The Polyglot – Edition 1 with CFN’s newest columnist Dr. Allyson Eamer

The Polyglot – Edition 1 with CFN’s newest columnist Dr. Allyson Eamer

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CFN – I am in a great line of work. Sociolinguistics is the study of how social factors impact on how we use language and how language changes over time. There is no end to the list of fascinating topics that sociolinguists address. Should immigrants keep their language after immigrating to Canada? Can endangered languages be saved? Why are some people more adept than others at learning languages? How are Canada’s First Nations languages being revitalized? Is it true that ‘Eskimos’ have dozens of words for snow? Is immersion really the best way to learn a language? What happens when two languages come into contact? What does the way you speak reveal about your social class? Why did English borrow words from other languages? What is the difference between a pidgin and a creole? Do kids really learn languages faster than adults? Are some accents considered more desirable than others? Are bilingual people smarter?

I am willing to bet that there are at least 5 topics in the list above that interest you! The reality is that we’re all intrigued with language because we all speak a language, or two or three. That’s what so great about sociolinguistics. Pretty much everyone is interested in what I do for a living, making me a great guest to have at your dinner party.

With a little luck, there won’t be snow around for us to talk about much longer, so perhaps I’ll launch this column by dealing with the issue of the number of ‘Eskimo’ words for snow. First a little history:

For several decades now, linguists have argued about whether or not there is a relationship between the way a language is structured and the way its speakers understand the world. This is known as linguistic determinism or the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis after the two researchers whose work brought this concept to popular attention. Let me give you an example.

LanguageCultureI have discovered that people from many different language backgrounds are aghast that English has so few ways of differentiating levels of affection; or as one German woman explained to me, “I can’t believe you Canadians say ‘I love my mother; I love ice cream; and I love rock ’n roll.’” In German, as in many other languages, one uses different verbs when talking about affection for a lover and talking about the pleasure derived from chocolate, for example. So if we applied the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis to this example, one could jump to some erroneous conclusions about English speakers i.e. English speaking people are incapable of feeling deep love since they’ve never needed to create a unique verb for their feelings for people OR English speaking people have such profoundly intense affection and appreciation for everything that they only need one verb to express all positive feelings. Do you see where I am going with this?

Another real life example is that Albanians have many nuanced ways to describe facial hair on men, whereas we have only a few: moustache, beard, sideburns, whiskers, goatee etc. So according to the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, if you were born into an Albanian speaking world, your language would shape you in such a way that you’d attach a great deal of importance to men’s facial hair. Or to put it in a more scholarly fashion: we organize and label the phenomena of our worlds based on their social and cultural relevance for us.

Are you still with me? If you’re still reading this, you’ve likely got sufficient interest in the topic to have heard of Noam Chomsky or Steven Pinker. These two brilliant linguists have argued against linguistic determinism, and insist that all observers of the universe are capable of arriving at the same conclusions about the world and how to act within it, regardless of what language they use to describe it. What do you think?

file000988431945Back to the matter of Eskimos and snow… and yes I do know that we no longer refer to the indigenous people in Canada’s Far North as ‘Eskimos’. I use the older term here because it is so widely associated with the snow adage. This notion that the ‘Eskimo’ languages contain more words for snow than does English, is intrinsically compelling, but in fact it is quite flawed. Here is why: if one considers words with common roots as independent words (i.e. snow, snowed, snowing), or compound words as independent words (i.e. snowbank, snowdrift, snowflake) then English contains an equally large number of words for snow. What is central to understanding this debate, is that Inuit languages (and many indigenous languages in North America) are polysynthetic. Don’t give up yet….let me explain.

In English, we communicate through sentences. (Remember grade 6 grammar class? Subject, Verb, Object; Cats chase mice; the doer- the action- the recipient of the action). In Inuit languages, the concept of a sentence does not exist. Rather, Inuit people speak in very long words that typically have a verb (or sometimes a noun) at their centre. Do you remember learning about prefixes and suffixes? Do you remember how we can take the root word ‘place’ and add a prefix to make it ‘misplace’ or a suffix to make it ‘placement’? Well Inuit word-sentences work in a similar way. You start with a verb, and then you add letters in front and at the end of the verb. These are called inflections and they work the same way prefixes and suffixes do. When added to the verb, these inflections transform it into what we would call a full sentence. So while in English, we might say: “It began snowing last night”; in any of the Inuit languages it would look more like this:

abcSNOWxyz

a few letters that mean past continuous tense + SNOW + a few letters to indicate last night

So can you see the source of confusion? Every time an utterance was made that had the Inuit word snow in it, the researchers misinterpreted it as a different word for snow, when in fact, it was actually just a different word-sentence.

