When mom became mum

I came upon an article in the Daily Mail (which seems chock-full of gossip and trashy news that probably gets them a lot of readers thus advertising money) about typical over-exposed, self-indulgent American actors who have been together for a record-breaking few years.

I noticed in the article something that is definitely more British than American: the use of the word "mum" instead of "mom": "My friends were always a little bit older and when I was young, I spent a lot of time with my mum and her friends."

I doubt he really used "mum" because we *never* use that word, unless an American is a British-wannabe or has spent a lot of time over there and it's slipped into their language use. So they probably changed it for their British readers.


Radio is heartbreaking

I can honestly say that I can do a lot of different jobs, but I totally love working in radio, and I've been working in it for a few years. Especially now (because of syndication and consolidation) it's very competitive, so you have to work extra hard to prove excellence.

Thousands of people have been laid off within the past year, and since deregulation in the mid-90's, legions of people have been laid off--tens of thousands of people. I've met people who've been in radio for years, and they really seem like survivors. A coworker who works in the business side of it said that once it's in your blood, you don't want to leave, no matter what you're doing in it.

People love it so much that when they're laid off or can no longer live on the measly money they earn, they're so devastated, I really think they need counseling. I don't know why radio creates such passion in people, especially because it's dying out, and you'd think that people would want to pursue other media. But there's something about it that makes people want to devote their lives to it. It's not a cult, just a total passion.

A couple of years ago when I hit a dead-end in radio and thought I'd have to leave, I wrote the piece below, thinking that radio is like unrequited love. At this point, I'd say it's heartbreaking, because since that time I've experienced some success in one of the most active radio towns in the world, so I'd say I'm no longer experiencing unrequited love. But I'd say I'm once again feeling heartbreak.

Working in radio is like being in love with someone who doesn't have time for you.

You meet, and you totally fall in love. You proclaim your love for it, and promise to remain faithful forever. You give it all your time and your energy, you give your heart, and then it turns its back on you. It gives you promises, but it doesn't totally deliver. It pulls you along, occasionally giving you scraps of what you want, but it never wants to truly satisfy you, and knows it doesn't have to because it knows that you will be there for it, no matter how badly it treats you. But you still follow it around, hoping that one day it will love you back in the same way you love it. But it won't. And it never wanted to. It just made you think it was there for you so that you could become its slave.

Being in love with radio is unrequited love. Or receiving just enough love to keep you going, hoping that it will return what you've given it. But it's never enough. And never will be. Because it's selfish and doesn't care. And never will.

You try to talk with it about your relationship, but it won't listen. And then you try to give up and walk away, but it calls your name, and you return, just to ignore you. You offer flowers and gifts, but it just tramples on them, then looks for someone else to use.

Working in radio can break your heart.

Happy Valentine's Day, Radio!


Lingua francas

Lingua francas (or "vehicular languages") have been very useful since they have provided a means for linguistically diverse populations to communicate. Although lingua francas have existed since ancient times (Greek and Latin served this purpose), the term "lingua franca" comes from the name of a pidgin language (a simplified language used as a bridge between speakers of different languages) between around 1000 and the early 1800s in the Mediterranean region. The language was also known as Sabir and was based on some of the main languages spoken in the area (the major western Romance languages at that time, as well as Greek and Arabic). It was used by a variety of individuals, ranging from sailors to pirates coming into contact with various ethnic groups. Given how long it was in use, it must have been rather successful.

These days the most obvious use of a lingua franca is English, spread around the globe through British imperialist ventures and having been promoted even more due to the economic, cultural, and political influence of several English-speaking nations. A trawl through the internet, especially international chatrooms, reveals how extensively English is used as an international second language. Curiously, English is also used by some multilingual, multiethnic nations (such as Switzerland) because it is seen as neutral and not privileging any one local language. However, it may be a matter of time before there is a backlash against English as being a non-neutral language representing undue foreign influence.

Other lingua francas through the centuries have been French (used as a diplomatic lingua franca and also a common second language in parts of Europe and many former French colonies), German (in much of central Europe and in the international scientific community, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries), Swahili (in East Africa), Russian (throughout the Soviet Union and satellite states in Eastern Europe prior to the 1990s), and Tok Pisin (a pidgin language based on Australian English that allows many of New Guinea’s ethnic groups to communicate).

It remains to be seen what the next widespread lingua franca will be.

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)


A good ESL book matters!

I teach English (ESL) once a week and talked about a great book that I use (English in Action) which will unfortunately be phased out because they want the entire city to use the same one (why fix something that isn't broken?!).

