And following from the last post, there is this fascinating look at the reality of language archaeology – taking hints from the present and reconstructing the root languages of times past. Includes short audio sample of what is believed to be the language that begat English. Also: a Wikipedia graph that makes the same point as the McWhorter video. Enjoy!
Francois Alfonsi, the only Corsican speaker in the European Parliament, will later this month present the first report in decades into the state of Europe’s dying languages.
“There are hundreds of languages in the EU and each is a part of the European identity,” Mr Alfonsi recently told the parliament’s cultural committee. “Without concrete support at European, national and local level, we will see a further decline in linguistic diversity over the next decades. This will leave all of us culturally, socially and economically impoverished.”
Lost in translation: Languages at risk
Nine separate languages fall under this grouping, spoken across northern Scandanavia. Northern Sami has 15,000 speakers but Ume Sami has only 20 left.
Phrase book: “Hálatgo Eaŋgalasgiela?” (Do you speak English?)
The language of the Isle of Man was declared extinct by Unesco in 2009, prompting pupils at a primary school to write and insist it was still alive in their classroom.
Phrase book: “Cha nel mee toiggal.” (I don’t understand.)
A Celtic language spoken in the French province of Brittany, closely liked to Cornish. More than 200,000 native speakers remain.
Phrase book: “Ur banne bier ‘m bo.” (I would like a beer).
I recall Google doing some work for those not as able to afford the expense of rescuing dying languages through the Endangered Languages Project.
Ain’t no reason is an interesting, if short, look at languages as they are spoken, and what it means for the speaker. Focused on the language of Ebonics or African American Vernacular English (AAVE), it looks into the cultural development of languages and how we describe them:
Folks who paid strict attention in Linguistics 101 — I majored in the subject — might remember pidgins and creoles. A pidgin is a simplified, ad-hoc language shared by speakers who lack a common tongue. It borrows rules and words from all languages involved, and has its own rules as well. But a pidgin isn’t a full language; it lacks the rich vocabulary and structure.
A creole, on the other hand, develops when children start learning and speaking the pidgin as their primary form of communication. Those who speak a pidgin have a native tongue and may speak several languages, and they are well aware that the pidgin is an amalgam. But a creole is the mother tongue of the speaker, who has likely heard and spoken it from infancy while being raised in a world in which pidgin may be the lingua franca.
The debate over … AAVE is really the same ages-old linguistic debate between prescriptivists and descriptivists played out another way. Prescriptivists want to freeze the language as they believe it either is or should be spoken — for instance, they object to the increasing use of “they” as a singular pronoun — while descriptivists aim to document how people actually speak.
The article shows how AAVE has parallel’s with French and Japanese although I think the parallels to other languages described in the text are a little thin, if vaguely interesting – it could as easily be said that many poems use the same emotions or words, that many movies use the same actors, that many painter’s use the same colour paint.
More interestingly it does allude to the fact that despite the widespread use of English, languages are not loosing their individuality:
You might assume — I did — that AAVE is a blip in the move toward the homogenization of language over time due to television, movies, the Internet, and our increasing connectedness. But we’d both be wrong. Wheeler notes that recent work by William Labov at the University of Pennsylvania shows that dialects are diverging in the United States.
“We change and become similar in language only when we’re in true contact, in authentic linguistic contact, with our interlocutor,” Wheeler says. This requires proximity and true two-way conversations by speakers of different dialects. But media isn’t “linguistic engagement,” she notes, and thus doesn’t influence people’s modes of speaking as much as one would intuit.
Couple the failure of the Internet and mass media to assimilate AAVE with the reality that African American populations are increasingly separated from white populations by socioeconomics, and the only reasonable expectation is, Wheeler says, “the divergence of the language.”
Unfortunately buried deep in the article is it’s strongest point – that speaking differently, pidgin, creole or just with an accent – is enough to cause discrimination.
