Posted by: Piers Kelly | October 27, 2009


Mira pointed out that this excellent film is going to be screening at the Canberra film festival.

Yuwali in front of Yimiri

I saw a pre-screening and I can guarantee that it’s riveting.  Beautiful imagery and lot’s of languagey stuff in there too. You can read a review of it here by ANU linguist Joe Blythe.

Posted by: Piers Kelly | October 26, 2009

Careers and research directions in sociolinguistics

John J Gumperz, Discourse Strategies

This is the best front cover of a linguistics textbook ever. Love the haircuts, outfits, furniture, everything. And I love how the men are studiously talking to the men, and the women to the women.

Anyway, now that we are at the end of the semester some of you may be wondering where a career in linguistics can take you. I urge you not to rule out modelling for book covers.

Alternatively, take this illuminating quiz here.

It’s hard to think of many jobs that are specifically tied to sociolinguistics. Off the top of my head I can think of education policy writing, ESL teaching, curriculum design and forensics. But one of the great things about sociolinguistics is that it has a very broad relevance. To a greater or lesser extent it informs all the other branch of linguistics – not to mention sociology, psychology and anthropology.  I have used (socio)linguistics in the real world for editing translations, overseas aid work, native title and aboriginal language centre work. If any of these areas interest you I’m happy to answer questions or pass on details. The career centre will be able to offer more general advice.

Some of you may be interested in further research in sociolinguistics or in language-and-culture oriented topics. There’s plenty going on in these areas. A few big projects happening around campus and beyond: The Social Cognition project (RSPAS), The Austkin project (AIATSIS, ANU) and the Australian National Dictionary (AND Centre). To find out about what some of the postgraduate students are working on, come to the Linguistics, Languages and Cultures Graduate Conference which is being held in conjunction with the Darwin and Social Sciences Workshop. Both are free, but you’ll have to register. Guest speakers include Russell Gray (University of Auckland) on language and evolutionary biology, and Michael Walsh (University of Sydney) who will be talking about language decline and revitalisation.

Anything else you know about, please add it in the comments.

Posted by: ellendahat | October 24, 2009

Style and Register

After procurement actions, decontainerise inputs. Perform measurement tasks on a case-by case basis. In a mixing-type bowl, impact heavily on brown sugar, granulated sugar, softened butter, and shortening. Coordinate the interface of eggs and vanilla.

At this point in time, leverage flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowland agregate. Equalise with prior mixture, and develop intense and continuous liason among inputs until well coordinated. Associate key chocolate and nut subsystems and execute stirring operations.

(Taken from an adapted chocolate chip -cookie recipe-Bouridge and Moulder, 2005:245)

Do you find the above passage strange and rather funny?

The passage looks strange because the choice or use of vocabulary is not appropriate to the context or type of text. If we only see the first line we would not have any idea that it is a cooking recipe as the register and the style of the language used is typically used by bureaucrats.

Certain vocabulary items are appropriate in certain context or situation but not appropriate other context. Wardhaugh notes that register is a set of vocabulary items associated with distinct occupational or social groups (2002: 49). Halliday as quoted in Helen Leckie-Tarry (1995) notes that “when we observe language activity in the various contexts in which it takes place, we find differences in the type of language selected as appropriate to different types of situation (Halliday et al, 1964:87).

Do Polliticians use the same language when making public speech and when talking to their children at home? Does the English written in a government official document the same with the English in a child’s story book? Can you imagine if your teacher is teaching in the class in the language used in Poetry? I think it is quite clear that the answer to question 1 and 2 is no as the use of language really depends on the context or situation, and the answer for the third question is that the teacher will look ridiculous or weird and the students would find it very difficult to understand what is being spoken.

Burridge, Kate and Jean Mulder. 2005. English in Australia and New Zealand. An Introduction to its History, Structure and Use. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Wardhaugh, Ronald. 1992. An Introduction to Sociolinguistic. Cambridge:Blackwell Publishers.

Leckie-Tarry, Helen. 1995. Language and Context: A Functional Linguistic Theory of  Register. London and New York: St. Martin Press.

