Saturday, March 29, 2014

Language, dialect and census

I have to chime in on what's going on the Facebooksphere about the recent census in Burma. Different feelings about it are showing up on Facebook regarding the list of 135 ethnic groups in Burma:
  • angry --- "why are there so many Karen groups? The government is trying to disunite us."
  • confused --- "what do I have to check? Asho? Zo? Chin?"
  • politicized --- "every Chin subgroup should just say Chin." "every Kachin subgroup should say Kachin."
A lot of these confusions, anger, and politicization root from the lack of studies in humanities in the past few decades in Burma (in addition to the fact that the list is very controversial).

Let me chime in from a linguistic perspective (ONLY from linguistics and nothing else). In linguistics, the differentiation between languages and dialects is a way of starting heated debates. There is no exact way to distinguish a language from a dialect. Some say, "When dialects diverge to the point that they are mutually incomprehensible, they become languages in their own right." An example would be Mon and Khmer. We still share a lot of words in our vocabularies. But they are two separate languages today. The question still remains what the criteria are to say that they are "divergent" enough to merit the status of languages.

Let's get back to the census. If every Gheko Karen marks himself or herself as just a Karen, we are effectively saying that Gheko Karen as a language/dialect and ethnic group is extinct (at least according to this census). Sad. The same is true for Rawang. If all of them say they are Kachins and the number of Rawang is zero, they are extinct according to the census. (On a side note, languages are dying everyday; that's why I have a job.)

So I will leave it up to you to decide what you should say who you are. I will still mark myself as a Mon (because I am still a citizen of Myanmar living in the US on a temporary visa).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sherlock Homes in Burmese

I checked out U San Shar stories volume 1 (ဦးစံရှားပေါင်းချုပ်) written by Shwe Oo Daung (ရွှေဥဒေါင်း​) from Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. It's based on Sherlock Holmes but not a direct translation. It's more like a Burmanization of Sherlock Holmes. Even the name became U San Shar (ဦးစံရှား) instead of Sherlock Holmes. I read this when I was a kid and I loved it. So I am reading it again even though I have read Sherlock Holmes in English. :)


Here is what I found on the Internet:
U San Shar stories volume 2 (ဦးစံရှားပေါင်းချုပ် နှစ်)

More.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The semantics of tissue vs. toilet paper



We were eating Mohinga at a friend's house in Battle Creek, Michigan. The point of the photo is not to show you Mohinga, but the "napkins" (a roll of toilet paper), which, the host explicitly said, she would not give to an American visitor.

For us Burmese, it's "tissue paper" and it's used everywhere outside of the bathroom. In Burma, it would be at a tea-shop, street vendors and even some restaurants. It may be used in a toilet. But we would address it as "tissue paper" :)

So it's weird for an American to be using a piece of "toilet paper" with a meal. The semantics of words really have a powerful effect in our brains. By using the word "tissue paper", we don't associate it with a toilet any more :)

Coconut Shell Therapy



I visited a Burmese friend's house in Ann Arbor and found coconut shells, which they use for medicinal purposes. A lot of people use that in Burma including my family. So I thought I would take a photo and write about it.

To be honest, I don't know the science and the details on how it works. It is believed that applying pressure to the feet is good to temporarily relieve headache and dizziness caused by high blood pressure or some other problems. Just like a massage can make you relax, standing on coconut shells can make you feel good because it is like applying pressure to the nerves, veins and arteries in your feet.

If you know more and the details on how it works, please leave a comment or let me know.

Thursday, September 19, 2013