Friday, September 22, 2006

Swiss Languages: Official and Less

Switzerland has four official languages, but some are less official than others. Romansh is a case in point. A Latin-based language spoken by a tiny minority of the Swiss population, Romansh is one of Switzerland's four national languages but it remains with little representation in the country. It receives federal support and is spoken in the southeastern canton of Graubünden but in the rest of the country few people know it. For federal administrative purposes Romansh is used alongside of German, Italian, and French in Switzerland. Materials for federal elections are available in Romansh. Speakers of Romansh also speak German as natives and sometimes prefer it to their own language for practical purposes.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Lots of People and Few Last Names?

There are only 700 last names used in China (Corriere della Sera). Chinese also use a very small number of fist names which means that confusion exists to identify people. In Shangai one out ten residents has Zhang as last name. In Shangai there are four thousand people whose names are Jie (first) Chen (last name). It’s worse in Beijing where one out five residents is named Wang (last name). The most common last name in Chinese is “li.” Italy, on the other hand , has 350 thousand different last names. Last names in Italy are based on names of people, of place, professions or nicknames. Most trace their origins to the Middle Ages. Spanish has a different situation. There aren’t very many last names and it’s often the case that the first born is given the name of the father if male and mother if she is female. Yet, Spain uses a second last name (the mother’s) in addition to the fathers (Juan García Lopez). The second last name helps identifies the person although the father’s (García) would be the one determining an alphabetized list.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

No Se Habla Español?

After a generation or two the Spanish spoken by Latino immigrants is all gone. Of course, anyone who pays attention already knows that. Now there is scientific study confirming it. The study by UC Irvine and Princeton University finds that by the third generation only 7 percent of Mexican-American grandchildren speak fluent Spanish.