Many of us unfairly judge others based on how they speak. Kenneth the page, on the late, great 30 Rock, spoke with a southern accent meant to exemplify his yokel-ness. Maybe you think that British accents sound dignified, or that the Minnesota accent on display in Fargo betrays its speakers’ intellectual inferiority.
“People don’t always realize that dialect prejudice still exists,” Wheeler says. “Reminding them, and explaining notions like the grammatical rules that govern AAVE — that’s a true ‘aha!’ experience. That alone is important, and people can grasp it — and grasping it, that’s actually a big thing.” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who famously rarely speaks in public proceedings, grew up speaking Gullah, a creole spoken around the southern Atlantic coast. Justice Thomas told high school students in 2000 about Gullah, “People praise it now, but they used to make fun of us back then.”
Wheeler says that most teachers and school systems are ill-equipped to sort this out. She says, “The testing system remains entrenched in proper grammar, bad grammar, right and wrong. There’s no room for anything else. It’s appalling.”
It’s good to know that websites in non English speaking countries have a propensity to being ridiculously laid out to maximise advertising revenue as much as their English contemporaries.
Having got that off my chest, the English language Swedish online news service The Local is reporting that Sweden have had to withdraw a new word due to a complaint by Google.
There are so many WTF‘s right here that I barely know where to start. Let’s start with the obvious, the story:
In December, the Language Council unveiled its annual list of new Swedish words. Among the words added to the Swedish language in 2012 was “ogooglebar” (‘ungoogleable’). But the California-based multinational objected.
“It’s not just about our definition of the word; we also tried to describe how users define the word and Google had opinions about that,” Language Council head Ann Cederberg told Sveriges Radio (SR).
The word was to be used to describe something “that you can’t find on the web with the use of a search engine”, according to the Language Council.
However, Google was less than thrilled that a word based on its name had been highlighted by Sweden’s “official language cultivation body”.
is a loan translation of the German word “Sprachpflege”. Literally, språkvård means ‘language care’, but is often translated as language cultivation or language planning.)
Of course, even the most obviously odd part of this story, is quickly derailed:
According to SR, Google wanted the council to specify that the word’s definition only covered searches performed using Google, and not searches involving other search engines.
After a protracted exchange with lawyers at the US internet company in which Google lawyers “tried to influence our way of defining the word”, the Language Council finally opted to remove “ogooglebar” from the 2012 list of new Swedish words.
Google wanted to…they…redefine…not just Google…wat?
Thankfully, common sense prevailed – there’s a reason why the rest of the world is jealous of the Scandinavians – they are so reasonable, rational and socially democratic:
Cederberg explained that taking on the US search giant took “too much time and resources” and that the word already exists in Swedish.
“It’s the users of the language who decide if it will remain,” she said.
“So if the word exists, use it if you want. That’s something Google can’t decide.”
Speaking with the TT news agency, Cederberg disputed allegations that the Language Council had allowed itself to be censured by Google.
“Google hasn’t won anything with this,” she said.
According to Cederberg, the Language Council could have ignored Google’s requests, but decided to remove the word in order to spark a debate.
“We thought it would be useful to start talking about this; we have have nothing to lose,” she told TT.
Google now have enabled the Streisand effect – their complaint has bought more publicity to the word. And as the Language Council have noted, it wont stop people using the word – in fact, this act will almost certainly enshrine the word within the lexicon.
Since we are here – not only do the Language Council “announce” new words, which always seems so…arse end round really, but there’s a top ten – and there are some really winners here:
5. Nomofob (Nomophobe)
A person who feels anxious at the mere thought of being separated from their mobile phone. An abbreviation of the English “no mobile phone phobia”.
4. Köttrymd (Flesh space)
The non-digital world and the opposite to cyber space. For example: “I’m going to log off Facebook for a while and see what’s going on in flesh space.”
But nothing can really beat the best new Swedish word of 2012:
1. Tårtgate (Cakegate)
The political fallout when Sweden’s Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth cut into a cake shaped as a stereotype of a black woman, invoking images of female mutilation. For example: “She should resign over Cakegate!”