WordsThink about this for a minute. If you live in a city of high rise concrete buildings, do you have an exhaustive list of words to describe different types of concrete: a word for grey toned concrete, another for white concrete, another still for beige and smooth and cracked? In fact, I’d venture to say that most of us don’t even notice the concrete at all, let alone care about being precise in describing it. Why then would the Inuit people need dozens of words for snow? In short, the features of one’s environment do not necessarily reveal themselves in a more highly nuanced lexicon.

FootstepsSo if, in these last remaining weeks of winter, you hear this again: “Did you know that the Eskimos have like a ba-jillion words for snow?!” you can respond with “Actually that’s a myth. The source of the confusion is that the Inuit speak polysynthetic languages, so the linguistic determinism theory does not apply here.” They may look at you strangely. They may even yawn. But I guarantee you that shortly afterwards, they’ll be repeating what you told them at a dinner party somewhere.

 

Allyson Eamer, Ph.D. is a Cornwall native, a sociolinguist and university professor in Toronto.

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37 Responses to "The Polyglot – Edition 1 with CFN’s newest columnist Dr. Allyson Eamer"

  1. PJ Robertson   March 10, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    Welcome to CFN, Dr. Eamer.

    Here’s a question for you: Why is correct use of language (word choice, spelling, grammar, syntax) important?

  2. jimmy Olsen   March 11, 2013 at 7:18 AM

    Do you really mean Eskimos or The Inuit?

  3. David Oldham   March 11, 2013 at 8:05 AM

    Jimmy read the article again, the answer lies within.

  4. jimmy Olsen   March 11, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    I had no interest to go further, frankly. The word Eskimo is often considered a pejorative term. Besides, as a skim, the sentences that rise to the top are: I have a great job and I’m great at dinner parties.

  5. David Oldham   March 11, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    I apologize Jimmy, your veiled question I perceived was an attempt to make a petty point. I had no prior knowledge of you being so sensitive, given the insensitivity of your response to an otherwise informative article by a new contributor.

    Eskimo is a collective term. Outside of a handful of Canadians the term is used and acknowledged widely and to the best of my understanding accepted as having no connection to any form of disrespect.

    You certainly have the right to interpret anything as you see fit.

    However given the discipline of the contributor I choose to defer to her usage of the term as being completely appropriate and without prejudicial reference of any kind.

    I am sure that you are a laugh at parties.

  6. David Oldham   March 11, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    Thank Dr. Eamer. I found your information enlightening and look forward to further contributions.

  7. jimmy Olsen   March 11, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    @ David, my question wasn’t veiled. It was pretty bare faced. I also realize these terms are hotly debated in certain circles, including academic. I would say, however, that Inuit is correctly used by more than a “handful” of Canadians. I do agree with your point about the columnist’s specialty. I don’t presume she meant any prejudice. It’s just that I don’t read on if a columnist doesn’t grab me in the first bit.
    http://www.usaonrace.com/labels-stereotypes/don’t-call-me-eskimo-ethnic-origins-word-symbolizes-painful-past

  8. Wow!   March 11, 2013 at 5:29 PM

    I just got back from a trip to Quebec. Everyone spoke broken languages and got along. What do you think about girls having to leave Cornwall to find work if they are not francophone first. Nothing to do with above, and I still had a crush on you in high school.

  9. David Oldham   March 12, 2013 at 6:39 AM

    Again Jimmy, no disrespect intended but comprehension of written material seems not to be the source of your strength. I made no such reference to a handful of Canadians using the word Inuit correctly. The reference pertains to the wide acceptance of the collective term “Eskimo” has having no prejudicial implication. The word “Eskimo” doesn’t refer to an individual it is a collective term referring to groups of people relating to origin and location.

    However Jimmy, best to confer with a sociolinguistics expert such as Dr. Allyson Eamer for meaningful enlightenment rather than rely on unreliable/biased internet sources.

    Let’s move on.

  10. Reg Coffey   March 12, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    Suddenly the grammar and spelling of these posts have improved logarithmically. Thank you Dr. Eamer for your well written informative column…….. and reviving a romantic memory for WOW!.

