CULTURE, LANGUAGE, SOCIETY
Language is a cultural, political and economic tool, and English has shown great success in this domain. The spread of English internationally has been aided and abetted by the advancement in technology, forging of international organisations, and bare economic and political necessities. On the other hand, languages have been (and can be) taken over by one which is spoken by those from an economically, politically and socially dominant nation.
People who speak English as a second language do so because either they want or are obliged to (it is imposed from the outside). These days, they represent more than two-thirds of English speakers in the world, and the distinction between native and non-native speakers is not that significant anymore.
In the Philippines, for example, English is used in government, private and public dealings. Although Tagalog is the official language, English is the medium of instruction in schools and universities and is used lavishly in the mass media. This country was a Spanish colony for more than 300 years; however, it’s the Americans who have had the recent influence on its culture. Its proximity to Australia – another native English speaking country – has been a convenience. In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines has the largest population of English-speaking inhabitants (over 102 millions).
The majority of this year’s Eurovision songs were in English. Even the winning title by Jamala of Ukraine has more English than Tatar words. For the first time, Spain’s entry was also in English which aroused criticisms from its Royal Academy of Spanish Language (RAE), the official body that oversees language use. The French entry was also mainly performed in English. (In Eurovision’s earlier days, contests were dominated by francophone nations – e.g. France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg & Monaco – and by entries in French). These days, contestants believe that English gives them a better chance to win because it is more widely understood than other languages; as well, successful songs have English lyrics.
Language is part of our identity, i.e. we identify and communicate with each other through it. Without language, a society and its culture do not have strong and unifying foundation upon which to exist. It is sad that sometimes this identity is sacrificed in favour of financial gain and/or career ambition.
Bilingualism or multiculturalism is definitely advantageous, particularly to access job and education, improve relationships or open opportunities. What is disconcerting is putting aside our native language (heritage) in favour of another; for example, parents insisting on their children to speak only the language of their new country or place of residence. Without practice, the ability to speak a language (native or acquired) gradually vanishes.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the most spoken languages in the world are Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi and Arabic. The BBC (www.bbc.co.uk.languages seen 30/05/16) has reported that there are 7,000 different languages in the world; 90% of these are spoken by less than 100,000 individuals; of which 2,200 are in Asia and only 260 in Europe.
Sadly, many of these languages (e.g. Romani in Europe, Austral in French Polynesia and Native American Hupa) are disappearing, which has global consequences. Reports published by UNESCO have expressed concerns that if nothing is done, half of the languages spoken today won’t exist anymore by the end of this century; and with their disappearance, humanity would lose cultural wealth and ancestral knowledge embedded in indigenous languages. This is an absolute worry because local knowledge, which is mainly transmitted orally, is linked to timeless wisdom on health, wellbeing and biodiversity (i.e. their wise understanding of the environment can be lost during the change in language).
Therefore, there is an urgent need for well-planned and implemented policies on maintaining or revitalising mother tongues and pass these on to younger generations. Every small effort in this regard is an extra mile. UNESCO’s “Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger” is a useful guide in monitoring the status of endangered languages and creating awareness on the need to safeguard the world’s linguistic diversity. On individual level, let’s continue teaching and speaking with our children and family our native language as this is a heritage issue and not a hindrance to life’s success.
At 5am on 14 November 2015, I was awaken by a phone call from Australia. My sister was so relieved that none of my family and friends was in Paris. My brother-in-law continued the conversation with information on deaths and damages unfolding on their television screen the whole day.
We were in Luxembourg that Friday evening watching Spectre, and as soon as we got home at 11pm we went to bed oblivious to the terrorist attacks in the city of lights, where my first son was born and I resided for 2 years. Though we don’t live in Paris any more, I’m affected by this insecure state and threats of terrorism, which I had never seen in my life before. Last week, one of my students was at the funeral of his cousin’s son who was one of the Bataclan victims. For 2 weeks now, I’ve been coming home late, missing dinner with my family as it takes 2 hours to get home due to traffic jams and security checks. These days, I spend more time commuting than teaching.
Terrorism threatens our existence and that of the civilised world. This has ramifications on every aspect of our society: psychological (limit our activities & choices/create fear), political (e.g. State resources are redirected from social development to security measures), social (relationships are redefined, suspicions arise, and stereotypes prevails) and economic (increased expenditures on health and security; loss of income – e.g. shops in Brussels were deserted last November 21-22).
