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foto Ana Venegas
Abran Morales, 8, rests at home after reciting Bible passages for his father, Eduardo Morales Miranda, so concerned about his children's education he began teaching them after school, using wall as a blackboard.

A learning passion   Poor Mexican Indians built their own school; Orange Cty resident hopes to fulfill their wish of a better one.
1.23.00   Minerva Canto Orange County Register

He darts from car to car, just yards from the border, washing grimy windows with soft red rags, picking up change from travelers headed north. Eduardo Morales Miranda goes home in time to deliver the daily after-school lesson.
"I tell my children, 'You can do it standing, sitting or lying down. I don't care how, but you are going to study,' " Morales said. "I don't want them to grow up to be like me." The simple sentiment is echoed by other parents in this community of indigenous migrants who have poured their few resources into their only hope for giving their children a better future: a schoolhouse. The Pedregal San Julia colonia of mainly Mixtec Indians is a 10-minute drive from the U.S. border.
Although "the other side" is not far away, it might as well be the moon for a community where the Mixtec language dominates, setting them apart from most of their Spanish-speaking neighbors, and even further from their neighbors to the north. They are the poorest of the poor, migrants from Oaxaca who travel thousands of miles north to a city where the indigent abound, but there is at least the possibility of work.

San Juan Capistrano business owner John Diaz, who has a home in Tijuana, also believes a well-built schoolhouse could mean the difference between life on the fringes of survival or life with more potential for these children. He is organizing a volunteer work force to build classrooms.
Diaz decided to help the indigenous community after hearing about their plight last month, then seeing their need firsthand when he visited the neighborhood. "I think those children, if they had a better education, a good school," Diaz said, "they could grow up to earn a decent living."
soviet   Ukraine   Laada Bilaniuk
Tijuana's displaced Mixtec Indians face language problems at home & abroad   1.23.00   Orange County Register

foto Ana Venegas Survival of Mixtec Indians living in the simple homes hugging the dirt hills depends on how well they learn to navigate the intersecting worlds of their indigenous community, mainstream Mexico and the United States.
"Society has told them, 'To succeed, you have to speak English,' " said Binational Ctr of Human Rights dir. Victor Clark Alfaro in Tijuana. "Speaking Mixtec does not give you prestige & status in Mexico. You have to know Spanish for that."

For the children of Pedregal San Julia, that translates into school lessons that are sometimes trilingual. On a recent weekday, roosters crowed in the distance and the occasional dog wandered by outside the first-grade classroom where teacher Venancio Salazar Lopez was prompting his class to repeat new words they had learned.
"Tres. How do you say it in Mixtec?" Salazar asked, loud enough to be heard above the excited din of 43 students. "Oni!" many students yelled out.
"And in English?" Salazar prompted. "Three!" the students yelled out again.

Learning Spanish is a necessity for this community set adrift in mainstream Mexico after being displaced from tiny pueblos in Oaxaca. But because long-term schooling is a vague possibility because of the high poverty rate, fluency in English is a dream, often on par with crossing "to the other side."
Their million-dollar view of glittering lights on the other side of the U.S. border is the closest most of them will ever get to it. . Lacking resources, most stay in Tijuana. They learn Spanish, though they continue speaking Mixtec in their community. Instead of the sandals & simple clothing typically worn in their hometowns, they buy shoes & jeans.

TVs suddenly become affordable because the community is so near the border, with people finding ways to buy used ones or barter for them. But phones are still a luxury that almost no one in the community can afford. Instead, they communicate with their relatives in southern Mexico by using public telephones or using an informal-courier system of migrants.
They find jobs as cart vendors or sell trinkets, usually near the border or on the tourist strip on Avenida Revolucion. It is there that the U.S. influence is the strongest, where they are in close proximity to people living in the U.S.

The debate over assimilation vs. preserving the newcomer's culture, takes on new tones. With their own country never quite knowing whether assimilation or preserving their culture is best, many find it easier to hide their ethnicity.
Thus, they straddle theborder of their own community in addition to Mexico and the United States, a new twist on their legacy of oppression from their lighter-skinned compatriots.

"It's like they see us as ugly ducklings," said Ruperto Galindo Bautista, Mixtec Indian & principal of the school in Pedregal San Julia. "I don't know if it's because we're darker-skinned or shorter."

Indigenous people have had to contend with being relegated to the lowest rung on the social ladder since the Mexican conquest, when the Spaniards asserted their authority by claiming superiority.
"The border," Clark Alfaro said, "presents new challenges and possibilities for them."

the school
On weekdays, more than 280 children crowd into Centro de Educacion Preescolar Indigena (Center for Preschool Indigenous Education), basically 8 makeshift classrooms built by the parents. All classrooms lack electricity & water. Two have no windows, and the daylight streaming in from the open door on a sunny day does not quite illuminate the 2 back rows of desks.

The child-size desks in the larger classes those holding nearly 50 students are so tightly squeezed together that children practically elbow each other. There is a bathroom for girls and one for boys, but neither toilet flushes. The need for a bigger & better-built schoolhouse grows more urgent each week, as buses drop off more indigenous migrants who make their way to their new homes on the dusty hill. There is no end in sight to the growth. The migration is continually spurred by longtime political unrest over indigenous rights and by natural disasters such as last fall's floods that wiped out thousands of homes.

These migrants, who usually sell food from carts or gum or crafts at the border, earn an average of $10 to $30 weekly. It is a small sum that is still much more than they could hope to earn in their hometowns. Already, the children are living up to their parents' hopes simply by learning to write their names and read simple words. Most parents use their thumb prints as a signature on their children's report cards because they cannot sign their names.
The children go to school not only to learn the kind of lessons that children everywhere are taught, but also to learn Spanish, Mixtec and the occasional English word. About 70% of the children are Mixtec Indian; the others are native Spanish speakers.

"We teach them to value the indigenous language," said school director Ruperto Galindo Bautista, a Mixtec Indian. "Each teacher commits himself to helping to rescue the Mixtec language. But because many follow the dollar and English represents the dollar for them, English is also taught."
It all began with 12 children. About 2 years ago, the school-age children were turned away from a nearby school for lack of space. Unwilling to allow the children to abandon schooling, community leader Marcos Flores Juarez "Don Marcos" to all here offered his small home as a place where children could be taught.

