A team from Newcastle University appears to have found that both monkeys and humans appear to be able to recognise the sequential nature of language after observing both species’ brain activity in response to several “made up language sequences”. As team leader Chris Petkov noted in Wired, the findings will likely help scientists better understand “how we learn language and on what goes wrong when we lose language after a brain injury, stroke or dementia”.
Iceland celebrated its 20th Icelandic Language Day on Monday! The special occasion—meant to honour the status and importance of íslenska (or Icelandic) in Icelandic culture—was celebrated with competitions and lectures on Icelandic vocabulary, literature, and culture.
Hawaiian Creole (or ‘Pidgin’) is now an official language of Hawai’i, in addition to English and Hawaiian. Recognition by the U.S. Census allows Pidgin to shed its image as a denigrated form of English, and as quoted in Hawaii News Now, Hawaiians like dat.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has responded to calls for the removal of Russian-language wording in Ukrainian passports by suggesting that the Russian text be replaced with an English version. Ukrainian passports have featured both languages since the country gained independence in 1991.
Over in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, English has been made the second official language after Bahasa Melayu. Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem cited unemployment due to a poor command of English as a reason to make changes to policy, in spite of having been labelled “not nationalistic or patriotic enough”, in The Malay Mail Online. Apart from improving employment, the Chief Minister expects the new policy to give students and the civil service opportunities to express and plug in to a more global audience.
Extremist terror group, ISIS, is advancing attacks against the majority Syriac Christian town, Sadad, whose people still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Said Father Luka Awad, assistant to the Syrian Orthodox archbishop of Homs, “[Sadad] is really a centre of our Christian heritage. Its loss doesn’t bear contemplating. We beg the international community to put an end to this war. My people already experienced a genocide one hundred years ago, we don’t need another.”
The Minister of Education, Culture, and Sports of the autonomous region of Valencia in Spain declared that Valencian would become the lengua de uso habitual (‘language of customary use’) (Spanish) in the state’s administration and government bodies.
Over 1,000 words and phrases in Nimipuutimt—the language of the Nez Perce Native Americans—are now available at the fingertips of any smartphone user thanks to a free app recently developed by Nez Perce Language Program staff members. Although it is primarily tribal elders who are fluent in Nimipuutimt, the creators of the new app hope to see it assist with the revitalisation and preservation of their language in the modern era.
“Dauna, lo que lleva el río”, the Venezuelan film that highlights the history of the Warao language of a 9,000-year-old tribe of the Orinoco, was shown at the Festival of Huelva, Spain to overwhelming public reception.
Commentaries and Features
If you’ve been keeping up with the quandary over the mass resignation of editors at the journal Lingua, here’s a great commentary by Cameron Neylon from Science in the Open, on the philosophical and economic underpinnings of journal “ownership”. “It is not that Elsevier don’t see the value of that contributed labour, it is clear that editors are part of the value creation chain that adds to Elsevier income, but that the situation forces them to claim that this labour is interchangeable.”
In South Australia, researchers working with the Parnkalla-speaking community have turned to the nearly 200 year old diary of German missionary Clamor Wilhelm Schumann, who recorded more than 2,500 Parnkalla words during his time in South Australia. The diary’s linguistic riches has allowed community leaders to generate songs and elements of traditional Parnkalla ceremonies.
An Australian husband-and-wife linguist team have announced their intentions to produce a documentary on Murui, a language spoken along the border of Colombia and Peru. Murui is slowly giving way to Spanish among the younger generation, a trend which both linguists hope to highlight through their work.
Also straddling a border, this time that of China and Myanmar, is the Shan language, which continues to struggle against repressive legislation and what The Myanmar Times calls “encroaching” Mandarin Chinese and “majority” Myanmar (Burmese).
Omaha, Nebraska is home to a sizable population of immigrants from Myanmar whose native language is Karen. In hopes of encouraging Karen-speaking children to value their roots, culture, and language, the Omaha public school district has established a weekly programme aimed at teaching them how to read and write Karen. Although many of the children speak primarily English, even with their parents and families, the programme’s organisers are confident that the instruction it provides will allow them to reap some of the benefits of bilingualism.
Although Spanish is typically thought of virtually the only language spoken in Guatemala, there are in reality over 30 indigenous Mayan languages that also exist there and an estimated six million people who speak them. Institutions like the Guatemalan Mayan Language Academy, and a prominent indigenous pride movement seek to bring greater recognition to these languages—often seen as inferior or ugly by those who do not speak them. Additionally, interpreters who currently live in the United States, but are native speakers of a Mayan language such as K’iche’ or Ixil, can provide an invaluable service to those Guatemalan immigrants who speak neither English nor Spanish well.
Popular Science magazine speaks to linguist John McWhorter to discuss the impact of technology on the future of language. One prediction he makes: “We’ll talk into devices that spit out translations to listeners [but] people will want to communicate more spontaneously than any machine is ever going to be capable of.” Babel fish anyone?
Almut Küppers praises Turkey’s move to include Arabic in the foreign language curriculum of elementary schools in the country in a move to recognise Turkey’s geopolitical connection with the East. He further argues that Turkey should prioritise building a Kurdish language programme over far-away languages like Japanese, Chinese, or Italian; and that the EU should in turn make a move towards promoting Turkish in schools across the region in recognition of the large Turkish-speaking population of Europe.