Monthly Archives: May 2018

Reformists vs. Traditionalists

A recent article in The Economist entitled “Reformists and traditionalists are at war over Russian schools” paints a adversarial picture of educationalists in Russia. According to the article, the reformists are promoting student-centered pedagogies, hands-on technological skills, and collaboration to prepare graduates for the modern workplace; the traditionalists, on the other hand, are emphasizing vospitaniye and the classics through more standardized direct instruction.

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Image credit: Lambert/Getty Images

The article raises interesting questions for me about the situation in Kazakhstan, a country which often mirrors Russian models of government, education, management, and policy. With so many Kazakhstani educators on this blog, I would be curious to know how they see Kazakhstan’s education in this dichotomy. I know NIS is seen as a reformist force, with its team teaching, project-based learning, IB courses, and criteria based assessment. Are there traditionalist critics out there? Are mainstream schools caught in a tug-of-war about these approaches?

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Image credit: https://www.edsurge.com/

What are your thoughts?

 

Language Variation (Data Interpretation)

The song “Waka Waka” is sung by Colombian pop-singer Shakira and South African Afro-fusion band Freshly Ground. It became hit in 2010, as the song had been chosen as an official song of football World Cup. According to the lead singer Shakira (www.songfacts.com), the World Cup delineates an event that can “unite and integrate every country, race, religion, and condition around a single passion”. So, the main focus of the song is the vigour that is able to connect all of them. Primarily the “Waka Waka” is in English, however there are some cases when Shakira shifts to Spanish and African languages. As the part which is sung by band Freshly Ground, a lead vocalist Zolani Mahola (2010) states that it is in Xhosa language. It was noted by Coupland and Schilling-Estes (cited in Jaspers, 2010) that people mostly change the style in reply to the public or their partners rather than the attention they pay to their speech. It might be the same with the change of languages. Singers may represent their song in different languages, as they have listeners from all the parts of the world, and their main aim might be to make it comprehensible for each person, who listens to the song. In this paper, reasons for the different language usage in the song will be analysed. Qualitative analytical approach is applied to describe principles that influence singers’ shift to different languages.

The title of the song “Waka Waka” means “a flame that’s getting higher and higher” (Mahola, 2010). The reason for why the song is predominantly in English might be that English is considered as a “global language”, which means “a language achieves a genuinely global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in every country” (Crystal, 2003, p. 3). So, even English is not their mother tongue, people learn it as a foreign language. Therefore, it may be possible that they have an opportunity to speak and understand speech in this language, in this particular case they are able to comprehend the meaning of the song. Also, the line in Spanish – Y vamos por todo, which is translated as “we will follow others” – can be found in the middle of the song. Cameron (1995) noted that “who you are depends on how you act” (p. 16). The use of Spanish language may be the case that Shakira (singer) wants to show her national identity, as she is a Colombian and her mother tongue is Spanish. She adds (acts) Spanish language to the English song, and makes it clear she is from Spanish speaking country (who she is). In terms of the last part of chorus, it has African and English languages shift.

Tsamina mina zangalewa
Cause this is Africa

Tsamina mina eh eh
Waka waka eh eh

Tsamina mina zangalewa

This time for Africa

It was borrowed from the hit “Zangaléwa”, which is by makossa (Cameroonian popular urban musical style) group Golden Sounds. According to the information given on the website www.hubpages.com (2010), there is an argument that in Fang (African) language “Tsamina mina zangalewa” means “Who sent you?”, so it might serve as a question “Where are you?” or “Why are you here?” in this song, since footballers come from all over the world to the football World Cup. Another version can be found on this website that “Zangaléwa” is from Ewondo (another African language) “Loé wa za anga?”, which is translated as “Who called you?”. The original song might have been devoted to soldiers to encourage them to the battle, therefore “Loé wa za anga?” is a question that one may be asked if they complain about the harshness of the military life. However, in this song it may have the same meaning as in Fang language.

