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February 25 2014

List of Deceased in Venezuela Protests Available in 5 Languages

In the blog Panfleto Negro [es], John Manuel Silva and Emiliana Duarte are keeping a list of confirmed deaths from the ongoing protests taking place in Venezuela. The list -originally in Spanish- has been translated into English, German, Italian and French.

February 24 2014

Ukrainian Revolution Rattles Russian Nationalists

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, recently released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Remarkably, it is now a fait accompli that the Ukrainian opposition has taken control of the country's political process. President Yanukovich's fall from power was in no small part due to the radical nationalists who made up the core of the street activists standing opposite Ukrainian riot police for the last three months. Nationalist parties like Svoboda, and radical organizations like the “Right Sector” (see this early YouTube video [ru] of Right Sector leader Yarosh talking about taking the fight to “Ukrainian” lands in Russia) contributed to the eventual victory of the Maidan movement, and now appear to be in a unique position to influence Ukrainian policy making.

At least this is what Russian nationalists fear — not only that the new Ukraine will look towards the West, rather than Russia, but that the Russian speaking population in Ukraine will come under attack from radicals who will attempt to “derussify” them. The prominence of Ukrainian nationalists in the opposition movement gives fodder to these fears. A Russian radio-host Ilias Mercury, for example, tweeted about statements previously made by leader of the Svoboda party Oleh Tyahnibok:

Tyahnibok declared that the Russian language in Ukraine will be made illegal. Clear?

and 

Tyahnibok declared that Russians living in Ukraine will be made “non-citizens of Ukraine.” Clear?

It doesn't matter if such policies will ever come to pass. The very thought of them scares nationalists who feel that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are also Russian.

Some Russians blame Yanukovich for this turn of events. Blogger and publicist Egor Holmogorov wrote [ru] recently that:

Судьба Януковича – великолепный урок всем мелким тиранам, предающим русских. Он мог бы сделать русский язык государственным и править опираясь на русскую половину, которая постепенно стала бы русским большинством. Он предпочел прямо противоположный путь.

Yanukovich's fate is a great lesson for petty tyrants who betray Russians. He could have made the Russian language an official state language and rule relying on the Russian half of the country, which over time would become a Russian majority. He chose an exactly opposite approach.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

In general, language appears to be a major point of contention for nationalists on both sides. In the past couple of days the new opposition controlled Rada has passed several laws, one of which was to repeal of an older law that gave Russian the status of a secondary official language in Ukraine. This led nationalist philosopher and founder of the National Democratic party Konstantin Krylov to proclaim [ru] the new regime “anti-Russian.” Krylov claims that such laws diminish political freedoms and Ukraine, and calls for new policy that would allow Ukrainians to easily acquire Russian citizenship, if they so choose.

Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom also commented on the law repeal, saying [ru] that it fits with their predictions of increased nationalism in Ukraine in the case of an opposition win. S&P also criticized Alexey Navalny for supporting the Ukrainian opposition movement, as it seems contrary to his claims of looking out for the interests of Russians. S&P also published an address to “all Ukrainian Russians,” [ru] in which they call on them to self-organize and create “Russian national organizations,” because, “that's the only way to create a European Ukraine.”

Conservative publicist and radio-show host Dmitry Olshansky, on the other hand, made a more emotional appeal [ru]:

Можно себе представить, что было бы, если бы не было 1941 года, и существовали бы те, кого убили, и их потомки, – а Рада отменила бы идиш в качестве регионального языка.

You can imagine what would happen, if there was no 1941, and all of those who had died and their descendants would now be alive – and the Rada took away the regional status of Yiddish.

Truly, Russian nationalists are vehemently against any kind of ethnic discrimination — unless, of course, they get to be in charge.

Reposted byepimetheus epimetheus

February 21 2014

Equatorial Guinea Moves Closer to Becoming Portuguese Language Country

The door has been opened for Equatorial Guinea to enter the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) despite the orienting principles of the intergovernmental organization which pledge “the primacy of peace, Democracy, the Rule of Law, Human Rights and social justice”. 

The recommendation for the country's entry into the organization (which includes Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe and Timor-Leste) was approved unanimously by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs for CPLP, who met in Maputo, Mozambique on February 20, 2014, the eve of UNESCO's International Mother Language Day.

Spanish and French are the official languages of Equatorial Guinea, and Portuguese is now closer to become the third. The country, which has been an Associate Observer of CPLP since 2006, announced a proposal in mid-February for the suspension of the death penalty. This change pleased the diplomatic front of the community as the abolition of capital punishment is one of the conditions for membership. 

However, Equatorial Guinea's “human rights record is particularly concerning”, as highlights writer David Shook in an article published on February 19, one day before CPLP's announcement: 

Under the leadership of Guinean president Teodoro Obiang Nguema, now the longest-serving head of state in Africa, Equatorial Guinea continues to rank among the most corrupt states in the world. 

Shook reports that the most important living writer of the country, Juan Tomás Avila Laurel, has been forced into hiding for his work as an activist. Malabo's security forces threatened him just this week after denying his request for permission to stage “a sit-in protesting a recent wave of police brutality”. Shook stresses:

Juan Tomás Avila Laurel’s safety is currently at risk; he faces dire conditions if captured by Guinean security forces. The international visibility of his situation is an important protection.

He also points to The Human Rights Watch “World Report for 2013“:

Corruption, poverty, and repression continue to plague Equatorial Guinea under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979. Vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while most of the population lives in poverty. Those who question this disparity are branded “enemies.” Despite some areas of relative progress, human rights conditions remain very poor. Arbitrary detention and unfair trials continue to take place, mistreatment of detainees remains commonplace, sometimes rising to the level of torture.

All of this doesn't seem to be relevant now for the representatives of the eight governments that count Portuguese as one of the official languages. The heads of state and government will meet in Dili, Timor-Leste in July to make a decision on Equatorial Guinea's membership. 

“African money #CFA #Malabo”. Photo shared on Flickr by Kaysha (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Reacting to the latest news, the Portuguese chapter of Transparency International, the civic association and corruption watchdog “Transparência e Integridade” (Transparency and Integrity) [pt], tweeted that ”money speaks louder” in the lusophone world. 

Although the government of Portugal had rejected the country's request for membership until now, the relations between the two countries might be changing in times of economic crisis.

Lusomonitor, a website dedicated to the analysis of “lusophone issues” reported [pt] that Equatorial Guinea has injected 133 million euros into Portuguese bank Banif, “helping the Portuguese State to unravel a complicated dossier, which has hindered the fulfillment of the goals of economic and financial adjustment program with the ‘troika'”, composed by the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile, civil society organizations have promised to mobilize against the accession [pt] in the coming times.

Check out past Global Voices coverage of Equatorial Guinea, including: 

07 June 2011 – Equatorial Guinea: A Language That Ignores Human Rights
08 June 2012 – Equatorial Guinea: Dictatorship Seeks Entry in Portuguese Language Community

Celebrating Netizens Who Blog in Nigerian Pidgin English

A Linguistic map of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Benin. [Image released to  Creative Commons]

A linguistic map of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Benin. Image released to Creative Commons

There are over 500 indigenous languages currently spoken in Nigeria. However, the official language is English.

The other major languages spoken in Nigeria are:

Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ibibio, Edo, Fulfula and Kanuri. Nigeria's linguistic diversity is a microcosm of Africa as a whole, encompassing three major African languages families: Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and Niger–Congo.

However, Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE) has gained considerable acceptance as an unofficial second language. According to Naija Tori

Nigerian Pidgin English is a version of English and ethnic Nigerian languages spoken as a kind of lingua franca across Nigeria and is referred to simply as “Pidgin”, “Broken English” or “Broken”. It is estimated that Nigerian Pidgin English is the native language of approximately 3 to 5 million people and is a second language for at least another 75 million.

Sadly, despite the widespread use of NPE, it is yet to be given any official approval. North of Lagos laments:

Hundreds of languages are spoken in Nigeria. Apart from the most prominent–Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and English languages–521 other languages exist that have significant numbers of speakers. 521 languages in one country about double the size of Texas, amazing. So how does a Urhobo man from Delta state converse with a man who speaks Edo [a local language in Nigeria]? English is the official language of Nigeria because of British colonial rule. From the time kids start primary school they are learning and speaking English. The numbers are diminishing, but youth still hear their native languages. They learn Tiv or Igala [Nigerian local languages] in the classroom, just like they learn math and science, and of course if their parents speak something other than English at home, they will speak that. But wheat [sic] you hear students gossiping, it is not in proper British English or deep Yoruba. The language is called Pidgin, or Broken. It is Nigeria’s lingua franca, understood in all 36 states. It is how Nigerians in the most northern cities and those in the Nigeria Delta are able to communicate; yet, you will not find a classroom in the whole country that teaches it.  

Nonetheless, there are Nigerian netizens who blog in NPE. 

Wehomezone, “a pidgin blog that brings it home”, runs socio-political commentary in NPE. For instance, this blog entry is a satire on the alleged budgetary allocation for the zoo in State House:

The time Saka de sing dat im craze song, I don port o, the bobo fit no know say that im song go useful pass MTN advert. For the last one week, people de voke for Naija sake of say dem hear say dem FG budget heavy money to take care of animal for Aso Rock zoo. Naija people wetin de do una sef? Make we no de backward na. as early as 1912 wey Titanic sink, na since dat time oyinbo don show us say animal na equal to man…

Animal de always respect and protect person wey de give am food. But some human being na chop and clean mouth dem be. Dem go chop with PDP only to run go APC. Animal no de abuse dem oga for Facebook. Dem no de get two face. One profile for to praise oga and another fake one to de abuse am de leak im secret.

