Census-taking, volcano-pronouncing, and why Thais win at Scrabble

Robert Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lccr

The U.S.Census Bureau is firing on all linguistic cylinders to ensure that non-English speakers are counted in this year’s census. It has been getting the word out via ads, PSAs and handbills translated into 28 different languages (compared to 17 in the 2000 census). Now Census workers are starting to knock on the doors of households, many of them non English-speaking,  that haven’t yet mailed in their forms.

Much of the linguistic outreach seems to be working, but not all of it: in Vietnamese, the word census was translated to something closer to investigation.  Among some Somalis, the very notion of being counted is taboo.  And then there are the southern border states, home to millions of Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants. Arizona’s recent anti-immigrant law has put them on edge: the last thing that many there would do is voluntarily offer up information about themselves to the government.

Next, a BBC news announcer gives us an Icelandic lesson. It’s a very specific lesson: how to pronounce Iceland’s most famous landmark, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. You may think, why bother now? The volcano is no longer  spitting ash into the air and planes are back in the sky. Well, volcanologists believe Eyjafjallajökull isn’t done belching yet.  More pronunciation tips here and here.

Another item recently in the news:  Scrabble. It turned out to be a faux story: as initially reported,  proper names were about to be permitted under new Scrabble rules. But that wasn’t the case. The proper name rule affected only a new spinoff game that won’t be sold in North America. But given how wrong the news media, including the BBC and NPR, were in their initial reporting, it’s no wonder Scrabble affionados reached for their botttles of Jack Daniels and other proper name beverages. All of which got me wondering what Scrabble obsession is all about  (I don’t play the game). After I heard a lively BBC discussion on the subject, I got it. I also came to understand why English Scrabble is so popular among so many non-English speakers, especially Thais.

Finally, five unique Japanese expressions. They are provided by kanji supremo (or perhaps suprema?), blogger and author Eve Kushner.  Here they are:

病床日誌 【びょうしょうにっし】  byōshō nisshi diary written while ill in bed:

日照権 【にっしょうけん】 nisshōken the right to sunshine

日向水 【ひなたみず】 hinata mizu water warmed in the sun

三日酔い 【みっかよい】mikkayoi hangover (that still lingers two days after drinking)

日猶同祖論 【にちゆうどうそろん】 nichiyū dōsoron hypothesis that Jews and Japanese are of common ancestry

Listen in iTunes or here.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Census-taking, volcano-pronouncing, and why Thais win at Scrabble

  1. Thanks, Patrick! I like “suprema”! Makes me sound like some kind of supersized coffee concoction!

  2. Aminhotep Presents

    You mentioned the winning word in Scrabble was “Opaquer”. It does not mean “more opaque”. It is the name of a specific job in the process of making cartoons. In the traditional animation process, characters are laid over the background on transparent acetate sheets called “cells”. The characters are printed on the cells as line drawings, then they are sent to the opaquers to apply the colours. With acrylic paints they carefully fill out the cells by hand. They have to maintain the consistency of the paint in order to keep the colours opaque, hence “opaquer”. This process is now done by computer rendering the job obsolete.
    Opaquing was my first job when I was 15. I worked at Crawley Films in Ottawa, Canada. We coloured cells on a number of productions. The most notable was “The Raccoons”. The company in the past had made the film “Heavy Metal”.

  3. Pingback: Translators working overtime, silverfin aka Asian carp, and counting in Chinese « the world in words

  4. Pingback: Stories of translating, renaming and counting | East Asia | PRI's The World

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