March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

The last batch of revisions have been uploaded into the Oxford English Dictionary. Included in this list is a number of inititalisms such as omg, wag (wives and girlfriends) and even the heart symbol, representing the verb heart as in I heart New York.  While omg and lol may be strongly associated with text/internet chat(ter), the dictionary makers point to a personal letter from 1917 for the debut of the former, and note for both forms that they are not unknown in spoken language. I think we can assume that wide ranges of genres and modes as well as commmon usage are criteria for OED entry? Heteronormativity and its adjectival form also appear for the first time. I guess we will have to wait for Lisa Duggan’s creation, homonormativity, in the next installment. LOL or as Spanish speakers say on the internet jajajaja.  As a devotee, I am heartened, or perhaps, ♥ened to note that flat white  also makes its dictionary debut, my favourite coffee however is deemed an Australianism.


the visual semiotics of protest

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

I got this photo of a protestor in Toronto  from the great blog random specific, who got it  via BuzzFeed

I think we have something very interesting here. So much is packed into a sign which at one level is a single word. Savvy signage indeed!


March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Do you speak Inuit? I’m learning Qikiqtaaluk, the dialect of coastal northern Inuktitut. But  you could choose another dialect on the excellent website Inuktitut Tusaalanga. This initiative seeks to increase both facility and prestige of the Inuit language in the North of Canada. In 1999, the Territory Nunavut was created. Having representation in the Canadian government it also internally has a governmental system though elected council bodies. Alongside the council is a body whose purpose is to make sure the governance of the territory is in line with or acknowledges Inuit systems of law and customary practices.

What is fascinating about this territory and indeed this language learning website is an insistence of dialect preservation which affords prestige equally. Given the vastness of the territory and the difficulty of moving across this terrain, it is not surprising that there are considerable differences in language. However language planning efforts usually bestow prestige on one particular variety and develop and enhance that to the detriment of others. Because there are word-final consonants …see the title of the post, we need to be able to write the consonants alone. This is the far right column.

Below is the syllabry used for Inuktitut in Nanavut. It is also written with a Roman script and it appears not uncommon for messages to be presented in the two scripts side by side. Symbols with a dot represent the same sound but with the a phonemically long vowel.

more dialectal t-shirts

March 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

this time on trade me!

The enregisterment of NZ English continues. Speaking of which, the other day I used a common expression, one that I associated with hegemonic masculinity in this country, ‘you’re a legend’. I was completely misunderstood. My friend thought I was claiming he didn’t really exist!

The yeah nah phenomenon has been noted in a number of other Englishes, notably Australian, but it seems collocating with bro is strictly a local production. Like most pragmatic particles, its meaning is hard to pin down. It has been suggested to be a hedging device, buying more time for the speaker, a device that shows solidarity with the ideas presented to the listener (yeah) and a signal (no) that more information is about to be provided by the speaker which elaborates or perhaps more likely innovates on the previous turn’s message.

Is that what it really does? Yeah nah, dunno.

on sticks and stones

March 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m reading a book on insults. Sadly not a how to guide, but more of the philosophy of.  So far the author, Jerome Neu, Professor of Humanities, UC Santa Cruz, has discussed playing the dozens, ritual insulting games in African American youth, particularly males. He has a Freduian psychology background so reports on suggestions that the insulting of the other’s mother is a strategic invitation to insult his own; part of a need to break out of a reported matriarchy in working class African Americans where absent male figures create such a power system.  Apart from quoting Eminem as proof of this, there is little in the way of what linguists would call data, but that’s no biggie, it is a philosophical treatment more than anything, though Labov does get a mention here and there.

I have flipped forward though and seen that there is a bit of a how to guide, provided by that master of insults, William Shakespeare which he found on the internet. (while there get a randomly generated insult here

Here’s an excerpt:

Combine one word from each of the three columns below, prefaced with “Thou”:
Column 1 Column 2 Column 3
artless base-court apple-john
bawdy bat-fowling baggage
beslubbering beef-witted barnacle
bootless beetle-headed bladder
churlish boil-brained boar-pig
clouted clapper-clawed bugbear
cockered clay-brained bum-bailey
craven common-kissing canker-blossom
currish crook-pated clack-dish
dankish dizzy-eyed clotplole
dissembling doghearted codpiece
droning dread-bolting coxcomb

 In fact there are a great number of insult generators. This one offers Shakespearean, Arabian, Mediterranean and Modern styles. The Arabian manner is phrased as a curse may your …. while those of the Med, like the dirty dozens targets the insultee’s female kin:

