Archive for Multilingualism

Social distance posters in various Asian scripts

At first I thought these might have come from Singapore or some other Southeast Asian country, but upon closer inspection, I see that they are from the Hong Kong Department of Health, which was confirmed by Fraser Howie, who sent them to me.  They are respectively in Hindi, Indonesian, Thai, Nepali, Bengali, Sinhala, Urdu, Vietnamese, and Tagalog.  Upon further reflection, it is clear that the content of the posters is directed at the foreign domestic helpers who comprise five percent of Hong Kong's population.  One of their favorite activities when they have time off from their jobs is to gather in groups in public places, sitting on the ground or on benches to chat and often to enjoy what to me seems like a picnic.

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Preventive Care for Local Languages

February 21st is International Mother Language Day, proclaimed by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1999 and celebrated every year since, aimed at promoting linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. In honor of the day, the following is a guest post by Alissa Stern, the founder of BASAbali, an initiative of "linguists, anthropologists, students, and laypeople, from within and outside of Bali, who are collaborating to keep Balinese strong and sustainable." BASAbali won a 2019 UNESCO Award for Literacy and a 2018 International Linguapax Award.


We're told "Don't wait" to treat our bodies, secure our homes, or maintain our cars. We should do the same for local languages.

Despite all the years of language revitalization, we are still losing about one language every two to three weeks.  In this century alone, the number of languages on the planet will be halved. A little preventive care would help.

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Multilingualism in Philadelphia's Chinatown

Sign spotted by Diana Shuheng Zhang on December 7, 2019:

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A Sino-Mongolian tale in three languages and five scripts

"Silk Road Tales: A Look at a Mongolian-Chinese Storybook"

By Bruce Humes, published

This post features the tale of Zhang Qian, diplomat and explorer of the "Western Realm" during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han (141-87 BCE). The book is in Chinese and Mongolian (traditional script) and forms part of a "Socialist Core Value" (社会主义核心价值观幼儿绘本) picture-book series for children aged 5-6.

To facilitate comparison, the blogger has provided the text in three languages, five scripts: the original Chinese and Inner Mongolian script (vertical); Hanyu Pinyin; Cyrillic Mongolian (used in Mongolia); and a translation of the text into English.

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"Add oil," Kongish!

Speakers of Kongish have three ways to write their equivalent of English "Go!":  1. "ga yao" (Cantonese Romanization of the wildly popular term), 2. 加油 (the Sinographic form of the Cantonese expression), 3. "add oil" (Chinglishy equivalent of the former two forms).

See this excellent article by Lisa Lim for a brief introduction to Kongish:

"Do you speak Kongish? Hong Kong protesters harness unique language code to empower and communicate:  The mixed code of romanised Cantonese and English has helped popularise phrases such as 'add oil', from Cantonese 'ga yau'", SCMP (30 Aug, 2019).  [VHM:  Includes a nice summary of Romanization efforts for Sinitic topolects from the late 16th century (Matteo Ricci) to the present.]

Illustration from the article:

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Green box deep male shrine

Photograph taken by Yuanfei Wang in Baihou Town 百侯镇, Tai Po 大埔, Guangdong Province:

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Mongolian script on RMB bills

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Can a person have more than one native language?, part 2

Based on these two tweets, this 85-year-old Swedish woman has at least two native tongues:

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Can a person have more than one native language?

The following paragraph began as a comment to this post:  "How to maintain first and second language skills" (4/25/19)

How can a person acquire not just one, but two or more native languages? Now in China, some parents aspire to help their children learn both Chinese and English as their native languages. But, considering the drastic differences between the two languages, it seems to be quite a difficult goal to achieve, to use both languages equally well. A very interesting case I met is a 6th grader from an international school, a Chinese boy who spoke fluent English but stammering Chinese. He had to stop to organize his Chinese when trying to express complicated ideas. His parents are both native Chinese, and they sent him to an international primary school. There are undoubtedly many other students like him, since China has so many international primary and secondary schools. Their parents must have taken great effort making English the first language of their children. But why? And in the almost monolingual Chinese environment, I wonder if English as their first language could be as equally efficient as that of a real native speaker.

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Mayor Pete's multilingualism

Sure, you may have heard that Pete Buttigieg, now on the presidential campaign trail, can speak a surprising number of languages. Now the Washington Post compiles the evidence in one video, under the appropriate headline, "Mayor Pete speaks a lot of languages, even when he's not fluent." In the video, Polyglot Pete shows off his varying skills in French, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Farsi (aka Iranian Persian), Dari (aka Afghan Persian), and Norwegian. Oddly, there's no footage of him speaking Maltese, which is likely the foreign language in which he has the most fluency, given that his father is from Malta.

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Language in Shanghai during World War II and now

Two days ago, I called the attention of friends and colleagues to this recently published book:

Jewish Refugees in Shanghai, 1933-1947: A Selection of Documents (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018.

At 717 pages and with 184 primary documents in German, English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Chinese, and Russian, this big volume was edited by Irene Eber (1929-2019), who passed away a few days ago.  Here's a short (7:26) video telling how she became a Sinologist.

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"Up" in Japanese and Chinese

Tong Wang told me that she just learned a new word.  It's "up主", a term borrowed from Japanese into Chinese, and refers to those who upload audio, video, or other resources to share on certain websites.

In this expression, zhǔ / nushi 主 means "master; lord; host; owner", etc. (it has many other meanings in other realms of discourse, e.g., "Allah; Lord; advocate; main; primary; principal", etc.)

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"Hello" sung by a Kazakh

Here is Dimash Kudaibergen singing "Hello":

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