barbara kipfer

Linguistic Vocabulary Unleashed… Again!

Bonjourno my polyglot peeps- I hope you are all well andwell-versed in the vocabulary of your respective languages as you enter month 2 of good ol’ 2015. I’ve been doing a bit of “research” here and there, trying to come up with new topics to blog about. In this case, research constituted finally starting a book I bought YEARS ago called The Life of Language by Sol Steinmetz and Barbara Ann Kipfer, which I will review after I finish it, and watching videos of various Polyglot enthusiasts on YouTube. (I particularly looked for TEDtalks, simply because I know those tend to focus on a particularly idea or action that I thought perhaps I could comment on, react to, or would spark another notion in my brain.) I came across a video on Singlish that, while mostly informative, made me cringe a bit.

Why? Because the persons in the video were mis-using the words pidgin, creole, and dialect. This has become a bit of a pet peeve of mine ever since I earned my master’s degree and so I like to take the opportunity to inform people of their actual meanings when I have a chance. And what better opportunity than exploiting my own blog in order to correct something that really BUGS me. I’m even going to throw in accent just for good measure.

So, forgive me, but today is going to be another linguintastic vocabulary day… if it bores you, you are welcome to move on for today and we’ll see you next week… hopefully. J

Okay then, let’s get to it:

External image


Dialect is a very interesting word, because it really ends up being a political plaything. In linguistic terms, dialects are mutually understandable versions of the same language. They may vary a bit in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, and even a bit of syntax here and there, but the CORE of the language is still the same. Most of us can think of obvious examples with English- there’s various American dialects, British dialects, Australian dialects, Indian dialects and more. Generally speaking, these variations of English are mutually understood by English speakers of other regions, though they may take some getting used to or some clarification on new terms.

BUT there can be a lot of debate as to when a dialect is sufficiently different enough to be considered its OWN separate language. My professor in TESOL, who had learned both Mandarin and Taiwanese, stated that China calls all the different regional tongues dialects but that they are really very different languages. A Chinese friend of mine disagreed with this, and I admit I am nowhere near educated enough to make an argument for either. That isn’t really the point here- the point is that there IS disagreement. Many times a political region WILL opt to call different languages dialects instead in order to try to create unity or normalize the use of a single language in the educational system. Other times, groups will take a firm stand that their dialect is really a different language in order to separate themselves culturally (and sometimes, legally and politically). I learned Spanish but I can have a pretty deep conversation with someone who speaks Portuguese in our respective tongues and completely understand one another. Portuguese and Spanish are considered different languages yet are close enough that they can be mutually understandable… one could make an argument that dialect is a more appropriate term. Sometimes dialects will even give themselves a new name to separate themselves from others. Spanish in Spain is often called castellano rather than español in order to separate it from Latin American Spanish and some would argue this is done to establish prestige in the separateness.

Because of this, I tend to use dialect almost in place of the word language because everyone speaks their own dialect of their language and some people may be bi-dialectal as much or more than bilingual. For example, many people through education learn to speak what is often called “proper” English. This is the dialect we all hold in esteem. BUT in reality, people’s native dialects- be they southern, inner-city, ebonics, etc… are actually JUST AS linguistically grammatically accurate and consistent within themselves as the “proper English” dialect. It’s simply a matter of what dialect has received the society approved seal of prestige. (I do NOT wish to start a big sociolinguistics argument about prestige, power, and so on right now- but obviously, those with power often choose to give THEIR dialect more prestige.)

Dialects are also often confused with another word and that is…


Linguistically speaking, one does not have a “Southern” accent or an “Irish” accent and so on. One is speaking in the dialect of their region. In linguistic terms, one can ONLY have an accent on a language that is NOT their native tongue. An accent is, linguistically, the effect one’s native language has on how they sound in a target language. This is why people will discuss accent reduction where they try to eliminate their native language influence on their new languages.

Now, here’s the thing. You’ll notice I kept using the word linguistically in that paragraph. There is a lot of debate over how to define accent outside of this field, and even for some inside of it. Some argue everyone speaks with an accent, others argue that no one does, and so on. I still will say I’m imitating a Southern or British accent at times, even though I know that’s technically not correct. This one doesn’t bother me like the others do- BUT if you are interested in learning languages, it’s nice to know how books may be using the term. And if you are advanced and trying to get those few nitpicky improvements, searching using the name of your language and the words accent reduction may help you do just that.

Now onto two of my FAVORITE topics in all of linguistics, because they show just how AMAZING our brains are.


Pidgins are often referred to as “simplified languages” but that’s not really the best definition. Pidgins are communication systems that arise out of necessity but lack the grammatical complexity to be considered full languages. Slaves often developed pidgins among each other before they learned English, using words from each group’s native language as well as English (and perhaps even making up a few here and there) to communicate with one another. Pidgins generally contain no function words; that is, the small words like articles, conjunctions, auxiliary verbs, prepositions, pronouns, and others. In pidgins these just aren’t needed- the goal is to communicate using what one has as best one can. This is the part that upset me in the video on Singlish- they called it a pidgin language which is frankly INSULTING to Singlish. Singlish can either be described as a dialect of English or as a creole which we will get to a minute, but it is a complete language with its own consistent grammar. Calling it a pidgin implies it is underdeveloped, which is just not true.

