This week in languages: April 27, 2018

by on April 29, 2018

This week’s round up compiles language news from the last fortnight.


13/04/2018–27/04/2018

Headlines

Michael Halliday, the father of a “theory of language known as Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL)”, has passed away at the age of 93. Having been educated, both in the Eastern and in the Western world, Emeritus Professor Halliday is well-known for his work in putting forward “linguistics as an ideologically committed form of social action”.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s posthumous final album has become the first Indigenous-language chart-topper in Australia. Titled Djarimirri (“Child of the Rainbow”), the record features traditional songs in the Yolngu language, with orchestral arrangements from the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Commentaries and Features

Fancy the idea of replacing our speech with drum beats? This is precisely what the Boras of the Amazonian rainforest have been doing to convey “informal messages and public announcements”. Each beat of the Boras’ manguaré drums is found to correspond to a syllable in spoken Bora, while the length of pauses in between beats (which encodes rhythmic units) is found to correspond to intervals in between vowels. Rhythmic units are found moreover to be crucial to achieve word contrasts in “drummed Bora”.

“‘To suddenly go’, ‘to go suddenly’ or ‘suddenly to go'”? In 1803, John Comly was the first known writer to issue a ban on split infinitives, insisting that adverbs should not be placed between an infinitive verb and the preposition ‘to’. This spring, a new edition of The Economist‘s style guide is published, with one significant change: it says that infinitives may be split.

Are you a Brightlighter looking to buckeye in Boont? Located in the isolated Anderson Valley in California, Boonville gave birth to Boontling, a 19th-century dialect based on English, Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Spanish, and Pomoan, and which is still spoken by its inhabitants today. Head over to Atlas Obscura for more details on this unusual dialect.

“It’s not outsiders coming in and telling our story,” he said. “It’ll be a chance for us to be telling our own story.”

Off the northwest coast of British Columbia, a community of artists, teachers, students, filmmakers, and grandmothers work on projects to collectively revive their heritage language: Haida (X̱aad kil/X̱aayda Kil). Emilee Gilpin details the origins and incredible stories of the revitalisation of Haida in British Columbia for the National Observer.

“I had never felt uncomfortable speaking my first language, English, until now.” College sophomore Sara Merican explores the connotations of an accent and tells it like it is when it comes to people’s strange reactions to her Singapore English accent in Pennsylvania in the US, in this piece for The Daily Pennsylvanian. “This is my native song, the cadence of my nation, the contours of home.”

Over in Ireland, the Association of Community and Comprehensive Secondary Schools reported that “schools had indicated they will soon consider dropping some languages or restricting the number of students studying French, Spanish and German due to teacher shortages”. According to the Irish Times,  a survey conducted found that “up to 20% of those hired on year-long contracts to teach Irish did not have a qualification in the language”, causing some concern within the ministry of education.

In April 2016, an incident at the Hohhot’s Baita International Airport of Inner Mongolia saw an old Mongolian lady and her family missing their flight because they had missed airport announcements made only in Mandarin and English, only to be berated by airport staff about their lack of knowledge in those languages, in a country where English is not an official tongue. Gegentuul Baioud details the experience and the role of language politics at play for Language on the Move. “Mongolian language announcements are now being offered at Hohhot’s Baita International Airport.”

As the world pays close attention to the historic summit between North and South Korea, many ear have keenly listened to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “Swiss-accented” Korean, already markedly different from the Gyeonggi dialect of Korean most commonly spoken in South Korea, reports the South China Morning Post. “Languages in the two Koreas have diverged further since, with the South assimilating more English and foreign words in its spoken language as well as evolving its particular pop references in the past two decades, and the North using more Russian loanwords and developing a North Korea-specific vocabulary.”

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