ngā āhua – attitudes and tataiako

June 12, 2011 § 2 Comments

Opportunities to collect data about language attitudes in New Zealand are never in short supply. However how they represent the range of views in New Zealand is hard to gauge.

Recently Dr Pita Sharples, Minister for Māori announced a project Tataiako to develop the cultural competency of secondary school teachers in te ao Māori – the Māori world, including elements of te reo, language, and tikanga – protocol. Elements necessary to engage with the Māori community in the school and in which the school is embedded.  There was the inevitable and for some teachers reasonable response regarding heavy workloads. However many of the responses did not come from teachers or school principals.

Here’s what readers of the website of the National Business Review had to say:

If you make a minority language compulsory in this way,instead of engendering support for the language, the result will be the opposite – resistance and negative attitudes. Sometimes, I think we have a government of absolute idiots with no knowledge of the wider world and what has happened elsewhere.
Anonymous | Saturday, June 11, 2011 – 1:23pm

I was thinking of doing a diploma in education next year but if I have to waste my time learning something that is totally irrelevant I’ll seriously reconsider. Trainee teachers get the treaty of Waitangi rammed down their throats enough as it is. Unless the teacher’s subject is maori it is totally irrelevant and a waste of time & money. What will it achieve? Nothing. Maori will still at the bottom of the heap because their attitudes remain the same. They’ll still beat their children to death, fail school, go to jail, go on a benefit, live in poverty – but their teachers will speak basic maori, even if the students themselves can’t. The real issue is why the govt forces them to go to the crappiest schools because they live in low decile areas.
Anonymous | Saturday, June 11, 2011 – 4:04pm

We all love the Haka ….. whats wrong with embracing a little more Maori rather than assisting the John Hadfield’s of this world
Chopper says…. | Saturday, June 11, 2011 – 4:39pm

In response to Chopper says…. | Saturday, June 11, 2011 – 4:39pm
The element of compulsion is what’s wong. Even Labour wasn’t foolish enough to do that.
Anonymous | Saturday, June 11, 2011 – 4:43pm

many of our teachers struggle with literacy and numeracy let alone Maori.
Anonymous | Saturday, June 11, 2011 – 4:55pm

Maori Youth Council should learn from some SE ASIAN countries, where local languages made compulsory had actually failed. Most local graduates had problem understanding most communications predominantly in English, written or verbal..
No Time | Sunday, June 12, 2011 – 8:04am

Its actually very similar to how hitler altered Germany’s education system.
Anonymous | Sunday, June 12, 2011 – 11:50am


an anthem without a nation?

June 1, 2011 § 3 Comments

As some of you may know I am interested in anthems as examples of language ideology and planning.  New Zealand’s own anthem underwent cosmetic surgery in the late nineties by becoming more beautiful and bilingual, now beginning with a sequence in te reo Maaori.

An anthem as a national symbol might be understood as a narrative of nation’s character – it’s aspirations towards unity and perhaps even uniqueness – though nations have shared anthems in the past – God Save the Queen, anyone? Other nations reflect the natural landscapes for example Australia’s beauties, rich and rare. Ours doesn’t mention our beautiful islands (nor our inclement weather for that matter), and perhaps strike a note of humility, perhaps an idealised trait of the people, by beseeching God’s protection.

The Saami, known by the exonym, ‘name from the outside’ as the Lapps or Lapplanders, though some Saami react strongly to such nomenclature live across a region of northern Scandanavia and adjacent Russia.  While associated in the popular mind with reindeer herding the Saami  engage in quite varied lifeways.  The recognition of political rights for the Saami is quite developed in the Scandanavian countries, with linguistic and educational rights in some areas, as well as the provision of separate Saami Parliaments in all regions but Russia.

However, this cross-border regionalism of the Saami people is from an outsider’s perspective. To the Saami, those borders are less relevant despite the fact that they crossover and carve up the region they have long referred to as Sápmi.  It is a paean to this ‘land’ that the Saami sing in the firs three verses of the Saami anthem, ‘Song of the Sami people’ and it is this region that the song calls on the sons of the sun to defend.

The Sami language family, a subgroup of Uralic is comprised of ten languages.  The anthem lyrics seem available in many of them. You can read them here  and note the orthogrpahic differences across the varieties and the influence of those national borders on representing the languages.

a king among linguists

May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the history of language and linguistics, perhaps two kings are widely credited. These are King Sejong who was responsible for Hangul, the elegant and descriptive writing system designed for Korean, and King James, who got a Bible named after himself. However a forgotten King, Ibrahim Njoya, ruler of the Bamum of West Africa, made a contribution to the language and culture of his subjects in a way that reflects the goals of contemporary linguists in the documentation field.

Coming to power in 1889 as the 17th King of the Bamum he set about modernising his people. This included conversion to Islam and allowing the Christian missionaries to influence the court, resulting in a ban of polygamy. After experimenting with a pictographic system, Njoya and a coterie of intellectuals opted to develop a syllabary for Bamum. According to the great site affrocentriccultrebydesign, in a supremely democratic move, the king demanded his subjects contribute graphemes to the project. Eventually, the system stabilised as a 73-symbol set known as Aka Uku after the first four symbols.

