Tag Archives: Linguistics

At the New York Public Library: From Ainu to Zaza

We all know that languages are dying at an alarming rate.

What can we do about it? People have been trying to save languages for decades, usually without success. But recently, there have been some hopeful signs.

Bringing back a language is a massive challenge where the odds are stacked against you.

The language revitalization movement, however, is growing up. Activists have identified the approaches that may work. They share solutions among themselves and make fewer mistakes.

Nina Porzucki and I explored these questions at a recording of The World in Words, in front of a live audience at the New York Public Library.

Patrick and Nina at the New York Public Library (Photo: Isis Madrid)

Patrick and Nina at the New York Public Library (Photo: Isis Madrid)

We heard from various guests, in person and on tape, about Ainu, Shinnecock, Mustang, Irish, Garifuna, Hawaiian and, yes, Zaza. Plus, there was a singalong and a dodgy joke or two.

Listen above or at iTunes.

The World in Words is also at PRI and on Facebook . There’s a longer version of this post here. And this is me on Twitter.

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Speak Irish to me

The Irish language, like its people, has suffered greatly.

It has been used and abused by many: British colonialists, by the Catholic Church, and by Irish revolutionaries. The first two discouraged its use, associating it with poverty and primitive wildness. The latter co-opted the language as its primary symbol of nationhood and struggle against oppression.

When Ireland finally gained a degree of independence in 1922, its government brought Irish back into the schoolrooms.

Dublin Street Sign with names in both English and Irish. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

Dublin Street Sign with names in both English and Irish. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

This podcast episode talks to three people who studied Irish in the years since independence: Patrick’s father who was taught Irish “by the nuns” in the 1930s and 40s; linguist Jim McCloskey, who fell in love with the language in the 1970s when he went on language summer schools in Ireland’s Irish-speaking regions; and Iarla O’Halloran, who spoke Irish at home, then forgot much of it at school, only to pick it up again in the less formal settings of pubs and clubs of his college years.

“I was surprised by how much of it was actually stored within me, how much of came out when I wasn’t nervous to speak it,” says O’Halloran.

An Irish nationalist poster from 1913.

“There were expressions that I picked up [from Irish speakers] that I found hilarious. They’ll all sexual … .Just hearing how the lads from Connemara, when they would see a good-looking woman on the street, how they would describe it. … It was hearing laddish banter that made me realize that the language could be a bit more than I thought it was.”

We also hear from a research project at UC-Santa Cruz that is documenting Irish pronunciation with the help of ultrasound imagery.

Podcast Contents

0:10 My father learned Irish in a new nation.

1:42 “There was an enormous psychological resistance to learning the language”

2:20 The beginnings of Irish.

4:10 The crucial initial moment in the decline of Irish.

5:20 How the Catholic Church helped the colonial government drive the language to the fringes of society.

6:30 “A generation has to come to believe that their language is a burden.”

8:10 The Gaelic revival.

9:50 Jim McCloskey summers in a Gaeltacht, an Irish-speaking region.

13:10 Iarla O’Halloran grew up initially speaking Irish.

14:35 “There was an ideological aspect” to the Irish language curriculum in schools.

16:30 Iarla discovers idiomatic, scatalogical Irish. (Irish has a ton of wonderful expressions.)

Galt Barber playing his fiddle at his SAnta Cruz, CA,  home. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

Galt Barber playing his fiddle at his SAnta Cruz, CA, home. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

17:45 The support of the diaspora.

18:05 The Barber family, an American family of distant Irish ancestry speaks Irish at home.

19:00 Jaye Padgett explains the consonant pronunciation project that he’s working on with colleagues at UC-Santa Cruz and University College, Dublin.

Linguist Jaye Padgett wearing the head frame used to stabilize an ultrasound camera. Padgett and colleagues at UC-Santa Cruz and University College Dublin are documenting Irish consonant formation. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

Linguist Jaye Padgett wearing the head frame used to stabilize an ultrasound camera. Padgett and colleagues at UC-Santa Cruz and University College Dublin are documenting Irish consonant formation. (Photo: Doug McKnight)

21:50 Language purists message to the new urban Irish: don’t mess with the language.

22:50 A new perspective: the role of Irish in the global context of the loss of linguistic diversity.

27:10 Patrick’s father’s regrets.

Music heard in the podcast

0:00 “Dramamine” by Podington Bear

6:00 “Interference” by Hugo Paquette

11:05 “Coinleach Glas an Fhómhair” by Róisín Elsafty

14:52 “The Mussels” by Osvaldo Cibils

20:42 “Calm” by Alexander Boyes

24:00 Stiofán Ó Fearaíl sings an Irish language version of the Aviici song, “Wake Me Up” The video features students at the Coláiste Lurga in Indreabhán, County Galway.

A big thanks to Jim McCloskey and Doug McKnight for their help with this podcast.

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The World in Words is also at PRI and on Facebook .

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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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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

Please write a review of The World in Words on iTunes or Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks!

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The pop punk singing accent is weirdly cosmopolitan

Nina did the pod this week. She had me on to chat, and I displayed my ignorance. It’s a great listen.

