This week in languages: May 4, 2018

by on May 29, 2018



According to a recent study in the journal Cognition, it is nearly impossible to reach native-level fluency in any language after age 10. The good news, though, is that conversational proficiency is still achievable at any age, writes TIMES.

Dr Luise Anna Hercus, a renowned academic working on the languages, traditions and songs of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders, passed away in Canberra on 15 April (Sunday). A former Reader in Sanskrit and Deputy Dean of Asian Studies at the Australian National University, Dr Hercus was a longtime Visiting Fellow in Linguistics in the School of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics. She was an active member of the board of Aboriginal History and served for many years as the journal’s reviews editor.

Can we stop a linguistic ‘mass extinction’? The rate of language loss has reached such a breakneck pace that some scholars predict we will lose 90% of the world’s languages in the next century. Nature and culture are both products of evolution, and many of the same forces that threaten biological diversity also endanger linguistic diversity. In this article, Dave Roos explains why some conservationists treat languages as if they were endangered species.

Commentaries and Features

Fancy some doggie language therapy? In Southeastern Louisiana University’s animal-assisted therapy programme, Pet Project, dogs assist clients with their expressive skills. How does it work? A client with receptive and expressive language disorder (secondary to autism spectrum disorder) can engage in training sessions with a therapy dog, such as where the client gives commands and the dog performs the commands. This has proven to boost confidence and allow the client to associate reading with the presence of the pooch, writes Rebecca Davis, programme director and associate professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders programme at Southeastern Louisiana University.

“The future of any language is in its people. The degree to which they identify with it, use it, cherish it and pass it on determines a language’s vitality.” Follow Twitter updates on the #IsMiseGàidhlig (I am Gaelic) movement to assert the role of Gaelic in people’s lives! Also a response to Brian Beacom’s scathing article in The Herald Scotland.

If you’re a stickler for the Oxford comma, you’re likely to like this one! Referring to both academic and online articles, Neal Goldfarb discusses the post-period “one-space-or-two issue” in an entry to Language Log. The discussion draws in research that found a two-space condition to afford a reading speed advantage, but apparently, as indicated in a response to the research, only for a select group of readers. The discussion also draws in views that the crux of the matter lies not in whether one or two spaces are used after a period per se, but whether the writer’s goal is reader persuasion. If so, adhering to conventions may increase one’s persuasive power and doing otherwise may produce a countereffect.

As part of the Language on the Move Reading Challenge to read “a book about language on the move that is written by an author who is neither male nor white”, Ingrid Piller reviews Vernacular Palaver by Moradewun Adejunmobi, a book on West African sociolinguistics and colonialism. Piller raises several fascinating points from the book including the use of language policy to emphasise difference between coloniser and colonised. Read her thoughts on “Vernacular Palaver” over at the Language on the Move blog!

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