Since I have a crazy work schedule, I really don't want to spend a ton of time thinking of activities for the class, so I really depend on the book to guide the class, and students like it. Last semester, all of the students said in their class evaluation that they thought the "class materials" (which were just the book and workbook) were helpful.

Before this semester started, we had to go to a seminar, and an experienced teacher was giving us all these ideas to use in the classroom. If I were teaching every day, I would use other materials and activities, but for a class that meets once a week, I don't need to. And the important thing is: I don't *want* to.

Why make things more complicated? If you have a good text book, you don't have to add anything. Plus, it makes the students' purchase worthwhile. I don't like having to buy books for a class, only to find out that it's just a small part of what we'll be doing. That's a lot of money for slight use.


Canadians like this book

I just spent the week working with Austin Hill, who wrote the book White House Confidential, and I asked him how people have responded to it. Especially around this time of year, he's been able to sell a lot of copies, but what's surprising is that Canadians seem to really like it.

He told me that Canadians are fascinated with American history and are curious about our Presidents, and seem to know more about them than we do. I seriously thought that they could care less since they have a really nice country up there, but he's experienced something different.

Maybe I should interview him for this blog--he's been making the media rounds lately.


Fascinated with the British accent

I've noticed that Americans are fascinated with the British accent. I've heard of British people being told that their accent is "cool" or "pretty" or whatever when they visit or live in the US. And some Americans like the British accent so much, they'll adopt it, even if they're just spending a semester there.

But I have to admit that sometimes I am fascinated with it too--in the early morning when I go to work, I sometimes listen to BBC radio, and I will listen to an obscure expert talk about the financial markets or whatever, knowing that if it were an American, I wouldn't pay attention.

I think it's because I want to hear the different pronunciations of words that we both use, and learn new words as well.

So I'm guilty! But it's still something I notice in my fellow countrymen.


Now a company

I went to SCORE, which was set up by the Small Business Administration, to get some advice about the direction I should take if I want to publish more books (I just published an anthology called Down the Block, which is available now for purchase, and will be available everywhere later this month).

The advisor suggested I set up a company, and I just did. Seriously. So now Metrolingua is an LLC. I've been freelancing for several years, so it makes sense to put everything under an umbrella. This year, my goal is to make the money back I've spent on the anthology, but I will most likely publish another anthology later this year or early next year. So stay tuned.

btw--If you're wondering just how corrupt Illinois is, try setting up a business here--it's the most expensive state in the US to set up a business and costs hundreds of dollars, unlike other states which cost a lot less than $100. They probably charge a lot here so that the money can go into corrupt politicians' pockets and support people who don't work. Plus, I live in Chicago, which just adds more corrupt and lazy layers. But at least I managed to do something productive.


When Japanese ends up in Chinese

When I translated Japanese years ago and did a search online, I ended up on Japanese pages. But it seems like there are a lot more Chinese sites out there recently because now if I don't know a Japanese word and do a search online to find out the meaning, I keep ending up on Chinese pages that contain the same characters as the Japanese word.

For instance, I saw the word 高分子 (koubunshi) and wanted to find out how it was used in context (it means "macromolecule" and "polymer"), and hit so many Chinese pages, I had to choose the "Japanese" option to be able to find just those pages.

Maybe it's scientific and technical stuff that is more prevalent in Chinese, especially since they block so many sites and information over there, but it really shows that they've entered the digital age because they definitely have crowded out Japanese sources online.


Japanese smell site

There's a Japanese smell site called Nioibu.com ("nioi" means "smell"), which "pinpoints and describes smells from all over the world, mapping them using Google Maps."

My friend, Chris, who I met in Japanese class, was quoted in this article:

As of Tuesday, there were just four smell reports out of North America. The balloon over Chicago—near Michigan Avenue and Ontario Street—says, "A room filled with the aroma of lightly burned coffee," Chris Kelly of the Japanese Information Center in Chicago told us. "Then it goes on to say, 'All around the United States it smells like coffee you would get at offices and schools.'"

An odd but cool site--and a good way to practice Japanese!



One of the more curious phenomena of language is the contronym (also called an “antagonym”), which is when a word has come to represent two opposite meanings. An example of a contronym would be "sanction," which can mean either "to punish" ("the US government sanctioned Libya") or "to bless" ("their union was sanctioned by the priest"). Similarly, "to draw the curtains" could mean "to open the curtains" or "to close the curtains," depending upon the context.

