Archive for Multilingualism

Hokkien in Singapore

[This is the second in a series of four planned posts on Hokkien and related Southern Min / Minnan language issues.  The first was this:  "Eurasian eureka" (9/12/16).]

Ryan of Singapore writes:

Just a few days ago, Singapore's Ministry of communications and information released a set of TV programs, aimed at seniors. It is halfway between a drama and a "public information" broadcast. What may interest you most is that it is in Hokkien, that long overlooked dialect / topolect.

Here is some information about the scope and aims of the program itself:  "New Hokkien drama aimed at seniors to be launched on Sep 9" (Channel NewsAsia, 9/1/16).

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What's in the sachet?

At my hotel here in Brno, Czechia, the shampoo comes in small sachets, manufactured in Düsseldorf, labeled with the word denoting the contents in a long list of suitable European Union languages. I can't tell you which languages they picked, for reasons which will immediately become apparent. Here are the first four:

  1. Shampoo
  2. Shampoo
  3. Shampooing
  4. Shampoo

Just so you're sure.

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Speaking Slavic and Turkic across Eurasia

[This is a guest post by Peter B. Golden.  It is a follow-up to this post and the discussion about trans-Eurasian communication in Turkic languages in the comments that followed it:  "The sounds of Eurasia " (8/1/16).]

I have long been fascinated by the question. The same issue arises with Slavic. There, I had the advantage of speaking Russian since childhood. Actually, the language I spoke with my grandparents and elders was a rural patois that consisted of Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian. In Belarusian this mixed [Russian-Belarusian] language is called трасянка / trasianka, lit. a mix of hay and straw. In Ukrainian the Russian-Ukrainian mix is called суржик / surzhyk, lit. a mix of wheat and rye). I have heard Muscovites and St. Petersburg folk use the word “surzhik” in reference to these mixed E. Slavic regional dialects overall.

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I'm sitting in the San Francisco International Airport waiting for my flight to Taipei.  The guy next to me is happily chattering away on his cell phone to someone (or some people) at the other end of the "line".  What is curious is that one moment he is speaking in Taiwanese, the next moment in Japanese, then English, and then Mandarin.

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Mandarin or Mexican, whichever

I just returned from Hong Kong last night.  One of the strongest impressions I bring back from this visit is that the city is becoming even more multilingual than it was in the past.  Hong Kong is a global center of finance and business.  The number of different languages one hears being spoken on the streets, in restaurants, on buses and trains is simply astonishing.  The government has an official policy of three languages (Cantonese, English, and Mandarin) and two scripts (Chinese characters and the Roman alphabet), as discussed in these and other Language Log posts:

But the situation has become far more fluid and complex than that.

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Hakka: "Guest families"

Hakka (Kèjiā 客家 ["guest families"]) is the name of a Chinese ethnic group and their language.  Their name refers to the fact that, although they came from the north centuries ago, they are now scattered in various locations throughout South China and, indeed, the world.

Although the Hakka amount to approximately only 4% of the total population of China, their influence on politics, the military, culture, and other spheres of life in the past two centuries has been disproportionately large

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Multilingualism: personal and national

I just returned from an excellent conference on multilingualism in China that was held at Göttingen, Germany:

Language Diversity in the Sinophone World: Policies, effects, and tradition

International Symposium
Göttingen University
11 – 13 June 2015

So the idea of there being more than one language in a country, or of a single person freely speaking more than one language, is fresh in my mind.

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The politics of multilingualism in Hong Kong

The following article by Danny Mok appeared in today's South China Morning Post:

"Police? Jing Cha? Altered helmet may spell 'trouble' for city policeman" (5/19/15)

The article commenced with this photograph:

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Kein Durchgang

Multilingual sign near the entrance to a toilet at the Cologne Main train station, posted by Simon on douban, via Joel Martinsen:

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I've forgotten more Czech than Barbara Partee has learned

One of the most memorable trips of my life took place in 1994 and involved traveling as a graduate student to Prague in the company of some of the most formidable linguists of North America and Europe. It was my first return to the country of my birth since I’d left Czechoslovakia as a small child in 1969—given that my family had emigrated illegally, virtually Sound of Music style, a visit back wasn’t possible until after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Barbara Partee, who had spent a good deal of time in Prague, served as our tour guide. I was impressed with her fluency in Czech and charmed by her accent. I’d never heard Czech spoken with an American accent before, but it sounded exactly as I would have imagined it. My own Czech was in ruins. Like many immigrants, I’d learned my heritage language as a child within rather constrained domestic spheres and had never used it to negotiate cab fare or discuss existential concerns, let alone describe my professional activities. But the first time I shyly dusted it off and uttered a few sentences, protesting that I had forgotten the entire language, Barbara turned to me with perhaps a tinge of envy and exclaimed, “You’ve probably forgotten more Czech than I’ve spent years learning! And, there’s still a lot left.”

As it turns out, a language is rarely truly forgotten, merely submerged.

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Multilingual Jiang Zemin

This is an old video of Jiang Zemin berating a female reporter and defending the right of the central government in Beijing to handpick the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, in this case the first, Tung Chee-hwa. The video, which is an amazing display of Jiang's verbal pyrotechnics, is getting a lot of circulation these days, for obvious reasons. Here it is as recently posted by Shanghaiist on Facebook.

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Transliteration follies

From Arun Tharuvai, via his Twitter account, we find that Intersecting Bubbles has this brief but fascinating post on a multilingual notice:  "Shell Petroleum thinks that Hindi is English written in the Devanagari Script ".

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Language notes from Macao and Hong Kong

From June 13 until the 18th, I was at a conference on Buddhist culture and society held at the University of Macao.  There were about thirty participants, all except me from East Asia, and the East Asians were about evenly divided among scholars from Taiwan, China, Macao, and Hong Kong, plus one each from Japan and Korea.

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