Another Japanese book I'm trying to read

I have a few Japanese books that I've been reading over a long period of time, but one day I thought, "I need something else". So I went to a Japanese book store and bought Twitter社会論 - 新たなリアルタイム・ウェブの潮流 [discussing the Twitter society - the new real time wave trend]. It's interesting to see how an instant communication tool is affecting an ancient culture. I'll probably have more to say about it as I work through the book.


Death Note: I met one of the producers

I met an incredibly interesting Japanese guy who spent years working in Japanese TV and movies before doing media stuff for the Consulate. He told me that he worked on this movie, Death Note.


Got paid to do this

I'm very excited because I've been posting stuff here and at Gapersblock, which is a site about Chicago, but now I've actually gotten paid to post something via a "Community News Matters" grant (!): an interview with Chicago recording artist/producer J'mme Love, who's a really great guy.

Click here to read the article and see some of the pictures I took when I hung out in his neighborhood. I had a great time over there and met some really nice people. I definitely love doing interviews.

Now I have to calm down and study Japanese :D


Linguistic Mondegreens

Musical "mondegreens" have long been a source of amusement and laughter, perhaps because many of us have experienced them. A "mondegreen" is a misinterpretation of a phrase or statement, often applied to misheard song lyrics. For instance, Jimi Hendrix's "Scuse me while I kiss the sky" has been misheard as "Scuse me while I kiss this guy," and the line "there's a bad moon on the rise" from Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" has been misconstrued as "there's a bathroom on the right." Incidentally, the word "mondegreen" was coined in 1954 by US writer Sylvia Wright, who had misunderstood the line "They hae slain the Earl O' Moray/And laid him on the green" in the 17th-century ballad "The Ballad of Earl O'Murray" as "They hae slain the Earl O' Moray/And Lady Mondegreen."

Interestingly, there are linguistic "mondegreens" resulting from the mishearing of a word or phrase in a source language, leading to a mistranslation in the target language that is widely adopted, often by speakers who are completely unaware of the mistake.

One of the biggest musical hits in 1956 in the English-speaking world was a tune called "The Poor People of Paris." A version of the song by Les Baxter's Orchestra reached number one on the Billboard Top 100 record singles chart on March 24, 1956 and stayed there for six weeks. A few weeks later, on April 13, West Indian pianist Winifred Atwell hit number one on the UK Singles Chart with her version of "The Poor People of Paris." That would have been perfectly fine, except that this wasn't the correct name of the song.

"The Poor People of Paris" was taken from the French song "La goualante du Pauvre Jean," which has been recorded by such artists as Edith Piaf. The title literally means "The Ballad of Poor Jean." The problem is that "Pauvre Jean" ("Poor Jean") sounds exactly like "Pauvres Gens" ("Poor People"), as "Jean" and "Gens" are homophones, and the plural "s" in "Pauvres" is silent. Supposedly, the original title of the song was conveyed orally over the phone to the English-language adapter, who, without context, simply misinterpreted it and perhaps added the "of Paris" as an homage to the song's French origins. Hence, millions of music lovers have purchased and admired a tune about a big-time hustler that they have perhaps misunderstood as a moving number about the down-and-out masses of the French capital.

A similar misrendering of the English sentence "if I see you a third time, I'll scream" may have taken place in Israel/Palestine during the British occupation of the region, leading to a curious Hebrew idiom for "third time's a charm" or "we meet again," as Jacob Shwirtz explains:
The Hebrew expression for "third time’s a charm" is "pa’am shlishit glida," which translates to "third time is ice cream"; this term comes from the time of the British Mandate when the English would say, "If I see you a third time, I’ll scream." Israelis heard "ice cream" and the phrase stuck.
This theory, however, is somewhat controversial and has been challenged by Balashon. Nevertheless, it might be a sweet idea, when you unexpectedly run into someone on three consecutive occasions, to invite him/her for some ice cream.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


Japanese guilt

Ugh--I was consistently studying Japanese since the new year began (since it was my New Year's resolution), and this week I dropped the ball. I think it's because Chicago has finally had some decent weather, and I kept going outside to enjoy the sun instead of sitting around inside trying to figure out kanji. I'm just stating this publicly because I feel bad, and I really have to get my act together again. So tomorrow I will most likely wake up early and study before I go teach ESL (which I've been doing every week for the past few years).

