This week in languages: 13 April, 2018

by on April 14, 2018



Archaeologists in Sudan have found the world’s largest collection of Meroitic stone inscriptions. The Meroitic writing system, used by the ancient kingdom of Meroe (7th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.) is the oldest in the sub-Saharan region and has never been completely deciphered. The kingdom of Meroe mixed the cultures of Egypt and the rest of Africa, and these inscriptions–all funerary texts–may help reveal new insights on the kingdom’s administrative structure and the locations of its towns and settlements.

Experts estimate that a language disappears from the world every two weeks, and the Akimel O’odham language faces a similar fate. Spoken in the Arizona desert by the Salt River people, Akimel O’odham remains endangered despite a number of past attempts to save it. Now, however, tribal elders have adopted a new approach. By modernising the language and adding words for “Christmas tree”, “cellphone”, and “bathroom” (among others), they are hoping inspire younger generations to learn their ancestral tongue.

With the ultimate goal of modelling the “cognitive processes involved in language acquisition”, researchers in a project called EcoGest are embarking on an investigation of how four- to five-year-olds use gestures in “various communicative situations”, for “various grammatical constructions”. Observations will take place over three years at the end of which the development of a virtual child is expected to both reproduce what is observed from the real children and to lend insights to new scenarios, for example, where there happens to be little speech by a certain age to support the development of gestures.

“Britain is rich in minority languages, and there’s a growing awareness of them, possibly reflecting our desire – as culture grows ever-more globalised – to re-connect with what is local, or simply to celebrate the multicultural melting pot of British identity.” In this BBC article, Holly Williams writes about the rebirth of Britain’s ‘lost’ languages.


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