Minimal Pairs (redux)

Jan 28, 2014

ESL Teachers:  What are your favorite minimal pairs for helping students overcome issues with pronunciation?

For Arabic-speaking students, I like to use “My dog likes to bark in the park.”

For Japanese speakers, I like “I think I see a sink.”

Please comment belong and share your favorites.  Feel free to share any stories that go along with them!

Snoring

Jan 20, 2013

Here are a few ways to express “snore” (v.) in various languages:

  • Russian: храпеть [khrapet']
  • French: ronfler
  • German: schnarchen
  • Italian: russare
  • Spanish: roncar
  • Korean: 코를골다 [koleulgolda]
  • Chinese: 鼾声 [hānshēng]
  • Japanese: いびきをかく [ibiki wo kaku]

Almost there…

May 3, 2012

Just a quick update:

I’m scheduled to defend my thesis–”Explaining Fukushima to Children: Cross-Cultural Study of Bodily Functions as Metaphor in Japanese”–next week.  I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

Exonym / Endonym

Dec 6, 2011

Just a quick bit of lexicon this morning:

Exonym [Greek – ἔξω, éxō, “out” + ὄνομα, ónoma, “name”]

An exonym is a name referring to an ethnic group (ethnonym), language (glossonym), place (toponym), or person that is used by people outside said group.  The United Nations defines exonym as the name used in a specific language for a geographical feature situated outside the area where that language is spoken, and differing in its form from the name used in an official or well-established language of that area where the geographical feature is located.

Endonym [Greek – ἔνδον, éndon, “within” + ὄνομα, ónoma, “name”]

An endonym is a name referring to an ethnic group (ethnonym), language (glossonym), place (toponym), or person that is used by people inside of said group.  The United Nations defines endonym as the name of a geographical feature in an official or well-established language occurring in that area where the feature is located.

Here are some examples of exonyms with their endonymic counterparts in English and their native languages:

China/Zhōngguó (中国), Dutch/Nederlands [ˈneːdərlɑnts], Greece/Hellas (Ελλάς), Germany/Deutschland, Gypsy/Romani, Moscow/Moskva (Москва), Japan/Nihon/Nippon (日本).

This phenomenon is not, unique to English:

Korea is referred to differently, depending on which Korea is doing the talking.  North Korea refers to “Korea” as Chosŏn (조선), but South Korea refers to it as Hanguk (한국) or Namhan (남한, 南韓 – “South Han”).  The official Korean name for the Republic of Korea is “Dae Han Minguk” (대한민국 – “The Republic of Korea”).  (There are other variations, but you get the picture.)

America is called beikoku (米国) in Japanese and the English language is called eigo (英語).  In China, America is called měiguó (美国) and the English language is yīngyǔ (英语).

Many exonyms were born as a result of the namer not understanding the namee’s language.  In Russian and other languages, for example, the word for “Germans” is Немцы (Nemtsy), which is derived from the word немой which means “mute.”  The accepted folk etymology is that the German language appeared so unintelligible to the Slavs that they dubbed them “mutes.”

In addition to Russian, this word is also used in the Arabic, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Polish, Romanian, Turkish, and Ukranian languages.  (Interestingly, a theory regarding the word “Slavic” suggests that it comes from slovo, meaning “word.”  This, again, differentiates between those with words and those without.)

Sioux is likely a shortened form of Nadouessioux, a proto-Algonquian word meaning “foreign-speaking.”  Berber comes from a Greek representation of gibberish (“bar-bar-bar”).  The list goes on and on.

Do you know any exonym/endonym combinations?  Please leave a comment and share them with us.

 

 

Contranym

Nov 20, 2011

You’ve probably heard of synonyms (words that share the same meaning) and antonyms (words that mean the opposite of each other), but have you heard of contranyms?