As the saying goes “If it doesn’t kill us, if will only make us stronger,” and this is exactly what our democratic world has become. There has been an outpouring of support and solidarity. This write-up is my contribution to ensuring that such support and solidarity continue even after families and friends have buried their loved ones and the injured have left their hospital beds.
Solidarity is best described as a fellowship due to common or shared feelings, interests, purposes and responsibilities. Thinking about solidarity, I was reminded of my undergrad lecture more than 3 decades ago on Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917), a French-born academic who’s known as the Father of Sociology. He put forward the concept of mechanical and organic solidarities. In the former, people have common values and beliefs (i.e. they have the same jobs and responsibilities) that constitute to a collective conscience leading to cooperation between individual members of the group or community. In the latter, there is specialisation of tasks (division of labour) so the society is more secular and individualistic hence people rely on each other to achieve and maintain unity.
Yes, we depend on each other to keep our world safe and democratic – i.e. solidarity. There is a need to intensify our efforts to stay connected to people in our neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces. We must be proactive in dealing with friendly and hostile encounters, especially within a diverse and multicultural environment. As well, let’s not forget that poverty, ignorance or misinformation, discrimination, absence of communication, lack of political will (or their opposites) contribute to the kind of society we have and leave for future generations.
There are enormous examples of individual and group solidarity. « Je suis Paris » was written on t-shirts, walls and banners in many countries, and some individuals have collected money to help the families of victims.
Likewise, there are commemorations, fund-raising events and social/political gatherings (e.g. last week’s Domestic Violence Day and Climate Talks in Paris) when we can give support beyond monetary terms. We shouldn’t wait for the loss of lives, natural disasters, accidents or gloomy situations to demonstrate solidarity. Every day we are faced with circumstances and people that provide us with the opportunity to show sympathy, cooperation and a sense of humanity.
Sports and Pubs
Last fortnight, I watched the Australia-Fiji game as part of the Rugby World Cup 2015 in England. It wasn’t the first time I sat in front of the television screen looking more at men’s gluteus maximus (backside/behind/bums/buttocks) than the ball. It wasn’t also the first time I was in the pub; and like the others, it has a lively decoration and variety of beverage on offer (the pineapple, mango and coconut delight attracted my attention).
The Rugby World cup is the third most watched sporting event in the world after the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup and the Summer Olympics. (football in Europe while soccer in Australia & USA)
There are two kinds of rugby: Rugby Union and Rugby League. The League has 13 players on the field while the Union15. The former has a six tackle rule which is not the case with the latter. In League a try is worth 4 points, goal is 2 points and field goal or drop goal1 point. In Union a try is 5 points, conversion kick 2 points, and penalty kick or drop goal is 3 points each.
The Rugby Union World Cup was first held in New Zealand and Australia in 1987 and is since held once every four years involving the top 20 teams (those that have qualified) from around the world. The 2011 champion was New Zealand, the All Blacks. At the end of October, we’ll know who are the best rugby men in 2015.
Sporting events have financial advantages of economic growth, business opportunities (e.g. tickets to live games, souvenirs, food & drinks, accommodation, transport, membership fees, etc.) and employment.
Participating, watching or talking about sports have physical, psychological and social benefits to individuals, families and societies.
For the practising ones, they are assured of a healthy body. Physical activity is linked to reduced rate of many illnesses, such as cardiovascular, and savings on healthcare.
Sport provides a sense of belonging and personal excitement. It enhances self-esteem thus leads to improved school performance, good behaviour and pleasant mood.
It brings people together and gives a sense of belonging. As well, it increases national pride and encourages international friendliness.
On the other hand, sporting competitions create rivalry and envy between individuals, groups and countries. It poses concerns regarding the allocation of resources and environmental degradation.
By the way, what about going to the pub? Well, I must admit that watching a live game in the pub is ecstatic. Yes in the pub, particularly with friends and loved ones.
Did you know that pub is the short cut for a public house (open to the public) ? Pubs are beneficial for the economy and are popular social meeting places ( women and men talk, eat, drink, meet their family & friends and relax there).
Excess, however, in any form or kind, such as involvement in sports or going to the pub, has drawbacks (e.g. injuries due to risk taken, relationships break up due to too much time spent away from home, falling ill due to over-consumption of alcohol).
When does this become an excess? It is excessive when the action goes beyond what is sufficient or permitted, and when this abnormal degree, amount or number has negative effects physically, emotionally or financially – i.e. on the wellbeing of an individual, family or community.
Australia wins against England, 33 vs 13, which means that the Wallaby will be in the quarter finals. It’s the first time that England has been eliminated at the knock out stage and a host country has been kicked out during the group stage of the tournament.
