unbibium: (animated pacman)
In the 1980s, American NES players got everything three years after Japanese Famicom players. When the Soviet Union fell, Russians finally got their NES equivalent, the Dendy, from a company named Steepler. And they had no idea just how many of their beloved games were Chinese pirate cartridges.

The story can finally be told to the world by Dendy Chronicles. It starts with the Mario "franchise", over the course of three half-hour episodes. If your time is valuable, just watch #3 because your time is valuable and this one dives right into surreal Twilight Zone territory. #1 covers the original Mario trilogy, and how it was presented in Russia. Remember to click the CC button to turn on English subtitles.
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So I got home intending to start making my own literature translations in a wiki dedicated to English without French/Latin/Greek loanwords, so that my favorite Python sketches and 4chan copypasta could exist in the same weird parallel universe as the Banded Folkdoms of Americksland.

Thanks to some discussion I had on #xkcd, I was inspired to run across the street to Whole Foods and try some raw milk cheese for the first time. I bought two such cheeses: one raw milk swiss, and one "naked goat", and bought a third pasteurized cheese because I couldn't pass up "Pepper Garlic Feta from Black Mesa".

By the time I was done with that, the novelty of Anglish had started to wear off a bit.
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Sometimes the Japanese use English too well. Last night at the Super L Ranch Market, I found a box of "Not Only Crispy, But Tasty".

They're sesame flavored, and the title is otherwise accurate.
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Someone on Twitter posted "the Greek Font Society". It was through friendfeed so the link that was no doubt included was lost, so I googled it.

Many many Greek fonts, grouped by century. Apparently the greek letter Ξ has three forms: three disconnected lines, three lines connected by a single vertical strike-through, and three lines drawn with diagonal lines connecting them, as if the first form were written without taking the pen off the page. It's this last form that was present in the Refrigerator Magnet Alphabet that a co-worker brought me from Greece back during the 2004 Olympics project.

What I really want to see, though, are Greek novelty fonts. The kind used by Old West shows and Chinese restaurants, and heavy metal bands when they're not using English.

It must be strange to live in a parallel universe of letters, where Η is a vowel and only the Slavic people agree with you on what Ρ sounds like.
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You sometimes hear about how words that used to be strong, have eventually become weak. "Awesome" is usually cited, as it used to describe the kind of jaw-dropping awe, and now it describes a hot dog.

When English speakers learn Japanese, we learn that "chotto" is an adverb meaning "slightly" or "a little". And we learn that it's used for expressions like "come here for just a moment" or "it's a little hot outside" or "this shirt is a little too big." The student doesn't always pick up on how many of these expressions are talking about some problem, and trying to minimize it.

When I was in college, I checked out some "Nihongo Notes" books from the library, which were archives of a Japan Times column in which colloquial Japanese is discussed in English. One of these columns was about ending a sentence by trailing off at "chotto". Apparently, in the late 1970s, when this column was printed, the fashionable way to express distaste in something was to imply that there was some slight imperfection that was so slight that it's not worth finishing the sentence that names that imperfection. Nevertheless, the appropriate response is to recognize that, in fact, the imperfect thing is completely unacceptable, and respond accordingly.

And then later, I saw some anime, in which someone yelled "CHOTTO!" and the subtitle read "NO WAY!"

I wonder if English has any similar expressions, where you can no longer say something small without implying something big. I imagine our language is full of these, but we're just not looking for them.
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In "The Riches", you get to hear how people would talk if they were allowed to say "shit" as often as they like, but never "fuck".

In "Battlestar Galactica", you get to hear how people would talk if they were allowed to say "fuck" if they said it wrong, and they never said any of the other six forbidden words.

I'm used to normal television, where people don't swear at all and just use cute euphemisms for everything. Or radio, where people are talking normally and then suddenly it's 30 seconds in the future and everyone's laughing and you have to guess what you missed.

And I can handle "frak" when it's just people screaming or being inarticulate to each other. "Clusterfrak" last night was a nice touch. But when it's a deep dramatic scene where Starbuck is trying to talk all slutty to her husband? Fuck that. I dare anyone, male or female, to use "frak" in bed.

I might have felt better about it if they'd kept the rest of the vocabulary from the 70's show. All the funky time measurements, and definitely "felgerkarb", because I find that "bullshit" is a much more useful word than "fuck" any day of the week.


Jan. 11th, 2008 05:45 pm
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I thought I'd post this linguistics article for the following reasons.

First, it dates itself in the first paragraph by mentioning "Di's divorce."

Second, it reminded me of the scene at the beginning of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", where the father claims, and then "proves", that any word in the world can be traced back to Greek, even clearly Japanese and Old English words.

Third, it points out the misleading similarity between "gaijin" and "goyim".


Nov. 22nd, 2007 12:05 pm
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The Medieval Helpdesk sketch from YouTube is not on dotsub yet -- a website specifically created for subtitled works.

Probably because it's from a real TV show and dotsub makes you pick a distribution license, and you'd then have to confess to dotsub that your video is neither CC nor public domain, and you don't really have the right to assign a dotSUB license to it.