You really should follow the link above to see the image. It’s hard to know if it is that quirky ultra libertarian left Swedish Art humour, or if it’s an actual honest to his-noodly-greatness act of political suicide. I guess either reason just adds to the list of reasons why we would like to be Swedish – it’s very funny if it’s meant to be humorous, and it’s very funny if it’s political suicide. Either way, we all win.
For those that want to go right down the rabbit hole, there’s also the ubiquitous ten X words you wont find in Y (X = Swedish, Y = English).
Well, this was always going to blow up I guess. And it’s blowing up in a way that justifies my posting – a couple of mentions here and there, but fffffat have taken the cake (lololololololololo): http://www.ogooglebar.se/
fffffat were also good enough to point me somewhere that I really should have gone last night: the Swedish Language Council’s press release in this regard – a magnificent slap down. To complete the loop of creepy, I present it here, as translated by Google Translate (evil laugh!):
Google does not own the language!26/03/2013
The company Google has wooed Language Council to amend the definition of the word ogooglebar the new order list. Today we instead delete the word and marks while our displeasure with Google’s attempt to control the language.
We have removed ogooglebar from the new order list. Why? One of the things that Språkrådet is known is the annual new order list. It is published at the end of the year and usually lead to discussions of word to be or not to be, their fitness and longevity.One purpose of neologisms list is to show how society and language development, interacting with each other. On the 2012 list was the word ogooglebar with, in the sense ‘that can not be found on the web using a search engine’. But since the new order list was presented in December 2012, the company Google has worked to influence the Language Council of Management of the word. Google refers to the laws that protect brands and want the Language Council amends the definition version of the name Google in the definition and add a ‘disclaimer’ where we emphasize that Google is a trademark.
Språkrådet have tried to explain the new order list in proposing solutions that do that we do not deviate from our basic approach to language. No one can define words which must be in the language or languages of the users’ definition of a word. The definition Language Council states have been formulated based on how the word is used in Swedish., we have neither the time nor the inclination to pursue the lengthy process that Google is trying to launch. Nor do we compromise and change the definition of ogooglebar to it that the company wants. It would go against our principles – and language principles. Google has namely forgot one thing: language development do not care about brand protection. No individual can decide about the language. Whoever in the future googling on ogooglebar will not only find the wording that Google wanted to change, and that will remain online despite Language Council amended the list. Anyone looking will also find all the possible comments that follow after the news spread that word removed. That is how the internet world works.
Who decides the language? We do language users. We decide together which words should be and how they are defined, used and spelled. The language is the result of an ongoing democratic process. Everyone is in deciding which words are established in the language by choosing the words we use. Do we want ogooglebar the language we will use the word and it is our use determines meaning – no multinational company with leverage.
For at least a decade my favourite website has been Ubuweb. Not in the visit-it-twice-a-day category like BoingBoing – more like a hot cross bun or a mango – it’s made more special because it’s visited infrequently.
UbuWeb’s main trade is in the otherwise unfindable, the undesirable, the unlistenable, the unreadable – a treasure trove of avant garde artists and their art. And more over. As a long time fan of the avant garde and outsider art, I am constantly shocked at how little I know from within the archive.
There’s the obvious points of reference – Yoko Ono, Dali, Foucault, Kinski, and Cage. Then there’s the less obvious – almost contemporary provocatuer Stewart Home‘s films and music, Ergo Phizmiz, Delia Derbyshire, Hoffman and Rubin, and Guy Debord. Then there’s those that are just plain…well, obscure. Like
- Gutai Japanese Performance Art, 1956-1970
- Guillaume Apollinaire Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War (1913-1916)
- Various Los Angeles Artists Neighborhood Rhythms (Patter Traffic) (1983)
- Theordor Adorno Lectures (1959-65) and Musical Compositions or
- Maya Deren Voices Of Haiti (1953)
If you are feeling overwhelmed I recommend the strategy of finding your birthday within one or both of the 365 Days projects and listening to what you find.
