This week in languages: Dec 11, 2015

by on December 11, 2015



Scientists at McGill University (Canada) found that French-speaking children who were exposed to Chinese language at a very young age showed bilingual brain activity in fMRI scans later in life—even if they cannot speak a Chinese language. The team hopes studies on brain plasticity or neuroplasticity would enable development of new educational practices to aid different types of language learners.

The Irish Times reports the imminent risk of the Irish language facing death, echoing the fears of the youngest and completely fluent Irish speaker Pádraig Ó Fathaigh, aged 57, who speaks Irish only to his aunt, aged 96. Plans for an “urban gaeltacht” are underway for Galway’s draft city development plan for 2017–2023, which includes an estate to accommodate families who use Irish daily.

The Supreme Court of India refused to entertain a plea to have court judgements made available in regional languages, including Hindi. A bench of senior judges stated that the language of the court was English and would remain so.

Under the auspices of the Digital India campaign, preparations are underway to make all mobile phones sold in India capable of reading 22 Indian languages and their 14 corresponding scripts, including Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Kannada, amongst others.

Huffington Post reports on a recent Youtube video in which Santa Claus speaks to a girl who is hard of hearing in sign language (French) at a mall in Middlesbrough, UK.

Commentaries and Features

Silpa Kovvali responds to controversy over the use of ‘Mx’ in place of ‘Mr’ or ‘Ms’ and argues for the use of gender-neutral language (e.g. ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’) in journalism for the sake of clarity and accuracy. “It is so hard to distinguish words from their potentially sexist intentions or applications because sexism necessarily pervades our language,” writes Kovvali in Salon.

The Smithsonian describes the existence of a dialect of American Sign Language unique to the city of Philadelphia. Much like its oral counterpart, however, this unique language variety may be in danger of dying out due to the its lack of younger speakers.

In an opinion piece for the Tunisian publication Kapitalis, Tarak Arfaoui explains why he takes issue with the resistance of Tunisian politician Ahmed Seddik to the use of French as opposed to Arabic (French) in the country—particularly in formal settings such as education and government. He explains that, in his view, Arabic is no more native to Tunisia than is French—and that he believes that Tunisians can continue to maintain a unique identity regardless of which language they choose to speak more often.

Approximately 200,000 inhabitants of France’s Bretagne region speak Breton—a Celtic language that existed there before French ever did. And recently, efforts have been made in Bretagne to establish policies of linguistic revitalisation (French) that include working to teach the language to children in school and via extra-curricular activities—as well as the creation of radio shows and other types of media in Breton.

In Tetelcingo, Mexico, students at primary schools ensure that their native language of Náhuatl escapes extinction. Hermilio Xixitla Villareal, director of Lengua y Cultura Indígena de Cuautla (Indigenous Language and Culture of Cuautla) says they have the school’s Náhuatl language lessons (Spanish) to thank for the continuity of the language in their community.

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