YU MING IS AINM DOM.

Dave Wilton at Wordorigins.org presents this video with the words “This is a great little story about the expectations people have about language,” and I won’t add anything to that except that it choked me up a little. It will take less than ten minutes of your time, and it’s worth it.

Comments

  1. Oh, that’s wonderful! Thanks.

  2. Hmmm… cute video, but…. 6 months of study from a book and tape and he speaks and understands that well? I think I’m a tad dense, because I don’t get it. Is it about wrong expectations, about where a language is spoken or how fast you can learn it? Is it about right expectations that you should expect Irish to be spoken in Ireland? Perhaps it right expectations that learning another language can take you places you’d never expect to go? I think I’m being slow on the uptake, any help is appreciated!

  3. I think you’re being too literal. It’s more of a parable than a documentary.

  4. ¡Encantador!

  5. @Rachael: It’s in different ways about the fascination with the exotic; the search for a linguistic/cultural community to feel ‘at home’ in; the linguistic shorthands we use based on ethnic appearance and the curious fact to some outside Ireland that English, not Irish, is the everyday language of the majority of Irish people. And even how inconceivable language enthusiast’s interest in other linguistic worlds seem to monolinguals.
    By the way, this short film is part-financed by a Irish Film Board Oscailt Award for films that specifically use the Irish language. Often the filmmakers who make films through this fund are themselves not speakers of the language and being creative people in search of funds they sometimes make this fact or other Irish language issues into the subject of the film, though often not with the subtlety of the above film.

  6. Why is the picture so dark? I spent the whole time peering at the screen trying to make out what was going on.

  7. Bathrobe says:

    It’s a nice clip, but Rachael’s nitpicks are just a start. How could a person decide to go to a country (going to all the trouble to learn the language) without first finding a little bit about that country first. Yu Ming could easily have got the information from a tourist guidebook in the local bookshop — a book that would be far easier to get hold of than a textbook of Gaelic!
    His problems with communication would have started well before he arrived at the guesthouse or the local pub. How did he get to Ireland in the first place? I’m not even sure there are Chinese flights there (although I’m not going to check at the moment). So he must have had at least a bit of English to get himself to the centre of Dublin.
    Still, it’s a heartwarming story. If you learn a minor language, you’ll be assured a welcome because people will be so touched that you took the trouble to learn something important to them that most other people couldn’t even be bothered with.

  8. Bathrobe says:

    I also forget to mention the film’s treatment of the ‘exotic other’. For an Irishman, I guess a Chinese was the perfect candidate for a person from a far off nation who could be expected to know zilch about Ireland. But the Irish filmmaker’s notions about China are almost as weird as Yu Ming’s notions about Ireland. Chinese are practical people. If they are peasants from the villages they would stick together with other Chinese and wouldn’t bother learning Irish (or even English for that matter). If they were from the city with access to educational resources, they’d find out a bit about Ireland first — they’d need to if they were applying to get a visa to study or work.
    Which makes me wonder how this guy got a visa. Did he fill in all his forms in Gaelic? Did he go to Ireland as a tourist, a student, or an immigrant? If he was a student, why wasn’t he enrolled in a school? If he was on a tourist visa, why was he looking for work? Ugh. Just too many questions. Anyway, I did appreciate it. It was a nice story :)

  9. boaby: It’s in different ways about the fascination with the exotic; the search for a linguistic/cultural community to feel ‘at home’ in; the linguistic shorthands we use based on ethnic appearance and the curious fact to some outside Ireland that English, not Irish, is the everyday language of the majority of Irish people. And even how inconceivable language enthusiast’s interest in other linguistic worlds seem to monolinguals.
    boaby has got the very essence of the film with those remarks, in my opinion. As Hat says more tersely, it’s a parable, not a documentary. It’s subtle, but not hard to understand for all that. All these questions about plot plausiblity I find rather spooky – almost creationist in their literal-mindedness.
    The film is an epitome of what takes place all the time, everywhere. As everyone knows, there is no such thing as “the Chinese language”, “the German language” and so on. But do they know from actual experience what the consequences of that are?
    Imagine someone who had acquired a little German – myself 40 years ago – arriving in Bonn to do graduate work. Sure, at the university everyone speaks “German” as I learned it. But what about everyday life in the stores, the marketplace, the pubs ? Most people in Bonn speak Bönnsch most of the time, 25 klicks away in Cologne most people speak Kölsch most of the time, and different subversions (sic) of it as well. Sure, they switch to accented Standard German (more or less) when they recognize that you’re a furriner, but what kind of life in that ? You feel like a child, who’s only part of the action when somebody notices him.
    It would be much worse in Bavaria or Switzerland. When I was in Munich a few times in later years, I got a kick out of hearing Turkish workers speaking Bavarian. Nowadays I don’t get a kick: it just makes me pensive. When I went to Barcelona for a brief stint at the Deutsche Bank there, I was all bushy-tailed and confident about it because I spoke German, and my Spanish is not that bad. I subsequently spent 5 months in a state of depression, because nobody spoke German and everybody spoke Catalan, especially the young people at the bank – except when they noticed me from time to time and switched to Spanish. I was a freak whom they found amusing, because I said things like horita (Mexican Spanish) instead of ahora.
    I guess it’s not surprising that people who are monolingual would not get the film. You don’t even need to be a “language enthusiast” to get it. What is required is to have learned “the X language” and then be plunked down in the/a country of X.
    What a fabulous film. I admit to shedding a tear before then rejoicing. It’s better than Mary Poppins.

  10. @bingley
    Sorry, but you do remember there was a time when people made films on celluloid to be projected in wonderful 35mm on large screens in dark cinema auditoriums and not small video clips of barely a few inches width.
    Correction: Aah now I see! I actually went to the link for the film above and now I understand your issue. I’ve no idea why the blogger forced the already small video into such a minuscule aperture. You’d do better to see it on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA0a62wmd1A or watch it fullscreen via this link: http://www.youtube.com/v/qA0a62wmd1A.

