The interactive dialect quiz on the New York Times website, developed by Josh Katz from Bert Vaux and Scott Golder's Harvard Dialect Survey, has proved to be immensely popular. It's been a viral sensation on social media, much like the original Business Insider article on Katz's heat maps back in June (currently at 36 million pageviews and counting). And as in June, Katz's work is attracting plenty of mainstream media attention, too. This morning, I was on a panel discussion talking about the dialect quiz, and regional dialects in general, on MSNBC's "Up With Steve Kornacki" (segment 1, segment 2).
Archive for Dialects
Yesterday afternoon, UC San Diego Linguistics grad student Amanda Ritchart presented her research (joint with Amalia Arvaniti) on the use and realization of uptalk in Southern California English at the 166th Acoustical Society of America meeting. This work is profiled in the ASA's press room, and has thus far received a fair amount of attention. You can hear and/or read about it on KPBS (San Diego's public radio station), at WBUR's Here & Now, on BBC News, and in the Washington Post. (See also this shout-out on the Linguistic Society of America website.)
Uptalk has been discussed many times here on Language Log, so regular readers are probably not unfamiliar with it. But one of the most recent Language Log posts on the topic ("Uptalk awakening", 9/29/2013) shows how relatively unaware of this long-standing feature of many varieties of English some folks still are. So the media coverage of Ritchart & Arvaniti's work is welcome — and on the whole pretty good, if a little biased toward a "wow, it's spreading to men!" interpretation of the research results, which kinda misses the point. But of course, if you scroll down to the comments (why oh why do I ever scroll down to the comments???), you'll see that many appear to think that the use of rising intonation at the ends of (some!) statements is the clearest evidence we have of the decline of western civilization. Sigh.
Update — more here.
At the expense of English and of other Chinese topolects and languages?
We have seen that, in recent weeks and months, there has been considerable agitation against the increasing role of English in Chinese education and life in general. Supposedly, overemphasis on English is leading to the deterioration of Chinese language skills. Consequently, the amount of time devoted to English in schools is to be reduced, the weight placed upon English in college entrance examinations is to be decreased, and there are calls for children to begin to study English later than first grade of elementary school, which is the case now.
This will be the first of two successive posts on Pekingese. This one is about insults that, on the surface, seem as though they should be praise. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Wei Shao, who hails from Liaoning Province in northeast China (formerly called Manchuria), rattled off the following sentence in her local language and asked me if I understood it:
Wǒ dǎ cīliū huá'r de shíhou bǎ bōlénggài'r kǎ tūlu pí'r le.
I could only sort of understand the following parts: Wǒ dǎ … huá'r de shíhou bǎ …'r kǎ (?) … pí'r le ("When I was … slipping [?], I scraped [?] … the skin of…"). But it was all so fragmentary — mainly just the rough grammatical structure and three or four disconnected content words — that I really didn't know what was going on. Wei said not to worry, since no one from outside the area where she lives could understand it either. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
The latest issue of The Atlantic has an article entitled "The Uighurs, China's Embattled Muslim Minority, Are Still Seeking an Identity".
The comments on language usage and policy in Xinjiang will be of particular interest to many Language Log readers, since they reverberate with a number of recent discussions that we've been engaged in.
I just found out about this new book on local languages in China. Judging from the abstract and table of contents, it looks very interesting and promising: Signifying the Local: Media Productions Rendered in Local Languages in Mainland China in the New Millennium. The publisher's blurb:
In Signifying the Local, Jin Liu examines contemporary cultural productions rendered in local languages and dialects (fangyan) in the fields of television, cinema, music, and literature in Mainland China. This ground-breaking interdisciplinary research provides an account of the ways in which local-language media have become a platform for the articulation of multivocal, complex, and marginal identities in post-socialist China. Viewed from the uniquely revealing perspective of local languages, the mediascape of China is no longer reducible to a unified, homogeneous, and coherent national culture, and thus renders any monolithic account of the Chinese language, Chineseness, and China impossible.
In the midst of our ongoing debates about whether Cantonese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, and so forth are Sinitic languages or dialects, I continually find evidence that the custom of referring to them only as "dialects" is exceptional when compared with linguistic usage elsewhere (e.g., India, Europe, Africa).
Today I came across an Iranian language that I'd never heard of before, Zazaki, although — without knowing it — I probably met some of its speakers in Sweden, where there are many Zazak refugees. Also called Zaza, Kirmanjki, Kirdki, Dimli, and Dimili, Zazaki is found primarily in eastern Anatolia. It belongs to the northwestern branch of the Iranian group of the Indo-European family. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Poster from the Singapore Crime Prevention Council:
Yesterday, a flood of seemingly sensational headlines concerning language use in China crossed my transom. Here are a few of them, with embedded links to the articles:
- English-language studies 'destructive' to China's education, says CPPCC deputy
- Education ministry: 400 million Chinese can’t speak national language
- China: 400 Million Cannot Speak Mandarin
- 30% Chinese citizens can't speak Mandarin
[This is a guest post by Stephan Stiller.]
This post complements Robert Bauer and Victor Mair's previous LL post titled "Spoken Hong Kong Cantonese and written Cantonese" and addresses, among other things, J. Marshall Unger's comment in the corresponding thread. Please have a look.
[This is a guest post by Robert S. Bauer, with some comments on "dialect" vs. "language" by me (VHM) at the bottom.]
1. After 1949 over the last few decades of British colonial rule, Cantonese was regarded as one more desirable/useful barrier separating HK from China.
As a consequence, the British treated Cantonese with benign neglect which allowed it to develop naturally and without interference, and this is why it has been doing as well as it has.
A couple of years ago the fact that only a handful of people showed up at a demonstration in support of Cantonese in HK shows that most HK speakers do not see it as being under imminent threat.
In Guangzhou people are told that "civilized people speak Mandarin" wénmíng rén shuō Pǔtōnghuà 文明人説普通話, which to me implies that uncivilized people speak "dialects" (topolects) such as Cantonese.