This week in languages October 6, 2017

by on October 6, 2017



The United Nations officially celebrated International Translation Day for the first time on 30 September! The newly-minted International Day pays tribute to “the work of language professionals who play a vital role in facilitating dialogue and understanding among peoples and nations.”

Speaking of translation, Google has announced that its new earbuds, Google Pixel Buds, is capable of translating 40 languages in real time. The company demonstrated the earbuds translating short phrases from Swedish to English (and vice versa) at an event on 4 October.

New Zealand celebrated Tuvalu Language Week this week (1–7 October), marking the fifth time the language week has been celebrated. The pacific nation of Tuvalu consists of 8 islands and its language, Tuvaluan, is a Polynesian language closely related to Samoan. Manuia te aso!
☞ For an Unravel article related to a Polynesian language, check out Fuad Johari’s language profile of Rapa Nui: Language of Easter Island.

In a move to “reaffirm [their] autonomy over [their] heritage and territory,” Cameroon’s English-speaking regions declared independence from the primarily French-speaking country. While the government claims the move carries no legal weight, the symbolic move comes as a form of protest against being forced to speak French in the workplace and in business and official affairs despite English being recognised as an official language in the country.

Canada’s largest northern grocery store chain, The North West Company, has announced that it will be translating common grocery items and category labels into local indigenous languages across its community stores. The indigenous language used will depend on the language spoken in the community where the store is located, and users will be able to scan a label’s QR code to hear how words are pronounced. Kudos!

Grammar changes quicker than words. This was what researchers found based on a study of 81 Austronesian languages using “cutting-edge computational modelling.” It was also found, however, that some grammatical structures are slower to change than others. The researchers believe that this could be because the slower-changing structures are less salient to speakers, meaning that the structures do not easily get picked on as a means of differentiating between communities of speakers—a desire for this differentiation is a precursor of grammatical change.

Commentaries and Features

You belong among the wildflowers / You belong in a boat out at sea. Listen to Cree singer and songwriter Art Napoleon cover Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” in the Cree language as a tribute to the rock musician who passed away this week.

In the 19th century, Buenos Aires’ Lunfardo slang used to be associated with the criminal classes. Now, it’s popularly spoken in Argentina. Read Bridget Gleeson’s piece on how Italian speakers and Spanish wordplay influenced the development of this South American dialect.

Should the lexicographer’s job be to “protect” or to simply document the English language as it evolves? With new words like “tweet” and “Brexit” constantly entering the lexicon, it is becoming more and more apparent that changes in English are inevitable and should be documented—even when they are disparaged by purists for cheapening or ruining the language. Daniel Crown for Motherboard reports.

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