Spy accents, sign language, and not my bad.

Our top five language stories this month:

5. Making Tamil even more official. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Tamil is an official language. It’s widely spoken there. Indeed it was the very first of India’s languages to be recognized as a classical language. But proponents of the language, and of the Tamil people, don’t think that Tamil gets the respect it deserves. So they have enlisted Tamil politicians to  issue an order requiring that commercial signs prominently display the language. Most signs are in English.  Opponents worry that Tamil Nadu is needlessly cutting itself from the rest of the world, and from possible trade opportunities.

4. The expression that Manute Bol didn’t invent. After Sudanese basketball great Manute Bol died, many eulogies praised him for, among other things, coining the term my bad. Speaking on the Senate floor U.S. Senator Sam Brownback lauded Manute Bol for that (as well as for his basketball skills, and for killing a lion with a spear while working as a cow-herder). The source for the my bad coinage claim was a five-year-old post in the blog Language Log. The belief apparently was that as a non-native English speaker, he thought he was saying my fault. As posters on Language Log have recently pointed out, my bad was almost definitely around before Manute Bol first arrived in the United States in about 1980. So Manute:  sorry. Our bad.

3.  A translator recalls the Nuremberg Trials. Ingeborg Laurensen, 96, recalls her work as one of 24 interpreters at the international military tribunal after World War Two.

2.Those (alleged) Russian spies and their faux Euro/Canadian accents. One of them claimed a she was Belgian; another that she was Canadian; yet another had “the faintest hint” of “an accent”.   OK, so their covers were blown, but it wasn’t because their accents didn’t match (what’s a Belgian accent anyway? ).  Let’s face it, most of us are pretty inept when it comes to pinpointing an accent. In the pod, we get a crash course on the difference between the French spoken in France and the French of Quebec.

1. A sign language that doesn’t have signs for some Islamic words. American Sign Language doesn’t have signs for Mecca, Mohammed and other words common to Muslims. In Toronto, an ASL teacher is working with group of students from a diversity of linguistic backgrounds (Pakistani Sign Language, Arabic Sign Language and Turkish Sign Language)  to try to come up with signs for a few religious words.  In the pod, we also discuss new research into Nicaraguan Sign Language that shows that language may affect how we solve spatial problems.

Listen in iTunes or here.

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3 responses to “Spy accents, sign language, and not my bad.

  1. Marty

    I was listening to your podcast–No. 96 – Russian Spies, etc.–on the way to work this morning when I almost drove off the road in response to this phrase (about 46 seconds into the introduction):

    “So keep it here if you want to listen to Carol and I rambling about….”

    The use of the subjective pronoun “I” in place of “me” was jarring in a podcast dedicated to words and language.

    I’m happy to say, that this is a rare false note in an otherwise wonderful podcast.

    It didn’t ruin my day, or cause me to sputter and rant about the decline of the mother tongue, but I did spend a few minutes musing about the subtle way in which languages change and the processes by which certain usages become accepted as “standard.”

  2. acutia

    Just posted a sniffy comment on this pod over at the PRI’s World in Words podcast page. See http://www.theworld.org/2010/07/26/spy-accents-religious-signing-and-not-my-bad/comment-page-1/#comment-11660

  3. Great podcast Patrick. You know, I think I know why the French wasn’t such a dead give away. I have had conversations with people from the south eastern part of the USA that didn’t sound like what we think of as “Southerners” at all. I am Californian and I don’t talk like a surfer in the least. I also saw two comedians from Brooklyn the other night; one of them had quite a thick accent and the other had a neutral sounding one. I have had similar experiences with Portuguese, Spanish and Italian.

    High education rates, the ever present media and more accessible travel have been making accents thinner and thinner with the passage of time. Just because someone doesn’t sound like what you imagine a Virginian sounding like doesn’t necessarily mean that person is a liar.

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