A contranym is a word that has seemingly contradictory meanings.  Because of their two-faced nature, they are also sometimes referred to as “Janus words” after the two-faced Roman god.  In a nutshell1, we’re talking about a word that is its own antonym.  Contranyms do not necessarily need to be spelled the same way; those that sound alike, but are spelled differently, are called homophonic contranyms.

Some examples in English are:

  • 1shell (hard outer covering/remove hard outer covering)
    • Peanuts come in shells.
    • These peanuts have been shelled (i.e., the shells have been removed).
  • oral/aural2 (speech/hearing)
    • I have an oral (speaking) exam today.
    • I have an aural (hearing) exam today.
  • fast (speedy/not moving)
    • This car is fast.
    • Stand fast!
  • oversight (to miss/scrutiny)
    • That was an oversight on my part.
    • This program is under strict Congressional oversight.
  • strike (to hit/to miss)
    • Strike one!
    • He strikes the ball with the bat.

Another word that, through misuse, has become somewhat of a contranym is literal.  Some have (confusingly) come use the word to mean “figuratively” (e.g. “I literally died laughing”).  However, the original meaning also remains (e.g. “I am literally typing this on a MacBook Pro”).  Confusion ensues.  To mitigate this, I’ll sometimes write “literal-literal” and “figurative-literal” in blog posts.

While working on a translation today, I happened upon a contranym that appears to cross over linguistic lines:  yama.

Яма (yama): pit (Russian)

山 (yama): mountain (Japanese)

(Of course, because they are spelled differently, they are technically homophonic contranyms, but you already knew that.)

Do you know of any bilingual contranyms?  Please share them in the comments section and I’ll post them in a future article!

 

2Depending upon your regional dialect, you may pronounce these words differently.

Happy New Year

Jan 1, 2011

سنة جديدة سعيدة!

謹賀新年!

新年快樂!

Bonne année et bonne santé!

Ein glückliches neues Jahr!

Ευτυχισμένο το Νέο Έτος!

해피 뉴 이어!

С Новым Годом!

Felix sit annus novus!

Dubbing is the Devil

Sep 3, 2010

Dubbing is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

  1. to add (sound effects or new dialogue) to a film or to a radio or television production
  2. to provide (a motion-picture film) with a new sound track and especially dialogue in a different language

When bringing a foreign-language TV show or movie into the United States, the tendency here is to dub it into English.  When bringing a foreign-language TV show or movie into Japan, the tendency is to leave the original language in place, but superimpose subtitles.

I generally find the latter to be far superior for two reasons:

  1. Dubbed voices rarely match the visual and are often comically distracting (see any Kung Fu movie).
  2. The original language is lost.

The latter is my big peeve.  I actually want to be exposed to other cultures and languages.  Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I find it pleasing to listen to other languages, even if I don’t understand them.

In the case of a feature-length movie, I will admit that perhaps resorting to dubbing results in a less-taxing experience for the average non-linguist-geek viewer.  But in the case of shows like G4TV’s “Ninja Warrior,” I find the dubbing to be absolutely horrible and very distracting.  Not only are the translations not always correct (or even close), the announcer makes a hobby out completely mispronouncing people’s names, despite the immediately-preceding original audio giving a perfect example of proper pronunciation.  It grates like a spork on a chalkboard to me.

As I write this, I’m watching a program on NHK (basically a Japanese version of the channel PBS in the U.S.) featuring someone taking a “walk” through a French town, “meeting” the locals, and “talking” about whatever happens to be going on.  The narrator (who is never seen) asks questions in Japanese, the answers coming in French with Japanese subtitles (in most cases).  I find this not only more aurally pleasant, but also a great opportunity to work on both my French and Japanese.

Another phenomenon I often see in Asian TV broadcasts is the use of subtitles (in the native language) to support what is being said on screen.  In the case of Japan and Korea, it seems that it is often done in comedy/variety shows to emphasize what is “supposed” to be funny.  In Chinese programs, however, it seems to be done to overcome the vast differences in dialects, providing the viewer with a standardized written base so that they can understand what is going on, even if they don’t understand the dialect being spoken.  I do not speak Chinese, so this is purely speculative and based solely on observation and conversations with Chinese friends.

