Tag Archives: language

Is bilingual better?

In this week’s World in Words podcast, we consider the so-called bilingual advantage.

The benefits of speaking two languages were barely researched until the 1960s. Now, hardly a month goes by without the publication of a new inquiry into the bilingual brain. One of the most influential of these studies found that bilinguals were more adept at staving off memory loss and other effects of the ageing brain. Researchers have also found other evidence of cognitive improvements among speakers of more than one language.

There has been pushback from scholars who don’t trust the methodology of these studies, or have been unable to reproduce the results, resulting in a nasty academic standoff.

Bilingual ticket (Michael Gumtau via Flickr)

Bilingual ticket (Michael Gumtau via Flickr)

There is also the occasional study that claims that speaking more than one language may actually be a disadvantage.

So in the podcast, we checked out some opinion, both informed and uninformed. We also report from a couple of bilingual frontlines: places where there is both support for and resistance to bilingualism in their communities.

Podcast Contents

0:00 In Dunstable, UK, a long-time resident views the influx of bilingual immigrants as an economic threat to monolingual locals.

4:30 Ari Daniel tells Patrick about the connection between what’s going on in the womb of a pregnant woman and the Australian soap opera, “Neighbours.”

6:00 What happens when you repeatedly play a soundfile that says “Tatata tatatata tatata” in the presence of a pregnant mother in her third trimester.

8:45 “By the time a baby is born, they are not an inexperienced listener.”

9:30 A study out of Vancouver, BC, seeks to discover whether babies at birth can differentiate between languages.

11:10 The parents realize “their babies’ interest in the world around them and is interested in learning from the first moments in life.” Read more about the Ari Daniel’s reporting on in utero language acquisition studies here.

12:10 Should Patrick award himself a gold star because he is raising his daughter to be bilingual? Does she have a bilingual edge?

13:25 Patrick and Nina talk bilingualism across continents and 11 time zones.

15:00 Patrick talks about the trilingual schools of Friesland in the Netherlands.

16:15 Nina notices the Hawaiian language all over Hawaii, but how many fluent speakers are there?

18:15 Patrick is a celebrity in Friesland.

19:00 Nina is mesmerized by the ocean. Will she ever come back?

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The pleasures of an unsolved mystery

In this World in Words podcast, we pry open (but not too wide) a mystery or two. Strange to listen to it now: we recorded it a month before David Bowie’s death.

PODCAST CONTENTS

0:10 Nina Porzucki and Pien Huang tell their mysterious day stories. Both involve monks living in the mountains.

3:02 Me on the pleasures of incomprehension. It’s all down to DH Lawrence and David Bowie.

5:49 Cartoon Queen Carol Hills on how her Twitter followers help her curate foreign-language cartoons. If you like cartoons and satire, you absolutely must follow Carol on Twitter.

7:10 At the of Carol’s obsession list right now is Japanese manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, who died on November 30.

9:05 Mizuki’s English translator Zack Davisson on how Mizuki saved Japan’s supernatural culture.

10:37 Mizuki’s influence in Japan is akin to Disney’s in the US. “If you removed him from the equation, you would actually have a different Japan.”

12:27 The many mysteries of the “Codex Seraphinianus” by Luigi Serafini, a encylopedia of a fantasy world, written in an imagined script. (Nina is working on an entire podcast episode on this!).

17:53 “China Online” by Veronique Michel demystifies (though not completely) Chinese wordplay and netspeak.

20:01 “Lingo: a Language Spotter’s Guide to Europe” by Gaston Dorren is a funny and opinionated whistle-stop around Europe’s languages, large and small.

21:55 “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” by Jennifer Tseng, a novel about a librarian living on an island who harbors an infatuation for a high school student. I’m not letting on what happens, except to say there’s plenty of exploration of the mysteries of love and friendship. By the book’s end, though, mysteries they remain. Quite right too.

MUSIC HEARD IN THIS EPISODE

“Dramamine” by Podington Bear

“Blackstar” by David Bowie

“The Resolution of Mr Clouds” by Alexander Boyes

“Life on Mars?” David Bowie

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Signing with a Philly accent

Nina P. put together this episode.

Cheesesteaks, Peanut Chews, Tastykakes, oh yeah, the Liberty Bell — there’s so much to love about Philadelphia, but one of the best things about the city of Brotherly Love is the accent. We’re not talking about spoken English — we’re talking about American Sign Language. This week on the podcast we learn about the Philadelphia accent in ASL.

What is an accent in ASL? ASL speaker and researcher Jami Fisher explains it all. Fisher, along with University of Pennsylvania linguistic professor Meredith Tamminga, is working on a study to document and explain this “weird,” as Fisher calls it, way of signing. (For the hearing impaired or those who cannot access audio immediately, there’s a full transcript here.)

Also on the podcast, we hear from the actors of the Broadway musical, “Spring Awakening.” This production features eight deaf actors. John Hockenberry from our friends at The Takeaway got the chance to interview some of the actors.