When Saka sang that his crazy song “I don Port O”, the fellow did not realise that his song merit will outlive [telecom provider] MTN's advert. For the past one week, people have been angry in Nigeria because of the news that the FG's [Federal Government] heavy budgetary allocation to take care of animals in Aso Rock Zoo. Nigerians what is really wrong with you? We should not go backward. As far back as 1912 when Titanic sank, that's when the white man showed us that animals are equal to men…

Animals always respect and protect the person that feeds them. Yet human beings will eat and pretend they've not eaten. They will eat with PDP, only to run to APC. Animals do not abuse their boss on Facebook. They are not two-faced hypocrites. Who have one profile to praise their boss and another fake one to abuse him and leak his secrets.

Cikko's Lair is a fiction blog that has this short story “Crash Course” in Nigerian Pidgin English:

“I no go huzzle (till infinity) but I go bubble (till infinity)…”

I pick d phone. Wizboyy na my man. I no go change my ringing tone till I buy my own jeep. Or till Showkey Baba release song again; anyone wey sha happen first.

“Hello, omo how far na?” Na my guy Kajeta been dey call.

“Guuuuy! Yawa don gas o!”

“Ahn ahn. Wetin happen?”

“Jolomi don get belle oh!”

“Jolo-wetin?”

“Jolomi! And she dey tell men say na you give am d belle.”

“Give wetin? I never see im pant na! I never kiss am sef. How I wan take pregnant am?” Make I tell una true: I been don see her pant sha. Smelling pant for dat matter. But I no wan enter yawa abeg. Which kain wahala be dis?

“I won't work (till infinity) but I will enjoy (till infinity)…”

I picked up the phone. Wizzboy is my man. I will not change my ringtone till I buy my own Jeep. Or until Showkey Baba releases another song; whicher happens first.

“Hello, how are you?” It's your guy Kajeta.

“Man! There's trouble!”

“Ahn ahn. What happened?”

“Jolomi is pregnant!”

“Jolo-what?”

“Jolomi! And she's telling people that you're the one responsible for her pregnancy.”

“Give what? I have never seen her panties! I have never kissed her. How come I'm the one responsible for her pregancy?” Let me be frank: I have seen her panties, a smelly one for that matter. But I want no trouble, please. What type of trouble is this?

Chidi Anthony Opara writes poetry in Pidgin. In “Naija Dey Dishonour Honour” he examines the irony of awarding honours in Nigeria:

Every where,
Even before before for Naija
Dem dey take honour
Tell country people
Wey do better thing dem
Well done.
Person do better sport
Dem go take honour
Tell am well done.
Person write better write write
Dem go take honour
Tell am well done.

Everywhere,

Even in days past in Nigeria
They give honours
To deserving Nigerians
In appreciation of their good work
 
One who excels in sports
Is granted an honour
As a compliment
One who writes well
Is granted an honour
As a compliment

These are also some witty sayings in Pidgin English, such as “He who fights and runs away….Na fear catch am”, which means, “He who fights and runs away… is afraid.” Take a look at some other sayings below:

Pikin wey no sabi em mama boyfriend….Dey call am brother.

A child who does not know his mother's boyfriend… calls him a brother

A rolling stone no just dey roll….Na person push am.

A rolling stone does not just roll… someone must have pushed it

He who lives in a glass house….Na im pepe rest.

He who lives in a glass house… is wealthy

A stitch in time….dey prevent further tear tear.

A stitch in time… prevents further tears

Birds of d same feather….na d same mama born dem.

Birds of the same feather… were born by the same mother

Interview With Fula-Language Blogger Balde Mamadou Tafsir for Mother Language Day

Fula is the language of the Fula (Fulani) people. Few African ethnic groups exhibit such a wide range of political and economic integration in the West African region. Fula people number among Africa's greatest writers, professors, filmmakers, artists, politicians, and businessmen. Yet Fula nomads, representing the largest migratory ethnic group in the world, live in extremely precarious conditions as they travel with their livestock in the Sahel savannah. They are called Fulɓe (singular Pullo) in the Fula language, Fula or Fulani in English, and peul in French. The geographic distribution of the population extends from West Africa to Central and East Africa.

The Fula language varies significantly between countries:

Le peul, ou peulh ou fulfulde, ou pularpulaar, est une langue parlée dans une vingtaine d’États d’Afrique occidentale et centrale, des rives du Sénégal à celles du Nil. C'est la langue maternelle des ethnies peules, et aussi une langue seconde employée régionalement comme langue véhiculaire, par d'autres ethnies.

Fula (also known as peulh, fulfulde, pular, or pulaar) is a language spoken in some twenty West and Central African countries, from the banks of the Senegal to those of the Nile. It is the native language of ethnic Fulas and is also spoken as a second language and lingua franca by members of other ethnic groups.

Unfortunately, this language, despite being taught in several universities outside of Africa, is rarely taught in school systems on the continent.

African culture and languages researcher Balde Mamadou Tafsir writes two blogs in Fula, his native language. For the first, Misiide [ful], he uses the Latin alphabet, and for the second, tafsirexpress.blogspot.com [ful], he posts using the Arabic alphabet. His goal is to promote all facets of Fula language and culture. For International Mother Language Day, a UNESCO initiative celebrated every February 21st since 2000, he agreed to answer a few questions for Global Voices.

Balde Tasfir facebook photo profile with his permission

Balde Tasfir facebook photo profile with his permission

What do you think of International Mother Language Day?

Balde Mamadou Tafsir (BMT): C’est un moment de partage de joie, de satisfaction, de se sentir intégré dans la diversité culturelle. En ma qualité de développeur web de langues et cultures africaines je considère la Journée Internationale de la Langue Maternelle comme une merveilleuse occasion de maintenir ce noble objectif.

Je pense qu’il faut soutenir la résolution de L’UNESCO [ résolution 37 adoptée en 1999 par  la Conférence générale de cette institution du système des Nations Unies basée à Paris] qui affirme cette reconnaissance de la diversité culturelle de par le monde, cette journée nous encourage à multiplier nos efforts dans le développement de nos langues nationales.

Balde Mamadou Tafsir (BMT): It's an occasion to share joy and satisfaction, to feel integrated in cultural diversity. As a web developer working on African languages and cultures, I consider International Mother Language Day to be a wonderful occasion to further this important objective.
I think we need to support the UNESCO resolution [resolution 37 adopted in 1999 by UNESCO's General Conference of the United Nations System in Paris], which reaffirms recognition of cultural diversity throughout the world. This day encourages us to redouble our efforts in the development of our national languages.

What do you blog about?

BMT: Je blog le plus souvent sur la culture, les langues africaines, tout comme sur les activités socioculturelles.

I blog mainly about African culture and languages, as well as social and cultural activities. 

What do you find gratifying about blogging?

BMT: Tout d’abord, ça me rassure que bon nombre de mes lecteurs apprécient mes billets, mais aussi les questions/thèmes que j’aborde sur mes blogs. Ça m’encourage à plus écrire dans ces domaines.

First of all, it's reassuring that a good number of readers appreciate my posts, as well as the questions and themes that I bring up on my blogs. That encourages me to write more on these subjects.

What have you been working on since starting the blog Misiide?

BMT: Quelque mois après sa création, Misiide a lancé une version en arabe du blog pour ses lecteurs utilisant les caractères arabes. Tout récemment,  j’ai enregistré un album de poèmes poular (ou peul) qui sortira bientôt. Actuellement, je travaille sur la traduction des logiciels en peul. J’ai aussi traduit pas mal de livres en poular comme j’ai réalisé un petit lexique (poular-français, français-poular, et poular-arabe). D’autres projets sont en route.

A few months after its creation, Misiide launched an Arabic version for its readers who use the Arabic alphabet. Just recently, I recorded an album of Fula language poems, which will be released soon. I'm currently working on translating software into Fula. I've translated quite a few books into Fula and have also created a little glossary (Fula-French, French-Fula, and Fula-Arabic.) Other projects are on their way.

What kinds of difficulties do you come across?

BMT: Ce sont entre autres les mêmes difficultés que rencontrent nombre de bloggeurs à savoir : Problèmes financiers et techniques, l’entretien du blog… Sauf que nous avons plus de difficultés que celui qui blogue dans une des langues les plus utilisées, qui ont facilement accès au web. En outre quant à nous bloggeurs en langues africaines, le nombre de nos lecteurs est rès limités par rapport aux bloggeurs dans les langues les plus courantes. 

For the most part, I encounter the same difficulties as other bloggers, such as financial and technical problems and blog maintenance issues. However, we face more difficulties than bloggers who write in more widely spoken languages and who have easy access to the internet. Plus, African language bloggers have a very limited number of readers compared to bloggers in more common languages.

What do you think about teaching native languages in the school system?

BMT: L’enseignement des langues nationales dans le système scolaire mérite d’être encourager comme stratégie pour une amélioration de la réussite des élèves. Car elle joue un grand rôle dans la formation et l’affirmation de l’identité culturelle des individus, par conséquent leur valeur comme instruments de communication.

D’après les études, notamment celles menées conjointement par l’UNESCO et l’UNICEF, les élèves des pays où la langue maternelle est aussi la langue d’enseignement, surpassent les autres dans la plupart des secteurs d’étude.

Teaching national languages in the school system should be encouraged as a strategy for improving students’ success. It plays an important role in the formation and affirmation of individuals’ cultural identity, and, therefore, has value as a means of communication.
According to research studies, especially those conducted jointly by UNESCO and UNICEF, students who are taught in their native language outperform other students in a majority of subjects.

What are the results of mother tongue education in schools in Guinea?

BMT: La Guinée a mené une expérience originale dans l’enseignement des langues nationales a l’école ; comparativement aux autres pays de la sous région, mais elle a obtenu des résultats critiques et peu déterminants, dont le plus important a été la baisse du niveau des élèves dans les langues d'importance mondiale (arabe, français, anglais).

Compared to other countries in the subregion, Guinea has led an original experiment in teaching national languages at school. But Guinea has seen disappointing and inconclusive results, most importantly a decline in students’ performance in major world languages (Arabic, French, and English).

