I was actually responsible today

I've had a strange schedule lately, so today I decided to take it easy while it was raining outside. I was quite lazy, though I did manage to do a bit of work, but I didn't do laundry or clean or even read any of my books.

Then I thought, "Hey, I should study Japanese today since there was no class last night," but I didn't want to read anything online because I'd already killed lots of time watching various episodes of comedians and stupid sitcoms, and I'm not one of those folks who likes to spend a ton of time online.

The option was to go to the Japanese Consulate, where they have a library that's open to the public every weekday. I figured if I went there, surrounded by Japanese books and magazines, and even some Japanese people, it would force me to study. So after I managed to break through my laziness, I actually went there, got a kanji dictionary and Japanese-English dictionary off the shelf, grabbed a manga, and got to work.

Since I got there not too far before closing time, I didn't study as long as I wanted, but at least I did! So I'll be going back next week because I've discovered that I *can* be responsible and disciplined when Japanese beckons :D


Obama as a Japanese verb

Mad Minerva told me about a blog about Japan that reports the use of Obama as a verb:

obamu: (v.) To ignore inexpedient and inconvenient facts or realities, think “Yes we can, Yes we can,” and proceed with optimism using those facts as an inspiration (literally, as fuel). It is used to elicit success in a personal endeavor. One explanation holds that it is the opposite of kobamu. (拒む, which means to refuse, reject, or oppose).

I pasted this sample sentence ほら、何落ち込んでいるんだよ。オバめよ、オバめ。that he used in his blog into Popjisyo (which is now my homepage) and they had no translation for オバめ ("obame"). So it's a really new, and possibly obscure, phrase...until now, because it looks like a lot of people are blogging about it :D


Reading tonight!

The Down the Block reading is happening tonight: Friday, October 23, from 7 to 8 PM, at Quimby's Bookstore, 1854 W. North Avenue in Chicago. Four people will read their contributions, and the event is free. Hope to see you there!


Why use "some"?

I've noticed that people use the word "some" quite often when they offer statistics. For instance, I was watching a documentary, and the narrator said, "There were some 30 million gallons of water." That doesn't sound like "some" to me--that's a lot!

I know that they don't literally mean "some" as in "not many", but they don't need to use that word at all. Why not say, "There were 30 billion gallons of water."

If you listen to various narratives, news reports, or commentaries carefully, you'll hear people use the word "some" when they're about to offer information. And you'll also notice that it's not necessary. I wonder when this trend started.


Is It All Right To Use "Alright"?

English is notorious for its baffling spelling rules and its seemingly capricious and arbitrary differentiations as to what is correct and incorrect. I am thinking specifically of "all right" and "alright."

Native speakers of English often spell "all right" as "alright." For instance, the British group the Who released a song called 'The Kids are Alright' (also used as the title of a British-made documentary about the group). Nevertheless, many people (including me) have been taught that "alright" is not a word and that it should always be written "all right."

For instance, an article intended to prepare candidates for the SAT university entrance exam advises that "Alright is all wrong. Use the two-word form, all right." Similarly, a website listing commonly confused English words dictates "All right. NEVER alright."

It's not that simple, though. After all, English has the acceptable pairs "all together" and "altogether," as well as "all ready" and "already." So why not "all right" and "alright"? Apparently "alright" and "all right" have both had a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't existence, and despite the efforts of prescriptionists to banish "alright" to the linguistic corner, it frequently creeps up in well-respected journalism and literary works.

The SAT Prep article continues:

this requires a bit of explanation. Alright is now widely used, particularly in informal settings such as blogs, emails, text messages, instant messages, tweets, and even some classrooms. Many well-known writers, including James Joyce and Langston Hughes, have used it in literature. It is ubiquitous in written dialog and, sadly, in student papers.

In fact, according to Merriam-Webster Online, the single word alright has been in use since 1887.
The two-word phrase all right was used more than five hundred years ago, spelled al right by Chaucer around the year 1385. The word fell out of favor, then returned to common usage later, when Percy Bysshe Shelley employed it in Scenes from Goethe's Faust.

In any case, all right is the much older form. It remains the standard for use in formal writing today. Alright should be used, if at all, only in informal writing.
I scratch my head and wonder about this logic. If "all right" (written as "al right") was used in the 14th century, only to vanish for roughly 400 years and subsequently reappear as "all right," followed a mere few decades later by "alright," how did "alright" become entirely incorrect instead of just a less common variant? Was it simply a case of "the fastest spelling wins the race"?