So you have to go to Youtube and read the blurry subtitles.
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Last night I was trying to figure out what the Japanese misheard lyrics are, with the internet kanji dictionary. LJ saved my notes in its draft file:

米さ 米酒 だろ (let there be rice and rice wine)
飲ま 飲ま イエイ, (drink drink yay)
飲ま 飲ま イエイ, (drink drink yay)
飲ま 飲ま 飲ま イエイ (drink drink drink yay)
KEEP ダルシム
アゴ STUDY DAY (アゴ = chin)
波平_毛大きい歯入れ (wave hand ___ hair, large repairing clogs)

one character missing I couldn't find.  「波平_毛」 should sound vaguely like "Mi amintesc de", and reads "namihira___ke". It appears on screen with a guy with a meat cleaver.

I don't know what ダルシム (darushimu) means; it's held up by a guy who could be an aboriginal native from any of four continents.

Also, something tells me this is hard-core kanji abuse, like if you ever said "beisa beishe daro" aloud, and didn't have a caption floating in front of you that said "米佐米酒だろ", it'd be gibberish.


Nov. 9th, 2007 03:26 pm
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So everyone on TV is saying "vajayjay" now.

Sounds good to the ear, but it doesn't look good in print.

I suppose it's making headlines because it's the only word for the snatch that hasn't been stamped out by TV censors the instant its usage became common.

In fact, I was very surprised to learn the word's supposed origin, in a medical drama. A medical drama. A MEDICAL DRAMA, WHERE THE WRITERS HAD TO USE BABY-TALK INSTEAD OF THE CLINICAL TERM.

I was about to despair about the puritan ways of American broadcasting, when I continued onto the article's cameo by my favorite linguist, John H. McWhorter, whom I first remember from his appearance on P&TBS, and later his lecture series about human language. Here he offers a different angle:
“The reason that vajayjay has caught on, I think, is because there is a black — Southern especially — naming tradition, which is to have names like Ray Ray and Boo Boo and things like that,” Dr. McWhorter said. “It sounds warm and familiar and it almost makes the vagina feel like a little cartoon character with eyes that walks around.”
Don't bother trying to draw that character. Someone would just Rule 34 it.
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A film by Claude Piron, "The Language Challenge: Facing Up to Reality. The audio is English. Subtitles are available in Esperanto.

The first thing the film illustrates, of course, is that the more eager someone is to apologize for their poor English, the better their English actually is. But the whole film is basically about the advantages of Esperanto over English.

But what's really ineresting about this is that it's hosted by a website called dotsub, which appears to be a video hosting site that has built-in support for subtitles. Indeed, viewers are invited to help translate films like this one into other languages. (Attn [livejournal.com profile] darquis, can you beat the other Poles to the punch?)
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There are two aspects of the French language that they apparently still don't teach in schools. The first is that nobody says "nous" anymore, people say "on" when they're talking about their group. So, insteal of "Nous nous rendons," say "On se rend." And the second is that they've figured out that "ne ___ pas" is a bit redundant, so people don't say "ne" aloud very often in their negatives. So after you've attempted to order your dinner, your waiter will say simply "Je comprends pas".

I have a little trouble with this second one, because it means I have to pay a bit more attention. Four negative expressions come immediately to mind. Two of them are easy, because they don't mean anything else most of the time. But the other two are still used as positive words, but they flip over.

"Il [ne] marche pas." "He doesn't walk." (Originally "not a step", now "not at all")

"Il [n']a rien." "He doesn't have anything, he has nothing." (Originally "not a thing", now "nothing")

"Il [ne] mange plus." "He's not eating any more." ("plus" actually still means "more")

"Il [n']y a personne." "There's nobody there." ("personne" actually still means "person")

Years ago, that last one made me wear out my VCR when French in Action tried to teach me that concept. They'd show a guy and say "C'est une personne," and then an empty stage and say, "C'est personne." I rewound it over and over trying to make sense of it. I eventually checked that sentence on Babelfish, and sacre merde, it really does mean "It's nobody." So one of these days, I'll have to parse that in a more complicated sentence.

I was fortunate enough to get ahold of John McWhorter's lecture series, "The Story of Human Language", in which he explained how French got its weird negatives, through terms of emphasis that ended up taking over, as an example of "grammaticalization". As in the list above, "pas" used to mean "step", so people started saying "ne marche pas" for "doesn't walk a step", as "ne marche" was still correct but boring. Next thing you know, Fred didn't eat a step today, and Billy didn't work a step all year, and Ricardo doesn't drink a step because of what happened to his brother. But French doesn't have a big meaty word like "didn't" or "doesn't" or even "not"; it has a weak consonant and a weak vowel, so you might as well say Fred eats step, Billy works step, Ricardo drinks step.

It makes more sense if I substitute "jack", which is pretty damn close to "pas" in that it means "not" but used to be a noun, and eventually it meant "not" so much that it no longer needs the real "not". So Fred ate jack today, Billy worked jack all year, and Ricardo drinks jack because of what happened to his brother. Notice how one of these expressions is suddenly ambiguous?

Well, it's got to work in the long run, because France hasn't sank into the ocean yet. Probably the same way England didn't sink into the ocean from all the people who pronounce "can't" and "can" almost the same way.

