name that bird

October 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

The discoverers of these islands,who eventually developed into the Maaori, were like the Biblical Adam in some sense, naming and categorising the new landscape they would call home. What resources did they have? They had the language that would eventually develop into te reo Maori and the knowledge of their original landscapes and its flora and fauna somewhere in the central Pacific. Probably two items caught their eye relatively quickly.
This, macropiper excelsum







and this
Both must have caused quite a stir! The plant they would have immediately recognised from their homeland. Central Pacific cultures and parts of Melanesia have long used Kava for ceremonial and social purposes. Its mild narcotic qualities were discovered long ago and accessed through the chewing or mashing of the roots and creating a clayish concoction from the extracted juices.

Alas for these proto Maaori the variety they discovered on these shores does not contain the chemical properties that enduce the mild euphoria of the cousin plant back in the home islands.
The Maaori named it kawakawa, a reduplicated form of the name of the plant back home, which might interpret to mean ‘kava-like’.

The Maori however did not consider kawakawa useless. In fact, far from it. Despite the lack of euphorics in the plant, it still had medicinal properties as well as ritual purposes. Chewing is said to relieve toothache. Mourners at funerals, tangi/tangihanga in Maori, wear head wreaths of kawakawa. Read more about the plant here.

The bird however is a different story. The Linnaean classification dinornis points to ‘terrible’ as a referent. One of the largest birds to roam the earth, the moa also has the distinction of being the only known bird to be completely wingless. Most flightless have wings … that don’t really work, but the moa did not even have vestigial wing bone structures. You may be surprised to know that the proto Maori recycled the word moa, extending the original meaning ‘fowl/chicken’ to this giant. So I guess the proto Maori didn’t eat chicken wings.

 Though in defence in this odd choice, one might imagine that the Maori first laid eyes on one of the smaller species of the moa. In the far north a turkey-sized moa roamed the landscape. The largest of the moa, as depicted here lived on te Wai Pounamu, the South Island.  In fact it is not entirely clear whether the term was widely used for the bird. Hunted to extinction probably within a hundred years of the arrival of the proto Maori, the bird lived on only in oral tradition and in the keeping of a few moa eggs as treasures.

Curiously the moa did not only become extinct in New Zealand. In the 1980s the remains of a number of species of giant ducks were found in Hawai’i. Named moa nalo ‘lost fowl’ In Hawaiian, moa ngaro in te reo, these ducks like the moa of the other end of Polynesia would have dominated the landscape of most of the Hawaiian landscape with few natural predators … until the arrival of the proto Hawaiians.


blogging about those languages in her head

October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Just to say, you can read an interesting blog on multilingualism here.

Disneyland in China

October 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here are some interesting examples of compounding in Chinese from East brain, west brain. These will be useful should you find yourself in an amusement park in China.

游乐园 yóulèyuán [wander+happy+park] ‘amusement park’

旋转木马 xuánzhuǎnmùmǎ [revolve+turn+wooden+horse] carousel, merry-go-round

刺激 cìjī [irritate+excite] stimulating; thrilling; exciting

过山车 guòshānchē [go across+mountain+car] rollercoaster

ko te reo he moa?

October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Information from the Waitangi Tribunal Report 262 has been released regarding the state of the te reo Maaori, the Maori language … and the news is doom-laden.

Despite the early achievements of the kohanga reo (language nest) movement founded in the 1980s to reverse language shift and revitalise the language as a taonga or treasure given full protection under the treaty of Waitangi/Tiriti o Waitangi, the number of speakers of the language is still falling.

Since 1993, the proportion of Māori children in early childhood education attending kōhanga reo has dropped from just under half to under a quarter. At school, the proportion of Māori children participating in Māori-medium education has dropped from a high point of 18.6 per cent in 1999 to 15.2 per cent in2009. The total number of schoolchildren in Māori-medium learning has dropped each successive year since 2004. If the peak proportions of the 1990s had been maintained, there would today be 9,600 more Māori children attending kōhanga reo and an extra 5,700 Māori schoolchildren learning via the medium of te reo. At the 2006 census, there were 8,000 fewer Māori conversational speakers of te reo than there would have been had the 2001 proportion been maintained.
pg, X. Waitangi Report 262.

This worrying trend is a disaster for language maintenance of this, one of the two national languages of New Zealand. The report points the finger at the government, suggesting failures in two areas.  These are the failure to train teachers for immersion programmes and the weak powers of the Maori Language Commision/Maori Language Strategy . Proposals to halt this downard spiral for te reo focus on the role of Te Taura Whiti the Maaori Language Commission. The report suggests this become the key player in the development of te reo Maaori, with increased funding and increased powers.

The full prepublication report is available here.

The Dominion Post’s coverage of this issue was intriguing. Alongside a summary of the report, the newspaper published vox populi on the issue of compulsory te reo training.  Not only were their opinions recorded but also their score on recognising 7 Maori words: huamanu ‘egg’ panana ‘banana’, pahi ‘bus’, huarere, ‘weather’ mana ‘prestige/authority’ koha ‘gift’ and atua ‘god’. While an interesting idea, the list of a mix of transliterated borrowings, cultural important concepts and some relatively low frequency items. There are plenty of more salient Maaori words that are also used in NZ English.

