Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘language’

Photo: Storytime Online.
An inside page of “A Beautiful Day,” which is currently available in English, Spanish, and German.

Speaking of languages, today’s post is about making children’s books available in more languages. It’s from an interview that Boston Globe reporter Alexa Gagosz conducted with Andreas von Sachsen-Altenburg, founder of Storytime Online.

Writes Gagosz, “Storytime Online is a new German-Rhode Island educational technology platform where children can read and listen to interactive children’s books from cultures around the world, translated and narrated in more than 15 different languages.

“It works with authors and artists to digitize and publish stories on a global scale. … Founder Andreas von Sachsen-Altenburg is launching the Storytime Online platform internationally this month.

Globe: How did you come up with this idea?

von Sachsen-Altenburg: I was back in Germany with my family when I was with my sister Julia, who was 9 at the time, and had just moved there from Georgia (the country). I’d bring her to bookstores there, but we didn’t always actually purchase a book. She was just learning German as her second language, and she would quickly advance to the next level or simply get bored with reading the same book — like most kids. At the same time, while around the rest of my family, she was learning English; so, trying to learn two different languages at the same time. I looked for resources for her, but it was difficult to find anything in German, especially for a Georgian. I could find resources in English, but they were expensive. …

“If you go to another country where your language isn’t supported, especially as a child, it makes learning in school nearly impossible. Julia made me aware of this problem, so it became our problem. And I built my own solution.

How does Storytime Online work?

“It’s really easy to use, which was the key. The point is to allow a child to use this technology on their own, even as young as 3. After choosing a language and reading level, various book covers are displayed, and then the child can flip through the pages of the book online. You can read the book to the child, clicking through the pages on your own, or have a narrator read the book by clicking the play buttons.

You can also alter the language of each book in any of the other languages that it is available in.

Which languages are available?

“The languages that are currently on deck or in development include English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese (European and Brazilian); Armenian, Georgian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Arabic (Modern Standard); Kurdish, Pashto, Persian (Farsi/Dari), Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. …

How much does it cost?

“For unlimited access to all languages, it’s an average of $5 each month. It’s designed to be affordable, even in developing countries.

How do you get authors and artists to be on the platform?

“Our model is similar to Spotify for artists. You get published and then get royalties, not just for that one language that you wrote the book in, but in all the languages I get it translated and narrated in. But this also multiplies their reach to other cultural markets without doing any additional work.

“Also, all authors, designers, illustrators, translators, and narrators get credit for being part of this effort right on the book’s landing page. If your child wants to continue reading a book from one particular author or narrator, you can click on the person’s profile to see what other books they worked on. …

How are you identifying global refugees to work with?

“I just started working with a digital skills and marketing firm in the UK that trains and employs refugees in Africa. Also, the CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center recently sent out a newsletter about the company’s initiatives to support Ukraine during the war, and I replied to it regarding Storytime Online. I was connected with a CIC director in Poland, and he was able to put me in touch with more translators.

“I developed a partnership with the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, and they have a network of thousands of migrants. Right now, I’m prioritizing Ukrainian narrations and translations, but also working with Ukrainian refugees to support them during this time. With the League’s help, I’m looking to quickly translate and narrate 100 stories in Ukrainian.

How does Storytime Online fit into your background?

“I grew up between the US and Germany. Learning another language was much different in Europe than here in the US. I took Spanish classes in both Germany and the US, but I actually learned Spanish in Germany. In Germany, you’re not just learning for the next test, you’re learning to become fluent.”

More at the Globe, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: The Intrepid Guide.

Don’t you love the way quirky idioms reflect a whole culture? I’ve written about this a few times before. Today I’m sharing what the Intrepid Guide has to say on the subject.

Michelle, the founder, writes, “If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, then you’ll know that translating is not always an easy task. There are over 7,000 languages in the world and just as many words and ideas that get ‘lost in translation’ due to differences in grammar and semantics, or even linguistic complications. When a language fails to convey the essence of a word during translation, the word is considered to be ‘untranslatable.’

“There are many terms that … can give us a glimpse into different cultures and belief systems that help us to understand the people who speak these marvelous languages. 

“English is no stranger to borrowing words from other languages and even inventing new ones like hangry, a combination of anger and hunger because you need something to eat asap. Then there is nomophobia, an irrational fear or sense of panic felt when you’ve lost your phone or are unable to use it. … New words have entered English dictionaries at a fast pace, keeping up with the diversity of the English-speaking world. 

“In spite of this, the English language can’t explain everything so succinctly, and yet there are many other languages that have, in just one word. This comprehensive list looks at some of the most beautiful words in different languages that are simply untranslatable into English. …

“From Afrikaans to Zulu, here are 203 of the most beautiful untranslatable words from other languages.

“Afrikaans: Loskop – Used to describe someone who is forgetful, absent-minded and a bit air-headed. It’s literally means, ‘loose (los) head (kop).’

“Albanian: Besa –  An Albanian verb and pledge of honor that means to keep a promise by honoring your word. It’s usually translated as ‘faith”’ or ‘oath.’ …

“Arabic: Taarradhin  (تراض)Taarradhin is the act of coming to a happy compromise where everyone wins. It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face. …

“Bengali: Ghodar-dim (ঘোড়ার ডিম) – Pronounced [gho-rar-deem], this Bengali word is a sarcastic term for ‘nothing’ or false hope. It literally means ‘horse’s egg,’ therefore representing something that doesn’t exist. …

“Malay: pisan zapra – the time it takes to eat a banana. …

“Spanish: VacinlandoVacilando is a beautiful Spanish word which describes the journey or experience of travelling, is more important than reaching the specific destination.”

There’s a very long list of untranslatable Swedish. Here’s the first: “Badkruka – A person who feels somewhat hesitant or doesn’t like to swim in an open body of water due to its low temperature. …

“Tagalog (Philippines): GigilGigil is the overwhelming feeling that comes over you when you see something unbearably cute that you want to squeeze or pinch it. Kind of like when your grandma wanted to pinch your cheeks when you were a child. …

“Wagiman (Australia): Murr-ma – This beautiful word comes from Wagiman, an almost extinct Australian Aboriginal language spoken in Australia’s Northern Territory. It describes feeling around in water with your feet to find something. …

“Yaghan (Southern Argentina): Mamihlapinatapei – The word mamihlapinatapai (sometimes also spelled mamihlapinatapei) comes from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego in Southern Argentina. Mamihlapinatapai is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘most succinct word’ and is considered extremely difficult to translate. Mamihlapinatapai is a meaningful, but wordless, exchange between two people, who both desire to initiate something but are hesitant to act on it. It also can refer to a private but non-verbal exchange shared by two people, one where each knows that the other understands and agrees what is being expressed. …

“Yiddish: Trepverter – Literally, ‘staircase words,’ trepverter is a witty comeback you think of only after it’s too late. 

