This week in languages: Nov 27, 2015

by on November 27, 2015



In Maioli city in west Taiwan, a radio station has initiated a programme to encourage Miaoli’s young people to speak Hakka. 大漢之音FM97.1 (‘Voice of Hakka Radio FM97.1’) hosts the “Heinai” (Hakka for ‘it’s me’) programme in a bid to encourage a thriving Hakka community and reverse the effects of the suppression of non-Mandarin languages in 1949 after the Republic of China took over Taiwan. 62.2% of the city’s population is Hakka, yet only 22.8% of people aged 19–29 speak the Hakka language.

Turkey, the country that has taken the largest number of refugees fleeing violence in Syria, is facing a tough battle helping young Arabic-speaking Syrians integrate into society. UNICEF highlights the dire need for qualified language teachers to help these refugees learn Turkish to overcome the language barrier.

Teams of people at the Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska, USA, help immigrant students settle into a new life, providing bilingual liaisons to help the children feel comfortable in the new environment and prepare them for language assessment followed by tailored language courses, reports 1011.

The Institut für deutsche Sprache (Institute for the German Language) starts its 222nd integration course (German), after more than 50 years of coaching immigrant students to achieve a B1 level in German, required for consideration for German citizenship.

recent study shows that stroke patients who speak more than one language are twice as likely to recover their cognitive functions than monolingual stroke patients. Dr Thomas Bak, a co-author of the study, suggests that bilinguals and multilinguals recover better from strokes because they are more active mentally: “switching [between languages] offers practically constant brain training which may be a factor in helping stroke patients recover.”

Commentaries and Features

Sarawak Chief Minister, Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s decision to make English an official language alongside Bahasa Melayu has riled some in the peninsula. However, The Malay Insider reports the state’s Housing Minister, Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg’s assertion that Sarawak’s legislation never recognised the National Language Act of 1967—which reserves the use of English for official purposes. Johari also cited the Malaysia Agreement 1963 in support of Adenan, proving that Sarawak has legal right to have English as an official language in addition to Bahasa Melayu.

April Brown of PBS reports from a Texas classroom where the state’s youngest new-comers (many of them refugee children) learn English through storytelling. Lori Espinoza, a teacher at the Oral and Written Language Laboratory, explains how a curriculum built around storytelling can significantly improve vocabulary and literacy in this video broadcast.

El profiled Ecuador’s 14 officially-recognised indigenous languages (Spanish) and argued for their continued protection; as Kichwa speaker Luisa Montaluisa described, “we cannot look at these languages and cultures as something ancestral, from the past; we should look at them as companions to science, mutual companions.”

Professor Jakelin Troy of the University of Sydney, Australia, is looking to preserve aboriginal languages by integrating them into the national school curriculum. She takes a cue from the Maori in New Zealand who have successfully set up Kotahitanga schools that give Maori children the opportunity to practice Maori in school, and thus a way to hold on to their heritage. Said Prof. Troy, “As an aboriginal person, it absolutely grieves me that I cannot speak my own language… I think it is absolutely core to who you are, to speak in your own language.”

Still in Australia, a team from the University of Melbourne has mapped regional variations of English across Australia for a Linguistics Roadshow. The Roadshow is being held to engage high school students in linguistics.

In an opinion piece for The Nation, JC Wilcox argues that Thailand’s politicians are exploiting their knowledge of the English language to take advantage of Thais who lack such competency. “Those in power can thereby control much of the information available to the people. Thaksin was well aware of this. Education was not on his list of priorities and his populist policies were designed only to get votes.”

Torn between the pre-eminence of English and a growing desire to reclaim its regional languages, which way should India turnNDTV explores a conflict of interest that is unfortunately not limited to India and is becoming increasingly common throughout the world.

In a commentary for The Citizen, Sibusiso Mwakanazi asks for the right to choose amongst South Africa’s official languages as the medium of instruction for his school-going kids.

Alia Wong of The Atlantic discusses the benefits of the US Census Bureau’s decision to recognise Hawaiian Pidgin English (more accurately called Hawaiian Creole English) as a language. She also mentions the positive effect that the decision may have on the de-stigmatisation of other non-standard varieties of English in the future.

Writing for the Turkish publication Today’s Zaman, Muhammet Keleş discusses the strained relationship between Turkey’s government and Kurdish-speaking inhabitants. Specifically, he argues that the Turkish government’s biggest mistake is “underestimating the value and meaning” that speakers of Kurdish attach to their language despite the stigma associated with it.

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