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Balinese language level at Johnson

The “Johnson” language blog has an interesting post on Balinese language levels and the effects of nationalism, globalization, and modernity on the Balinese language.

IP Addresses Not A Proxy For Language Ability

As Mark Allen Peterson wrote in his post on “Developing Expertise,” we have been having a discussion about the importance of bringing anthropological knowledge to the social web. For this reason I called upon people who follow me on Twitter (@kerim) to bring their anthropological expertise to the new question-and-answer forum, Quora. While there are a lot of questions which could easily be answered by using Google or Wikipedia, there are a lot of good questions as well; questions which it would be good for anthropologists to answer. But after using the website for a while, trying to help out where I can, I suddenly found myself blocked from asking questions because the computer was assuming I couldn’t speak English based on the fact that I connect to the Internet from Taiwan. I wrote to Quora about this and they quickly fixed the problem, but I wanted to share our e-mail exchange as the use of IP addresses as a proxy for language ability is increasingly common and I would like to see linguistic anthropologists more aware of this issue. But there is also a second issue here which is the attempt to police the use of a forum by non-native English speakers. This too seems highly offensive and questionable. I’d be curious if there aren’t other attempts to control who can access websites in this way?

UPDATE: I wanted to add that I understand one reason why a forum might wish to limit the language used in that forum: the need to moderate the discussion. A shortage of trained moderators in other languages could legitimately require the forum to require that people post in English, at least until they train more moderators. However, I am not questioning this so much as the assumption that the distribution of these speakers can be identified by IP address and the use of a Quiz to try to keep non-native speakers from participating. I’ve posted this on Quora as well, so it will be interesting to see how the discussion evolves there.

Below the fold is my e-mail exchange so far, I will update it when I hear back from Quroa:

Read More »IP Addresses Not A Proxy For Language Ability

Accent, Race, and Social Preferences

A piece in Scientific American Mind called “Accents Trump Skin Color” reviews work by Katherine Kinzler and colleagues suggesting that, for young children, accent is as important as visual cues to race, gender, and age in selecting friends. The magazine article was interesting, and led me to look for the research paper it was based on.

An orphan by any other name…?

I know very little about adoption practices in Haiti, and all I know about events in that country since the earthquake last January I have learned from the news media. Still, I wonder whether the thing that American missionaries call an orphanage is really the same as what most Haitians think of as an orphelinat. It appears that Haitian orphanages are quite different from my own image of an orphanage.

Code switching and language alternation

A colleague writes to ask:

I read your article ‘Code Switching’ in Sociocultural Linguistics. What I wonder is [why] you didn’t write something about the author Grosjean (1982, Life with Two Languages). He also used the term Code Switching as one of the first. And I can’t get the differences between ‘ language alternation’ and ‘ code switching’? Can you describe the differences?

These are excellent questions.

A quick overview of sign languages

Basic Background:

Sign languages are different from both spoken languages and from each other. There is no universal sign language. Because Deaf people can’t hear the spoken language of the country, a sign language like American Sign Language has a different grammar from spoken language. It is also different from other sign languages—even British Sign Language—because of the separate histories of American and British Deaf communities. Sign languages are also not spelled out words, although fingerspelling can be used if you want to translate a written words like the name of an unfamiliar town into sign language.