What caused this failure?

BMT: A mon avis, cet échec est dû au manque de préparation de l’opération, mais aussi au fait que les langues nationales étudiées à l’école étaient trop nombreuses par rapport à un petit pays comme la Guinée. Sans oublier le manque de motivation de parts et d'autres (enseignants, élève et parents d’élèves).

In my opinion, this failure is due to a lack of preparation for the undertaking, but also to the fact that the national languages studied in schools are too numerous for a small country like Guinea. Not to mention the lack of motivation of the various parties (teachers, students, and parents).

At what age do you think mother tongue education should begin?

BMT: Les études nous ont toujours démontré que l’introduction des langues nationales dans l’enseignement permet incontestablement d’obtenir une plus grande scolarisation des enfants de bons résultats scolaires. Cependant, la scolarisation en langues nationales doit absolument commencée dès les premières années de l’école.

Studies have always shown that the introduction of national languages in education unquestionably allows children to perform better in school. However, mother tongue education absolutely must begin in the first years of school.

Do you use your native language every day? In what context?

BMT: Oui ! Cela dépend de mes activités journalières, mais étant un étranger dans le pays ou je vie, l’utilisation de ma langue se focalise le plus souvent sur les moyens de communications (téléphone, internet…).

Yes! That depends on my daily activities, but as a foreigner in the country I live in, the use of my native language mainly revolves around means of communication (telephone, internet…).

What do you predict for the future of your language?

BMT: En se basant sur les différents travaux réalisés pour cette langue afin qu’elle soit plus intégrée dans la vie publique en général me rassure que celle-ci sera un jour l’une des langues de science et de technique.

Judging from the various projects undertaken to better integrate this language in public life, I generally feel reassured that one day it will become one of the languages of science and technology.

Anything else you would like to add?

BMT: Je profite de cette occasion pour saluer la résolution de l’UNESCO qui affirme que la reconnaissance et le respect pour la diversité culturelle dans le domaine du langage inspirent une solidarité basée sur la compréhension, la tolérance et le dialogue, et que toute action qui favorise l’utilisation des langues maternelles sert non seulement à encourager la diversité linguistique et l’éducation multilingue. Cette résolution, vise aussi à sensibiliser davantage à la multiplicité des traditions linguistiques et culturelles dans le monde.

Je lance un appel a tous mes amis bloggeurs à travers le monde, à s’associer à cette Journée pour prendre part à cette journée pour bloguer dans les langues nationales parce que nos langues sont  menacées d’extinction.

I'll take this opportunity to acknowledge the UNESCO resolution, which affirms that recognition and respect for cultural diversity in language inspire solidarity based on comprehension, tolerance, and dialogue. This resolution advocates that any action promoting the use of native languages should serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education, but also to increase sensitivity to the multiplicity of linguistic and cultural traditions in the world.
I urge all my blogger friends across the world to take part in this day by blogging in their native languages, because our languages are at risk of extinction.

 

February 20 2014

Parlez-vous français? Learning French According to Global Voices Translators

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa.

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I never fully understood the challenges of learning French until my girlfriend decided to take up the language. She would ask me – a native French speaker – questions that I had no answer for. 

My girlfriend speaks Mandarin and English, and as she asked more questions, I began to realise the extent to which the language I had grown up with in Madagascar is loaded with exceptions. Learning a new language can be a daunting prospect for beginners, but for newcomers to France who are starting from scratch, learning French can be especially challenging. 

French was important as a lingua franca until the middle of the 20th century, but its influence has since waned. Some experts blame the relative decline of French worldwide on the the complexity of the language. 

There have been several attempts over the years to reform and simplify the French language, notably at the level of orthography, but they were mostly ignored. A policy introduced in 1990 put forward general rules and lists of modified words, though institutions have been slow to adopt them

Still, the global influence of French language influence in the world should not be dismissed. French, spoken as a first language in France, Monaco, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, and some parts of Canada and the U.S., has an estimated 110 million native speakers. 190 million more speak French as a second language, and it's registered as an official language in 29 countries. The largest numbers of French second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, the largest contingent being from the Democratic Republic of Congo (32 million) and Cameroon (7.2 million). 

A good example of its influence is the scope of Alliance Française, an international non-profit organization that aims to promote French language and culture around the world. Each year, 450,000 people of all ages attend French classes at Alliances Française in 136 countries.

The question remains: how does learning French compare with other languages? We posed the question to a few members of the Global Voices family, and also asked them to share any tips they had for beginners. Here's what they said:

 Carol Bidwell 

As an English native speaker who has learnt both French and German, I have to say both are tricky for different reasons. French pronunciation can be quite tricky if you aren't coming from an Romance language background, and I have found that in some situations (mainly dealing with official/ government stuff) French people can be quite dismissive if your pronunciation isn't perfect, which can be demoralizing. In terms of grammar too, French is full of exceptions to rules, so as soon as you feel like you've learnt something there is more to learn! I don't want this to sound too negative though, because it does get easier and sticking at it is definitely worth it!

 Andrew Kowalczuk

French is one of the most idiomatic languages, and there are thousands of them, too many to study, so you have to learn gradually from context.

Thalia Rahme : 

French is my second language after Arabic. In Lebanon, at home or in the streets, Lebanese people speak basic French. Nevertheless, I think that my Lebanese English-educated friends training have had some difficulties because they only start taking French as a third language in schools when they are 11. 
 
But I notice many don't retain much of what they have learned [and they] also tend to feel embarrassed when speaking in public [especially] the pronunciation…Still, the French taught in schools in Lebanon is the formal one,so if you go to France you will feel as if in another planet when hearing some of the local idioms or slang. Also we have developed our Lebanized French i.e. by turning some of the Lebanese expressions into French 

 Alison McMillan quotes from a blog that explains the struggle of learning a new language:

You speak your native language. It is organized in certain ways: the grammar with its subject, verb and object in a certain order; different levels of politeness; and your culture mirrored in this structure as well as in idiom and metaphor. You express yourself in terms of it; you came to yourself through it; in effect, you are it. When you learn another language, you learn a different way to organize reality. When you grow fluent in this new language, you can say and even do things in ways you could not previously; certain new aspects are highlighted, and some things that you originally could more precisely formulate are now missing.

Danielle Martineau:  

French has its quirks like all languages. I started learning French when I was 9 and like anything else it's just commitment and practice and pushing through the hard part in the beginning. I do recommend this video. It is a TED talk by the Fluent in three months guy, Benny Lewis. He says something that I think is really accurate about people learning a new language. Usually they are shy and afraid to make mistakes so they never really jump right in from the beginning for fear of being judged. They think other people will be offended by their imperfect language skills when most people are just thrilled that you are making an effort and taking an interest in their culture and language. Also a lot of French people will correct you when you make mistakes in speech – it's not considered rude, and I actually really love it.  Nothing like making a mistake to learn how to do things right!

Suzanne Lehn

As a French person, my experience with the issue is an indirect one. I know a Chinese lady who married a Frenchman and they live in the US, so the language they have in common is English. [..] The big difference between Chinese and French languages: the grammar, it seems! Almost non-existent in Chinese and cumbersome in French. Also one must be aware that one can/should learn the oral language first. I know a lady who speaks perfect oral French from having lived in France for 2 years, but still cannot write it at all.

Georgia Popplewell

I come from staunchly Anglophone Trinidad and Tobago, but I enjoy learning languages, and didn't find French particularly difficult. After studying it for three years in secondary school, I changed to Spanish, then somehow decided to major in French at university. I don't think I'd still be speaking French fairly fluently today, however, if I hadn't spent five months living and working in Martinique shortly after graduating. Having to communicate exclusively in French for that period seems to have locked the language into my brain.

I also have a far larger vocabulary in French than in Spanish, and I attribute that to the fact that I've read more widely in French. Gaining a solid grasp of a language, in my opinion, entails engaging with both living, contemporary examples of the language, such as you encounter in films, newspapers and magazines, and the more formal kind of language you'd find in literary works as well.

Jane Ellis:

French is a language where, the more you know, the harder it gets. One of the hardest things is definitely the grammar. In particular, I have found the passé simple very hard to use, as well as the subjunctive. I am getting a lot better at the subjunctive, but it is very difficult for a British person who has never even been taught about the existence of the subjunctive in English (!) to compute/process a whole new way of theoretical thinking.

Also, for me, the speaking is definitely the hardest. I freely admit to being hopeless as speaking French! I am confident on paper, but not orally. Lack of practice since I have been living in a Spanish-speaking country for the past three years and learning the local lingo, plus, I have to say, also due to rebuffs when trying to speak French to French-speakers.
As a result, although my Spanish is garbled and pretty hopeless, I am MUCH more confident about trying to speak it because the locals are so encouraging and friendly.

Lova Rakatomalala is Global Voices’ editor for the Francophone region. When he first arrived from Madagascar to the US as a freshman at Tulane University, his fear of speaking English with a French accent was so overwhelming that he selected classes on the sole basis that they not require him to speak in public. He tweets—in French, Malagasy and English!—at @lrakoto.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 17 2014

Zambia Ditches English in Primary School for Government-Approved Local Languages

In what is probably the most radical policy change by Zambia's just over two-years-old Patriotic Front (PF) government is the change in the language of instruction in lower primary school from English to local languages.

Lower primary school in Zambia is from Grade 1 to Grade 4 and caters to ages anywhere between three and 12 because there is no policy regarding how old a child has got to be to start or complete school.

The language change has its supporters, but it also has it is critics, and among the latter are chiefs, the traditional leaders who head various ethnic groups as custodians of language and culture of their ethnic groups.

The problem is that there are 73 recognised languages—although most of these can be classified as dialects—in the country, but only seven are recognised for official communication and are broadcast on government-run national radio by the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC). These seven, which are Nyanja, Bemba, Tonga, Lozi, Kaonde, Lunda and Luvale, will be the only local languages of instruction, despite the existence of many others.

