In memoriam: Sam Chwat, Dialect Coach

Posted by Kathryn under: In Memoriam.

In memoriam

Sam Chwat, dialect coach




Food as diplomacy: Welcome and “Guten Appetit!/Bon Appetit!”

Posted by Kathryn under: Crossing Cultures; Food Across Cultures.

Here’s a clip from a CBS news story on the new role of food-as-diplomacy at the State Department.  Seemingly small but potentially very important gestures — not just at the level of the State Department, but for each of us to consider as we host, entertain and acknowledge foreign colleagues, guests and friends.  (And featuring friend  Robert Hickey at ca.   2’58”, author of Honor & Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address.)




A Culture’s Maps, A Culture’s Experience

Posted by Kathryn under: Crossing Cultures.

“Covered Wagon” (c) 2012


The serendipitous appearance of these two sources in today’s media is notable.

From Neil MacGregor’s book A History of the World in 100 Objects, (c) Trustees of the British Museum 2010, published in the US by Viking Penguin, and in audio installlments on WNYC-FM, discussing a North American buckskin map (probably Piankashaw, Ohio River Valley)  from 1774-75: Read the rest of this entry »



Language Thief

Posted by Kathryn under: Bilingualism and Your Health!.

In the May 3 Science section of the New York Times, Jane Brody describes a little-known and fortunately relatively rare disease which attacks the language center in the brain (“A Thief That Robs the Brain of Language”).  Described as a “clinical syndrome, one of several forms of brain disease lost in the medical shadow of their much better known relative Alzheimer’s disease,”  the syndrome is referred to as P.P.A., or primary progressive aphasia.  It does not affect memory, at least not initially, tends to occur at younger ages, often ca. late 50s, and is more common in men.  There is no cure, but there are ways to minimize the related disabilities, especially if  diagnosed early.  Its symptoms are a difficulty communicating despite no apparent problem with memory function, and early symptoms are subtle and often misdiagnosed. Errors in speech like those we all make when overly stressed or tired appear with increasing frequency, and cognitive difficulties may eventually be apparent.  The aphasia can affect “word-finding, object naming, syntax, phonology, morphology, spelling or word comprehension.” Progression is measured in terms of years rather than months. Early intervention, which is key, focuses on alternative approaches to communication (computer, images, electronics with ‘talking’ apps) and lifestyle changes such as emphasis on activities and hobbies which do not rely heavily on communication skills.

Since in an earlier post we referenced studies that indicate knowledge of a second language may in fact help stave off the effects of some forms of dementia for a while, we wonder if being bilingual is helpful with this language-specific syndrome.  Does it attack language function ability no matter where it resides in the brain, since it is believed that one’s native language is not resident in the same area of the brain where languages categorized by that brain as “foreign” are later housed?  We’ll try to find out if there are any data on this.



Watch Your Language!!

Posted by Kathryn under: Uncategorized.

Corks, Collection

Corks, Collection

Who hasn’t heard that expression many times, especially perhaps as an adolescent, frequently from parents?  This is the first in a new series of posts featuring idiomatic expressions in English that are bound to confuse many non-native speakers.  This is the kind of language native speakers generally use without thinking, the kind of language we need to “watch” in many interactions in today’s global world, because it doesn’t communicate what the words seem to mean.

Of course, this is also the type of expressions non-native speakers often love to learn. So if you forget to “watch your language” and use one of these the-whole-is-breathtakingly-different-from-the-sum-of-its-parts expressions and have a chance to “teach” it when you notice that you are not understood, it can also be fun, both for you and the other.

Today’s language to watch:  “What are the damages?”
This might be fine if you’re an insurance agent talking with a client about a recent unfortunate event (Lemony Snicket, anyone?), but it’s an expression that will confuse the non-native-speaker clerk at the wine store when the ‘hidden question’ is how much they’re going to charge you for a gift bag for the wine you’re taking to a party this evening.  Reality posting; just witnessed exactly this 15 minutes ago.  And now … for my glass of wine! Have a good weekend!

“I would rather decline two drinks than one German noun.” – Mark Twain in “The Awful German Language” (from “A Tramp Abroad”)



The Bilingual Rx

Posted by Kathryn under: Bilingualism and Your Health!.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Richard Brod (1933-2004), who died on this date in 2004 and who was living proof of the best bilingualism has to offer, always.

Richard Brod, Yale Univ., Trumbull Courtyard, June 1966

Richard Brod, Yale University, 1966

In the January post (Languages and Perspectives), we opened up the subject of the effects of being bi- or multi-lingual.  We continue to  encourage you to weigh in on the subject in terms of your experiences and thoughts on the matter, and in the meantime, we’ll share additional relevant information as we come across it.

One focus of additional current interest in bilingualism has to do with brain function and aging.  In his 2010 book Bilingual: Life and Reality (Harvard University Press), François Grosjean cites a study in which 184 patients diagnosed with some form of dementia were examined.  Fifty-one percent of them were bilingual. The members of this sub-group all spoke English as one of their languages and were regular users, at least throughout adult life, of both of their languages.

When the authors of the study compared the age of onset of dementia symptoms of the two groups, they found that “the bilinguals had a mean age of onset 4.1 years later than the monolinguals (at 75.5 years versus 71.4 years).”  The authors attribute this gap in favor of the bilinguals to the “attentional control that bilinguals use to govern their languages”  (such as choosing, suppressing, activating) as being related to “other complex mental activities that appear to protect against dementia.”  They suspect that bilingualism does not affect the existence of pathological factors but rather “enables the brain to better tolerate” them.

“Voilà, Viola!”



Language(s) & Perspective(s)

Posted by Kathryn under: Language(s) and Perspective(s).

Zwischen zwei Stuehlen / Between Two Chairs (c) Kathryn Buck

In a January 7th New York Times op-ed piece, Cuban-born Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, author of Cuban Fiestas and professor of Spanish and comparative literature at Yale who moved to the US in 1959 as a young boy, included the following observation:  “I also latched on to my native [Cuban] culture by making the study of Spanish and Latin American literature my life’s work, and  in a sense I relived my traumatic acquisition of English as a teenager by learning French and Italian at the University of South Florida with pathological zeal.  When I spoke those languages I assumed new personae; they were shields against an American culture I still could not quite absorb. Instead of freezing me into a role, the 1961 break in relations between my two countries transformed me into a man with several voices within my own head, a perspective that has informed my literary criticism, I believe.”

Questions:  Do you have — or wish you had — “several voices” within your own head that help make you more effective in multilingual/multicultural environments? What are your experiences and perceptions regarding the ways in which knowing more than one language affects your work, other interactions and perceptions?



First Post

Posted by Kathryn under: Uncategorized.

May 12, 2010

Today opens a new dimension — blogging — in our ability to be in touch with you and to exchange, in both directions, information. Read the rest of this entry »


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