Passport


(April 24, 1997, Gazette)

Dr. Graham Shorrocks is involved in the ambitious European Linguistic Atlas, or Atlas Linguarum Europae project, an effort to map out the many dialects and languages of the European continent. Dr. Shorrocks is president of the English National Committee, and as such he is responsible for the English language elements of the atlas. He is also a member of the editorial board overseeing the project. The following article recounts his trip to Latvia in connection with his research.

Soaking up language and culture in Riga

By Dr. Graham Shorrocks

Department of English

Last September I left my home in St. John's and travelled overnight to London, England. The next day I flew on to Helsinki, and then to Riga, for Latvia was to be the host country for the 29th Editorial Board Meeting of the Atlas Linguarum Europae (ALE). We had kindly been invited by our ALE colleague, Prof. Aina Blinkena, of the Latvian Language Institute.

On the evening of the 19th, Dr. Agris Tumuska of the Latvian Language Institute, who was to be our constant guide and companion during our stay, met me and my colleagues from many different countries at the airport in Riga. We were taken to a spa called Lielupe (a part of Jurmala), where we were accommodated in the Science Guest House, a hotel belonging to the Latvian Academy of Sciences. The next day we visited the Latvian Language Institute and the Department of Baltic Languages, at the Latvian Academy of Sciences, where experts spoke to us about the work of the institute, the diachronic and geolinguistic investigations into the Latvian dialects, and the linguistic geography of Lithuanian. We also enjoyed inspecting the archives of the Latvian Linguistic Atlas. After lunch, we had a guided tour of the Old Town of Riga, and in the evening attended a performance of the ballet, The Blue Danube, at the newly restored National Opera House in Riga.

The 21st saw us ensconced in the Science Guest House for the ALE editorial board's business meeting. Several colleagues gave oral presentations of preliminary drafts of commentaries or articles that will be included in forthcoming ALE publications. The New Introduction to ALE (Atlas Linguarum Europae: A New Approach to Geolinguistics/Perspectives nouvelles en géolinguistique/Geolinguistik in neuer Perspektive) is now in press in Rome with Instituto Poligrafico.

After intense sessions throughout the day, we welcomed a stroll by the Baltic at Jurmala in the early evening, and a brief look around the town.

On the 22nd we toured the surrounding countryside by coach, including Sigulda, a town famous for its architecture and mineral waters. Prof. Weijnen, of the Netherlands, whose sprightly gait belies his age, astonished his colleagues as he sprinted up hill and down dale, taking tall castle towers in his stride. Less fit younger colleagues such as the present reporter were exhausted just from watching! Later, we visited a folk life museum, where we learned a great deal about Latvian life and culture. Finally, we had dinner in the museum grounds. We were treated to some traditional Latvian singing during the dinner, as well as to local food and beer. (Indeed, it crossed my mind that porteris might make a suitable official drink for an organization with an acronym such as ours). One of the great benefits of the ALE meetings is, of course, the cultural program that organizers seek to include along with our academic work and business meetings. In the final analysis, there can be no true understanding of folk speech without a knowledge of folk life and folk culture. We are therefore grateful to the Latvian organizers for having exposed us to so rich an array of cultural experiences.

Our next meeting will be incorporated into the Congress of the International Society for Dialectology and Geolinguistics in Amsterdam, July 28-Aug. 1.

Have an idea for Passport? Write to Gazette, Room AA-1024, Arts and Administration Building, Memorial University of Newfoundland; fax 709-737-8699; e-mail gazette@morgan.ucs.mun.ca. We prefer to receive submissions via e-mail. Good quality photographs, accompanied by descriptions, are especially welcome.