Another example of a contronym might be a word that has one meaning in one dialect and the opposite meaning in another dialect. In standard US English, "to table a bill" means to remove it from consideration (such as in Congress). North of the border, in standard Canadian English, "to table a bill" means to start discussions regarding the proposed legislation. I was talking to a US immigrant to Canada, and I'd asked about a bill that was scheduled to go before Parliament. She simply answered "it was already tabled." I wasn't sure whether she meant the US meaning she had learnt when growing up or the Canadian usage to which she may have been exposed. She must have been unaware of the difference in meanings because she looked at me, somewhat exasperated, and replied, "the bill died!"

And how can we forget the slang use of the word "hell"? In the summer, Chicago can be "hotter than hell," while six months later the same city can be "colder than hell."

I suspect that these linguistic paradoxes may have developed through a process known as "semantic shift," whereby a word's meaning can change over time. For instance, a "dairy" traditionally means a place where milk-based products are produced and/or sold. In New Zealand English nowadays, a "dairy" is a convenience store, although this is not an example of a contronym.

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)


My language fan friend

Back in the late 20th century, I met a great guy named Silas who was totally into languages. He studied linguistics and translated a number of languages, and spoke French and English fluently, with excellent knowledge of a lot of other languages. He and I used to talk about language often, and I didn't know anyone else who had such a love for it.

He got married and ended up moving, and I had no idea where he went until he contacted me on Facebook. If there is one person I wanted to connect with again, it was him! So it made the social networking experience worth it, even though I'm still not a total fan of such places.

It's been over a decade since I've seen him, but he's still translating and is still totally into language. So I asked him to submit something to this blog, and he'll probably do a couple posts per month. Seriously--I wouldn't want someone who didn't have such passion to post anything here, but he's the real deal.


This movie looks better than I thought

One of the books on my "favorite" list even here is The Devil Wears Prada, which I've recommended to other people who don't really like it. I don't even think I'm the "typical" reader for this book, but I really enjoyed the truth of the writing style and the story, probably because it was a thinly-veiled memoir.

When the movie came out, I decided not to see it because I really liked the book and thought the movie wouldn't measure up. Plus, Meryl Streep seemed to portray an the book's type-A boss, high-strung, elitist boss as too subdued.

But I've been watching it on TV, and it's actually a good movie. I see that Streep's treatment of the dragon-lady carries more power because everyone around her wants to please her, even though she never has to raise her voice. And the style of the movie doesn't have the tackiness I thought it would, but seems even sophisticated.

Plus, I'd never seen Anne Hathaway in a movie, just saw her image plastered everywhere because her PR machine is powerful. But she seems like a good actress with a cheerful disposition.

So I'll probably see this movie again because it ends way past my bedtime.


I joined a German social site

I was chatting with the Multilingual Teen, and I asked him if he's on Facebook. He said he's on Studivz instead, which is a student social site. It's all in German, but its sister site, Meinvz, which is for non-students, is in German and English (the British version because they use UK spelling).

At first, I was scared to join because my German now is AWFUL! And occasionally the Multilingual Teen will leave a message in German (even though he knows English perfectly) probably to help me practice German. So I've attempted to type something in Gerglish (my German and English hybrid), and it's fun.

What I really need is a German version of my favorite Japanese-learning site Popjisyo, where you can paste Japanese text to be translated for you. That way, I wouldn't have to dig deep into my dusty head to pull out the few German words that remain.



I was just in a grocery store looking for some unhealthy stuff to eat on a freezing winter night, and I noticed that they still have egg nog. It was obviously leftover from the holidays, but it didn't expire until February, so I decided to get some.

Because egg nog is too fatty for me, I looked at the lighter versions, and saw a "light egg nog", and then saw a non-fat egg nog that was just called "Nog".

That's so cute--I guess they're being honest because if they're offering a fat-free version, then perhaps the inclusion of eggs would disqualify it from being fat-free. So "Nog" is a good shortcut.


Pronunciation of tofu

I've noticed that people pronounce "tofu" like to-FU. As if there's an accent on the second syllable. Maybe they think they're speaking French or something.

The pronunciation is TO-fu, because in Japanese it's 豆腐, where the first kanji is とう (tou) so the "o" is long, and the second kanji is ふ (fu), which is a short sound.


Happy new year!

For me, it's a New Year, though I know that other countries were already celebrating when it was still the old year for me.

2008 was a great year, and I think 2009 will be even better. Thanks for visiting--I hope your new year will be good!