Contents:

00:00 Blink-182’s lead singer Tom DeLonge on aliens

1:50 Patrick Cox listens to “All the Small Things” by Blink-182

3:04 Dan Nosowitz declares his love for pop punk

4:04 Dan defines pop punk

5:46 Dan likes to sing like Tom DeLonge in the car on road trips

7:15 What the heck do you mean by pop punk accent?

8:23 Oh, the early aughts! Paris Hilton! The OC! The Vans Warped Tour!

8:57 Dan chooses the song “First Date” for linguist Penelope Eckert to analyze

10:13 Penelope “Pennie” Eckert’s response

11:00 What about Johnny Rotten’s accent in the Sex Pistols?

13:15 The California Shift defined

15:30 What’s the deal with Avril Lavigne’s pop punk-y accent?

17:15 What about the accent for newer pop punk bands?

17:45 The sneering California accent

18:55 Wherever punk goes it mutates

20:13 Green Day’s lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong sings with a non-rhotic style. Rhoticity! What is it?

21:22 Chris Appelgren owner of Lookout! Records, has a theory of his own about the pop punk accent

23:23 preview of next week’s podcast

25:00 Announcements

Please write a review of The World in Words on iTunes or Stitcher, or wherever you get listen to the podcast. Thanks!

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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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Minnesota’s Umlautgate

The post comes from my Big Show pal David Leveille.

The Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued a quirky executive order on Wednesday concerning the spelling of the name of the small Minnesota city of Lindström (population, 4,442).

Somehow, it seems when highway crews last updated the road signs leading into town, they removed those little twin dots that hover over the O. Lindström became Lindstrom. The transportation department defended the decision, citing federal policy that highway signs include only letters in a standard alphabet.

The omission wasn’t much noticed, though, until a Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter spotted it. Soon enough, many of the town’s Swedish American residents were up in arms. They wanted the dots restored to reflect their heritage.

Keep in mind that the city of Lindström is nicknamed America’s Little Sweden. Many locals speak Swedish when buying Scandanavian donuts at the local Swedish bakery. A sign near the city center reads “Välkommen till Lindström.”

So on Wednesday, the governor predictably set things right by ordering the umlaut to be put back on the green highway signs that welcome tourists. “Nonsensical rules like this are exactly why people get frustrated with government,” Dayton said. “Even if I have to drive to Lindström, and paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself, I’ll do it.”

“Underbar, and that means wonderful!” said local historian and tour guide Sally Barott reacting to the governor’s order. “We are ecstatic he’s making the umlauts come back.”

Barott says the dots affect the pronunciation and, more importantly, express the region’s cultural history and link to Swedish immigrants. “It’s important,” she says. “We have the old and the new. The blend is happening all over America, but I believe being able to retain our history and cultural ways, and to recognize and be traditional, honors the way we were taught and the way it was meant to me.”

Barott regularly escorts tourists around the city that was founded by Swedish immigrants back around 1850. One of her favorite stops is the Lindstrom Bakery where she orders Swedish glazed donuts and Swedish gingersnaps, called pepparkakor.

The Lindstrom Bakery does not use  an ö in its name. Go figure. (Photo courtesy of Lindstrom Bakery)

The Lindstrom Bakery does not use an ö in its name. Go figure. (Photo courtesy of Lindstrom Bakery)


Those gingersnaps have likely just come out of the oven, thanks to baker Bernie Coulombe, the woman behind the counter.

“This is a Swedish town. It has always been known for the Swedish settlers who first came here. So it is important to our customers and people who live here,” she explains. She says the town proudly shows off its heritage to tourists with a statue of Karl Oskar (a character in Vilhelm Moberg’s novels about Swedish emigration to the United States) that honors the early Swedish immigrants. There’s also an old water tower that’s in the shape of a coffee pot and a small Lutheran church that’s “strictly Swedish.”

But Lindstrom isn’t just hanging onto the past. “This is the way we were brought up, this is our Swedish inheritance, and you’ve got to keep your inheritance going,” says Coulombe.

This case of what might be called Lindstrom’s “umlautgate” is on the radar of The World’s language editor Patrick Cox. “Generally speaking English is thought of as the language where diacritics go to die.” All of the accents and the dots usually disappear, he says.

“America is the place where when you come to America, you sort of drop your clothes from the Old World and you embrace the New World. Names, surnames get changed, also the names of towns and cities get changed, and generally speaking the accents go.” But keep in mind, he says, “there are no rules in the English language right? I mean nobody’s going to stop the governor of Minnesota from saying ‘throw in some Cyrillic letters if you want to do that.’ He has every right to issue a decree like this.”

Strictly speaking, the Swedish ö does not use an umlaut. It is considered a separative letter in the Swedish alphabet. The umlauted o is a German thing.

But if you want to learn more about the linguistic difference between Lindstrom and Lindström, or the distinction between an umlaut (which has its origin in German) versus the happy twin dots that show up in Swedish words, and hear why rock bands ranging from Blue Öyster Cult to a Ukrainian band named Flëur like to play with umlauts, then you really must listen to Patrick’s podcast, The World in Wörds.


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