Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Ar y Tracs 2

Tonight I watched the 'making-of' documentary for Ar y Tracs (see my previous blog). Co-Author Catrin Dafydd spoke about the importance of bridging the gap between Welsh and English in order to capture the complexities and humor that arises from bilingualism in Wales. Also interesting was to see her and Ruth Jones discussing their co-authorship. Here's a quote from Dafydd ('English' marked in bold for readablility):
"Ac on i'n dweud 'Oh what about this', ie, 'galla hi dweud hwn' you'd say 'wouldn't it be simpler if she just said this', a wnest ti cynnig pethau yng Ngymraeg. An' actually the perspective of someone who's learned the language really helped the script I think because hopefully it's going to be something, ti'n 'mod, really accessible i ddysgwyr ac i bobol sy ddim mor hyderus, confident, yng Nghymraeg."

(And I'd say 'Oh, what about this', ye, 'she could say this' you'd say 'wouldn't it be simpler if she just said this', and you'd suggest things in Welsh. And actually the perspective of someone who's learned the language really helped the script I think because hopefully it's going to be something, y'know, really accessible to learners and to people who are not so confident, confident, in Welsh)
A couple of interesting points here. First, a minor point about the difficulty of deciding which language is being spoken. In the final phrase (it's going to be something, ti'n 'mod, really accessible i ddysgwyr...), it's difficult to tell when Dafydd has swiched to Welsh. The first 'Welsh' words are 'i ddysgwyr', but there's evidence to suggest that switching has before this. First, 'really' is considered a loan word by many. In fact, an analysis of Dafydd's speech would be necessary to determine if she considered 'accessible' as a Welsh word, too. Furthermore, one would need to survey Dafydd's use of Welsh and English interjections to determine whether '"ti'n 'mod" (y'know) was a marked cue to language alternation.

The second point is about using other people's codes. Right at the end, Dafydd sub-titles her Welsh (hyderus, confident, also just before this quote with "... dwyiethyddiaeth, bilingualism ..."), presumably for the benefit of the less-fluent Jones. In fact, you can see Dafydd struggling with having to monitor her speech to make sure it's understandable while also trying to make a complicated point. Finally, she switches into English ('And actually the perspective ...'), which they both understand. Once Dafydd has collected her thoughts, she switches back into Welsh for the remainder of the sentence ('really accessible i ddysgwyr...').

My research focuses on why humans have a great capacity for bilingualism. The quote above demonstrates that it may be easier to adopt the 'code' of another than be constantly monitoring your own code to make sure they will understand you.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Bilingualism in Ar y Tracs

I've just finished watching the new comedy from Ruth Jones, co-writer and star of Gavin and Stacey. Ar y Tracs (On the Tracks) is a Welsh-language production for S4C (Tidy Productions/ Green Bay) following the lives of a train crew over the festive period. Ruth Jones, who is learning Welsh, co-wrote the script with Catrin Dafydd who has written for the Welsh-language soap Pobol y Cwm.

Having been away from Wales for a while, it's always a bit weird to see people speaking Welsh on TV, but this programme was notable for its extensive use of English. Characters moved in and out of thier two languages all the time, much more than you'd usually see on Pobol y Cwm, or S4C's answer to Hollyoaks, Rownd + Rownd.

As well as switching to talk to non-Welsh speaking characters, and idiomatic borrowing ("Does dim second chance da fi nawr - I've had my lot") there was plenty of inter-sentential language alternation:
"Pan ti’n mynd trwyddo i Big Brother 10, bydd, like, masif support i ti ar y we yn barod."
(When you go through to Big Brother 10, there will be like massive support for you on the web already)
Also, a good use of marked language change to emphasise dramatic turns:
A: Pwy yw Billy Bricks?
(Who is Billy Bricks?)
B: Billy Bricks was my father.
There was also a nod to Gavin and Stacey with a typical Welshifying of the catchphrase "Beth sy'n occuro?" (What's occurring?). It was really nice to see naturalistic speech. Carolyn Hitt from the Western Mail voices the same opinion.

