Archive for Multilingualism

Abandoning one's mother tongue

It's one thing to lose your first language when you move as a child to another country where a second language is spoken, but it's quite a different matter when you go to another country as an adult and make a conscious choice to give up your native tongue and adopt the language of the place you have chosen to live.

Yiyun Li (b. 1972), the Chinese American author, is such a person.  In some respects, her story of conversion to English reminds me of Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), who wrote in English as the natural outgrowth of his cosmopolitan multilingualism, and Ha Jin (b. 1956), who chose English "to preserve the integrity of his work".

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A bilingual, biscriptal pun in Belgium

Alex Baumans sent in this photograph of the logo of a Korean food truck in Belgium, run by one San-Ho Park Correwyn:

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More biscriptal examples from Israel

Last month, in "Apostrophe in Hebrew" (11/22/16), we saw an "s" and an apostrophe incorporated in Hebrew writing.  Here, on top of a taxi, from left to right it says "taxi", and from right to left it says מוֹנִית ("taxi").

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Trevor Noah reflects on language and identity

In my introductory undergraduate course on English words, and in most undergraduate introductory courses on linguistics, students are invited to reflect on language and identity—how the way you speak communicates information about who you are—which they are typically very interested in. This isn't my beat, professionally speaking, but as a linguist I have a duty to help my students think through some of these issues (and, if they get interested, point them in the right direction to get really educated). To get started, I often play this one-minute clip of a Meshach Taylor Fresh Air interview from 1990, which is usually a good starting point for some discussion.

But Fresh Air (yes I'm a Terry Gross fangirl) also recently ran an interview with the biracial South African host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah, which contained this ten-minute motherlode of a reflection on multilingualism, language choice, racism, acceptable targets of mimicry, vocabulary size, Trump's communicative abilities, resentment of accented speech… whew. I'm just going to leave it here for your edification and enjoyment. Maybe one of our more sociolinguistically expert Language Loggers will provide some more detailed commentary later. For my part — well, I just invite you to think about what kind of 500-word essay you'd write for a Ling 101 class with this 10-minute clip as your prompt.

To hear the whole interview, or read the transcript, visit the NPR Fresh Air page.

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Apostrophe in Hebrew

We've already looked at the use of an apostrophe in Hangul.  Now Wendy Heller has sent in this photograph of a shop sign in Haifa, Israel:

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Hokkien-Tagalog-English-Spanish phrasebook

Page of a phrasebook published in 1941 (click to embiggen):

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Bilingual paronomasia in Literary Sinitic and Korean

The United States of America and Great Britain / United Kingdom are not the only countries in the midst of political crises.  South Korea has a nasty one of its own involving the undue influence of a shamaness over their President.

"Tens of Thousands Call on South Korea's President to Quit" (ABC News, 11/5/16)

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Multilingual beach ball warning

I spotted this very impressive warning at Siesta Key beach in Sarasota, Florida yesterday morning:

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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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Polylingualism

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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