Archive for Language exotification

Too much Victor Mair

I've been reading way too much Victor Mair. In the restaurant of my hotel in London I just saw an English girl wearing a T-shirt on which it said this:


H O
P E

And I immediately thought, who is Ho Pe?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Transit is departing

The electric train that runs between the different parts of Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport insists on referring to itself as a "transit".

What's more, the remarkably annoying female voice that tells you needlessly that the doors are closing and that the train is about to start moving says "Transit is departing."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (28)

The mystery of the missing misconception

I recently wrote on Lingua Franca about my astonishment over Piotr Cichocki and Marcin Kilarski. In their paper "On 'Eskimo Words for Snow': The Life Cycle of a Linguistic Misconception" (Historiographia Linguistica 37, 2010, Pages 341-377), they mistook my 1989 humorous opinion column "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax" for a research paper, and bitterly attacked it for dogmatism, superficiality, offensiveness, and all sorts of scholarly sins. But there is an additional thing about the paper that puzzled me deeply. It concerns the word "misconception" in the title.

I have read the early sections of the paper over and over again trying to figure out what Cichocki and Kilarski think the misconception is, and I just cannot figure it out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Bad science reporting again: the Eskimos are back

You just can't keep a bad idea down. And you just can't lift the level of bad science journalism up. David Robson of New Scientist, in a piece published in that pop science rag a couple of weeks ago (issue of 22/29 December 2012, p. 72; behind a pay wall) and now also published in the Washington Post, reports on a book chapter by Igor Krupnik and Ludger Müller-Wille about anthropologist Franz Boas's travels in the early 20th century with a Canadian Inuit band whose language he learned. Robson says of Boas:

Mentioning his observations in the introduction to his 1911 book "Handbook of American Indian Languages," he ignited the claim that Eskimos have dozens, or even hundreds, of words for snow. Although the idea continues to capture public imagination, most linguists considered it an urban legend, born of sloppy scholarship and journalistic exaggeration. Some have even gone as far as to name it the Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. The latest evidence, however, suggests that Boas was right all along.

Not a single statement in this passage is correct.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

It just looks so much better in sign

On my commute home from Language Log Plaza West yesterday, I heard this brief piece on NPR about Lydia Callis, NYC Mayor Bloomberg's American Sign Language interpreter. (See also here, here, here, here, here — screw it, just search for "Lydia Callis".) A couple choice quotes from some of these stories:

From the NPR piece I heard: Callis was animated – both in her facial expressions and hand movements – the antithesis of the stoic mayor.

From this Bloomberg News piece: "She's awesome," Lynn Correa, 30, who has watched YouTube videos made about Callis, said today at a bus stop in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood. "She's much more expressive than [Mayor Bloomberg] is."

Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that Callis, and sign language interpreting generally, are getting some postive attention. But looking at the videos, I don't see anything other than a (very good) ASL interpreter — in other words, Callis is not doing anything extra special here, she's just doing her job, which is to translate what people are saying into ASL. I understand that there's the contrast with the otherwise somber Bloomberg, and that what is being translated is news about Hurricane Sandy, and that for many folks this may be one of the first times they've seen sign language interpretation up close — but I can't help pointing out here that the hand movements and facial expressions are defining features of ASL (and of other signed languages). The perception that we non-signers have that these hand movements and facial expressions are particularly "animated" and "expressive" is precisely due to our lack of experience with them as linguistic features.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)