S4C 's language scheme states that "a substantial proportion of the programmes broadcast ... must be in Welsh, and, in particular, that those programmes which are broadcast on S4C during peak viewing hours are mainly in Welsh." However, nowhere in S4C's language policy (or any other official document I've seen) is 'Welsh' actually defined. If a programme had half English words and half Welsh, would this count as a Welsh-language programme? What would a word with a Welsh stem and an English affix be counted as? What if Welsh were always the matrix language? Will broadcasters have to start hiring linguists to check their statutory obligations? I hope so (my persistence with this blog shows how far my PhD has progressed).

A possible defence for S4C in light of its language duties is to recognise that the majority of 'Welsh speakers' in Wales use Welsh as part of a cohesive Welsh-English code. Since Ar y Tracs was certainly in peak time, this may be the first endorsement by a public institution of a code-based view of communication! There's hope yet.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Kovacs & Mehler Followup

Last week I discussed Kovacs & Mehler (2009), here. I now understand that the participants in the study were bilingual in Italian and Slovenian. Here's an update on the data from the last post and also data for all onsets (not just 3 syllable words):

It looks like there is no reason to believe that Slovenian-speakers would have more experience of ABA structures than Italian speakers. For some reason, the proportions of ABB syllables seem to shrink in comparison to AAB and ABA when taking all onsets into account. However, the distributions over nouns, adjectives and verbs for English, Dutch and German are a lot more even when considering all onsets, suggesting there is not a huge difference in the way different languages indicate syntactic class using syllable structures.

Kovacs, A., & Mehler, J. (2009). Flexible Learning of Multiple Speech Structures in Bilingual Infants Science, 325 (5940), 611-612 DOI: 10.1126/science.1173947

Monday, 14 December 2009

A mixed week for Bilingualism in Canada

This week has seen both the good and bad side of language policies being played out in Ottawa, Canada.

On the negative side, there has been some debate over bilingualism in official roles. There's been a call for a requirement that the Fire Chief of Ottawa be bilingual. Meanwhile, a monolingual post-office worker is fighting to keep her job because she is not bilingual, prompting locals to organise a petition (here).

On the other hand, there are also inclusive bilingual policies being implemented. Vancouver is hosting the winter Olympics next year, and this week it was announced that it will be a bilingual experience:
The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games provide an unprecedented opportunity to showcase our unique Canadian identity to the world. ... the Vancouver Organizing Committee has devoted a great deal of time and resources to ensure these Games reflect our country’s world-renowned diversity, including its linguistic duality.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Ghost in the Shell Graffiti

I seem to have an obsession with Ghost in the Shell! Here's some stencils I made (see my first one here):

Here's a Tachikoma, an old stencil that I re-sprayed today!

Major Motoko Kusanagi. I messed up the face, so decided to do some kind of light-explosion thing. This is my first attempt at painting with acrylic. Mixing colours was fun, but I realise I didn't really understand layering, and I was still painting in a digital frame of mind.

A Laughing Man icon! The quote is from J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

Here are some other stenicls I found on the internet. There were suprisingly few, though.

An amazing stencil from Cyberdelics.

A cheeky stencil plan by Okto.

A much better Laughing Man icon from mmoroca.

This one kind of counts. From Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Terms of Endearment