“Zulu: Ubuntu – The act of being kind to others because of one’s common humanity. Ubuntu is frequently translated as ‘I am because we are,’ or ‘humanity towards others.’ “

More at the Intrepid Guide, here. The selections are pretty amazing. Dip in anywhere. A couple of my previous posts on the topic are here and here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Annabel Lankai.
Ghanaian Swahili student Annabel Naa Odarley Lankai is advocating to make Swahili the lingua franca of Africa.

The BBC reports on renewed efforts to make Swahili the Esperanto of Africa, the universal language on the continent.

“With more than 200 million speakers, Swahili, which originated in East Africa, is one of the world’s 10 most widely spoken languages and, as Priya Sippy writes, there is a renewed push for it to become the continent’s lingua franca.

” ‘It’s high time we move from the colonizer’s language.’

“This is not part of a rousing speech by a pan-African idealist but rather the sentence is uttered quietly and calmly by Ghanaian Swahili student Annabel Naa Odarley Lankai. … Africa should ‘have something that is of us and for us,’ the 23-year-old adds.

“In its heartland, Swahili and its dialects stretch from parts of Somalia down to Mozambique and across to the western parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. But Ms Lankai’s classroom at the University of Ghana in the capital, Accra, is some 4,500km (2,800 miles) west of Swahili’s birthplace – coastal Kenya and Tanzania. The distance could be seen as a measure of the spread of the language and its growing appeal. …

“Swahili, which takes around 40% of its vocabulary directly from Arabic, was initially spread by Arab traders along East Africa’s coast. It was then formalized under the German and British colonial regimes in the region in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, as a language of administration and education. …

“At its recent heads of state meeting, the African Union (AU) adopted Swahili as an official working language. It is also the official language of the East African Community (EAC), which DR Congo is poised to join.

“In 2019, Swahili became the only African language to be recognized by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Shortly after, it was introduced in classrooms across South Africa and Botswana. Most recently, Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University announced it would start teaching Swahili. …

“Tom Jelpke, a researcher of Swahili at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, argues that as connections grow across the continent, people will want a common way to communicate. He believes that its closeness to other languages in east and central Africa will cement its position there. But beyond those regions there may also be an ideological element. …

“Says Ally Khalfan, a lecturer at the State University of Zanzibar … ‘It is about our property and our identity as Africans.’ …

“Currently, English is the official or second language in 27 out of the 54 countries in Africa, and French is the official language in 21 of them.

” ‘English is still the language of power,’ says Chege Githiora, a linguistics professor in Kenya, in recognition of the political and economic reality. He advocates what he calls ‘fluent multilingualism,’ where people are comfortable speaking more than one trans-national language. …

“But whereas Swahili has an appeal in east, central and southern Africa, it has more competition in the west and the north. Arabic is dominant in the north, but in the west there are African languages – such as Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba – which could vie for the status of lingua franca.

“If Swahili is to become truly pan-African it will take political will, an economic imperative and financial investment to reach all regions.”

More at the BBC, here. No firewall.

Read Full Post »

Your Bilingual Dog

Photo: Raúl Hernández.
Kun Kun has been participating in tests to tell if dogs can distinguish one language from another. Here is Kun Kun taking a break from the MRI machine.

Anyone who has ever been attached to a dog, talking to the dog and studying its reactions, must have wondered what dogs understand and how they understand it. Among the studies that have been done on the question is a recent one about being able to understand different languages.

Alejandra Marquez Janse and Christopher Intagliata present the story at National Public Radio.

“Imagine you’re moving to a new country on the other side of the world. Besides the geographical and cultural changes, you will find a key difference will be the language. But will your pets notice the difference?

“It was a question that nagged at Laura Cuaya, a brain researcher at the Neuroethology of Communication Lab at at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.

” ‘When I moved from Mexico to Hungary to start my post-doc research, all was new for me. Obviously, here, people in Budapest speak Hungarian. So you’ve had a different language, completely different for me,’ she said.

“The language was also new to her two dogs: Kun Kun and Odín.

” ‘People are super friendly with their dogs [in Budapest]. And my dogs, they are interested in interacting with people,’ Cuaya said. ‘But I wonder, did they also notice people here … spoke a different language?”

“Cuaya set out to find the answer. She and her colleagues designed an experiment with 18 volunteer dogs — including her two border collies — to see if they could differentiate between two languages. Kun Kun and Odín were used to hearing Spanish; the other dogs Hungarian.

The dogs sat still within an MRI machine, while listening to an excerpt from the story The Little Prince. They heard one version in Spanish, and another in Hungarian. Then the scientists analyzed the dogs’ brain activity.

“Attila Andics leads the lab where the study took place and said researchers were looking for brain regions that showed a different activity pattern for one language versus the other.

” ‘And we found a brain region — the secondary auditory cortex, which is a higher level processing region in the auditory hierarchy — which showed a different activity pattern for the familiar language and for the unfamiliar language,’ Andics said.

“This activity pattern difference to the two languages suggests that dogs’ brain can differentiate between these two languages. In terms of brain imaging studies, this study is the very first one which showed that a non-human species brain can discriminate between languages.

“They also found that older dogs brains’ showed bigger differences in brain activity between the two languages, perhaps because older dogs have more experience listening to human language. Their findings were published this week in the journal NeuroImage.

“Amritha Mallikarjun is a researcher at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia. She wasn’t involved in this study, but has been working on similar research about dogs and language. … While this work relied on brain imaging, Mallikarjun said it would be worth investigating whether dogs could differentiate between languages in behavioral studies, too…. ‘Because often with neural studies, you can find differences that don’t play out in the behavior.’ ” More at NPR, here.

Being curious about the choice of The Little Prince for the text, I went to the original study: “Our linguistic material consisted of a recording of the XXI chapter of The Little Prince written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry read by two different native, female speakers, with similar timbre, and vocal characteristics [one] in each language. … The text, as well as the speakers were unknown to all dogs and the text was recorded with a lively, engaging intonation.”

So then I looked up the passage, finding it described at a website call Shmoop: “The little prince tells the fox that he is unhappy and asks him to come play with him; but the fox says he cannot because he is not ‘tamed’ (21.8). He explains that ‘to tame’ means ‘to establish ties’ (21.16). Through the process of taming, they will come to need each other, and will become special to one another. The fox requests the little prince to tame him.”

Read Full Post »

Map: Wikipedia.
Map showing the location of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Before the pandemic, I had a conversation with a friend in her 80s who was raised in the Sephardic Jewish tradition. Along with others in her age group she has gone online to try to preserve the Spanish-based language Ladino, which goes way back to 15th century, when there was a large Jewish community living in Spain.

This blog has often covered the topic of endangered languages and efforts to protect them. Sometimes the danger to a language results from the dying out of aging speakers. Sometimes the danger comes from government policy, as was the case for many years with America’s indigenous tribes.

Filip Noubel writes at Global Voices about the language of a Muslim community in China whose proponents are working to adapt it to online use.

