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Languages and Culture

Looking for part time job as instructor for Tibetan
Do you have information on how school districts have implemented Arabic programs?
I was offered a teaching job (Arabic) though I have never taught before, what advice could you give me?
How to make the best of a summer immersion in the target language country?
Why don't Brazilians speak Spanish?
What's the latest research on teaching Arabic to Americans?
Foreign languages versus World languages?
What percentage of Americans speaks a second language?
What is the most complete definition of language?
I say "bring", they say "take" - which is it?
What is the origin of the word "baksheesh"?
How many non written languages are there?
Will knowledge of ancient Greek be useful in communicating with present day Greeks?
Portugese sounds just like a slavic language Or does it?
What are the estimates of English language speakers by country?
Do kinesics (gestures, physical distance, facial signs) vary across cultures?
Is Yiddish the Ebonics of German?
What's the difference between Farsi, Dari and Tajik?
Can a descriptive word not apply due to a person's religion and education?
Does language govern a world view or does the world view govern the language?
Amharic, Omoro, Tigrigna, Do these languages even exist?
How many languages are spoken in the world?
What are the seven most important languages in the world?


Looking for part time job as instructor for Tibetan

Dear Dora,
I am looking for part time job as instructor for Tibetan, could you be very kind to tell me where should I look up to?!
Yankey

Dear Yankey:
You have me there! I don't know of any groups where you might be able to teach Tibetan. I don't know that it is on the Department of Defense list of languages that are urgent, but it may be. If so, then you may have to contact the proprietary schools (i.e., the language schools) to see if they are looking for a Tibetan teacher. And what about the temples? My sense is that there are probably people who might be interested in learning Tibetan. Or for that matter, you might be able to offer it. I don't think there are very many teachers of Tibetan that are trained to teach the language communicatively. Two of the schools I know have contracts with the government are Diplomatic Language Services and the Comprehensive Language Center, both in Arlington. You might want to contact them to see if they have any openings.

The closest school (academic) that I know of here on the east coast is the University of Virginia where Tibetan is taught. They are quite knowledgeable about what is happening in the field, so you  might want to contact them. Here is the URL for the faculty at the South Asian Studies Center. You may even know some of them. http://www.virginia.edu/soasia/facstaff/f_02.html/.

I'm sorry I can't be of more help. If something does come to my attention, I certainly will contact you.
Dora

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Do you have information on how school districts have implemented Arabic programs?

Dear Dora,
A colleague suggested that I contact you. We are examining the addition of a critical language in my district. Would you have any information on how other school districts have implemented Arabic programs, how the curriculum has been developed, how the teachers have been prepared in terms of pedagogy, and what impact the addition of Arabic has had on the existing languages taught at a school?
Thanks,
Liz

Dear Liz:

You have asked all the right questions for which there are no real good answers, but I'll try to address them!

Each school district seems to have implemented its critical languages program differently. Fairfax County started out as a small response to the growing presence of Arabic language speaking populations as well as Islamic ones by hiring a couple of teachers to teach at the high school level. The program grew and it is now going to be implemented at 5 sites (thanks to a FLAP grant), using Web-based instruction in addition to classroom-based instruction. They are in the process of beginning to develop a curriculum and materials for the distance learning activities.

Chicago Public Schools is building its program based on its successful foray into the teaching of Chinese. They have created a partnership with De Paul University and will be working on developing materials. They have developed their standards for Arabic based on the state and national standards. They will start in the high schools (3 of them I believe) and plan to eventually have a K-12 articulated program.

Minneapolis Public Schools applied for a FLAP grant several years ago and with the University of Minnesota developed a curriculum which they have been implementing mostly at one high school. There are several other schools that have now picked up on Arabic and are planning to introduce the language-- again at the high school level.

Thanks to the efforts of one woman with a vision and the laws behind the bilingual education act, the Dearborn public schools introduced a two-way program at an elementary school, but once the funding ran out, it was changed to a regular foreign language program. There are other programs at the middle school and high school levels, as well as some charter schools in Dearborn. Up until this year, they were not articulated, but thanks to a K-12 flagship grant to Michigan State University, this is about to change. MSU will be working closely with the Dearborn schools to develop a long-range articulated program with all of the additional teacher training, curriculum and materials development efforts included.

Delaware is instituting an Arabic program by using a distance program that comes out of Cairo. Another school in Massachusetts has done the same thing.

Virginia Beach Public Schools determined to implement an Arabic language program. They hired a consultant who helped them develop standards to meet the Virginia and their district SOLs.

