Archive for the ‘sociolinguistics’ Category

I was going to sleep, but I’m still all smug about having written 25 pages today. 25 pages, guys(1).

Anyway, somewhere between page 16 and page 16 1/2 I took a break and read “Itineraries and travellers in the Middle Assyrian Period” by Betina Faist, from SAAB XV/2006, where I found the following edifying(2) quotes.

1) Having summed up various peculiarities of travel during the MA (Middle Assyrian) period, BF states:

“Finally, a brief mention is owed to aspects unattested so far. In the religious realm, we do not have any indications referring to pilgrimages to the important shrines.”

Tsk, tsk, Betina. Something obvious and self-evident in your culture doesn’t have to be obvious, self-evident, expected or even present at all in others. Take Introduction to Anthropology or something, plz.

2) Trying to tie-up things cutely — something I’m absolutely in favour of — Betina(3) quotes a 1755 letter of a Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, to his sister, Wilhelmine, who was very enthusiastic about her journey to Italy:

“…I have a very high regard of the beauty of Italy, her wonderful climate, her monuments, her past greatness as well as her modern buildings. …But I also believe the Italians to be great braggarts; they exaggerate the beauty and the value of their paintings, their statues, and a thousand things more. Everything is uno spavento, una maraviglia; big words that do not stir my ear more than would the noise of a turnspit [a kind of dog -Sendai]. …I believe if I saw Italy I should not always agree with the ciceroni, which would console me for my fatherland’s barrenness; otherwise, the comparison would be too humiliating for poor Germany…”

Aww, poor Germany.

(Done commiserating yet? Hurr hurr)

Anyway, what we have here is a typically occidental assumption that people actually mean what they say. The assumption is naturally based on the firm yet quaint conviction that people always do what they should do.

(Incidentally, this conviction also allows us to date the letter as having been written sometime before the French Revolution derp)

Anyway, it is perhaps useful to suggest to puzzled Frederick a better approach to understanding the confusingly enthusiastic Italian guides. Or, even, two approaches:

A) The guides are lying. They don’t in fact think that the Italian landscape is anything like anything they imagine a wonder to be; but they have to sell it somehow, hence the unscrupulous use of more florid turn of phrase. They do not in fact intend to communicate their honest opinion about anything at all, but rather say what they think a customer might want to hear.

B) From a pragmatic standpoint, calling something “a wonder” might mean much less to a native speaker of Italian than it would mean to a native speaker of German.

Both approaches would need testing, of  course.

This is all nerd jokes and useless pedantry, as  Frederick the Great’s couldn’t have possibly known anything about the 20th century developments in linguistics.

Betina, however, could have. Alas, directly following the Frederick the Great quote:

“Sources of that nature, relevant to the cultural aspect of travel, are completely absent from our material. Nevertheless, I can imagine Tukulti-Ninurta I reclined (sic) on his throne and musing in a similar way after having received the Egyptian delegation.”

Tsk, tsk, Betina. I recommend taking Introduction to Modern Linguistics.

Also: ah, the subtle difference between absolutism and enlightened absolutism hurr hurr de hurr(5).

Nonetheless, it was a very interesting read, not only because I immediately visualised Tukulti-Ninurta musing about his Vaterland.

Aw, it’s 3 am already, I can sleep n_n

(1) There are no words in any language I know for how smug I am. The smugness; it fills my entire room, oozes through windows, and gently slinks down onto the street; then rushes to left – towards the cathedral – or right – towards the Rhine, but then it gets worse still, but I can’t see anything, once it disappears behind the corner.

No words, srsly.

(2) I feel more edified than the cathedral today.

And the big one in Mainz, too.

(3) I’m terribly sorry (not), but the name “Betina” makes my wretched black little heart warm and gives me fuzzy feelings of malicious glee. I can’t not use the name. It is imperative that I use the name.

Betina, Betina, Betina~~~~~~~

I will not be stopped.

(5) For those of you who might be confused, a journey:

– in enlightened absolutism means going abroad and making a couple of sketches, preferably of ruins,

– in Tukulti-Ninurta’s “absolutism” would mean going abroad with an army and making a couple of conquests, preferably leaving behind only ruins.


Not really! The sociolinguistics of spam:

This is an e-mail that got through my spam-filters today:


I find my prince…

People call me Princess! I am 25 years old.

I am cool and beautiful.

I am engaged in figure skating.

I wish know about you person.

Write me on my e-mail.

I wait for your letter, Kelsey

(original spelling preserved)

I think this is urban internet poetry. I like it a lot.

However, I can’t help wondering what the writer’s first language might be. I tried saying “I am engaged in figure skating” in a couple languages I know, and it sounds ridiculous in all of them. Or is it a perverted brainchild of Google Translate? My bets are on Google Translate, but I can’t help wondering about who in Darwin’s name would think  that this  sort of a message, translated by  Google, constitutes a quality spam e-mail.

I  seriously spent all morning thinking about that. I suck.

