Thursday, November 29, 2007

#16. Faking Body Language

Body language is probably an interesting topic for most people. We all "apeak" it--usually subconsciously. According to an article title "The Body Language of Love," 55% of what we say is understood through visual components (gestures, postures, facial expressions, etc.). The words we say apparently only account for 7%. Many have probably read something similar elsewhere that body language reveals a lot about what we actually think and feel. For example, when we mimic what someone else's body language, it's an indication that we like that person.
Body language is obviously telling, but is there any way we can manipulate people by faking body language? There is a lot of literature on using and interpreting body language, especially for dating or job interviews. Politicians have to look and act charismatic and confident.
So if you know what your body is saying, then isn't it possible to fake it? I think it is possible to consciously send messages with your body, such as making eye contact and leaning forward when you're interested in someone and you want to indicate that what they're saying is interesting to you. However, if you don't feel a certain way but have to act contrary to your feelings, such as when you're hosting relatives whom you don't particularly like, a lot of people fake smile and fake laugh. But when people fake such body language, is it really undetectable or are their true feelings revealed in their other subconscious body language? A few weeks back, I saw a clip of Fox News's "Body Language" segment on The O'Reilly Factor, where a body language analyst analyzing an interview with Hilary Clinton. The analyst said that her laughter was "evil." She could tell that Clinton wasn't genuinely laughing because she was laughing for too long and only her mouth was laughing and not her face (as far as I recall).
These two factors are actually on a site I found that tells you how to detect lies:
Most of the listed indications of lies are things we normally know but do not pay a lot of attention to. So if we pay attention, can we know when someone is being deceitful? If we are analyzed by a professional body language analyst, can we get away with our fake gestures?
I couldn't find a good answer to this question (most search results turned up how to interpret body language or "improve" body language), but I assume that as with all lies and liars, there are good ones and bad ones. Good liars will be able to deceive other people by faking their body language and bad liars won't. However, because a lot of body language is subconscious, it seems to be much harder to disguise your true feelings.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

#15. Esperanto

Is there a universal language?
Nowadays, knowing English helps a lot in communicating with people from different countries. Even if two people's native languages aren't English, it's likely that they can only communicate in English. I think I feel this especially more at Stanford. There are many kids who speak another language fluently. A lot of the time, this is due to their ethnic background and the language their family uses at home. When I talk with my Thai or Chinese friends, I can only communicate with them in English. We can't use Thai, Chinese, or Korean. So English seems to be taking the place of the universal language, but it's still very far off from actually becoming such a language. I don't know if we can ever reach that goal. However, many years ago, there was an attempt to make such an international language: Esperanto.
When I first heard about Esperanto, I was intrigued. I'd never heard of it or heard anybody speak it, but supposedly, it was the international language. Obviously, it failed, but I thought it was topic worth researching a little bit more into, so it's the topic of my blog entry for today. :)