Posted by: ellendahat | October 24, 2009

Language and Politic

It is interesting to see multilingual situation in a newly established state such as Timor Leste. Currently this newly-established state has four official languages: Portuguese as the language of Education, Tetun as the lingua franca, and Bahasa Indonesia along with English is used as the working language. Historically, both Portuguese and Bahasa Indonesia played big role in East Timor. Long before its integration to Indonesia (prior to 1975) East Timor was under the invasion of Portuguese and therefore, Portuguese was used as the language of education. Most people of East Timor were educated in Portguese during the era. After the integration with Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia becomes the only official language to be used in East Timor and the use of Portuguese was banned by the Government of Indonesia. Now, after its independence from Indonesia, the role of Bahasa Indonesia as the official language ceases and Portuguese is reinstated as the official language of Timor Leste

If Portuguese was the official language during Portuguese invasion and Bahasa Indonesia was the only official language under Indonesian invasion, why should Portuguese be reinstated now as the official language when East Timor has been a free nation? Shouldn’t Tetun be a good representation of the culture and identity of East Timor? If the trace of colonization is to be erased or forgotten, shouldn’t Tetun be the only eligible to this position compared to Portuguese or Bahasa Indonesia? If the reason was that East Timor to have the world language as the official language, why is it Portuguese instead of English?

Does it have something to do with power? Is it also related to the notion that certain languages are better than other languages? Or is it because of the lack or unavailability of school resources in Tetum? Do you think the government of Timor Leste need to consider the standardization of Tetun? Why would it be important?

Posted by: JohnHo | October 24, 2009

Hong Kong English?

When it comes to New Englishes, the famous examples are always Singapore or Indian English. My problem is: Is Hong Kong English can be an example of New Englishes as well?

Butler (1997) suggests that there are five defining characteristics of New Englishes, they are:

1. a standard and recognizable pattern of pronunciation handed down from one generation to another

2. particular words and phrases which spring up usually to express key features of the physical and social environment and which are peculiar to the variety

3. a history—a sense that this variety of English is the way it is because of the history of the language community

4. a literature written without apology in that variety of English; and

5. reference works – dictionaries and style guides – which show that people in that language community look themselves, not some outside authority, to decide what is right and wrong in terms of how they speak and write their English.

For criteria 1, there is a pattern of how Hong Kong people speak English: (a) we hardly find stress in Hong Kong English; and (b) all /n/ sounds are tended to pronounce as /l/ sounds.

For criteria 2, there are some words that are particular in Hong Kong English. For example, we have a word called “undingable” which means unbearable. Sometimes, when Hong Kong people speak Hong Kong English, they may tend to added “lah” at the end of every sentence.

For criteria 3, Hong Kong has a long contact history with English because it was under British colonization since 1842.

However, for criterion 4 and 5, the criterion cannot apply in Hong Kong English. Can Hong Kong people write formally in Hong Kong English? No, it is because when Hong Kong people write in Hong Kong English, someone may claim it as bad English. Hong Kong people prefer to write in Standard English. Moreover, there is still no reference work for Hong Kong English.

To summarize, I think Hong Kong English is not a mature variety compare to Singapore or Indian English.

Here are some characteristics found in Wikipedia that I think which are really typical Hong Kong English: (

 – Omitting articles like “the” and “a”.

 – Confusion with verb tenses and agreement of singular or plural nouns, as they have no direct equivalents in Chinese grammar (Mandarin and Cantonese). Or because that verb tenses are expressed using a preposition or exclamation words at the end of the sentence.

– Use of prepositions: “on”, “in” and “at” are often interchangeable.

– Yes/No confusion: In Cantonese, “yes” represents an agreement, “no” represents a disagreement, whilst in English “yes” represents a positive answer, “no” represents a negative answer. For example: “She isn’t pretty, is she?” might attract the answer “No” when the native Cantonese speaker means “I disagree, in my opinion she is pretty”.

– Plural forms: there are no plural forms in Chinese, so plural and singular forms tend to be confused

 – “Actually” (also “In fact”) is used much more frequently than in standard English

 – Using “bored” and “boring” interchangeably. e.g. “I am so boring!” (real meaning: “I am so bored!”). In Chinese there is just one word used to describe either state.

– Using “hear” instead of “listen”. e.g. “I hear the radio” (real meaning: “I listen to the radio”). Same reason as above.


 Butler, S (1997) ‘Corpus of English in Southeast Asia: Implications for a regional dictionary’, in Bautista, MLS (ed) English is an Asian Language: The Philippine Context, Manila : The Macquarie Library, 103-24

Posted by: JohnHo | October 23, 2009

Sharing an interesting study

I found the following research that might be interesting to know.