  11. The first thing Joe Wong (comedian) told his audience on Letterman’s show was “I’m Irish.”

  12. Bathrobe says:

    Spooky only if you’re sitting at the European end of the story. From the Chinese end, the questions I raised are pretty obvious. It’s romanticising from the Irish end, not the Chinese.
    It’s possible to go to a place with false expectations of the language spoken there. Stu’s experience in Barcelona is one example. Some expats in Guangdong province who went to Hainan expecting that everyone would speak Cantonese is another.
    The feelings of alienation when you don’t speak the local language I can appreciate, too. Like living in Mongolia without speaking Mongolian. The first place I’ve ever lived where I can’t speak the language, and progress (or non-progress might be a more apt description) in learning it is a painful process.
    The touching part of the clip is the fact that nobody could even tell that he was speaking Irish. The (non-Irish) guy in the guesthouse who asked a Mongolian (Asiatic=Chinese) to translate for him is the quintessential case of judging people by their looks. The comment of the barman that they didn’t know Paddy (?) could speak Chinese was similar. The fact that said bartender touted Guinness as being very “Irish” when he himself couldn’t recognise Irish when spoken. The touching part is the fact that someone finally noticed that this little Chinese guy was actually speaking Irish. Such is the state of Irish in Ireland.
    I had a somewhat similar experience in Hainan. Hearing two Hlai (Li) people speaking together, a Han Chinese asked me what language they were speaking. Needless to say, I felt more indignation than the Hlai people did. The Hlai are essentially the original natives of the island, but their status is such that it doesn’t even enter the minds of the Chinese who came across later that anything other than Chinese and its dialects are spoken in the island. The Hlai are used to it. I’m not.

  13. Spooky only if you’re sitting at the European end of the story. From the Chinese end, the questions I raised are pretty obvious. It’s romanticising from the Irish end, not the Chinese.
    I’m not so sure about that, Morgenmantel. Your “Chinese are practical people” is a wild generalization worthy of my humble over-the-top self. Let me do you one better: everybody is a practical people, even intellectuals in their own special way. The hitch is, nobody is omniscient, because you never know how much practical is enough. Practical is not knowledge, and knowledge is no substitute for experience. And you have to take what’s on offer.
    Suppose an American sociology student is fascinated by Bavarian customs, and wants to become a ludwigologist. He decides to attend “German” classes at a university. Why doesn’t he attend “Bavarian” classes ? Because they’re not on offer. I bet you a million dollars that there is not one degree-track study program for “Bavarian” in any university in the USA. Probably there’s not even a single course in “Bavarian”. And yet, to be practical, the student should be learning it – or learning it in addition to learning “German”.

  14. Bathrobe says:

    Stu, I was merely saying that you were looking at the story from a European viewpoint. I was more conscious of the little Chinese guy. Noticing, for instance, that the Chinese spoken at the start of the clip has a strong southern accent, making me wonder exactly where this guy was living. (I suspect that the clip was entirely shot in Ireland, so the Chinese scenes could easily have been from Dublin’s Chinatown.) There is an eerie feeling you get when familiar things are interpreted or portrayed from the point of view of an outsider. The fact that this little Chinese guy was from somewhere in the south of China (perhaps even Taiwan) was of little consequence to the makers of the film. Their focus was more on portraying how things are in Ireland (guesthouses with an obvious non-Irish person at the desk, a pub where the local Irish don’t even recognise their country’s own official language). Thinking of how someone managed to make their way to Ireland is the sort of thing you’re more likely to think about in China than in Ireland. It doesn’t affect the parable, but for me these questions definitely intruded into the story.
    As for your example, the point seems to be that it’s hard to predict the linguistic environment before you get there (a truism), and even if you could, it’s not always possible to equip yourself in the way you’d like (such as finding Bavarian classes). I agree.

  15. Bathrobe says:

    Re my comment on Taiwan. They got it right with the use of Chinese characters and Chinese money (although one sign looked suspiciously like it was using traditional characters). But the whole atmosphere of the people was nothing like what I’m used to in northern China. Somehow, the feeling was more like Taiwan.

  16. OK, I see what you mean.
    I have a modest proposal. In order to clear up misconceptions, one should avoid expressions like “the German language”, and instead say “Germans languages”. Similarly, one should say that a person wants to “learn Germans”. This would make it clear that there was more than one thing to learn, and that choices need to be made.
    The fatal implications of “the” were pointed out brilliantly by Max Stirner in 1844, in Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (The Only One and His Onliness). The German title, despite its brevity, is absolutely formicating with connotations and multiple meanings. It’s usually translated stupidly as “The Ego and its Own”.

  17. The title is strange even in German. I think I can improve on my original suggestion, namely with “The Only One and His Ownliness”.

  18. Or “The Individual and His Ownliness”.

  19. Our appearance (inc. racial type) is the fist cultural/informational “handshake”, which predispose us to the further communicative actions.
    Guy at the hotel lobby is the cutest one! For him is no language difference between Mongols and Chinamen as it historically implies with Irish and English.

  20. This film is a few years old. It played in the States as a short.
    I suspect that the clip was entirely shot in Ireland, so the Chinese scenes could easily have been from Dublin’s Chinatown.
    Yes, Dublin is the only location; the library is UCD. The production company has a page on the film. The online version to which they link on Atom isn’t clipped like all the YouTube versions (even the ones that claim to be complete), so you can read the end credits that inform the IMDB entry and also learn that one of the specific locations was Asia Market.
    Among the links on YouTube is this video, which starts out with the film being dubbed into Chinese, but is mostly a Taiwanese documentary about TG4, one of the funders.

  21. “dubbed” -> “subtitled”.

