Archive for Multilingualism

Torrential language politics in the forecast for Quebec

In Canada, an early election can be called by the leader of the ruling party, and naturally, this power is often wielded for strategic purposes. And so, Quebec premier Pauline Marois, elected to office a mere eighteen months ago, has called for a general election to be held on April 7. Marois leads the Parti Quebecois, which took power in September 2012 with a minority government, and is now gunning for a majority. This would allow the PQ to pass several controversial pieces of legislation that have met resistance by the opposition parties. One of these is Bill 14, which proposes additional restrictions on English-language education and the use of English in the workplace. Language politics are sure to be in the foreground during the election campaign, and if the PQ is re-elected with a majority, for the foreseeable future.

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Is Cantonese a language, or a personification of the devil?

Whether Cantonese is a language or a dialect is a subject that we have touched upon many times on Language Log, e.g., "Spoken Hong Kong Cantonese and written Cantonese" (see especially the remarks in the second half of the original post) and "English is a Dialect of Germanic; or, The Traitors to Our Common Heritage ."

But now it has become a hot-button issue in China, especially in Hong Kong, where the government's Education Bureau recently made a monumental gaffe by declaring that Cantonese was not an official language of the Special Administrative Region:  "Education Bureau rapped over Cantonese 'not an official language' gaffe:  Claim Cantonese 'not an official language' leaves public lost for words."

Here's an article in Chinese on the uproar that followed the announcement of the Education Bureau that Cantonese is not an official language of Hong Kong.

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Coca-Cola's multilingual "America the Beautiful"

The Super Bowl may have been a lackluster blowout this year, but the commercials provided an opportunity to inflame the passions of some viewers. Coca-Cola ran a commercial with a multilingual rendition of "America the Beautiful," with languages including English, Spanish, Keres Pueblo, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese French, and Hebrew.

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A trilingual, triscriptal ad in the Taipei subway

Mark Swofford took these photographs of an advertisement for a very well-known brand of instant noodles in the Taipei MRT (subway system). It makes use of three scripts (Chinese characters [including some rare, non-standard forms], bopomofo / zhùyīn fúhào 注音符號 [Mandarin "Phonetic Symbols" of the Republic of China, and Roman letters) and possibly as many languages (Taiwanese, Japanese, English) — with Mandarin apparently *not* being among them.


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Za stall in Newtown

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").

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The multilingual name of a Taiwanese baseball team

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"

Here's their Facebook page.

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Banning foreign-language signs in China

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.

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Uyghur as a "dialect" — NOT

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.

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Bilingual bricks: Google as "Valley Song"

Here is a closeup of a remarkable work of installation art that is being shown at this year's Venice Biennale:

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The languages on Chinese banknotes

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:

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New NPR blog: Code Switch

NPR has launched an engaging new blog called Code Switch. From the inaugural post, "How Code-Switching Explains The World," by Gene Demby:

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.

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Cho-Sen Garden

Michael Robinson sent in this photograph of a strip mall in Flushing Meadows taken by Spencer Kiser and posted on Flickr:

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Multilingual voting signs

Gene Buckley sent this photograph of a sign in Los Angeles:

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Much ado about Montreal greetings

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%.

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A multilingual book trailer

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 info@babelnomore.com, 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!

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