This week in languages: Oct 9, 2015

by on October 9, 2015



The United States Center for Immigration Studies revealed that Arabic and Urdu are the two languages experiencing the most rapid growth in the country, while about 63 million or 20% of American residents now use a “foreign” language at home (not English). Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center reported that 77% of European Union primary school students are studying English, more than 27 times that of the next most-studied languages, German (3.2%) and French (3%).

Several French radio stations are protesting a law that requires that 40% of their airplay be in French. The outcry over the law, a summary of which can be viewed here (French), is being viewed as a manifestation of larger cultural tussles in France over culture and identity.

Kiswahili is finally set to be “fully adopted” by the East African Community (EAC) as a working language after several months of debate over the language’s proposed role within the organisation, and more than two years after it was announced as an official language of the EAC. Speaker for the East African Legislative Assembly Daniel Kidega announced the development at a budget review workshop in Zanzibar.

A new trauma counselling service is being offered free-of-charge for arriving European refugees by the American company Growthnet, in conjunction with Friends Beyond Borders and several other organisations. Key to the success of the service is its use of a new translation program developed by, which allows European psychotherapists to speak in their native language, and clients to read a translation of this in their own native languages. More information can be found at and Therapion.

Google Android has begun rolling out in-application Google Translate translation for several popular applications, including LinkedIn, TripAdvisor and WhatsApp, with the newest version of the Android Operating System (version 6.0, or Marshmellow). Google Translate must also be installed on the device before the feature is enabled;, once installed, all the user needs to do is highlight the text that xe wishes to translate. However, Google did not say whether this feature would be available for languages currently provided on Google Translate.

Google Translate also launched Love Your Language Cambodia, which aims to invite native Khmer speakers to contribute to the accuracy of Google’s Khmer translations in a manner similar to Frisian last week. Having begun offering Khmer translation services in 2013, Google’s efforts were praised by, founder and developer of Khmer Unicode Danh Hong, amongst others. If you speak Khmer, find out how you can contribute here.

Thanks to a concerted three-year effort by Jaqi Aru, a group of almost thirty thousand volunteers, Facebook looks ready to add Aymara as one of the languages users can now navigate the social media site in by Christmas. One of the unique problems Aymara presented to volunteers was its inability to express “some of Facebook’s most common words and phrases”; they have since apparently “re-written” the language to accommodate these, in the hope that providing a user interface in Aymara will allow more people to learn the language.

The European Court of Justice has made it mandatory for brothel owners in the Netherlands to be able to speak the same language as the workers they employ, after it was referred a brothel owner who wished to employ Bulgarian and Hungarian speakers despite being unable to speak either language himself, by the Amsterdam City Council. The Court notably rejected the owner’s argument that he could use a translator or translation application in lieu of being able to speak either language himself.

In the United States, dual-language immersion programmes have taken center stage. The school district of Madison, Wisconsin is considering increasing the number of dual-language immersion programmes it offers as a result of an increasing number of students in Madison whose native language is not English, and their below-expected test scores. The proposed changes appear to be generating some minor controversy due to their bringing to fore larger issues related to the prestige of English in the United States, similar to the debate in Pennsylvania on the state’s official language. Meanwhile, the New York Times profiled other American dual-language immersion programmes on Thursday, while The Huffington Post’s Donna Nevel highlighted several reforms that may need to take place in dual-language education.

In Ghana, education experts and stakeholders are also conducting a thorough reassessment of the country’s languages policy, which has been deemed to be “uneven and problematic at its best” in ensuring that “Ghanaian languages” are being taught in schools. Some proposed reforms include instructor training and the development of additional material to supplement the existing curriculum.

A group of some twenty-two experts known as the Neo-Brahmi panel is currently assisting the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to develop domain names in Assamese, Bengali, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Odiya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Telugu. Panel member Mahesh Kulkarni expressed hope that with a URL in one of these languages, “some people would definitely be encouraged to have their content in [an] Indian language as well”.

The Danish government has made the criteria for obtaining Danish citizenship more stringent, including raising the minimum language proficiency from passing Prøve i Dansk 2 to passing Prøve i Dansk 3, while the United Kingdom is deliberating something quite similar, although it faces stiffer opposition there due to the British economy’s dependence on foreign students.

