March 2nd, 2010

[META] On blog formats

You may have noticed that I didn't post much in the past week. Vwery many factors are responsible for this, and one of these was the fact that I'm trying to decide how to format things in the future. The [NEWS] will come back into vogue, I think, as a tag suitable for those posts containing the many individual noteworthy news items which can't be expanded into single posts each. Twitter may also be brought formally into the mix.

More later.

[LINK] "Brazilian-style spelling reform causing headaches in Portugal"

I, for one, welcome my Brazilian overlords? AFP's Thomas Cabral has more on how the linguistic hegemonism of Brazil is upsetting many Portuguese.

ortugal is finally applying a long-delayed accord to standardise spelling in Portuguese-speaking countries, but in random fashion that has left most residents baffled about how to use their alphabet.

Ironically, Portugal's press has taken the lead in using the new spelling while the government -- via the schools -- continues its hesitation waltz over a reform approved by parliament in 2008 after a 20-year debate.

"It is absurd," said Nuno Pacheco, co-director of one daily, the Publico, which has so far refused to enact "a reform full of contradictions".

"Our children read newspapers that do not use the same spelling they are taught at school," he said.

The confusion has revived an old sore point over what some saw as a David vs. Goliath battle -- only this time David lost: under the 1990 accord, spelling in the world's eight Portuguese-speaking countries moves to the more phonetic form employed by Brazil.

As opponents point out, the English and Americans co-exist as neighbours ... or neighbors, so why can't Portuguese-speaking countries do likewise.

"It is a bad spelling reform and a political instrument for the expansion of Brazil," said linguist Antonio Emiliano.

He and other critics see the reform, already in place in Brazil, as tantamount to Portugal's "cultural abdication" to the commercial power of its vast former colony -- which claims 190 million of the world's 230 million Portuguese speakers.

[. . .]

The uniform spelling is aimed at making Internet searches easier, legal documents more standard and promote a bigger market for film and book productions in the Lusophone countries -- a world from the ancient Roman province of Lusitania, today's Portugal.

Outside Portugal and Brazil, these include Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea Buissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe. Portuguese is also spoken in some Asian pockets, including the special Chinese administrative region of Macau and India's Goa state.

Under the reform, the consonants P and C -- which can sound very different in Rio, Lisbon or Maputo -- are removed where they are silent, as in Brazilian Portuguese. Words like "optimo" (great) or "direccao" (direction), as they have been spelled in Portugal, will become "otimo" and "direcao".

The reform also expands the Portuguese alphabet to 26 letters by adding K, W and Y, and includes some new rules for accents.

[LINK] "The SA language framework and Botswana"

Over at Botswana's Sunday Standard, the Linguist Chair writes about Botswana's language conflicts and the way that they reflect conflicts between populations primarily and only secondarily language.

Just as section 78 of the Constitution of Botswana lists “Bakgatla, Bakwena, Bamalete, Bamangwato, Bangwaketse, Barolong, Batawana and Batlokwa Tribes,” as the ex-officio members of the House of Chiefs, so does section 6(1) of the South African constitution list: “Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu” as the official languages of South Africa.

The constitution then states what Vic Webb has previously termed the escape clause in Section 6(3)a: “The national government and provincial governments may use any particular official languages for the purposes of government, taking into account usage, practicality, expense, regional circumstances and the balance of the needs and preferences of the population as a whole or in the province concerned; but the national government and each provincial government must use at least two official languages.”

Section 6(4) further states that: “The national government and provincial governments, by legislative and other measures, must regulate and monitor their use of official languages. Without detracting from the provisions of subsection (2), all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably.”

[. . .]

The South African constitutional language provisions are impressive. Unfortunately, as South Africans have come to realise linguistic “parity of esteem” and equitable treatment cannot be legislated. Education and economic benefit drive human linguistic choice and ascription of esteem. Additionally, as Webb has shown, the escape clause means that because of “usage, practicality, expense, regional circumstances and the balance of the needs and preferences of the population as a whole” provincial governments continuously fail to strengthen and use indigenous languages.

Just as the Botswana Constitution fails to list certain Botswana tribes in its section 77-79, so does the South African Constitution fail to include other languages spoken in South Africa in its constitution. For instance: Sebirwa, Camtho, Fanagalo, Gail, Khwe (est:1,100 speakers), Korana, Oorlams, Shironga, Swahili (est:2,000 speakers), Tsotsitaal, and Tswa (est:20,000 speakers).

