This week in languages: Nov 13, 2015

by on November 14, 2015



Turkey’s first Kurdish search engine: Serketin is now live! Serketin—meaning ‘success’ in the Kurdish language—took five years of research and technical development, and would enable video sharing and functionality in other Turkish language like Armenian, Laz, and Zazaki in the future, according to its manager Serdar Anuştekin.

In the state of Minnesota, USA, an ethnic Somali woman was attacked with a beer mug in an Applebee’s restaurant because her attacker was “upset that the victim was speaking in a foreign language” that was Swahili, reports The Associated Press. Investigations are ongoing.

Kurdish—a mother tongue for many living in Syrian Kurdistan—has been reintroduced to schools in Syria after 52 years. The once-banned language is now taught as a subject and used as a language of instruction alongside Arabic and Syriac. This move has faced opposition from detractors who fear that teaching the language may lead to a Kurdish occupation and greater division within Syria. Governing authorities, however, believe that “teaching the mother tongue in schools is a form of practicing cultural rights.”

The International Day of the Romani language (Spanish) was observed around the world last Thursday, with a convention held in Zagreb by the International Romani Union. Romani is spoken by more than 10 million people as their native language across much of Europe.

A programme in Brazil spearheaded partly by UNESCO, aims to preserve and revitalise 35 endangered indigenous languages (English and Spanish). The programme aims to continue efforts to transcribe these languages, develop dictionaries and didactic tools, and document the rich oral traditions of the communities.

Lawmakers in the Swiss canton of Zug look to lift the German language requirement for foreigners applying for permanent residency—well, at least for those who earn at least 1 million Swiss francs (US$994,100) annually with 20 million francs (US$19.9 million).

Commentaries and Features

Deaf Starbucks regular, Rebecca King, has good reason to keep returning to her local coffee stop in St. Augustine, Florida: a barista who can sign American Sign Language. Barista Katie Wyble—a communications major at the University of North Florida—became a social media celebrity after a video of King signing her Starbucks order to her at a drive-thru was circulated online.

Can languages express the experience of a smell (the ‘smell-ness’ of a smell, so to speak) without using comparative terms? Most people think not. Fascinating new research, however, shows that the Jahai people of Malaysia and the Maniq of Thailand have a dedicated and basic vocabulary to express smells. “They can name smells as consistently, easily, and clearly as English speakers can name colors.”

How are “gendered” languages coping with LGBT issues? Rachel Delia Benaim highlights the case of Hebrew, and how LGBT activists there are attempting to “neutralise” gender differences by creating new word forms and ways of identifying others.

Over in Namibia, the use of indigenous languages as a medium of instruction in formal education has generated much discussion. A column in Namibian newspaper New Era argues that English, first introduced by British colonists, has unified the country and is economically beneficial. The column claims that indigenous languages, on the other hand, are not developed enough to be taught in schools, and favouring one language out of the numerous African languages to replace English would lead to political unrest.

Spanish is almost gone in the Western Sahara (Spanish), reports Javier Otazu in La Vanguardia. Once the colony of Spanish Morocco, the disputed territory has since seen a marked shift from Spanish to French, with only older Sahrawi still able to speak the language fluently.

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