There does not, to my mind, seem to be a rational reason why one spelling should be regarded as incorrect especially since both have been widely used by English speakers of varying levels of education and literacy. The notion of incorrect vs. correct seems due to narrow-minded convention ("we spell it this way to not offend any fussy English teachers out there") rather than being founded on any linguistic basis. The flimsiness of the "alright" ban may be why such dictionaries as the American Heritage Dictionary now (as of 1996) list "alright" as an alternate spelling rather than a misspelling. Still, "old-school" teachers and editors may wince and continue to perceive it as incorrect, hence prompting the word of caution in the SAT Prep article.

It makes me wonder who decides the rules of natural language-average speakers who actually speak and write natural languages or small groups of elitist prescriptionists who have an idealized view of how we "should" speak and write, whether the issue is "alright" vs. "all right," a split infinitive, or a preposition precariously placed at the end of a question.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


Some language excitement

I've been using the Cyberduck ftp client, and I want to donate something, so I went to the donate page. He asks for either financial donations, or a purchase from his Amazon wishlist, so I went there, and saw that it's in German!

Okay, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it is to me because I always go to the English Amazon site, and that's just normal for me. But to see "Wunschzettel" and all the directions and listings in German is just exciting. So is the explanation:

Ein Wunschzettel ist eine persönliche Liste all der Dinge, die Sie oder Ihre Firma gerne hätten und die wir auf unserer Website für Sie anbieten. Freunde, Verwandte und alle anderen, die es gut mit Ihnen meinen, können damit das perfekte Geschenk für Sie finden.
But what's weird is that when you click on the "wunschzettel" link, the url is www.amazon.de/gp/registry/wishlist, ie, it's the extension ".de" instead of ".com", but the rest is in English: "registry/wishlist".

I wonder if German speakers are bothered by the fact that their url is in English instead of their language. Maybe there are some indignant people out there nodding their heads right now.


Flash torch?

Well I guess I keep learning new English words from British TV because I was watching another episode of Inspector Lewis last night (which makes that two nights in a row of Lewis enjoyment) and Lewis' sergeant said "flash torch" instead of the American English word "flashlight".

I've often heard Brits say "torch" when referring to "flashlight" but I hadn't heard the word "flash torch" until last night. Honestly, I think that using the word "torch" for a battery-operated item seems odd because a "torch" has a flame, so it needs no batteries. Like the Olympic torch. If an American used the word "torch" for a flashlight, people would think they're really weird, or at least a British wannabe. And "flash torch" sounds almost sci-fi.

Do the Brits come from such an ancient civilization that they had to refer to a modern device using an older term? It's like technology evolved and someone said, "Hey, let's just call it a torch--we don't have much time to think of something else!" If only they could've looked to us Americans to provide a good word for it. Then they wouldn't be walking around using elemental concepts for evolutionary instruments.


A language lesson from Inspector Lewis

I was watching the excellent Mystery series Inspector Lewis, and he actually taught us something about British English: he said the word "colleague", and then said that people in the north use the word "workmate" instead.

Thanks Inspector! I had no idea. No wonder they use that word a lot in the British press.


This is authentic?

Food companies must think consumers are really stupid because they use words such as "gourmet" and "authentic" to convince people that their products are the "highest quality", even though their ingredients tell a different story. Such as this company: they say that they've been offering "authentic foods since 1908".

Take a look at these ingredients from one dinner. Do they seem "authentic"? And have they really been using these ingredients since 1908?

Enchiladas: Tortilla: Corn flour (ground corn, trace of lime), water. Filling: Water, dehydrated cheese powder (corn syrup, American cheese [milk, culture, salt, enzymes], food starch-modified, whey, partially hydrogenated oil [coconut and/or soybean], salt, butter [milkfat], nonfat milk, buttermilk, disodium phosphate, sodium caseinate, mono & di-glycerides, citric acid, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, dipotassium phosphate, natural flavor, natural and artificial colors [annatto, paprika, FD & C Yellow #5, FD & C Yellow #6, Beta Carotene], and carrageenan), Cheddar Cheese: (cultured pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes, annatto [color]), modified food starch, imitation cheddar cheese (water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, casein, modified food starch, contains 2% or less of: salt, kasal, sodium citrate, lactic acid, cellulose powder, sorbic acid [to preserve freshness], artificial flavor, artificial color), contains 2% or less of: dehydrated onion. Red Chile Sauce: Water, shortening (beef fat and cottonseed oil, BHT added to improve stability), Bleached wheat flour enriched (niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), flavorings including paprika, contains 2% or less of: modified food starch, chili powder (chili pepper, salt, spices, garlic powder), dehydrated soy sauce flavor (soy sauce [soy bean, salt, corn syrup], yeast extract and partially hydrogenated soybean oil), salt, beef base (salt, soy sauce[Naturally fermented wheat & soybeans, salt, maltodextrin and caramel color], maltodextrin, yeast extract, dextrose, modified food starch, caramel color, dehydrated onion, silicon dioxide, corn oil, natural flavor), lactic acid, guar gum. Beans: Water, pinto beans, contains 2% or less of: shortening (beef fat and cottonseed oil, BHT added to improve stability), salt, flavorings, modified food starch, chili powder (chili pepper, salt, spices, garlic powder). Spanish Rice: Cooked rice (water, rice), water, tomato paste, bell peppers, contains 2% or less of: flavorings including paprika, modified food starch, salt, dehydrated onion, vegetable oil (canola and/or soybean), sugar and citric acid. Topping: Imitation Cheddar cheese (water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, casein, modified food starch, contains 2% or less of: salt, kasal, sodium citrate, lactic acid, cellulose powder, sorbic acid [to preserve freshness], artificial flavor, artificial color).