There is also another part which is in Xhosa language (also African), sung by the band Freshly Ground:

Ame la mejole biggi biggi mubbo wa A to Z
Asi tsu zala makyuni biggi biggi mubbo from East to West
Asi waga waga ma eh eh waga waga ma eh eh
Tendency suna tsibuye ’cause this is Africa (Africa, Africa Africa)

This part might be possible to have a meaning of invitation of all players to come to Africa and take part in the World Cup.

Overall, the different languages in this song might have been used for a reason. English has a global language status and is comprehensible for most of the population of the world. Spanish reveals the main singer’s national identity. As for the use different African languages, it emphasizes the fact that the football World Cup takes place in Africa and adds African style to the song.

Analysis of the video “Voice-Recognition Elevator in Scotland”

We often hear people say that someone has “such a strong accent”, or complain that his or her accent is “difficult to understand”, or, vice- versa, compliment highlighting how it is “lovely”. Having an accent means uttering the words in a specific way, which is usually influenced by the geographic location or social features of the speaker (Crystal, 2008). It shouldn’t be confused with a dialect since accent doesn’t imply distinguishing features in grammar and vocabulary. In some cases, the same language speakers from different parts of the world may misunderstand each other because of those pronunciation peculiarities. Therefore, people appear to ascribe a particular way of speaking to this or that country or city. Such stereotype is reflected in the video which was selected for interpretation that shows the attempts of English speakers with a Scottish accent to imitate American and British accents.

The purpose of this analysis is to explore the beliefs that the manners of American and British accents imitations imply in the Youtube video “Burnistoun- Voice Recognition Elevator in Scotland”. Therefore, I used a qualitative approach. To achieve my goal, I examined how the speakers pronounced the word “eleven” when trying to say it in American and British style. That would explain the way they perceive American and British accents. Along with that, I decided to pay attention to the phrases they used in their conversation in order to understand their beliefs. I couldn’t leave out the comments since there were some which added up evidence to the pattern that I found from the video. So, I analyzed them too.

Aforementioned video is a sketch from a comedy sketch-show called “Burnistoun”. The incidence takes place in the elevator with an installed voice-recognition system. Two Scottish men are stuck in it because the system doesn’t recognize their accent. In order to get to the floor they were heading for, one by one they try to imitate American and British accents. However, their attempts fail (VideoFunStation, 2011).

I noticed several techniques that they used. When trying to imitate American and British accents for the word “eleven”, the men changed the way they pronounced the vowel sounds. In the beginning, they used their own, Scottish, accent and I heard it as [әlevn]. However, when their manner of speaking wasn’t identified, they decided to try American accent and pronounced the word as [ilәvn]. After seeing that it wasn’t working they used British accent and said [әlәvәn]. Along with that, every time when changing their accent, they had to repeat the word several times. While repeating the word, they tended to break it down into syllables, presumably, in order to be intelligible. Moreover, use of the body movements was spotted. The second speaker moved his shoulders forward when he was imitating British accent which, I think, was intended to support his British sounding. One of the commenters noticed it too, he/she pointed out that it is an imitation of not only pronunciation but also of the Londoners’ habit while speaking:

“I’m from London, and it cracks me up when he does the english accent…puts a bit of cockney shoulder into it lol. Classic sketch “(VideoFunStation, 2011).

In this way, the vowel sounds’ change, thorough pronunciation, and body language support were observed in the process of attempting to sound like an American or Englishman.

The manner of “speaking” with American or British accent reveals the perceptions of those characters regarding how they think American or English people sound like. Those beliefs are usually constructed by the society (Giles, 1970). However, in this case, there appears controversy between two Scottish men about how American and British English should sound. The attempt of the first one made the another to oppose him saying it didn’t sound like American at all. In his turn, the second gentleman tried to imitate British accent but ended up being criticized the same way. This might indicate that the representatives of the same community don’t necessarily share identical beliefs about this or that language variation.