“Languages need to adapt to the modern world to catch-up with new technology and concepts if they want to remain competitive, particularly among younger speakers. This is particularly true for Uyghur, a Turkic language spoken in Western China that is under threat due to targeted discrimination conducted by Chinese authorities in the hope that Chinese may appear more attractive and technology-friendly among Uyghur youth.

“Uyghur linguists have long been aware of the fact that Uyghur, a Turkic language with an estimated 10 million speakers, written in the Arabic alphabet in China, and with a rich tradition of intricate poetry, philosophy and songs written in that language, needs to include elements of modern life to serve the needs of the younger generation, as well as of social media where more and more conversations are taking place.

“To have a rare insight into those efforts, Global Voices spoke to Elise Anderson, an expert on Uyghur language and music who spent years in Xinjiang, and now works as a Senior Program Officer with the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Anderson, who spent most of her time in Xinjiang from 2012 to 2016, was invited in January 2014 by an Uyghur linguist friend to join their WeChat group called ‘Tilchilar’ (Linguists) as she was herself studying the language in-depth as part of her doctoral research on Uyghur music and songs. Here is how she describes the group hosted on China’s most popular social media platform, WeChat:

” ‘The group had around 100 members at any given moment, most of whom were highly educated native speakers, including academics, translators, bureaucrats, and even a few officials from regional-level institutions. We discussed persistent “problems” in the language, including spelling, grammar, translation. Most often, our conversations centered on terminology and whether we could replace Chinese loanwords to preserve the “purity” (sapliq) of Uyghur. A group member might say, “I noticed teenagers are using [Mandarin word]. What could we say instead?” We would then cycle through possibilities: Was there a word to “resurrect” from pre-modern Uyghur? No? What about “borrowing” from other Turkic languages? No? What about ‘importing’ from a more distant language? And so on. In a few cases, we settled on terms, which more influential group members then attempted to lexicalize. But discussions of single words could last days and often went unresolved.’

“As Anderson explains, the group was also trading examples of bad translations, some of which were comical, but also raised an uncomfortable questions such as why would there be unedited translations in Uyghur in a territory inhabited by millions of native speakers of the language.

“For languages that do not have a dominating position in a country, or have a small number of speakers, their digital footprint is often an indicator of their chances for long-term survival. For Uyghur language, WeChat offered a unique opportunity with its voice messaging feature. As Anderson explains, the platform became so popular it was given an Uyghur name, ‘Ündidar,’ a portmanteau word made of the Turkic word ‘ün’ which means voice, and the Persian term ‘didar’ which refers to encounter. The poetic term was coined by the poet and intellectual Abduqadir Jalaliddin, who disappeared from his Ürümqi home in 2018 and is currently incarcerated. …

“Today the Uyghur diaspora living outside a Beijing-censored internet is probably the most active user of Uyghur language over social media. Microsoft has offered full operating systems in Uyghur since 2016, and most smartphones allow Uyghur on their keyboard. In February 2020, Google also added Uyghur on its free translation platform, expanding the space for Uyghur online. …

“According to Anderson: ‘The Uyghur web, most of which was hosted inside the borders of China, used to be a vibrant space, where popular message boards gave users space to discuss everything under the sun (or at least everything under the sun that made it through the censors). … Since 2016, authorities in the Uyghur region have managed to scrub that web nearly completely, such that today there are very few Uyghur-language sites left. …

” ‘The way to keep anything alive, including a language, is to create space for it to live and provide material support so it can thrive. The Uyghur language will survive if it is put it on equal footing with other languages, if it “counts” in professional and formal settings, if it has support as a language of literary and scientific production.’ “

More at Global Voices, here.

Photo: Thomas Peter/Reuters.
Workers walk along the fence of a fortification thought to be a Muslim detention center in Xinjiang, China, on September 4, 2018. Read more at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Youtube.
The way hamsters store food is the inspiration behind a word in German that emerged amid wartime hoarding. It has found new life during the pandemic.

Back in the early 1980s, when I was trying to learn Esperanto, I loved how you could make very specific words by gluing other words together. For example, we had a word in our house for me when I was the one to taste the filtered coffee to see if it was ready: kafgustumistino. If it had been my husband, we would have said kafgustumisto.

Rebecca Schuman at Slate explains why agglutinative languages are perfect for creating pandemic-appropriate vocabulary to suit one’s every need.

“During the otherwise Nietzschean abyss of the early pandemic, ” she writes, “one of the few bright lights was a German word: Hamsterkauf, which first emerged during World War II and began circulating in German media last March. Literally ‘hamster buy,’ this coinage described the act of succumbing to our basest animal-brain instincts to hoard more necessities than we would ever actually need. …

“Ah, those delightful Germans! Always with the single word that describes a very specific thing that any normal language would never have a single word to describe! … Over the past year, German has coined some 1,000-plus new terms endemic to the Now Times — ironic capitalization, by the way, being an annoying method that English speakers use to create new language.

“Speaking of which: Unlike English, whose own recent neologisms often read as nonwords that are only cute the first time you encounter them [such as] coronasomnia, situationship … German’s COVID lexicon just looks German. …

“Now, to really make a decent German compound noun, you have to either memorize a very long if-then chart, be a native speaker, or have what’s called a Sprachgefühl — literally ‘language feel,’ or an instinct for what sounds right. But for a semi-workable shortcut, it comes down to this: You start with two nouns, or an adjective and then a noun. … Now here comes the tricky part: Often you have to put in connecting letters, and which letter you use depends on the smaller words’ last letters; this will ostensibly make your big new word easier to pronounce. …

“There’s already a magniloquent viral Twitter thread in appreciation of new superstars such as Impfneid (vaccine envy) — but what about the particular cacophony of imperious voices bickering over how (or when, or if) to relax social distancing and lockdown measures? That’s an Öffnungsdiskusionorgie (OOF-nungs-dee-skoo-ZEEONS-or-ghee), literally an ‘orgy of discussions regarding opening,’ which is coincidentally also the only orgy it’s currently safe to attend.

“Then of course there’s the ol’ socially distanced drink, or Abstandsbier (AHB-stonds-BEE-uh, or ‘distance beer’), which carries with it the many connotations of the word Abstand, including ‘gap,’ ‘interval,’ ’empty space,’ and ‘difference,’ truly encapsulating just why chugging a Godforsaken Beck’s on a frigid sidewalk whilst avoiding small talk might be an unsatisfying Quarentänebruch (KVAH-ren-TAYN-uh-BRUK), or quarantine violation. …

“Here’s a new one: Risikoeinreisender (REE-SEE-koh-AYN-RYE-sun-duh), literally ‘risk-arriver,’ aka one who tromps undeterred into another country straight from an outbreak-rich region without regard to whether he might infect the entire staff of his $309 cabana at the Cancún Ritz-Carlton. (Hopefully the check-in counter at said Ritz-Carlton was already equipped with my personal favorite of this entire Teutonic enterprise: a clear fiberglass Spuckshutztrennscheibe (SHPOOK-shoots-TREN-shy-buh) — literally ‘spittle-protection separation pane.’)

