Related to a recent post about the Chinese government’s somewhat unpopular phasing out of local Cantonese dialects to be replaced by Mandarin, recently the older Indonesian generations have voiced their concerns that the native Indonesian tongue – Bahasa Indonesia – is being sidelined by youths in favor of a more fluent grasp of English.
As the world’s unofficial lingua franca (and certainly the international language of business), English has permeated into countless cultures worldwide, but it is the prospering Indonesian middle and upper classes who are responsible for the sharp increase in English fluency over Bahasa Indonesia. As families make more money, they are able to forego state-funded education and send their children to the growing number of Indonesian private schools, where a greater focus is given to the English language, and Bahasa Indonesia is often overlooked.
English fluency has, in fact, become somewhat tied to wealth – it has been reported that many people even take a certain amount of pride in having only a basic grasp of the local Indonesian tongue, as their command of English is seen as something of a linguistic badge of a private education. This has given rise to a certain level of bitterness – last year’s Miss Indonesia, born to an Indonesian mother and an American father, was widely criticized (along with the judges who granted her the title) for her scant knowledge of the Indonesian language and preference for speaking in English.
Older generations fear that English overtaking native Indonesian could be potentially ruinous not only for Indonesian tradition, but even cause a divide amongst the people, slowly corroding Indonesia’s national identity.
This goes to highlight just how important language can be to a nation’s culture. Is Indonesian on the way out? Probably not. But it certainly seems that the spread of English around the world has great repercussions than you would think.
American astronaut aboard the International Space Station, Tracy Caldwell Dyson, has recorded a six minute video to deaf children, in American Sign Language. This is the first time ASL has been used on board the ISS, and possibly the first time in outer space – despite it being the 4th most commonly used language in the USA. The purpose of the video was to encourage deaf children not to feel like there are certain things that they can’t do, and to pursue a career science if that is what they want. Caldwell Dyson herself says “the only thing deaf people can’t do is hear”.
Caldwell Dyson learned sign language after befriending a deaf athlete on her university track team. She learned the basics of ASL, and later developed her understanding after encountering deaf students whilst teaching Chemistry at graduate school.
You can watch the full video here.
Languages slowly dying out is always something I feel a little sad about, but as mentioned in previous posts, this seems to be the direction the world is taking.
Recently, people have taken to the streets in Guangzhou, a city in southern China, in protest of the local Cantonese dialect being ever more replaced by Mandarin. The specific issue that sparked the protest – numbering around 10,000 people, according to reports – was the majority of the TV stations switching to broadcasting in Mandarin.
For decades, pressure from Beijing to adopt Mandarin as the national language of China has seen many local Cantonese dialects usurped by the government’s preferred tongue. Spokespeople from the Chinese Communist Party claim that they simply wish to “strike a balance” and “respect dialects” rather than simply wipe out the widespread use of Cantonese, but with several newspapers having reports of people actually being fired from their jobs for speaking Cantonese rather than Mandarin, it is difficult to gauge the extent of the government’s “encouragement”.
This policy is most noticeably resisted in the city of Hong Kong, where Cantonese still reigns as the preferred language not only of the locals but also in the government and education sectors. Nearby provinces such as Guangdong have also resisted the migration to Mandarin.
Fear not, though – a Cantonese course will still stand you in good stead for travelling around China – so long as you stick mainly to the southern provinces. If you’d rather go to Shanghai or Beijing, Mandarin is probably a better bet!
Sarah Palin is one of my favorite public figures. Hate her or love her, you can’t but help enjoy her little snafus. Lately it’s been this word “refudiate”, first laid down in a tweet written by Palin concerning plans to build a mosque within 2 blocks of Ground Zero. Did she mean “refute”? Or “repudiate”? Did she mean a mixture of the two?
Is this clumsy ignorance on her part? Or is she, as she claims, finding time within the confines of a sensitive argument to coin new English words in the same way that Shakespeare did?
Who knows. But I can’t but help enjoy the show.