  11. jimmy Olsen   March 12, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    David you state: Eskimo is a collective term… (which) …to the best of my understanding…no connection to any form of disrespect.

    OK, well negro and negroid used to be a widely accepted “collective terms” as well. Even mongoloid was once a widely accepted collective term for people with Down’s.

    Point is, the columnist clearly states half-way through (I went back and looked) “….yes I do know that we no longer refer to the indigenous people in Canada’s Far North as “Eskimos”

    So to put it gently, you’re kinda disagreeing with the columnist, and worse, dismissing peoples’ loathing over what they consider racial slurs, by saying they’re “unreliable and biased Internet sources.”

  12. David Oldham   March 12, 2013 at 3:26 PM

    Jimmy your comprehension skills are astounding. Please stop reading between the lines and focus on what was said. Dr. Eamer does not say that the term Eskimo was derogatory she simply stated that it was an ” older term “. So in no way am I ” disagreeing with the columnist ” Words fall out of favour for a multitude of reasons suffice to say Jimmy.

    I did not minimize anyone’s “loathing” as you went on.

    As I previously stated, Jimmy, ” You certainly have the right to interpret anything as you see fit.”

    I am not responsible for anyone’s edification or lack of, Jimmy.

    What an individual chooses to believe of that which they have read regardless to the possible validity of the source is beyond my control or interest, for that matter.

    So to put it gently Jimmy I am not cognizant as to why you feel it necessary to debate this matter further, it serves no purpose, is without merit and is not your cup of tea.

  13. AllyCat   March 12, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    @ P J Robertson
    Great question! Thanks for asking it! I will give you a brief answer and then take the issue up in a future column (Brilliant idea for a future post! – again, thank you!) In a nutshell, there are 2 widely argued justifications for a rigid adherence to standard spelling and grammar conventions. One is given by the folks I’ll call the ‘Purists’, and the other by folks I’ll call the ‘Classists’. I’ll simply present their arguments, and then perhaps you’ll let me know which, if either, you find compelling. The ‘purists’ maintain that when a language surrenders to the forces of modernization, evolution, or amalgamation, the essence, the spirit and the history of the language gets lost. They would also argue that it is one thing to deviate from standard English in speech, but written English should never incorporate the latest trends with respect to dropping a consonant (I’m goin’ to work); inserting a colloquialism (I’m like …going… like… to work) or by using a word from a foreign language (My muchacho won’t go to work). The best analogy I can think of is the way some people feel about coffee. Great coffee is not to be messed with and should be appreciated for itself. So don’t go adding a shot of caramel flavour or chocolate just because Starbucks says you should.
    The ‘classists’ would say, that like it or not, the way you write informs people’s opinion of you with respect to how much education you’ve had, how well you interact with people, and how much you care about how you present yourself. They would say that specific contexts require standard English, and to deny that, is to invite peril. Take for example, the covering letter that typically accompanies a job application. The most efficient way to whittle that pile of 50 applications down to a shortlist of 5 candidates, is to toss the covering letters that contain spelling and grammatical errors. Why? Because upon seeing the errors, the boss will arrive at one of the following conclusions – any of which might be accurate: The applicant…
    • Doesn’t really want the job (if he/she did, there would have been more of an effort to proofread)
    • Has no understanding of professionalism, and thus would not represent the company well
    • Doesn’t have sufficient education for the communication skills needed for the jobs
    • Has insufficient interpersonal intelligence to understand the social cues that require one to adjust his/her style of communication (i.e. the way the teenagers in my basement adjust their speech when acknowledging me as I walk by with the laundry basket).

