Are dialects worth learning?

If you want to learn and to know a language and culture better, then yes. 

Dialects are really subcultures. So learning them means you understand a subgroup of people better. 

And contrast that with the main culture and you will understand the people and overall language a whole lot better. 

It is a win-win situation for your learning. 

The system of a language

When a Japanese says he can’t understand why English will differentiate between singular and plural but won’t differentiate between older and younger sister (like the Japanese language) then I could say the same thing about Japanese not differentiating between singular and plural. Circular argument.

A language must “decide” on what to emphasise due to language resource limits. It can’t do all work like some kind of Jack-of-all-trade. The interesting thing about language is which things in communication it decides to highlight. The singular is emphasised in English. Relative age is emphasised in Japanese. That reflects on the culture. So whether the culture or the language came first is as impossible to answer as the chicken or egg question.

Some thoughts on language and culture

Language is culture. So if you want to learn to speak a language you need to understand the culture in which it is spoken.

And it is this that many don’t understand about their first language, that their ability to speak it is from their immersion – being in the midst of the culture – that allows them to speak it so perfectly, nicely.

Their understanding of its culture is so hidden, automatic that they actually have lost the ability to understand it, understand the significance and importance of it to their communicative abilities.

Exposure to Language

“Reading is more important than writing.”

— Roberto Bolaño

Without exposure to a language one will never master it. That exposure can come in many forms but the best form is culture. Culture and language are essentially the same thing. There will be no language if there is no culture the opposite is also true. So to understand a language, its nuances, meaning and usage one needs to be in contact with the very space of it. Otherwise it will ring false, be inauthentic.

Tie Fighters and cultural unconsciousness

tie_fighterI spend a lot of time thinking about language, even when buying presents for my kids.

This year I got the Lego Tie Fighter for my son (deep down the toy is for me but I believe we have kids so that we can continue our childhood into adulthood).

For most of my life I have thought why George Lucas and his cohorts should decide to call it the Tie Fighter instead of the H-wing Fighter. Afterall, the rebel fighter is called the X-wing Fighter because of its shape.

My conclusion is this: the H-wing Fighter just doesn’t sound good. There is nothing unconventional about the letter ‘H’ (X is such a rarely used letter it makes it sound mysterious). But the question is why ‘Tie’? My theory is that is looks like a bow tie and a Bow Tie Fighter will not cut it either. So the shortened form Tie Fighter sounds cool even though it has nothing to do with its function.

If this be the case then the name betrays its twentieth century roots. I mean I don’t see Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker or Yoda sporting one in any scene.

In short, in the very distant future in galaxies far far away bow ties are out.

Our Fictions

Why are we — as a species — so hopelessly addicted to narratives about the fake struggles of pretend people?

Good question.

We are a strange species. Our access to the thoughts of others has given us morality. It gives us society as we know it. Without this ability we would not be much more than just another animal. Stories are a way to access other people’s thoughts. In this sense we should be careful about what and how we read.

Respect for teachers – Japan at the bottom of the heap

According to a quiz question on Sekai no Hate Made Itte Q (The Quiz Show that Goes to the Ends of the Earth [for answers]) Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, The Philippines and Romania rank first (with 100%) as countries in which their tecahers are respected most by their students. Second was Italy and Third was Venezuela. The average for the fifty-one countries surveyed was 93%.

At the bottom was Japan with 41.8%.

There are two things which should be noted:

  1. The average is skewed heavily to the top, and
  2. There are at least 196 countries in the world.

One must be suspicious of the results from these numbers, especially if you are a statistician. Firstly, with the above information Japan must be an outlier in statistical terms. Secondly, was the countries for the survey randomly selected. Lastly, Korea was second from the bottom (is there a Asian connection here? Thanks A.E.).

From experience I would have to say Japanese students are rather disrespectful of teachers, often without reservation. But also how many cultures have “respect” grammaticalized as the Japanese language has.

≪学校の先生を尊敬する国ランキング≫ (in Japanese)

1位 (100%)

タイ、インドネシア、ブラジル、トルコ、フィリピン、ルーマニア

2位 (99.1%)

イタリア

3位 (99%)

ベネズエラ

51か国の平均は93%の人が先生を尊敬しているそうです。

では日本はどのくらいかというと、

順位は最下位で、41.8%です。

Literature, second language, authenticity, passion

I have fond memories of my undergraduate days as a Japanese major.

To me they were exciting times. The world was seemingly spinning at a furious pace. The people I met were doing things, going places. My future was ahead of me.

My future now, of course, is still ahead of me (metaphorically, can it be nothing other than ‘ahead’). But it is different, still exciting, perhaps a little more focused and a little less uncertain. Twenty years down the road and I have made more progress (alas! a little slower than I would have liked) towards my goal as an academic. Continue reading

Language death and the preservation of Australian indigenous cultures

Before British colonialisation began there in 1788, around 250 aboriginal languages were spoken in Australia by an estimated one million people.

Only a few dozen languages remain and the communities number around 470,000 people in a nation of 22 million.

It is often said that language is culture. So 250 languages spoken means the existence of 250 cultures. And the loss of 200 languages means the loss of 200 cultures. The numbers therefore point to the loss of on average one culture per year on the Australian continent since its “colonialisation”. Staggering.

But how does one preserve a language if one does not have a culture to go along with it?