The story of Chieftainess Nkomeshya opposing the use of the seven

An image of the Post newspaper's story on Chieftainess Nkomeshya opposing Zambia's use of the seven “official” local languages in primary school. Image from Zambian Watchdog Facebook page. Used with permission.

A full year before the language policy was rolled out, Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, who is also the ruling party’s Secretary General, wondered why people insisted on the use of English:

Our education system does not meet the demands of a third-world country. We are producing students who are not relevant to the needs of our country […] It is the policy of the PF to revive vernacular languages because a language gives us identity.

The first signs of trouble for the proposed policy was when pupils in a rural school in Zambezi District of the North-Western Province protested being taught in one of the two languages, Lunda and Luvale, in use in the area. The protest forced government authorities to close the affected school temporarily.

One blogger, Munshya wa Munshya, argued that the policy is based on useless Pan-Africanist motives:

When a government has no tangible plan for development, it begins to couch useless pan-Africanist ideals that have no practical value. Nothing demonstrates this recklessness better than the recent decision of the Michael Sata government to introduce vernacular languages as the sole media of instruction in lower primary school. According to the Hon. Kabimba, government introduced this policy so that Zambia can truly be free from the foreign language of English. The Permanent Secretary in the ministry responsible for education is couching this new policy as “the necessary revision to the educational curriculum.” At close inspection, however, we find this new policy is nothing other than a noisome invention that lacks any proper objectives.

He criticized the policy, calling it absurd:

The government is saying that they have revised the curriculum in such a way that the pupils will now be taught in the “local languages”. This is absurd. In order for this reasoning to stand, we must first deconstruct what is meant by “local language”. The idea that Zambia has seven local languages is perhaps the greatest fabrication to have ever come from the Kenneth Kaunda [Zambia’s first president] dictatorship. Zambia does not have seven local languages. In fact, the seven local languages are not in any logical way expressive of the language status of the Zambian majority. Kaunda picked on the seven languages in an arbitrary manner and imposed them on us.

Chiefs in the mining province of Copperbelt, a very urbanised area of Zambia where Bemba or variants of it are widely spoken, rejected its teaching in favour of their ethnic Lamba which is mostly spoken in the rural areas. Senior Chief Chiwala said in a statement:

We, the Chiefs of the Copperbelt Province observe that it is a violation of human rights to impose on children the teaching of vernacular language that is not their own […] The position the Lambas have taken shall never be compromised and no amount of intimidation shall sway the people of Lamba land from this decision.

Throughout British Colonial and independent Zambia’s history, Lambas have been tolerant and sacrificed enough of their land for the sake of national development, mindful of the fact that Zambia is a unitary state in tribal diversity.

In Lusaka Province, where the capital city Lusaka is situated, Chieftainess Nkomeshya of the Soli, whose indigenous language has largely been sidelined, opposed the training of area chiefs in selected languages. Solis have to learn Chewa/Nyanja instead, a practice that has practically killed off Soli.

Similarly, some people hailing from Central Province have also rejected the use of languages other than Lenje, which is spoken in most parts of the region.

Whether the policy works or not is yet to be seen.

February 16 2014

The Hilarity of Murder Among Russians

Alexey Navalny (left) and Irina Yarovaya (right). Images from Wikimedia commons.

Alexey Navalny (left) and Irina Yarovaya (right). Images from Wikimedia commons.

Where do you draw the line between a joke and a death threat? That question has been on Russians’ minds this week, after a controversial tweet [ru] by famed blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who described the assassination [ru] of a judge in Ukraine as a “greeting card” to judges in Russia. The murder victim, Aleksandr Lobodenko, was responsible for sentencing several protesters convicted of rioting in Ukraine’s Poltava region, leading police to believe the killing was politically motivated.

Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya quickly branded [ru] Navalny’s tweet “extremist,” interpreting it literally. Navalny’s message, she claimed, “not only mocks a man’s death, but transmits a positive attitude about murder.” Other state officials soon chimed in. Kirill Kabanov, a member of the President’s Council on Human Rights, implied that he believes Navalny was joking, but warned that some of his readers might misunderstand, saying, “Navalny has a pretty big group of fans, who aren’t always evenly balanced, and some of them might see [the tweet] as a call to action.” Georgy Fedorov, a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, accused</a> [ru] Navalny of being a thug disguised as an activist, calling the tweet “reckless” and “twisted.”</p> <p>A day after his “greeting card” tweet, Navalny <a href=" http:="">responded [ru] to the backlash, addressing only Yarovaya. Changing the topic entirely, he pummeled Yarovaya for hiding a luxurious Moscow apartment in her daughter’s name. Indeed, Navalny first blogged about the secret accommodations nearly a year ago, in March 2013, when he republished [ru] findings by an opposition-leaning newspaper. At the time, Yarovaya denied the accusation, calling it “a dirty insinuation.” This week, Navalny presented on his blog a copy of a real estate title in the name of Yarovaya’s daughter for a four-bedroom apartment in a posh area of Moscow.

Navalny offered to delete his tweet about the Ukrainian judge’s murder, if Yarovaya could clarify how her daughter, at 18-years-old, managed to buy property worth an estimated three million dollars. Comedically undeterred, Navalny even offered, in the event of an explanation from Yarovaya, to compose a new tweet, “calling on people never to kill on-the-take judges or corrupt deputies.”

Navalny’s sarcasm has always been a major feature of his persona. Particularly before he became one of the political opposition’s most prominent figures, Navalny’s public image was foremost associated with his blogging. Though he rarely responds to comments on LiveJournal these days, and his blog posts now are heavier in information than opinion, Navalny’s voice online is still consistently snide and disparaging. This is not to say he’s meaner than most using the Internet, but Navalny’s manner distinctly remains a blogger’s style.

How else can we explain why Navalny considers it appropriate to issue a mock death threat to judges throughout Russia? In a year that has kicked off to multiple harsh reactions by authorities in response to ‘offensive utterances,’ Navalny is clearly advertising his fearlessness about pushing the bounds of free speech. Others elsewhere in Russia have responded with similar resolve (or stubbornness, depending on your point of view), when accused of speaking irresponsibly. TV Rain may have apologized and canceled a program, after it caught hell for a survey about abandoning Leningrad to the Nazis, but the station’s management refused to fire anyone. Victor Shenderovich, who enraged many by noting uncomfortable similarities between Russian and fascist Olympians, has stuck to his guns and defended himself against critics who say he crossed a line.

Navalny may very well think he’s rallying behind the country’s beleaguered and besieged civil society. His choice of resistance—turning a man’s killing into a jab at Russia’s own admittedly hated judges—may have been in poor taste, but Navalny is far from the only opposition member who’s alluded to prospects for Ukrainian-style unrest in Russia. Making this stand with a joke, however (and then refusing to defend it directly), suggests that Navalny and his generation have room to mature.

South Korea: Being Native English Teacher and Reverse Racism

Geoffrey Fattig of Jeollamite blog shares his brutally honest opinion on reverse and latent racism in South Korea, urging fellow native English teachers who under-appreciate a fairly good working condition to stop whining. Some of the highlights of his post are: 

On the whole, though, Korea is a pretty easy place to teach English, and playing that foreign card has brought far more advantages than not over the seven years I’ve been in the country. I would add though, that being a tall white guy probably has a lot to do with it.

February 09 2014

Tajikistan: Welcome to the “Facebook Republic of Pitzostan”

A government committee in charge of enforcing language regulations in Tajikistan has recently caused many laughs by insisting that the word “pizza” should be replaced with “pitzo” on restaurant signs in the country's capital. According to the committee's chair, “pitzo” sounds more “Tajik”.

The announcement has earned the committee a lot of ridicule from social media users. Facebook users have even launched a new public group, “Pitzostan,” where users ridicule language innovations and funny mistakes on signs and advertisements. They also discuss a possibility of creating “the independent Facebook Republic of Pitzostan”.

February 07 2014

The French Expatriate Perspective on France's Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

Total of french citizens abroad as compiled by the Foreign Affairs Ministry - Public Domain

Total of French citizens abroad by continent as compiled by the Foreign Affairs Ministry – Public Domain

The immigration debate has increasingly polarized public opinion in France over the past few years. The rise of the far right, such as the National Front party, in recent elections catalyzed an anti-immigration rhetoric that seems to permeate into the more moderate conservative parties. The most notorious stories involved the “pain au chocolat” [fr] (chocolate croissants) affair, in which the leader of the opposition JF Copé stated that he was distraught knowing that children in some districts get harassed by Muslim youngsters [fr] for eating chocolate croissants during Ramadan.

The push for more restrictive immigration policies that would limit unqualified (without high school diploma) candidates to migrate to France has found echoes [fr] in the current progressive government. In fact, a book published by philosopher Alain Finkelkraut called “L'idendité malheureuse” (The Unhappy Identity) attempts to justify imposing more strict regulations on immigration in order to protect the French identity [fr]:

Les autochtones ont perdu le statut de référent culturel qui était le leur dans les périodes précédentes de l’immigration. Ils ne sont plus prescripteurs. Quand ils voient se multiplier les conversions à l’islam, ils se demandent où ils habitent. Ils n’ont pas bougé, mais tout a changé autour d’eux. […] Plus l’immigration augmente et plus le territoire se fragmente.

The “original” French people have lost the status of cultural reference, a status they held in earlier periods of immigration. They are no longer the normative reference. When they see increased conversions to Islam, they wonder where they live. They have not moved, yet everything has changed around them. [...] The more immigration increases, the more the nation becomes fragmented.