As the community grew, however, he realized that the children needed more. Flores, who spent 5 years working in farms in California, Oregon and Washington, went to Mexican government officials to ask them for a school.

First, the people had to persuade govt to give them land, no small feat in a country where public resources are stretched thin. Then, they had to ask for classrooms. They got 2, but realizing it would be many months before the classrooms would be built, Don Marcos gathered the parents and told them what they had to do.
Brick by brick, plywood sheet by plywood sheet, the men, women and children of Pedregal San Julia built 8 classrooms. Each parent was responsible for digging a 2m sq. hole to level the ground where classrooms would be built.
But their labor was not enough.

Although the classrooms were built with the occasional help of a bricklayer, most of the rooms are so crude that light streams in through gaps in the walls and ceiling. Most importantly, the parents say, the school lacks lighting & water and is too crowded. The parents also would like a fence for security at a school where each adult is responsible for the safety of more than 30 children.

education at any cost
Diaz, long an advocate of helping children, is looking for people willing to donate their time to travel with him to Tijuana to build classrooms. "If they don't have money, that's OK. We just need volunteers. If I get 10, 15 people, I'll take them down myself. I'll rent a van. I'll do whatever I have to do," Diaz said. "All I ask is that if anyone has benefited from getting an education, you recognize that this can make a big difference in these children's lives."
As a Parent-Teacher Association leader at San Juan Elementary, Diaz was a pioneer in encouraging a record number of Hispanic parents to spend time with their children, ask about their school day and help with their schoolwork. He knew it was a recipe for their children's success in school.

It is one that Morales and his wife hope will work for them. As a child, Morales was forced to abandon school after the 8th grade so he could support himself after his parents died. Now, at 40, he is thought to be elderly, his deeply creased face a tell-tale sign of a lifetime of toil.
He began giving his children daily after-school lessons soon after he visited his son in his first-grade classroom and found him in the back, the designated spot for the student with the lowest grade. "I asked the teacher why, and she said, 'Your son doesn't know how to read,' " Morales said, looking down sadly as he recalled that day.

To teach his son to read, Morales painstakingly wrote dozens of letters on a wall in one of the two minuscule bedrooms in his home. The wall contains the alphabet, dozens of word fragments that spell out complete words when placed together, and a phrase from the Bible.
Then he found a large piece of plywood, painted it green and used it as a blackboard. The board also serves as a door separating the kitchen from the bedroom. Morales bought a colorful book filled with lessons & activities for the children: Abran, 8; Sara, 7; and Marcela, 5. The couple debated whether to use the money for food or the book. They chose the book.

But now the book is tattered and the children have written all over it, so they use what they have. "We tell them, 'You get your mom's Bible. You get your dad's Bible,' " said Adela Gonzales Doroteo, motioning to her two oldest children. Their life of hardship is one they do not want their children to share.
"He who doesn't have an education, won't succeed in life," Morales says. "I've had a hard life. I work selling gum, washing cars. It is not a good life. I came here intending to cross to the other side, but I had no family there so I had nowhere to go. Now, I am too old to do much else."

9.15.06 NY Times graphic

A stone slab bearing 3,000-year-old writing previously unknown to scholars has been found in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and archaeologists say it is an example of the oldest script ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere. The Mexican discoverers and their U.S. colleagues reported yesterday that the order and pattern of carved symbols appeared to be that of a true writing system and that it had characteristics strikingly similar to imagery of the Olmec civilization, considered the earliest in the Americas.

Finding a heretofore unknown writing system is rare. One of the last major ones to come to light, scholars say, was the Indus Valley script, recognized from excavations in 1924.
Now, scholars are tantalized by a message in stone in a script unlike any other and a text they cannot read. They are excited by the prospect of finding more of this writing, and eventually deciphering it, to crack open a window on one of the most enigmatic ancient civilizations.

9.15.06 NY Times graphic The inscription on the Mexican stone, with 28 distinct signs, some of which are repeated, for a total of 62, has been tentatively dated from at least 900 B.C., possibly earlier. That is 400 or more years before writing was known to have existed in Mesoamerica, the region from central Mexico through much of Central America, and by extension, anywhere in the hemisphere.

Previously, no script had been associated unambiguously with the Olmec culture, which flourished along the Gulf of Mexico in Veracruz & Tabasco well before the Zapotec and Maya people rose to prominence elsewhere in the region. Until now, the Olmec were known mainly for the colossal stone heads they sculptured and displayed at monumental buildings in their ruling cities.

The stone was discovered by María del Carmen Rodríguez of the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico and Ponciano Ortíz of Veracruz University. The archaeologists, a married couple, are the lead authors of the report of the discovery, which is being published today in the journal Science.
The signs incised on the 26-pound stone, the researchers said in the report, “link the Olmec to literacy, document an unsuspected writing system and reveal a new complexity to this civilization.”

Noting that the text “conforms to all expectations of writing,” the researchers wrote that the sequences of signs reflected “patterns of language, with the probable presence of syntax and language-dependent word orders.”
Several paired sequences of signs, scholars said, have even prompted speculation that the text contained poetic couplets.

Experts who have examined the Olmec symbols said they would need many more examples before they could hope to read what is written on the stone. They said it appeared that the symbols in the inscription were unrelated to later Mesoamerican scripts, suggesting that this Olmec writing might have been practiced for only a few generations and never spread to surrounding cultures.
Stephen D. Houston of Brown University, report co-author and an authority on ancient writings, acknowledged that the apparent singularity of the script was a puzzle and would probably be emphasized by some scholars who question the influence of the Olmec on the course of later Mesoamerican cultures.
But Dr. Houston said the discovery “could be the beginning of a new era of focus on the Olmec civilization.”

Other participants in the research include Michael D. Coe of Yale; Richard A. Diehl of the University of Alabama; Karl A. Taube of the University of California, Riverside; and Alfredo Delgado Calderón, also of the National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Mesoamerican researchers not involved in the discovery agreed that the signs appeared to represent a true script and that their appearance could be expected to inspire more intensive exploration of the Olmec past. The civilization emerged about 1200 B.C. and virtually disappeared around 400 B.C.