Esperanto was invented in 1887 by Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, a Polish eye doctor. He published the first book in Esperanto, Unua Libro, under the pseudonym "Doktoro Esperanto," which is where the name of the language comes from. Contrary to my initial conception of it as a language made to unite the world under one universal language, Esperanto is an international second language that helps promote peaceful communication between people of different countries. Nobody has an advantage to Esperanto because it’s not a national language, so everybody is “equal” when they speak Esperanto. It’s a neutral language which theoretically protects minority languages because they have a better chance of surviving in a world that has a universal second language rather than in one dominated by a few “strong” languages. According to most of the sites I found on Esperanto, there are approximately 1,000 native speakers of Esperanto, 10,000 fluent speakers, 100,000 active speakers, 1 million who understand a lot of Esperanto, and about 10 million who have studied it to some extent. These numbers are much higher than I’ve expected because I’ve never met anyone who had even attempted to learn Esperanto. But apparently, Esperanto is “the most widely used international auxiliary language” today and particularly popular in Eastern Europe and China. There is a whole world of literature and music in Esperanto; there are more than 25,000 books in circulation written originally in Esperanto, many others translated from other languages into Esperanto, Esperanto songs, and radio stations that broadcast news bulletins in Esperanto.
The roots used in Esperanto are mostly derived from Latin and some of its vocabulary comes from modern Romance languages, English, German, Polish, and Russian. The alphabet is basically the same with some new additions (Ĉĉ, Ĝĝ, Ĥĥ, Ĵĵ, Ŝŝ, Ŭŭ), and the pronunciation is phonetic. It has few grammatical rules. Words are made by combining prefixes, roots, and suffixes. The word order in a sentence is pretty much free, so for example, Japanese speakers and French speakers can just say the words in the order that their languages use respectively. There aren’t irregular forms when forming plurals, different tenses of verbs, etc. Therefore, Esperanto is supposed to be pretty easy to learn. I don’t know what the standards are for this measurement, but according to my research, for a native English speaker, Esperanto is about 5 times as easy to learn as Spanish or French, 10 times as easy to learn as Russian, 20 times as easy to learn as Arabic or spoken Chinese, and infinitely easier to learn than Japanese. People generally seem to find they learn Esperanto much more quickly than other languages. In fact, some studies say that learning Esperanto before learning a foreign language helps you learn that language faster because it gives you a good base.
There are many places and sources you can use to learn Esperanto, including this site: I don’t know how practical it is to learn Esperanto, but the goal of Esperanto is to facilitate communication between speakers of different languages, so if you learn it, you can find other people who speak it to help you when you visit other countries.

For me, I think Esperanto would be interesting to learn, but I would choose to learn French or Spanish instead because I can easily find a lot more people who speak French and Spanish than Esperanto. However, if anybody wants to, there seem to be a wealth of resources out there, and I encourage you to make use of them and wish you luck!

If you want to hear Esperanto being spoken, here is a link that has a sample sentence:


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

#14. What is Language?

What exactly is language? Which sounds, motions, or symbols qualify as language, and which don't? We've talked about the definition of language in the past few classes, and it made me think more deeply about what language really is.
Originally, I thought language was any means of communication. So I would have said that the high-pitched sounds dolphins make and the meowing noises that my cat makes when she's hungry are all language. But apparently, language is a faculty unique to humans and it has to have certain levels of sophistication to be recognized as "real" language.

So I looked up the definition of language on the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1 a: the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community b (1): audible, articulate, meaningful sound as produced by the action of the vocal organs (2): a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings (3): the suggestion by objects, actions, or conditions of associated ideas or feelings (4): the means by which animals communicate (5): a formal system of signs and symbols (as FORTRAN or a calculus in logic) including rules for the formation and transformation of admissible expressions

And I wanted to discuss each of the definitions a little.

1a: This definition implies that language has to be verbal and widespread, or at least used in common by a significant number of people. According to this definition, sign language is not a language, and languages that are almost dying out (like those with just one or two speakers left) no longer qualify as language. This doesn't seems right. Vocalization of language is an important part of language. It's the most convenient way to communicate, in my opinion, because the response is immediate. However, deaf people who cannot speak have made up a beautiful, complex language that doesn't require sounds. So this definition doesn't seem to encompass the true meaning of language.

1b(1): Again, this definition also implies that language is verbal. The intent of this definition, I think, was to rule out animal sounds as language. Most people probably would agree that mooing, chirping, barking, etc. aren't "audible, articulate, meaningful" sounds.

1b(2): I like this definition the best so far because it doesn't require a verbal quality for language. If limiting language to human communication, I think it has the right amount of restrictions. Language has to be "systematic," "conventionalized," and "understood." It excludes animal sounds but includes all forms of language--written, verbal, and gestures.

1b(3): This definition refers to a different kind of language, I think. It's still a form of communication but more symbolic. A gift of roses would be a "suggestion" of attraction and language according to this definition.