Frederic Martel, director of IRIS, a research institute on international relations, explains why Finkelkraut's discourse is misguided [fr]: 

 Il y a, c’est certain, une forte anxiété dans la France d’aujourd’hui. Mais pourquoi caricaturer tous les «étrangers» comme s’ils ne voulaient ni s’intégrer ni accepter le passé de la France? Que sait-il des Français de deuxième et troisième génération? De leur langue, de leur culture? De l’énergie créatrice des quartiers? [...] L’identité française, pourtant, n’est pas malheureuse. Elle bouge, elle change, elle se cherche, elle fait des allers-retours avec son passé. Et tous ceux qui pensent qu’exalter «l’identité nationale» permettrait de sortir des difficultés sociales et économiques que nous traversons se trompent.

There is certainly a lot of anxiety in France today. But why caricature all foreigners as if they do not want to fit in nor accept the history of France? What does [Finkelkraut] know of France's second and third generation of immigrants? Their language and their culture? The creative energy they bring to their neighborhoods? [...] The French identity is not an unhappy one.”It moves, it changes, it goes forward, backward towards the past, then forward again. Anyone who thinks that exalting  ”national identity” would solve our social and economic challenges is just kidding themselves.

The natural counterpoint to the rising anti-immigration policies is the fact that there is a rising number of French citizens who have chosen to live abroad. Christian Lemaitre from think tank Français-Etranger (French Abroad) points out that the total number of French citizens outside of France is quite important and might be larger [fr] than the official total shared by the French Foreign Affairs Department: 

En dix ans, la population française établie hors des frontières se serait accrue de 40% soit une augmentation de 3 à 4% par an et un total de plus de 2 millions de Français installés à l'étranger. Estimation seulement car l'inscription au registre mondial n'est pas obligatoire. Le think tank francais-etranger.org pense que ce chiffre serait beaucoup plus proche de 3 milions. Pourquoi sont-ils partis ? 65% des expatriés affirment rechercher une nouvelle expérience professionnelle et près du tiers, une augmentation de revenus. Le désir de découvrir un nouveau pays est évoqué devant les motivations professionnelles ou linguistiques.

In ten years, the French population abroad have seen an increase of 40 percent, an increase of 3 to 4 percent per year, and a total of more than two million French now live abroad. This is only an estimate because sign up in the consulate's register is not mandatory. The think tank French-etranger.org thinks that number would be much closer to three million people. Why have they left France? 65 percent of expatriates say that they were looking for new work experience and nearly a third of them wanted a better income. The desire to discover a new country is also mentioned first, before any professional or linguistic motivations.

Indeed, the viewpoint on immigration differs when seen from French citizens outside France. 

In fact, despite the popular belief that French citizens living abroad were mostly conservatives, their votes have increasingly leaned towards the left in the past decade. Cécile Dehesdin [fr] explains:

Depuis 1981, elle a gagné plus de vingt points chez les Français de l'étranger, et l'écart avec son score national y était de moins d'un point en 2007 (46,01% contre 46,94%)  

Since 1981, [the left] has won more than 20 points in French from abroad voting and the gap with the national score there was less than one point in 2007 (46.01 percent against 46.94 percent). 

Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, an analyst, adds [fr]:

C’est un public qui est plutôt au centre-droit qu’à droite et pas du tout à l’extrême-droite, plutôt droite humaniste que Droite populaire, et l’écart avec la gauche est de moins en moins important

This is a voting group that is more center-right and right, but not attracted at all to far-right views; it is rather leaning towards progressive right than radical right, and the gap with the left has become less and less important

Additionally, the experience of living abroad seem to have given many French citizens a different perspective. Etoile66, in Toronto, opines [fr]:

Ma France pourrait regarder vers ces pays où les habitants parlent plusieurs langues sans aucun problème et circulent à l'aise dans le monde, alors qu'elle a dressé ses habitants à avoir peur de ce qu'ils appellent la “mondialisation”. La peur ressentie pas bon nombre de mes compatriotes devant “l'étranger” en général et la “mondialisation” en particulier, ne serait plus s'ils avaient confiance en eux. Celui qui a confiance n'a pas peur de l'autre ni de l'étranger, ni du monde, bien au contraire, il échange dans le respect mutuel. 

The France I want to see should look to those countries where people speak different languages ​​without any problems and move at ease in the world. So far, France has only taught its people to be afraid of what they call “globalization”. The fear felt by many of my countrymen of “foreigners” in general and “globalization” in particular, would vanish if they had confidence in themselves. People who have self-confidence do not fear the “other”, “foreigners”, nor the world. On the contrary, they interact with them with mutual respect.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 04 2014

Blog Carnival Shows the Caribbean Some Love

The online feminist collective CODE RED hosted a month-long blog carnival called e-Mas, under the theme “To the Caribbean, With Love.”  The series featured contributions from writers all over the Caribbean. According to the organizers:

Still confused about what a blog carnival is? Think of all the usual ingredients of a Caribbean carnival and try to replicate those with words, images and/or sound.  The theme is broad enough that you can guh to town pun it!

This led to a wide variety of posts being published – essays, poems, photography, even vidblogs – touching on a broad spectrum of topics, all united by the Twitter hashtag #DearCaribbean.

Carla Moore presented a vidblog in which she discusses why some people choose to stay at home in the Caribbean even when they can leave:

Moore inspired Klieon Cavon to do his own vidblog entitled “Basseterre Woman”:

Akeema-Zane preferred to write about her experience: 

For the first time you will eat swordfish from Oistins and cry out loud in the clear blue waters of Pebbles Beach, praising the universe and all of creation for the now, the yesteryears and the tomorrows and acknowledging in that present moment that you deserve every rainbow, every sun-kissing sky, every laugh and smile. You will hug yourself tightly because you dared to feel the enormity of your existence-that you are real and not imagined; that you are highest form of beauty personified. You will love yourself so strongly, so deeply, that you will be moved to the highest gratitude of thanks. For everything known and unknown and everyone who allowed you to be!

Saieed I. Khalil examined what the Caribbean integration movement can learn from the mass protests in Ukraine:

But who among us will participate in the uprising to galvanize policymakers to act? In Ukraine, some estimates put the portion of youths under 30 participating in the protests at 90%! Many of them are students and wield degrees. This leads us to the second lesson of the Maidan protests: a mass of young, educated people who are sufficiently mobilized can lead the strike for regional integration. Why them, and not older folks?

Diaspora Dash shared her discovery about the cultural impact of the migration from the Anglophone/Francophone Caribbean into Venezuela, while Jermain Ostiana wrote a poem entitled Trujillonomics:

Little kids drawing veves
with anti-capitalist
black angel dust.
Yeah pah I love you
even if you been god-awfully indoctrinated by the Dutch.
While you suited up
in a cold temperatured office
helping the corporate to connive.
The kids be in classes without airco and iPads, school teachers struggling to inspire.
And this kingdom s’posed to be heaven?

Maureen St. Clair admitted that she did not really learn to love her own body until she moved to the Caribbean:

 I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them.  It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.

Lina Free wrote “a love letter to the Caribbean”:

Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

Gabrielle Hosein wrote about the challenges of being an Indo-Caribbean feminist:

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

Vidyaratha Kissoon, who inspired the blogging mas, also wrote about being Indian and from the Caribbean:

But is funny, when I lef dis part uh de world.. how ah does push de Caribbean ting. ( i was tellin’ a fren is Burnham jumbie in me.. an’ I laff when I remembah how dem people in Englan’ used to tell me dat i soun ‘black’ an’ how i join up wid de African and Caribbean Students Society instead of de Asian Students because I feel like I had more in common wid black ‘Caribbean’ people. Anodda time ah had to laff because a drunk India coolie computer man.. we bin at a conference party.. tell me dat is a good ting we ancestors lef India because at least we could dance.

The Contessa wrote about appropriating the Baby Doll ole mas character as a way to challenge conventional notions of sexuality:

The Baby doll conventionally provides commentary on teen-pregnancy and responsible fathering and can easily be extended to other related issues such as breast feeding and child rights. At the competition level, baby dolls tend to use current social and political events, making their speeches relevant, witty and sometimes controversial.  This however did not prevent the looks of slight shock and discomfort I received back stage after telling two of the other “dolls” that I would be looking for my child mother and not father this time around. I guess some things remain taboo despite our Carnival’s history. 

Take a look at all the submissions, here.

January 28 2014

So Long to Russia's Only Independent TV Station?

Could TV Rain end up in the trash bin of history? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Could TV Rain end up in the trash bin of history? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The only opposition television station operating today in Russia is now threatened with losing access to cable broadcasting. A product of the brief political thaw under President Dmitri Medvedev, TV Rain, or “Dozhd” in Russian, has been on air since April 2010. The station is accessible online (for a fee), by satellite, and via cable television. It is this last option that might go the way of the dinosaurs very soon.

The tentative reason for ending TV Rain’s cable television dissemination is a supposedly unpatriotic poll the channel aired on January 27, 2014, asking readers to assess Soviet military tactics during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II. The question that caused the uproar was, “Should Leningrad have been surrendered [to the Nazis] to spare hundreds of thousands of lives?” (The station later canceled the poll and apologized [ru] for the question.)

A day later, Yuri Pripachkin, President of the Cable Television Association of Russia (AKTR), said publicly [ru] what many interpreted to mean eliminating the cable broadcasting of TV Rain in Russia. Pripachkin later clarified [ru] his remarks, explaining that AKTR is not considering a requirement that cable operators drop TV Rain from coverage, but acknowledged that the organization is debating whether to allow operators to make that decision for themselves “based on financial considerations.”

Pripachkin’s argument is that TV Rain, offered as part of a package of many television channels, frequently offends viewers with provocative content, causing cable operators potential losses, when consumers supposedly leave in disgust. Another grievance from AKTR is that TV Rain’s regular promotion of its online stream—available for about $90 a year—also bleeds cable operators of money and clients. (At the time of this writing, AKTR’s website was disabled by what appeared to be a DDoS attack.)