In an accompanying article in Science, Mary Pohl, an anthropologist at Florida State University who has excavated Olmec ruins, was quoted as saying, “This is an exciting discovery of great significance.”
A few other researchers were skeptical of the inscription’s date because the stone was uncovered in a gravel quarry where it and other artifacts were jumbled and possibly out of their original context.
The discovery team said that ceramic shards, clay figurines and other broken artifacts accompanying the stone appeared to be from a phase of Olmec culture ending about 900 B.C. They conceded, though, that the disarray at the site made it impossible to determine if the stone was in a place relating to the governing elite or a religious ceremony.
Dr. Diehl, a specialist in Olmec research, said, “My colleagues and I are absolutely convinced the stone is authentic.”

Road builders digging gravel came across the stone in debris from an ancient mound at Cascajal, a place the discoverers said was in the “Olmec heartland.” The village is on an island in southern Veracruz and about a mile from the ruins of San Lorenzo, the site of the dominant Olmec city from 1200 B.C. to 900 B.C.
That was in 1999, and Dr. Rodríguez and Dr. Ortíz were called in, and they quickly recognized the potential importance of the find.

Only after years of further excavations, in which they hoped to find more writing specimens, and comparative analysis with Olmec iconography did the two invite other Mesoamerican scholars to join the study. After a few reports in recent years of Olmec “writing” that failed to hold up, the team decided earlier this year that the Cascajal stone, as it is being called, was the real thing.
Dr. Houston, who was a leader in the decipherment of Maya writing, examined the stone with an eye to clues that this was true writing and not just iconography unrelated to a language. He said in an interview that he had detected regular patterns and order suggesting “a text segmented into what almost look like sentences, with clear beginnings and clear endings.”

The tiny, delicate signs are incised on a block of soft serpentine stone 14 inches long, 8 inches wide and 5 inches thick. The inscription is on the stone’s concave top surface.
Some pictographic signs were frequently repeated, Dr. Houston said, particularly ones that looked like an insect or a lizard. He suspected that these were signs alerting the reader to the use of words that sound alike but have different meanings, as in the difference in English of “I” and “eye.”
All in all, Dr. Houston concluded, “the linear sequencing, the regularity of signs, the clear patterns of ordering, they tell me this is writing, but we don’t know what it says.”

Hold the Mayora, please
Critics in Japan say a flood of foreign words makes the language incomprehensible at times and is threatening the nation's identity.
11.30.02   Mark Magnier, Hisako Ueno L.A.Times

Tokyo   They slide under doors, through windows and past airport immigration unnoticed. The Internet is a veritable breeding ground, as are locker rooms and fashion runways. Seemingly harmless in small doses, their wholesale import now threatens Japan's very identity, say critics. A new computer virus? An insidious North Korean spy plot or some new breed of walking catfish? For many Japanese, the biggest invasion fear is the flood of foreign words infecting their vocabulary, with English heading the charge.
"It's becoming incomprehensible," says 60-year-old Tokyo restaurant worker Yoko Fujimura. "Sometimes I feel like I need a translator to understand my own language."

To grandparents, English word trend isn't 'naisu'
10.21.02   Howard W. French NT Times

Tokyo   When Ayako Komata, 18, talks fashion with her friends, she throws around terms like "hippu hangu," or hip-hugging, jeans and "shadoh" (eye shadow), and ponders their effect on "chou naisu gai" (very nice-looking guys). This contemporary Japanese, spoken at breakneck pace and filled with English-sounding words, is incomprehensible to her grandparents. So when they complain that her underpants are showing, Ayako patiently explains that the fashion these days is to wear jeans just above the pelvis, which someone decided should be called "hippu hangu."

Japanese govt, like many older Japanese citizens, is unimpressed by these linguistic imports that are transforming the language. Invoking a widening communication gap in 3 generation households, among other reasons, it has decided to act.
In an effort reminiscent of France's doomed bid to halt the proliferation of English words in the language of Molière, the govt of PM Junichiro Koizumi recently appointed a panel to propose measures to stem the foreign word corruption in the language of Lady Murasaki, author of the 11th-century "Tale of Genji."

Their target is words written in katakana, a script largely reserved for writing the exploding number of trendy words imported from Western languages, esp. English, even though Japanese has been borrowing Western words, changing their pronunciation and giving them a Japanese flavor, at least since the 19th century. Before that it did the same thing on an even larger scale with Chinese words.
With his permed mane, snappy dress and plain speech, Mr. Koizumi himself has been a distinct trend setter. But the politician, who studied at the London School of Economics in his youth, has drawn a line when it comes to the purity of the Japanese language.

He was moved to action not by the puzzling speech of teenagers, but by the English-infused and equally difficult-to-track bureaucrat-speak that surrounds him, involving clunky Japanese derivations of things like outsourcing, back office, redundancy and accountability.
"How can ordinary people understand if I don't understand?" the prime minister complained during a recent strategy session on how to revive Japan's technology sector. Among the offending words was incubator, rendered "inkyubeetaa" when pronounced according to the katakana spelling. "You have got to use expressions that are more easily understood," Mr. Koizumi said.

No firm regulations have yet been introduced, but the Council on the Japanese Language, a body somewhat akin to the Académie Française, is already honing its powers of persuasion. It says it will analyze newly arrived vocabulary each year and advise govt & media to avoid terms it regards as unwanted or as confusing intruders.
"We do not think that katakana words will disappear from the Japanese language, because there are just too many arriving all the time," said Japanese language division of Japan's Cultural Agency dir. Satoshi Yamaguchi. "The problem is there are so many words that most people don't understand."

Among the recent offenders he cited were negotiation (negoshieishon), literacy (riterashii) and interactive (intarakutibu). New terms that mysteriously cleared the comprehension barrier, as measured by the language agency, included home helper (herupaa) and treatment (toriitomento).
Some language experts here think Mr. Koizumi is treading much too lightly. Rather than seeing the growth of English-derived terms as an inevitable side effect of globalization, which is striking cultures around the world, they see the spread of katakana words here as a uniquely Japanese peril.

"We Japanese have an inferiority complex over language which has turned into a dangerous longing," said Sugiyama Jogakuin Univ. (Nagoya) linguistics prof. Chikara Kato . "As a result, Japanese youngsters are taking a distance from Japanese and favoring katakana words. If you go into a clothing store that caters to young people, you'll find that everything is in English."
In fact, although borrowings from English are by far the most numerous, they are not alone in invading the Japanese language. Many medical terms come from German, and in conformity with national stereotypes, the language of romance has been invaded by French. A young woman who sleeps out for a night, unannounced to her parents, is said to have pulled a "puchi iede," or roughly a petit, or little, night out, "iede" is standard Japanese.