“While it’s always fun to see exactly which surprisingly singular phenomena have heretofore claimed their own German word, I think that the nomenclatures of the Coronazeit (ko-RO-nah-TSITE) are particularly resonant for non-German-speakers because this really is a singular moment in time. …

“Even I, a blasé Germanist, could ruminate all night on such lexicographic majesty as Geisterspieltag (GUY-stuh-SHPEEL-tak), literally ‘ghost game day,’ or the practice of playing Fußball in an empty stadium. But alas, I don’t have time for all 1,000-plus words, given that my daughter has been in Zoom school for a year and possibly just set something on fire. But here’s one new German word that even I don’t really understand: Coronakindergeld (koh-RO-na-KIN-duh-gelt), the ongoing financial support for parents stuck at home with their kids.” Wow, is Germany really paying parents?

More at Slate, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Daniella Zalcman
Pele gets ready to play the ukulele, an instrument brought to Hawaii in the 1800s by Portuguese immigrants.

Saving a language, according to a recent article in Smithsonian magazine, involves more than learning to speak it. A language is an expression of a culture, a way of life, and speakers must appreciate all of that if the language is to survive.

Alia Wong writes about a married couple who have been putting in the work to see that both the Hawaiian language and the Hawaiian culture get passed down to new generations.

“Pelehonuamea Suganuma and Kekoa Harman were bright-eyed high schoolers in Honolulu when they first crossed paths, in the 1990s. The two were paired for a performance — a ho‘ike, as such shows are known in Hawaiian. Both teenagers had a passion for hula and mele (Hawaiian songs and chants), and they liked performing at the school they’d chosen to attend — Kamehameha High School, part of a 133-year-old private network that gave admissions preference to students of Hawaiian Polynesian ancestry. Still, one part of Hawaiian culture remained frustratingly out of reach for Pele and Kekoa: the language.

“Over many generations, the native tongue of the islands had been systematically eliminated from everyday life, and even the Kamehameha Schools weren’t able to bring it back. Part of it was a lack of interest — students seemed to prefer learning Japanese, Spanish or French. But more important, Hawaii’s educators generally hadn’t yet figured out how to teach Hawaiian vocabulary and grammar, or give eager youngsters like Pele and Kekoa opportunities to immerse themselves in Hawaiian speech.

“A few years later, Pele and Kekoa found themselves together again. Both of them enrolled in a brand-new Hawaiian language program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The two former schoolmates became part of a pioneering cohort that was innovating ways to bring Hawaiian back to life. They helped develop some of the first truly successful Hawaiian language programs throughout the state’s islands. Along the way, they started dating, got married and had four children, and raised them to speak fluent Hawaiian.

“Today, Pele teaches at a Hawaiian-language K-12 school and Kekoa teaches Hawaiian language and culture at the college they both attended. At home, their family speaks almost exclusively Hawaiian. The Harmans are proud of the revival they helped carry out in just one generation. But Unesco still lists the language as critically endangered, and there’s a long way to go before it’s spoken again as a part of everyday life. ‘There’s a false sense of security sometimes,’ says Pele, ‘that our language is coming back.’ …

“For centuries, Hawaiian had been an oral tongue — one steeped in mo‘olelo (story, legend, history). But after missionaries helped create a written version of the language, the local people took to it. They established more than 100 Hawaiian-language newspapers, according to some records. By 1834, more than 90 percent of Hawaiians were literate — up from virtually zero just 14 years earlier.

“Yet these strides in Hawaiian literacy were soon overtaken by efforts to erase Hawaiian culture altogether. American tycoons had also come to the islands, planting lucrative crops like sugar cane and coffee. …

“Outsiders helped to phase out the Hawaiian system of governance. They replaced traditional foods like taro with rice and imported wheat. They started issuing fines for performing hula, the ancient Hawaiian form of dance and expression. And as the 19th century was winding down, the Americans overthrew Queen Lili‘uokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch. They annexed the archipelago as a territory in 1898. By the time Hawaii became a state, in 1959, fewer than 2,000 people could speak Hawaiian fluently. …

“But there were still people left who remembered. Both Pele and Kekoa were close to their great-grandmothers — women born in the early 1900s, who spoke some Hawaiian, even though they were raised to think of their mother tongue as inferior to English. The great-grandmothers were the last members of each family to retain any fluency. …

“When Kekoa was a kid, his grandmother, who passed away a few years ago, used to take him to Hawaiian musical and hula performances. She’d make leis for tourist-targeted luaus, and he’d help her gather and string the flower garlands. ‘I loved going to those events,’ Kekoa says. …

“1997 was the year the Hawaiian legislature mandated a new program at the Hilo campus. It was called Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani, named after [a] woman from an ancient Hawaiian dynasty who was the governor of Hawaii during the mid-1800s. She was a defender of Hawaiian culture — although she came from a wealthy family and understood English, she lived in a traditional grass-roofed house and spoke only Hawaiian. The new program at Hilo had the motto O ka ‘ōlelo ke ka‘ā o ka Mauli: ‘Language is the fiber that binds us to our cultural identity.’

“Enrolling in this new program, Pele and Kekoa spoke Hawaiian as much as they could outside of class to become fluent. They ‘talked story’ with their professors in the hallways. Their teachers hosted little get-togethers every week. … At these gatherings, the students fumbled with the language over card games, with music in the background and snacks on the table. ‘That’s how we got comfortable,’ Pele says. …

“As the Harmans see it, Hawaiian will survive only if people value the culture around it. After all, Hawaiian doesn’t have the same marketing value as a massive international language like Spanish or Mandarin. Hawaiian is a language that describes local geographical features and captures an ancient worldview. … ‘Now we have a generation of Hawaiian speakers, but if we don’t also teach them [old Hawaiian] behaviors and beliefs, that fluency will only go so far,’ Kekoa says. ‘Hawaiian isn’t just a language but a way of life.’ ” More at Smithsonian, here.

And in a related article from today’s Associated Press, note that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has prioritized Covid-19 vaccine for elderly speakers of Dakota and Lokata languages, here.

Read Full Post »

murakamiandoe-768x576-1

Murakami photo: Elena Seibert
Oe photo:
Paris Review
Haruki Murakami, left, and Kenzaburo Oe are Japanese novelists who write first in a different language and later translate into Japanese.

Today’s topic is a little esoteric, but for some reason it fascinates me. It’s about two Japanese novelists who write their books first in a foreign language, not in their own.

In the case of Haruki Murakami, it was apparently because when he tried writing a novel in Japanese, his saturation with the traditional Japanese writing style weighed him down. By writing first in English and later translating, he felt freer and came up with a style that was more his own. Critics are calling this process translationese.

