Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Queen Victoria’s Journals

Posted on May 28th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Education, English | Leave a Comment »

Britain is currently celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The first monarch to reach this milestone is Queen Victoria.

To celebrate both queens, Queen Victoria’s journals have been released by the Royal Archives for public viewing. Previously they were only accessible to academics via the Archives; now digitised images are freely available on a specially designed website.

Over 43,000 pages of the Queen’s private thoughts are available, which include her marriage to Albert, births of her children and the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. The diaries begin when Victoria was 13, and continue up until 10 days before her death.

It’s interesting to see both the Queen’s handwriting and that of her daughter, Princess Beatrice, who transcribed some of the diaries. There are also a number of illustrations of family and friends. Take a peek at Victorian English – a fascinating resource.

Chinese dictionary – for restaurant

Posted on May 18th, 2012by Michelle
In Chinese, Culture, English, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Any idea what “hand shredded ass meat” is? Does it sound like a delicious restaurant meal?

If the answer’s no, then a new dictionary may be your new best friend. “Enjoy Culinary Delights: The English Translation of Chinese Menus” was originally created in 2006 with the “Beijing Speaks English” campaign. The book was modified in the run up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and proved to be so successful that work has continued on it.

The dictionary does exactly what it says: instead of providing the potentially inaccurate machine translation of a dish, it will tell you exactly what it is. So “hand shredded ass meat” becomes “hand shredded donkey meat”. Over 2,000 translations are provided (although this does mean you will miss out on gems such as “Tofu made by woman with freckles”).

Some of the dishes kept their original names, which people familiar with Chinese food may understand: jiaozi, baozi, mantou, tofu or wonton.

Some more complicated dishes come with both Chinese pronunciations and explanations: “fotiaoqiang” (steamed abalone with shark’s fin and fish maw in broth); “youtiao” (deep-fried dough sticks); “lvdagunr” (glutinous rice rolls stuffed with red bean paste), and “aiwowo” (steamed rice cakes with sweet stuffing).

Chen Lin, a 90-year-old retired English professor from Beijing Foreign Language University, was the chief consultant for the book.
He told NBC News that about 20 other experts – like English teachers and professors, translators, expats who have lived in China for a long time, culinary experts and people from the media – helped develop the final version. (Source: NBC News)


History of the English language – from 1943

Posted on May 13th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, English | Leave a Comment »

We’ve recently been hearing a lot about the English language – from David Crystal’s English in 100 words to the Open University’s history of English in 10 minutes.

But what did they think about the language back in 1943? A newly released film from the British Film Council’s Collection showcases the multiculturalism of English and describes its origins. You can view and download the film here.

Interestingly, the film originally included more focus on the Germanic aspects of the language – as it was wartime however, these were cut, citing “time constraints”.

Being British in fantasyland

Posted on April 18th, 2012by Michelle
In Accents, Culture | Leave a Comment »

The BBC has been investigating an important issue of our time: Namely, why are fantasy world accents British?

A range of British accents have been used in movies, particularly for the stereotypical baddie or upper class people in period dramas. And there’s always the Bond films. But why do fantasy characters speak with our accents?

Well, it seems to be partly because of our friends across the pond.

“It’s such an ingrained part of fantasy and science fiction that I’m a little surprised when those kind of characters don’t speak in British accents,” says Matt Zoller Seitz, TV critic for New York magazine and

“In the fantasy realm they could have any kind of accent but British does seem to be the default.”

A British accent is sufficiently exotic to transport the viewer to a different reality, argues Seitz, while still being comprehensible to a global audience.

The neutral Mid-Western accent is still what counts as “normal” in the US dominated entertainment industry. A British accent provides a “splash of otherness”, when set alongside it. (Source: BBC News)

Read the full article here.

What’s in a name?

Posted on March 27th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

You may have heard of a little movie that opened last Friday, a movie that’s based on some bestselling books. Yep, I’m talking about The Hunger Games.

The books definitely aren’t just for kids, and if you haven’t read them I highly recommend doing so. One thing I didn’t really like though, were the names of the characters. Katniss? Peeta? Coriolanus Snow? I found them distracting.

Having read this article from Slate though, I am more appreciative of the names. Although author Suzanne Collins has never revealed how she came up with the names, I think Slate’s writer gives pretty good explanations. If you haven’t read the books though, don’t look at the article as it contains spoilers!

Also, if you want to find out your own Hunger Games name, try this site. Mine’s Elleless B. Divelily, what’s yours?

Pre-schoolers have language show

Posted on March 23rd, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Education, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

A new programme on BBC kids channel CBeebies aims to introduce pre-schoolers to language and culture.

The Lingo Show is an eleven minute programme hosted by an animated bug named Lingo. Lingo then introduces other characters who sing about their country and culture. Children learn words in the different languages through the songs and repetition.

Wei is the character in the first episode, and introduces Mandarin Chinese words including numbers up to ten and colours. Later episodes feature a Spanish bug called Queso and French bug Jargonaise.

You can watch episodes on BBC iPlayer, and also visit the show’s companion website to sing along with songs from the episodes.

Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation

Posted on March 21st, 2012by Michelle
In Accents, Culture, English | Leave a Comment »

We all remember the horror of stumbling over Shakespeare’s texts in school English classes, but what do the plays sound like when not spoken aloud by embarrassed teenagers?

The British Library has released a CD featuring scenes and speeches from Shakespeare’s work as he would have heard them. The selection of speeches includes Hamlet’s “to be, or not to be” and Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”, with scenes featured from Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth and Othello.

The recording reveals new ways of looking at Shakespeare’s work, with lines that were meant to rhyme actually rhyming and puns that don’t work in modern English revealed. You can listen to some clips from the recording here. People have said the accents sound Cornish, do you agree?

Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation CD is available from the British Library shop.

Twitter adds right-to-left languages

Posted on March 15th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Hints and Tips, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Twitter is now available in languages written right-to-left, including Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Urdu.

Work began earlier this year via their Translation Center, which crowd-sources translations to make Twitter available to people around the world. Almost half a million people contribute to the Center, and have so far made 28 languages available.

Around 13,000 volunteers worked on the project to make right-to-left language available. Twitter had to create new tools to ensure Tweets, retweets and hashtags work properly for users who may send tweets with both right-to-left and left-to-right content.

To suggest a new language for Twitter, you can file a language request.

Language diversity

Posted on March 7th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

Ever wondered which are the most linguistically diverse countries in the world? Well, look no further.

Ethnologue’s language diversity chart (pictured, via The Economist) shows that Papua New Guinea and Congo are the most diverse. Papua New Guinea has an incredible 830 indigenous languages! The chart is based on the number of languages spoken in a country and Greenberg’s diversity index, which “scores countries on the probability that two citizens will share a mother tongue”. That explains why Congo is second on the list despite having a mere 215 indigenous languages compared to third-place India’s 438.

At the bottom of the scale is North Korea, with one indigenous language spoken and a score of nil on the diversity index.

Animated linguistics

Posted on February 29th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

Today is leap day, the extra day we get every four years. Why not use it to learn a little more about linguistics?

Steven Pinker is a well-known linguist (amongst other things), with specializations in visual cognition and psycholinguistics. He’s also very good at making complex ideas seem very understandable and engaging, which is why I love this video illustrating a talk he gave to the RSA.

In it, Pinker “shows us how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings”. Take a look and let me know what you think.