  22. Morgenkåpe, what method do you use to learn Mongolian?

  23. Sorry, but I can not really believe all the discussion about the verisimilitude of this video. It is obviously a fable, a parable, as LH said. Of course there’s lots of ridiculous details, but that’s not the point. Or perhaps it is: that’s the way to make a heart-warming story and to call our attention about the recovered traditional languages that only few speak.
    My English is not good, I know. So I say the same thing in Spanish (por si se entiende mejor):
    De verdad que no puedo creer toda la discusión que se ha generado sobre la verosimilitud de este video. Obviamente se trata de una fábula, de una parábola; como ya señaló LH (y uno no pide verosimilitud en estos géneros).
    Claro que está repleto de detalles inverosímiles, pero ése no es el punto. O quizás sí lo es: sirve por un lado para hacer una historia conmovedora por la inocente ilusión del personaje; y por otro también para llamar nuestra atención sobre algo que tal vez es más importante que el “realismo”, ¿qué sucede con las lenguas tradicionales recuperadas a la fuerza pero que pocos hablan?

  24. If you really want to nitpick, the “Mongolian” guy actually had a suspiciously Chinese accent. But a very fun film, I thought.

  25. Grumbly – maybe 40 years ago dialects were still alive. But I went to Gymnasium in Nuremberg in the 80s and it was all Hochdeutsch all the time among the kids – Frankish was just a curiosity. I’ve also spent a lot of time in Duesseldorf, Wurzburg, and Braunschweig – and have met very few urban Germans who use dialects as their primary form of communication at home. TV is to blame – but also increasing mobility and regional intermarriage. My hostfamily in Nuremberg consisted of a Koelsch mother and a Bavarian father. So they spoke Hoch to each other, and the kids did the same. Germany is not as uniform as France, but I think the language is far more homogenized than in Italy.

  26. I agree with Julia, whose English is much better than mine.

  27. Thanks so much! At the line “Did you know that old Paddy could speak Chinese?” I just dissolved in laughter.

  28. Grumbly: A magnificent comment (that first one). It saves me having to try to formulate my own.
    Bathrobe: I’m sorry that your own background and experiences make it difficult for you to enjoy this wonderful video as much as you would otherwise.
    boaby: Thanks very much; I should have thought to link to the actual video, and now I’ve added it to the post.

  29. anonymous says:

    Thank you.

  30. linguist.in.hiding says:

    vanya
    > maybe 40 years ago dialects were still alive. But I went to Gymnasium in Nuremberg in the 80s and it was all Hochdeutsch all the time among the kids – Frankish was just a curiosity. I’ve also spent a lot of time in Duesseldorf, Wurzburg, and Braunschweig – and have met very few urban Germans who use dialects as their primary form of communication at home.
    Yeah. “South Germany” is holding on, some of the East also, maybe a bit of the North. You might find pockets of some of the other vernaculars in the countryside (Germany! Countryside! Yeah, sure…). Hochdeutsch has really conquered most of Germany.
    > TV is to blame
    No, it is not. I strongly suggest you read some linguistics, starting with
    Language Myths. EDITED BY. Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill
    See:
    http://english.marion.ohio-state.edu/behan/English271/271LMIssues.htm
    and especially:
    http://english.marion.ohio-state.edu/behan/English271/LanguageMyths/Myth15.pdf
    Quoting from elsewhere:

    J. K. Chambers, a professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto, counters the common view that television and other popular media are steadily diluting regional speech patterns. The media do play a role, he says, in the spread of certain words and expressions. “But at the deeper reaches of language change–sound changes and grammatical changes–the media have no significant effect at all.”
    According to sociolinguists, regional dialects continue to diverge from standard dialects throughout the English-speaking world. And while the media can help to popularize certain slang expressions and catch-phrases, it’s pure “linguistic science fiction” to think that television has any significant effect on the way we pronounce words or put together sentences.
    The biggest influence on language change, Chambers says, is not Homer Simpson or Oprah Winfrey. It is, as it always has been, face-to-face interactions with friends and colleagues: “it takes real people to make an impression.”

    > Germany is not as uniform as France
    I suppose linguistically? I don’t know what measure you use but the number of languages reported for France is 19+2, for Germany 13+1. The number of language families for France is 2, for Germany 1. See:
    http://www.helsinki.fi/~tasalmin/europe_index.html#France
    and
    http://www.helsinki.fi/~tasalmin/europe_index.html#Germany

  31. I frankly can’t believe that TV and radio aren’t a major factor. Without them large numbers of people never even heard standard German, Italian, or Mandarin at all — the standard option wasn’t even there.

  32. I can’t imagine that there’s any impossibility in getting immigration forms in the official languages of a country.

  33. linguist.in.hiding says:

    > I frankly can’t believe that TV and radio aren’t a major factor. Without them large numbers of people never even heard standard German, Italian, or Mandarin at all — the standard option wasn’t even there.
    – blink –
    Don’t you question the anecdotal nature of “linguistic knowledge” around? I do. When I was younger I didn’t. They taught us that Eskimos have a lot of words for snow, “the language of the apes is real”, and that the Sun King influenced the European _r_:
    http://linguistlist.org/issues/11/11-2186.html
    And this was less than 20 years ago! I have given a reference written by a linguist. Please, consider thinking analytically about it.
    I am furious that I was given misinformation.

  34. mollymooly says:

    (1) All comedies of errors require the audience to suspend disbelief that nothing happened, in the unseen intervals between the depicted scenes, which could disabuse the mistaken parties of their error.
    (2) It may be simultaneously true BOTH that regional levelling in the anglosphere has not been accelerated by TV and radio, AND that regional levelling in other language areas has been so accelerated. Many countries had deeper dialect differences in, say, 1945 than the UK or US did.

  35. Let’s not get too condescending, LiH. What I have from you so far are some confident assertions, two unreadable PDFs, the names of some authorities, and some insults.

  36. J. K. Chambers, a professor of linguistics …counters the common view … he says … “the media have no significant effect at all.”
    Wow. How convincing.

  37. Etienne says:

    Regarding the connection between television and the loss of dialect diversity: CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION.
    Furthermore, there is excellent proof that television in and of itself does not cause linguistic convergence: In the mid-eighties William Labov showed that the spoken English of blacks and whites in Philadelphia were diverging. That is to say, younger blacks and whites differed linguistically from one another more than the older generation of blacks and whites did.
    Labov claimed that “white flight” was to blame: the younger generation had been raised in a context where there was far less daily interaction between blacks and whites than in their parents’ time, thereby accounting for the divergence.
    Television doubtless played as important a role in young Philadelphians’ lives as it did elsewhere, but clearly it did not impede this divergence, much less reverse it.