Incidentally, has anyone here ever read an email where someone left out the word "not" entirely, and you could only tell because that sentence seemed to contradict everything else?

Super-incidentally, isn't it neat how the Japanese language saves the negative for the very end of the sentence, so you can have a long flowery sentence and then Wayne's World the whole thing?
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I used to have some of this on VHS tape. Hopefully, more of it will make it onto Youtube.

We should have a version of this where Americans are asked to say things in Spanish.
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For those of you who study foreign languages, can you translate the following phrases into them:

1. "You might as well finish it."
2. "It happened to be on a Tuesday."

These are both simple sentences, but with very nuanced meaning, and I must say I don't really know where to begin with either of them in any language.  Or, for that matter, how someone speaking English as a foreign language might come to arrive at these sentences at the right time.
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I've posted about Lojban before -- my conclusion, essentially, was, why would anyone learn Lojban when Esperanto has a more vibrant, tolerant, and plentiful community?
So I get the impression that if you go to Esperantio, you'll be swapping stories with world travelers from seven continents, playing chess with Russian grandmasters, and sleeping with beautiful Czech women. But if you go to Lojbanistan, the language police will throw you in the stocks and make you sew a giant lowercase "m" on all your clothing.

this xkcd strip agrees:
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note to self: watch this video on planned languages when I get home: http://community.livejournal.com/esperanto/141667.html
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Translating "dude" to other languages poses a problem for translators.

The author of the linked article usually just leaves it out, if it's part of a larger sentence. However, as we all know, "dude" also substitutes for entire sentences sometimes, such as "Hello," "Come here," "You blew it," or "Are you in the closet with a knife?" The difference between these are a combination of context, intonation, and non-verbal cues. The speaker knows that this combination provides enough semantic information, and doesn't want to be redundant or sappy by spelling it out, especially if their language skills are clumsy. Thus, translating "dude" to whatever sentence it implies doesn't quite sit right with me. But "dude" doesn't just provide a placeholder, but also reinforces the social connection between the speaker and the listener, and commanding the listener's attention. For that reason, perhaps the best way to translate "dude" as a sentence is to substitute the listener's first name, or most familiar form of address.

I must qualify this by saying that I have never translated anything substantial between languages, so excuse my ignorance of other considerations.
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How do you translate "cool" to other languages?

I refer, of course, to the "cool" invented in 1950's America by Fonzie. In people, it denotes emotional detachment; in objects, it denotes a refined expression of the personality of the owner. Both meanings indicate an impressive presence that turns heads, and perhaps magically turns on jukeboxes.

I remember watching some South Park episodes translated into French. "Cool" was apparently appropriated directly from English, which is unfortunate because "cul" was often used to mean "ass". But it got me to wondering whether they had to use a loanword because there's something cultural going on. French kids might say something different when they're impressed. And if they're impressed by different traits, then they certainly mean something different. Just because Cartman's Trapper Keeper might be "cool" in English doesn't mean it would be, say, "super" in French. Something "super" in French might actually be quite lame to an American.
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I put these up on the THEM wiki under "Esperanto language."

  • Mia teraplano plenas je angiloj. / My hovercraft is full of eels.
  • Kie estas la librejo? / ¿Dónde está la biblioteca?
  • Pri mi, estos angilo. / 僕は鰻だ。
  • Post la ludo estas antaŭ la ludo. / Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel.
  • Bonan matenon, princino! / Buongiorno, principessa!
  • Tiu kaŭĉuka pugno estas tro malgranda. / That rubber fist is too small.
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I checked Snopes today, and found they had a new entry about Richard Lamm's instructions on how to destroy America through illegal immigration.

The most amusing part: he submitted a "revised version" of his speech... in all caps, with underlined words aplenty.

The argument wasn't that coherent to begin with. He tries to support his argument with some selective history, but he forgets that England, the nation that grew into an enormous empire, was among the most multicultural in Europe for much of its life. Northern England was, for a time, an English Quebec, due to the heavy Norse influence after that particular invasion over a thousand years ago. The Norman invasion a few centuries later turned the native people into the servant class, separated by both class and language, much in the way Mexicans are here in the Southwest. What eventually happened was that the Normans assimilated, not necessarily by becoming more Anglo-Saxon, but by being rejected by the new culture that was evolving in France.

The statement I disagree with the most is: "Over 100 languages are ripping the foundation of our educational system and national cohesiveness." That's not quite accurate -- if there were really 100 languages competing on equal footing, immigrants would be learning English out of necessity to communicate with each other. Consider New York, which was where immigrants typically first landed while Ellis Island was still operating, and where immigrant communities thrive. What we actually have today, in most of the country, are only two competing languages. And the incoming Hispanics aren't very well-motivated to learn English, because everyone in their neighborhood speaks Spanish anyway. Hence, they are isolated from the English-speaking world, even when we start moving into each other's neighborhoods.

In general, I find this pattern of argument quite lazy: insisting that the list of things that piss you off is actually what someone would come up with, from scratch, if they wanted to spread misery. It turns the problem into a caricature, and ignores the root of any legitimate problem that might exist.


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