1b(4): This one is close to my original definition of language. "Communication" and "animals" are the only two requirements.

1b(5): The important word in this definition is "rules." This definition would also exclude animal sounds, but it would include "scientific languages" like the symbols and equations used in chemistry and math. I think these should also qualify as languages. They are actually rather important languages because they are international. Most of the symbols are used uniformly throughout the world, which is amazing, if you think about it.

After my short analysis of the definition of language, I still think that language should mean any sounds, motions, or symbols that communicate meaning--even the simplest feelings like hunger. When my cat meows at us, we know that she wants food. When she purrs, we know that she's content. She expresses something, and we understand it. I think those two things (expression of emotions/thoughts & understanding of the expression) are the only two qualifications language has. Of course there are varying degrees of complexity in language, but as long as something is communicated between two or more living creatures, I'll call it "language."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

extra article for #11

I found a new article on the dominance of English that was interesting and pretty comprehensive:
Whose Language?
It talks about why English is becoming a world language, whether it will stay the dominant language, how many non-native speakers there are, what variations of English there are and how they're being reconciled, etc.

#13. Losing Language

Many people say that they've forgotten a language they knew sometime earlier in their lives. One of my friends who lived for three years in Japan when she was young (preschool & kindergarten age) says she doesn't understand a word of Japanese now. We often forget second languages if we don't constantly practice them (like my French). However, having learned a language at an early age seems to work to one's advantage when learning that language again. It's easier to pick up the language, and one is likely to have a more accurate pronunciation.
Thankfully, I didn't really lose English when I moved to Korea, but my English did get rusty. I still have trouble conjuring up words sometimes because I think of them in Korean. I get nervous about making a mistake, which makes it more difficult to say what I want to say. However, it's the same the other way around. The other day, I was talking to my Korean friend on the phone and I couldn't remember the Korean word for raccoon for some reason. That's why I prefer Konglish, as I've said before. Anyway, getting back on track of the topic, so I was curious... Can we really "lose" a language?
I don't know how reliable this source is, but apparently, there was recently a French study that looked at Korean-born children who were adopted by French parents and thus, were no longer exposed to Korean. The key finding was that these individuals, when tested in their 20s and 30s, could not distinguish between Korean and Japanese. The conclusion was that learning a second language in childhood is in vain if exposure to that language isn't sustained, which seems correct based on our experiences.
There was also a study conducted by psychologist Benjamin Levy and his colleague Dr. Michael Anderson at the University of Oregon that found something called "first language attrition." The subjects of the study were native English speakers who had learned about a year of Spanish. They were told to repeat a word for a certain object in Spanish numerous times. After that, they were told to recall the word for the object in English. The researchers found that people had a more difficult time retrieving the English word after such Spanish exercises. The conclusion is that learning a second language can negatively affect your first language ability. You don't actually forget the word, but it is hard to roll it out on your tongue. So, vice versa, it's usually hard to learn a new language because our first language inhibits us from thinking in the other language. We have to temporarily "forget" our first language in order to learn the second language more quickly.
However, this research didn't really answer my question because it talked about short-term loss of language. I couldn't really find substantial research that would prove that we really can lose our languages, but it seems safe to conclude so.
I don't know if I just couldn't find the right study on the internet, but I feel this is an interesting topic worth researching. Some things I would want to know more about are: how much being exposed to a language at the developmental ages helps in acquiring that language later on in life, which aspect of language benefits most (because on personal intuition, I feel that having once spoken a language at least leaves the memory of the pronunciation, so when you learn it later on, you still have the capacity to produce the distinctive sounds in that language), how many languages a normal child can acquire and keep, etc.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

#12. Language Change

I kind of talked about this in "#9. Creating New Words," but creation and change, though connected, are different.