An elementary public charter school in Atlanta determined that its foreign language for all of its students was going to be Arabic and implemented it in the school.

As you can see, it's all over the map. There is a concerted effort I think to try to develop standards. We do now have national standards which are available in ACTFL's revised edition of Foreign Language Standards for Learning in the 21st Century. Chicago took them and adapted them to their state standards.

My suggestion is that perhaps what you might want to do is to apply for a 3-year FLAP grant in the coming grant cycle. It was a little disheartening to note that out of all the grants, only 5 were focussed or included Arabic in them, so if you put together a good plan, I would no doubt think that it's going to get funded. (And NJ has a good reputation for good plans!) I would also suggest that you talk to Janice Jensen. If I'm not mistaken, she has some plans re critical languages to be offered in NJ.

Of course, there's always the issue of getting the school district board to approve all this. We have heard both good and bad stories about support but at the moment, the winds are blowing in the right direction.

I'm sure your next question is whether you can get copies of the standards. The curriculum for the Mpls. Schools is online. VB apparently is not allowed to share their curriculum. I think that Chicago will post theirs online. Delaware follows it World Languages standards which are also online.

There is one other resource that I think will be good to consult although I'm not quite sure how they're going to make it available, but Concordia Language Villages is developing a credit bearing course for high school students. Their program is immersion but the basic components of the course will be useful, I'm sure. Ghazi Abuhakema is the director of the CLV Arabic program. He is now teaching at Montclair State and may be a good resource for you.

As for teacher training…we have mountains to climb on this issue! There is but one certified Arabic as a foreign language teacher in the country. There are teachers who are licensed by the state to teach Arabic. Virginia is one of those states. There are no programs that train teachers to teach Arabic as a foreign Language (TAFL) in the country. Most teachers are certified through some other means, e.g., they are French teachers or ESOL teachers. Others are given provisional permission and need to meet state requirements, but usually through some other means. Others are given a language test and if they are deemed proficient in the language and have certification in something else, they are then "certified" -- whatever that means.

We, and others, have tried to meet this gaping need through summer institutes. The most active one has been the NCLRC, but there are efforts out on the West Coast and the National Middle East Language Resource Center has also undertaken some teacher training activities. This coming summer a federal program known as STARTALK will also include some teacher training. Some of it will be teacher-to-teacher (from the Dept. of Education) and some of it will be institutes. And there are a couple of universities that are planning to start up TAFL programs but they haven't quite started up yet. We expect that at some point there will probably also be a distance learning program but finding funding for this has not be terribly successful as of this writing.

Materials -- another area that makes one a little crazy. At the high school level, there are a couple of textbook and series that are being used that most teachers seem to be reasonably pleased with -- they tell us that they supplement them. At the elementary and middle school level, there is very little. There is one series that is carefully articulated K-2 or 3 that was published by Al-Deen Foundation in California. There is one self-published textbook by a middle school teacher that others also find useful. And there is a series published in the Gulf that is for K-6, but is entirely in Arabic. Some people like it and some don't. There is another series published in Chicago that doesn't quite meet expectations, but has some components that are quite usable. In other words, teachers will have to cobble together their teaching materials. We've discovered that they are quite creative that way!

This all sounds like such a dark picture, but please don't be discouraged. One has to start somewhere, and we've come a very long way in a very short period of time. You ask about the impact. At the Salt Lake City ACTFL convention (I think that was 2000), there were 3 of us who managed to find each other who were interested in Arabic. The following year I think I had 7 people (that included us 3 plus four more) at an Arabic session. By this past ACTFL convention, Arabic sessions were competing against each other! We've managed to get teachers to present. We have found an incredibly open reception on the part of FL teachers. We do hear that the teachers in the commonly taught languages are a little nervous about whether this focus on critical languages is going to take away from their resources, but so far it hasn't happened. The lack is the lack of interest on the part of the Department of Education, and those in the critical languages are being very loud and clear about the fact that they are not interested in supplanting French, Spanish and German (although the last is already endangered!). If you look at what is happening with Chinese, I suspect that you can tell that parents are voting with their feet and so making the languages available to their children is a good thing. Arabic will never be huge, but it can become an accepted foreign language to be taught in the schools.

If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to write back. If there is some way we can help, ask. If we can, we will. If not, we'll try to put you in touch someone who might. And please let us know when and if Tenafly institutes an Arabic language program. We'd love to have you on the list! I'll ask Salima Intidame to add you to our e-mail list to receive any additional information. If you'd rather not be on the list, let me know.

Thank you for contacting us.
Dora

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I am a native Arabic Linguist and was offered a teaching job though I have never taught before, what advice could you give me?