I've been thinking about nicknames and pet names. The people that mean the most to us usually have more than one name (see my post on Sliders). This appears to contradict the mutual exclusivity bias to have only one word for each object. That is, unless we see names as social tools we use to manage our relationships with people. Morgan et al. (1979) discuss the importance of managing social relationships with nicknames, for instance using a full name with your parents and a more informal diminutive with friends. Andersen (2006) discusses nicknames as adaptive innovations that serve the speaker’s emotive expressiveness. As Jhumpa Lahir puts it in The Namesake:
In Bengali the word for pet name is daknam, meaning, literally the name by which one is called by friends, family, and other intimates, at home and in other private, unguarded moments. Pet names are a... reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated. They are a reminder, too, that one is not all things to all people... Every pet name is paired with a good name, a bhalonam, for identification in the outside world. Consequently, good names appear on envelopes, on diplomas, in telephone directories and in all other public places.
Perhaps, then, there is a way of linking bilingualism to social grooming theory. That is, language has taken over the social role of paying attention to significant others and the more 'effort' you put into innovation, the more attentive you are perceived to be.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Processing two structures simultaneously
Although public opinion is still coming round to the idea, Bilingualism does not, in fact, impede cognitive and linguistic development, but may enhance it. Bilinguals have been shown to be more aware of the use of words in social contexts (Rosenblum and Pinker, 1983), they are better at taking other speaker’s perspectives (Genesee et al., 1975), and better at monitoring the knowledge state of others (Genesee et al., 1996). Recently, Kovacs and Mehler (2009) showed that bilinguals are more flexible at processing linguistic structures.

Kovacs and Mehler (2009) run an eye-tracking experiment on infants. Children had to learn to associate three syllable words with either AAB (e.g. 'babaka') or ABA ('bakaba') structures with a stimulus appearing on either the right or the left side of the screen. Bilinguals successfully learned to associate both structures with the correct side, while monolinguals performed equally well for AAB structures, but could not learn the associations for ABA structures. (See Ed Young's blog for another analysis). This is a bit confusing - it's not just that monolinguals were worse than bilinguals at processing ABA structures, monolinguals actually scored negatively!

Bilinguals have a wider range of input than monolinguals, and so may be more used to different linguistic structures. Bilinguals may be better at processing two linguistic structures simultaneously. Alternatively, monolinguals may have refined their processing to fit their input language.

Part of Kovacs and Mehler’s argument relies on AAB structures being easier to process, referring to Gervain et al. (2008). Presumably it’s true that this is because less memory is needed but Gervain et al. find that ABB structures, not AAB, are easier to process than ABA structures in monolinguals. One question is whether this processing benefit is language-specific. If it is, then the result may reflect bilingual’s experience with ABA strucutres. If it is not, then the result may show either a faster maturation of processing abilities in bilinguals, a slower maturation of processing abilities in monolinguals or a difference in investment of resources in the domain of word learning.

Let's look at some data! Proportions of various structures of 3 syllable words were gathered for English, Dutch, German (CELEX), Mandarin Chinese (CC-CEDICT, taking tone into consideration) and Italian (CoLFIS, although orthographic and automatically parsed for syllables):

The graph above shows that there is not much variation between proportions of word forms with AAB and ABA structures within a language. This suggests that bilinguals do indeed have a processing advantage. However, there is variation in the number of tokens of AAB and ABA across languages, and large variation in the proportions of word forms with ABB structures compared to other structures. If this is the case, then bilingual infants may be exposed to (and therefore be more effcient at processing) a greater range of structures, which may be an additional factor in breaking the Mutual Exclusivity bias.

Furthermore, the proportions of words which conform to either AAB, ABB or ABA structures are very small. Why, then, are these structures used frequently in infant-directed speech (Ferguson, 1983)? A possible answer is a kind of explicit demonstration of linguistic structure. At any rate, Kovacs & Mehler's paper is interesting, as is it's companion paper, described here.

Below, I've split the data from the graph above by counts for Adjectives, Nouns and Verbs. Interestingly, German, Dutch and English have different distributions. For instance, a new word with an ABA structure (e.g. 'bakaba') may be interpreted differently by different speakers (rationally, ignoring heuristics based on morphological cues). An English speaker would assume it was an adjective, a Dutch speaker would assume it was a verb and a German speaker would assume it was a noun:

This would show that different languages have different ways of cuing children into the meanings of their words. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the very low numbers of examples, when I tested some English and Dutch speaking friends on this, they basically chose randomly. Another big, unfounded linguistic theory.