The response to this scandal from TV Rain’s supporters has been tenacious. While most admit the wording of the Leningrad blockade poll was unfortunate, many of the television station’s fans insist that the subject should remain open to debate. The threat to Russia’s only opposition TV station has of course galvanized the country’s most active group of bloggers: Russian journalists.

Andrei Arkhangelsky argued [ru] in a Facebook post that the World War II question, whatever its tone, performed a service to society by drawing out expert opinions about the siege. Rustem Adagamov, a Russian photo-blogger living in self-exile in Prague, came to similar conclusions [ru], pointing out that TV Rain never expressed any approval for the idea of surrendering the city to the Germans. In a somewhat different vein, television personality and director Andrei Maksimov wrote [ru] on Facebook that Russians should expect nothing else from young people, given the “castration” of modern education, severing today’s generation from the past’s values of the Great Patriotic War.

GQ Russia magazine’s Michael Idov posted [ru] to Facebook one of the most interesting, if not peculiar, reflections on the possible crackdown against TV Rain. Trying to demonstrate the power imbalance weighing on the station, Idov asked readers to consider, what he says is, “the only justification for the behavior of the state of Israel”—a mental exercise, whereby you imagine the situation “inside-out.” In the case of Israel, this means seeing a world where Israel is a small, lone Muslim state, surrounded by Jewish countries. In order to understand TV Rain, Idov recommends imagining a lone, tiny television station dedicated to pro-regime hardliners, surrounded in a sea of liberal media giants. (This might mark the first time in history when someone appealed to the Israel-Palestine conflict as a more coherent antagonism.) Idov contends that TV Rain, despite mistakes along the way, has come to be a media powerhouse worthy of respect.

The TV channel hasn’t won over all the netizens, of course. Kirill Shulika, an often-shrewd activist in Russia’s Democratic Choice party, observed [ru] on Facebook that TV Rain’s managers must have anticipated a reaction like Pripachkin’s. Shulika suggests that the television station might have engineered the scandal in order to whip up publicity, or possibly to rid itself of its cable TV contracts, which he speculates have been less than profitable.

As fate would have it, TV Rain’s World War II history faux pas wasn’t Russia’s only in the last 48 hours. The Kremlin-friendly television station Russia-24 experienced its own, far more entertaining screw up [ru], when the channel’s social media marketing staff included a photograph and quote from Nazi ideologue Joseph Goebbels praising Vladimir Lenin. The quote, “Lenin was the greatest among the Russians,” was part of a collage of famous remarks about Lenin on the 90th anniversary of his death.

Russia-24 quickly fired [ru] the entire editorial staff of its social media marketing team. At this time, no one with any authority [ru] in Russia has proposed sanctions against the station for propagating the visage of the Third Reich’s most zealous advocate. On the other hand, Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s media watchdog agency, has announced [ru] that it has received complaints and will open an investigation into TV Rain’s poll about the siege of Leningrad.

January 24 2014

“Real Patriots Choose Patriotic Names” in Tajikistan

In the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, a person's name is no longer a private matter. The country's authorities insist that a name is also an indication of the degree of patriotism of its bearer.

Slavic-style surnames

When the Soviet union disintegrated in 1991, the majority of people in Tajikistan had Slavic-style surnames ending in “ov” and “ev” (or “ova” and “eva”) and patronymics ending in “ovich” and “evich” (or “ovna” and “evna”). In 2007, however, in an attempt to emphasize a break with the Russian cultural dominance, Tajikistan's president Emomali Sharipovich Rahmonov dropped the patronymic and the “ov” from the end of his surname, becoming Emomali Rahmon. He also urged the country's parents to register their children with “proper” Tajik names. Many officials followed Rahmon's suit, dropping patronymics and Slavic endings from their last names.

2005,_Tajikistan_Passport

Many Tajiks who dropped Slavic-style endings from their surnames in passports have now gone back to those surnames. Wikimedia Commons image.

Many ordinary Tajiks, however, have been reluctant to part with the Slavic-style surnames. Some people did not see the need to change their names. Others felt that changing a name required too much bureaucratic hassle and under-the-table payments.

Besides, many of those who dropped their surname endings soon regretted doing so. One to 1.5 million Tajiks work in Russia, sending home money that is essential for keeping at least half of the country's population out of poverty. As competition for vital jobs in Russia increased and harassment from police and immigration officials became a norm, Tajik workers did not fail to notice that those of them who kept the Slavic “ov” endings were treated better [ru] than those who changed their names. This prompted [tj] many Tajiks to go back to their Slavic-sounding names.

“Unpatriotic” surnames

It appears that the Tajiks’ unwillingness to embrace the “authentic” national surnames continues to worry the authorities. In a recent report, Tajikistan's Prosecutor General Sherkhon Salimzoda claimed [tj] that people's reluctance to drop Slavic endings in their surnames demonstrated “low levels of national consciousness and patriotism”. Salimzoda's report, published in the official government newspaper Jumhuriyat on January 18, notes that during the past three years, more than 500 students in three Dushanbe-based universities went back to Slavic-style surnames, while only two students chose to drop Slavic-sounding names. It is worth noting that Salimzoda himself was known as Salimov before be changed his surname in 2007.

The official's statement caused a stir among the country's social media users. Most netizens felt that Salimzoda went too far by suggesting that a surname cleansed of an “alien” ending is a sign of patriotism. Blogger Rishdor wrote [ru]:

Кто-то может ему наконец объяснить чем именно должен заниматься прокурор и чем он не должен заниматься? Вообще куда эти чиновники лезут? Как называть детей это решают родители и семья. У государства никто не спрашивает. Они итак все на свете регулируют. Может еще издадут приказ со списком патриотичных имен из которых родители должны выбирать? Не будет такого никогда. Выбирать имя себе и ребенку это наше право.

Если ты поменял свое имя и стал вместо Салимов Салимзода то это не значит что ты стал патриотом. С чего ты взял что условный Салимов или даже Иванов не может быть больше патриотом, чем Салимзода? Фамилия не показатель ничего. Поставь себе фамилию хотя Хайям хоть Рудаки хоть Сомони от этого ты как человек не изменишься. Дерьмо остается дерьмом даже без окончания “-ов”.

Will someone please clarify for him [Salimzoda] what a prosecutor's job is and what he should not get involved in? What are these officials trying to mess with anyway? It is up to parents and families to decide how they name children. Nobody asks the state for advice on this. They regulate everything anyway. Would they perhaps issue a decree listing all patriotic names that parents must choose from? This will never happen. It is our right to choose names for ourselves and our children.

Changing your name from Salimov to Salimzoda does not make you a patriot. What makes you think that someone named Salimov or even Ivanov cannot be a truer patriot than someone named Salimzoda? A surname does not really indicate anything. You can change your surname to Khayam [Persian scholar and poet] or Rudaki [Tajik-Persian poet] or Somoni [founder of the first Tajik empire] but this will not change you as a human being. Shit remains shit even without an “ov” ending.

Many Internet users were surprised by the fact that the statement came from an official whose responsibilities have little to do with naming. In the comments section on ozodi.org, Rustam asked [tj]:

Прокурори генерали ба номгузори чи кор дошта бошад ??? Охир ин ба салохияти прокурор ягон рабте надорад ку ? Ва баъдан бигзор хар фард чи тавре, ки ба худаш махкул аст хамон тарз номгузори намояд, чаро мо ба кори шахсии у дахолат кунем?..

What does the prosecutor general have to do with naming??? This matter is totally unrelated to his scope of work, isn't it? Besides, every individual can choose whatever name he or she likes. Why should we interfere with an individual's private matter?..

Meanwhile, many netizens appeared to sympathize with the official's dislike of “alien”-sounding surnames. Responding to Rishdor, Kholiknazar opined [tj]:

гапатон дуруст аст, ин кор кори прокурор нест. лекин ман уро мефахмам, у гами миллатамон аст. мо иван нестем ва худо хохад хеч вакт иван намешавем. номхои кухнаву зебо дорем, ва бояд аз ин номхо истифода барем, на аз номхои рус. фамилия хам айнан хамин тавр. точике ки худашро ихтиром мекунад ва аз таърихи хазорсолаи миллатамон фахр мекунад фамилияи ки буи рус дорад намегирад.

Your are right, it is not a prosecutor's job [to be concerned with naming practices]. However, I understand him. He is worried about our nation. We are not Ivans [a common Russian name] and, god willing, we will never become Ivans. We have ancient and beautiful names of our own, and we should use these names rather than the Russian ones. The same applies to surnames. A self-respecting Tajik who is proud of our thousand-years-long history will not carry a surname that has a Russian smell.

Naimjon added [tj]:

Ватандустони асил номхои ватандустона интихоб мекунанд.

Real patriots choose patriotic names.

And on ozodi.org, D. Dovudi suggested [tj]:

Бояд Конун дар бораи номгузори бароварда шавад, ки барои хамаи навтавалудшудагон хатми бошад. Меъерхои номгузори муайан карда шаванд, онхо бояд точики бошанд ва пасовандхои ов ва вич конунан манъ карда шаванд. Ин ягона рохи чори кардани номгузории точики аст.

They should write a naming law which would be mandatory for all newborns. They should design naming standards based on Tajik names and prohibit the endings “ov” and “vich”, This is the only way to put in place a system of Tajik naming.

The discussion about “proper” naming practices continues on two popular news websites, news.tj [ru] and ozodi.org (here and here) [tj]. It reflects larger debates within the country about what an “authentic” Tajik national culture should look like and what it means to be Tajik in general. Some Tajiks believe that the country should make a clear break with the Soviet past and its Russian-influenced culture, including by returning to a Persian alphabet and cleansing the Tajik language of all “impurities” adopted during the Soviet period. Others suggest that the country should keep the elements of Soviet or Russian culture that characterize the modern Tajik nation. There are also many other nuanced opinions about what a new Tajikistan should look like. These opinions often surface in social media discussions about holidays (both old and new), monuments, history, and national symbols.