  38. linguist.in.hiding says:

    – blink –
    > It may be simultaneously true BOTH that regional levelling in the anglosphere has not been accelerated by TV and radio, AND that regional levelling in other language areas has been so accelerated.
    Er, this is called “my language is special” fallacy.
    > Many countries had deeper dialect differences in, say, 1945 than the UK or US did.
    Linguistically: countries don’t have dialect differences, languages do.

  39. linguist.in.hiding says:

    > Let’s not get too condescending, LiH. What I have from you so far are some confident assertions, two unreadable PDFs,
    Two? Maybe you think of some other blog post? Here I have given just one PDF. And that was just for convenience. I could have given an Amazon link:
    http://www.amazon.com/Language-Myths-Laurie-Bauer/dp/0140260234
    > the names of some authorities,
    Well, if they present the evidence, do I really have to?
    > and some insults.
    You mean?:
    > — blink –
    and
    > Don’t you question the anecdotal nature of “linguistic knowledge” around?
    and
    > I have given a reference written by a linguist. Please, consider thinking analytically about it.
    I don’t know what I can say…

  40. linguist.in.hiding: Don’t mind JE; he has a chip on his shoulder about experts.
    JE: Surely you realize that “I frankly can’t believe…” is not an argument. It can equally easily be followed up by “…the earth goes around the sun. After all, I see the sun rising and setting each day.” If you don’t want to examine the evidence, that’s fine, but don’t insult l.i.h for providing it and making claims based on it.
    Wow. How convincing.
    It would perhaps be more convincing to reprint the entire essay here (with its bibliography), but it would also violate copyright laws. The fact is that Chambers is an actual linguist who studies this stuff for a living; unlike you lot (and I use the phrase, as you know, with the greatest affection), he operates not by off-the-cuff musing but by looking at lots of evidence. He is the coauthor of Dialectology and The Handbook of Language Variation and Change (not to mention the author of an excellent biography of Miles Davis). It’s fine to disagree with him, I’m certainly not advocating automatically bowing to authority, but it really doesn’t make sense to mock him and his results because they don’t fit your a priori view of how things should/must be.

  41. linguist.in.hiding says:

    >> J. K. Chambers, a professor of linguistics …counters the common view … he says … “the media have no significant effect at all.”
    > Wow. How convincing.
    Det här är ju lite löjligt. I would be offended to be presented as an authority believing/seeking person if I really cared.

  42. Linguist in hiding may well be right, but he or she really seems to be an intolerable human being.
    What’s with the “–blink–”?
    What’s with the “Please, consider thinking analytically about it”? Or “If I really cared”?
    And I miscounted an html as a pdf. I am abashed. His pdf was unreadable on my screen because I couldn’t unrotate it and didn’t want to turn my monitor on it side.
    “No significant effect at all”, anywhere? Vanya was talking about the replacement of dialect by standard language, not about the diversion of dialects.
    If I were LiH’s student he’d become my least favorite teacher and I’d drop the course if I could. This site is supposed to be discussion among friends, not a place for an expert to parachute into to set the stupid locals straight.

  43. “deviation”

  44. As someone who speaks and writes better Irish than 99 % of the Irish themselves, I hear references to Yu Ming all the time when meeting Irish people. But Gaeltacht people are always delighted to find out I speak Irish.

  45. mollymooly says:

    >this is called “my language is special” fallacy
    I prefer to call it the “your cited source only discusses English” observation.

  46. It is also somewhat hilarious that Yu Ming uses Gaeilge agus Fáilte, a textbook for English-speaking learners. ;)

  47. JE, try to avoid ad hominems. You can do better than “intolerable human being.”

  48. I’m with John. What, I’m supposed to believe what someone says because they’re an expert? I can prove that’s a fatal error of judgment with just two words: weather forecasters, and I can’t imagine why linguists should be necessarily any more credible. I don’t have a preconceived view of anything on this subject (well, okay, I’d guess Dr Hiding & this Chambers guy are probably correct), but I’ll be sodomised* if I’m just going to take the word of an expert. If experts were always right, we’d still be in the stone age. Does the name Hegel mean nothing to you young people?
    *”b.ggered”= “questionable”

  49. I lived in two German towns supposedly in Plattdeutsch territory, but never heard it spoken even once. Regardless of class, everyone spoke Standard German with standard pronunciation. A friend of mine told me that only when he visits relatives further north (Hamburg?) did he hear some of the older folk use it among themselves. Younger people might make joking attempts to use it, but that is about it.
    So, I agree with Molly, and it seems to me like in this instance, we are talking about the disappearance of a dialect/language as people opt to speak the standard and not changes in that dialect. But, like JE, I only just ganced at that Chambers article, since it is sideways, so I’m not sure if he addresses Low German.

  50. I’ve heard Low German spoken in Hamburg — indeed, one of their best museums is called Planten un Blomen — and I knew an aristocratic old lady there, who grew up in Mecklenburg, who was fluent in it.

  51. Linguists tend to know more about languages than non-linguists, just as astronomers tend to know more about stars than non-astronomers. Sorry if that bothers anyone.