    Well PJ … where do you stand on this? Let me know!
    Ally

  14. AllyCat   March 12, 2013 at 6:00 PM

    @ Jimmy Olsen
    Thanks for bringing a spirit of controversy to my column…might be good for attracting readers. I will happily address your concern with my use of the word Eskimo in my column.
    Firstly let me tell you about a writing technique that scholars in my discipline, and likely others as well, make use of to distance themselves from a word or phrase they don’t normally use and/or to indicate to the reader that the author does not share the commonly held understanding of a word. If you have another look at my article, you will note that each time I use the word Eskimo, I put it in single quotation marks like this: ‘Eskimo’. That was my way of announcing to my readers that I don’t normally use this word, but that I am doing so in the context of this article for a specific purpose. Admittedly, I ought not to have assumed that my readers would recognize this technique (I normally write for academic journals and scholarly books), and thus, I ought to have addressed the matter earlier and more explicitly, for those readers like yourself who would not read past the first usage of the offending word. Kudos to you for standing by your principles; however I do suggest you keep an open mind when reading any article, not just mine. As it turns out, you and I are of like minds on this matter, but even if we weren’t, I would have encouraged you to keep reading. There is always value in exploring why someone thinks, speaks or writes the way they do. For example, an open mind would have enabled you to see that in the sentence immediately prior to the one in which the first use of the word Eskimo appears, I use the term First Nations, as opposed to Indians or other offensive words with a colonial legacy. That should have been a clue, even if you were unfamiliar with the single quotation mark technique. If you’d read on, you’d have noticed that I did the address the matter partway through the article, and thereafter, I used the word Inuit. My reason for using the word Eskimo up to that point, as I indicated, is that the word was critical to the adage which is in popular use. For example, if I was taking up the history of the expression “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, but the word eggs had become identified as a colonialist word, I would find it awkward and disingenuous to begin by saying “Now I am going to address the origins of the expression: “Don’t put all your unfertilized embryos with oval or round shells in one basket”. That, after all, was not the expression! The expression was “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Provided, I address the offensive word at some point, it would seem ridiculous to proceed without acknowledging the form in which the expression is known and circulated.
    Lastly, I am compelled to address the matter of dinner parties. All writers require a vehicle with which to engage the reader and justify the need for the article. Depending on the seriousness of the matter, the vehicle might be something like “Forests are being depleted at a disturbing rate”. Given that my article had more lighthearted content (the number of words for snow), I decided to call up that tried and true image of the self-involved person at the cocktail party or the dinner party who talks too much and holds the floor. I started and ended with that trope. Truth be told, I am pretty quiet and shy at dinner parties; but since I’ve unfortunately left you with the notion that I am vain and racist, you may want to check the guest list of any dinner parties you attend, to make sure we don’t ever get invited to the same ones!
    You’re a man of principle Jimmy- and that’s all too rare- but don’t be in a rush to write off people too soon! You can’t change the world by ignoring the people who disagree with you.
    You may miss the fact that they do actually agree with you; or that they are open to being challenged and enlightened.

    Allyson

  15. AllyCat   March 12, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    @ David Oldham
    I bet your friends nominate you annually for the “Most Loyal Friend” award. Thank you for advocating for a balanced approach to reading my article. I am truly happy that you are enjoying my column.
    Allyson

  16. AllyCat   March 12, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    @ Reg Coffey
    Thanks for the nod but look who’s talking! I think YOU’RE the one with the admirable writing skills, since personally, I have never used the word “logarithmically” in a sentence.
    Ally

  17. admin   March 12, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Alright, I think I’m starting to have a crush on Allyson too like our friend Wow! 🙂

  18. AllyCat   March 12, 2013 at 6:28 PM

    @ Wow

    Regarding the high school crush, thank you. Regarding anglophones having a hard time finding jobs in Cornwall, I have a feeling you (and many others) may not like what I have to say on that point. Frankly I am embarrassed by how many anglo Canadians lament the need to learn French. There are few countries in the world whose inhabitants cannot get by in at least two languages. Most Asians know three or four. So do most Europeans and most Africans. It is the most exhilarating experience in the world to sit at a table where multiple languages are being spoken and to be able to participate in the conversations regardless of what language is being used at any given moment. For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would resist the opportunity to learn a language. People have been relocating to earn a living for as long as they have been trading, importing and exporting. No argument can be made along the lines of “We were here first”, since as you know, if that were true, people in Cornwall would all be speaking Mohawk.

    Ally

  19. Richard Komorowski   March 12, 2013 at 9:38 PM

    Very interesting article. I do have two comments, however. Why do we have to use foreign words instead of English ones. One example is using the Japanese tsunami instead of “tidal wave.” Another is referring to the Chinese capital city as “Beijing” instead of Peking, or the centre of the Indian film industry as Mumbai (sp?) rather than Bombay.
    After all, when we talk about a particular German city that was once a Roman colony, we say Cologne, rather than Koln (sorry, can’t figure out how to do an umlaut).
    Also, why has it become fashionable to say “myself” rather than the grammatically correct me?

  20. Richard Komorowski   March 12, 2013 at 9:39 PM

    Sorry, there should have been a after tsunami.

  21. Jimmy Olsen   March 13, 2013 at 6:38 AM

    Chomsky and Pinker would have a hey day with these responses.