PODCAST CONTENTS:

0:00 Sean Monahan doing the Philly accent. He does a series of PhillyTawk videos on YouTube.

1:18 Murph (Nick Kroll) of Pawnsylvania

1:39 Meet Jami Fisher, ASL Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania. She is studying the Philadelphia ASL accent

2:54 What is an accent in ASL?

3:56 Why does Philadelphia have an accent in ASL?

4:29 Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet found the first deaf school in Hartford, CT in 1817

5:35 Pennsylvania School for the deaf is founded in 1820

6:27 Theory about the Philadelphia signs

7:54 Theories as to why the ASL Philly accent may be disappearing

9:31 Jami Fisher recruited her father to help interview deaf participants in the study

10:31 What are some similar sign language accent studies around the world?

11:07 Growing up “CODA” (child of deaf adults)

12:16 The story of Jami’s parents learned to sign

13:55 Broadway actor Daniel Durant on speaking American Sign Language

15:37 John Hockenberry, the host of The Takeaway interviews some of the cast members of the current ASL Broadway production of “Spring Awakening”

Music heard in this episode:

“Peas Corps” and “Bad Scene” by Podington Bear

Music from the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening

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A tale of two linguists and the conflict that separates them

Shaina Shealy reported this one in Israel and Gaza. She and I had a great conversation about it in the podcast.

The windows of Arik Sadan’s classroom at Hebrew University in Jerusalem look over the Silwan Valley, a sloping desert dotted with tall, white, rectangular Palestinian houses. Inside his classroom, most students are Jewish. Sadan teaches them Arabic.

Sadan wrote a book, “The Subjunctive Mood,” tracing Arabic linguistic thought from pre-Islamic Arabia to the 19th century, which earned him the title of the world expert in Arabic’s subjunctive tense. His native tongue is Hebrew and he can talk about Arabic grammatical thought — specifically, his philosophies behind ancient linguistic decision-making — for 15 minutes straight. “When you look at the structure,” he says, “you can see a logic of thinking that’s common across borders.”

Arik Sadan (L) and Sobhi Bahloul (R). Photos: Shaina Shealy

Arik Sadan (L) and Sobhi Bahloul (R). Photos: Shaina Shealy

Beyond Israel’s southwest border, Sobhi Bahloul also wrote a book: Kitaba Wa’Ti-ibrya. It was published in seven parts (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Hebrew; Hebrew Writing I and II; and Hebrew Editing I and II) and adds up to Gaza’s Hebrew language curriculum. Bahloul trained all of the twelve Hebrew teachers in the Gaza Strip.

Sobhi Bahloul is Palestinian, 53 years old and has been speaking Hebrew for over half of his life. After graduating from Tel Aviv University with a MA in Hebrew Language in 2002, he became Hamas’s go-to guy for all things related to Hebrew. He teaches at universities, consults with businessmen and translates documents for Gazans in Israeli hospitals and prisons.

“Hebrew is the language of an enemy,” Bahloul says. But he also believes Hebrew can bring Gazans closer to Israeli culture by helping them understand customs and daily life.Sobhi Bahloul and his Hebrew students in Gaza City.Bahloul and Sadan’s deep understanding of a language that is not only foreign but potentially adversarial brings them uncommonly close to other cultures. Both men are so passionate about language that they teach everyone who expresses interest — including soldiers, informants and militants. But they are driven by a belief that language’s unifying power outweighs its other uses.

PODCAST CONTENTS

00:00 Learning the language of your enemy

01:53 Music: “Habib Galbi” by A-WA. More about these three singing sisters here.

02:33 Israeli linguist Arik Sadan, an authority on the Arabic subjunctive.

Linguist Arik Sadan05:15 Jews are turning their backs on a language that used to be central to their culture: “The Jewish heritage– a great percentage of it– is Arabic.”

07:30 The way Arabic is taught in the Israeli army: “Know thy enemy, in order for you to stop the next explosion. You tend to forget that it’s a language.”

9:10 Sadan’s sad joke: “I only wish that the Hebrew people and the Arab people would be a bit as close as the languages are.”

11:20 But is he in the Mossad?

12:45 Searching for Arik Sadan’s Palestinian counterpart.

13:20 Sobhi Bahloul has trained all twleve of Gaza’s Hebrew teachers and developed Gaza’s Hebrew curriculum.

14:42 “If you understand each other, it’s good.”

16:35 Bahloul’s students don’t learn about Passover, but he wants them to learn other cultural references.

17:45 Learning Hebrew to survive in an Israeli prison.

19:40 Bahloul breaks the ice with Israeli soldiers.

21:14 Have Arik Sadan and Sobhi Bahloul ever met?

23:30 Gaza’s Hebrew students’ Facebook friends in Israel.

24:08 Learning Hebrew in order to understand the labels on cosmetic products.

27:10 Music: Eich Efshar by Jane Bordeaux

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Help! I can’t communicate with my Mandarin-speaking grandparents

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Wordnik, the dictionary that welcomes your invented words

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Where did the Hawaiian word ‘hapa’ come from, and why do so many people want to own it?

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