Yes, it's great to see the sun but it doesn't help Japanese study or the development of my nerdiness :D


Interview with successful newspaper columnist

I've been in the blogging world for over five years, and until recently, I hardly knew any professional journalists, though it wasn't like I talked to them often even when I barely knew them. Lately I've met more professionals who have been writing for years, and they've been lucky to make money from writing and still do, even though the Biz is dwindling.

For my podcast, I did an interview with Phil Rosenthal, who's now a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, and who spent years before that writing for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times.

He talks about his career, the future of newspapers, and lots of other stuff. It might be interesting because it's usually hard to get such successful people to do a baby pod such as mine for a baby blog such as this :D

Listen to the interview at this link (mp3 file).


Live Music and Painting

I usually post here more frequently, but I've been quite busy this week, and by the time I got home yesterday, I'd been gone all day and night and had done so much, including driving over one hundred miles all around the northern suburbs of Chicago, that I was totally exhausted. I ended up falling asleep immediately, which is why I didn't post anything about the Dutch and American combo of art and music that I saw yesterday: The Mo(ve)ment Effect: Art Without Boundaries.

There are two painters: Royce Deans, who is American, and Tali Farchi, who moved from Israel to the Netherlands over 10 years ago (btw, she speaks Dutch, English, and Hebrew--impressive).

Tonight they're having a show in Chicago at Heaven Gallery at 10 pm. Tali and Royce will be painting to music performed by Wilbert de Joode (bass), Dave Rempis (reeds), and Mike Reed (drums). Wilbert de Joode is Dutch, so he and Tali came over to the US thanks to funding from various places, including The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Chicago (I posted that name because it's long and fancy).

You can see videos of what they've done at their site.


Why can't you understand me?

It is said that it is possible for a Spanish-speaker to ask a Portuguese speaker for directions in Spanish and be fully understood. However, when the Portuguese speaker replies in Portuguese, the Spanish speaker may be completely lost. This may seem somewhat baffling, but the reason is that the two Romance languages share a degree of mutual intelligibility, but it is not absolute.

Mutual intelligibility is defined by Wikipedia as "a relationship between languages in which speakers of different but related languages can readily understand each other without intentional study or extraordinary effort." There are levels of mutual intelligibility ranging from zero to 100%. The only language with which English enjoys a relatively high level of mutual intelligibility is Lowland Scots, which is considered to be a separate language by some linguists and merely a dialect of English by others. This is not to be confused with Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language which is apparently fairly mutually intelligible with Irish Gaelic. There is extremely low mutual intelligibility between English and Scottish Gaelic.

Consequently, The Lowland Scots sentence "D'ye see yon hoose ower yonder" (Do you see that house off in the distance) would be relatively intelligible to an English speaker with no previous exposure to Lowland Scots.

But the Scottish Gaelic sentence "Dè an t-ainm a tha ort?" (What is your name?) would probably mean absolutely nothing to an English speaker with no previous exposure to Scottish Gaelic.

Some language sets enjoy a very high degree of mutual intelligibility. Norwegian and Swedish are, to a large degree, mutually intelligible, as are Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. Conversely, sometimes different dialects of a particular language will lack a significant degree of mutual intelligibility.

In Mutual Intelligibility in the Romance Languages, Robert Lindsay writes:
What is interesting is that everyone accepts that Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are separate languages, despite 54% intelligibility for Spanish and Portuguese and even higher for Spanish and Italian.