    Thank you for the invaluable lesson in the use of parentheses but I think I learned about them the same day my Grade 4 teacher covered prefixes and suffixes.

  22. Reg Coffey   March 13, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    Richard, you can get an o with an umlaut by holding the “ALT” key down and pressing 148, ö. It’s the ASCII code that has been used for as long as I have been using computers, and I used a VIC 20 when it was new.

  23. David Oldham   March 13, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    Dr. Eamer I agree that the pejorative interpretation of the word ‘Eskimo’ is problematic.

    In the early 80’s a family friend, David Zimmerly returned home from a two year mission up north, where if my memory serves me correctly, he became the first non ‘Eskimo’ to be able to build a kayak using traditional methods of construction. Hence my understanding of ‘Eskimo’ being a collective term. As you are no doubt aware indigenous people of Alaska find the term Inuit to describe northern people as a group pejorative. The same could now perhaps be said of the indigenous people of Greenland who prefer to have their own identity.

    Upon reflection Dr. Eamer in 1982 a word was required to accurately separate the Canadian indigenous people from the collective term if you will ‘Eskimo’. Hence the specific group member identity, Inuit. I would suggest that to some Canadians bent on ‘political correctness’ confusion set in regarding usage.

    While Lawrence Kaplan’s assertion that the derogatory connotation is mistakenly applied has been an acceptable conclusion that I share I am not failing to comprehend the evolution of language and how preconception can/could play a
    role in bringing about change.

    I am always eager to learn Dr. Eamer and I believe it is the basis of having an open mind.

    I do not apologize for finding small minded people offensive. It was the inspiration for the mini debate which occurred herein. I will refrain from being drawn into a similar situation in your columns of the future. Though I will none the less find them informative and thought provoking and rather enjoyable.

    Thank you.

  24. PJ Robertson   March 13, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    @ Allycat

    Thank you for your kind response and the helpful distinctions between “purist” and “classist.”

    Where do I stand on this? Neither a “purist” nor a “classist,” I believe, to put it very simply, that correct and accurate use of language is important because essential for clear communication; that, conversely, sloppy use of language comes from sloppy thinkng and stresses communication. In other words, language being next to music our finest instrument for communicating with one another, we owe it to ourselves and one another to keep it well tuned.

    I look forward very much to your future columns.

  25. Wow!   March 13, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    @Allycat

    I am getting my kids to learn other languages now that I have returned to Cornwall. Hiring a tutor to get them caught up so they can go to high school in French. There is very little emphasis on French in Oakville so they were immediately set behind after the move. It is too late for me. Keep writing.

  26. concerned citizen 2   March 13, 2013 at 9:32 PM

    AllyCat said
    March 12, 2013 at 6:28 pm
    “@ Wow

    Regarding the high school crush, thank you. Regarding anglophones having a hard time finding jobs in Cornwall, I have a feeling you (and many others) may not like what I have to say on that point. Frankly I am embarrassed by how many anglo Canadians lament the need to learn French.”

    I don’t know you & you don’t know me, so please don’t judge me.

    I was born & raised Anglo,is that a crime or just bad luck????

    Just because I can’t speak French at an A- level, as required for professional health care careers in Cornwall should I not work in my community?

    There is a big difference between wanting to learn another language & being forced to learn another language. I guess we are not all as linguistically gifted as you, but I am a damn good health care professional…

    I am one of many being discriminated in our community & not just in the health care field. This a deep rooted problem, with no easy solution.

    Dialogue is needed to overcome this oppression & strength of mind. I believe you to have an open mind & hope you will be able to understand what is really happening in our community & it’s detrimental effects to both English & French. The government is dividing our community, not the people….

  27. edudyorlik   March 14, 2013 at 8:38 AM

    Knowing other languages IS INDEED a great thing. It enhances ones life in many ways. But, being forced to do so in order to gain meaningful employment in ones own English dominated country is tantamount to one side fighting a war without the use of weapons.

  28. Reg Coffey   March 14, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    Pejorative, tantamount, logarithmically, umlaut, sociolinguistics, ….isn’t the English language used properly simply wonderful.

    I am really enjoying reading all of these posts almost as much as the column itself. Well written thoughts where you can debate the content rather than criticize the style.