Dear Dora,(This question was originally addressed to Yana)
I am a native Arabic linguist and was offered to teach Modern Standard Arabic to intermediate students, though I've never taught before except for mentoring non-native students. I'd like the opportunity to do it but I am hesitant. What advice would you give me?
Najida

Dear Najida:
Congratulations! You do not indicate if this is a full or part time position nor at what level you will be teaching, so I'm guessing at what you need to know.
I will address your question in a more general way in one of my future columns, but in the meantime, here are some questions that you should probably answer before you accept the position.

  1. Is this a position that will terminate at the end of the academic year?
  2. Are there certification requirements you must meet if you are to become a permanent member of the faculty? Can you reasonably meet these requirements?
  3. Is there a ready supply of teaching materials or will you have to find and/or develop your own?
  4. Is there mentoring support for you on a regular basis while you learn how to be a teacher?
I do not know anything about Arabic and cannot address issues specific to the language, so I am also sending your request to Dora Johnson, who may have some additional advice.
Good luck to you!
Yana
(See Dora's answer below)

Dear Najida:
Is the job you have been offered one that is teaching adults or K-12? It makes a difference. I think the questions that Dear Yana raises are ones that you should consider. In addition, there are more issues regarding the teaching of Arabic, and especially intermediate Arabic that might be problematic. If you could describe the situation in more detail, perhaps I can put you in touch with a couple of people who might be able to provide you with some advice. No matter what, you will need to get some training. Issues such as methodology, the requirements of the course (e.g., what does the institution mean by intermediate?), the types of students you are going to be teaching, the training you received, and so forth. The fact that you are querying whether you should take the position or not says that you are aware of potential problems, which puts you far ahead of lots of people!
Dora

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What percentage of Americans speaks a second language?

Dear Dora,
I was wondering if you knew the approximate percentage of Americans that speak Spanish as a second language. Or, the approximate percentage of Americans who speak a second language at all?

Hello!
I don't know that there is any possible way to know how many Americans speak a second language. The question of course is, how well? Would someone having gone through two years of high school Spanish qualify for speaking a second language? Or are you thinking of bilingual speakers? If so, the closest numbers you will find are those provided by the Census Bureau. They don't have records for all languages, but do make a valiant effort.

For speakers of Spanish, probably the best place for you to get this information would be the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. The Web site is www.ncela.gwu.edu and the e-mail address is askncela@ncela.gwu.edu. Another source is Ethnologue (www.ethnologue.com). There is a table on the web site that tells you the languages spoken in the USA with numbers.
Dora

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What is the most complete definition of language?

Dear Dora,
What is the most complete definition of language? Where can I get different ideas and definitions of language?

Hello!
There is no such thing as a complete definition of language. However, there are some good definitions. Here's one from the Encyclopedia Britannica. "Language: a system of conventional spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, communicate. Language so defined is the peculiar possession of human beings. Other animals interact by means of sounds and body movements, and some can learn to interpret human speech to an extremely limited extent. But no other species of being has conventionalized its cries and utterances so that they constitute a systematic symbolism in the way that language does. In these terms, then, humans may be described as the talking animals." - Encyclopedia Britannica. Micropaedia. Vol. 7. 1994. p. 147.

After that, the definitions fall into physiological, structural, semantic, cultural and historical areas.

To get ideas of different aspects and the way in which languages are described and the categories, etc., probably the best book for you to look at is David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. (Cambridge University Press, 1987). It is eminently readable and you can look things up in different areas. There are also quite a number of other publications that deal with language in general, but they tend to be more technical. If you want linguistic references, let us know and we'll provide you with some.
Dora

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I say "bring", they say "take" - which is it?

Hi Dora,
I'm hoping you can put an end to a recurring debate between me and my American friends. I have noticed that in the US, "to take" and "to bring" seem to be used interchangeably, e.g: " I am going next door. Is there anything you would like me to BRING over with me?" I argue that you cannot "bring" something over when you are talking to a person who is in the same place with you. If you were talking to someone next-door over the telephone for example, then that sentence would be correct as the dictionary defines "bring" as: "to carry, convey, conduct, or cause (someone or something) to come with, to, or toward the speaker." Given that, the correct wording is "I am going next door. Is there anything you would like me to TAKE over with me?" Right? Please say I'm right. There's $5 riding on this!

