucial Differences" .To know more about it, just click on the link.

What you have to know about the timetables at university here is that it is not functionning as we. In Belgium, everyday you have different courses. So on Monday you begins with this courses, then you have another one,etc.
Here it is one course per "blok". A year is divided into "blokperiodes" (A, B, C, D...) and you have the exam at the end of the blok. So for instance, I know that I have my first exam the 27th october then there is the week-end and on the next Monday I will begin the second course with the second blok.

Well, I think that it is all for today, folks.

I miss you all so much!