  29. AllyCat   March 14, 2013 at 4:03 PM

    @ edudyorlik and @concerned citizen 2
    I have no doubt that it is frustrating and demoralizing to be very good at one’s job and find that he/she is at risk of losing that job because of being unable to meet an imposed second language requirement. The difference between my position and yours is this: I don’t view it as unreasonable. (Keep reading if you think I am not affected by this same language requirement.) I recognize that job requirements change because demographics and skill sets change. To qualify for a job, one has to possess all the skills deemed necessary. Otherwise, he or she must look for another job or move to a new location where the skill set for the same job is different. This is not new. I would very much like to return to my home town, or somewhere close by, and still be able to work as a professor. However, I cannot teach at a university in my home town, because Cornwall does not have a university. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this could change.) How about Ottawa U, you ask? Well, recently I was passed over for an amazing job at Ottawa University’s Bilingualism Institute, for which I possessed, even exceeded, all the qualifications and skills, except one. I am not able to lecture in French without making significant grammatical errors. I speak Chinese, and am conversant in three other languages, but the job required the ability to lecture in both official languages. I can’t speak French at an academic level, and my proficiency in other languages did not make up for that. It sucks! But I still love that we are a bilingual country! I love overhearing French being spoken in Toronto, where it is drowned out by many other world languages. (Incidentally I love hearing those other languages too, and I love that year after year, there were few white faces or native English speakers in my daughter’s birthday party pictures, and that the kids didn’t even remark on that!)
    Sixty years ago, my father had to relocate because the farm he grew up on north of Cornwall was not sufficiently lucrative to support another family; and five generations before that, his ancestors left Europe because they could not make a living in their place of birth.
    As for me, I am resuming my private French lessons, although the cost is killing me. I’m trying to read Albert Camus and Guy de Maupassant on my own, and like @Wow, I am making sure that my daughter works hard on her French skills.

  30. AllyCat   March 14, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    @ Richard Komorowski
    You asked: Why do we have to use foreign words instead of English ones. One example is using the Japanese tsunami instead of “tidal wave.” Another is referring to the Chinese capital city as “Beijing” instead of Peking, or the centre of the Indian film industry as Mumbai (sp?) rather than Bombay.
    After all, when we talk about a particular German city that was once a Roman colony, we say Cologne, rather than Koln (sorry, can’t figure out how to do an umlaut). Also, why has it become fashionable to say “myself” rather than the grammatically correct me?

    These are great questions, each of which is worthy of its own column. Actually you’ve asked three questions, because the matter of city names changing is different from the matter of incorporating foreign words. When words from one language appear in another, they are called loan words. Sometimes they are incorporated because a reasonable counterpart doesn’t exist in the adopting language. Take “déjà vu” for example. Apparently Anglophones never got around to coming up with a term that neatly encapsulates the feeling of having experienced something before. There are many gastronomic examples of loan words: kebab (Arabic), persimmon (Cree), gulash (Hungarian) and chutney (Hindi). In other cases, the loan words are used for elitist reasons, or in order to maintain the link between the word and the country/language associated with it.

    As for geographical name changes, I quite agree it is confusing. In most cases, the changes represent an attempt to approximate the pronunciation of the place, as it is called by the local people. Peking which is in the north of China is an anglicised version of Bah-King which is how that city is named by people in the south of China who speak Cantonese. Somewhere along the way, someone decided that it made more sense to anglicise the name of the city as it is pronounced by people who actually live there and happen to speak Mandarin. Hence Peking became Beijing. The same is true for Bombay which, in the local language Marathi, is called Mumbai. But why then aren’t all cities and countries being extended the same courtesy? Why is Cologne still Cologne and not Köln? Why do we say Greece instead of Hellenica? Why do we day Korea instead of Han-Gu? Without doing some research, I can only guess that it has something to do with clout on the international stage, well-funded lobbyists, and/or sheepish former colonizers. Great idea for a future article!

    Now for the third question, I imagine you mean something like “She smiled at my friend and myself”. Like you, I am uncertain how this incorrect usage of MYSELF came about. The test, for those of you who aren’t sure, is to repeat the sentence with the words “my friend” removed from it. Then you’d end up with “She smiled at ___”. Without the words “my friend” to confuse us, it is very clear that the word we want to insert in the blank is ME rather than MYSELF. Strangely, I think the word MYSELF actually sounds better, a little trick our ears play on us. Perhaps it is an overreaction to our parents and teachers telling us that we couldn’t say “My friend and me want to go play” (instead of: My friend and I want to go play), and so we’ve simply assumed that it is never correct to use the word ME. If you’re determined to correct this, I bid thee Godspeed. Fight the good fight Richard…I am not sure I’m up for it.

