Things she did

(Only a little about language. Another installment in reminiscences about Ann Daingerfield Zwicky, for her grand-daughter Opal.)

Six things that Ann did in her life: horseback riding, acting, cooking, writing, teaching, learning languages.

Horseback riding. Horses were in the family, and Ann rode from childhood on, up until about a month before she died. Along the way, she broke many bones in falls, but she persevered (we once gave a joint paper at a conference in Montreal while she had her arm in a cast from one of those falls). She jumped as a child and young woman — a practice that totally unnerved her mother, who was inclined to watch with her fingers over her eyes, afraid to see what was happening but unable not to peek.

Later in life, she took up dressage — a kind of dancing on horseback — and bought a share in a wonderful quarterhorse (the most dog-like horse I’ve ever known) for the purpose.

In riding, as in many things, her stated principle was that if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing badly — an idea that horrified Jacques, who was often crippled by perfectionism. But her idea was only that the unlikelihood of perfection shouldn’t bar you from trying, and enjoying, things, meanwhile doing your best and working to improve your performance. An excellent attitude, which I picked up from Ann.

Acting. As far as I can tell, Ann started acting in high school, and it became another constant of her life. She was a serious actor in college, at William and Mary (where Linda Lavin was a colleague). She continued acting in Princeton, at Theatre Intime; I wish I had photos of her in Tennessee Williams’s Twenty-Seven Wagonloads of Cotton, where she played the Baby Doll role. Then in community theater in the Boston suburbs and in Columbus. Here’s a photo from a community theater production of Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables:

Cooking. I don’t know when Ann started being serious about cooking, but when I met her in Princeton (where she was Miss Daingerfield of the Language Laboratory), she and Bonnie Bendon were honing their skills. Aside from the pleasure of their company, they provided marvelous food, food that expanded my horizons (and the horizons of the many guests they had for dinner).

I’ve written several times about eating in Boston and Cambridge (on chicken verdicchio here, on Peking on Mystic here, on restaurants in Cambridge and Boston here). That’s when Ann became celebrated, in our circle of friends and acquaintances, as a cook. All this continued in Urbana and Columbus.

She was both adventurous and intense, and she studied her craft. For some time in Columbus, we kept a notebook of meals: what the occasion was, who was there, what we served, where the recipes came from, and what we thought about the meal. After she died, I started a new, smaller, notebook on my own.

Writing. Ann started writing fiction in high school and continued for some years. For a while, she sent stories out (to Vanity Fair, to the New Yorker, and so on), but without success.

About this time, her great-aunt Henderson (Henderson Daingerfield Norman) appealed to Ann for help in selling a revised edition of her translation of the plays of Edmond Rostand (published by Macmillan in 1921; Henderson dedicated the book to Woodrow Wilson). This too came to nought; after the book went out of copyright, it was cheaply reprinted, and is now easily available.

(Henderson corresponded quite a bit with Ann and me while we were in Cambridge. She was fascinated by the fact that my dissertation was on Sanskrit, because she had taken up studying the language — in her late 80s. She was like that; her letters were delightful.)

Ann shifted her writing interests to academic matters, writing with me and on her own, and undertaking the scholarly writing of a graduate student in French at the University of Illinois, specializing in French linguistics.

(She picked up her first linguistics by reading on her own and then by auditing Bill Moulton‘s intro course at Princeton — as, she said, preparation for marriage. Bill was delighted with the idea, and it helped that Ann and Bill’s wife Jenni were taking language courses together at Princeton Adult School. I should remind you that at the time there were no women undergraduates at Princeton, and only one woman graduate student.)

Her scholarly interests in French embraced Old and Middle French, Proust (she worked for a while with the great Proust scholar Philip Kolb), and the 18th-century diarist the duc du Saint-Simon, whose ornate and often remarkable writing style fascinated Ann (Saint-Simon’s language became her dissertation topic).

It occurred to me recently that Proust and Saint-Simon were naturals for Ann: both are spinners of stories, in effect family stories, like the ones the Daingerfields told and in fact like the short stories Ann wrote.

Teaching. Ann started teaching — intro French — as a graduate student at Illinois. She was a natural. At Ohio State she went on to teach intro linguistics and some other linguistics courses, freshman composition, and English as a Second Language. She was invited to teach intro Romanian (after sitting in on the intro sequence), but by then her pedagogical plate was full.

When she got a job as an insurance underwriter, she continued to teach linguistics, at night. And continued through the academic quarter before she died.

Sadly, I have no photos of her teaching a class; I have only one of Jacques teaching a class. But I certainly saw her and Jacques teach (and they sat in on courses of mine as well).

At some point, she maintained that if you gave her a few weeks’ lead time, she could teach introductory anything. That’s a survival skill that many academics have developed.

Languages. The French she started in high school. (I recall her saying that it was remarkable how much you could learn about a language from someone who didn’t speak it particularly well, so long as you had access to materials produced by native speakers.) Then on to William and Mary, where she majored in French and took her junior year in France.

Already she was interested in other languages: Italian, Russian, Latin, Jamaican Creole, Tok Pisin, eventually Romanian. And of course German to satisfy the graduate school language reading requirement. Plus bits and pieces of dozens of languages for scholarly purposes or just for fun. After working in the language lab at Princeton, she had accumulated a stock of examples in other languages, beautifully pronounced: “The wind has come, bearing with it the scent of amber” in Persian (the poetic), “Bring me one beer” in Arabic (the practical), and the like. And phonetically challenging phrases in French, like Ose, zèbre! ‘Just you dare, zebra!’ (the absurd).

When faced with the dreaded Linguist Question — “How many languages do you speak?” — she replied with a decimal fraction, not always the same one: 2.68, for instance. The 2 was for English and French, the two decimal places were for the aggregate of bits and pieces of languages that she’d picked up over the years. A good response, and she could, after all, reel off individual examples in a stunning number of languages. Some were famous linguistic examples, like “As for the elephant, it has a big nose” in Japanese (an illustration of the use of the topic marker wa) and similar examples in Swahili and Turkish, really useful only for linguists. But others were just entertainments.

(I’ve asked Bonnie to add her stories of Ann in France and in Princeton, as a gift for Ann’s grand-daughter Opal, in the hope that my fuzzy recollections of the old days can be augmented from another viewpoint. Stay tuned.)

2 Responses to “Things she did”

  1. What she wrote « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] about things that Ann Daingerfield Zwicky did in her life led me to several pieces of academic writing that I hadn’t mentioned on this blog — […]

  2. Language shards « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] an earlier posting on Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky), I wrote: After working in the language lab at Princeton, she had […]

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