However, in the cases of Austrian/Bavarian, Swabian (spoken around Stuttgart) and Mainfränkisch(Moselle Franconian, close to Luxembourgeois), these three languages are only 40% intelligible with Standard German. Their status as separate languages has infuriated lots of folks who just consider them to be dialects of German, or "cheap slangs" of some type or other. Yet they have a better case for being separate languages than Spanish, Portuguese and Italian do.
Mutual intelligibility can vary in degree with respect to the written and spoken varieties of languages. In many cases, written forms are more mutually intelligible than spoken forms as speakers of one language can recognize similar features more readily in spellings than in pronunciations. A simple example is English and Afrikaans. "My pen is in my hand." could be a sentence in English or Afrikaans, with an identical meaning and read correctly by monolingual speakers of both. However, the words are pronounced differently, which could inhibit comprehension. Furthermore, mutual intelligibility may not be equal on both sides. It is apparently easier for a Dutch speaker to understand Afrikaans than vice versa and statistically easier for a Portuguese speaker to understand Spanish than the other way around.

This brings up the point of the disparity between mutual intelligibility and lexical similarity (similarity of related words between languages). Differences in pronunciation and in the related forms themselves are largely responsible for this. An example is the Spanish word "tiempo," which is lexically similar to the French word "temps." Both mean "time" or "weather." Yet the pronunciations are so different that this could easily prevent comprehension. Lindsay writes:
We also learn, here, that no one can understand French except the French. Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, Romanians, no one can understand the damned French. This makes sense to me. I can’t understand a word of the local French-speaking tourists, and I had a semester of French. The always talk like they are holding their noses. This is interesting in light of the fact that Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian have 89%, 75%, 75%, and 75% lexical similarity with French. But all those similar words aren’t worth a hill of beans when it comes to understanding a Frenchman." [no offense, of course, is meant towards the French!]
Mutual intelligibility may also decrease over time. English is very closely related to Frisian, spoken in Friesland in the Netherlands, and at one point, Old English and Old Frisian were thought to be mutually intelligible. Over the centuries, English and Frisian maintained some level of mutual intelligibility, giving rise to the sentence "Butter, bread, and green cheese is good English and good Fries," which is pronounced roughly the same and has the same meaning in both languages (in Frisian, it is "Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk"). Yet the two languages have drifted apart, with English upholding its 1000-year-old Norman French influence, and Frisian being influenced heavily by Dutch, to the extent that monolingual Frisian and English speakers probably could not understand each other today.

Lindsay addresses the subject: "Frisian and English have 61% lexical similarity, but in the Frisian video (featured in a prior post)...I could not make out a single word in five minutes. It appears that 60% lexical similarity and $1.89 will get you a Slurpee at a 7-11, but little in the way of understanding another language."

There is another pitfall with lexical similarity: false cognates. "Ano" exists in both Portuguese and Spanish, but while it means "year" in Portuguese, it means "anus" in Spanish. Similarly, a Spanish-speaking woman may be "embarazada," and an English-speaking woman may be "embarrassed." However, "embarazada" does not mean "embarrassed," but "pregnant."

Curiously, as some dialects of languages are more mutually intelligible than others (for example, some dialects of German and Dutch are more mutually intelligible than Standard German and Standard Dutch), it is thought that, by tracing a chain of mutually intelligible dialects, a "dialect continuum" may be established. In Europe, for example, Continental West Germanic, North Germanic, North Slavic, South Slavic, and Romance dialect continua are said to exist (see Wikipedia about "dialect continuum").

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


Chat with Silas

Language fan and friend Silas McCracken, who's a guest poster here, said that he would do a chat (IM/text chat) with readers of this blog. I'm still waiting for him to give me an available date, but when it happens, which will be this month, I'll announce it here and at his Facebook fan page. So stay tuned!


I met this Elton John superfan

I met this guy and had no idea he was such a huge Elton John fan until I saw this video. His nickname is "Elton Jim", but I didn't know it had to do with his Elton John obsession. Jim is actually a really friendly guy, and he doesn't have a snobby attitude, even though he's on the radio everyday with Garry Meier, who's a well-known Chicago radio personality. So the next time I see him, which might be in a couple of days, I'm going to ask about his love for Elton John and maybe tell him about this post :D