Your mother was a third-rate chemist who burnt her bra in a morgue

Your mother was a frightening git who endlessly recited Monty Python sketches under the influence of alcohol

Your mother was a blunt has-been who used to pick her nose at the local flea market

Not all that zingy if you ask me.

pearly shells from pearl harbour, a bilingual hit

March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

One of the most famous songs in Hawaiian music is this one:  Known as Pearly Shells in its English version, it is a well-loved traditional Hawaiian song, Pupu a ’o ‘Ewa, ‘The shells of Ewa’. The movie is Donovan’s Reef, made in 1964 by the director John Ford, one of cinema’s greats of the 20th century. The movie, a comedy starring among others the Western actor, John Wayne, was set in French Polynesia but filmed in Hawai’i. It has some very typical romanticisations of the Pacific, but also helped to produce ‘Pearly Shells’ as an important icon of Hawai’i and virtually a commodity of Hawaiian culture. The process of becoming an icon however began much earlier with the arrival in the islands of Webley Edwards in the 1920s. He would go on to have an extremely interesting career on radio. His show Hawaii Calls was a big hit, but even back then he garnered criticism for creating pastiche versions of Hawaiian musical culture. He also happened to be the announcer on the local radio who issued the first broadcast news on the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, the event that pulled the US into World War II. He also happened to be the first to interview the crew of the Enola Gay, the American plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, effectively ending the war. It was Edwards that created the English lyrics of the song, which seem only vaguely related to the original.

This version became a hit for a number of American singers/entertainers, including Connie Francis, Burl Ives and others. Here’s Connie. However, we cannot claim that the song has become an external icon of Hawai’i that Hawaiians have disowned. One of the more famous contemporary musicians of that state performs this song.  This is Keali’i Reichel’s version. I find this one easier to hear the Hawaiian language (and one version of the Hawaiian lyrics with translation are included, the chorus of which is given below).

Püpü (a`o `Ewa) i ka nu`a (nä känaka)
E naue mai (a e `ike)
I ka mea hou (o ka `äina)
Ahe `äina (ua kaulana)
Mai nä küpuna mai
Alahula Pu`uloa he ala hele no
Ka`ahupahau, (Ka`ahupähau)
Alahula Pu`uloa he ala hele no
Ka`ahupähau, Ka`ahupähau
Shells of `Ewa throngs of people
Coming to learn
The news of the land
A land famous
From the ancient times
All of Pu`uloa, the path trod upon by
All of Pu`uloa, the path trod upon by

Elsewhere on youtube you can see performers singing the English and or Hawaiian song at home, performing dances from various parts of Polynesia and even hybrid hula-line dancing versions. Even now, this ‘traditional’ song is transforming and becoming transnational in late modernity.

 A fascinating sidenote to this story is the fact that the placename referenced in the Hawaiian version is in fact Pearl Harbour. Ironic given the fact that Edwards announced the destruction. Source: Na Mele `O Hawai`i Nei by Elbert & Mahoe, Olowalu Massacre by Aubrey Janion – The news of the land was the discovery of pearl oysters at Pu`uloa, the Hawaiian name for Pearl Harbor, that was protected by Ka`ahupähau, the shark goddess. Ka`ala is the highest mountain on O`ahu and Polea is located in `Ewa. Nu`a and naue in the chorus is often interchanged with nuku (mouth) and lawe (bring). Moa`e is the name of a tradewind. In 1909, the Navy issued a $1.7 million contract for construction of the first Pearl Harbor dry dock. Kapuna Kanakeawe, a Hawaiian fisherman, told the contractor to build it in another location as the spot they selected was the home of Ka`ahupähau. Work stopped after 3 months as things kept going wrong. Cement would not pour and the contractor could not pump water out of the dry dock. February 17, 1913, 2 years behind schedule, opening ceremonies were held. Then it exploded. One man was killed, $4,000,000 lost and 4 years of work demolished. Another contract was issued in November, 1914. As work progressed, the early warning given by Kanakeawe was remembered. Mrs. Puahi, a kahuna, was called, and instructed the foreman, David Richards, in the necessary rituals to appease Ka`ahupähau and safeguard the project. After sacrifices were made, prayers chanted and rituals performed, the project was declared safe. When the bottom was pumped out, the skeleton of a 14-foot shark was discovered. Pearl Harbor was also the site of ancient Hawaiian fishponds.

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