Are Americans really so adverse to the sound of foreign languages?  Why?  How could we benefit linguistically and socially from subtitled foreign languages vs. dubbing?  How could using more subtitles and less dubbing help linguistically draw Americans into the rest of the world?

Character Amnesia

Aug 27, 2010

It seems that technology may be creating as many problems as it solves.  In this case, the problem created is being called “character amnesia.”  That is, Chinese and Japanese youth, online for much of their lives, are forgetting how to write many of the characters used in their languages.

Despite the recent news, this is definitely not a new phenomenon.  As far back as the 1980′s, I was already hearing of Japanese forgetting how to write kanji due to the increasing ubiquity of ワプロ or word processors.  While the ワプロ of the 80′s may have gone out of style, the use of keyboards as character input devices, be they on laptops or smart phones, seems to have contributed to a loss of ability in writing characters by hand.  I, myself, certainly lost much of my ability to hand-write Japanese as I got more into typing the language on keyboards.

According to an article on breitbart.com, there is even a Chinese phrase to describe the phenomenon: 提笔忘字 [tibiwangzi], or “take pen, forget character.”

In another article on cnet.com, Chris Matyszczyk opines, “This amnesia might seem like a problem only for character-based languages, but I wonder whether they’re the only victims. Surely you, too, have seen, say, the English language increasingly tortured by the uncertain hands of those who spend far too long touching keys rather than pens, books, or other humans.”

This has certainly been a concern of mine for a while now.  While I can still read and type Japanese with no problem, remembering how to write kanji by hand is a real problem.  What are your thoughts?

Hello, World!

Dec 24, 2009

今日は、世界!

マイケル・ハッカーと申します。多言語を通じる人です。主に英語、仏語、露語、と日本語が出来ます。独語も西語も勉強中ですし。以前身につけた外国語のお陰で、アラゴネス語、白ロシア語、ブルガリア語、中国語、チェコ語、エスペラント語、イタリア語、韓国語、マケドニア語、ルーマニア語、ポーランド語、スコットランド語、スロバキア語、セルビア語、スペイン語、ウクライナ語など、20カ国語ほど少しでも読み取ることが出来ます。

Привет, Мир!

Меня зовут Миша Хакэр.  Я полиглот.  Мои основные Языки являются Английским, Французким, Русским, и Японским. Теперь изучаю Немецкий и Испанский языка. Я тоже могу понимать чуть-чуть на около 20 языков. Например: Арагонский, Белорусский, Болгарский, Китайский, Чешский, Эсперанто, Итальянский, Корейский, Македонский, Румынский, Польский, Шотландский, Словацкий, Сербском, Испанском, и Украинском.

Bonjour, Tout le Monde!

Je m’apelle Michel Hacker. Je suis un polyglotte. Mes langues principales sont Anglais, Français, Russe et Japonais. Je suis également en train d’étudier l’Allemand et l’Espagnol. En raison des langues que j’ai apprises antérieurement, j’ai aussi constaté que je peux lire des morceaux de moins de 20 langues différentes. Pour exemples: l’Aragonés, le Biélorusse, Bulgare, Chinois, Tchèque, Espéranto, Italien, Coréen, Macédonien, Roumain, Polonais, Écossais, Slovensk, Serbe, Espagnol et Ukrainien.

Hello, World!

My name is Michael Hacker. I am a polyglot. My main languages are English, French, Russian, and Japanese. I am also currently studying German and Spanish. Because of the languages I have previously learned, I have also found that I can read bits of as many as 20 different languages. For examples: Aragonés, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Esperanto, Italian, Korean, Macedonian, Romanian, Polish, Scots, Slovensk, Serb, Spanish, and Ukranian