  52. linguist.in.hiding says:

    > Linguist in hiding may well be right, but he or she really seems to be an intolerable human being.
    He. Is that important?
    > What’s with the “–blink–”?
    “This is so wrong.”, “This is so wrong, and a known language myth.”, “This is so wrong, and a known language myth. Why should I respond? It just gets me in trouble with John Emerson.”, “I’m confused.”, “What?”, “I can’t believe you said that.”, “I can’t believe I’m responding to that.”, maybe others.
    > What’s with the “Please, consider thinking analytically about it”?
    “Please, consider thinking analytically about it”. What else can I say? The expert I quoted has the evidence. Read him.
    > Or “If I really cared”?
    I thought about this a bit. I thought it deserved an answer, and I really don’t care what you think. At least, not much. How many of you actually care if other people think you bow to authority?
    > And I miscounted an html as a pdf. I am abashed.
    Well, I searched the whole comment section trying to find if I had mentioned other PDFs.
    > His pdf was unreadable on my screen because I couldn’t unrotate it and didn’t want to turn my monitor on it side.
    Sorry. I have a linux system. There I can rotate the PDF in acroread with:
    view/rotate view/counterclockwise or Shift+Ctrl+-
    in okular:
    view/rotate/rotate left
    Can’t help with other systems but rotating a document should be a simple thing with Windows and Mac. You should be able to download Acrobat Reader easily.
    > “No significant effect at all”, anywhere?
    Well, no.
    > Vanya was talking about the replacement of dialect by standard language, not about the diversion of dialects.
    Say what?
    > If I were LiH’s student he’d become my least favorite teacher and I’d drop the course if I could.
    I’m not a teacher, nor have I ever been, Anyway, consider:
    http://hellenisteukontos.blogspot.com/2009/04/how-to-teach-historical-linguistics.html
    I see that whatever persuasion skills I have, they surely don’t work on you.
    > This site is supposed to be discussion among friends, not a place for an expert to parachute into to set the stupid locals straight.
    Well, I think I’m a stupid local myself. I’m honored if an expert sets me straight (happens so damn rarely, those experts don’t much bother with us mere mortals). In my linguistic education I personally learned that unlearning stupid things was about the best thing that happens to a person. I’m eager to get rid of ignorance. Aren’t you?

  53. Okay they know more, but that’s neither here nor there. Copernicus was an astronomer; he knew a lot more about astronomy than I do, but that doesn’t mean the sun is the center of the universe, which is what he believed. Linguists don’t necessarily agree with one another about linguistics — you don’t agree with Chomsky — why should I believe someone about language just because she or he says she’s a linguist? I like to see evidence & make up my own mind.

  54. Well, you could read all the literature from the nineteenth century onward and learn the field from the ground up, but that seems inefficient. The good l.i.h. provided a source with a bibliography, but nobody seems interested in actually following up and learning about it. I realize marie-lucie has spoiled everyone by sharing her knowledge in the most pleasant and user-friendly manner imaginable, but you can’t expect everyone to be like that. Frankly, I agree with this:
    In my linguistic education I personally learned that unlearning stupid things was about the best thing that happens to a person. I’m eager to get rid of ignorance. Aren’t you?
    One of the great pleasures of LH for me has been unlearning my mistaken ideas thanks to my more knowledgeable readers. Sure, discussion among friends is great, but I’m delighted whenever an expert parachutes in and shares knowledge, and I think everyone else should be too.

  55. There is another version on atom.com, which features a few minutes of Yu Ming wandering around Dublin that were cut out of the YouTube version. http://www.atom.com/funny_videos/name_yu_ming/

  56. And I would deplore any tendency to try to turn the comment section into an in-group that repels any outsiders who don’t know the in-jokes and follow the conversational “rules.” All are welcome, and it would be best to extend the courtesy of assuming good intentions even for those who seem prickly; this goes double for those of us who are extra-prickly ourselves (JE, I’m looking at you).

  57. linguist.in.hiding says:

    > Okay they know more, but that’s neither here nor there. Copernicus was an astronomer; he knew a lot more about astronomy than I do, but that doesn’t mean the sun is the center of the universe, which is what he believed. Linguists don’t necessarily agree with one another about linguistics — you don’t agree with Chomsky — why should I believe someone about language just because she or he says she’s a linguist? I like to see evidence & make up my own mind.
    I can answer that! I can answer that! Seeing evidence is great! I’m all for that! I was once in New York. The reason, you ask… To buy a whole lot of linguistics books! (The fact that the flight cost me only 299 Euros mattered little :-) ) Never happened :-( There were not that many books. So, I didn’t see/acquire the evidence I expected. So, even to acquire evidence is sometimes difficult. Now, making your mind up about something is not always a straight-forward thing. I have seen some linguistic work done by linguists not knowing but quoting the languages I know. They make intricate claims about syntax (it is always syntax, isn’t it :-) ) of which I have no idea about. You see where this is headed? Yes, linguists know more about languages but sometimes even they know little. Then, to present “evidence” to non-linguists doesn’t really help.
    I’d like to present the “television has about zero influence on language” thingie with Swedish, “Finnish-Estonian”, and of course with “German” experiences. Panu might say something about Irish (although it is a bit different, as I recall)? But I don’t think that I bother. I’m tired, and you find some other things to occupy yourselves with pretty soon. And, besides, there would be no references, just analytical thinking about the linguistic situation (I’m with my former professor in that I’m not eager to present just my own “studies”; it is always better to have references; not that I wouldn’t sometimes refrain myself from commenting without references if the presented thingie isn’t linguistically solid).
    Well, I just might bother after all, if our host is interested. It really isn’t much but just thinking about the presentation takes me into “article writing mood” and with little to back it up just isn’t right.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    Well. I am an overt linguist myself and I have been at home among the Hatters for some time.
    I think that there is a problem with the definition of the word “dialect”. From reading and from personal experience I think that schools, radio, TV, movies etc have had a great influence in spreading the standard language in places where rural or lower-class dialects were or still are quite different from the standard and from each other, so that communication was difficult between one region and another except among the educated (as in a lot of Europe), but not so much influence in places where local varieties are/were not so different from each other as to have a significant impact on interregional communication (as in English-speaking North America), so that people in that situation have been clinging to and even emphasizing the relatively minor differences between their speech and that of their compatriots in other regions.

  59. Linguistics is a science, no? One of the most important things you can do in science (and one of the things a lot of scientists have difficulty with) is doubting any and all existing theories. Such as the big bang:
    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/25492/
    I will leave my opinion on the television debate jarred because I REALLY don’t know anything. (I do have an opinion, though.)