Masatsugu Ono, a novelist, too, writes at the Paris Review, “I clearly remember the vivid colors of the two books — one red, the other green — that a high school classmate of mine was reading. … I was from a small fishing village that didn’t even have a bookstore, and having come from a junior high school with fewer than forty students, I was intimidated by how he already had clear taste in music and literature. …

“The next time I encountered those books was after I moved to Tokyo for university. I came across a large stack of them right by the entrance of one of the city’s largest bookstores. They were the two parts of Haruki Murakami’s novel Noruwei no mori (Norwegian Wood). …

“I immediately felt that his style was different from other contemporary Japanese writers I had read. Probably because one of my professors (who was from Belgium) had translated it into French, A Wild Sheep Chase was the first of Murakami’s novels I read. And I soon found myself reading through them all.

“In 1978, Murakami went to Jingu Baseball Stadium, located near the jazz bar he ran, to watch the opening game of the season. The moment the lead-off hitter slammed the first pitch cleanly into left field, a thought struck him: I think I can write a novel. … ‘It was like a revelation. Or maybe “epiphany” is a better word.’

“Murakami describes this event — even in Japanese — using the English word epiphany. Late that night, he sat down at the kitchen table and began to write. Several months later, he finished a first draft. But it disappointed him. Murakami placed his Olivetti typewriter on the table and began to write again, this time in English.

The resulting English prose was, unsurprisingly, simple and unadorned. However, as he wrote, Murakami felt a distinctive rhythm begin to take shape:

” ‘Since I was born and raised in Japan, the vocabulary and patterns of the Japanese language had filled the system that was me to bursting, like a barn crammed with livestock. When I sought to put my thoughts and feelings into words, those animals began to mill about, and the system crashed. Writing in a foreign language, with all the limitations that entailed, removed this obstacle.’ …

“Writing in a foreign language liberated him, and he finished the beginning of his novel in English before translating it into Japanese: … ‘I wanted to deploy a type of Japanese as far removed as possible from so-called literary language in order to write in my own natural voice.’ The style Murakami describes as ‘neutral’ was deemed by some critics ‘translationese.’ …

“[When I read him], the writing did not feel like translationese to me at all. Rather, I had a strong feeling that his Japanese was our Japanese, one that I also lived and breathed. I was struck by the fact that one could write a novel in that kind of language. When reading Murakami, I never experienced the difficulty or resistance I felt each time I read Kenzaburo Oe’s later novels, which were written in a highly elaborate style that I considered ‘literary.’ …

“I’ve always been encouraged and inspired by the fact that Oe has continued throughout his career to write stories set in his hometown. And I’m strongly drawn to the original and imaginative way in which he develops local myths and small histories (in both senses of the French word histoire: history and story).

“I’ve heard that Oe didn’t much appreciate Murakami’s early books, but when Oe made his debut in the late fifties, his writing style was also considered translationese. … Oe’s early works were so spontaneous and vivid that he quickly gained a huge audience, especially among young people. But the sensual nature of his first few books was gradually replaced by an intellectually elaborated style, one that also has been described by critics as translationese.

“So while Murakami’s translationese makes him clearer and more natural, Oe’s translationese makes him more difficult and more artificial. However, according to [Kojin Karatani, one of the most influential Japanese critics], Oe’s clearer and more natural early work was already translationese, too.”

There’s a lot more here about similarities and differences among Japanese writers, but for me, the most interesting aspect of the article is learning how reading and thinking in a foreign language affects a writer’s style.

Read Full Post »

1158

Photo: Duolingo
Duolingo’s popular Scottish Gaelic course launched just before St Andrew’s Day.

There’s an asylum seeker from Afghanistan I’ve been working with on English. Virtually, of course. She was already very good when we started in March, and she’s now applying to grad schools in the US. An English proficiency test is part of that process.

Imagine my surprise when I heard that the free online language program Duolingo — the one that I used for a while so as to understand Erik when he speaks to my half-Swedish grandchildren — is the designated online exam for two of the universities where my young friend is sending applications!

In the same way that the previously maligned Wikipedia gradually became a trusted source, Duolingo has risen to language program of choice.

And every year, it adds options. Scottish Gaelic, anyone?

Libby Brooks writes at the Guardian, “Almost double the number of people in Scotland who already speak Scottish Gaelic have signed up to learn the language on the popular free platform Duolingo in over a month, concluding a proliferation in courses, prizes and performance in Gaelic and Scots during 2019, as younger people in particular shrug off the cultural cringe’ associated with speaking indigenous languages.

“The Duolingo course, which was launched just before St Andrew’s Day on 30 November and looks likely to be the company’s fastest-growing course ever, has garnered more than 127,000 sign-ups – 80% from Scotland itself, compared with just over 58,000 people who reported themselves as Gaelic speakers in the 2011 Scottish census. …

“Says Sylvia Warnecke, a senior lecturer in languages at OU Scotland, … ‘In the academic world, the recognition of Scots as an important part of our linguistic and cultural landscape has existed for quite a while, but that’s not the case in other areas, like education, where Scots has always been considered “bad English,” or in popular culture, where it’s used to add humour.’

“Warnecke identifies a growing momentum, bolstered by the official recognition of the Scots language by the Scottish government and awareness of Scots as a language in its own right.

“Last year also featured the first Scots language awards, held in Glasgow in September, where the winner of the lifetime achievement award was the writer Sheena Blackhall, who was recently also named as the first Doric makar, or poet laureate.

“Doric, or north-east Scots, was forbidden in schools and dismissed as slang for decades, but is now a key part of Aberdeenshire council’s language strategy. The first language of the Sunset Song author Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Doric is taught in schools across the north-east. …

“Blackhall and Warnecke point to the impact of social media: at last year’s Edinburgh fringe, Twitter curated an exhibition celebrating the best of the #ScottishTwitter hashtag, which has become an online institution for those experimenting with the Scots language. …

“The range of written Scots has been transformed, says [Dr Michael Dempster, the director of the Scots Language Centre and Scots scriever at the National Library of Scotland], since the 70s and 80s, when writers would employ the language to portray a particular type of character. ‘That was an act of stereotype, while the narrative voice remained in standard English. Now people are writing in Scots throughout. They started picking it up from Irvine Welsh, although his writing was not in standard Scots, but now you have younger writers like Chris McQueer, who is consciously working in Scots and readers are really appreciative of that.’ …

“A team of Glasgow University researchers have been charting the richness and diversity of Scotland’s local dialects, launching their initial findings in the Scots Syntax Atlas last month.

“Encompassing ‘fit like’ of north-east Scotland, ‘gonnae no’ in Glasgow, and ‘I might can do’ from the Borders, the atlas offers a means of tracing the development of local speech patterns. For example, the influence of Irish immigration can be heard in Glaswegian Scots phrases such as ‘She’s after locking us out.’ ”

I have to say I love this sort of thing. And reading the article reminds me: I need Ian Rankin to come out with a new Scottish mystery soon. I want to know what ex-detective John Rebus is up to in retirement. And I need to hear those intriguing “Borders” phrases and the accent in my head.