Kenneth Goldsmith is the founder of UbuWeb and MoMA‘s first Poet Laureate, amongst other things, and this interview in The Awl is a must read. Expounding on patchwriting (“post editing” in translation) and plagiarism, poetry, the internet and the new spaces for art he is absolutely mesmerising. In keeping with the theme of the piece, and because you should be reading the whole thing yourself, I’ll only reproduce the juiciest segments.
On his latest book Seven American Deaths and Disasters, a transcription of radio and news reports of national disasters and the peeling back of the media’s façade:
These DJs woke up thinking they were going to the station for a regular day and then they were in the position of having to narrate, say, 9-11 or the Kennedy assassination, to the world. They were completely unprepared and in their speech, you can hear this. It’s stunning. The slick curtain of media is torn, revealing acrobatic linguistic improvisations. There was a sense of things spinning out of control: facts blurred with speculation as the broadcasters attempted to furiously weave convincing narratives from shards of half-truths. Usually confident DJs were now riding by the seat of their pants, splaying raw emotion across the airwaves: smooth speech turned to stutter, laced with doubt and fear. Unhinged from their media personalities, these DJs became ordinary citizens, more like guys in a bar than representatives of purported rationality and truth. Opinions—some of them terribly misinformed—inflected and infected their supposedly objective reportage. Racism and xenophobia were rampant— somehow the DJs couldn’t help themselves.
His latest books were:
(interviewer) Your 2000 book Fidget transcribes every single movement your body made during thirteen hours. In your 2003 book, Day, you chronologically re-typed every single word from every page of a copy of The New York Times. Your later trilogy, Weather, Traffic and Sports, transcribe random radio reports. Now with Seven American Deaths and Disasters you’re transcribing reports of specific events.
On teaching students to copy and steal – plagiarize – to use it as a creative tool:
The students that take my class know how to write. I can hone their skills further but instead I choose to challenge them to think in new and different ways. Many of them know how to plagiarize but they always do it on the sly, hoping not to get caught. In my class, they must plagiarize or they will be penalized. They are not allowed to be original or creative. So it becomes a very different game, one in which they’re forced to defend choices that they are making about what they’re plagiarizing and why. And when you start to dig down, you’ll find that those choices are as original and as unique as when they express themselves in more traditional types of writing, but they’ve never been trained to think about it in this way.
You see, we are faced with a situation in which the managing of information has become more important than creating new and original information. Take Boing Boing, for instance. They’re one of the most powerful blogs on the web, but they don’t create anything, rather they filter the morass of information and pull up the best stuff. The fact of Boing Boing linking to something far outweighs the thing that they’re linking to. The new creativity is pointing, not making. Likewise, in the future, the best writers will be the best information managers.
On words and writing and the change that they have gone through with new technologies:
This is a great challenge to traditional notions of writing. In the digital age, language (aka code) has become materialized, taking on a whole new dimension (although one that had been proposed throughout various avant-garde movements during the twentieth-century: futurisms, concrete poetry, and language poetry, and so forth—which is why the 20th c. avant-garde is more relevant than ever).
Words are no longer just for telling stories. Now language is digital and physical. It can be poured into any conceivable container: text typed into a Microsoft Word document can be parsed into a database, visually morphed in Photoshop, animated in Flash, pumped into online text-mangling engines, spammed to thousands of email addresses and imported into a sound editing program and spit out as music; the possibilities are endless.
On boredom and inspiration:
John Cage said, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” So what is boring? I find narrative boring. I find truth boring. I once wrote an essay called Being Boring where I claim to be the most boring writer who has ever lived. I can’t even read my own books—I keep falling asleep. But they’re great to talk about and think about. So I think we need to redefine our relationship to boring. Reality TV is boring with all the boring parts taken out of it. Instead, go watch An American Family from the early 70s, at this weird moment where mainstream TV fell under the spell of Andy Warhol. You’ll never be bored in the same way again.
