Tag Archives: language

The language of Narcissus

Two warriors cleaving a goblin in two in Dragon's Dogma

So I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned I’m into Dragon’s Dogma. I’m at that particular stage of video game obsession where when I’m not playing it, I’m thinking of playing it.

A related obsession has sprung up for me, though, and that’s the obsession of posting screenshots. You can take and upload screenshots directly from the game. This is not such a big thing for computer players, but trust me when I say this feature is fairly novel for this generation of video game consoles.

See for yourself how much I’m uploading to the official video game website (the answer is several pics everyday). It’s fun to document your fictional adventures and put them up for strangers to view. It’s fun even when no one sees your pics, but it’s even better when random people on the Internet actually compliment you on them.

I did notice, however, that the majority of the screenshots posted are from Japanese players. Not only that, but the uploaders often write a short blurb to which other players respond. I can’t read Japanese but it’s obvious that there’s a community of Japanese players carrying on conversations and connecting with each other through their enjoyment of the game.

However, there is no similar community of English speaking players on the game website. There are anglophone players, but compared to the number and visibility of the Japanese players they’re a drop in the bucket.

It’s not as if the narcissism of the screenshot is unknown outside of Japan. Do I even need to mention that the word “selfie” exists?

I would theorize that the dominance of Japanese players is due to a couple of reasons. The first is that the Japanese Internet is more centralized than that of other linguistic communities. A gigantic amount of Internet traffic in Japan goes through one website, 2ch. It’s my understanding that it’s basically an old school BBS with a few modifications and apparently still has that terrible web design from the 1990s that oldsters might remember. Even if they’re not on it, a Japanese Internet user will at least have heard of the site.

No equivalent website exists for the English Internet. Players would be on several different message boards, blogs, and gaming sites, so one single service would not dominate.

Of course, the Dragon’s Dogma site is integrated directly into the game, so players should at least be discovering it that way. Thus, the second reason I would say that so few English speakers can be found on the game site is due to is popularity – namely, its popularity with Japanese players. An English-speaking player might share a few screenshots and go to the game site hoping for some discussion, then discover that most of the existing conversation is in another language. They might make a few attempts at connecting with other English-speaking players, and a few die hards might stick around, but the majority will retreat to their own gaming forums or even just give up on connecting at all.

There might be all this rhetoric about the Internet allowing one to connect with a yak herder in Nepal, but in truth the Internet is a very segregated place. Users talk mostly to people in their own country. This does make sense, after all – how many Korean TV shows are shown in the USA, for example? Who else would Korean fans talk about their favourite TV show with but with other Koreans? Of course, there are languages with international reach and emigrant diasporas, so there’s still a bit of internationalism online. But not as much as all the ads back in the 90’s would make you think.

Forgiveness, please

Language Log discusses an article about the president of the Philippines’ refusal to apologize to Hong Kong over the death of a group of Hong Kong tourists when they were holidaying in the Philippines. The post is about a particular claim that part of the problem is that Tagalog has no word for “sorry”. The claim is of course complete crap.

However, one of the comments on the post gives a very old-fashioned way to apologize in Tagalog: “Ipagpaumanhin po ninyo ang aking pagkakamali.” This sounds seriously formal to me. If I were to translate this into English with approximately the same connotations I would render it as “I humbly beseech you for your forgiveness for the grievous wrong I have committed”. Somehow I can’t imagine saying it in any other position besides kneeling in abject supplication on the ground, clothes perhaps rent in anguish.

My admittedly poor translation sounds kind of hokey, or it can if not intoned with the proper gravitas. However, saying the Tagalog sentence with anything less than utter sincerity somehow seems wrong and even faintly immoral. I honestly can’t think of any situation where I would need to deploy this linguistic equivalent of the nuclear option. Perhaps if I’d accidentally killed my neighbour’s child or something like that.

Anyway, now you know how to apologize in Tagalog if you ever commit manslaughter.

