This week in languages: 29 Jan, 2016

by on January 29, 2016



This week marks the start of a 4-day training programme for 400 educators who will be teaching the Mon language to 150,000 students in Mon state and other parts of Myanmar, reports The Irrawaddy. With the support of the Mon state government, language teachers will be paid 30,000 kyats (US$23) per month—triple what they earned before. The programme is a significant step forward since the approval of a bill in 2014 allowing ethic language instruction during school hours.

Edward John, chief of the Tl’azt’en Nation in British Columbia, said at a recent UN meeting in New York that the preservation of indigenous languages should be an issue of global concern and that the main focus of revitalisation efforts should be on spoken fluency—as opposed to literacy—in these languages. He also stressed the importance of modern technology in efforts to preserve indigenous languages.

This week, the French government announced its latest campaign to protect the French language: Standardising the AZERTY keyboard that is commonly, but inconsistently, used across the Francophone countries. It is far from trivial a move, according to the Académie Française, considering the difficulty of typing accented uppercase letters and the inconsistent placement of certain commonly-used symbols on the keyboard layout.

Commentaries and Features

Social media can be a very powerful tool in the revitalisation of an endangered language, as Gwich’in speaker Jacey Firth-Hagen has discovered with her #SpeakGwichinToMe campaign on Instagram and Facebook—itself inspired by #SpeakSamiToMe, and joined by #SpeakTlichoToMe and #SpeakCree, among others.

A commentary on OSNews criticises the move by the French government to standardise the French keyboard layout. Thom Holwerda, while quick to assert that the layout of a keyboard unequivocally affects the way the language is used, criticises the attempt to control a language that, as with any other, is evolving as technology changes around us.

Robot teachers are the future! In a programme funded by the European Union and known as L2TOR, scientists in Germany, Turkey, the Netherlands, and the UK are working to create a language-learning machine to teach preschool-aged children how to speak a language. The machine will analyse students’ language skills, observe their emotions and “dynamically adjust to how a child feels”.

Differences in the connections between different regions of the brain may be the reason why learning a second language comes easier for some adults than others. Researchers at McGill University found that of the participants of a 12–week French course, those with stronger connections between the AI/FO (left anterior insula/frontal operculum) and the left superior temporal gyrus (important parts of the brain’s language network) improved the most in speech fluency whereas those with greater connectivity between the VWFA (visual word form area) and a different area of the left superior temporal gyrus showed greater improvement in reading speed by the end of the course.


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