Archive for Multilingualism

Pentalingual street signs in Kashgar

Screen shot from this video (at 0:34) about an express delivery service in Kashgar, Xinjiang, China:

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Graduation speech by a West African student at National Taiwan University

Stunning speech (7:49) by Achille, a graduating student from Burkina Faso at the NTU commencement on June 6:

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Texas German

Here's a nice introduction to the subject:

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Multilingual Utica confronts COVID-19

From Brenton Recht:

I live in a city with a large immigrant population in general and a large Bosnian population in particular (Utica, NY [VHM: population around 60,000; between Syracuse and Schenectady]). As such, I see "BiH" bumper stickers once in a while on the road. Most of the Bosnian population either came during the breakup of Yugoslavia or are children of those immigrants, so they are probably following the American trend of putting round stickers on your car for things you like or identify with, rather than the European usage of using them to identify country of origin.

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Cantonese: good news and bad news

The good news is that it's a language.

The bad news is that you can't speak it.

"China’s version of TikTok suspends users for speaking Cantonese:  ByteDance’s short video app Douyin has been urging live streamers to switch to the country’s official language", Abacus via SCMP (4/3/20)

I've been hearing similar reports concerning the use of Cantonese on other social media:  it is definitely discouraged or even forbidden.  At least, though, the Abacus article does not miscall Cantonese a dialect, but affords it the dignity of referring to it as a language.

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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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