Hello!
Remember, English is not my first language, so you're putting me on the spot! I think you are right: "take over" and "bring over" are used interchangeably which means that in most people's minds, there isn't a difference. However, I think it would be hard for you to say, "Can I take over some food to your house?" unless you were going to take it from a third place, like buying it at a store and then taking it over. You "bring" over food when you're directly coming to someone's house. "Can I bring over some food?" When you're bringing over something, the assumption is that you started out from a separate spot -- even if it is in the same apartment. E.g., "Do you want me to bring these olives over [to the coffee table]?" But you would say, "Would you like me to take over these olives to Mrs. X [who is probably housebound]?"

So unfortunately, in American English you are not quite right. However, in British English you are absolutely right! You "take over" things when you are going from your place to another. If you are in the same geographical location, as in the same apartment, you bring over whatever it is.

So I think what you should do is give your friend the $5 and then have her/him give it back! And I'd suggest you add to it, buy yourselves a bottle of wine and take it over to another friend's house and drink it! Tell that friend you're bringing over a bottle of wine! Cheers.
Dora

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What is the origin of the word "baksheesh"?

Dear Dora,
I was introduced to the word "baksheesh", which I was told was an Arabic term. It is apparently a common term in German (das Bakschish), but the English speakers never heard of it before. I think it is the bribe that one gives to government officials to get them to do their job, as in Mobutu's kleptocracy. Can you give us an etymology?

Hello!
Actually, it made it into the English language in the middle of the 15th century (ca. 1430 is the first recorded mention according to the Oxford English Dictionary). It's Persian in origin and is now used in Arabic, Turkish, and Urdu -- and most likely in all sorts of other places.

Its original meaning was "a present," "to give." It is now much more commonly used as "a gratuity," "a present of money," "a tip," or "a bribe." It was probably quite widely used in the colonial world, and is still the means for many poor folk to add to their income, but I'm not sure that unless someone has lived in eastern Asian countries or have daily contacts with Urdu/Turkish/Arabic speakers, they would be familiar with the term. It comes in a variety of spellings, the most common are "baksheesh" and "bakhshish."
Dora

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How many non written languages are there?

Dear Dora,
Approximately, how many non-written (spoken) languages are there?

Hello!
You have me stumped! I would be reluctant to answer the question in any definitive way. In the past, people used to count the number of Bibles (or portions thereof) that had been translated into a language and then say all the others didn't have writing systems. Obviously, that was not particularly correct. However, none of the references I checked seem to have this information, which says to me that most likely there are no good numbers. I suspect about 2,000 or so languages (out of 6,000) have no written form or at least an accepted orthography that they would comfortably use.

Perhaps SIL International might know. What you might want to do is go to the Ethnologue site www.ethnologue.com. There is a contact address on that site and you might want to ask them the question and hope they know!
Dora

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Will knowledge of ancient Greek be useful in communicating with present day Greeks?

Dear Dora,
I'm a freshman in college studying ancient Greek. Will my knowledge of ancient Greek be useful in communicating with the present day Greeks when I go to Greece this summer?

Dr. James E. Alatis says:
Your knowledge of Classical Greek will be helpful, especially since you will have some knowledge of the alphabet. But Modern Greek is pronounced much differently than Classic, so your speaking and even your audio-comprehension might be hindered. Classical Greek is a much more synthetic language grammatically, and therefore more complex for English speakers. Modern Greek, by contrast, is more analytical, but still more synthetic than English. Classical vocabulary looks like Modern in written form, but has undergone centuries of semantic change and fluctuation, so there will be moments of false etymologizing. By and large, Modern and Classic are mutually unintelligible--almost like the difference between Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and Modern English. Try to look at some Modern Greek books and listen to accompanying tapes to get some idea of the similarities and differences. The beautiful ambience of Greece, and its people, will provide you with additional motivation to learn more. I commend you for your linguistic and cultural curiosity, and wish you a pleasant experience in the Glory that was (and still is) Greece.
Dr. James E. Alatis is Dean Emeritus, SLL, and Distinguished Professor of Linguistics and Modern Greek at Georgetown University.

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Portugese sounds just like a slavic language Or does it?

Dear Dora,
I know Portuguese is a romance language, but on a recent transit through Lisbon, even though I could read and understand most things (I'm Italian), the spoken words sounded more like a Slavic language. Why is that?

Hello!
Since I speak neither Russian nor Portuguese, all I can do is take a guess. On the whole, I would suggest that it's your impression and the way you associate sounds, syntax, rhythm, and stress. It reminds me a bit of the time in Quebec where I people could understand my French, but I was having a very hard time understanding them--until I figured out that I needed to tune into a different stress pattern, and that there were some differences in nasalization Once I figured that out, it was not a problem anymore.