Another thing that caught my attention is that American accent was used in the first instance. I believe starting from British accent would be more logical for Scottish people since England and Scotland are the parts of the same kingdom. So, in the end, I came up with two possible explanations. American accent might be considered to be more popular, therefore, more likely to be recognized by the voice-activated elevator. My second interpretation of this is that the voice itself spoke American English which was noticeable not only by its pronunciation but by the word “elevator”, which the voice used. According to the Oxford Dictionaries’ website (n.d.), “elevator” is the US variant for the UK’s “lift”. Thus, their choice of American English could be the attempt to comply with their “interlocutor”.

The video also presents the stance on Glaswegian accent as well:

– Voice-recognition technology? In a lift? In Scotland? You ever tried voice-recognition technology?

– No.

– They don’t do Scottish accents (VideoFunStation, 2011).

This fragment is taken from the beginning when they haven’t tried anything yet. The first speaker predicted that their voices wouldn’t be recognized. In my opinion, that was based not on his experience, in case of which, I believe, they wouldn’t even try Scottish accent, but on the awareness of the hierarchy of British and American accents, even in their own hometown.

Another message, which I got from this video, is that Scottish accent is difficult to understand. One of the commenters wrote:

“I don’t get it. When he says “eleven”, it sounds more like the way I say it than any other accent he tried. (I’m from Minnesota, US.) Half the things they said I had a hard time understanding, but “eleven” sounded exactly like how I say it. Or is that somehow the joke, that it can’t understand “eleven” because it’s a Scottish accent, even though it in truth sounds pretty much the same in almost every accent? I’m probably missing something basic here” (VideoFunStation, 2011).

This commenter assumes that the machine refuses to accept the command “because it’s a Scottish accent”, which I would interpret as something different, unintelligible to be specific, compared with American and British accents. Actually, Scottish commenters confirm it on the comment section:

“This is literally what would go on if this were real xD” (VideoFunStation, 2011).

“Seen it and its so true” (VideoFunStation, 2011).

“OMG, I can’t stop watching and crying with laughter at this clip. It’s so true! Bloody voice recognition technology never understands a Scottish accent. I have so many friends who would react in the same way these guys would if they were stuck in this lift, PMSL” (VideoFunStation, 2011).

“I’m living in Edinburgh and… yes, it may happen :D” (VideoFunStation, 2011).

“Haha this is so funny I’m from Scotland myself and it’s dead true tbh” (VideoFunStation, 2011).

Overall, the video shows the struggles of Scottish people when their accents are not understood by others. Unfortunately, technologies with such voice-recognition system are put to use for real. But the more disappointing thing is that people tend not to take into consideration language variations. In my opinion, such practices limit the rights and opportunities of the people who don’t speak the standard language. Therefore, referring to this sketch I would recommend addressing the requirements of all the speech community representatives in the society when creating the technologies which “facilitate people’s lives”. In case of impossibility to install all the varieties of the certain language, it would be eligible to leave the option of using the previous technique of utilizing that technology, that is, buttons in the situation with this elevator.

The analysis of the Youtube video “Burnistoun- Voice Recognition Elevator in Scotland” revealed that the stereotypes regarding the accents are not always formed by society as a whole, in some cases representatives of the same speech community perceive the other variations of their language differently; possible explanations for giving an advantage to the specific accent could be adaptation to the accent of the dialogue partner or hierarchy of the language variations. The scriptwriters and actors excellently showed the difficulties which the speakers of less “popular” language variations face in reality. Ignoring the existence of that diversity may lead to the reoccurrence of such unpleasant situation, however, this time, it might be not rehearsed and experienced by ordinary people.

 

 

References

Accent. (2008). In D. Crystal, Language library: A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu.kz:2359/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/bkdictling/accent/0?institutionId=7630

British and American terms. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/usage/british-and-american-terms

Giles, H. (1970). Evaluative reactions to accents. Educational Review, 22 (3), 211-227. DOI: 10.1080/0013191700220301

VideoFunStation. (2011, September 7). Burnistoun- Voice Recognition Elevator in Scotland [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAz_UvnUeuU&t=1s