I don’t think that journalists can be boring because to do so would be to shed too much truth on what they do. They’re mostly writing boring stuff, they’re bored, their editors are bored, and their readers are also bored, but nobody will admit it. Again, it’s here that Warhol is prescient. When asked if he reads reviews of his works, he replied, that he doesn’t—he only adds up the column inches.
His radio show on WFMU:
(interviewer) I did radio with you at WFMU in the mid-00s. Your radio show, which ran from 1995-2010, seemed to push the format as far as possible. By 2010 you were broadcasting three hours of silence, which you would break every thirty minutes with a station ID. The station staff was often angry with you and the listeners always complained it was the most unlistenable radio imaginable.
On poetry and writing as a living in an age of advanc(ed/ing) technology – and what “being a writer” means:
…the emerging poet Steven Zultanski just put out what I feel to be perhaps the most important book of his generation called Agony. In the old days, this one book alone would’ve made his career. Now it’s just another in a sea of Lulu publications and Facebook likes.
Literary works—and careers—might function the same way that memes do today on the web, spreading like wildfire for a short period, often unsigned and un-authored, only to be supplanted by the next ripple. While the author won’t die, we might begin to view authorship in a more conceptual way: perhaps the best authors of the future will be ones who can write the best programs with which to manipulate, parse and distribute language-based practices. Even if, as Christian Bök claims, poetry in the future will be written by machines for other machines to read, there will be, for the foreseeable future, someone behind the curtain inventing those drones; so that even if literature is reducible to mere code—an intriguing idea—the smartest minds behind them will be considered our greatest authors.
Read through to the end for the easter egg, the master stroke…
Warhol claimed that, “Art is what you can get away with,” something I am inspired by. Artists ask questions, and they don’t give answers. Artists make messes and leave it for others to clean up. I’ve left a long trail of appropriated texts, dishonest statements, and brutal pranks. I’ve stolen things that weren’t mine and have made a career out of forgery and dishonesty. I’m proudly fraudulent. And it’s served me well—I highly recommend it as an artistic strategy.
The Conversation has a post about a new smart phone app that makes collecting, saving and interpreting languages significantly easier.
Recording the world’s vanishing voices expounds the developments of Steven Bird from the University of Melbourne’s Language Technology Group:
Of the 7,000 languages spoken on the planet, Tembé is at the small end with just 150 speakers left. In a few days, I will head into the Brazilian Amazon to record Tembé – via specially-designed technology – for posterity. Welcome to the world of cyberlinguistics.
Our new Android app Aikuma is still in the prototype stage. But it will dramatically speed up the process of collecting and preserving oral literature from endangered languages
Primarily developed for ‘saving’ languages the last speakers of which are dying out, difficulties included the mandatory informed consent for recording voices from people that have little to no contact with, or understanding of, computers or the internet.
Participants will try out the latest version which includes voice-activated translation: while listening to a recording, the user can interrupt to give a simultaneous interpretation of the recording in another language (in this case, Portuguese).
This interpretation is captured by the phone and linked back to the original recording, phrase by phrase. In this way, the collected recordings are guaranteed to be interpretable even once the language is no longer spoken. This interpretability is what gives the recordings their archival value.
All materials we collect in this way will be left for the community and also lodged with the Museu Goeldi, a local research centre where they will be permanently available to the community.
That the application itself allows for almost simultaneous interpreting, greatly enhances the value of the collected data:
If enough people use Aikuma we will accumulate a large number of recordings from the world’s small languages, including Usarufa and Tembé. The result promises to be a digital-audio Rosetta Stone.
With permission, we will store the recordings and translations in the Internet Archive, a digital repository that has been preserving snapshots of the web since its inception in the early 1990s, and which is the most credible place to store digital content in perpetuity.
Cyberlinguists of the future may be able to discover the words and structures of dead languages from this data, and even construct dictionaries and grammars.