Together with his "greetings from small-town Japan", Chris Pickel sent in this photograph of a sign, which was put up in his neighborhood for the aki-matsuri 秋祭り ("autumn festival").
Archive for Multilingualism
In Tainan, Taiwan, there's an amateur sports team that calls itself the Yěqiú rén bàngqiú duì 野球人棒球隊, the English version of which is "Yakyuman Baseball Team"
The title of an article in International Business Times proclaims: "'Chinglish' Signs To Be Wiped Out: Ban On Foreign Names Soon To Go In Effect".
While getting rid of Chinglish signs may be an admirable goal (though not in the eyes of everyone!), banning English on signs altogether is an entirely different matter. 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.
Here is a closeup of a remarkable work of installation art that is being shown at this year's Venice Biennale:
Ian Barrere has sent in the following photograph of a one jiao (equal to ten fēn 分, a fēn being like a cent in our system) banknote and requested that I explain the languages printed on it:
You're looking at the launch of a new team covering race, ethnicity and culture at NPR. We decided to call this team Code Switch because much of what we'll be exploring are the different spaces we each inhabit and the tensions of trying to navigate between them. In one sense, code-switching is about dialogue that spans cultures. It evokes the conversation we want to have here.
Linguists would probably quibble with our definition. (The term arose in linguistics specifically to refer to mixing languages and speech patterns in conversation.) But we're looking at code-switching a little more broadly: many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We're hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction.
When you're attuned to the phenomenon of code-switching, you start to see it everywhere, and you begin to see the way race, ethnicity and culture plays out all over the place.
Michael Robinson sent in this photograph of a strip mall in Flushing Meadows taken by Spencer Kiser and posted on Flickr:
I spent much of the past couple of weeks back in my childhood city of Montreal. It was an eventful time. Thousands of student demonstrators marched past the restaurant where I was having dinner, banging on pots and pans. The partial remains of a dismembered Chinese student were found not far from where my brother now lives. And scores of shopkeepers in downtown Montreal greeted their customers like this: "Bonjour, Hi."
This last development was reported by the Office Québécois de la langue française—this is the body charged with overseeing Quebec's language laws, not-so-affectionately referred to by many English Canadians as the "language gestapo". In a study released on June 1, the OQLF noted that while compliance with signage laws have increased over the past two years, there were concerns about how customers were being greeted. Evidently, in downtown Montreal, unilingual French greetings are in decline, from 89% in 2010 to 74% in 2012. More shopkeepers are initiating an exchange in English only, up from 10% to 13%. And bilingual greetings—"bonjour/hi"—have risen quite sharply, up from 1% to 13%.
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
These days, newly published books often get promoted with video trailers, and there's one that just came out for Michael Erard's Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners. In keeping with the book's theme of hyperpolyglottery, Erard rounded up speakers of different languages to create a multilingual reading of a story told in his book. (Direct link here — that's me at 1:05.)
And there's a contest! Here are the details from the trailer description:
How good are you at identifying spoken languages? I asked friends from all over to say one line of a story about Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, and all the lines are assembled here. Send an email message with 1) the name of each language and 2) in the order in which they appear to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll put your name in a drawing for a signed copy of Babel No More. Deadline is February 23.
I'll keep the comments closed until the deadline to keep anyone from divulging the names of the languages. Good luck! Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Back in February, I posted about a terrific symposium on bilingualism at the AAAS meeting ("What bilinguals tell us about Mind and Brain", 2/19/2011). Along with the symposium's abstract and a list of the participants, and some complaints about the AAAS's failure to make it symposiums accessible to a broader public by putting them on line, I promised that "If I have time, I'll summarize some of this work in a later post" — which never happened.
One of the most striking topics covered in that symposium was the fact that bilingualism offers, on average, about five years of protection against the symptoms of Alzheimer's, apparently by creating a "cognitive reserve" in executive function that allows people to continue performing at a higher mental level for a given degree of brain degeneration. This research was the focus of a recent New York Times article: Claudia Dreifus, "The Bilingual advantage", 5/30/2011.
The article is in the form of a Q&A between the reporter, Claudia Dreifus, and the researcher, Ellen Bialystok. The content is excellent — clear, to the point, not hyped or spun for effect — and there are links to the research papers!
Yesterday afternoon, here at AAAS-2011, I attended a superb symposium: "Crossing Borders in Language Science: What Bilinguals Tell Us About Mind and Brain". Here's the abstract:
More people in the world are bilingual than monolingual. Historically, the component disciplines that comprise the language sciences have focused almost exclusively on monolingual speakers of a single language and largely on English as the universal language. In the past decade, there has been a shift in these disciplines to acknowledge the consequences of bilingualism for characterizing language, understanding the way languages are learned and used, and identifying the consequences of negotiating life in two languages for cognitive and brain processes. Recent studies show that bilingualism confers advantages to cognitive control at all stages of life, from infancy to old age; that contrary to popular belief, being exposed to two languages from early childhood does not create confusion but instead modulates the trajectory of language development; that signed and spoken languages produce a form of bilingualism that is similar to bilingualism in two spoken languages; and that the continual activity of both languages affects brain function and structure. Despite the excitement surrounding these discoveries, we do not understand how exposure to and use of two languages creates the observed consequences for bilingual minds and brains. Addressing these questions requires a language science that is both cross-disciplinary and international. The aim of this symposium is to illustrate the most exciting of these new discoveries and to begin to consider their causal basis.
At the end of his abbreviated trip to Indonesia (cut short because of the volcanic eruptions of Mt. Merapi), President Obama gave a half-hour address at the University of Indonesia that finally showed off his skills in the Indonesian language, a subject we've been examining. Granted, it was a prepared speech, but Obama went out of his way to include Indonesian phrases and sentences that would resonate with the crowd (mostly composed of students and staff at UI), and he even worked in at least one ad-lib.
From the official transcript, here are the relevant Indonesian passages from the speech, accompanied by my quick analysis. (Video of the speech is available on C-SPAN here and on the White House site here.)
In January 2009, soon after President Obama was sworn in, we had our first video evidence of his conversational skills in Indonesian, based on an exchange he had with a State Department staffer. (See "Obama's Indonesian pleasantries: the video.") As I said at the time, his experience of living in Indonesia from age six to ten had left him "if not bilingual, at least bi-courteous." Now Obama is on his long-delayed state visit to Indonesia, and he's been breaking out some more Indonesian pleasantries and showing off basic food-related etiquette.