The types of changes languages undergo are:
1) Lexical changes (word creation and extinction)
2) Phonetic and phonological changes (changes in pronunciation)
3) Spelling changes
4) Semantic changes (changes in meaning)
5) Syntactic change (changes in sentence structure)

As you can see, there's more to language change than just new words. So I decided on this topic for this post. :)

Alexandra left me a question on my post #9: Do you have any ideas as to why some languages (like English or Korean) might change so rapidly, while others stay relatively static?
She asked this because she had read an article about Icelandic speakers not having any trouble reading 14th-century texts because their language hasn't changed much. The National Science Foundation also says that Japanese has changed relatively little over 1,000 years, while English has evolved rapidly in just a few centuries.
So I'm curious about her questionm, too. I certainly don't have the correct answer to her question, but what I have researched might partly answer her question.

The consensus seems to be that languages change. That much is obvious to most people. Then, the question most people are probably curious about: WHY do languages change? Professor Chris Pontain at the University of London says this is "one of the big questions in modern linguistics which has still only received a partial and tentative answer."
In the 18th century, the theory was that language "decays" because people are lazy. The theory of the late 19th century was that language naturally changes little by little, and it isn't in our (humans') control. The recent theory advocated by American linguist William Labov is that because people are social animals, we influence each other, and language changes as a result. For example, if I start calling a pen "frindle" and my friends start calling it that too and it eventually spreads throughout the whole country. There are problems with all three of these theories, but the last one is the most believable one to me.
These are the general theories, and there are a lot of causes behind language change, too, such as colonization, new technologies, etc. I talked about some of this in my other post.

To try to answer Alexandra's question:
As for Icelandic, there is probably a correlation between Iceland's policy of linguistic purism. From early 19th century, Iceland has replaced "loanwords" with new words from Old Icelandic and Old Norse roots so that these foreign words don't infiltrate their language. North Korea has a similar policy, and thus, the Korean there is a lot different from the Korean we speak in South Korea. Korean was also influenced by the Japanese Occupation during World War II.
So, I think government policy and economic advancement have a lot to do with language change. However, further than that, I don't have enough information to determine why Icelandic or Japanese hasn't changed much while others have. But another interesting thing is that although English has changed a lot, apparently, our spelling of words hasn't changed much because it's usually maintained the same even if the pronunciation changes. This makes it easier for us to read literature from “the old days”, but because of other language changes, we still have problems understanding the literature.
So, I come again to the inevitable conclusion about language: we really can't know for sure. But it is still interesting to think about and develop our own theories.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

