This week in languages: October 19, 2020

by on October 19, 2020

Headlines

The Oxford English Dictionary issues regular updates throughout the year to include new words and meanings. This year, the editors released special updates to document the impacts of COVID-19. Many of these changes include the rise in usage of older phrases (social distancing) and medical terms as well as the inclusion of new meanings (self-isolation, elbow bump) and even blended forms of existing words (zoombombing).


Throughout the rainforests of Brazil, the COVID-19 pandemic has so far claimed the lives of more than 200 Indigenous elders who had been serving as cultural and linguistic experts for their respective communities. This article chronicles the challenges that the remaining speakers of the Amazon’s 230 Indigenous languages have to overcome in the face of these tragic losses, which has only exacerbated the threat of endangerment and the rate of decline of linguistic fluency and knowledge due to other factors like language shift.


This article calls for accessible information for all in the diverse language communities in Australia, more important now than ever in the face of a global pandemic.  People who don’t represent the language majorities in Australia, or those who aren’t able to process conflicting and oft-changing reports, are facing a lack of trustworthy and accurate news around COVID-19.  While it may be unreasonable to expect governmental agencies to do the work of translating this information, the hope is that volunteers will work together to effectively communicate and include all populations in the country.   

Commentaries and Features

Being more explicit may be helpful for children still acquiring intricacies of language, such as understanding the semantics of scalar implicatures.  These are sentences whose meanings involve accessing information that is implicitly stated, and if children have not yet figured out how to interpret these sentences, they might not be getting the most out of what adults are saying.  This article covers how children interpret these constructions, and suggests that they may benefit from caregivers using clearer language.


Though English has become the global language of research in the past few decades through unspoken consensus, its dominance sometimes hinders non-native speakers from accessing and contributing to the academic community. This insightful piece details the obstacles that certain individuals face when applying to conferences or submitting to journals, most of which operate solely, English due to their lack of opportunities to learn the language growing up. What is needed, then, is a push towards greater multilingualism within academia to create a more inclusive environment.

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