Xinjiang Cuisine: 5 Must-Eat Foods

“Far West China” introduced you to five must eat food in Xinjiang and taught you how to order them. This one is DaPanji, meaning big bowl of chicken.

January 23 2014

On Love, Politics and the Francophone Culture

Julie Gayet at Deauville film festival  via wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Julie Gayet at the Deauville Film Festival via Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

The global community is now well aware of the tumultuous love life of French President François Hollande. Hollande's affair with French actress Julie Gayet and the ensuing illness of his current partner and still-considered French First Lady Valérie Trierweiler have made the cover of newspapers worldwide over the past week. Hollande is also a father of four with former partner Ségolène Royal, a politician who came in second during the 2007 presidential elections in France.

So his love life is a tad complicated, but he is hardly the first French president to have an unorthodox family structure (François Mitterand and Felix Faure come to mind). By most accounts, French voters do not factor in the private lives of their politicians when it comes down to the ballot. In fact, a survey by the Pew Research Center suggested that French voters may be more lenient towards infidelity than others:

Just 47% of the French say it is morally unacceptable for married people to have an affair, the lowest percentage among 39 nations surveyed in 2013 by the Pew Research Center. In fact, France was the only country where less than 50% of respondents described infidelity as unacceptable. Instead, four-in-ten think it is not a moral issue, while 12% say it is actually morally acceptable.

The French perspective on infidelity and politics has often puzzled many of its English-speaking neighbors. Adam Gopnik in the United Kingdom articulated the cultural dissonance between the two cultures that sprung from the Hollande's affair going public: 

France is not a puritanical society – it accepts that human appetites for sex and food are normal, or “normale”, to use a word much prized there, and that attempts to suppress either, will make men and women nervous wrecks at least [...] 

Puritans are the least buttoned-up people in the world. They can't wait to pin a scarlet A for adultery on someone's clothing, or hold a public humiliation ritual. Nothing could be more illustrative of this than the tone of outraged indignation directed by British tabloid journalists at their reluctant French press equivalents in the past week. 

A few readers disagreed with Gopnik's take. “Sean in Belgium” argued that one needs only to look at the recent mass protests in favor of family values and the ban on prostitution in France to see that the theory does not compute:

It is a caricature of the complexities of French attitudes simply to say that desire is accepted. This, after all, is the country that has just banned prostitution.   

Love and privacy in other French-speaking countries

Given the cultural impact that France has had on the countries within its former empire, one cannot help but wonder: Do the relaxed views on the issue extend to France's former colonies?

At first glance, it would seem that the French laissez-faire attitude did not extend to other Francophone countries. The aforementioned survey by the Pew Research Center noted that a large majority of polled citizens in Senegal, Lebanon, Tunisia and Canada viewed extramarital affairs as morally unacceptable. In Côte d'Ivoire, citizens are often puzzled by France's choice when it comes to matters of love and relationship.

Elsewhere, reactions were more diverse. In Morocco, prominent author Tahar Ben Jelloun empathized with the privacy that public figures ask for when it comes to their love life. Here is his open letter to Hollande's partner Valérie Treilweiler [fr]: 

Je pense à vous en ce moment où votre vie intime, la vôtre et celle de votre compagnon, est sujet de curiosité malsaine, une espèce de cambriolage en plein jour où l'on saccage tout sans penser aux conséquences non seulement sur votre existence, mais aussi celle de vos enfants.[..] Je pense à vous parce que je sais la douleur et la violence, je sais aussi l'attente et l'espoir. Une histoire d'amour est née entre vous et celui qui allait devenir président. Les gens sont durs et s'imaginent que la vie de ceux et celles qui sont sous les lumières de l'actualité ne mérite que des claques. [..] À présent, il vous faudra choisir : continuer à vivre à côté d'un homme qui est ce qu'il est et qui ne changera pas, ou bien tourner cette page douloureuse et trouver votre place

These days I think of you a lot, now that your intimate life, yours and your companion's is being subjected to morbid curiosity, a kind of robbery in broad daylight where your life is being destroyed without a thought for the consequences to not only your life, but that of your children. [...] I think of you because I know that suffering and that violence, as I also know the expectation and hope [of love]. A love story was born between you and the man who would become president. People are cruel and they think that the life of those who are in the spotlight of the news cycle only deserves punishment [...] Now you must make a decision to either continue to live next to a man who is who he is and will not change, or turn this painful page and find your own place. 

In other former colonies, citizens are not shy about discussing matters of the heart. In fact, some seem to relish the use of the word “love”. In Madagascar, former transitional President Andry Rajoelina changed the motto of the country to include the word: “Fitiavana, Tanindrazana, Fandrosoana” (Love, Homeland, Progress). The former First Lady Mialy Rajoelina is in charge of an Association called FITIA (Love), a charity that helps the education of disenfranchised children. 

Her emphasis on sharing compassion seems to have resonated with many Malagasy people, as shown by Twitter user @tagnam:

Who has not signed the petition to keep #MialyRajoelina as the first lady yet ?

In Cameroon, the 237 Online community blog reflected on the rights to privacy for their public figures. Maximilien Ombé wondered how such an affair would be covered [fr]:

On se demande si c'est possible qu'au Cameroun les médias aient le droit de publier des informations relatives aux loves stories des hommes publics notamment du Chef de l'Etat Paul Biya.

One wonders whether Cameroon media would have the right to publish information on public figures’ loves stories such as Head of State Paul Biya.

Dieudonné Mveng added [fr]:

Dès lors qu'on est politique qu'on est une personnalité on est la boussole de la société. La population prend exemple sur nous. C'est aux personnes publiques de bien se tenir.

As soon as a person goes into politics and becomes a public figure, they by default becomes a moral compass for society. The general population takes its cue from them. It is therefore a responsibility of public figures to behave as role model. 

Ampère Simo concluded [fr]:

La règle qui doit guider les médias et les professionnels de l'information dans le traitement des affaires touchant à la vie privée des individus consiste à ne révéler que ce qui est d'intérêt public.  

The rule that should guide the media and any news writers in the treatment of cases involving the privacy of individuals is to only reveal what is relevant to the public interest. 

It seems that while Francophone countries have not embraced the laid back attitude of France towards the love lives of their elite, they are also more willing to move past affairs and love stories to focus on the more pressing public issues.

January 21 2014

Most Annoying Emoticons and Expressions in Chinese Online Communication

An online survey has revealed a list of the most objectionable expressions and emoticons in online communication of 2013. More from Nanfang insider.

The four most annoying emoticons: smily face, nose-picking, feces, and lecherous face. Screen capture image from Nanfang.

The four most annoying emoticons: smily face, nose-picking, feces, and lecherous face. Screen capture image from Nanfang.

January 15 2014

Russia's Foreign Ministry Opines on “Queers”

The Russian Government's never-ending conflict with gay rights. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The Russian Government's never-ending conflict with gay rights. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

On January 14, 2014, for the second year in a row, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its report [ru] on human rights in the European Union. The initiative was most likely started as a symmetrical reply to similar (often critical) reports on human rights in Russia that the European Union has published over the years. Entitled “Report on the Human Rights Situation in the European Union”, the report was made available as a Word document on the Ministry's website, in both Russian and in an “unofficial translation” into English. 

The majority of the report dealt with cases of police brutality, refusals of asylum and discrimination on racial and gender grounds. In what was most likely a barbed reply to sustained western criticism of Russia's “gay propaganda” law, the report criticised the European Union for:

Attempts […] to enforce on other countries an alien view of homosexuality and same-sex marriages as a norm of life and some kind of a natural social phenomenon that deserves support at the state level.

The Russian version of the report continued and noted:

Подобный подход встречает сопротивление не только в странах, придерживающихся традиционных ценностей, но и там, где всегда существовало либеральное отношение к людям с нетрадиционной ориентацией.

A similar approach encounters resistance not only in countries maintaining traditional values, but also in those, where there has always existed a liberal attitude to people with non-traditional orientations

The English translation of the report, however, was phrased somewhat differently.

Screenshot taken from report

Screenshot taken from report by Daniel Kennedy on January 15, 2004

While the translation is labelled as “unofficial”, Russia watchers were somewhat taken aback that a homophobic slur could end up on a government website. Author Oliver Bullough commented:

The gaffe seems likely to overshadow the contents of the report, which contains detailed information on alleged human rights abuses in each EU member state. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet commented on the matter.

January 14 2014

How Online Platforms Are Working to Save Angola's Languages

[All links lead to Portuguese-language webpages unless otherwise noted.]

“On average, a language disappears every two weeks, and Africa is the continent most at risk”, wrote the author José Eduardo Agualusa in a 2011 article on the evolution of languages in Angola. However, during the past year a number of online platforms have been created with the aim of protecting Angola's national languages. 

Angola is a plurilingual country [en], with six African languages recognised as national languages as well as Portuguese as the official language. Besides this, it is estimated that there are 37 languages and 50 dialects in use in the country. At the end of October 2013, the blog Círculo Angolano Intelectual (Angolan Intellectual Circle) reported that 30 percent of the Angolan population (almost 8.5 million Angolans) “only speak national languages which are not featured in any educational or social program”, adding that:

isto é mais um dos factores que gera exclusão social.

this is another of the factors that provoke social exclusion.

In an article [pdf] by Agualusa, published by Casa das Áfricas, a Cultural Institute for Training and Study on African Societies in São Paulo, the prizewinning author considers a “proposal for peace” for the coexistence of the national languages with the Portuguese language (“mother tongue versus stepmother tongue”) and poses the question:

Porquê que é que em Angola, país de muitas línguas, os escritores apenas utilizam o português?

Why is it that in Angola, a country of many languages, writers only use Portuguese?