People like Prof. Kato become incensed over the thought that entire sentences can be strung together in contemporary Japanese using nothing but Western-derived words, save for an occasional Japanese verb or particle. Try for example: "Kasuaru use of katakana is not reezunaburu." Reasonable or not, the casual use of katakana seems almost uncontrollable, and most Japanese people, especially those under 50, seem unconcerned about the debate. The love affair with English is so well established here that a Japanese purification program would have to erase everything from the name of the country's perennial baseball favorites, the Yomiuri Giants, to renaming virtually every part in their automobiles, from the doa and taiya to the mootaa (door, tire and motor).

For his part, in fact, Tomatsu Komata, the 79-year-old grandfather of Ayako, affects nonchalance about the subject, claiming to have no difficulty understanding. At 43, Sumiko Komata, right in the middle of this yawning language divide, knows better, and slyly begins to pepper her speech with borrowed terms like dilemma, policy and mental. A few moments later she asks granddad if he understands, and he throws up his hands in surrender.
"To tell you the truth, if we go to a restaurant and I don't understand what's on the menu, I just give it to her," Mr. Komata said, chuckling as he gestured toward his daughter-in-law. "With all the new words, half the time I have no idea what they are serving."

    Guiding tourists in two tongues
    11.30.02   Laura Sturza Burbank Leader
Media District West   Warner Bros. Studios tour guide Kazumi Nakamura introduces herself to her English-speaking group by asking, "You speak fluent Japanese, right?" The Burbank resident relishes her job at the studio because it gives her the chance to leave her charges with wonderful memories, she said.
Born & raised in Japan, Nakamura is the studio's liaison to Japanese-speaking tourists, often delivering her 2 hour 15 minute spiel in both languages. "Then I have to speak twice as fast," Nakamura said.

Warner Bros. Studios VIP tours give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at a working movie & TV studio, incl stops at back-lot sets, soundstages and craft and technical areas. Nakamura found the job posted on the Internet when looking for work close to home. The studio offers tours in Japanese due to the number of industry professionals who visit Burbank from their native Japan. Studio officials said they attempt to accommodate requests for tours in other languages.

During a Tuesday tour, the petite visual artist & actress impersonated Peter Falk as "Columbo" and Martin Sheen from "The West Wing" as she demonstrated how actors "hit their marks", a way of marking the stage so they stand in the right spot for cameras & lighting.
Her job taps into a combination of stand-up skills & teaching techniques, as she responds to visitor's questions and weaves anecdotes about the studio's past & present into her tour.
Tours $32 MF   reservations & information 972-8687.

PM Junichiro Koizumi recently chided his ministers for overusing "loan words." A govt-funded institute has a hotline to interpret & document bad usage. Echoing France, there's even a committee to find replacement words for the foreign gate-crashers.
Countries around the globe are wringing their hands over the rapid spread of American English, with Coca-Cola among the most recognized terms on Earth. However, Japan's unique writing system arguably makes the problem here worse. In most countries, foreign words are assimilated relatively quickly, making it difficult, for example, to remember that "smorgasbord," "maitre d' " and "hamburger" came to America from abroad. Japan, however, writes all imported utterances other than those from Chinese in a different script called katakana, the only country to maintain such a distinction.

Thus, terms such as "word processor," "managed health care" and "baby-sitter" remain "foreign," presumably for centuries, creating a linguistic moat between intruders and more blue blood Japanese terms. Katakana also takes far more space to write than kanji, the core pictograph characters that the Japanese borrowed from China 1,500 years ago. And it stands out, given its other function as a way to emphasize meaning, akin to using italics or exclamation points. Readers complain that sentences packed with foreign words start to resemble extended strings of strobe lights.

As if that weren't enough, katakana terms tend to morph at border crossings, like complex names at Ellis Island. "Digital camera" debuted as degitaru kamera, then became the more ear-pleasing digi kamey. But kamey is also the Japanese word for "turtle."
"It's very frustrating not knowing what young people are talking about," says 53-year-old municipal employee Minoru Shiratori. "Sometimes I can't tell if they're discussing cameras or turtles." Similarly, the loan word for "dot- com" also means "suddenly crowded," which inspired the winning entry in a recent haiku-like poetry contest: 'Dotsuto comu'
What's so crowded?
My boss asks.

Japan's fast-paced word blender, more often than not deftly operated by teenagers, also can leave foreigners reeling. Many Japanese believe they're speaking English when they describe mayonnaise as mayora; lovers of the Chanel brand as shannera; a convenience store as a combeeni and the high-five gesture of a sports hero as a gattsu posu, or gutsy pose.
"I support efforts to limit katakana words because too many of them damage the beauty and dignity of our language," says retired financier Yukio Komatsuzaki, 60. "If you want to learn English, that's great. Or speak proper Japanese. But keep them separate."

Even more daunting are foreign words left in the Western alphabet, or romanji. 63-year-old housewife Toshiko Uno found herself in desperate straits recently looking for a toilet in a Tokyo train station before noticing a door marked "powder room."
"Powder room?" she says. "Why put on such airs?"
Foreign-based katakana terms account for 10% of some dictionaries. "The spread has been just phenomenal," says Shikoku Gakuin Univ. social linguist Yasuko Hio. A survey by national broadcaster NHK found half of all respondents unhappy with the foreign flood, with people in their 60s most concerned and those in their 20s largely unfazed.

In a bid to temper the torrent of katakana, a system developed by 9th century Buddhist monks to remember Chinese pronunciation, then the only foreign language invading Japan, the govt has tapped a Foreign Words Committee to find suitable Japanese replacements.
The committee is quick to distance itself from French-style language police, given that Japanese history makes the hint of force, even against words, potentially controversial. A largely ineffective law in France bars advertising in English.

Rather, committee members & traditionalists here hope a sustained campaign of persuasion, gentle reproach and leadership by example can turn the tide. Intelligibility, not purity, is their goal, they say. "There's less feeling the govt should control it," says Minoru Shibata, who monitors linguistic change at NHK's research institute.
The National Institute for Japanese Language hopes to craft 100 Japanese replacement terms every 6 months. The group admits it's understaffed but is seeking a $1.7-million budget increase for more wordsmiths. "We want to tackle this aggressively," says institute president Mitsuro Kai.