It would be difficult to say that Portuguese sounded like Slavic. Probably the closest thing might be is that you heard a fair amount of fricatives which also exist in Russian and to some extent in Polish. So where you thought you were going to hear a sibilant, you heard a fricative and it sounded curiously like Russian. Could be, but since I'm not an expert you might want to check with your local university's Portuguese and Russian language departments and see what they say!

One of the benefits of the "Ask Dora" column is that it creates a forum for updates and corrections. Reader Robert L. Davis had this to contribute:

Dear Dora,
I don't know if you send out repeat answers or updates, but this info may be interesting to the person with the question about Portuguese sounding like a Slavic language.

I teach Spanish, so Portuguese, in its written form, is highly comprehensible to me. But, spoken European Portuguese (EP), which includes the Lisbon dialect, has a very different phonetic system and thus makes a different acoustic impression. I remember thinking that it sounded like Slavic or at times like English as I walked through the streets of Lisbon.

The reason comes from a couple of striking features of this dialect:
(1) EP speakers pronounce an "s" before a consonant in one of two ways: voiceless palatal fricative [S] (s in English "ship", or voiced palatal fricative [Z] (as in English measure, television). The choice depends on the sound that follows. (Sorry, I can't type IPA symbols in an email!) Final "s" is also pronounced as [S] or [Z], so that all the plural noun/adjective endings have these sounds (making them very frequent), e.g. os novos livros "the good books" sounds like [uZnovuZlivruS]

(2) EP deletes many vowels in unstressed syllables, which creates consonant clusters not found in other Romance languages. The clusters of the palatal sounds like [S] with the other consonants is very common in Slavic languages (e.g. Brezhnev, Krushchev). These same sounds exist in other Romance languages (cf. French gens, Ital. lascia) but not usually in consonant clusters.

So that's my armchair analysis of the impression this person had. If he/she loves EP as much as I do, I encourage him/her to buy some fado CDs and listen away!
-Robert L. Davis is Director of the Spanish Language Program at the University of Oregon.
Dora

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What are the estimates of English language speakers by country?

Dear Dora,
Would you know where I could find estimates of the numbers of English speakers (native or second language) by country?

Hello!
Estimates are exactly what one can get. I often miss William Gage's slide rule every time I see the numbers being bandied around! The closest dependable reference I can provide you with is the SIL Ethnologue. Here's the URL: http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=ENG (Historical note: William Gage was associated with the Center for Applied Linguistics for many years and in the days when noone could quite figure out numbers of speakers for languages around the world, he did. His figures were usually quite accurate as later surveys became available.)
Dora

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Do kinesics (gestures, physical distance, facial signs) vary across cultures?

Dear Dora,
I am researching sounds in foreign languages. For example, when an English speaker wants to get someone's attention covertly, they say "psst" or when they want someone to be quiet they say "shhh," when they hurt themselves they say "ouch," so on and so forth with sounds like "yum", "boo-hoo", "a-choo", etc. Do these sounds vary by country? And if so, do you have any suggestions as to how I would go about finding the "translations."

Hello!
Joseph LoBianco
* says: The short answer is yes; these "sounds" do vary across countries. For example, in children's story books in Italy, France and England the noises that chickens, cats and dogs make vary considerably. In the Pinocchio tales in the original Italian crickets make a different sound from how this has been rendered. Or, to be more precise, the animal does not make a different sound; different cultures have heard and represented it in different ways. While this is not a separate area of study, many linguists and anthropologists have observed the same thing.

Gestures, physical distance, facial signs (kinesics), etc. all vary considerably from culture to culture. This area is well studied and the variation is very great. How "yes" and "no" are indicated facially or through motion varies absolutely. For example, many westerners will indicate "no" by shaking the head from side to side, and "yes" by rocking the head up and down. This latter gesture in Greece, Bulgaria, and S. Italy (though to a declining extent), and probably in other countries, indicates no. Hand gestures vary a great deal, and often give rise to offence. Body position and acceptable or recommended posture can vary too.
Hope this helps.
Dora

*Note: Joseph LoBianco is the Director of Language Australia and Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Melbourne. He spent several weeks at the Center for Applied Linguistics as a Ferguson Fellow.

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Is Yiddish the Ebonics of German?

Dear Dora,
I hope you can help me. My friend insists that Yiddish is to German as Ebonics is to English. He insists that the Yiddish is the Ebonics of German. I told him it isn't. What is your opinion?