Boroditsky (2001) did a research on Mandarin speakers and English speakers. What’s interesting is the difference in expressing time in the two languages: in English, time is expressed horizontally, for example, we can say “next year” or “last year”. Notice that English can use “next” or “last” to express the year which is one year after or behind the current year; In Mandarin, the direct translation of “next year” is xia nian which means two years after the current year and the direct translation of “last year” is hou nian which means two years behind the current month. Does Mandarin have the same semantic meaning for “last year” or “next year”? Yes, but Mandarin expresses those in terms of “up” and “down”, for example, the semantic translation of the word “last year” in Mandarin is “shang (up) nian (year)” and the semantic translation of “next year” is “xia (down) nian (year)”. Given that Mandarin and English have different conception of time, Boroditsky (2001) did a research and concluded that English speakers tend to think time horizontally, which is before or after, and in contrast, Mandarin speakers are more likely to think time in a vertical dimension, which is up and down. As the ultimate aim of this research is to prove Whorfian hypothesis that language shapes thought, Boroditsky (2001:20) finally concludes that “language can be a powerful tool for shaping abstract thought.”



Boroditsky,L. (2001) Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology 43(1), 1-22

Posted by: irmayasari | October 23, 2009

Pig latin? ‘Language game’ or ‘secret language’

When I was a kid in West Papua, I used to hear my female friends use a kind of ‘secret language’ to communicate. I am not so sure whether to call it ‘a language game’ or as a ‘secret language’, but in this blog, I prefer to call it as ‘secret language’ since I used it to communicate secretly. At that time, I was not so clever in using it, I could not talk so fluently as my friends but I understand the way the talk and understand what they meant, I usually just sit and listen what they meant and sometimes responded in short words of ‘secret language’ or in my dialect rather than use the flourish ‘secret language’. We used it when we want to gossiping or talking about a secret thing. I reckoned that the boys in my neighborhood did not use it quite often even though I was once heard several boys used it, too. However, I noticed I just used it when I was in primary school because when I was in high school, my friends and I did not use it anymore but using another way to communicate secretly like using ‘idiom’ or another means like body language or facial expression.

The way we use this ‘secret language’ is by inserting particular syllables into a word in order to create a new word. Usually my friend and I inserting the voiced velar sound ‘g’ especially ‘ga’ and voiceless velar ‘k’. For voiceless ‘k’, the way it shapes the word depends on the last vowel in the syllable used. The examples of using my childhood ‘secret language’ are shown below.

#1. Example of voiced velar ‘g’ especially ‘ga’ sound

Sagayaga makanaga pigasangga. (‘Secret language’)

Saya makan pisang. (Indonesian)

I eat a banana (English)

Saga makanaga pigasangga. (Secret language’)

Sa makan pisang. (Papuan Malay)

I eat a banana. (English)

#2. Example of voiced velar ‘k’.

Koko piki makanaka? (‘secret language’)

Ko pi mana? (Papuan Malay)

Where do you go? (English)

Last month, when I discussed with Johanna in one particular occasion, Dr Johanna Rendle-Short said this kind of ‘secret language’ in English is called ‘pig latin’(personal conversation, September 2009). Then, I browsed and found the link in wikipedia about what is pig latin which is said as a ‘language game’. ( Last week, when I wanted to pick up my assignment feedback, I also met Piers Kelly and asked him about this ‘secret language’, he told me that I could also check the another reference which may relate to this topic ‘cryptolect’ especially about the purpose of using it (Personal conversation, 16th October 2009). I find a link in wikipedia but it is more on cant (;

I still wonder about how to define the way my friends and I spoke since it shares the meaning of secret language and pig latin. Whether it is a merely a pig latin as ‘a language game’ or can I call it as a ‘secret language’, I still have no idea. Do you have another example in your own language or something similar? I just still wonder whether my nieces and nephew will use when they enter primary school or not? Whether the students in my hometown still use it is still a big question in mind  but I personally know that this kind of ‘language’ helped my friends and I to communicate freely.