The nation took similar steps during its late 19th century modernization drive as scholars & bureaucrats created Japanese words for "democracy," "chemistry" and other new concepts. But life was a bit slower then, and the channels for imports better controlled. Society could afford to wait a decade or more while elites found a proper Japanese word that might stand in for a foreign term.
Adding to the committee's many challenges is the fact that katakana terms tend to evoke novelty & excitement, a reflection of the writing system's centuries-old role as a beachhead for cutting-edge concepts. The committee is also up against some pretty aggressive opponents in the vocabulary wars, including high-tech industries, the fashion world, advertising, sports and the media.

Advertisers have embraced katakana with all the subtlety of an anaconda, even tossing in Japanese words to make their soapsuds and soy sauce sound dynamic. "Sometimes we get calls because people can't recognize Japanese words in katakana," says the language institute chief researcher Sadao Yamada, who is in charge of the group's hotline.
Politicians & bureaucrats who hope to sound more sophisticated & worldly aren't far behind. Economics Minister Heizo Takenaka is accused of using so many English financial terms that his sentences are almost incomprehensible. "Politicians should be banned from using it," says 54-year-old janitor Kentaro Miyazaki. "When I hear them speaking gibberish, I just tune them out."

Language purists argue that perfectly good Japanese words are available if people just tried a little harder, for instance, using jyugyoin to describe a company worker rather than staffu. Fair enough, counter younger Japanese, but there are nuances. Companies advertising for staffu are seen as progressive, flexible and more equitable toward women, they say. A competitor's search for jyugyoin evokes respectability, security and, to some, mind-numbing boredom.
"I'd much rather have a staffu job than be a jyugyoin," says 24-year-old cafe worker Minako Yoshinaga.

Real estate agents add that hanging your clothes in a walku-in-kurozeto sounds much more luxurious than the more musty-sounding oshiire. While Japanese terms have precise, well-understood meanings, fuzzier foreign terms provide more latitude to bureaucrats to skirt responsibility.

The foreign scientific term for "mad cow" disease, BSE, short for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, gained widespread use last year after a health scare in part because the Japanese term, kyogyu-byo, is graphically descriptive of the illness and tends to underscore how officials failed to safeguard the nation's food supply.
"Katakana terms make it more difficult to pin them down," says Seizaburo Ofuchi, in the terminology office of Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper. "These 60-year-old politicians moan about all the katakana, but they often make ample use of it for their own purposes."

As if all that weren't enough, katakana suffers a standardization problem as alternate spellings proliferate for the same word. "It's quite sloppy," says Sanseido Publishers editor Toshio Kaminishi, which puts out a katakana dictionary that has doubled in size over the last 30 years. "Actually, it's out of control."
For many older Japanese who struggled to rebuild their country after World War II, only to watch it stumble in recent years, katakana's spread symbolizes the perils of globalization, eroding discipline and the loss of traditional values. These fears are unfounded, counter others. Foreign words may enter Japan wholesale, but many fade.
"Once they lose their freshness, they're tossed," says Toyama University social linguist Shigehiro Kato.

Nor is the social & cultural torch that's been handed to the younger generation exactly flawless, some add. Japan can't afford to remain as protected as it has for much of its history, with language an important barometer of change. "Older people get slower & slower at adapting, while the speed of life gets ever faster," says cafe worker Yoshinaga. Kanji: 'rootless'; link to mass media introduction of concept, esp. re otaku 
 'Speed Tribes' days & nights w/ Japan's next generation, Karl Taro Greenfeld 10.94 "I think this whole anti-katakana movement is a control issue, a bid to cling to the old Japanese identity. They feel in crisis because everything's falling apart, and their instinct is to blame younger Japanese who are trying to bring new things into the country."
With words pouring in hourly, the effort to hold them back strikes some people as quixotic and a throwback to another age when bureaucrats & elites had far greater control over society.

The evidence that this isn't an ordinary class starts from the moment the bell rings in Stephanie Molett's classroom, when a student walks to the front of the room and delivers a greeting in Japanese.
"Hajimemasho," said the student leader. "Let's begin."
A few more commands then the student said "ganbatte kudasai."
"Onegaishimasu," they reply as they bow.

In essence, the student leader, who changes each week, has asked them to do their best and the students responded by asking the teacher to guide them through the lessons before she starts. It's a little taste of daily Japanese school life that Molett wants to bring to her Chino Hills High students studying the language.
In the class, Molett uses games that test her students' recognition of the Japanese words and phrases as she reads to them. "It's kind of like going back to kindergarten almost, where you're learning your alphabet," sophomore Maggie Taylor said.

Molett said she realizes that Japanese is a big change from English; she also uses aural devices in class such as playing Japanese TV commercials and pop songs. "They have to hear the language a lot to become comfortable," Molett said.
It is the only Japanese class in any area high school. At nearby Mount San Antonio College, Japanese is a popular choice for foreign language requirements. There are 20 Japanese classes, from beginning to advanced, with about 600 students enrolled each semester, said Mount SAC Japanese professor Yuki McPhail.
There are few students in her classes that have had any formal training in Japanese, she said.

According to the state Dept of Education, last year 106 California public schools taught first-year Japanese. Most of those are in urban areas, such as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. In contrast, 1,575 schools offered Spanish and 887 French.
Molett, who the students call "sensei," for teacher or master, learned Japanese while at Washington State Univ. She started her teaching career in 1990, teaching Spanish and Japanese to high school students in Spokane until 1994. It was in 1994 when she left for what would turn out to be a four-year stay in Nishinomiya, Japan.

She returned to Spokane in 1998 and spent the next several years at her old high school. But this year she decided on a change of pace and began looking for jobs outside the state. She was thinking of a move to Las Vegas, but an appeal by Chino Valley Unified School District administrators at a job fair brought her to Chino Hills. She started teaching Japanese and Spanish in September. Her plan is to add advanced Japanese classes to the school in the following years.
Her students gave a variety of reasons why they chose the class. Some jumped at the chance to learn the language from a country where a lot of pop culture, including video games and animation, originate, Molett said.