Hello!
This argument (like most creolized languages) can cause a firestorm. And through our answer, I hope we don't ruin your relationship with your friend! There is a simple and not so simple answer to this question. Yiddish is certainly much further away from German than American Vernacular English is to standard English. In addition, Yiddish uses Hebrew orthography for its literature. Bernard Comrie (and other scholars) call it Judaeo-German and it is a Germanic language, but the heavy lexical influence of Hebrew and Slavonic languages, plus the fact that it has been around since something like the 9th century, has a couple of dialects, and has a fairly substantive literature of its own, perhaps makes it less likely to make it parallel to the American Vernacular English (Ebonics).
Dora

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What's the difference between Farsi, Dari and Tajik?

Dear Dora,
I came upon your page while searching the web to find out the difference between Eastern and Western Farsi / Persian. Any idea?

Hello!
What you are asking about is the differences between Farsi (Iran), Dari (Afghanistan), and Tajik (Tajikistan). Farsi is then in the West, Dari in the East, and Tajik in the Northeast. The smallest group is Tajik.

I suspect what you are asking about is mutual intelligibility. As far as I know, the dialects are mutually intelligible although there are significant lexical differences (one word in one dialect does not mean the same in another), as well as phonological differences, and I believe Farsi was influenced by Turkic use -- particularly in the Ottoman Empire days. So we have heard that often Dari speakers complain that they can't understand what the Farsis are saying to them.

The following is taken from Bernard Comrie, ed., The World's Major Languages (Oxford University Press, 1987). : "The three main dialects of Persian in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan have diverged in their phonology, most prominently in their vocalic systems. The developments in their morphosyntax is the history of the increasing differentiation prominently in their verb system ... partially under the influence of Turkic."

"...Afghan Persian is the least changed... Tajiki is the most changed" from early Persian, particularly in the way vowels are pronounced. And from the rest of the description, it looks like Tajik is the most divergent.
Dora

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Can a descriptive word not apply due to a person's religion and education?

Dear Dora,
A friend holding a PhD is attempting to convince me that, because of her stance on religion and because of her education, the term "tautology" cannot be applied in any way to describe her discussion or debating style. She also states that she checked with a Professor of Linguistics in Montana and that this professor has supported her claim. Is it possible that, due to education and religion, a descriptive word in the English language may never apply to you?

Hello!
Here is a response from a person whose judgment I trust. I have a feeling that you cannot quite argue the point because it can go both ways. Therefore, both you and your friend are right.

"Certainly, words are socially situated in both their denotative and connotative application and therefore may or may not apply based on social categories. For example, I know African Americans who would maintain that the term "racist" could never be applied to them because it can only apply to those who are in socially dominant positions. Perhaps this is what one has in mind.On the other hand, so-called linguistic tautologies, such as "boys will be boys", are effective declarative statements that have very strong implications of assumed and expected behavior. In that context, one would not want to outlaw the use of tautology. Tautologies are tautologies."
Dora

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Does language govern a world view or does the world view govern the language?

Dear Dora,
I would like to discuss and seek some help on work that I am doing. It is somewhat complex, but I will try to capture the essence in this e-mail. For a long time now I have tried to formulate some thoughts on language, meanings of words, and the relationship this has to how one views the world.

I contend that there is a distinction in philosophy between English and Ojibwe (a native American language). My hunch is that this same distinction carries over to all European Languages and Indigenous Languages. I call these distinctions "object-based thinking" which governs English, and "action or connection based thinking" which governs Ojibwe. Furthermore, I believe these distinctions are critical to worldview and that they play a significant role in how societies establish their "sciences", "what is fact/fiction" and eventually how the societies develops "values".

There are many implications to my research if I can indeed prove it. Not least, the manner in which we try to teach Ojibwe language to children who come to us with English only. I contend that if we simply supplant English meanings to Ojibwe words; i.e. "maaingan" = "wolf", we will lose the Ojibwe way of thinking even if we keep the words. I firmly believe in my head and heart, that way of thinking is more valuable than words (not only to this society, but to the global society as a whole).

However, given the impact of English and western culture, there are only a few left who can think this way. I hope I am not boring or losing you with this stuff. In any case, my first step is to prove that there even exists these distinct ways of thinking and that they indeed govern or at least influence their respective languages.

So my question is: Do you know of some sort of test, assessment, or process that would help me not only define clearly these "ways of thinking" and but also test the languages to determine a relationship between them? And if not, is there a test close enough that could be modified?

Hello!
You raise a very complicated and as far as I know unresolved issue. Does language govern a worldview or does the worldview govern the language? I'm sure you're aware of the work of anthropological linguists do that approaches this topic fairly often. And people who do cross cultural work address this albeit a little differently because they're basically looking for behavior remediation.