  60. Honestly I just threw the TV remark in there without thinking, and I would tend to agree that the most important factor in leveling dialects in Germany is probably internal mobility, schooling and marriage between dialect groups. Almost every social group I’ve been part of in Germany has consisted of people from various places – three years ago in Duesseldorf I worked with a consulting team consisting of a Stuttgarter who lived in Hamburg, a native Duesseldorfer (who had gone to college in Houston, TX), 2 men from Berlin (but one not a native Berliner) and a Swiss German from Bern. No surprise that Hochdeutsch was the standard social tongue, at work and after. And the company we worked at had a Turkish-German CEO, a Polish born chief accountant, various employees who had transferred from the Hannover subsidiary, “emigres” from the DDR, etc. etc. You simply never heard dialect except when people were joking or from the occasional rural cab driver. Modern Germany is a melting pot in a lot of ways.

  61. linguist.in.hiding says:

    vanya
    Yes. I thought your remark about Fernsehen was just that. And the melting pot observations are spot on (schooling in itself not, but socializing in school yes).
    m-l
    I’m not convinced (my own experiences here in Europe contradict yours). Any references?

  62. marie-lucie says:

    lih, no, I don’t have references, and that topic is not my specialty (but I have heard Dr Chambers and actually met him). I used “I think” and “from personal experience”, which should make it clear that I am offering a personal opinion, not presenting a consensus among linguists. “Europe” is big and diverse enough that circumstances are probably different in different countries. I do think though that the word “dialect” can be misleading.

  63. Thanks for this.
    I grew up in a household in Chicago with my father and grandparents being native Irish speakers. They didn’t use it much; my father lost his Irish to the degree that when his cousins came from his home town to visit him in America when he was terminally ill, he couldn’t understand most of what they said but was ashamed to admit it.
    Something distracted me while this was running, but I popped to attention when I heard and understood the phrase “I don’t understand” in Irish as it’s one of the few phrases I can speak myself.
    It was magical to hear it again.

  64. If you are having problems reading the Chambers pdf.: If you right-click on it, you will see a “rotate” option in the pop-up menu.
    I just read it and found it interesting. I still don’t see how it addresses the decline in speakers of dialects/languages such as Low German. Chambers, for instance, mentions studies that show that children cannot learn a language just by watching TV. Well, yeah, but I doubt anyone here was arguing that… I also doubt that anyone here was sugggesting that simply because of TV, Plattdeutsch underwent sound-changes that included the Second Sound Shift.
    Instead, my understanding was that after the horror of WWII and after the division of Europe and Germany into East and West, that television helped accelerate an already-existing trend away from speaking Platt and instead toward speaking the prestige dialect/language.
    If that is a myth, LiH, then please stop playing coy and explain it for us mere mortals!

  65. Vanya, aren’t you talking about a lingua franca? In other words, your Swiss German colleague can speak Standard German, but he can also still speak his native Swiss dialect.
    But, as I mentioned, from what I saw in two supposed Platt towns/cities, I never heard Platt and I had no local friends who could speak it. Hochdeutsch was the only language they knew. And I’ve also met Swiss Germans who couldn’t speak Standard German either.
    So, are you revising your earlier comment about Nürnberg, which I found very surprising? I thought you were saying that at your Gymnasium, kids did not speak Fränkisch and did not speak it at home either.

  66. I read the PDF by turning my netbook on its side then shrinking it with the zoom button until I could see a whole line of writing at a time. Here’s what I got out of it.
    Exhibit A is Philadelphia where it says black and white accents have not become more similar in spite of television and in spite of blacks hearing white speech patterns in school and on television for hours and hours and hours every day. Is Philadelphia small enough to only have one television station that everyone watches? This is certainly not true in Chicago. Blacks watch the black stations, just as Hispanics watch Telemundo or whatever it is; and the teachers in black neighborhoods most certainly do not speak the same way as the teachers in the white neighborhoods, or at least not most of them.
    Exhibit B is a child of deaf parents who failed to learn to speak after being put in front of a television as a baby. This vignette is not about accents, it’s about primary acquisition of language–trying to apply it to regional accents doesn’t make any sense to me.
    Exhibit C is uptalk which it is claimed is not on television therefore no one could possibly have learned it from television. I can’t speak to television, since I don’t have one, but I do hear uptalk on the radio. Why on earth would television not have uptalk? This can’t be correct.
    So it looks like the Philadelphia example is about the strongest one. But they have picked the one unassimilated group out of the whole melting pot that is America to use as an example. They would have done better to pick a group that did assimilate and therefore had motivation to learn a new speech pattern, or an area where there was only one TV station (or radio station–a lot of this went on in the 20′s, 30′s and 40′s) and try to figure out where the assimilated group did learn the new speech patterns.

  67. Nijma, yeah, concerning your last parragraph about the US being a melting pot.
    I have met linguists who vociferously argued that the US has as much dialect diversity as German-speaking countries. It’s like they think that my Cleveland cot/caught distinction is just as important as the Second Sound Shift, even though, since I moved from Cleveland, no one has ever commented on my accent.
    From my experience, yes, there are dialect differences everywhere. But in some places, such as in German-speaking countries, as ML suggests, we are basically talking about different languages.

  68. Hiding: linguists know more about languages but sometimes even they know little. Then, to present “evidence” to non-linguists doesn’t really help.
    I’d say that knowing the limits of an expert’s knowledge is a big help. I haven’t got it in for linguists, my point is about experts: history shows that believing experts without question has horrible consequences for everybody.

  69. Panu might say something about Irish (although it is a bit different, as I recall)?
    I tried to answer this earlier, but something went wrong.
    Basically, at least native speakers use their dialect on the air, even media professionals, because there is no Received Pronunciation for Irish. The pocket dictionary Foclóir Póca does include a proposed dialect-neutral pronunciation, and broadcasters do attempt to avoid the most blatant dialectal pronunciations, but still, basically the role of Irish-language media is to bring the native speakers into contact with each others’ dialects.