The International Protocol for the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is to be translated into Lingala and Kiswahili as part of efforts to promote awareness about the Protocol in the DRC. Baroness Joyce Anelay, the British Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, made the announcement at a reception at the British Embassy in Kinshasa.

A court case in Hawai’i has stalled after prosecutors were unable to find an interpreter for the accused, who speaks Bislama. James Salai, who hails from Vanuatu, stands accused of charges of criminal damage, but the Hilo Circuit Court dealing with his case has been unable to find a dedicated interpreter for his trial, with previous legal arrangements having been translated on separate occasions by a Brigham Young University-Hawai’i student and another translator via telephone.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski noted at the United Nations General Assembly that Macedonians speak a language known as Macedonian (Macedonian), identify themselves as Macedonians, and thus maintain a state known as the Republic of Macedonia. Gruevski’s remarks were in reference to the continuing name dispute Macedonia has with Greece (Greek).

McGill University’s CKUT radio station has launched a new Inuktitut-medium radio show named Nipivut (Our voices), which aims to provide a platform for Inuit to be able to express themselves on a variety of issues. Older editions of Nipivut will be available here.

Several Irish language civil societies, led by Conradh na Gaeilge, are calling for the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language to be introduced in its entirety, together with the revival of the post of Senior Minister for the Gaeltacht and the Irish Language in Ireland. The groups argue that doing so will create a significant number of new jobs and provide other economic benefits for the country. The 20 Year Strategy can be found here.

Another Irish language group, Misneach, has successfully lobbied Facebook to allow users to register with Gaeilge names, where the use of Gaeilge names previously caused users to have their accounts automatically deleted. As the Irish Post notes, this is not the first time Facebook has come under fire over the use of “alter-ego” names.

A long-missing dictionary compiling the Asturian language as it stood in the early twentieth century has been found by the great-granddaughter of the dictionary’s author in a family cupboard. The “Dictionary of Babel”, compiled by Asturian writer José García Peláez, better known as Pepín de Pría, was found by his great-granddaughter and University of Milan professor Beatriz Hernán-Gómez Prieto. The discovery was announced on Tuesday.

Cardiff University is launching a new National Corpus of Contemporary Welsh project, which aims to “preserve the past, present and future of the Welsh language” by collecting ten million words and a variety of texts in Welsh. The project is expected to last three years beginning in January 2016.

A second season of the television series I’m Learning Baskhir [Учу башкирский язык] (Russian) is set to launch on Saturday in Ufa, in the federal Republic of Bashkortostan in Russia. The show follows five beginners as they attempt to learn Bashkir under the tutelage of a Bashkir expert, and appears to have been conceived as a means of generating more interest about Bashkir in the Republic.

A variety of language-related festivals and events were held this week: Creole Heritage Month has begun in St Lucia with a variety of activities, including the launch of a new book describing the history of the event, while New Zealand commemorated Fijian Language Week with the theme “Noqu vosa, noqu iyau talei” (My language, my treasure), the fifth such language week this year for Pacific languages after Samoan, Rarotongan, Tongan, and last week’s celebration of Tuvalu, and various countries around the world celebrated the 15th Week of the Italian Language around the World (Italian). Also observed were Beary Language Day in Mangaluru, India, the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival in the Philippines, which included performances in Chavacano, and the Domboshaba Festival in Botswana, which showcased Ikalanga language and culture.

Commentaries and Features

Tanzanian graduates are apparently experiencing some difficulty mastering English and Kiswahili, according to Yunus Mgaya, Executive Secretary of the Tanzania Commission for Universities. English and Kiswahili are the country’s two national languages, and with reference especially to the latter, Mgaya described graduates as being only able to function in “street slanged Swahili”. English standards were also bemoaned in Hong Kong, where Michael Chugani argued that the city has “lost the cultural setting conducive to raising it” and that “you cannot improve your English if you think in Chinese”, and Sarawak, where Minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development Fatimah Abdullah noted that “many youngsters were still afraid to learn the language”. Chugani proposed that Hong Kong streamline its system and concentrate on students who were able to become sufficiently proficient in the language, while Fatimah highlighted her belief that English language teaching in Sarawak could be simplified further and made more accessible.

Indeed, why should everyone have to learn English (Spanish)? José Manuel Orrego argues in Asturias24 that even if English is the most global language, people should be left to do as they please, and not be subject to criticism for incomplete (or even a total lack of) knowledge of the language.

