Lesson #406: Beguines

I’m reading a fascinating book right now — Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation.* It’s not my normal fare, but it sounded really interesting, especially as an unmarried woman, so I checked it out of library. My parking fines at work.** Anyway, historically, independent women are not as rare as we imagine they were. In America, unmarried women are largely responsible for: the abolitionist movement, the suffragist movement, labour reforms, and the gay rights movement.

One of the things I’ve learned in reading this book is that, in medieval Europe, women who were unmarriageable for whatever reason — age, ability, lack of dowry, lack of suitable husband, being widowed by the Crusades — didn’t necessarily have to go into convents. For unmarried women who did not wish to enter the convent (and effectively marry Jesus), there was the beguinage.

A beguinage was a house or houses or neighbourhood of unmarried women who were committed to a life of Christian service and were free to leave for any reason they wished. It was expected that they would remain unmarried in their lives as beguines, and that their time as beguines would be devoted to service to the poor, a trade such as textile making, and/or teaching. However, they did not take vows of chastity, poverty or lifetime devotion and were not required to liquidate any assets they had upon entering the beguinage.

These orders emerged in Northern Europe in the 12th century and were most popular in The Netherlands and Belgium in the 13th and 14th centuries. Belgium saw a resurgence in popularity of beguinages in the 17th century, but their numbers never reached that of the medieval period. The last beguine, who was been born in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and served in Belgium died in 2013.

The Medieval Church alternated between a laissez faire attitude toward beguines and outright denouncing them as heretical.*** Not taking vows and giving everything they owned to the Church seems to have been a sticking point.

There’s not a whole lot of information available online about beguines and beguinages, but see here, here, and here.

*This line made my cousin in a major Canadian city and me laugh, “92% of college girls surveyed in the 1920s said they had participated in sexual, below-the-neck fondling, and that, by this time, “young middle-class men were more likely to lose their virginity with women of their own class than with prostitutes.”” We spent a good five minutes discussing what above-the-neck fondling was. The best we could come up with was a wet willy and a nose boop.

**Although, since I split with my ex, I haven’t actually *had* a parking fine because I’m spending significantly less time in his parking gestapo neighbourhood.

***This is pretty rich considering the medieval Papacy was a revolving door of simony, murder, illegitimate children, power hunger that would put Game of Thrones to shame, and literally disinterring a deceased Pope to put his corpse on trial. As previously noted, I *love* the medieval Papacy because it’s completely bonkers.


Lesson #405: Creole Languages

Sometimes I arrive at a lesson in a very roundabout way. I’ve been preparing to transition at work tomorrow, so my learning has been limited this week to finding out the physical fitness requirements for Survivor contestants.* (There was context for this, but it’s inconsequential.)

That’s not so interesting, so I sat down today, decided to mess around on Wikipedia (completely unsuccessfully) and eventually got to thinking about Belgium, which took me to Flemish, which took me to Afrikaans, which took me to creole, which is apparently not just a French thing.

I think most people’s understanding of creole is the French-based creole languages of the Caribbean — particularly Haiti, but also Guadeloupe — and/or Louisiana. But creoles are actually any stable language (meaning it has native speakers) with an advanced vocabulary and grammar structure (not pidgin) that emerged suddenly at a specific point in time and is influenced by another language or languages. Creole languages exist almost exclusively in former colonial territories and developed, necessarily, as lingua francas. Linguists estimate around 100 creoles have emerged since 1500. Technically speaking, Afrikaans is a creole language, developed in South Africa in the late 17th century and incorporating aspects of Southern African languages into Dutch, though it is more typically considered a daughter language to Dutch.

For academic sources (journal articles) on creole languages, see here,  here, and here.

For quicker, less detailed reading on creole languages, see herehere, and here.

*For the record, the best information we could find came from the Australian incarnation of the show and involves surprisingly little — mostly, the ability to carry a small amount of weight over a short distance, to get up from a prone position on your own power, to squat and recover…basically everyday motions we all execute without much thought.

