This week in languages: April 7, 2017

by on April 7, 2017

This week’s roundup collates stories and news from the last fortnight — we took a break last week and we’re back in the game now! 


24/03/2017–07/04/2017

Headlines

Children aged 5–15 can now learn Georgian outside of Georgia! After the successful pilot of fifteen bi-weekly 25-min Georgian language lessons in Great Britain, the National Center for Teacher Professional Development of the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science decided to roll out the online programme to more countries. Apply for Georgian language class here  (in Georgian, Russian, or English).

Contrary to traditional belief, aphasia may not be a disorder that is strictly language-related. This is the discovery of a piece of research that uses neuroimaging techniques to observe the brain networks of people with and without aphasia. The research finds that at rest, patients with aphasia do not show the kind of high connectivity between regions of the brain involving “hearing, vision, motor processing, attention and executive functions” shown in people without aphasia. This, researchers believe, constitutes evidence that brain regions affected by aphasia are not isolated to the language regions, which in turn encourages a need to consider the “whole brain system” when treating patients with the disorder, reports Science Daily.

200 researchers, writers, scientists, and activists have signed a declaration drafted by 30 linguists stating that the various languages spoken in the former Yugoslav republics of Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia, are in actuality the same language, albeit with a polycentric nature. Nationalists predictably beg to differ, with some warning that such thinking could undermine the self-determination of the individual Balkan States, which had artificial unity imposed on them under dictator Josip Broz Tito’s regime.

Undergraduates of the religious activism course in the UK’s Hull University were recently told to use “gender-sensitive” language in their essays or risk being penalised. Universities have increasingly advised their students to use gender-neutral language, but Hull University seems to have been the first to explicitly link the use (or lack) of such language to marks. The move has raised concerns about linguistic policing.

ASL-LEX, an American Sign Language (ASL) lexical database, does so much more than translate sign language. It also “gives technical information about the sign’s frequency of use by signers; a score for… how much the sign resembles the action or object it represents; and a host of phonological and syntactic details about the signs.” The website recently won the People’s Choice award in the 15th annual National Science Foundation (NSF) Visualization Challenge.

Commentaries and Features

What does English sound like to non-speakers? Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston created a short film called Skwerlto mimic such a scenario. While made up of gibberish and non-words, viewers would still be able to follow the brief storyline through paralinguistic and contextual features. Cool huh?

Prior to European contact, the diverse array of tribes that occupied the North American continent communicated with one another using the lingua franca of “hand talk”, more broadly known as Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL). Today, Ron Garritson is working to keep PISL and the native history that it represents alive via various workshops and classes.

The copy editors of the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press stylebook have recently announced the decision to allow the use of “they/them/their” as singular or gender-neutral pronouns. Examining the use of “they/them/their” as singular pronounsThe Economist says that the decision is surprisingly traditional. Using the plural “they” as a singular pronoun doesn’t seem much different from the historical use of the (now) singular second-person pronoun “you” as a second-person-plural pronoun.

Tackling the topic of untranslatable words—and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis—Nathaniel Scharping of Discover Magazine writes about the way words affect the way we perceive the world. He asks, “[Words] allow us to communicate, of course, but to what extent do they help us think?”

American television series The Expanse is set in a future where humans have colonised the entire solar system. Wired.com looks the construction of the show’s “space creole” called Belter and its resonances today. “Belter is the lingua franca for the universe’s most dispossessed peoples. To hear it spoken on the show is to understand how much has changed in this future, but also how similar the Belter experience is to that of immigrants at any time, including now.”

One Response to “This week in languages: April 7, 2017”

  1. This is an interesting piece and one would get a good research topic from the article thumbs up

    Reply

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