Because of the constitutional linguistic provisions, South Africa has adopted a regionalistic approach to language with specific official languages being used and promoted in certain areas of the country. For instance the Northwest Province uses mainly Setswana and English. This has meant that provinces become more pronounced tribal territories, each staking its authority over a chunk of South Africa by asserting and insisting on its regional language.

The question of whether the South African language situation can be replicated in Botswana is a common one. Botswana can do much to promote other languages represented in the country.

However I am not sure the South African route is attractive. First, what most seem to forget is that the South African population is far much larger than that of Botswana. Its population is about 48.5 million people, which is over 22 times the population of Botswana. South Africa has about 10 million Zulu speakers; 3.5 million Setswana speakers; 2 million Tsonga speakers; just over a million Swati speakers; 4.3 million Southern Sotho speakers; 4.1 Sepedi speakers; 700,000 Ndebele speakers; 3.7 million English native speakers and 4.8 million Afrikaans native speakers.

Large numbers of native speakers justify the recognition of multiple national languages. However in states with smaller populations such as Botswana and Lesotho where there is a single dominant language, it is much more plausible to establish the common language as a national or official language. However, the need to protect and promote diverse minority languages of Botswana is something that both parents and government are still to attempt effectively.

Some parents are still ashamed of their minority languages, while on the other hand the government is still indecisive on indigenous minority languages. Something however tells me the problem of Botswana is not a language one; instead it is a tribal one. The language war therefore becomes the metaphor of tribal wrangling.

The fight between Tswana speaking tribes and those which speak minority languages, for instance, is much more pronounced and vicious compared to the one between minority languages and English although the ubiquity of English is pronounced in all official domains.

So here we are; we may think we are fighting a linguistic war – arguing for linguistic equality when in actual fact we are actually engaged in tribal wars which simply gain expression through language.

[OBSCURA] BearLeft's marijuanized Québec flag

Montreal (12/07)
Originally uploaded by BearLeft
Here's a second photograph on the theme of flags from Canada redone for the stoner crowd, this one taken from a trip a couple of years ago to Montréal. I like the photographer's caption.

"Dude, what does je me souviens mean?"

"I don't remember, dude, but pass me the poutine, I got the munchies, BAD, dude..."

[LINK] "Immigration Minister pulled gay rights from citizenship guide, documents show"

I don't like the homophobia evidenced by so many members of Canada's federal government. I don't like it it all.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blocked any reference to gay rights in a new study guide for immigrants applying for Canadian citizenship, The Canadian Press has learned.

Internal documents show an early draft of the guide contained sections noting that homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969; that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation; and that same-sex marriage was legalized nationally in 2005.

But Mr. Kenney, who fought same-sex marriage when it was debated in Parliament, ordered those key sections removed when his office sent its comments to the department last June.

Senior department officials duly cut out the material - but made a last-ditch plea with Mr. Kenney in early August to have it reinstated.

"Recommend the re-insertion of the text boxes related to ... the decriminalization of homosexual sex/recognition of same-sex marriage," says a memorandum to Mr. Kenney from deputy minister Neil Yeates.

"Recommend the addition of 'equality rights' under list of rights. Had noted earlier that this bullet should be reinserted into the list as a means of noting the equality of all based on race, gender, sexual orientation etc ..."

In the end, however, Mr. Kenney's view trumped that of the bureaucrats. The 63-page guide, released with fanfare last November, contains no mention of gay and lesbian rights.

About 500,000 copies were printed and citizenship applicants will start being tested on its contents March 15.

[. . .]

Mr. Kenney has steadfastly opposed same-sex marriage since his time as an opposition MP in the House of Commons.

He spoke against the Civil Marriage Act, or Bill C-38, when it was debated in the Commons in February 2005. And days earlier, Kenney told a session with Toronto-area Punjabi journalists that gays had every right to marry - as long as it wasn't someone of the same sex.

He reaffirmed his stand in 2006 when the newly elected Conservative government attempted without success to revoke the legislation.

And last year, Mr. Kenney appointed a longtime Conservative who opposes same-sex marriage to the Immigration and Refugee Board, which among other things makes decisions about whether gays can be given refugee status in Canada.

[. . .]