Lesson #94 Redux: Being Linked

This blog has never been anything more than a way for me to just vomit random information for about a dozen people who know and love me to read if they’re interested. I teach you things because I like to know things. Because my parents like to know things.

Apparently, though, I’m only mostly just a tiny little internet blip vomiting knowledge and good research. I’m super late to the game on this — mostly because this little endeavour lay dormant for three years while I did my second master’s and then didn’t have a need for this sort of intellectual stimulation in the following year and a half. But here we are just into 2018, and I’m looking at the stats page and notice a weird referral.

Most people who wind up here came either because they’re subscribed to it (Hey, guys! Thanks for still being here!) or because they’re googling whether a. they can legally go to Paraguay for that dual they’re itching for (Put the gun down!) or b. their untreated syphilis will make their nose fall off (There are drugs for this! Go see your doctor! And wear a condom next time!) However, since 2015, a perplexing number of people have ended up here thanks to…The Guardian?

Like…the reputable British news site, The Guardian. As you can imagine, this was confusing. How on earth did so many people end up here because of a British newspaper to which I have zero affiliation? It turns out that in 2015, someone writing over there went to the Google machine whilst writing an article on the revival of Manx Gaelic and found my post on the same. What I find hilarious is that the statistic to which I’m linked is pulled from the fifth chapter of a book from a 1990 conference on Minority Languages that literally took me all of about 90 seconds to find, in full, from the moment I clicked off my blog to the citation.*

But…I rather suspect I was linked because I’m much more concise and easier to read than the author of the original paper (one Dr. Wilf Gunther of Lancashire Polytechnic in Preston, about whom a cursory search reveals surprisingly little outside of acknowledgements by other authors, which makes me think he may not still be alive), which is heartening. The original article is interesting, but dense. I’ve broken the information down into just a few paragraphs, and being linked by a source like The Guardian means the work I’m putting into learning about these things and making them digestible pieces of knowledge for non-academics is effective and useful.**


*It would have been faster if the initial citation to which I linked had been more complete. What should have been a two-step process turned into a five-step process. So it took a minute and a half instead of 15 seconds.

**I’m sure there’s a discussion to be had on the decline of our attention spans to the point where valuable academic information needs to be broken down into a few easily digestible paragraphs, but I’m not here for that right now. Or ever, really, I guess, given that this entire blog is easily digestible knowledge designed for people who aren’t inclined to spend an hour or two or three (depending on the lesson) reading up on a subject for no reason other than “I was curious”.

Lesson #404: Order of Definitions

Happy 2018, everyone! I’m a bit late to the game, in part because I’ve been a bit all over the place with other things going on last week. Monday was a holiday. Everyone I know had a birthday (not literally speaking, but there was much birthdaying to be done). The World Juniors hockey tournament was happening. The Swede had a baby — well, his wife actually *had* the baby. The swim team I help with were back from break. I was busy just trying to keep up with life, you guys! But my goal for the year is to make weekly posts. I’ve got a post backdated for last week that’s still kind of spastic, so I may or may not post it…we’ll see. Moving on to week #2…

A friend in a major city in the Northeast sent me a message today asking if I knew the order for dictionary definitions. I thought she was going to enlighten me. She did not. She was asking because she didn’t know.

So, naturally, I went looking.

My initial guess was chronological, but that seemed not-quite-right, given the ever-changing nature of language.

It turns out that most major dictionaries, such as the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster do, in fact, list definitions in chronological order. Which is apparently done for exactly the reason I expected it wouldn’t — to maintain a timeline for the way we use language. Others, like the American Heritage Dictionary use a commonality order, which lists definitions based on usage in language.

For the OED, see here, under Chronology and the Historical Method

For the M-W dictionary, see here, under Order of Senses

For the American Heritage dictionary, see here, under Order of Sense