More often known nowadays for his love of gadgets (the iPhone in particular), Stephen Fry has got to be one of my favorite British comedians. His material is always very clever, and his passion for language shines through. He was a star of A Bit of Fry And Laurie, Blackadder, Jeeves & Worcester, and several other great British comedy series. The English panel show he hosts, QI (“Quite Interesting”), is worth checking out if you ever get the chance.
Recently it was reported that Fry would be making a series of shows about the English language, to be shown on BBC2.
This seems like a must watch to me! How long until it’s shown in the US?
With speech-to-text fast becoming a standard on Android smartphones, it was a matter of time until some clever people came along and created practical speech-to-sign software for deaf people.
A team from Thailand has done just that – and for their efforts have won the central category of the Imagine Cup, a student software development competition sponsored by Microsoft. The award netted them $25,000 as well as the prestige associated with being the top project from some 325,000 students.
From the article:
The Thai team’s software, EyeFeel, combines speech recognition, face recognition and sign-language animation to offer real time translation for people with hearing problems.
“The voice recognition module captures the speech and converts the sentence so it fits the grammar of sign language”, Team Skeek captain Pichai Sodsai told IDG News Service. “The sign language is then animated on the screen, while face recognition is used to distinguish different speakers.” The software also puts in text balloons much like a comic book, all in real time.
However, given the complexity of translating spoken language to the physical nature of signing, there are still issues with the software. There is a lot of lag, as signing is much slower than speaking (you may notice this whenever there is a sign language overlay on TV – the signer often finishes much later than the spoken narration).
Another issue is that the software currently only works with American Sign Language – the standard only in the USA – and English. It would take a significant amount of work to enable the software to understand other spoken languages, and output in other sign languages (of which there are many).
Still, this is an interesting development and can only improve from here, and may help pave the way for an exciting future of universal translation!
Apologies for the subject matter of this post, but I thought it was interesting from a linguistic point of view!
I’ve known for a while that the wonderful English word diarrhea (or diarrhoea) comes from the ancient Greek word diarroia (διαρροια), a participle form of the verb diarrein (διαρρειν). The “dia” (δια) prefix literally means “through”, and the verb “rein” (ρειν) means “to rush” or “to flow”. Therefore the literal translation of διαρροια means “a rushing through” – a very accurate description of the condition itself!
However, I only realised recently that while English takes the word almost straight from the Greek, the literal translation lives on in other languages. In German, for example, the word is durchfall – and again, “durch” is a preposition meaning “through”, with “fall” meaning pretty much what it means in English.
Similarly, a Dutch word for it is buikloop – “buik” means “stomach”, and “loop” means a “run” (and can even mean a “stream”, though of course I don’t wish that upon anyone).
As a related aside, my English teacher at school had a great mnemonic for remembering how to spell the word diarrh(o)ea, which has served me well to this day: Dashing, In A Rush, Running Hard, (Or) Else, Accident!
Something I learned today from Marie, one of my German friends – in 1996, there was a policy instituted in German grammar by which some compound nouns contained three consecutive consonants. This is due to the ever-so-German habit of joining together words (Komposita), resulting in insanely long words such as Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (“beef labelling supervision duty assignment law”).
The word Marie was talking to me about was Rollladen – meaning shutters or blinds for windows. I had assumed the triple L was a typo, but later learned that the word is in fact spelled that way, since the two words from which it is formed – roll and laden – combine without dropping any letters.
Triple consonants affect only the spelling, not the pronunciation. They occur when words are written together, as in Schifffahrt (‘shipping’) from Schiff and Fahrt, Sauerstoffflasche (‘oxygen bottle’) from Sauerstoff and Flasche. Before the spelling reform of 1996, only two consonants were written if the sequence was followed by a vowel (e.g. Schiffahrt but Sauerstoffflasche).
If hyphenated at the end of a line, all three consonants were always written (e.g., Schiff-fahrt and Sauerstoff-flasche). The new spelling of both words is Schifffahrt and Sauerstoffflasche, with triple consonants in all contexts.
Imagine the uproar if English were to have a ‘spelling reform’!