  31. Bob K   March 14, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    Many big words and sentences make my brain hurt. With little edumacation and my primary skill being chicken frying and puck dropping I’m learning lots. Thanks in advance I will now be long time love you reader.

  32. Keith B.   March 15, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    My dear Dear Dr. Allyson

    Historical realities can — AND DO — play a HUGE ROLE in shaping ones positive OR negative thoughts and feelings about, and or towards other cultures, whether they be English, French or whatever culture.

    The “condensed story” for me (and i would venture an educated well informed guess, also — for MANY other Anglophones in this country– ) goes as follows:

    Many years ago… when this country was much younger …
    The English majority, while seeking to be fair, generously and graciously accepted the idea of having the French language on ALL packaging in Canada, (ok, it was sort of pushed on us but we accepted it none the less).

    Even though this act of kindness seemed WAY overboard as far as accommodating such a small group (a mere — at that time — average Francophone population base of — maybe 4% in ALL of Canada.)
    No big deal…

    THEN, some years later —

    The English majority, while again seeking to be fair, generously and graciously accepted the idea of (what we were lied to and told at the time was
    — ONLY — going to be) providing French services to the 4% Francophone population — within the federal government ONLY —
    No big deal… The English accepted this without hesitation as well. Though, it is said this was also pushed upon the English as well.

    It was after these two “accommodations” and around this moment in time that the “negative historical reality” began to take effect for the English.
    A negative historical reality that has brought me (and i believe MANY Anglophones Canadians) to a point where we are today harboring
    well deserved and deep seated animosity and resentful feelings towards the French surrounding these very issues. BECAUSE…

    Through various underhanded methods (which are too lengthily to go into right now) the French took the reigns (so to speak)
    and “ran with the generosity and fairness afforded them from the English” and never looked back.

    The French went on to take full advantage of the graciousness and generosity and ended up abusing that fairness to quite an extreme limit.

    What started as (and what the English were lied to about) was the ONE simple generous act of offering services to the French within the Federal government ONLY has now (through unscrupulous methods) been cajoled and morphed into the overwhelming accommodation that is afforded to the French that we we see today.

    The French language, despite still being only a mere 17% of the total population of all of Canada, has been given the “quasi equal status” of a “so called official language of Canada” an allocation that further affords it (because it is the minority status) EXTREMELY unfair protections within the law, along with the added MAJOR unfair use of majority English tax payers money to serve as the catalyst for those protections.

    So, in trying to be fair, the English end up being taken advantage of to the degree that the French are now on the verge of
    making things in this country such that the majority 80+% English population — are forced — into learning a language that represents a mere 17% of the total population of this country in order to even just begin to think about gainful employment — in their own country —

    Not to mention the completely unfair and unjust concept that the 80% Anglophone citizens of this country are exempt from the possibility of being the Prime Minister in their own country.

    NOW, if any normal fair human being takes into consideration — JUST — what i have explained above — ONLY —

    About how the English didn’t have to allow the French on the packaging in the first place, and how they did this to be fair. And also, considering the English didn’t HAVE TO allow the right for the French to have access to services in French within the federal government which they also offered in an an attempt to be fair

    — and considering the inequity we see today both inside and outside the province of Quebec with regard to the French are doing —

    — then, it CANNOT BE TOO DIFFICULT to imagine how the English could hold in their hearts a deep seated animosity
    and resentful hurt feelings towards the French just based on the part above.

    BUT THEN — LET’S ADD TO THIS — all the hurtful negative things the French have done and ARE DOING —

    (anti English bill 101 just to name one thing) to the Anglophone population that still resides within the province of Quebec. A province (need i remind you) that still resides within the country of Canada, a country that boasts English as the common language of the land. Meaning that these Anglophones that are living in the province of Quebec are being mistreated in this fashion while there IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY. I doubt anything could be more distasteful to them.

    — and now, i am hopeful that you understand that it is NOT just a simple question of accepting (like you said in your response) the idea of “private French lessons” OR “making sure that my daughter works hard on her French skills” because as you can now appreciate (i hope) it is — NOT — solely what this situation is ALL ABOUT. There is SO MUCH historical reality — THAT MUST BE considered —

    And honestly, If it were — JUST about — the idea of voluntarily learning another language — then yes, you could count me in

    BUT… regretfully, It is NOT !!