Check out the Guardian article here.

Read Full Post »

joannaviyukkane

Photo: Library Loan
I enjoyed hearing Native Alaskan Joan Naviyuk Kane read her poems and talk about her life at the Poetry at the Library series.

Our library has enabled me to hear all sorts of wonderful poets over the years. The woman in charge of the poetry series is good at bringing in poets you can sort of understand even at first reading. And the poets’ books are available to buy if you want to dig in later.

Last fall, I was intrigued by poet Joan Naviyuk Kane — both by her poems and her explanations between poems of what life is like for indigenous people in Alaska. To share some of that experience with you, I poked around on the web and came up with links.

The first link is from the library, here. “Multiple award-winning poet Joan Naviyuk Kane will read from and discuss her work that explores themes of adaptation and resilience, motherhood, marriage, extended family and its geographical context in her rapidly changing Arctic homeland.”

From the Poetry Foundation, here, we learn that “she earned a BA at Harvard University and an MFA at Columbia University. Kane’s spare, lyric poems are rooted in her Arctic homeland and concerned with movement: enlarging, thawing, accruing, crossing, even at times transforming. She considers themes of ecological, domestic, and historical shifts. Kane contends with biological, cultural, and political threats to her ancestral community, including climate change, language death, and the diaspora prompted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ forcible relocation of King Island residents in the mid-twentieth century.

” ‘Yet as a mother and a daughter, an educator and an artist, Kane brings to these subjects a singular, sonorous voice and a lyric sensibility as alternatingly austere and lush as the land of her ancestral home,’ observed Maggie Millner in a 2014 ZYZZYVA review of Hyperboreal.” More from the Poetry Foundation.

You might also like an interview conducted over e-mail by Anastasia Nikolis in winter 2018 for the Library of Congress, here:

“The stereotype about writers is that they are solitary and isolated, but your work is so connected to your family, to your ancestral heritage, and to the Inupiaq community.
“I’m so fortunate to have been raised with a family that insists upon connection, however difficult. When I am trying to structure the life of my children so that they remain connected — not just to our ancestral heritage, but to each other and our relatives, to the replenishing aspects of the human intellect that words afford, to our present and traditional lands — I remain connected to the fact that my ancestral heritage is not just a thing of the past, but a gift and responsibility whose urgency and vitality is carried forward in the present and future. …

“I’m not alone in this. My close contemporaries in the Native literary community — Sherwin Bitsui, Terese Mailhot, M.L. Smoker, Eden Robinson, Abigail Chabitnoy, Cathy Tagnak Rexford, and Tommy Orange, for instance — bring this to bear in their writing and discussions, in their families, in their lives as teachers. … Closer to home, I was raised with books and essays and poems by Joseph Senungetuk, Susie Silook, and William Oquilluk. My mother and father are voracious readers: they made it possible for me to see that you can read to establish and inform your sovereignty, and to remind me that their best words connect people through time.

“My uncles (as I was growing up and as I raise my children), too, all world-class artists (carvers of walrus ivory), modeled one way of being independent yet joined in with the work that Inuit have done and will do as long as humanity exists. …

The poems in Milk Black Carbon work out the profound and complicated, but also dynamic and changeable, ways the body, the land, and language relate to one another. … Could you elaborate on that interaction?
“This is not an on-trend platitude: the land, water, and ice give Inuit everything we need to survive, and it’s been that way for millennia. It’s been something to live through and witness firsthand the astonishing rate of climate change in the arctic and sub-arctic, to feel in my bones some of the most drastic environmental turns.

“My relatives — Uyuguluk in particular — told me how much more of the King Island dialect I would understand once I’d been to the island. It’s among the most challenging and generative sites of human inhabitation on the planet. It requires and bestows a highly-specialized and precise command of language. I think I have some difficulty answering this question because my family had its relationship with our ancestral lands extinguished by the United States government.”

And there’s the Harvard Magazine angle, here, “ ‘We ended up going by crab tender,’ says Joan Naviyuk Kane ’00, of her latest work trip. ‘It’s not lavish, or glamorous, riding a crab tender out, 90 miles, 12 hours across the Bering Sea.’

“Kane’s choice of transportation — a small boat used alongside larger vessels in crabbing — is perhaps even more surprising given her choice of career. [She] has three books of poetry to her name: The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, and an untitled collection just sent to her publisher. ‘I thought I was going to be pre-med,’ she says, but a gap year after high school and a fall semester in Porter University Professor Helen Vendler’s freshman seminar, reading poetry closely, changed all that. …

“But back to the Bering Sea. The crab tender was headed to King Island, a tiny, rocky landmass between Russia and Alaska. Now uninhabited, the island was home until the early 1960s to a small indigenous hunting and fishing community that included Kane’s mother and grandparents. Eventually, under the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ assimilation policy, they were pressured to leave.

“Though Kane was born after they left the island, she describes a childhood filled with stories of its landscape. … So this past summer, after a successful crowd-funding campaign, she and a small group of fellow King Island women returned. It was the first time she had set foot there.

“ ‘It’s one thing to hear; it was another thing entirely to go,’ she says of the trip’s hazards.” More.

Read Full Post »

greece-map-1280

Photo: Greeka.com
In every language people use some expression to indicate they think certain words are impossible to understand. Many say, “It’s all Greek to me.”

In the early 2000s, I worked at a magazine that was going through a redesign. Having not been involved in anything like that before, I was startled when the designer used the word “Greek” to refer to dummy text that helped illustrate the layout.

“That’s not Greek,” I found myself blurting out. “That’s Latin”! Turns out that in the design field any incomprehensible dummy text is called “Greek” because everyone is supposed to know that means you’re not expected to understand it.

(Except that I read Greek. Or used to to.)

Today’s post is on the notion that every language has some expression for the impenetrable, and many use “Greek.” A runner up is “Chinese.”

Dan Nosowitz wrote about this phenomenon at Atlas Obscura.

“It’s a curious thing when there is an idiom — structured roughly the same way and meaning essentially the same thing — that exists in a large number of languages. It’s even more curious when that idiom, having emerged in dozens of different languages, is actually … about language. That’s the case with ‘It’s Greek to me.’ …

“These idioms all seek to describe one person’s failure to understand what the other is trying to say, but in a particular, dismissive way. It’s not just, ‘Sorry, I can’t understand you.’ It’s saying, ‘The way you’re speaking right now is incomprehensible.’ And it specifically compares that incomprehensibility to a particular language, a language agreed upon in that culture to be particularly impenetrable.

“Sometimes that original cultural peg has been lost. In English, the phrase doesn’t really indicate anything about the way modern English-speakers feel about the Greek language or Greece in general. … So where did the phrase come from, and why is its sentiment so universal?