Here are the comments and their scores:

  • 0/7 I think it is should be compulsory in. My wife’s a Kiwi and part-Maori and I think it’s important that our daughter learns the Maori language” (Non_NZ born male, 32)
  • 0/7 believes it should be compulsory. It’s part of the culture of the country it makes a bond between the different ethnicities of the country. (Non_NZ born female, 47)
  • 3/7 I’m not against the Maori language, but it should be a choice.” (M, 58)
  • 4/7 thinks Mandarin should be compulsory instead. (F, 67)
  • 5/7 should be compulsory. “So that all the little kids grow up and get to know their language because it’s harder to learn when you are older. (M, 19)
  • 2/7 I do think that te reo is important but I do not think it should be taught at the same level as English (F, 48)
  • 2/7 feels it should be compulsory. It’s good to keep up the New Zealand language and it doesn’t hurt to have a smattering of languages. It doesn’t matter whether we can converse at the marae, it is important to have some level of understanding. (F, 77)
  • 3/7 It should be optional, because if it is a choice, the those who really want to learn will make the commitment. But I do think there’s quite a spread of people who want to learn but don’t know how. People need to be made more aware of where they can go to learn [te reo]. (M, 55).
  • Dominion Post, Thursday 21 October, 2010, p. A2.

holding a baby in our hands

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Imagine a close-knit community isolated geographically from others with a high proportion of Deaf members.  In such a setting a sign language is likely to emerge and be known by both the Deaf and a great number of Hearing. In the Al-Sayyid community of Bedouins in Southern Israel, around 100 of the 3,500 strong community are Deaf. In the past 75 years heriditary Deafness seems to have ermerged here and with it a signed language.

Researchers often propose that signed languages are our best understanding of how languages might be born.  The emergence of Nicaraguan Sign Language in the 1970s was a major event. Until that decade the deaf (deliberate small d here) were isolated from each other, living among  their hearing relatives. However, the creation of a school in the capital of the 1970s  (and reconfigured by the Sandanista govt in 1980s) saw the development of a language used between Deaf individuals  (big D now as a community emerged) by Deaf.   Let us be clear, it was not the intention of the school to create a manual system for communication. The school focused on the lip reading of Spanish, but it was in the school yard and behind the teachers’ back that Idioma de Senas Nicaragua emerged.  Not only a native language to give the Deaf of Nicaragua a way of communicating with each other, a BY_PRODUCT of the process was that linguists got to be at or nearly at the birth of a language.  Research on the Bedouin community is just as intriguing,

What they do reveal is support for innatist positions on human language. That is, that much of the grammar  of these languages reflect patterns from languages that have a much longer developmental history and that essential the structural components of signed languages fall into the range of phenomena found in spoken languages, showing us that signed communication is a natural channel or medium for human languages to exploit.

Read more here from the New York Times
or watch the youtube below about Nicaragua’s signed language

first lady Oprah is auto tuned

October 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

remember Obama getting I am T Pained?
Now its the first lady of daytime

The expression, first lady is an interesting one. It looks at first as if its just a translation of Italian prima donna. However this has a strongly negative connotation beyond its denotation ‘leading actress/singer’ in a company. Rather a first lady is the wife of the American president. But it’s application to spouses of other elected heads seems to be spreading:

In an unprecedented attack on the wife of a serving prime minister, he warned Mrs Blair to stay out of the political arena, and called her a cross between Lady Macbeth and Mrs Clinton.

“Cherie Blair is breaking the long-standing convention that prime ministers’ spouses do not push their own political agendas. It is unclear whether Cherie’s end goal is to be Lord Chancellor or whether she is happy to direct policy from behind the throne,” he said.

“What is clear is that Cherie has a bad dose of ‘Hillary Syndrome’. She forgets that in Britain we already have a First Lady: the Queen.

The Independent, Aug 8, 2000

However Cherie Blair had her own definition …

Ex-Prime Minister’s wife Cherie Blair has told U.S. TV viewers that Prince Philip is ‘really the First Lady of Britain’.

Cherie was promoting her autobiography on American chat show Jay Leno when she was asked if the role of the wife of a Prime Minister is the same as the wife of a U.S. President.

She told Mr Leno: ‘It’s different because actually the First Lady is the wife of the head of state.

Read more:–Queen-amazing.html#ixzz11FMrdQhU

Bronagh Key, whose husband is the current prime minister of New Zealand is seldom referred to as the first lady:

Bronagh Key is a woman of contrasts. She wears subtle jewellery that could be the equivalent of Niue’s GDP.

Yet, she says, she is a “bit of a tomboy actually”, who’s learning how to kickbox, avoids make-up during the day and can’t cook properly.

Apart from a couple of gushy women’s magazine articles, we’ve barely heard from the First-Lady-in-Waiting.

It seems from these quotes that quite a bit of discourse gets attached to a first lady. There are ways that they are seen to behave that opens them to criticism. Macbeth for the pure linguists among us who have never dabbled in literature famously incites her husband to murder. She seems an examplar for women wielding covert power and this is apraised quite negatively. One gets the impression that first ladies should be seen and not heard. for example, has made a business out of Mrs Obama’s (their address term) fashion sense

Our mission started during the presidential inauguration. Like most Americans, we watched the event on television, and we saw Mrs. Obama wearing her bold and stunning lime green dress. We wondered if we could get one just like it on the internet, and a quick search gave us our answer: a resounding no. As the weeks went on, the first lady remained a fashion icon, and if anything her exposure seemed to grow. However, finding a good online retailer proved just as difficult as before, so we decided that we’d go ahead and fill that void.

We wanted to make the dresses affordable to people like us, but we didn’t want to sacrifice anything in quality.  … Our dresses are just as beautiful as the fashions that Mrs Obama has worn. As we move forward with our store, we’ll be trying different things. We’d like to branch out and make dresses and shirts that are of our own design, albeit inspired by the fashion of our new first lady. We’ll be making versions of our existing outfits in different fabrics and colors. At some point we may even have the first annual crazy party for fans of Mrs O, in our home town of New Orleans Louisiana.

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