October 10 – Australia won against Wales (15 – 6) even when down to only 13 men. Read more at http://www.rugbyworldcup.com/#63tUg2FjXZlF8ybR.99
From fish & chips to pizza & mozzarella then World Expo
Long queues at Calais but, fortunately, the ferry was under 20 minutes late in crossing the tunnel. The traffic in Dover was fairly smooth sailing considering that it’s the long summer holiday and Europeans move a lot, thus I got to Cambridge University as scheduled. My son’s graduation went very well though I understood but a few words in the purely Latin ceremony. It was a showcase of a truly English academic tradition.
England is a member of the European Community (EC) but not of the Euro Zone. It is a highly disciplined country where drivers stop at traffic lights, respect give-way signs, don’t go over speed limits and park in authorised places only. Its skies are constantly grey with sparkling rain. I love the English sense of humour and I’ve never met a ‘Pom’ (as Australians call them) who can’t tell at least one good joke.
Only a day of rest and I headed to Italy. My diet of fish and chips, sausage rolls and meat pies adorned with green salad was replaced with pizza, pasta and mozzarella. Generally, while the English are reservedly polite, the Italians are expressively gracious. In Naples, I witnessed these hilarious yet dangerous situations: A woman driving a motorcycle with a mobile phone between her tilted head and left shoulder; 2 women on a motorcycle (again) and one of them (the back rider) was holding 2 helmets with her right hand while moving her left hand as if giving traffic directions; drivers optimising 2 lanes into 3; motorists and motorcyclists over taking in a hurry and don’t give way readily to pedestrians on designated crossings. Meanwhile, unlike in England, from the north to the south of Italy, it didn’t rain for nearly a fortnight (while I was there) and the temperature was over 30°C.
I had been to fascinating places in Italy before, but last July’s trip was particularly multicultural and informative due to the World Expo in Milan (also known as world’s fair, world exposition or universal exposition – a large public exhibition held every five years). There, everything was pleasant and desirable: happy people, jolly environment and peaceful atmosphere. There were no signs of the Greek economic crisis, plights of immigrants stranded in Italy and the Mediterranean Sea, political instability in the Middle East, insecurity in Ukraine, etc..
It requires money to participate in the World Expo, so I understand why developing countries (like the Philippines) were absent (but Uruguay and the others were there). However, I was surprised not to find Australia (significant global producer of agricultural and food products with over 28 million cattle – several millions more than its population) and other developed countries, such as Sweden.
The theme of Expo Milano 2015, which runs for 6 months till October, is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” The beautifully-constructed 96 pavilions’ historical, cultural and technological presentations reminded me of the contradictions of our world. On the one hand, our planet is rich in food products and obesity is a major cause of ill-health and death (real wealth is only in the hands of 10-15% of the earth’s population). On the other hand, every day, there are thousands of people who die from illnesses linked to poor nutrition. Many men, women and children die due to hunger whilst over a billion tons of foods are wasted every year.
Each pavilion has something worthwhile to see: from Belgian’s aquaponics, Germany’s green house and lively musical show with audience participation, Russian scientific research on crop improvement and night club-type bar that offers free beverages, French creativity in the use of living (vegetable and fruit gardens) and non-living things (colorfully-wrapped boxes and bottles decorating the pathways, ceiling and walls) to Middle Eastern nations’ portrayal of the importance of water, culture and technology.
I hope that this Expo will challenge governments, organisations and individuals to make conscious political decisions concerning food regulations and trading, the use of technology in producing and consuming resources, and policies and practices on sustainable lifestyles.
Beauty, culture and modern society
Lately, I’ve been bumping into online photos of Pierce Brosnan (James Bond Golden Eye, Mamma Mia, TV series Remington Steele, etc.) and his wife. There seems to be a fascination for the couple’s physical attributes: “Pierce Brosnan should be able to get any woman he wants, but the 60-year-old is sticking with his overweight wife” (Celebromance.com March 7/14), which I find stomach-turning. Most women, me included, would exchange place with Kelly any time to have the love and devotion of a partner or husband. Likewise, we rather be with a physically unattractive but faithful and caring spouse than otherwise.
Our concept of beauty is learned and transmitted through family values, cultural traditions and socialisation via formal education, entertainment and the media (print, audio-visual and internet). Generally, beauty is not only about face and weight; it involves smell, movements and a combination of all the individual’s qualities that please our senses and mind.