Alien Nation

I’ve recently installed this Spanish-language trivia game on my phone out of guilt at the deterioration of my fluency en castellano. However, I’ve discovered that I know very little of Spanish pop culture and don’t possess the general bits of knowledge that someone immersed in the Hispanosphere would pick up over the course of their lives. The questions consist of examples such as, “So-and-so is married to this famous actor” and neither the clue nor any of the potential answers are people I’ve ever heard of. That or I get something like, “Such-and-such island is part of this grouping: A)The Balearics, B)The Azores, or C)The Canary Isles”. Oh yes, did I mention that the game is mostly geared toward Spaniards?

The best I’ve gotten is 50% correct and you can bet I earned the hell out of that D- rating. I suppose it’s not the game’s fault it’s not aimed for a Canadian English audience. I am somewhat surprised to discover that Family Matters and Urkel’s catch phrase are considered a common reference point in Spain. Oh well, at least I can feel like I’m doing something with my Spanish skills.

And in case you were wondering, Steve Urkel’s signature phrase is rendered as ¿He sido yo? in the language of Cervantes.

Say what?

From linguaphiles:

Usage examples you wouldn’t expect to find in a dictionary
"They threw the newly born baby into the river." (for "river".)
"Suffocate the child so he will die." (for "suffocate").

I love the additional examples that the commenters provided.

"you will stick one end of it up your arse"
"it is better if I kill you and hide you[r body] where no-one will see it"
"do you want me to take my clothes off?" (for "clothes")
"This is the place where I always hide the bodies." (an example of an adverbial relative clause)

Some of the examples have to be deliberate attempts at surrealism, they’re too bizarre to be produced by a normal person writing in a formal context. But good lord, check out the novella written as an example of the phrase “a woman” for a Russian-English dictionary:

She became a woman at fifteen, when she fell in love with a good-for-nothing who used her feelings and deprived her of her innocence without thinking about the psychological consequences of this event for a girl who had grown up in a Puritanical family.

Let me guess, the writer of the entry is a failed novelist making ends meet by writing dictionary entries. I’m actually reminded of my French class in high school, where I fulfilled my dialogue-writing assignments by putting the speakers in bizarre situations (my favourite was a conversation between a junky and the dealer he is trying to score crack from).

“Canadians” becoming code word for “niggers” in US

Via Language Log: No Dogs or Canadians? 

This is rather bizarre, but apparently in the US, the term “Canadian” is apparently increasingly being used as a replacement derogatory term for “black people”.  It’s ideal for cryptoracists because it doesn’t sound racist.  “Damn Canadians” doesn’t sound like a racial slur, after all.

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A Filipino blog, for once

Yes, this post is dangerously on-topic for me.  Rather, it would be if I still maintained the fiction that Sarapen is about my research on Filipino bloggers.

But back to the main plot.  Manuel Viloria at Viloria.com gives Tagalog lessons on the requisite formulas one needs to know to get by in various social situations in the Philippines: “Happy Birthday,” “it’s raining hard,” “I’ll avoid pork rinds for now.”  You know, the essential things.  The lessons are also being podcast, so you can listen to how things are supposed to be pronounced.

I’m not sure who the audience of these podcasts are supposed to be, though.  “Learn to speak Tagalog now (for free!) to give you the advantage when you travel to the Philippines.  So it’s for people outside the Philippines, then.  But which people?  Business travellers wouldn’t need this much Tagalog since English can take them almost anywhere in the Philippines, so I must assume these lessons are for second generation Filipinos and non-Filipinos with personal reasons for learning Tagalog (i.e., married to a Filipino).  Which makes sense given the range of social situations covered in the lessons.

Tangentially, I confess that I still haven’t got into podcasting.  I’d rather have a text to quickly skim through than a meandering recording that I’d have to listen to in its entirety just to find out if there’s anything interesting in it.  When considering blog post vs. podcast, I’d have to go with blog post just for that very reason.  For me, their unskimmability kills most podcasts for me.  Of course, in the case of this particular blog, podcasting is certainly helpful, but in general, I just can’t get into them.

And on another tangent, I used to to regularly write about anarchism on my old blog.  Mostly my posts revolved around David Graeber, an anarchist anthropologist.  Some month back, I discovered this video of him being interviewed on Youtube and I thought I might as well put it up now.  It’s all interesting stuff, I just wish the whole interview was on.