This week in languages July 28, 2017

by on July 28, 2017



How do new fonts get created? Well, here’s a good example of new ideas and technology changing the way we write: We’ve recently just discovered a new font—Ryman Eco—that is meant to save 33% of inkspace as compared to printing regular fonts! Deemed the “world’s most beautiful, sustainable font” created by 26 typographers, designers, illustrators, and art directors!

Children’s spelling improves with age, even at the stage when their spelling is still gibberish. This is the conclusion drawn in a study where adults were asked to rate the products of prephonological spellers. Prephonological spellers refer to young children who did not yet use letters to “reflect the sounds in the words they were asked to spell”, and in the reported study, included children aged 3–5. Findings from the study showed the older children to produce spellings rated as more word-like, e.g. “fepiri” for the target word “touch”, than their younger counterparts, who might produce “fpbczs” for the target “touch”.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak says he would like to see Bahasa Melayu used as the main language of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Speaking at the 11th Malay Language Public Speaking 2017 competition, he also encouraged the competition’s international participants to continue learning the language and expressed concerns about language standards deteriorating on social media.

Sign Language song? Check! Melbourne-based director Josh Harris worked with Auslan Stage Left to translate the lyrics for this awesome song titled “Settle” into Australian Sign Language (Auslan)! More details here on Nowness. 

Commentaries and Features

What’s in a dying tongue and is it worth saving? Manchán Magan from The Irish Times shares his exploration of the tyranny of monocultures, language revitalisation, and the linguistic afterlife — and why all that matters. In the words of Endangered Language Alliance director Ross Perlin who likens his heritage language Yiddish to these endangered/dying languages,

For me, protecting endangered languages is a matter of justice.

This summer, Tok Thompson, associate professor at the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, led undergrads on a fantastic journey to learn about the ecology of Irish Gaelic in Ireland, where the language “has been a required subject in government-funded schools for nearly 100 years. Though it is an official language along with English, it currently has no more than about 80,000 native speakers today.”

Over in Ontario, Canada, 17-year-old Evan John runs to promote his heritage language Oneida, with “only about 55 fluent speakers left”. At this year’s North American Indigenous Games, Evan will be spearheading a movement to use sports as a way to bring the community together and promote the language, reports CBC Sports.

The BBC‘s Anna Bitong describes a trip to Getaria in northern Spain, where the mysterious Euskara (or Basque) language is still spoken. Euskara is Europe’s oldest living language, and its origins remain unknown to linguists. It was targeted by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in the mid-twentieth century but has since experienced somewhat of a resurgance in use and visibility.

How do you save an endangered language and its culture? Meet Tribalingual, an online learning platform for teaching rare and endangered languages. The platform’s founders believe that “the only means of saving languages and cultures is by teaching them” and putting them into practice instead of merely documenting them (which sounds about right!). For a fee, you can now enrol in Tribalingual‘s online language classes for Ainu, Gangte, Greko, and Mongolian.

Aeon covers the importance of having black representation in children’s stories, which thus far have mostly been written from the view of privileged whites, and tends to portray black children negatively—if represented at all. Some authors are trying to remedy this by consciously including black perspectives, for example, the picture book “Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside” (2015) by community activist Kenneth Braswell, which aims to teach black children the tools of protest against an unjust system.

Ho Ai Li for The Straits Times asks: Is enough being done to ensure the proper usage of Singapore’s mother tongue languages? After a series of embarrassing misprints including the Speak Mandarin Campaign’s misprint of the Mandarin word for “read” (读) on a banner for an official event—the word they printed (渎) actually means “to show disrespect”—and further misprints in Tamil translations including that of the National Day Parade’s theme #OneNationTogether, it seems like the authorities may not be “walking the talk” when it comes to ensuring the standard use of mother tongue languages.

It’s been almost over a century since the revival of the Hebrew language in 1881, but over at the Academy of the Hebrew Language, linguists continue to coin about 10 to 20 new Hebrew words a year—including words for new technology and food. Read The Jerusalem Post’s fascinating article about the rigorous process of coining new words in Hebrew.

Do you use emojis day in and day out? You might thus speak emoji, according to Vyvyan Evans, author of a new book titled “The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats”, who asserts that using emojis in texts is a form of what linguists call ‘code-switching’. Elizabeth Kiefer interviews the author here for Refinery29.
☞ See our article on Kaomoji and the origins of the funky text images we use to emote. Thanks Japan!

If you’ve ever wondered which US state swears the most and which the least, you’re somewhat in luck. Technology company LivePerson—which offers companies technology like chat-bots for their customer service operations—ran a “sentiment analysis” of 35 million transcripts sent in May 2017 looking out for “curse” and “polite” words. The results? The highest number of chats involving curse words came from Virginia, reports Quartz.

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