Beauty is the label we attach to different criteria based on what we’ve been(and are..) socialised into, experienced and exposed to regularly. It is relative and not universal as it means different things to different people. For example, Samoans and Mauritanians consider big women as more desirable and make better wives. (“Samoa’s prime minister has called for his nation’s women to stay away from international beauty contests because they favour skinny and scrawny-looking women” (Samoaobserver, 6/10/13).
Like beauty, love is also a combination of the work of all senses and not just that of the sight. Such combination leads to great attachment and intense emotion of warmth, affection and respect. Love is possible without ‘beauty,’ but beauty is incomplete without love. Love aids in making beauty pleasurably enduring. However, you don’t need to indulge in an aesthetic pleasure to feel love.
Love can be disconnected from beauty, and beauty can be disconnected from love. How many not-so-good looking friends do you have? How many men and women have trusted and been deceived (which is not a pleasurable experience) by their well-shaped, attractive significant others? There are many individuals who are considered by our modern society as ugly, but are debonair and gracious thus are likeable and loveable.
Media and internet information play a vital role in the conception of beauty and love. Already divorce and relationship failures have been rising; and these shouldn’t be fuelled by constant insidious mockeries of what should be an ideal couple. We should instead laud those who stand by their love ones during difficulties.
Unfortunately, often, media images of overweight individuals portray their extra kilos as an appearance issue. It is not! It is a medical concern as it affects people’s health (e.g. overweight individuals are more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease).
There are genetic (i.e. burning calories more slowly), environmental (e.g. food intake and emotional downturns)and medical reasons why some people gain weight more easily than others. Professionals use Body Mass Index (BMI – which is based on height and weight measurements) to determine if the person is or not overweight. When the BMI is at or above the 85th percentile line on the chart, the person is overweight; and at/above the 90th s/he is considered obese. In other words, you’re underweight if your BMI is below 18.5 and overweight if between 25.0 – 29.9.
It’s never too late to change our lifestyle to combat excessive or burdensome weight, such as cutting down on sugary beverages and daily exercises that may take only 15-30 minutes of walking and stretching.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it,” Confucius.
Citizenship and loyalty
Thousands of Filipino-born Americans cheered vehemently for Manny Pakyaw for “The Fight of the Century” boxing title against American Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in May this year. From time to time, we hear about some South Asians in the UK feeling gloomy when the English cricket team wins against Pakistan or India (their ancestral homes). My first work supervisor in Australia was a New Zealander, and I believe he celebrated in the comfort of his Brisbane home (Australia) the win of the All Blacks against the Wallabies/Aussies in yesterday’s Rugby World Cup 2015.
Sport is one of the primary means through which citizenship and belongingness are contested and resisted. The teams we cheer for, flags we fly, anthem we sing and colour of clothes we wear are a part of our interpretation, as individuals or groups, of the cultural, linguistic and national connections that unite or divide us. These days, such connections are quite complex as the very concept of a national identity is challenged and redefined (sometimes as multiple identities) and dual citizenship have become more common than ever.
Globalisation, migration and family relationships have (and will continue to) changed individual and collective identities within a nation. At the same time, international connectedness has been confirmed by membership to organisations, e.g. European Union, creating a new kind of identity that is different from what is traditionally associated with a single country. Likewise, constant economic, political, social and cultural developments contribute to the transformation of our identity and sense of belonging, which aid or complicate our rights and responsibilities as citizens of one or more countries.
Double citizenship implies dual loyalties, and this is complicated when the duality involves countries that are politically and/or culturally different, e.g. one of them is non-democratic or has an extremely conservative way of life. These dual loyalties are sometimes subject to suspicions and prejudices.
My 1984 PhD thesis was on Asian immigration and the Australian criminal justice system. The main finding was that during the 10-year period (1980 – 1990) Islander-and Asian-born immigrants had lower crime rate than the Australian-born population, but were more negatively portrayed by the media and perceived by the public. The marginalisation and criminalisation of migrants and refugees continue (especially involving Muslims following the 9/11 incident) because of terrorism and threats of it, conflicts in the Middle East, crises in the movement of people due to war and poverty, and political and economic situations in the arrival/receiving countries.
Wherever we are and whatever our sense of belonging, let’s resist discrimination, respect differences and practise shared citizenship that contributes to making our society more informed, peaceful and just.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901– November 15, 1978; famous American anthropologist and author).
“Good government is no substitute for self-government.” Mahatma Gandhi (2 October 1869– 30 January 1948; led India to independence from Britain and inspired freedom and civil right movements across the world).