  70. linguist.in.hiding says:

    This is why I personally believe that TV has about zero influence on language.
    Some bits and pieces, I don’t claim to have made studies, these are just my subjective observations:
    - Some sound changes are going on, and you (almost) never hear them on TV, some others are so general (and might have roots before TV) that blaming TV for it doesn’t make a convincing case
    - The influence of TV on language just seems so like an urban myth: it is often repeated but nothing of substance is never said
    - TV’s language courses: their bad track record: I have never ever met a person who has said to have learned a language with their help
    - Linguistic articles on TV’s influence on language: few: if the topic is raised at all, it is raised in quite “light” articles
    - What kind of influence should TV have? How to study it? People don’t always see the same programs. If there were some influence, it seems to me to be so erratic that even among one family or neighborhood the net effect should be near zero.
    - TV lacks the other normal part of language use: you yourself don’t speak; I’m sure this is important
    Some “case studies”:
    “German” world:
    Germany has traditionally been said to have quite localized media (newspapers like Frankfurter Allgemeine, Süddeutsche Zeitung etc.). This is somewhat true of TV. But… Even if there are localized programs they are not always in the local vernacular. There is a tendency to speak a somewhat Hochdeutsch variant. Then again truly local programs are quite boring for a lot of people. My “favourite” was the local channel’s program where they showed video on the streets of the city taken with a car just driving around (incidentally, my friend calculated that the car in question was sometimes speeding :-) ). The Germans watch German made programs, no doubt about it. Anyway, they also watch a lot of, mainly, American programs. In Germany my friend and me had a hobby of a kind to watch movies and TV programs. Can’t say exactly but most of what we watched were dubbed, excuse me, _synchronized_ American movies and series. What is heard in them is Hochdeutsch. As far as I know these same synchronized movies and series are shown all over the “German” world, that is Austria or Switzerland don’t make their own versions. If this is not so then I like to hear it. Anyway, you hear Hochdeutsch a lot on your TV. Now, if TV had an influence I would expect to see pockets of Hochdeutsch speakers in Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria, where the “South German” language(s) is/are spoken. If someone could point me to studies that say “look, there are pockets of Hochdeutsch speakers in Austria, and TV is to blame”, I would take a look.
    Sweden:
    In Sweden what you hear mostly on TV is speech as spoken in Stockholm. At least that is the stereotype, and my impression also. You do hear Scanian speech also, but much less. That is about it. Now, I want to see studies that say “look, there are pockets of Stockholm speakers in Scania, and TV is to blame”.
    Finland and Estonia:
    Finnish and Estonian are not mutually understandable. You could make a case that they are the same language (language form, or whatever) on many linguistic grounds but most linguists don’t buy that (and neither do I, although I understand the reasoning). Now, in Soviet times Northern Estonians could watch Finnish TV, and they did, en masse. In Northern Estonia Estonians knew Finnish quite well at that time. After the independence Estonians have largely stopped watching Finnish TV. At the same time the knowledge of Finnish has also diminished a lot, although, let’s say, people over 35 know Finnish. Now, I might have missed studies but the effect of Finnish TV on Estonian speech is about non-existent as far as I know. BTW, you could make a case that Estonians learned Finnish by watching TV but the thing is that they did buy “Learn yourself Finnish” books, dictionaries and grammars.
    In Finland people have subtexting on foreign programs, so they shouldn’t influence Finnish speech at all. There are some marginal local programs on TV (mostly local news) but they are seldom watched. The television programs are made in two places, in Tampere and in Helsinki. The local speech is heard in these programs. The South-West speech of Finland (near Turku) or the Savonian dialects are not that often heard on TV. That is about it. Now, I want to see studies that say “look, there are pockets of Helsinki type speakers in Savonia, and TV is to blame”.
    Ireland:
    I read or heard a story in a linguistic context that the Irish speakers in Ireland were usually so disgusted with the speech on radio that they just turned the radio off. The reasoning was that “that is not our dialect”. Now that I think of it, this seems a bit like an urban legend but also somewhat plausible. Does anyone know? Panu? After reading Panu’s comment it seems something has changed.
    That’s about it. I have presented my case. I don’t much care about the topic but since you asked.

  71. Thanks! Not probative, but certainly suggestive. The whole “it’s TV’s fault” thing is one of those superficially plausible ideas that feeds into so many prejudices that one has to be suspicious of it.

  72. There are some “it’s not our dialect” attitudes all right, but IMHO the Gaeltacht speakers are more disgusted by bad non-native Irish from outside Gaeltacht, and I’d find it hard to disagree.

  73. Some evidence for Panu’s remark about a divergence even schism between Gaeltacht and urban Irishes can be found here.
    Though, to be honest as an Irish person who does not speak Irish, I’m a little bemused that this dialect issue has bloomed so vigorously in this thread while all the other issues suggested in the film were mostly ignored. This is especially curious considering the other Irish language related aspect the film highlights, which I’ve mentioned above, that Irish is not the language the majority of Irish people live in and through. For that we use what the linguists call ‘Hiberno-English’, and a quare enough dialect of English it is indeed.

  74. Thanks for going to so much trouble, Hiding. I haven’t seen or heard of any evidence of tv influencing speech or dialect here in Norway. Occasionally a child who watches masses of cartoons or the Disney channel will have an American accent when they learn English, that’s all I can think of.

  75. mollymooly says:

    “IMHO the Gaeltacht speakers are more disgusted by bad non-native Irish from outside Gaeltacht”
    I would also agree. I am not close to fluent in Irish, but when I turn on the the Irish-language news or a talk show I often hear a public figure gamely stammering school-Irish baby-talk answers to the interviewer’s questions and feel such strong proxy embarrassment I have to switch it off. It’s no good for native speakers, and it’s no good for those of us who would like a resource to improve our Irish.
    There is a lesson preached to most language learners that native speakers will be grateful that you are making an effort and will make allowances for your mistakes. I hope and believe this is often true in real life, but it’s not something that carries over into the media. Perhaps Ireland’s language policy-makers believe the TV stammerers are an inspiration to all of us to bain trial as our cúpla focal; if so they are sorely mistaken.

  76. A 2003 study found the adoption of certain Southern English accent features in Glasgow adolescents to be correlated with exposure to “media-Cockney” on television (among other things): Contributory factors in accent change in adolescents.