Posted by: ellendahat | October 22, 2009

Women and derogatory terms used about them

I often observe that there are so many derogatory terms used about women. In Bahasa Indonesia, for example, terms such as perempuan jalang (literally means wild women), or perempuan sundal (immoral), perempuan nakal (literally means naughty girl) or the slang, lonte (prostitute) or perek (perempuan eksperimen), which literally means a girl for an experiment) are the phrases or terms used to refer to prostitute or women who have sexual intercourse with many men.

All these terms are only used with the word perempuan (women) and these phrases are used mostly in swearing. The word pelacur which is the generic term is often associated with female although people know and the dictionary defines it as a neutral or generic term.  It will also sound odd to hear someone says laki-laki pelacur (male prostitute) when swearing.

In Bahasa Manggarai (the language spoken by my parents), the phrase ine wai da’at or inewai toe di’a (literally both mean bad girl/woman) or slang such as skumet are used to refer to prostitute or women who have sex with many men. Although it makes sense if someone says ata rona da’at/ata rona toe di’a (both means bad boy/man) the meaning has nothing to do with sexual behaviour.

When I looked up the word perempuan in A Comprehensive Indonesian English Dictionary, the adjective (jalang, nakal, sundal, as well as the slang lonte and perek) are listed under the entry while I could not find any of these adjectives or anything related to this negative meaning attached to the word laki-laki (men). Gigolo is a loan word from English and it is used only when talking about the male prostitute but never used as a swear word.  There is only one Indonesian phrase I know used in this context, which is not a standard variety but rather regional variety spoken or understood in most parts of Indonesia: laki-laki gatal (literal: itchy men).

What about in other languages? Is the use of the derogatory forms are more common with women or it is equal? Is there any reason (s) why more of this disparaging terms are addressed to women than to men? Does it have something to do with culture?

Posted by: u4492462 | October 22, 2009

Royal language

There are interesting facts about the use of language to acknowledge a person’s royal heritage in the Thai language. The choice of vocabulary is important. When Thai subjects have been granted an audience with the King, the Queen or members of the Royal family or whenever we are referring to the royalty, they must use Ra-cha-sap (Royal language). The subjects are supposed to speak properly with the right choice of words when referring to things associated with royalty, for example ‘food’ we should not refer to as [?a-han] but [Pra-Kra-Ya-Han] and ‘eat’ as [sa-woey] not [than] as we usually do for lay people.
When the subjects refer to the King’s eyes, they are not allowed to use [ta] but [Pra-ne:t] and ears as [Pra Kan] not [hu]. According to Thonglo (1952 : 264 in Juntanamalaga,1988: 317), this ‘royal linguistic register’ …[includes] various created rules of classifier use.’…
Even for certain animals, a decree was issued by King Mongkut in 1854 (Prachum prakat R.4 1960 :1:65 in Juntanamalaga,1988: 319) declaring that “elephants and horses are animals with a noble lineage. Thus, they should not be referred to with /tua/ like other animals…. Instead one must say cha:ng nu’ng (‘one elephant’) , so:ng cha:ng (‘two elephants’), ma: nu’ng (‘one horse’) , so:ng ma: (‘two horses’) But for animals other than these , /tua/ should be used.’

What about other languages? Do you know any languages similar to Thai’s Rachasap?

Posted by: u4492462 | October 22, 2009

Sociolinguistics and education

Having read about Elaborated and Restricted codes in chapter 11 (Mesthrie et al. 2009), I agree with (Bernstein in Mesthrie et al. 2009) the notion that Elaborated codes are associated with the middle-class children and the Restricted codes with the working class children; in which elaborated codes are seen as more ‘explicit’ and ‘expressive’ than the latter. Many questions occur in my mind such as why are middle-class children have better communicative competence than children in working class? Do parents with greater educational and economic success help facilitate their children in learning the language and the way they express ideas in an explicit way? Both of which are required at school. Can ‘deficit’ hypothesis sufficiently explain why working class children do badly at school? Should (minority and working class) children receive ‘compensatory education’ to do better at school? What if the minority and working class children are taught in their language, will they do better?
Sociolinguistics (Hudson 1980:215) discusses the‘culture-clash’ problem in answering questions such as Yes/No question – “Do you often watch television?”. While middle class children answer this question by extending this question and thinking of this question as an invitation to talk about their TV watching habits, the working class just simply answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Should cultures (of minority children ) take into account to explain their success and failure at school? Any ideas?

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