Of her 29 students, Molett knows of eight who have some Japanese ancestry. Freshman Michelle Koontz's maternal grandmother, who lives in Burbank, is Japanese. Michelle found herself on the outside of conservations between her mom and grandmother and even more confused on trips to Japan, which her family has taken every 4 years.
"When I go back, they try to talk to me and I don't even know what they're saying," Michelle said. "I saw it [the class] and I thought it would be fun to take." Now Michelle plans to take it every year it's offered and hopes to have a good command of the language on her next trip.

Other students found the class attractive because it stood out. "It was something different that not many people get to take," said freshman Sarah Brannan. Brannan, who is doing well in the class, said the key to excelling is first memorizing the Hiragana alphabet. Students also need to master the Katakana alphabet, used for foreign words. And to become fluent, they'll also need to learn Kanji, the modified Chinese characters used in written Japanese.
Molett has plans to take her class on a few field trips where they can practice their Japanese. One will be to an area sushi bar, where they'll use their knowledge to order food, Molett said.

Carson Hom's family has run a thriving fortune cookie and almond cookie company in Los Angeles County for 35 years. For much of that time, it was a business that required two languages: Cantonese, to communicate with employees and the Chinese restaurants that bought the cookies, and English, to deal with health inspectors, suppliers and accountants.
But when Hom, 30, decided to start his own food import company, he learned that this bilingualism wasn't enough anymore. He checked out the competition at a recent Chinese products fair in the San Gabriel Valley and found that he couldn't get much further than "hello" in conversing with vendors.
"I can't communicate," said Hom, whose parents are from Hong Kong. "Everyone around used to speak Cantonese. Now everyone is speaking Mandarin."

Cantonese, a sharp, cackling dialect full of slang and exaggerated expressions, was never the dominant language of China. But it came to dominate the Chinatowns of North America because the first immigrants came from the Cantonese-speaking southern province of Guangdong, where China first opened its ports to foreigners centuries ago.
It is also the chief language of Hong Kong, the vital trading and financial center that became China's link to the West. But over the last three decades, waves of Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants have diluted the influence of both the Cantonese language and the pioneering Cantonese families who ran Chinatowns for years.

The surging Chinese economy today has challenged Cantonese further. Because Mandarin is China's official language, entrepreneurs like Hom have been forced to adapt, often learning the hard way that business can't be done with Cantonese alone.
Many Cantonese speakers are racing to learn Mandarin any way they can by watching Chinese soap operas, attending schools, paying for expensive immersion courses and even making more Mandarin-speaking friends.
This is no cinch. Although Cantonese and Mandarin share the same written language, they are spoken as differently as English and French.

At the same time, few people are learning Cantonese. San Jose State University and New York University offer classes, but they are almost alone among colleges with established Cantonese communities. The language is not taught at USC, UCLA, Pasadena City College, San Francisco State or Queens College in New York, to name a few.
With the changes, some are lamenting, in ways they can do only in Cantonese, the end of an era. Mandarin is now the vernacular of choice, and they say it doesn't come close to the colorful and brash banter of Cantonese.
"You might be saying, 'I love you' to your girlfriend in Cantonese, but it will still sound like you're fighting," said Howard Lee, a talk show host on Cantonese language KMRB-AM (1430). "It's just our tone. We always sound like we're in a shouting match. Mandarin is so mellow. Cantonese is strong and edgy."

Cantonese is said to be closer than Mandarin to ancient Chinese. It is also more complicated. Mandarin has four tones, so a character can be intonated four ways with four meanings. Cantonese has nine tones.
Beginning in the 1950s, Chinese govt tried to make Mandarin the national language in an effort to bridge the myriad dialects across the country. Since then, the government has been working to simplify the language, renamed Putonghua, and give it a proletarian spin.
To die-hard Cantonese, no fans of the Communist government, this is one more reason to look down on Mandarin. Many say it is far more difficult to learn Cantonese than Mandarin because the former does not always adhere to rules and formulas. Image-rich slang litters the lexicon and can leave anyone ignorant of the vernacular out of touch.

"You have to really listen to people if you want to learn Cantonese," said Gary Tai, who teaches the language at New York University and is also a principal at a Chinese school in Staten Island. "You have to watch movies and listen to songs. You can't learn the slang from books."
Popular phrases include the slang for getting a parking ticket, which in Cantonese is "I ate beef jerky," probably because Chinese beef jerky is thin and rectangular, like a parking ticket. And teo bao (literally "too full") describes someone who is uber-trendy, so hip he or she is going to explode.
Many sayings are coined by movie stars on screen. Telling someone to chill out, comedian Stephen Chow says: "Drink a cup of tea and eat a bun."

Then there are the curse words, and what an abundance there is. A four-syllable obscenity well known in the Cantonese community punctuates the end of many a sentence.
"I think we all agree that curse words in Cantonese just sound better," said Lee, the radio host. "It's so much more of a direct hit on the nail. In Mandarin, they sound so polite."
His colleague, news broadcaster Vivian Lee, chimed in to clarify that the curse words were not vindictive.
"It's not that Cantonese people are less educated. They're very well educated. The language is just cute and funny. It doesn't hurt anyone," said Lee, who does the news show on the station 5 days a week. "The Italians need body language. We don't need that at all. We have adjectives."

To stress a point or to twist a sentence into a question, Cantonese speakers need only add a dramatic ahhhhhhh or laaaaaaa at the end. Something simple like, "Let's go" becomes "C'mon, lets get a move on!" when it's capped with laaaaa.
By comparison, with Mandarin from China, what you see is what you get. The written form has been simplified by Chinese govt so that characters require fewer strokes. It is considered calmer and more melodic. Take the popular Cantonese expression chi-seen, which means your wires have short-circuited. It is used, often affectionately, to call someone or something crazy. The Mandarin equivalent comes off to Cantonese people sounding like "You have a brain malfunction that has rendered your behavior unusual."

The calm tones of Mandarin are heard more and more around Southern California's Chinese community. Even quintessential Hong Kong-style restaurants, including wonton noodle shops, now have waitresses who speak Mandarin, albeit badly, so they can take orders. Elected officials in Los Angeles County, even native Cantonese, are holding news conferences in Mandarin.
Some Cantonese speakers feel besieged. Cheryl Li, a 19-year-old Pasadena City College student whose parents are from Hong Kong, is studying to become an occupational therapist and volunteers at the Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park, where most of the patients are Chinese.