  77. marie-lucie says:

    l-i-h seems to say that TV does not have an influence because otherwise whole “pockets” of a population speaking a dialect would have switched to the standard. This is too sweeping: influence does not mean a wholesale shift, but gradual changes in the pronunciation, vocabulary, etc in the direction of the standard (or of a more homogenized version of the standard as it is heard throughout a country). I see this happening quite clearly in French, both in France and in Canada (in different ways, and for different reasons). TV is not the only reason, but I think that it is a definite influence, because people take it for granted that the announcers, interviewers and reporters that they see daily on TV speak “good” French (or whatever language), while the speech of some of the “ordinary” people being interviewed (especially the older ones) is often markedly regional (while still completely understandable by the majority), and there seems to be less regional variation among the younger people.

  78. Thanks LiH and ML. Interesting points.
    LiH, you still don’t seem to understand what JE and I were talking about. There was this weird exchange, for example:
    JE: Vanya was talking about the replacement of dialect by standard language, not about the diversion of dialects.
    LiH: Say what?
    You really didn’t understand what he was talking about? I mentioned “prestige language” above, but only today did I realize I got that term from–get this–a real linguist! From a guy named RMW Dixon in his The Rise and Fall of Languages.
    His theory is that there are periods of equilibrium where “a number of languages have coexisted–in a more or less harmonious way–within a given region without any major changes taking place.” But then non-linguistic events can emerge that radically shake things up, even leading to the death of languages. He mentions things like natural catastrophes, conquests/colonizations, and, yes, television.
    Now, we all know that conquest and colonization can bring about many different results for the conquered lands. It does not necessarily mean the death of native languages. But the same is true for television. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a standard dialect/language on TV will have the same affect everywhere.
    Still, I agree with Dixon that it is absurd to think that television is not a powerful means of making clear what the prestige language is. In the first half of the 20th century, for example, there was no reason at all for any non-Tagalog-speaking Filipino to learn Tagalog. What the hell for? The prestige language at the time was Engish. But after WWII, suddenly, Tagalog was made the official language and throughout the Philippines, Tagalog is now broadcast on the TV. It isn’t even called Tagalog any more, it often just goes by the name “Filipino”.
    Again, this doesn’t mean that other Filipino languages will die out. But to think that we don’t suddenly have a new prestige language that people will try to learn or have their children learn is ridiculous. I’ve seen it in my own family.

  79. linguist.in.hiding says:

    Tim May
    Thanks for the link. Read the article. Better to say nothing, except that the article might be worthy of a Full Liberman.

  80. linguist.in.hiding says:

    m-l
    Ask yourself the following question. If it is clear that TV has a considerable effect on language why can’t you or any linguists here give references to studies where this is said to be so without reasonable doubt? After all TV (and radio) has/have been around for a long time now, it is not like getting first-hand evidence on Pirahã.

  81. marie-lucie says:

    LIH: why can’t you or any linguists here give references to studies where this is said to be so without reasonable doubt
    In my case, because linguistics is a vast field, sociolinguistics is not my specialty, and as I said, I was giving my own opinion, not quoting studies. It does not mean that there are no such studies.
    I just googled “TV influence on language” and there are pages of references, most of them probably from the press, but some scholarly ones as well.

  82. mollymooly says:

    ‘If someone could point me to studies that say “look, there are pockets of Hochdeutsch speakers in Austria, and TV is to blame”, I would take a look.’
    Language change via satellite: The influence of German television broadcasting on Austrian German

  83. when I turn on the the Irish-language news or a talk show I often hear a public figure gamely stammering school-Irish baby-talk answers to the interviewer’s questions and feel such strong proxy embarrassment I have to switch it off. It’s no good for native speakers, and it’s no good for those of us who would like a resource to improve our Irish
    That’s my complaint with TG4, too. What an Irish-speaking channel should do is, for instance, dubbing documentaries about astronomy, the history of computing, chemistry, biology, global warming and stuff into good Irish with all those fancy terms, so that people would learn to use the terms actively. Instead, they make interviews with people speaking very deficient Irish.

  84. From the abstract of the article mollymooly links:

    This article is concerned with media-induced language change in Austrian German (AG) which is caused by language contact with German German (GG) as presented in television programs broadcast via satellite. A detailed overview of the media situation and its impact on a number of linguistic features of AG is given. It is shown that the impact of this language contact is increasing and that it can be directly linked to the amount of TV-viewing time, especially of children.

    Sounds pretty convincing.

  85. Thanks Molly. Here’s a link to the entire article:
    http://www-oedt.kfunigraz.ac.at/OEDTBIB/094-Muhr-2003-Language%20Change.pdf

  86. LH, how strange to find that there are language blog trolls.

  87. Michael Everson, it turns out, became a naturalized Irish citizen entirely through Irish. I quote, but don’t link, because the rest of his article is about Irish politics: Dr. Google will easily find it.

    More than a decade ago I applied for and was granted Irish citizenship. Some of my friends have heard the story: I applied through the Irish language, had my interview with the gardaí in Irish, and took my oath in Irish, to the evident delight of the barristers in the back of the courtroom, who were waiting for citizenship formalities to finish so the day’s court proceedings could begin.

    In Ireland, as in most countries, one makes a verbal declaration using a prescribed formula when one is in court being granted citizenship. According to Acht Náisiúntachta agus Saoránachta Éireann 1986 (Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1986), clause 4.15.e, one makes

    dearbhú sa tslí fhorordaithe go mbeidh sé dílis don náisiún agus tairiseach don Stát.

    or

    a declaration in the prescribed manner, of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State.

    And so I did. And so I have tried to act in the decade since: I have been faithful to our nation in representing her in International Standardization meetings, by supporting linguistic minorities of all kinds. I have expressed my loyalty to the State by ensuring that I vote regularly, by encouraging my fellows to do so, by carrying my passport proudly, and recently by joining a political party so I could try to make a difference, in a small way, to bettering life here for everyone fortunate enough to live in this beautiful country.

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