In the days following my accidental Annie Lennox sighting in Edinburgh, a gorgeous picture of the honoree in her doctoral robes was published, and I have added it here; don't miss it. And (returning to phonology) Julian Bradfield (who normally studies things like fixpoint logic and concurrent programming, and teaches operating systems and programming, in Edinburgh's School of Informatics) gave a talk on the phonology and phonetics of the utterly spectacular Khoisan language sometimes known as "Taa" but more usually referred to (at least by those who can pronounce the voiceless postalveolar velaric ingressive stop [k!] followed by a high tone [o] and a nasalized [o], which Julian can) as !Xóõ (the ASCII spelling is !Xoon).
This language, Julian quietly remarked, "knocks Dinka into a cocked hat" — by which he meant that the Nilotic languages of the Dinka group, such as Thok Reel, have less complex systems of vowel contrasts (despite the 3-way length contrasts of Dinka et al.). Vowels in !Xóõ can be plain, murmured, pharyngealized, epiglottalized, or nasalized, and some of the vowels can combine some of these effects. There seem to be at least 31 vowel phonemes in the East !Xóõ dialect. Plus !Xóõ has a consonant system so world-famously complex that its very existence suggests there is something wrong with our phonological theories. And Julian suggested a way to reduce the apparent complexity very dramatically. It was exciting.
Meanwhile, the Linguistics and English Language program of which I am the head advertised what we believe may be the first job in the history of the world to be explicitly advertised as Lecturer in Language Evolution. Yet more excitement.
It was all so exciting that I was almost reluctant to throw my things into a suitcase and rush to the airport on a trip to Washington DC, where I am now. About 17 hours from Edinburgh (one on the plane to Heathrow; many hours of waiting around in Heathrow's Terminal 5 sneaking laptop power from unobserved electrical outlets near gates with no current flight departure; seven hours on the plane to Dulles Airport; much waiting in chaotic baggage area) was decidedly dull compared to being back at work. Though when I got out of customs and immigration at Dulles, there was one thing that happened that was sort of exciting, in fact almost sort of creepy… I wish I had time to tell you about it. Maybe later on, OK?