Distinctive speech part of identity: York study

Canadians who claim to be able to tell a person’s ethnic background from speech alone might be on to something, wrote the National Post June 9. A study by a pair of York University linguists in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies says some second- and third-generation Italian and Chinese Torontonians speak slightly differently from their Anglo neighbours – not because of any trouble learning English, but so that they can establish a distinct identity by speaking.

According to a paper published by linguists Michol Hoffman and James Walker of York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, in the journal Language Variation and Change, the children and grandchildren of Cantonese- and Italian-speaking immigrants use certain linguistic features more often than their fellow Torontonians. The second- and third-generation Canadians’ linguistic distinctiveness from the mainstream Anglo pattern increases the more they identify with their ethnicity, making it seem as though they are speaking differently as a means of marking their identity to listeners.

“Toronto is perhaps the most multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual city in the world,” said Hoffman in an interview yesterday. “James Walker and I had a question: What are the consequences of so many languages in contact on the majority language, the dominant language, English?”

One possibility is that Torontonians of some backgrounds are gradually establishing distinct ways of speaking that differ from Anglo conventions. “Some people have argued that one consequence can be the creation of ‘ethnolects’ – ways of speaking that mark people as members of particular ethnic groups,” Hoffman explained.

“Language is a manifestation of style. People dress differently. People do their hair differently. There are lots of ways we convey aspects of our identity.”

At the same time, fewer young Chinese-Canadians do so. Those who identify strongly with their ethnic identity are particularly unlikely. In contrast with the Italian and Chinese groups, which were assembled with relative ease by York volunteers who tapped into their social networks, Hoffman said that only “with great difficulty” could the research team assemble a control group of 20 people raised in Toronto and with only British or Irish lineage.

“This was our hardest group to find,” she said.

  • James Walker also spoke about the study on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” program June 8.

Is 3-D vision bad for you?

The future of entertainment is 3-D, wrote Discovery News June 8. But while moviegoers have flocked to recent 3-D offerings, film fans also have had mixed reviews about their experiences, with some reporting headaches, nausea, vision problems and motion sickness. With 3-D leaping to the small screen, clinical researchers and tech experts want to know whether the special effect might damage eyes in the process.

“The problem with 3-D displays is that unlike the real world, only a subset of the information that normally informs us about the 3-D structure of the world is present,” said Robert Allison, a computer science professor in York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering who specializes in 3-D vision and technology.

And processing that incomplete visual information does, in fact, impact our eyes.

Better technology is alleviating the problem

Allison also noted that recent 3-D movies have gotten better at reducing eye strain by mimicking our natural stereoscopic vision. “People are becoming less gimmick-oriented in terms of 3-D content,” Allison explained. “There’s more emphasis on a comfortable viewing experience where stereopsis enriches the experience rather than defining it, and recent movies like Avatar or Up have been very easy on the eyes.”

Study slams bodychecking for young hockey players

When 11- and 12-year-old children are allowed to bodycheck as part of peewee hockey, they face three times the risk of suffering a concussion or other serious injury compared to young players who are not allowed to roughhouse in this way, Canadian researchers report, wrote US News & World Report June 8.

The report is published in the June 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Alison Macpherson, an epidemiologist in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, called the research, “the best study on bodychecking and injury that I’ve seen.”

The debate over bodychecking centres on just when these moves should be introduced to young players, Macpherson said. Other studies have found that the peewee level is not a good time to introduce bodychecking, because of wide disparities in the size of the players, she said. “Body checking should not be part of the game for peewee players,” said Macpherson, who also has a son who plays hockey. “Bodychecking should not be introduced until children are 16,” she contends, because “concussions can be very bad for children.”

Radar picks up warning signs of Leamington tornado

Wayne Hocking says things like, “It might turn out to be a red herring,” and “We’re still learning,” and “A lot of this is speculation,” wrote the London Free Press June 9. But despite all those cautious caveats, the local scientist says something happened high in the sky over southwestern Ontario on Sunday that just might help researchers predict the type of violent winds that wreaked havoc in Leamington.

“We don’t want to say there was a definite correlation, because we’ve only seen this twice,” says Hocking, adjunct professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering and a professor at the University of Western Ontario. “But it looks like this might be an interesting forewarner of tornadoes.”

Along with a consortium of scientists from York, Western and McGill universities, Hocking has set up a network of highly sensitive “wind profiler” radar stations in Ontario and Quebec.

Although researchers traditionally connect violent wind storms with the clash of warm and cool streams of air, Hocking says the Harrow instruments indicate that unstable air from the jet stream, which normally flows at an altitude of about 10 kilometres, spread uncharacteristically downwards and hit the ground.

Along with principal investigator Peter Taylor, professor of atmospheric sciences in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, Hocking has been instrumental in building five of these radar sites (including north of London, Walsingham, Wilberforce and Negro Creek), which were funded by a $2.5-million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Long-suffering juries deserve better pay: legal experts

A high-profile political corruption case in BC is turning into one of a growing number of “mega trials” in Canada that drag on for months, highlighting a need for provinces to jack up “meagre” fees paid to jurors, some legal observers say, wrote Canwest News Service June 8.

Yes, serving on a jury should be about fulfilling a civic and moral duty, but there comes a point when you have to worry about paying the bills, they say.

Alan Young, a criminal law professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, agreed, saying that he wouldn’t blame a man for showing up at a courthouse in a dress and Mickey Mouse hat just to get out of jury duty if he knew the case was going to last several months. “You’ve got to give people a reason to sit comfortably through months and months of testimony,” he said.

Fine arts grad to teach drawing

The Thames Art Academy will be featuring Drawing with Laura Moore (MFA ’06) as its second session, which runs from July 26 to 30, wrote Chatham This Week June 9.

The course teaches concepts and techniques of representational drawing from a contemporary perspective. Traditional genres such as landscape, architecture, still life and portraiture will be explored through the lens of 21st-century drawing practices.

Moore is a Canadian sculptor and holds a master of fine arts degree from York University.

Injured Argo gets support from former Lion Durie

The day after a ruptured Achilles tendon ended his rookie season with the Toronto Argonauts, Steven Turner returned to training camp – on crutches – and insisted the injury will not end his career, wrote the Toronto Star June 9.

Turner said among all the tremendous support he has received from family, friends, teammates, coaches and fans is “courage and motivation” from the Argos’ Andre Durie, who sustained a devastating knee injury while at York University and was told he might not walk again let alone return to the football field.

On air

  • Amin Mawani, accounting professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the introduction of the harmonized sales tax, on CBC Radio June 8.
  • Kevin Tilley, a student in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about plans for protests at the G20 summit in Toronto, on CBC Radio June 8.