To answer your last question first, I have no idea whether there are such tests. If they do exist, you will have to mine the psychological field because what you are really asking is a psychological question.

From a linguistic point of view, I'd be inclined to say that for you to spend a huge amount of time worrying about this might be self defeating. Your Ojibwe kids come to school with a huge amount of culture that they have already absorbed. Whereas it is true that you are teaching them equivalencies, they also know that the word they are learning is more than an equivalency.

To teach them anything "pure" may not work. For example, "wolf" now is not just what a "wolf" was to their ancestors. They have all sorts of other interventions such as TV, western style stories, cars, etc., -- all of which have already changed their perception of the role of the wolf in their lives. One suspects most of them will never see a real live wolf throughout their life. But does that mean they don't understand the role of the wolf in their culture?

They do -- for a whole variety of reasons, one very important one being is that people like you are continuing the tradition. (It's all this relativism that dominates now.) However, I may be totally wrong.

I would also suggest that you enter into conversation with a couple of people who are knowledgeable about Ojibwe. I'm sure you know that on the Canadian side, there is a small group that has been developing materials for Ojibwe for some time now. I am sure these issues have been of concern to them. But the person who is probably the most knowledgeable and can lead you to the right people is Professor John D. Nichols. He edits a newsletter that focuses on Algonguian and Iroquian linguistics. He was at the University of Manitoba, but has recently moved to the University of Minneapolis. His address is: Department of American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota, 2 Scott Hall, 72 Pleasant Street, SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail: jdn@umn.edu. Fax: 612-626-7904.
Dora

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Amharic, Omoro, Tigrigna, Do these languages even exist?

Hi Dora,
I am creating a "scannable" data collection form for the BEST plus and one of the categories is going to be native language. I was hoping you could confirm the spelling (and existence!) of these three languages for me: Amharic, Oromo, and Tigrinya. I have been told you are the expert in identifying odd languages. Thanks!

(Note: The BEST Plus is a flexible English language skills assessment tool to use with adult speakers of languages other than English. CD and print-based versions will be available in early 2003. It is based on the BEST (Basic English Skills Test) that was developed by the Center for Applied Linguistics in the early 1980s to meet the need for reliable assessment of adult English learners' oral proficiency and literacy skills. For more information, the URL is http://www.cal.org/bestplus/.)

Hello!
Amharic is fine. Oromo is probably still the best way people identify the language in the West, but there is a strong movement (by the Oromo themselves and Voice of America-VOA, has recognized it) to call it Afan Oromoo (meaning "the Oromo language") to distinguish it from the name of the people. You can also use Afan Oromo, which I think, is what VOA uses. Tigrinya is also commonly used, but there seems to be a general agreement spell it as Tigrigna. Drop the "ny" for "gn." Simpler problem!
Dora

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What are the seven most important languages?

Dear Dora,
What are the seven most important languages? I don't want to know what are the seven most spoken languages, ok? Thanks.

Hello!
The response to this question is from whose perspective? In general, and definitely NOT in descending order, one could perhaps say that English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and Japanese. However, in saying this, one ignores the importance of Portuguese, for example. Or Swahili, or Hindi, or Urdu. One could argue that French is not quite as important as Hindi in today's world, but that would then hurt someone else's sensibilities. If you are going to make any serious statements about the importance of languages, I would suggest that you might want to make sure you provide your audience with an exact and clear perspective.
Dora

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How many languages are spoken in the world?

Dear Dora,
I recently was posed the question as to how many languages there are in the world by my Linguistics professor. I was wondering if you would have an educated guess as to how many are actually documented in the world. If so please reply. Thanks.

Hello!
The numbers vary. Most people are now going by the listings that Ethnologue published by SIL International provides. You can reach that Web site by going to www.ethnologue.com or through www.sil.org. The general consensus is 6000.

David Klaus [World Bank, retired] recently gave a paper at the International Literacy Day forum [in September 2001]. He had a bunch of figures that he was using --- and he'd worked out the proportions of how the larger numbers of languages, of course, were spoken by very few numbers of people. [Note: Dr. Klaus' information is the following: Some 6,800 languages are spoken in the world. About 92% of the world's populations speak only 4% of the languages. The other 8% speak 96% of the languages, which are, for the most part minority languages in the countries where they are spoken. Illiterates are disproportionately represented in the groups speaking minority languages.]
Dora

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Why dont Brazilians speak Spanish?

Dear Dora,
Why don't Brazilians speak Spanish? I understand that their country was founded by Portuguese discoverers. But they are surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries.....why don't they speak Spanish?