(also, see my followup post here)

Kovacs, A., & Mehler, J. (2009). Flexible Learning of Multiple Speech Structures in Bilingual Infants Science, 325 (5940), 611-612 DOI: 10.1126/science.1173947

Bilingual Puns in Bali

I came accross an old paper by Joel Sherzer on bilingual puns and word play in Bali. There are several languages in use in Bali, including Sanskrit, Old and Middle Javanese, Balinese (including the various levels - alus 'refined', biasa 'ordinary', kasar 'coarse' etc.), Indonesian and English. Most people speak many of these, and the interplay between them is a common feature of dialog. Here's some examples:

X (to Y, in Indonesian): Sudah siap? 'Are you ready?' (lit. 'already ready')
Y (in Indonesian): Sudah ayam 'Already a chicken.'

Here, siap, which means 'ready' in Indonesian, means 'chicken' in Balinese Alus. Also, ayam, means chicken in both Indonesian and Balinese Alus.

X calls out: Wayan mejalan cara taluh 'Wayan walks like an egg'.

Taluh is Balinese biasa for 'egg'. 'Egg' in Balinese alus is adeng. Adeng in Balinese biasa is 'slow'. That is, Wayan is walking slowly. People can also conduct entire conversations where the meaning is actually based on puns:

X: Mekunyit di alas? 'turmeric in the forest?'
Y: Ketemu '(type of) spice'

Here, X is asking Y if they have a girlfriend, since Ketemu is both a kind of spice and 'acquaintence'. This might just seem anoying, but it is by far the least complex punning interaction. Here's a section on popular ways of saying 'goodbye':

Here are some examples involving the sound similarity between Balinese siu 'one thousand' and Eng. See you. A person may say Siu surat, lit. '1000 letter', but a play on Eng. 'See you later', in which B, I surat 'letter' is a pun on Eng. later. Or a person may say Siu berjumpa, with Indonesian 'meet, see'. The use of meaning equivalences in different languages to go nowhere referentially is also the basis for such comebacks as Siu one thousand, based on the fact that siu is Balinese for 'one thousand'. Or a person may say Siu seribu, in which siu stands for Eng. 'See you' or Balinese siu 'one thousand', and seribu is Indonesian for 'one thousand'.

The most baroque and recherche in this group of mock leavetakings is Siu satak, lit. 'one thousand two hundred'. Again this takes off from the similarity of Balinese siu and Eng. See you, but added to this is the fact that '1200' can also be expressed as nem bangsit, lit. 'six two-hundred' - in which bangsit, with the m/b interchange seen above, sounds like mangsit 'to stink'. Once again the play is not on an uttered word, but on an imagined or presupposed word.
Aparrently, types of pig-latin are farily common including:
Inserting syllables with vowel echoing
Deleting all but the first Consonant-Vowel-Consonant sequence of each word
Reversing syllables
Reversing phonemes


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Dubloons, loonies and moonies

Recently, I've been thinking about the Mutual Exclusivity bias - the tendency children and adults have to assume one meaning has only one associated word (in other words, to avoid homonomy). This bias seems to work against bilinguals, who have two words for many things. I'll get round to discussing this at some other point. In the meantime, here's an extract from an interesting article by Neil Wick on the tendency for new words for new meanings to converge on a single, conventional form. Wick charts the course of nicknames for the newly introduced $2 coin in Canada. It's worth noting that money is not a normal object - its meaning remains constant in all contexts. However, it's quite a good story:

