It’s not just the free-market myth that’s crumbling these days: Anne Sodermann, Michigan State University professor emeritus of Family and Child, spent some hundred hours in a bilingual Mandarin-English Kindergarten in Bejing. In a recent study (Powerpoint-presentation here), watching 3 to 6 year old children from 16 nationalities, she came to a surprising conclusion: “There’s a wide-held perception that if children are very young, learning(another) language is extremely easy for them – that they are like sponges – and that is just not true. Their motivations for doing so are very different from those of older children or adults,” says Sodermann.
Maybe too cowed to weed out the actual message(s) from last night’s American presidential debate, the media’s now wringing their hands over “body language“. Once again, more than what Senators Barack Obama and John McCain said, it’s how they said it. A nice bear hug at the end deflected the damage of McCain pointing and referring to Obama as “that one,” or Obama audibly sighing and shaking his head.
Paralanguage — tone and vocal nuance — was just as crucial. Obama apparently made a big boo-boo and came off as a bit alienating by eschewing a middle American twang and saying ‘Pahk-istan’ and ‘Tahl-iban’. The winner? More or less consensus is: if we’re speaking in body language, it was Obama. But if we’re speaking in paralanguage, McCain is ooooo-one for ZEEE-ro.
One language they did NOT speak in — or about — in last night’s debate, however, was Spanish. (more…)
According to a mysterious “language monitoring service” cited by CNN, Sarah Palin , the American Republican vice presidential candidate, spoke at a tenth grade level (due to her astute use of “passive deflections”) at last week’s debate, while her Democratic counterpart Joe Biden managed only to graduate from the 8th. The analysis however championed form over content: the web is abuzz with lamentations on the distance between the sign and the signified in Palin’s spoken word. Palin’s particular brand of talk has come to be know as “Palindrome“, on par with the “Bushism” or “Dubyaspeak“. The blogosphere has particularly glommed onto her use of the term “maverick”, which she used at least six times in the televised debate, sparking discontent among the Mavericks of Texas themselves, who have come out in the New York Times to defend the word’s etymology and wrest it back from the frontwards-backwards nature of the Palindrome.
I’ve always found it curious that the Americans have no centralized institution which establishes the end-all be-all of language. I mean, something along the lines of the German Rechtschreibungen, grammars that all of which incorporated a rather catastrophic spelling reform mandated by an official agreement between German-speaking countries in 1996. Or the Real Academia Española(the Royal Spanish Academy) which purports to maintain propriety, elegance, and purity in the Spanish language, and consistently has conferences all over Spain and Latin America deliberating which words are worthy of inclusion. The North American language, however, is a bit federated, you could say… if not Balkanized.
For the Brits, one of the closest things to language royalty – along with Oxford’s, of course – would be Collins’ Dictionary, which has recently gotten positively ruthless in cutting words it deems obsolete. The Times along with other linguistic luminaries have taken up the case to save “endangered” words from institutional oblivion, by using them in public, and so reviving them.
I’m willing to wager that even those who’ve been speaking English their whole lives couldn’t tell you with confidence what a bogey or a mulligan is. Sports vocabulary has always constituted something of a rarefied language. I mean, words like scrimmage, sack or blitz have got to sound like Greek to the unintiated. Yet the LPGA (the US-based Ladies Professional Golf Association) recently took an iron swing at the rest of the world — and female golfers from Asia and Latin America in particular — when it attempted to implement a mandatory basic English language oral test for all of its members, failure of which would have meant suspension of playing privileges.