The gay-rights group Egale Canada met with the minister in early December after learning the booklet made no reference to gay and lesbian rights, and is negotiating with the department to have them included in the next printing, about a year away.

Mr. Kenney told the group that gay rights had been "overlooked" when the guide was being prepared, executive director Helen Kennedy said in an interview from Toronto.

"I'm hopeful and optimistic that we're going to get it fixed because we're not happy with it."

Ms. Kennedy expressed surprise when told draft versions of the guide did, in fact, contain references to gay rights and that they were ordered removed.

[LINK] "Quebec Innu communities defend Caribou hunt"

The decision of a coalition of Québec Innu communities to hunt caribou in Labrador--a seriously endangered population at that--in order to make some kind of political point, and justifying it by saying that they've a right to govern the ecologies of their homeland regardless of, well, reality, leaves me decidedly unimpressed. What is it with established populations in eastern Canada saying that they've a right to do whatever they want to selected prey species--caribou, codfish, seals, et cetera--because they've been doing it for a long time, anyway?

Chiefs representing Innu communities in northeastern Quebec are defending the actions of hunters who killed animals near a protected caribou herd in Labrador last week.

Quebec hunters say the slaughter was to protest their exclusion from a deal that will compensate Labrador Innu for the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric megaproject.

In all, 250 caribou were killed and will be used for food supplies for the communities, the chiefs said in a statement released Monday.

The expedition "was successful and also a great victory," said Georges-Ernest Grégoire, chief of Uashat Mak Mani Utenam. He said the kill had raised the attention of the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

"For thousands of years, we have practised the caribou hunt on a territory we call Nitassinan," said Réal McKenzie, chief of Matimekush-Lac-John. "No border drawn up by Euro-Canadians, upon their arrival four centuries ago, can limit Nitassinan and the inherent rights of its people."

[. . .]

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister said Monday he expects charges to be laid against the Quebec Innu hunters.

"We certainly do," Felix Collins told CBC News. "We certainly hope that the evidence will be sufficient to lay charges."

Quebec Innu hunters sparked a furor last week when they pursued caribou near the protected Red Wine herd, which the Newfoundland and Labrador government believes has just 100 animals.

Collins said the government does not know how many animals were killed in last week's hunt, but "we're assuming it's anywhere from 150 to 200."

The zone where the hunt took place is closed to hunting in order to protect the Red Wine herd.

Oh, and this is great.

"It is not the caribou herd that is on the verge of extinction, but rather the Innu Nation that must fight against assimilation and extinction policies. For us, exercising our rights is a matter of survival," said Jean-Charles Piétacho, Chief of Ekuanitshit.


[LINK] "New Gormenghast novel found in attic"

I got this news item from multiple sources on Twitter. I've not read the books or watched their associated movies, but I figure I've readers who have, so.

Titus Awakes was written by Maeve Gilmore shortly after her husband's death from Parkinson's Disease in 1968.

She decided to write the book, which runs to 210 pages, after he left her a page and a half of fragmented notes about how he might have continued the story.

The Gormenghast series, which is often wrongly called a trilogy but was in fact intended to be a longer series, followed the path of Titus Groan from his birth, as heir to a crumbling medieval castle, to his encounters in a modern world of skyscrapers and inventions.

Peake started writing the first, Titus Groan, in 1940. The second, Gormenghast, was published in 1950 while the third, Titus Alone, was published in 1959, three years after he stared to suffer from Parkinson's.

But his son Sebastian Peake, 69, believes he intended to write a whole series of books charting Titus's life from cradle to grave.

He said: "Following his death, my mother decided to see whether she could continue the Titus story, that my father was not able to finish before he was totally incapacitated."

In July 1960 he had written her an introduction for the new novel, and the briefest of outlines of how it might continue, with him visiting places such as "mountains, beaches, caves".

It starts with Titus leaving Castle Gormenghast. Peake wrote: "With every pace he drew away from Gormenghast mountain, and from everything that belonged to his home. That night, as Titus lay asleep in the tall barn, a nightmare held him."

His wife, who died in 1983, continued the story: "Titus awoke from his haunted sleep. His nose was frozen. He could not feel the extremities of his being. His toes were immobilised, fingers he dared not uncurl, for fear of them snapping off as brittle as a piece of homemade toffee."

The existence of her manuscript, handwritten in brown ink in four exercise books, remained unknown until Sebastian Peake's daughter Christian discovered them in the attic of her south London home.