“One theory ties it to medieval monks. In Western Europe at this time, the predominant written language was Latin, but much of the writing that survived from antiquity was in Greek. The theory holds that these monks, in transcribing and copying their texts, were not necessarily able to read Greek, and would write a phrase next to any Greek text they found: ‘Graecum est; non legitur.’ Translated: ‘It is Greek; it cannot be read.’ …

“Shakespeare’s version is a lot more literal than most of the uses of this idiom. In Julius Caesar, the Roman character Casca describes a speech made by Cicero, a scholar of Greek. Casca, one of the conspirators who assassinates Caesar, does not speak Greek. So he says, ‘Those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.’ …

“English is not the only language to rely on Greek as a shorthand for gobbledygook. Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, and Afrikaans do as well. You’ll notice those are all European languages except for Afrikaans, and Afrikaans is Germanic in origin.

“Harry Foundalis, a cognitive scientist who studies Greek linguistics, says many Greek people know that in English and other languages, Greek serves as an indecipherable tongue, and many Greek people, especially young ones, speak English anyway, so they’ve encountered it before. ‘How do we feel about it? We find it funny,’ says Foundalis. …

“There are, however, an awful lot of other languages that have some version of this phrase that doesn’t use Greek. Some of these are weird in their own right. What’s up with the Baltic countries, which think Spanish is so impenetrable? Why do the Danish use Volapük, a short-lived Esperanto-type constructed language created by a German in 1880? When a Bulgarian says ‘Все едно ми говориш на патагонски,’ which uses ‘Patagonian’ instead of Greek ,,, do they mean some extinct indigenous Chonan language, or Spanish, which is the dominant language there, or Patagonian Welsh, which also apparently exists?

“And what, you might ask, do the Greeks say?

“ ‘Εμένα, αυτά μου φαίνονται Κινέζικα.’ … ‘To me, this appears like Chinese.’ Chinese happens to be the most common replacement for Greek in the idiom around the world — and the language that tops polls as the most difficult natural language to learn. …

“In Chinese, for what it’s worth, there are a couple of different sayings in the ‘It’s Greek to me’ family. A Mandarin speaker might describe incomprehensible speech as Martian, or being like the sound of birds. The way you can tell you’ve reached the peak of language difficulty is when you don’t even bother with a human language in your version of the phrase.”

It’s a long article with lots more curious factoids. Check it out here.

Read Full Post »

190402-erika-hernandez-micop-community-leader-radio-indigena-dj-se-206p_6f4e8705eeab07bbf03092d2680ed931.fit-1240w

Photo: Arcenio Lopez
Erika Hernandez, of the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project in California, is a Radio Indigena DJ.

As languages spoken by small communities disappear, overwhelmed by other languages, it’s encouraging to read that the digital media that’s part of the problem is also part of the solution. As is radio.

Ludwig Hurtado has the story at NBC News. “Josefino Alvarado, a California farm worker, describes his typical morning picking blueberries at a Ventura County farm.

“As the sun beats down on him and his fellow workers, a crackle of static hums at their feet. ‘Hola mi gente,’ (Hello, my people) a voice calls out from the radio’s speakers in Spanish. Then, ‘tanìndíí,’ which means ‘good morning’ in Mixteco.

“On this farm and most of the farms nearby, workers have their radios tuned into the same station: 94.1, Radio Indígena. … The community-run station boasts 40 hours of original programming every week, broadcasting music and talk shows in a handful of indigenous languages, as well as Spanish programming too.

“The station is a welcome cultural lifeline for thousands of farm workers who speak Mixteco or other indigenous Central American languages.

“ ‘Listening to it is a point of pride,’ Alvarado, who is a frequent listener, said. While he only understands Spanish and Mixteco, he often will listen to some of Radio Indígena’s shows in Zapoteco, Triqui, and Nahuatl. Even if he doesn’t understand them, he said he’s proud to hear the languages being kept alive on the airwaves.

“Alvarado, who moved to the U.S. in 1997, was born and raised in the city of Oaxaca in central Mexico, where he and his family learned Mixteco as their first language. Although Mixteco has come into the national spotlight thanks to the Academy Award-winning film, Roma, the language is still virtually unknown to the general population. …

“Due to economic and cultural pressure in Mexico, many Mixtec communities are shifting to Spanish. UNESCO considers almost half of Mixteco’s 50 dialects to be either severely endangered or at risk of endangerment.

“According to the 2010 census, over 685,000 Latinos in the U.S. identified themselves as American Indian, up from around 400,000 in 2000. But experts agree that the actual number of indigenous Latinos in the U.S. is much higher than estimated because many don’t report to the census due to stigma and immigration status. …

“ ‘There’s a lot of radio stations in Oxnard, but they just play music,’ said Roberto Jesús, who listens to the show every morning as he drives to work, getting informed about the news and about his legal rights as an immigrant. … In the U.S., Mixtecs face barriers because of their limited English and sometimes limited Spanish. This leaves many of them vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination.

“Radio Indígena is hosted and run by the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), a nonprofit organization formed to provide health outreach, humanitarian support and language interpretation to this underserved and often unnoticed community. …

“Radio Indígena started when organizers saw a void in the city of Oxnard, but [Arcenio Lopez, executive director of MICOP and Radio Indígena] said that the station has listeners from all over the country and world, since the episodes are available to stream online. …

“Delfina Santiago and Carmen Vasquez co-host a show on Radio Indígena every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Even though they don’t get paid for their work, the two spend lots of time during the week preparing for their program, ‘Al Ritmo De Chilena,’ which is an educational program that delves into the history of different indigenous cultures for each episode.

Santiago and Vazquez say that the digital age has played a role in keeping their language alive and keeping folks connected to one another, in a world where they might otherwise feel alone. Indigenous Mexican music can be found on YouTube and SoundCloud. …

“ ‘We’ve already lost three languages in Oaxaca,’ Santiago lamented. ‘They’re gone.’ ”

More here.

Read Full Post »

1688

Photos: Niijang Xyaalas Productions
Actor Tyler York performing in
SGaawaay K’uuna. Actors had to learn a vanishing language in order to understand their lines in this film about one of Canada’s First Nations.

We’ve had a number of posts about vanishing languages, languages spoken by few people because younger generations are choosing to (or be forced to) speak a language used more widely. Nowadays it’s usually English that leads to not only the loss of a native language but the way of life it represents. As Brian Friel said in his play Translations, about the Irish language and culture, “it can happen that a civilization can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of fact.”

Dalya Alberge wrote in March at the Guardian about a new film shot in a disappearing language.

“Plenty of films are somewhat incomprehensible, but a forthcoming movie is in a language that only about 20 people in the world can speak fluently. With subtitles, audiences will be able to understand a feature film titled SGaawaay K’uuna, translated as Edge of the Knife. …

“It is in two dialects of the highly endangered Haida language, the ancestral tongue of the Haida people of British Columbia. It is unrelated to any other language, and actors had to learn it to understand their lines.