Recently, she was asking patients, in Mandarin, what they wanted to eat. When one man thought her accent was off, he said, "Stupid second-generation Chinese American doesn't speak Mandarin."
Li responded angrily, "No! I was born here. But I understand enough." "We're in the minority," she added, reflecting on the incident. "I'm scared Cantonese is going to be a lost language."
Still, Li is studying Mandarin.

There are places where Cantonese is protected and cherished. At a cavernous Chinese seafood restaurant in Monterey Park, members of the Hong Kong Schools Alumni Federation gathered in a back room to munch on stir-fried scallops, pork offal soup and spare ribs. It was a regular monthly meeting of the group and a sanctuary for Hong Kong Chinese people who take comfort eating and joking with fellow Cantonese speakers.
"I just can't express myself as freely in Mandarin," said Victor Law, an accountant who left Hong Kong to attend college in the U.S. 34 years ago. "That's why we have this association. I feel like we're the last of a dying breed."
For Law, it's not just the language but many Cantonese traditions that are on the decline. He says it's now hard to find a mah-jongg game that uses Hong Kong rules instead of Taiwanese rules, a distinction concerning how many tiles are used.
"I'm not ready to be a dinosaur," said Amy Yeung, president of the alumni group.

To the trained ear, it was instantly apparent that this was a gathering of Cantonese speakers. The room was deafeningly loud with everyone talking. Even serious discussions were punctuated with wise cracks.
When Yeung announced that members could get seats and walk the red carpet at an Asian film festival, the room erupted in unison in the most common way a Cantonese person expresses astonishment, Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
Near the end of the night, Yeung had important news. A mother in Hong Kong called to say she was moved to tears by a scholarship the federation had given to her daughter to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"She told me to tell you all, 'Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I didn't know there were such good people in the world,' " Yeung said.
The room fell silent for a moment. Sensing the awkwardness and, God forbid, self-congratulatory tone of the story, Law blurted, "Does she know how to cook?"
Everyone laughed and another successful meeting came to an end.

The alumni association can afford to lament. Many of them speak Mandarin already. But many Cantonese speakers are finding out now that they have to learn Mandarin or risk being left behind in business or even within their families.
To learn Mandarin, Joyce Fong sits in her favorite black leather massage chair in front of her living room TV and goes through Chinese soap operas on DVD. Some are about ancient Chinese dynasties. Others focus on the story of a single mother. A few are South Korean programs dubbed into Mandarin.

The 67-year-old retiree says she has to pick up the language if she hopes to be able to communicate with her 9- and 5-year-old grandsons in China. The boys had been living with their parents in the Bay Area, but the family decided to move to China a year ago so that Fong's son, Gregory, could take a job at a university and also raise his children immersed in Chinese culture.
Although the grandchildren will also speak English, they will primarily use Mandarin at school, Fong said.
"I want to encourage them. I tell them, 'Grandma is trying to learn Mandarin too,' " said Fong, who immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong 53 years ago and is socially involved in L.A. Chinatown through her family association.

Walnut City Councilman Joaquin Lim grew up in Hong Kong and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s. For decades in California, he found he could get by with English and Cantonese. But that changed when he decided to get into politics a decade ago.
Running for the school board in his suburban community, Lim quickly realized that most of his Chinese constituents in the eastern San Gabriel Valley were newcomers who didn't speak Cantonese. So Lim had his Mandarin friends speak to him in their mother tongue. He watched movies in Mandarin and listened to Mandarin songs. By the time he ran for City Council in 1995, he felt comfortable enough with the language to campaign door-to-door and talk to Mandarin residents.

But there's always room for improvement, as Mandarin speakers are quick to remind him when he gives speeches. A few months ago, he was speaking to the Chinese language media at a news conference announcing a task force to improve health standards in Chinese restaurants.
As he spoke in Mandarin, fellow task force member Anthony Wong interrupted him in mid-sentence to correct his grammar. The ethnic Chinese reporters chuckled, acknowledging that his Mandarin was a work in progress.

Lim recently spoke at a graduation ceremony in Cal Poly Pomona for govt officials from central China who took a 4 week course in American administrative practices. Lim thought it went well. But the leader of the Chinese delegation had a slightly more reserved review: "It's much better than most Cantonese-speaking people."

Immigration no threat to English use in U.S.: study

Phoenix AZ   An academic study published Wednesday in the Population and Development Review found that far from threatening the dominance of English, most Latin American immigrants to U.S. lose their ability to speak Spanish over the course of a few generations. The study by sociologists Frank Bean & Ruben Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine, and Douglas Massey from Princeton, drew on two surveys investigating adaptation by immigrant communities in California and south Florida.

It concluded that by the third generation, most descendants of immigrants are "linguistically dead" in their mother tongue.
"Based on an analysis of language loss over the generations, the study concludes that English has never been seriously threatened as the dominant language in America, nor is it under threat today," the researchers said. "Although the generational life expectancy of Spanish is greater among Mexicans in Southern California than other groups, its demise is all but assured by the third generation," it added.
Third-generation immigrants are American-born with American-born parents, but with three or four foreign-born grandparents.

The study, which also included some data from immigrant groups from Asian countries, weighs into a polarizing debate in the United States on the desirability, or otherwise, of linguistic assimilation for immigrant minorities. Differences flared earlier this year when a group of Latino and Caribbean artists recorded a version of the "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, prompting condemnation from some public figures including Pres. GWBush.
"The national anthem ought to be sung in English," Bush said of the version, dubbed "Nuestro Himno" by the artists. "And I think people who want to be citizens of this country ought to learn it in English."

The evidence speaks well of bilingualism's effect on kids
10.7.02   Judy Foreman L.A. Times

Kids who grow up in bilingual homes may be slower to speak than other kids, but once they've learned both languages they appear to have a number of intellectual advantages. People who speak 2 languages early in life quickly learn that names of objects are arbitrary, said linguistics & Massachusetts Institute of Technology second-language acquisition prof. Suzanne Flynn. "So they deal with a level of abstraction very early."