When Alice's White Rabbit becomes a White Kangaroo

As an adult, I read Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and marveled at the use of puns, inversions, and other types of wordplay such as the following dialogue:

"Why did you call him tortoise, if he wasn't one?" Alice asked.
"We call him Tortoise because he taught us," said the Mock Turtle angrily. "Really, you are very dull." (Chapter IX)


"That's the reason they're called lessons," the Gryphon remarked: "because they lessen from day to day." (Chapter IX)
While I found Carroll's writing to be witty, as a translator, I wondered how on earth Carroll's classic could have been translated into other languages, and, according to Wikipedia, the work has been translated into 125 languages. For instance, the play on "Tortoise" and "taught us" would be completely lost in French or Spanish, as would the play on "lesson" and "lessen." An exceptional pun or rhyme might be dealt with neatly with a footnote, but so much of the novel consists of these clever linguistic maneuvers that would seem to only work in English.

I recently did a Google search to find out how translators may have handled this particularly tricky work. In 1999, Sílvia Mas interviewed translator Salvador Oliva in An Interview With Salvador Oliva: Translating Alice in Wonderland into Catalan. In the interview, Oliva states that

Sometimes the content itself is not so important because it is not referential language. Therefore, it can always be replaced. The fundamental aspect for me is the rhyme. not referential language. Therefore, it can always be replaced...the translator has to alter the meaning. It is unavoidable.
Essentially Oliva creates new puns that keep the tone and basic suggestion of the original text, even if the “translation” is not literal.

Vladimir Nabokov, perhaps best known for his infamous work Lolita, produced a Russian translation of Carroll's classic. Leigh Kimmel writes that

while most of the earlier translators of Alice in Wonderland had simply given up on trying to preserve the humor of the puns and had simply translated the words as they were, Nabokov instead tried to find pairs of near-homophones in Russian which would be equally humorous for the Russian reader.
In Exploring Translation and Multilingual Text Production: Beyond Content (Erich Steiner and Colin Yallop, 2001) discuss (pp. 232-238) Nancy Sheppard's translation of Carroll's work into the Australian aboriginal language Pitjantjatjara. Not only does Sheppard have to deal with all the wordplay, but also a very English context that is decidedly out of place in the central Australian desert. Hence the concept of Alice in Wonderland has been translated as "Alitji in the Dreamtime." Instead of seeing a white rabbit, Alitji sees a white kangaroo. The dormouse becomes a koala. Furthermore, l ike Oliva and Nabokov, Sheppard creates new puns that are intended to suggest the spirit of the original puns to readers even if the actual content has been changed.

Translators are, by nature, given the task of rendering the meaning, tone, and spirit of a source text in one language faithfully into a target text in a second language. Often this does not pose a problem and can be accomplished by skilled professionals. However, sometimes in more creative texts, such as poetry or in documents involving the use of wordplay exclusive to the source language, a choice must be made, and either the literal meaning or the spirit must be sacrificed. This represents a gray, murky area in the dynamic field of translation and also underscores the need for qualified human translators to carry out such translations. Indeed, as faulty as "computerized" translations (such as those offered by Babelfish) of straightforward documents might be, it would, at this point, seem nearly impossible for such a work as Alice to be translated effectively by such software.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


Pink castle!

I sometimes read the Japanese Yahoo site to practice my reading skills, and I found this pretty pink castle. The Japanese caption says that the Nagoya Castle was lit up pink to raise awareness for the early detection of breast cancer. The castle is located within the city, and it's being restored, so that's why there's a construction site there.



Will be we be saying "Parabéns" to Rio? I hope so, and I live in Chicago. Take the Olympics, please.

Update: Parabéns!