In written Bamum he designed calendars, created volumes on ethnopharmacology and dynastic histories that promoted his line and his people’s customs and law. Moreover, to spread literacy among his subjects he built schools, and printing presses which could have been the seeds of a flourishing autochthonous literate culture had colonial intervention not arrived in the form of the Germans and French. When the French seized control of Western Cameroon, the visionary King was exiled, much of his written work destroyed or carted off to Europe into British and French collections. The suppression of written Bamum was clearly the goal of the French who destroyed the printing press, and this goal was achieved. Only now, are the descendents of this visionary monarch making attempts to revive the script for use in education, in according to affrocentricbyydesign, the Palace Ibriham Noya built.

As far as I can tell this photographs were taken by Bryan White, but sourced from Blackethics.

The dom and the rom

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

With the Libyan crisis having dominated the news, let us examine the linguistic landscape of the country. Unsurprisingly for north Africa, most Libyans experience Arabic diglossia with the domains divvied up between a local variety of Arabic and Classical Arabic. However a number of other languages are spoken in the country, though most of the international workers from the surrounding North African and Mediterranean region have left. There are also Berber languages spoken, Nafusi being the largest. However the second largest minority language, is not a Berber language, rather it is Domari, with 33 000 speakers. The Dom are the distant distant cousins of the Rom, both groups leaving India in the first millennium of the common era. The Rom or Romany referred to as Gypsies and variant forms of Zigeuner, Tsigane, Gitane etc form one of Europe’s largest underclasses. Likewise in the Middle East the Dom are powerless within the borders of these nations, with their largest populations in Iran and Egypt. Rarely literate in the dominant language, and living among (but apart from) other powerful groups the Dom and the Rom are constantly subject to attitudes of aggression, in some places with state sanction.

The Domari language has a number of dialects. Libyan Dom speak Helebi as do the group in Egypt. The most well document variety is that spoken by the tiny 2000 strong community in Jerusalem. You can visit the Domari Research Centre here

solimnoquy – linguists in your bedroom?

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Solimnoquy or sleep talking is not too uncommon feature of sleep. It is said to be particularly common in childhood, and while most grow out of it by childhood, with some families however it continues into adulthood.

The phenomenon usually presents itself of short bursts of talk of about 30 seconds duration. Researchers are not clear as to whether it is actually linked to events in the dreams of sleeptalkers as it appears that solimnoquy can occur in any of the sleepstates we naturally experience. What does not seem to be discussed is the reasons for the lack of clarity in the production of sleeptalk. We presume this is because the brain is not in some kind of alert, wakeful state and therefore is not focusing on muscle control to produce clear articulation.

What is extremely interesting is sleepchat, where an awake conversational partner can interact with a sleeping one. It seems the sleeper pays attention to topic, even if introduced by the awaker partners, but are prone to rapid topic shifts.

While harmless of itself, solimnquoy might be accompanies by other sleep disorders including somnambulism, sleepwalking, and sleep eating. Solimnoquy often occurs during episodes of night terrors which are frightening for both those sleeping and those who witness it.

Sleep talk like other forms of communication has been the centre of court proceedings. In the US a man was convicted of sexual assault on a ten yr old girl partly on the evidence of what her father heard her say in her sleep. To be clear, there was other evidence, but the admissibility of solimnoquy raised some particular issues. The ten year old was said to have used the man’s first name in her sleep talk, demanding that he get off her. But on waking she did not recall her sleep talker, as solimnoquists rarely do so could not be cross-examined on the veracity or the meaning of the utterance.
The outcome was overturned in the Supreme Court for a number of reasons. Apart from denying the right of the accuser to address all elements of a case under cross-examination, it was argued that in a dream state there is no way of distinguishing truth from untruth since nothing in a dream is factually real. It was also successfully argued that there is no link between dreaming of an event and producing solimnoquy during it to any real events in the world that had taken place.

not an oscar category, but ….

May 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

So, we’re a little bit famous. Massey linguists have been in the news for working with two New Zealand filmmakers to make a futuristic dialect for a feature length film. We are connecting in a small way to an illustrious history of constructed languages for cinema which includes Marc Okrand the linguist responsible for the Klingon language for Star Trek and more recently Paul Frommer who created the language of the Na’vi as spoken by the blue people in Avatar. These alien languages have already appeared on *bling*, but the first cinematic outing of a language-using alien appears to date back to The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). The urbane English actor Michael Rennie playing Klaatu the alien who learnt English by listening to the BBC by the sound of it. In pop culture history however, the climax of the film is the movie’s most enduring moment. To save the earth from destruction, the heroine, played by Patricia Neal must utter a sentence? a phrase? in Klaatu’s native language ‘Gort, Klaatu barada nikto’.

It’s kind of lucky that she is speaking to a robot as she puts no inflection into what she is saying. In fact what the phrase means and how it is structured is never explained and to this day is the subject of conjecture. It lives on, though, through intertextuality having been quoted and misquoted in a number of movies, usually of the low budget sci-fi kind, in a remake of the original, and, oddly, in Two and a Half Men!


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.