Let it be clear- pidgins are not fully developed languages but that doesn’t mean the people who use them are underdeveloped. Pidgins only exist as second languages- they are created among people who already have fully developed first languages and, through circumstance, need to devise a way to communicate with one another. In many ways, a visitor with a phrase book visiting another country and speaking with a local who has a few words of their tongue memorized would have to resort to using a pidgin- making do with what words they had, lots of gestures, and a heap of patience to make sense of what each other needs or wants out of the interaction.

(**Quick sidenote- While looking for a picture for this, I did notice a lot of pictures about Pidgin and Hawaii… perhaps there is another word/kind?  I’ll do some research but if anyone knows anything and wants to share, I’d love to hear it.**)

Onward to my favorite thing linguistically EVER!


If there is one shred of definitive proof that the human brain is designed to create and understand language (and not merely parrot words and phrases), it is creoles. This is a quality definition:

A mother tongue formed from the contact of two languages through an earlier pidgin stage.

What’s that mean exactly? It means that the children of those speaking a pidgin language will not speak that pidgin language. They will speak a creole- a COMPLETE grammatically sophisticated and complex language that has aspects of the various languages used to create the pidgin. This means that where there were NO function words, children will inherently create them because their brains KNOW there needs to be something there. How cool is that? A sentence in a Pidgin that essentially said “ROCK-GIVE” becomes “Give me the rock.” No one TELLING them they need those three middle words or to re-arrange the words in any way- the kids simply know. Creoles, therefore, are new languages in their own right- born out of necessity and the brain’s inherent ingenuity and innovation. One could call Singlish a creole. It has elements of several Asian languages and of course English. I have listened to examples of it and it is quite different from the English I speak and I find it a bit difficult to understand. It has quite a few interesting syntax features as well. One could argue that rather than be a dialect of English, Singlish is really the child of English and the Asian languages it came in contact with- making it a creole. Again, these are fine lines to draw- others could argue it IS a dialect but with a lot of loan words. Either way, it is most certainly not a pidgin.

I hope you find this vocabulary useful and that you will be mindful how you use it. Some of these terms have regular use in our society in ways that aren’t academically accurate. Some of them, like accent, may not really be that harmful. Most of us don’t get offended nowadays if we’re told we have an accent, so its layperson use is fine. BUT calling a language with a full grammar system a pidgin is definitely degrading it, and referring to a different language as simply the dialect of another could be insulting. We need to be careful in how we discuss and define one another’s speech. After all, I think most of us could agree that the ultimate goal of learning another language is to understand others, be it through conversation or media. In that understanding, there also needs to be tolerance, acceptance, and proper recognition of their validity and complexity.

Until next time, may your language quests be pleasant and bright!

Some pretty interesting things arrived today so of course I had to lay them all out and make a post about it!
• ‘Just Go’ phone cover from Typo
• '14,000 things to be happy about’ by Barbara Ann Kipfer
• A kindle! I’m really excited for this and my dad surprised me with this☺️
• More Typo stationery because we all know I’m such an addict
• Peppermints via Dad from Trader Joe’s. I really liked these and they don’t sell it here :(
• The ultimate literature student bible aka Penguin’s dictionary of literary terms and literary theory!
• More peppermint this time via mom I don’t know what brand this is? It’s from London {hence all the red bus and royal guard theme} and I quite liked these too.

anonymous asked:

Any book recommendations? Trying to read something different.

Spiritual/Self Help:
-Be Here Now by Ram Dass
-The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas
-Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
-1325 Buddhist Ways to Be Happy by Barbara Ann Kipfer
-Rebel Buddha by Dzogchen Ponlop
-Opening the Lotus by Sandy Boucher
-Being Good by Hsing Yun
-The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
-A New Earth by Eckart Tolle
-Towards the One by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan
-The Book of Chakra Healing by Liz Simpson
-Living on the Earth by Alicia Bay Laurel
-Being of the Sun by Ramon Sender & Alicia Bay Laurel

Good reads:
-A book of e.e. cummings’ Poetry
-The Dairy of Anaïs Nin (any of them!)
-As Often As Miracles by Clementine von Radics
-The Giver by Lois Lowry
-Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
-The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman
-The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
-Net of Being by Alex Grey
-On The Road by Jack Kerouac
-The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger 

And I just ordered these so I can’t tell you whether or not they’re good, but I’m excited for them:
-Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
-This Book Will change Your Life by Ben Carey
-Off Track Planet’s Guide for the Young, Sexy, and Broke 
-The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images
-How To Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter and Self-Preservation Anywhere by Bradford Angier
-The Self Sufficient-ish Bible: An Ego-living Guide for the 21st Century by Andy Hamilton
-This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men And Women


So a few weeks ago I was at this little local book shop ran by the cutest little old married couple and while looking over the poetry section I stumbled upon this little book filled with short quotes and proverbs. (Titled 8,789 Words of Wisdom by Barbara Ann Kipfer) Normally would have passed over it as it’s just not really my thing but hey it was $3 and I couldn’t find the book of Walt Whitman poems I was looking for so I figured why not.

It was when later as I was flipping through I noticed some quotes had already been highlighted. This struck me as interesting because I have no idea who had flipped through these pages previously but what I do know is the quotes they chose to highlight in purple marker meant something to them. This gave me the idea to start going through and highlight my own; something I often do anyways when reading. After I’m done with it I’m going to pass it on to someone else and abide they do the same.

I hope that one day the book will be completely marked up, some highlighted over and over again. Even the same quote can mean two totally different things to two different people. There’s beauty in not knowing things.