Two Stories on Language Ownership
Posted by Neal on March 22, 2008
Back in 2006, maybe you read the news stories about the Mapuche tribe in Chile suing Microsoft for translating Windows into their native language, Mapudungun, and the issue of language as intellectual property. You might also have come across the story on the linguistics blogs, but if not, here are a few good articles or blog posts on it:
- A news article on Engadget gives the basic story.
- Jangari of matjjin-nehen takes a crack at defining the circumstances in which speakers of a language can claim ownership of it in this post.
- In this blog post, Jane Simpson of the University of Sydney links to some Language Log posts and relates the issue to language ownership in Australian Aboriginal languages.
So what reminded me of this old news? Some even older news about language ownership that I only just learned. Longtime readers may remember that Doug and Adam like playing with Bionicles. Now and again I’d ask Doug and Adam why something like Ronaka (I just made that up) would be a plausible name for a Bionicle character, while Floogie or Shumpt would not.
Now, Doug’s friend Holt has clued me in to the fact that Bionicle names, especially in the early series, were taken from Polynesian languages, with Maori being a particular favorite. After I read his blog post, I did a bit of searching and found out that a few years before Doug and Adam got interested in Bionicle, the company that makes them (i.e. Lego) even got into some PR trouble for misappropriating Maori names. Some other sources on this controversy:
- A Wikipedia article that gives some examples of Polynesian names used for Bionicle characters, and briefly summarizes the legal action
- A paper by Rosemary Coombe and Andrew Herman on intellectual property, which devotes one section to a narrative of the Bionicle case.