In an attempt to counter the phenomenon, various online initiatives were created during 2013 by young people who view the new technologies as a tool for the promotion and protection of national languages.

 5 formas de fazer perguntas em Kimbundo

Five ways to ask questions in Kimbundo, courtesy the Evalina Facebook page. 

One project, still in its initial phase, which aims to promote learning of the Angolan national languages in an innovative way, free of charge and accessible to everyone with access to the Internet, is Evalina

Created in May 2013 by Joel Epalanga, an IT project manager in the telecommunications sector, the primary motive for the creation of the platform was the observation that there is a gap faced by many young people with regard to the national languages. The proposal was explained in an interview in the magazine Jovens da Banda:

[para que] os jovens, que hoje em dia gastam boa parte do seu tempo livre na internet, pudessem dedicar algumas horas para aprender um pouco a (sua) língua nacional de preferência.

[so that] young people, who these days spend a large part of their free time on the Internet, could dedicate a few hours to learning a little of (their) preferred national language.

Evalina consists of a Facebook page where content such as incentives to learn and lessons on national languages are shared. At the date of publication of this article, the page featured lessons on Umbundu [en], the second most-spoken language after Portuguese, and on Kimbundo [en].

In February 2013, a platform for Angolan slang, Kallun [pt], already warranted a note on Global Voices. The project aims to “create a space where [Angola's] slang and colloquial language is explained so that everyone can understand it”, and uses social networks to promote sharing and learning in an informal manner.

Another project which stands out is the Ngola Yetu Dictionary, a dictionary and online translator for Angolan national languages “developed with the goal of reinforcing Angolan culture and increasing its use among young people”. With a simple and intuitive design not unlike Google, it works as a search engine between the Kilongo, Kimbundo, Umbundo and Portuguese languages. The project has used Facebook and Twitter to interact with web users. 

For the preservation of mother tongues

The importance of the inclusion of national languages in teaching is recognised by institutions and academics alike. In the middle of June 2013, the Angolan portal Mwelo Weto published an interview with Daniel Peres Sasuku, an Angolan linguist and lecturer in the Faculty of Arts of the Agostinho Neto University, who advocates for the prioritisation of national languages in teaching:

Pensamos, de igual modo que a implementação dessas línguas no ensino é uma forma mais concreta de seu resgate e preservação enquanto patrimônio cultural dos angolanos  

We think, equally, that the inclusion of these languages in teaching is a more concrete means of rescuing and preserving them as part of the cultural heritage of the Angolan people.

The Regional Forum for University Development (FORDU) also supports the idea that national languages should be a compulsory discipline in schools. Of the recommendations which were made following a debate organised by FORDU last April, 2013, under the theme “the national languages as true identity heritage of the Angolan people”, the following stands out:

Angola continua uma sociedade plural do ponto de vista das línguas, tradições, cultura (diversidade cultural) tal situação faz de Angola um País rico em cultura, mas precisa política séria de promover as Línguas todas e dar maior grandeza nas Línguas Nacionais, principalmente as mais faladas como Umbundo.

Angola continues to be a plural society from the point of view of its languages, traditions and culture (cultural diversity). This situation makes Angola a country rich in culture, but serious policies are necessary to promote all languages and give a greater importance to the national languages, above all the most widely spoken such as Umbundo.

Between 2004 and 2010, a trial was carried out to introduce seven national languages in a series of schools in the country. The Ministry of Education declared in September 2013 that it plans to expand the teaching of national languages into all primary schools. A bill on the Statute of National Languages in Angola ”to promote social inclusion and strengthen unity in ethnolinguistic diversity” is in its concluding phase. 

Meanwhile, artists – in this case singers – have also recommended the use of national languages in their songs. 

Do you know of any other online initiatives for the preservation or teaching of Angola's various languages? Leave us a comment! 

January 06 2014

#ShamlesslyHaitian on Haiti's Independence Day

January 1st is special for Haitians not only because it is the first day of the new year but also because it the date Haiti declared its independence. To commemorate Haiti's 210th anniversary of independence, Bertin Louis (@MySoulIsInHaiti) started the hashtag #ShamelesslyHaitian as a way for Haitians to express pride and educate others about their history and culture. Global Voices spoke to Louis to find out more about the hashtag and his academic work.

Global Voices (GV) : Let us know more about your background.

486882_10151399159407592_721448874_nBertin Louis (BL) : My name is Dr. Bertin M. Louis, Jr. and I am an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee.  I am also the son of Haitians who migrated to the United States in the mid-1960s. Growing up in Staten Island, New York I didn’t really identify with my Haitian heritage until I went to Syracuse University for my undergraduate studies. In the first semester of my junior year, I took a course called “Caribbean Society Since Independence” taught by Dr. Horace Campbell, a Political Scientist of Jamaican descent and a Pan-Africanist. The first book we read was “The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution” by Trinidadian labor historian C.L.R. James. The book had a deep impact on me. When something has a big impact on you, we say in Haitian Creole “Li frape m fò (literally “it hit me hard”). To know that the only successful slave revolt in human history was part of my heritage made me confident in who I was, at the time, and I became more interested in studying more about Haitian history and culture. It really put on the path that I am on today researching and studying the Haitian diaspora and Haiti.

GV:  Were you born in Haiti or are you part of the diaspora? How much of a difference do you think it makes?

BL: I am part of the diaspora who was born in the United States. This makes a big difference because I live in the Colossus of the Western Hemisphere, which has its advantages and drawbacks. For example, I currently study religion (Evangelical Protestantism) and statelessness in the Haitian diaspora of the Bahamas. I interviewed many Haitian migrants as well as their children, who were trying to find a way to live in the United States, where they had family and better prospects for employment and better opportunities to lead dignified lives. My American citizenship is a privilege that they don’t have. Since I am in a privileged position, as a University professor and an American citizen, I feel that it of utmost importance to use my voice, to use my privilege to speak up on the behalf of those whose voices are silenced, like Haitian migrants and their stateless children in the Bahamas, in order to draw attention to their plight. So it makes a big difference as to where I was born because if I was born in the Dominican Republic, I would be stateless and unable to take advantage of the opportunities I currently benefit from as an American citizen.

 

GV: Could you please tell us something about your academic area(s) of interest?

BL: My teaching and research interests span the African diaspora and I interrogate the concept of diaspora through my transnational study of the Evangelical Protestant movement among Haitians in the Caribbean (Haiti and the Bahamas) and the United States.  Specifically, I combine multi-sited ethnographic research (in the United States, Haiti, and the Bahamas) with a transnational framework to analyze the practice and growth of Evangelical Protestantism in the Haitian diaspora of the Bahamas.  This research has resulted in my first book, My Soul is in Haiti: Migration and Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas,” which will be published by New York University Press in 2014.

My next research project is about stateless Bahamians of Haitian descent, sometimes referred to as “Haitian-Bahamians.” Statelessness refers to an individual who is not considered as a national by any state and affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide.  Stateless people do not have a country that they can call their own, lack access to basic political and social rights, such as the rights to vote, marry, and own property, and are also denied access to employment, educational services, and health care. My research will produce a book and articles that should advance theory in citizenship, diaspora, human rights, and statelessness studies and contribute to current Bahamian public policy debates.

GV: What particularly inspired you to create this hashtag #ShamelesslyHaitian?

BL: On December 21st, I participated in a hashtag called #ShamelesslyCaribbean and people tweeted interesting and funny comments about the shared experience of being Caribbean/being of Caribbean descent. As the days drew closer to Haitian Independence Day (January 1), I thought about doing #ShamelesslyHaitian to draw attention to Haiti, which is not respected by other nations, and people of Haitian descent, who are not treated like human beings in other nations, as the Dominican Republic’s recent court ruling demonstrates.

Much of the news we learn about Haiti and Haitians is wholly negative. We learn on the news that Haiti is in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with no explanation of how it got that way in the first place. Haitians are denigrated, excluded, and, in some cases, criminalized in the Bahamas, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the United States (remember the AIDS crisis in its early years in the U.S. and Haitians were one of the 4Hs identified by the CDC as HIV-carriers?). And I thought that there was some potential in creating and circulating a hashtag that gave people of Haitian descent, and their allies, the opportunity to present a different and informative narrative about Haiti and Haitians, that didn’t focus on natural disasters, coup d’etats, governmental instability, stark poverty, AIDS, etc.; a narrative that celebrated Haitian achievements, recuperated the importance of the Haitian Revolution to humanity, and also as a way to educate people about a place and a diaspora that has been grotesquely distorted, demonized, in some cases, in Western history and Western media.

So I floated the idea of contacted some people of Haitian descent to some Twitter friends, asked them if they would participate, and chose the 210th anniversary of Haitian independence to launch #ShamelesslyHaitian at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time.

GV: What has been the impact of social media on the issues you are most concerned about?

BL: I find that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter offer opportunities to learn about issues that are important to me. It’s also a way to be part of a larger community, albeit virtual, based on similar interests and ideas, as these Twitter hashtags demonstrate.

GV: What is your reaction to the way the hashtag took off? Were you surprised by the way it grew? What does it tell you about the Haitian Diaspora?

BL: I was hoping for some participation with the hashtag and I am glad that it took off in the way that it did. I was mildly surprised but not shocked by its popularity. Based on my research and work in the Haitian diaspora, there’s a sameness of experience, a similarity of experience among people of Haitian descent that forces them to draw on their heritage in the face of discrimination and prejudice. Many tweets dealt with being proud to be Haitian despite the discrimination and teasing kids in the Haitian diaspora experienced growing up.

I think the popularity of the hashtag demonstrates that whether it is in the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Canada, Haiti, or anywhere else we find Haitians, 210 years after Haitian independence, after the Haitian Revolution, Haitians are still trying to lead dignified lives and that they are struggling to do so.

 

The image in this post is courtesy of Bertin Louis.

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