Also, bilingual kids become exceptionally good at learning to ignore "misleading information," said York Univ. (Toronto) psychology prof. Ellen Bialystok. Bialystok tests bilingual & monolingual 4-year-olds with what she calls the "tower game," which involves building towers with either Lego or Duplo blocks. Duplo blocks are similar to the familiar Lego ones, but they're roughly twice as big. Every block, regardless of its size, holds one "family," Bialystok tells kids. The child's task then becomes to look at a tower and say how many families it can hold.
The trick is that a tower made of 7 Lego blocks is the same height as a tower made of four Duplos. To answer correctly the question of which tower holds more families (the Lego tower), the child has to ignore this obvious visual fact.
"By age 5, monolingual children can do this," said Bialystok, but bilingual kids can do it at 4. "This is the advantage of bilingualism", in other words, a child can focus attention and ignore distractions.

Bilingual kids also learn another useful skill, how to switch back and forth between tasks when the rules (such as the rules of a language) change, said Univ. of Massachusetts Medical School (Waltham) Ctr for Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience dir. Adele Diamond.
Learning to adapt to a new set of rules means learning how to inhibit or not pay attention to previously learned set, a skill that depends on development of a particular part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, which functions in concert with other areas. In bilingualism, said Diamond, "you are constantly having to exercise inhibition because otherwise one language would intrude. We think this puts such a heavy demand on the system that it pushes the brain to mature earlier."

This ability to filter out distractions and switch back & forth between tasks may give bilingual kids a leg up in school, she said. In many studies, researchers use the Stroop test. The child is presented with a list of colors, but each color's name is written in ink of a different color. For instance, the word "red" would be written in green ink. Sometimes, the rule is that the child must say the name of the color and sometimes the child must say the color of the ink instead. For kids who can't yet read, Diamond uses pictures of circles on a computer screen.
Diamond then uses functional MRI scans to see which areas of the child's brain are needed when the rules keep switching. Constant rule switching, she said, causes the brain to recruit extra neural circuits, whereas tasks that don't involve rule switching do not.

Large area of brain used
Even in monolingual people, language processing is so central to being human that the brain devotes a huge amount of "real estate" to it, said Univ. of Washington Ctr for Mind, Brain & Learning dir. Patricia K. Kuhl. For 99% of right-handed people, the brain processes language mostly in the left hemisphere. In left-handers, it's often, though not always, reversed.
Specifically, speech production is governed by Broca's area, a small region in the left inferior frontal cortex of the brain, beneath the temple. Language comprehension, on the other hand, occurs in Wernicke's area, which lies farther back. (Sign language, by the way, uses the same areas, as well as visual processing areas. If a person who communicates by sign language has a stroke in Broca's area, he may become aphasic--unable to speak--just like a person who uses oral speech.)

Getting the brain up to speed for language processing takes years. A recent imaging study by Washington Univ. (St. Louis) cognitive neuroscientist Steven Petersen showed that even in kids ages 7 to 10, the brain was working harder at language tasks than brains of adults. That's because "kids are still learning," he said. And kids who learn 2 languages, not surprisingly, have an even tougher challenge.
When babies are born, they are "citizens of the world," said Kuhl, who studies language development in babies in the U.S., Sweden, Japan and Russia. Newborns don't classify sounds; they simply hear & respond (by turning their heads) to all sounds. But over the first 6 months, as they become "bathed" in their native language, a baby's brain does a kind of statistical analysis that said, in essence, "This sound is important. I'd better file it away for future use." Or, "This other sound is not important. I can forget it."

Using computer-generated vowel sounds and sophisticated statistical analyses of babies' responses, Kuhl has shown that by 6 months of age, Swedish babies & American babies "have totally different perceptions of the exact same sound" from the computer. Other researchers, incl those from the Univ. of British Columbia, have shown similar results.
These distinctions become ingrained for life. While Japanese babies learn that there's no meaningful difference between the sound for "L" and the sound for "R," American babies learn there is. The result, for Japanese adults, is that it is very difficult to distinguish between "L" and "R" because the two sounds, said Kuhl, are in the same storage "bin."

But mapping exactly where language "bins" reside is a tricky, and fascinating, business. Neuroscientist Joy Hirsch of Columbia Univ. uses functional MRI scanning to study bilingual adults, half of whom became bilingual as toddlers and half of whom learned a second language as an adult. The question was simple: "When one learns a second language, is that represented in the same area of the brain as the native language?"
Hirsch's subjects, who spoke a variety of languages, English, Chinese, German, French, etc., were shown a picture and were asked to describe it first in one language, then in the second language. In adults who had learned a second language early, as toddlers, electrical activity in Broca's area looked virtually identical, regardless of which language was being used. But when people had acquired a second language later, the scans showed 2 separate parts of Broca's area lighting up.

This suggests that when the learning is early, "the brain treats multiple languages as one language. But when one learns later in life, the sorting out seems to be done more spatially," says Hirsch, whose research has been used by both sides in the bilingual education debate.
At the Montreal Neurological Institute, Denise Klein also finds brain differences depending on when people learn a second language. Using PET scans, she has found that people who are fully bilingual in French & English use the same area of the brain as an "internal dictionary," regardless of which language they're speaking. By contrast, people who are not truly bilingual, that is, who learn a second language after childhood, need to recruit additional brain areas to find words in their nonnative language, suggesting the brain has to work harder to do this.

Neurosurgeons, too, have documented that multiple languages can be stored in discrete parts of the brain. Univ. of Washington School of Medicine (Seattle) neurology prof. Dr. George Ojemann operates on people who suffer severe epileptic seizures, some of whom are bilingual, and maps the precise location of each language.
With the patient awake and able to speak, Ojemann shows a picture of, say, a banana, and asks the patient to name it. By using very precise electrical stimulation of specific regions in the brain, Ojemann can get the patient to talk, say, in French but not English, then stimulate a nearby area and get the opposite result.

Separate circuits
Though there is some overlap, this suggests that there are "somewhat separate neuronal circuits for different languages," said Ojemann, who has recently been able to map different languages to single neurons. "If you have 2 languages, all lines of evidence show there is separate real estate for different languages" in the brain, agrees Univ. of Washington Patricia Kuhl.
So what, if anything, does all this imply for bilingual education? "We are nowhere near knowing what it implies," she said, though researchers are trying to find out. Even though the answers are not all in, she added, there seems to be a "great advantage" to being multilingual.

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