“The film is playing an important role in preserving the language, its director Gwaai Edenshaw said. He told the Guardian:

‘I know that, if our language is this far gone, statistically it’s supposed to be over. But that’s not something that we’re willing to accept.’

“The Haida are an Indigenous First Nations community whose traditional territory is Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), an archipelago of forested islands off the west coast of Canada.

“Edenshaw said most of the fluent Haida speakers were in his Haida Gwaii homeland. … He added that the community generally lives off the sea and makes dugout canoes and houses from local red cedars. Noting that their numbers were ravaged by smallpox and other diseases in the 19th century, he said a former population of tens of thousands has dwindled to a few thousand today. …

“More than 70 local people worked on the production, with Haida speakers taking incidental roles, weavers creating the costumes and other craftspeople making props. … It is part of a wider push to preserve the Haida language, including a new dictionary and recordings of local voices. …

“2019 is Unesco’s Year of Indigenous Languages, ‘to preserve, support and promote’ them worldwide. Mark Turin, associate professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia and a specialist in endangered languages, told the Guardian that about half of up to 7,100 languages worldwide were ‘severely endangered’ and would likely cease to be used as everyday vernaculars by the end of this century unless action is taken. …

“He pointed to recent research that shows a correlation between indigenous language sustainability and decreased youth suicide within indigenous communities: ‘Speaking your indigenous language [has] public health implications.

” ‘This film – which I’ve watched and loved – has done something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, using a feature movie as a process of language revitalisation.’

More here.

Actors in a film based on a legend of the Haida people of British Columbia had to learn the Haida language to understand their lines. The movie has subtitles.

1688-1

Read Full Post »

gutenberg_monument

Photo: History Today
This bronze relief panel from the Gutenberg Monument in Mainz, Germany, was created by sculptor David d’Angers in 1840.

When you make knowledge available to everyone, good things happen. That was one of the attractions of helping to teach English as a Second Language to refugees and other immigrants. Although I decided to take time off to make regular visits to my sister during her cancer treatments, I hope to go back to volunteering before long. Imagine that some of our students couldn’t even read and write in their own language! Opening up doors sure felt important.

Back in the 15th century, reading in Europe was limited to a chosen few. If you wanted to know what was in the Bible, for example, you had to take the word of a Latin scholar who had access to handmade manuscripts. There were no books in circulation for ordinary people. Then Johannes Gutenberg had an idea for moveable metal type, and that led eventually to the printing of Bibles in the vernacular.

Justin Champion writes at History Today, “In 1454, in the Rhineland town of Mainz, three friends formed a legal arrangement to produce an epochal object. An inventor, Johannes Gutenberg, a printer, Peter Schöffer, and a financier, Johann Fūrst, collaborated to publish a Bible – the Gutenberg, as it is now known – widely regarded as a transformative moment in the history of European culture. …

“It heralded a step change in printing technique: whereas earlier forms of printing relied on woodblock technology, the use of moveable metal type allowed more flexible, efficient and cheap printing. The invention of new forms of ink (more like a veneer) enabled crisper and more durable printing. … Printing also enabled accurate, and (mostly) reliable reproduction across a number of volumes. It also meant that any minor mistakes would be reproduced, too.

“The printer who mistakenly omitted a vital ‘not’ from the Ten Commandments was vigorously punished by a very bad-tempered Archbishop Laud in 1631.

“The crisis of Reformation authority encouraged the printing of Bibles in Germany, England and, eventually, Geneva. Luther and Tyndale led the way with their clandestine and vernacular Bibles. … [Vernacular Bibles from] the Tyndale New Testament of 1526 (for which Tyndale was executed) to the King James Version of 1611 – captured and preserved God’s revelation in the English language, specifically aimed to provide a text ideally comprehensible to every English servant and maid. …

“The legacy of the Gutenberg Bible was a revolution in the relationship between reading and authority in the early modern period. This encompassed the practices of lowly men … or, at the other extreme, scholars such as Isaac Newton and John Locke, who owned multiple copies for forensic textual comparison and exchanged commentaries on their findings. … Newton devoted millions of words to decoding the inner meaning of Revelation, but hid his own views from the Anglican establishment for fear of persecution.”

The article History Today, here, emphasizes the effect that Gutenberg’s invention had on the history of religion, but for me as a former publishing person, what’s important is that it enabled the printing of many more books — first in Latin, then in the languages ordinary people spoke — and opened up a new world of knowledge to anyone who was interested.

Today only specialist artisans use moveable metal type and much of our reading is not on paper but online, but I hope that hard-copy print never goes completely out of style. It has a value that humanity has yet to fully appreciate.

Read Full Post »

indigenous-grocery-language

Photo: CBC News
Canadian grocery stores and art galleries are starting to include indigenous languages on their labels. North West Company, which has grocery stores in more than 120 communities across northern Canada, embraced the idea after it was piloted by a 2015 school project. Snapping QR codes lets you hear word pronunciation, too.

Yesterday, for the first time, Native American women were elected to Congress: in Kansas, a Ho-Chunk, and in New Mexico, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe. Of course, it’s about time, but it also seems to be part of a trend bringing more visibility to indigenous people. Very belated, but good.

Canada is actually farther along in trying to address and rectify transgressions against First Nations. The following story covers one aspect of that effort.

Judith H. Dobrzynski writes at the Art Newspaper, “Canada Day, 1 July, [ushered] in a new era for the presentation of Modern and contemporary Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto. The 13,000 sq ft J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous and Canadian Art — which added the ‘Indigenous’ to its name last year when the museum established a Department of Canadian and Indigenous Art — [has] reimagined galleries that give primacy to First Nations and Inuit art for the first time.

“In each McLean gallery, ‘contemporary indigenous art starts the conversation with Canadian art.’ says Wanda Nanibush, who became the AGO’s first curator of indigenous art in 2016. Nanibush and Georgiana Uhlyarik, the AGO’s curator of Canadian art, have designed the centre’s display of 75 works around six themes: origins, self, land, water, transformations and ‘indigenous2indigenous.’ …

“Works by Canadian artists such as Emily Carr and Florence Carlyle are hung in dialogue with works by indigenous artists including Carl Beam and Rebecca Belmore … For instance, in the ‘self’ gallery, Belmore’s ‘Rising to the Occasion’ (1987-91), a dress that the Anishinaabe-kwe artist wore in a performance responding to a royal visit to Ontario, is paired with Joanne Tod’s painting ‘Chapeau Entaillé’ (1989) of a woman in a similar dress. … Labels in the McLean Centre are now written in indigenous languages (either the local Anishinaabemowin language or Inuktitut), as well as English and French.”

More at the Art Newspaper, here.

Art: Rebecca Belmore
Belmore’s “Rising to the Occasion” (1987-91) is a dress that the Anishinaabe-kwe artist wore in a performance responding to a royal visit to Ontario. It was recently displayed at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

303_mu_jd_ago_01_rebecca_belmore

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: