This week in languages: Oct 30, 2015

by on October 30, 2015



The governments of Malta and Malaysia have both launched efforts to review and solicit feedback regarding their individual language education policies. Malta rolled out a consultative document looking to review and update Malta’s policies for younger students, entitled “A Language Policy for the Early Years in Malta and Gozo”. The document is currently being reviewed by a committee, and can be viewed on the Maltese government website. Malaysia has yet to announce how it intends to collect post-implementation feedback on its Malaysia Education Blueprint, but Malaysian Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid noted that he wants to understand “how can we maintain positive student outcomes and chart the way forward for future English language initiatives“.

While it is obligatory for Jewish schools in Israel to teach at least three hours of Arabic a day in grades 7–10, many often don’t. On Wednesday, the Israeli Parliament unanimously approved the first reading of a motion making Arabic an obligatory subject in all schools for children from the age of six, in a nation where Hebrew and Arabic are official languages. Bill author and Israeli parliamentarian Oren Hazan indicated his hopes that such a move would help include the country’s 1.5 million Arab Israelis and highlighted that “there is no possibility to walk to peace without understanding each other”.

The government of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico held a “Intensive Tarahumar Language Course” (Spanish) on Tuesday in conjunction with the Mexican National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI), with two varieties of Tarahumar and some basic sociolinguistic concepts being introduced. INALI was also in the news for reaching an agreement with its Paraguayan counterpart to assist the latter in its “promotion of its linguistic wealth” (Spanish), while Mexico’s indigenous languages got another boost in court after the Superior Tribunal of Justice of the Federal District ruled on Sunday that indigenous language speakers must be aided by an interpreter in court (Spanish) if they cannot speak in Spanish.

In Maine in the United States, the Passamaquoddy tribe has received a three-year federal grant to develop Passamaquoddy language immersion programmes for both children and adults. Amounting to some US$750,000, grant recipients and project leaders are hoping to use the money to arrest the decline of Passamaquoddy, which is currently spoken by around 400 (mainly older) people. You can find out more about Passamaquoddy at the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language Portal, which also contains a dictionary, introductory videos, and other Passamaquoddy resources.

In the Pacific Northwest of United States, Thomas “Tatlo” Gregory and others launchd a mobile app aimed at aiding the Nez Percé tribe in preserving their language. With attractive illustrations drawn by the Lapwai (Idaho) Elementary School students, the app aims to be a tool for kids to learn the language and communicate with their older generation folk.

Over in South Africa, efforts are being made to revive 11 National Lexicography Units to produce monolingual and bilingual dictionaries in the country’s 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, Swati, Tshivenda, Xhosa, Xitsonga, and Zulu. This initiative forms a key part of the Department of Arts and Culture’s efforts to promote its languages.

Tokelau Language Week began on 25th October. New Zealand has held seven Pacific language weeks this year to encourage Pacific communities to maintain the use of their languages to keep people connected to their cultural heritage. The last to be held this year is Tokelau Language Week. Its theme? “Plant a seed today, for the future generation.”

Sindhi speakers across India have begun acting on their fears about not having a state to promote their language in, and are launching a project to preserve their language—through nursery rhymes. By encouraging schools across the country run by Sindhi cultural trusts to teach nursery rhymes set to more modern tunes, the Sindhi Sangat hopes to encourage young people to continue to use, and thereby preserve, the language.

Elsewhere in India, Gurgaon-based writer Sankrant Sanu said, “English is the reason behind our backwardness.” Delivering lectures across the country, Sanu is educating the youth about the need to create equal opportunity regardless of what language students study in. In an interview with NewsGram, he outlines the way forward with the Bhasha Niti (Language Policy) for a new India.

Andrew Robinson’s work on decoding the enigmatic 4000-year-old script of the Indus civilisation is published in Nature, claiming the evidence balances in favour of the language being related to Dravidian rather than Sanskrit-based languages, and that the “script has too many signs to be an [alphabetical system]”. With only 10% of known Indus sites having been excavated, Robinson acknowledges that much remains to be done, but believes that there is a reasonable prospect of a comprehensive deciphering of the script.

Representatives of nearly 50 organisations in the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan have agreed upon setting up a platform for Kashmiri culture and language. Organised as a confederation of linguistic protection and promotion organisations, the platform is expected to take shape within a month, Greater Kashmir reports.

Commentaries and Features

José Manuel Higareda hopes for a “long life” (Spanish) for the Mayan language and its rich cultural and linguistic heritage.

Anthony Peregrine thinks that Britons still need to learn languages other than English despite the latter’s growing world dominance.

Victoria Clayton of The Atlantic spells out efforts to make academic writing more accessible, since the first of such efforts in the U.S.A. by Anetta Cheek, who was responsible for the 2010 Plain Writing Act. Such efforts include The Conversationwhich publishes research from various fields in comprehensible English, and the Ig Nobel Prize in literature, awarded to Daniel Oppenheimer for his 2006 paper “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilised Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly”.

In an opinion piece for The Korean Times, Kim Ji-myung details—in plain English—her survey findings on the necessity and feasibility of scholars’ comprehension of Korean classical and academic literature in the field of Korean studies, to be presented at the upcoming Korean Studies Association of Australia Conference 2015 in Adelaide this November.

How is technology changing language learning? The New Scientist looks at language learning apps and how effective they truly are (paywall). Meanwhile, the creators of free language learning app, Duolingo, blend computer science with language teaching by developing a smart algorithm that customises lesson content according to the predicted needs of the learner.

Can the pronunciation of a word hint at its meaning? A study published in the journal Cognition tested this hypothesis with 76 participants using 400 antonymic adjectives in languages they didn’t speak. For example, an English speaker could be asked if the Tamil word ‘aravam‘ means ‘loud’ or ‘quiet’ in English. Quartz summarises some findings that suggest people might be able to inherently associate certain sounds to some of our experiences of the world.

As part of an event to promote the use of Sanskrit, a model Sanskrit Village was set up last weekend in Coimbatore, India. ‘Villagers’ including shopkeepers and children spoke only Sanskrit to each other and signs were also written in the ancient language. Translations, however, were available for the event’s attendees—most of whom were Tamil speakers. More than 80,000 Tamil words can be derived from Sanskrit.

Speakers of the Dharawal language, an Australian Aboriginal language, were once persecuted for teaching the language to their children. Dharawal was nearly lost as a result. Now, the indigenous community at La Perouse is once more able to pass on their language.

Does the number of words a language has affect cultural expression? And can a nation progress if its national language does not expand its vocabulary to keep up with the times? The Jakarta Post considers these questions with regard to Bahasa Indonesia, and champions the expansion of the language’s vocabulary via the inclusion of more loanwords and even current slang terms into the official Bahasa dictionary.

Finally, Oona McGee at RocketNews profiled Japanese graphic designer Yukio Ota’s constructed language known as the Lovers’ Communication System, or LoCoS, which McGee believes will enter common use by 2065. Ota, who passed away earlier this year, developed LoCoS to be a language that helps to “overcome language barriers and revolutionise the world of communication” through its use of simple, arguably universal pictographs. An introduction to LoCoS can be found here (Japanese).


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