Friday, September 16, 2005

Back in Chengdu

Arrived back from Ireland (Shannon-Dublin-Paris-Beijing-Chengdu). Long trip and some very tight connections (lucky that my check-in arrived on the same day).

The LRC-X conference at the University of Limerick was good. More on that in the next. For the moment, here are some notes and reflection on languages in Dakar and Shannon/Limerick from my transition.

Mon. 12 Sept.: Thoughts on languages and signage from Shannon airport and the bus to Limerick

One thing I noticed in Dakar was that there were some billboards with messages in Wolof - exclusively. These were commercially produced, so you'd see the same "Halib laam mô nêkh" ad for Halib powdered milk and also something for a sauce mix called Linguere in many places. Occasionally you'd see Wolof on local signs such as one for "nekh soow" (along with a French "oeufs à vendre ici" - what is interesting in this is the different sensibilities translated: you don't see a sign in Wolof saying buy this or we're selling this, but that it's nice eggs). Not sure on the translation for the billboards, but what is interesting there is that commercial outfits are finding it worth their while to pay for these.

Here in Ireland, the airport in Shannon has the Irish Gaelic (or simply Irish as they call it now) name above the terminal in big letters: SIONAINN. All official signs are bilingual as far as I can see. Limerick is Luimneach.

Actually there are some signs in English only and a few signs (noted one big one in front of a building) and insignias or mottos (noted one in aging gold leaf in a house window) saying something only in Irish.

If one were to be here a long time, it would be fairly easy to use signs as a tool for learning the language - since, unlike Chinese, the script is a phonetic one. (Signs even in Chinese can be an education too in that some characters can be learned for their meaning even when one does not know the sound of the Chinese words represented.) One wonders about the potential of bilingual or multilingual signage in Africa as a way of favoring literacy (and language learning) - I did see an informal version of this using chalk some years ago in Kangaba, Mali.

Anyway, this western part of Ireland is one where the use of Irish as a first language survives. It's a relatively rural area, quite picturesque in places (just looking from the road), and as they say, very green...

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