#11. The English Craze

I've talked about the English craze in Korea before in this blog, but now I'm devoting a whole post to it. This inspiration comes from news about the Nova schools in Japan and the Korean presidential candidates' platforms regarding expansion of English education in Korea.
Recently, there was a crisis for many native English speakers in Japan. They lost their jobs because Nova, a popular English conversation school chain, filed for bankruptcy. The focus of this post is not on the crisis though, but how this news also reflects the English craze of Japan. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, "English-conversation schools are a big business in Japan. Millions of Japanese dream of speaking English. But the six years of language classes given in middle and high schools focus on grammar, not conversation, so few children learn to speak English well. The $3.5-billion-a-year foreign-language-education industry teems with more than 1,100 companies catering to about two million students, according to the Japan Association for the Promotion of Foreign Language Education."
The situation is more severe in Korea. The two major South Korean presidential candidates have recognized the obsession with English education in Korea and have drawn up plans to alleviate the costs and pressure following this craze.
Chung Dong-young of the United New Democratic Party (UNDP) pledged to open government-operated English-language schools in order to reduce educational expenses. According to Chung, the number of students going abroad to study English has increased by 2.6 times in the past five years. I myself can attest to this rapid increase of students studying abroad, as I am one of them. My high school, which has a study abroad program called "Global Leadership Program" has expanded continuously since it began in 1998 with four students. When I graduated, there were 78 GLP students in my class. There are over a hundred students in the class of 2008. There are also many more schools that are starting similar programs. This apparent English craze is not good for the Korean economy, and Chung said that his pledges will "create more jobs and solve the problem of families separated for English learning." Oh, yet another problem in Korea: fathers earn money to send their wives and children to English-speaking countries. They call these men "Giruhgi (Goose) Fathers." They are a group that many take pity on, since they have no family to return to at home and work just so that their children can learn English and have a more successful future.
Chung's opponent, Lee Myung-bak of the Grand National Party (GNP), proposed creating "an international zone, which would provide an English-only environment and autonomous education system like those of Singapore and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates." He also suggested more English classes in schools and more native speakers assisting in such classes. Citing that Koreans spend 1.4 trillion won ($15.5 billion) on English study, Lee promised to nurture 3,000 English teachers annually and post them in schools to cut educational expenses in half.
The Dean of Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious universities in Korea, said that he expected Korean colleges to expand the number of classes taught in English. According to, "In a recent poll by JobKorea, a recruitment website, 64 percent of the 1,075 South Koreans surveyed said they were stressed at work because they had insufficient English. Nearly a third, or 31 percent, said they were disadvantaged because of a lack of English proficiency, having failed to get a promotion or secure the posts they desired." Kim Hwa Soo, the CEO of JobKorea explained, "As companies focus on strengthening their global competitiveness, the ability to speak foreign languages is becoming an important factor at workplaces." According to the Korean Education Ministry, in the year ended on March 31, 2007, 52% of the 217,959 students who went abroad for university or higher level education went to the U.S., U.K., Australia and other English-speaking countries. Four years ago, 159,903 went abroad to study.
I think I've offered overly sufficient information to show how important Koreans regard learning English. Even just looking at the numbers for Stanford, you can tell how popular studying abroad is in Korea. For the Class of 2011, Korea had the most international students accepted to Stanford, 37, while number 2 and 3, Singapore and Canada, had 17 and 16 respectively (if I remember right). When I walk/bike around campus, I see Koreans and hear Korean every day. It's just crazy!
Anyway, I feel like I'm going off-topic here, but I'm sure that now you have a sense of this English craze I'm talking about.
It's probably not as intense as Korea, but English is taking over other countries in Asia, too. According to the Tehran Times, Khazaeifar, head of the English department at Ferdowsi University in Mashhad, Iran, said, “Persian is being gradually and deceptively eaten away by a relentless enemy named the English language." At a SPELT (Society for Promotion of English Language Teaching) conference currently being held in Karachi, Pakistan, a speaker, Mashood Rizvi, said that a project named "English for Life" has been launched in Sindh and Balochistan, and that the program will soon be expanded. In an opinion article by Nilanshu Agarwal in India, "English plays a very important role in education, business and administration. It is the medium of instruction for higher education-both academic and technological. Those who seek jobs in private companies or professions must be proficient in English. It is recognized as an official language for purposes of administration at the national level."
In 1607, only 3.5 million people spoke English in 1607, almost all of whom lived in the British Isles. It is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide will speak English by the end of this decade. According to Lord Alan Watson of Richmond CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire), English is joining Chinese, Hindi and Arabic as the most-used languages in the world. The difference is that for Chinese, Hindi and Arabic, it's because large numbers of people speak them as a first language. For English, it's because of the number who learn it as a second language. He also said that more people are learning English in China today than all of the North Americans who speak English and predicted that by 2030, the largest ethnic group in the world using English will be the Chinese.

So... what's the cause behind this proliferation of English?

Well, EVERYTHING is in English these days. Most of the studies in academic fields and the internet are in English. So, it's THE language to know.
But what if this is just a passing fad?
Well, I guess we can't know that for sure. But the increase of both the speed and amount of global communication will keep English from suffering the fate of Latin, which evolved into different languages in different places because people were isolated.

So, right now, I'm extremely glad I'm proficient in English. :)

Korea -
Japan -
Iran -
India -
Pakistan -
English is the global language -