    NOTE:
    I grew up in the province of Quebec within a family that consisted of my pure French mother and my Irish/native Indian English father.

    Throughout my upbringing in the province Quebec (apart from schooling, which for me was in English Catholic)
    my exposure to both cultures (French & English) was a pretty evenly balance between the two.

    If you were to have asked me about this issue back then the response would have been 100% totally different than now.

    Back then, there were no problems associated with being English OR French or both. It was — whatever —

    Back when i was young and living in Quebec, (before Rene Levesque and the other referendum the French held to “try” to separate from the ROC) the language I spoke generally depended on the language that was spoken — to me —

    In other words I most often responded in the language that was coming at me. Granted most often I reverted back to English as i found it much more comfortable.

    Today, as a direct result of the HISTORICAL REALITIES i mentioned previously, i can barely stand to hear French being spoken (remember i said, barely stand… It’s not 100% yet) anywhere around me anymore.

    And you know what? That is NOT a voluntary state for me. It was forced upon me by unfair acts of unkindness, along with too much take take take and NO give, on the part of the French.

    Keith B.

    PS. Good luck with the lessons. In a way, I hope knowing French is only necessary in a social settings and NOT as the ONLY means by which you can attain employment in this great country — Canada.

  33. E. Marion   March 15, 2013 at 9:47 PM

    What ever happened to reading for enjoyment,information and to learn something new?
    This article covered all the above & I was very impressed and will continue to enjoy & follow this column.
    Oh, I forgot to say that “political correctness” bores me to tears!

  34. AllyCat   April 1, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    Keith, I appreciate the education and historical perspective. Thank you for your reply. There is certainly truth to the observation (made by another commenter above) that not everyone learns languages easily. I have rose-coloured glasses, perhaps due to the great pleasure I take in learning a language, and also perhaps due to growing up with many Francophone friends and neighbours. I have personally witnessed how shared language repertoires unite people. I have a knee-jerk predisposition towards seeing English as a killer language that manages to snuff out most every indigenous language it comes into contact with. I lived in Hong Kong for several years when it was still a British colony, and I was stunned at at the number of Brits who were born and raised in HK, but never bothered to learn a word of Cantonese. There is a colonial arrogance (British) and now a global economic arrogance (American) associated with English that tends to fog up my view of things. However, I must concede that if the federal government suddenly decided that I would have to know how to do a handstand, because some of our founding fathers (and mothers!) were acrobats, I’d be in a real pickle!

  35. concerned citizen 2   April 2, 2013 at 9:24 PM

    @ AllyCat

    A common language unites people & English is the common language of the world, whether you like it or not & truly we as humans should rejoice in that.

    I am surprised of your take on this issue, maybe you need to remove your “rose colored” glasses & see the reality of language discrimination living right in our community.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMBl7ZOVfBg&feature=g-upl&context=G2ab7300AUAAAAAAAAAA

    This is the reality of an Anglophone living in Cornwall,On, he is just one of many. St.Lawrence College graduates some of the BEST nurses in Canada & they can not work in the local hospital they trained in. This is outrageous & a safety issue for quality health care in our community.
    English nurses can not work at CCH, EOHU, CCAC- just to name a few…
    The “arrogant” English will push back, only a matter of time…

  36. concerned citizen 2   April 2, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    @ AllyCat

    I forgot to mention, we all(Cornwallites) grew up with Franchophone friends/family. The issue of language discrimination has absolutely nothing to do with liking French or English, we ALL got/get along just fine.
    As I said earlier the government is creating division with language laws/policies.
    The attitude your displaying only adds fuel to the fire & encourages negative feelings towards both cultures.

  37. AllyCat   April 8, 2013 at 7:59 PM

    @ Concerned Citizen 2
    Thanks for the video link. I sympathize with the man in the video. You are entitled to your opinion of course, but I beg to differ with your accusation that I am adding fuel to the fire. I am stating what linguists around the globe know to be true: that many languages have been driven to extinction or near-extinction because of English-only policies: Cumbric, Cornish, Manx, Gaelic and sadly, too many North American indigenous languages to name. Our history of residential school policies bears witness to the latter. Rightly or wrongly, many Anglo-Canadians complain about being required to learn French. I’m simply saying that I hope those same voices are also lamenting the fact that English was forced on our First Nations peoples who were beaten for speaking their mother tongues. We Anglophones have some muddy linguistic history…just sayin’.

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