Kristen Gehrman, Writer

July 3, 2014

Toscana fireflies

Toscana was one of those very good bad ideas. Right in the thick of exams in Lausanne, a group of Dutch friends rent a villa in San Gimignano, the medieval city of skyscrapers towering over hills and valleys of vines. My friends are like “Oh yeah, sure, you should join.” The temptation was too great to bear. I dwelled on the decision– should I or shouldn’t I go? The train happened to be cheap, the weather happened to be warm, the fifth of seven papers happened to be finished, I decided not to think so much about it. Heart over head, matter over mind, easier done than said. I went. Hardly anyone knew I was gone.




What I remember most are the Tuscan fireflies, the one thing you can’t really take a picture of. Like feisty Italians buzzing through traffic on sewing machine scooters, these lightening bugs hummed and flickered. I tried to compare them to the lazy Michigan fireflies of my youth, the kind we used to catch and seal in Ball jars only to find dead in the morning. But no, these bugs were not the same. Not the same at all. They were much more fiery.

June 30, 2014

What I HAVEN’T and HAVE been writing

It’s easy to talk about all of the things that I haven’t been writing. I could blame the lack of time, the sun-up to sun-down go go go kind of days, the constant demand to see, to taste, to make, to hold, to do, to re-do–but I would only be telling part of the truth. For the first time, writing about it all doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make the experiences any more real. And somehow, publishing feels trop intime. So I just stopped. I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to start again.


For now, what I do want to write about are all of the other things that I have been writing. After five straight weeks of nothing but laptop, pistachios, and problématiques (mostly in the living room pictured above), I wrote eight term papers and passed two exams. The mantra of the past months was: “Il n’y a pas de place pour la panique. Il n’y a pas de place pour la panique.” Instead, the steady chinking away, the pleasure of crossing items off the to-do list, the sacred respect for the coffee break, the evening plunges in the lake, the camaraderie I found in Anna, Raquel, and Madalina is what got me through. It feels like I have done the impossible, and done it reasonably well. Here is what I wrote:

1. Les enjeux épistémologiques de la sociolinguistique historique:
Un regard critique sur The Gullah Dialect Revisited: A Note on Linguistic Acculturation
de Guy B. Johnson
, 18 pages + presentation
Basically how hard it is to collect and analyze sociolinguistic data, particularly for racist academics in the 1960s

2. Le rôle de la morphologie dérivationnelle dans l’acquisition d’une langue seconde :
Une analyse parallèle des apprenants anglophones de français et des apprenants francophones d’anglais
, 20 pages + presentation
A survey and analysis of the adjective to noun word formation (morphology) of native english speakers learning french and native french speakers learning english

3. La notion de l’interlangue et de l’erreur dans l’acquisition d’une langue seconde: Comment est-ce que l’interlangue met l’apprenant au centre de son apprentissage? 8 pages + presentation
A look at how each new language learned contributes to the cognitive “framework” called the interlangue, which allows us to continue learning more languages in more efficient and meaningful ways

4. La représentation théâtrale par rapport au texte dramatique : Les Femmes savantes de Roussillon et d’Agénin, 5 pages + presentation
A comparison of two theatrical interpretations of Molière’s Les Femmes Savantes to show how “loyalty” to a written text can mean completely different things on stage

5. Peut-on parler d’un langage cinématographique sans recourir à la métaphore ?: Umberto Eco et Pier Pasolini, 7 pages
The answer is yes, but no. Well yes. It’s complicated.

6. Analyse conversationnelle: Comment la présence d’une fille de 3 ans ralentit la progression d’une conversation, 4 pages + presentation
Analysis of a conversation between the three-year old girl who I babysit and her mother, brings to light the pedagogical “communication rituals” that occur between a “conversationally socialized” adult and a young child

7. L’emploi du langage pour justifier l’image : La moralité de la figure nue aux yeux de Charles Steffen, 20 pages
A look at the artwork of Charles Steffen, a psychiatric patient and recipient of electro-shock therapy who uses text and images to sort out his moral conflicts

8. Diglossia and Communities of Practice: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of the Black American South, 10 pages + presentation
Analysis of YouTube data to explain why black southerners talk the way they do, and how their speech changes based on the community with which they are currently associating

9. Der Experimentalfilm von Man Ray: System und Performanz in Dadaismus, ?? pages (not yet finished)
Research into Man Ray’s four Dada films, considering how he disassociates the “signifiant” and the “signifié” in order to create meaningful chaos, aka DADA BLABLA.

March 31, 2014

The Lausanne Guide

“Attends. Il y a beaucoup de choses cachées en Suisse.” That’s what one of my Swiss friends told me shortly after we met and I’m so glad that I’ve taken it to heart. It’s a mysterious little country, and for an outsider, it can be hard to get to know. But it really has been worth the effort. Lausanne is a city that defines itself from the inside out, rather than from the outside in, and it could really care less if people think it’s cool or not.

But still, it is cool. And people should know it. My friends at The Lausanne Guide are spreading the word. I recently wrote two restaurant reviews for the site, one on the Couronne d’Or and the other on La Brasserie Moudon.

February 24, 2014

Chalet Chaleur








January 16, 2014

What I actually study

French. But not just, like french. Science, or well, language science. Linguistics, actually. How can language be a science? Language as a science. French linguistics, English linguistics, German linguistics. Morphology, or the construction of words, the construction of language. Phonology, or the construction of sounds. The different sounds of different languages. The difference between language and well language, or in French langue and langage. Morphemes, phonemes, lexemes. Why is it that we pronounce “to subject” and “a subject” differently? Why do French rappers invert syllables so that cité becomes tési? Why does Dutch make everything “little” so that a bier becomes a bierje? Vocal inflection. Dialects. Suffixation. Prefixation. Taking apart sentences and putting them back together. Syntax, or the order of words. What is the proper order? What order is the proper? Proper order is what? What is the difference? How we phrase questions. How we phrase questions in the media. The linguistics of interviewing in the media. What happens when an interviewee goes rogue, or when an interviewer goes rogue? Questions and answers and what makes them acceptable. Le cadre médiatique. Le cadre entretien. Then there’s the literature part, well plays. French plays. Plays with words. How words play into plays. How Moliere, Musset, Marivaux, Beckett use words. How words create meaning, in one language, in two. The meaning of all the stuff around the words. The actions, the gestures, the body language. Do these things speak as loud as words? Maybe we focus too much on the words. How does tone change the meaning of words? How does typology change the meaning of words? How does architecture change the meaning of words? What about the non-verbal modes, like color, shape, and sound? Social semiotics. Framing, the linguistic and the multi-modal kind. Epistemology, the study of knowledge. How do we know what we know? How do we use words to explain what we know? How do we know that words mean what we think they mean? How to teach syntax. How to teach French. How to teach French to people who don’t want to learn French. How to teach French to people who think they already speak French. How to teach a foreign language. The difference between foreign language and second language. Bilingualism. Plurilingualism. What do bilingual people’s brains look like? How do bilingual children solve problems? English as a lingua franca. The rapid rise of English usage. The slow death of the English language. How learning a second language is much more than learning to conjugate verbs. Fossilisation. Didactics. Maybe the reason American children fall behind in math and science is because they only speak one language. How learning a second language promotes problem solving and creativity. All the risks of monolingualism.