Interested in learning in Bengali? University of Birmingham professor Ragib Hasan’s Shikkok (Bengali) continues to garner acclaim for its free Bengali-medium MOOC courses, which aim to give Bengali-speaking students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds a leg up. If you speak Bengali and are interested in creating content with Shikkok, you can contribute here (Bengali).

Montreal’s French language university teachers are having it tough due to incoming students’ poor abilities (French) in the language, notes Daphne Dion-Viens in Le Journal de Montreal.

The Guardian ran a comments-based Question-and-Answer session with a panel of experts on the career and work-related benefits of being able to speak more than one language, while The Daily Tar Heel interviewed “grammar guru” Steven Pinker.

Turkish Weekly and The Daily Sabah profiled the Ubykh language and Tevfik Esenc, the last known speaker of Ubykh, who passed away twenty-three years ago on October 7, 1992.

Sans -san? Casey Bassel examines when to use the Japanese honorific, and the issues that come with trying to use it in English-medium conversations.

South Africa continues to grapple with the question of whether it should be mandatory for university students to learn an African language; University of Leipzig researcher Stephanie Ludwick argues on The Conversation that such a move would lead to stigmatisation and the rise of “linguistic and cultural nationalism”.

Quartz examined and critiqued the process known as “language analysis“, which European governments are using to prove that refugees really are from where they say they are from.

Israel’s Adyghe-speaking Circassian minority (Italian) was featured in Agenzia Radicale; writer Elena Lattes notes, among other things, Adyghe’s large repertoire of consonant sounds (“about 57”).

Filipino writers Leoncio Deriada and Ricardo Lee were profiled by The Manila Bulletin as the joint winners of the 2015 Gawad CCP Para sa Sining for Literature this year in the Philippines. Among other things, Deriada spoke about writing in English, Filipino and Hiligaynon, and encouraging other Filipinos to write in other languages like Kinaray-a and Aklanon.

The Kabyle language may gradually become extinct in the near future due to “Arab-assimilation” (French) occurring among its remaining speakers in Algeria, according to Canadian language specialist Hocine Toulaït. Kabyle is one of the Amazigh languages spoken in Algeria; Toulaït also called for less “procrastination” on the part of Algerian authorities in implementing some sort of standardisation or “formalisation” process for the Amazigh languages.

RTV Slovenia examined the history and possible future of the Slovenian language (Slovenian) especially in relation to one of Slovenia’s pioneering playwrights, Anton Tomaz Linhart, who was featured at a symposium in Ljubljana dedicated to him 220 years after his death.

The Economist’s Johnson language blog discussed why learning language through chunking has its advantages, while Anthony Lawrence Kelly described the language learning advantages that come with “recreational reinforcement” in Pattaya Today, and alchimy’s La Linou examined the different ways of learning a language (French). For “career foreigner” and humanitarian worker Dara Passano in The Guardian, however, language learning might sometimes seem a bit too much of a chore.

Yoruba should be made an obligatory subject in schools in Southwest Nigeria to arrest its decline, argued Gani Adams, the National Coordinator of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC).

Dalia Mortada at PRI profiles why Beirut might rightfully be called the codeswitching capital of the world.

Should Cantabrian be considered a separate language (Spanish)? Diegu San Gabriel argues in favor of raising the status of the receding Astur-Leonese dialect in

The continuing debate over gender-neutral language in English has reached outer space: The Planetary Society and Slate discussed some of the problems with gender-neutral language that have continued to plague both NASA and science writers, particularly with the word “unmanned”.

Ivorian singer Dobet Gnahoré discussed how she manages to sing in at least a dozen languages, including Bete, Xhosa, Lingala and Haitian Creole, in an interview with Les Voix du Monde.

Rebecca Docter examined the semantic and dialectal differences between some of Southern Lousiana and New Orleans’ diverse linguistic varieties in The Advertiser.

Finally, the Nu Shu Writing Script [女书] was featured twice this week. examined the script’s history (Chinese), while the BBC featured the work of Chinese musician Tan Dun, who has created a multimedia project celebrating the Jiangyong Tu language and Nu Shu, the latter of which is associated with Jiangyong Tu (the BBC refers to the language as the “Nu Shu language”). First appearing in the thirteenth century and later used by women in the province of Hunan as a medium of communication specifically for use among themselves, the Nu Shu script is now in danger of becoming extinct.

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