(Meanwhile, last night we went trick-or-treating with the  kidlet. I didn’t know you were supposed to do that in Germany. I suck)

Vurës and Vera are two languages spoken in some parts of an island called Venua Lava.

(You’ve most likely never heard about it. So:

Vanua Lava (13.80° S 167.47° E) is one of the Banks Islands in Torba Province, Vanuatu. It is located about 120 km north-northeast of Espiritu Santo. There are about 1700 inhabitants today.The island measures about 25 km north-to-south and 20 km east-to-west.

Better*, now?)

The total population of people who can  speak Vera is approximately 200-300.

There are as many as 1000 Vurës speakers.

The  communities that speak Vera and Vurës live  within an hour’s walk from each other. Intermarriage is not uncommon, and so many Vera speakers also know Vurës.

Both languages are endangered, because there are so very few speakers, and because most people in Vanuatu speak Bislama, a creole language based mostly on English**.

You can read about those and other endangered languages here at Dokumentation Bedrohter Sprachen (DoBeS). No worries, it’s all in English***! Some articles even have pretty pictures!

Hurry up, though. You probably won’t hear about those languages ever**** again :)

* The other thing Vanuatu is famous from, apart from having on average one language/2000 citizens, is cargo cults: the John Frum cargo cult, and Prince Philip cargo cult. Cargo cults are, in my opinion, the saddest and most heart-breaking illustration of what religion really is about.

** Lexically.

*** Am I the only person who thinks this is just a little bit ironic? Heh.

**** This may change if yours truly gets a graaant! I’m not planing anything, just thinking out loud, though.

Recently, I’ve been reading this book (oh, it’s famous! There’s even an English translation. I didn’t know that, huh). It’s pure escapism, I know. But Chiaki told me to read it, and it’s actually fun.

(Very very snotty, pretentious fun)

(It’s not even pretentious. It’s just that—)

— It’s just that Natsuhiko Kyougoku uses Chinese characters as penile substitutes.

Some people have cars. Some people build phallic monuments, like stelae. Some people actually have penises.

Natsuhiko Kyougoku*, however, uses Chinese characters to reaffirm his masculinity**.

(There’s this whole issue, where Chinese characters are statistically more likely to be used in media whose target are men. According to Smith& Schmidt, “Variability in written Japanese: Towards a sociolinguistics of a script choice”, Visible Language 30, mystery and business novels for adult men have the highest proportion of Chinese characters, and romance novels aimed at women have the highest proportion of hiragana; the highest proportion of katakana is to be found in books aimed at a younger audience. However, why would be mystery novels aimed at men and not both genders is something that’s completely beyond me. LOL, romance, whut.)

But I digress.

Anyway, what he does is (and I’ve only just started the book, so there must be more awesome examples in the next 500 pages or so):

a) to write 摑まる*** instead of 捕まる (meaning: catch, arrest). Not only is it the rarer form of the character, it’s also the pre-writing reform form (摑まる vs 掴まる). Of course, I know that, because I’m brilliant, but, for real, it might have been the first time I’ve seen it used in modern literature.

b) to evilly use the word ubame instead of uba (nursing mother) or something, and furthermore, write it with ateji (??? I don’t even know, really, and personally, I wouldn’t think that 故 is an ateji for “u”. I might just not know though: ateji are not exactly my area of expertise), like that 故獲馬 (as opposed to the typical 乳母、乳母女 — uba, ubame). This is a part of the title though, so there is a possibility that those characters are supposed a profound and, for me, still secret, meaning.

c) to evilly write  検討 with 検闘 (it means to examine), because, obviously, the bigger the better.

d) to evilly write  ごまかす (trick, cheat) with Chinese characters thus 誤魔化す; which is evil and terrible, if you don’t know how to read them****, as this spelling appears not to be present in my Koujien actually (le gasp).

e) to evilly write iwayuru (so-called) with Chinese characters 所謂, which simple and pure evil, and for which there is no excuse.

f) to evilly write 切っ掛け like this 契機 (cue). At least he had the decency to actually use furigana for that one, though.

And it’s only a little bit of the stuff from the first 30 pages or so. Awesome.

(I could of course, just say that he uses the Chinese characters to make the entire text feel old and/or archaic, but where would be fun in that? I prefer penile subsitutes.  As his bizarre Wikipedia page explains:

Kyogoku can use DTP software perfectly, so he freely writes old-fashioned characters and ateji characters with the purpose of capturing old Japanese atmosphere in his novels. However, such characters are difficult even for Japanese people to read.

So, predictably, I’ve no idea about his proficiency with the software, but the thing about the characters? It’s true.)

* Whoa, his Wikipedia page is absolutely bizarre. It just screams NPOV  NPOV NPOV NPOV issues, and also reads like an ad. Great work! ( / sarcasm )

** It would be awesome if it turned out he’s actually a woman. I for one would be ecstatic.

*** This character killed my Anthy. CURSE YOU UBUNTU CURSE YOU.

**** I did, of course.