Hello!
Same reason that English is spoken in the U.S. -- it was settled by English-speaking people who conquered the indigenous nations who spoke many different languages.

There are many indigenous Brazilian languages, and Portuguese was the language that was imposed on the indigenous groups (like English was imposed on Native Americans in the U.S. ), and at one point it became the language of general communication. The same thing happened to the countries around Brazil, except that it was the Spanish that conquered them and the Spanish language was imposed on them. For the Brazilians to change their communication systems to suit the other countries would be a very difficult process, if not impossible. Brazilian Portuguese is a vibrant language that is used at all levels of society.
Dora

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What's the latest research on teaching Arabic to Americans?

Dear Dora,
I came across your article a couple of days ago and decided to write you asking for advice and guidance. I am interested in learning more about the teaching of Arabic in United States . I would like to find the latest research ideas regarding the Arabic language instruction to American students. I am a graduate student here in the US and would like to get involved in research but at my University there is little interest in Arabic. I would really appreciate any help you may be able to extend. Thank you.

Hello!
The main focus on Arabic language teaching that is different from the way in which Arabic is generally taught in Arab countries is that speaking proficiency is emphasized first rather than literacy skills. There has been a fair amount of discussion about this because the hot topic of whether one should also teach a dialect along with Modern Standard Arabic always comes up. There is no consensus on this topic! What is agreed on is that students must be taught Modern Standard Arabic.

The American Association of Teachers of Arabic has a journal called Al-'Arabiyyah which is published I think once or twice a year. You may want to find out more about it by contacting the AATA ( http://www.wm.edu/aata/ ). There are also other pieces of information that will give you some sense as to what is happening in Arabic language teaching. There is, for example, a National Middle East Language Resource Center that you can link to from there where you can also find information.
Dora

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Foreign languages versus World languages?

Dear Dora,
Our Foreign Language department would like to change our name to World Languages. Administration is requesting a rational for the change and I am searching for information on this topic. Any ideas?

Hello!
I'm not exactly sure whether there is a good rationale regarding renaming your department, but there must be something in the literature that argues for it. My sense is that you will probably have to argue it from the perspective that a department of world languages can be more easily identified with language across the curriculum and thus makes it more favorable to incorporate foreign language learning into various aspects of the curriculum.

You may also want to contact the State University at Binghamton. I think they were among the first to rename their foreign language department to world languages. Here is the contact information: Suronda Gonzalez, Acting Program Director, State University of New York at Binghamton, Vestal Parkway East, P.O. Box 6000, Hinman Commons 210, Binghamton NY 13902-6000; Sgonzal@binghamton.edu or (607) 777-3780.
Dora

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How to make the best of a summer immersion in the target language country?

This month, Craig Packard of The Center for Applied Linguistics will be a guest columnist filling in for Dora Johnson.

Dear Craig,
How to make the best use of study abroad time or summer immersion in the target language country? Thanks for your help,
Future Traveler

Dear Traveler,
Here's our Resource Guide Online [RGO] for those involved in self-guided language study:
http://www.cal.org/resources/archive/rgos/selfdirected.html

And a Digest: "Language Learning Strategies: An Update" at:
http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/oxford01.html

BOOKS:
-Studying Abroad/Learning Abroad (An Abridged Edition of the Whole World Guide to Culture Learning), by J. Daniel Hess, is a book available from Intercultural Press, Inc., P.O. Box 700, Yarmouth, ME 04096; call (207) 846-5168.
-Maximizing study abroad: A students’ guide to strategies for language and culture learning and use, by R.M. Paige, A.D. Cohen CARLA Working Paper Series , November 2002. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition. http://carla.acad.umn.edu/bibliography/maxsa.html

OTHER RESOURCES:
(some perhaps more appropriate for parents, others more appropriate for the students going abroad)

There is a journal dedicated to the topic. It's published at Dickinson College and is called Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad. The website, which makes available the full texts of back issues up to 2004, is: http://www.frontiersjournal.com/

NAFSA has a number of publications written for students going abroad (and adjusting upon their return home): http://www.nafsa.org/publication.sec/education_abroad_students

As for language learning strategies, for many people popular culture will be the hook or the entrée to get them working on language skills, e.g., going to foreign language films--especially with other non-English-speaking peers or colleagues or friends; exploring the music scene and trying to understand the lyrics of songs, even to the extent of memorizing them to allow singing along. Tape some of the language TV shows (with a machine that has US-compatible electronic format, of course) and TV commercials and radio broadcasts. Go to sporting events with local-language-speaking peers (if one likes a particular sport, then learning its vocabulary could be a "hook"). Good Luck!
Craig

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