"Speculation on a name began as soon as the new Canadian coin was announced in the February, 1995, federal budget. On March 3, The Globe and Mail reported that “the ink was barely dry on Paul Martin’s new budget before lock-up wags were bantering around a new name for the $2 coin” and doubloon was mentioned among other suggestions (“We like Ike” 1995). Both The Globe and The Star printed numerous letters hotly debating myriad possible names. One thing seemed beyond debate—writers felt strongly that a name would emerge. The Toronto Star confidently predicted on October 7, 1995, “It will acquire its own nickname” (Aaron, 1995). The Word Play columnist at The Globe implicitly acknowledged a lexical gap on February 24, 1996: “Writers of letters to The Globe and Mail have been diligent about filling this void” (Clements, 1996). One reporter even suggested that the coin needed a name. On February 16, 1996, a Star business reporter stated “All it needs is a nickname— and there is no shortage of suggestions” (Hemeon, 1996). The Mint would have no part in settling the debate. A Globe story on March 23, quoted a Mint spokesperson: “We’re not in the habit of giving names to any of our coins. For us a 10-cent piece is a 10-cent piece.” Characterizing such coin names as too unprofessional to be used by Mint workers, he declared, “The public will have to sort out [what to call the coin] on its own” (Grange, 1996). In spite of the heated debates which still continued after the coin’s launch, a consensus was already forming a month before the launch, as evidenced by responses to The Star’s request for readers to phone in their name suggestions (Stefaniuk, 1996a). Among 57 names and variations submitted by readers, four stood out. Teddy had 11 votes, Toonie/Twoonie/Twooney had 10, and two variants were tied for third place with 9 votes each: Doubloon/Doubloonie and Moonie (Stefaniuk, 1996b). Aaron (1996b) lamented on March 9, that “the horrible term ‘twoonie’ seems to have an edge in public acceptance.” On February 19, 1996, the official launch date for the new coin, Freeman (1996) wrote in The Globe that the new coin “has already picked up a string of unofficial names such as toonie, doubloon, bearbuck, blooney, Doosie and Loonie II.” Meanwhile, a March 14 Star article about panhandlers’ experiences with the new coin (DeMara, 1996) used the word toonie 10 times without remark, prompting an angry letter accusing The Star of “trying to shove the word ‘toonie’ down our throats” (Moshinsky, 1996). “Over here, it’s poly (polar bear – see?) or polies; always was, always will be, The Star’s decree notwithstanding,” the reader wrote. This reader may have overestimated the influence of the paper on public consensus. In fact, if the name depended on a Star decree, dubloon or dubloonie probably would have won out. This was the name used most by The Star in early stories, it was preferred by the Coins columnist (Aaron, 1995) who found toonie to be a “horrible term” (1996a) as already noted, and it was even the personal choice of the chief lexicographer of the new Gage Canadian dictionary (Grange, 1996). Toronto Star art critic Christopher Hume on March 21, 1996, recognized that the lack of a stable name put the two-dollar coin in a different category than that of the one-dollar coin introduced nine years earlier: “By contrast, the loonie has become part of the culture. The word has entered the vocabulary” (Hume, 1996). He called the two-dollar coin “still, annoyingly, nameless” yet he matter-of-factly called it a toonie twice in that same column. By the end of August, Aaron was describing the coin as “affectionately called the ‘toonie’” (Aaron, 1996a), and by September, The Star acknowledged that “its colloquial name ‘toonie’ is part of the vernacular” (Vincent, 1996). In March of the following year, Kesterton (1997) wrote in The Globe that “Fairly quickly and dismissively, Canadians have come to call the $2 coin the ‘toonie,’ despite the many clever terms that were suggested by word mavens …”. Clearly, cleverness alone was not enough. The winning candidate was efficiently short—less than three syllables as with the other coins’ names, incorporated an allusion to the word two, rhymed with loonie, and recalled the familiar collocation looney tunes. Importantly, it started to build momentum in public acceptance early in the process and once established in a few speakers’ lexicons, there was little chance that those speakers would accept alternatives barring major pressure from another stronger group of speakers."

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


I came across a series of films on You Tube with famous faces talking about growing up with two languages, and two identities, from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. For some reason, they're all subtitled in Welsh, even though the speech is in English. The famous faces include Sanjeev Bhaskar, Gok Wan and Boris Johnstone.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Hawkers 2

In October I wrote about a Big-Issue hawker selling his wares. A recent article from Edinburgh's student newspaper, The Journal, interviews him, here. In addition to his 'Can I interest you in the Big Issue?', he has recently added 'Don't be shy come and buy/try!'.