This week in languages: Sep 25, 2015

by on September 25, 2015



As Europe continues to respond to the refugee crisis, the BBC highlights the steps being taken to help new refugees assimilate in the United Kingdom, while Deutsche Welle asserts the importance of learning the local language, and suggests several options for newcomers who want to learn German. Yet existing programmes and infrastructure may not be enough to cope with the sudden rise in numbers; Finland’s capital region, for example, seems to be struggling to cope with the surge in applications to learn Finnish. And are migrants obliged to learn a new language at all? Luxembourg’s Le Quotidien asks whether this should be the case (French).

Irishman Kevin Wall, a Paralympian who hopes to represent Australia at next year’s 2016 Paralympic Games, has been unable to change his citizenship due to his not satisfying the criteria for a “proficient” standard in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Examination, a condition necessary for him to gain permanent residency status in Australia. noted that Dr David Ingram, one of the designers of the IELTS, has said that he never intended for it to be used as an “immigration tool”.

In the United States, Representative Angel Cruz has said he hopes to make Spanish the official language in his state of Pennsylvania in order to cater to that state’s rising Hispanic population. Other Pennsylvanian Representatives are in favor of making the official language English.

Dublin hosted the 10th International Plain Conference, organised by the Plain Language Association, which promotes greater clarity in communication in English for “greater efficiency and effectiveness”. At the conference, the Christine Mowat Plain Language Achievement Award was awarded to New Zealand language consultancy founder Lynda Harris, who was recognised for her research on the advantages of using clearer English in business.

Countries and cities all over the world commemorated the International Week of the Deaf by holding sign language classes, workshops, and other events to raise awareness about the deaf community and deaf culture. Events of note included the Auckland Deaf Society providing the opportunity for New Zealanders to record stories in New Zealand Sign Language, and Gaborone’s beauty pageant featuring deaf participants. Japanese Princess Kako of Akishino also opened a high school sign language contest in Tottori Prefecture in Sign Language.

Nepal’s new constitution, which apparently will restructure the country based on a federalist model in order to account for the country’s diversity, including its more than 123 reported languages, continues to be heavily debated both within the country and internationally.

In focus: Endangered languages

In Canada, the province of Manitoba reached a new agreement with schools and indigenous language representatives and elders in the region to safeguard Manitoba’s seven recognised indigenous language groups: Cree, Dakota, Dene, Inuktitut, Michif, Ojibwe, and Oji-Cree. The Manitoba Aboriginal Languages Strategy is part of a broader scheme to encourage more holistic indigenous involvement and representation in daily life in the province.

The government of Brazil has asked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for assistance in preventing the decline of 30 indigenous Brazilian languages (Portuguese), five of which are very close to extinction. UNESCO general director Irina Bokova described UNESCO’s willingness to work with not just Brazil but with all countries to protect endangered languages, and acknowledged Brazil’s stunning linguistic diversity.

A call for support for endangered languages Oluteca and Texistepequeño from the Director of the Veracruz Academy of Indigenous Languages (Aveli), Lucía Tepole Ortega, has been picked up online by the Mexican media (Spanish). Ortega noted that there are just 300 hundred speakers of Oluteca and Texistepequeño left, and that any revitalisation attempts would require a combined effort from the communities and the government.

Pazeh, an Austronesian language spoken in Taiwan, was previously declared extinct in 2010 after its last known speaker passed away. However, a new speaker has come forward (Mandarin) to dispute this, claiming that besides himself, there are at least three other people who still speak the language in his village in Taiwan.

Commentaries and Features

Quartz reported on Tuesday that the number of languages being used online has probably flatlined and is beginning to decline, likely as a direct result of the overall decline in the number of languages in existence worldwide.

Pope Francis’s visit to America began on Tuesday; on Sunday, The Washington Post described the Pope’s difficulties with the English language and noted that he remains most comfortable speaking in Argentinian Spanish, while ABC News described where Francis learned English, and Argentina’s La Nación tried to do a stock take of the Pope’s entire linguistic repertoire (Spanish).

Also on Tuesday, Baseball legend Yogi Berra passed away at the age of 90, eliciting warm tributes from The EconomistSlate Magazine’s Lexicon Valley and The New York Post for his remarkable store of “Yogi-isms” and what the Post called his “creative butchering” of the English language.

In the run up to the Catalonian parliamentary elections on Sunday, El Pais ran a three-part feature on the sociopolitical issues behind some of the languages used in the region, including CatalanCastilian Spanish, and Basque (Spanish). Separately, reviewed the continuing battles (Spanish) over the legal status of Catalan in the adjacent Spanish province of Aragon.

Russia’s ongoing attempts to increase its influence in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania through Russian language media show no sign of abating.

Canada’s Inuit communities continue to try to hammer out a “unified” Inuktitut language with a standardised Latin-based alphabet, as opposed to the several different writing forms and dialects that currently exist.

The role of national languages as key factors in the nation building process featured prominently this week in commentaries on Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) in China (Mandarin), Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesia (German), Kyrgyz in Kyrgzstan (Russian), and Urdu in Pakistan. Bahasa Indonesia was also suggested as a possible (though unlikely) future ‘universal’ language for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Ireland’s Official Languages Act, intended to protect Irish, may actually end up hurting it, according to Victoria White in the The Irish Examiner.

Jamaica should finally adopt Spanish as a “second language”, based on what Cuba is similarly doing with English, argued The Jamaica Observer.

What language should you learn to prepare yourself for the future? The Washington Post‘s Rick Noack has some suggestions.

Scots apparently has 421 words for snow, according to the first ever Historical Thesaurus of Scots, currently being developed online by the University of Glasgow. Members of the public are welcome to contribute to the current version of the project here.

Studies reported this week showed that new Cherokee speakers are having to negotiate difficult contestations of “Cherokeeness” as the community works toward revitalising the language, while ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong face significant linguistic barriers in various contexts within Hong Kong, although the situation is improving.

Finally, Hispanic Heritage Month has begun in the United States. El Pais discusses the increasingly hispanic future of America (Spanish) and the language issues that are already developing as a result, while PopSugar outlines how parents can utilise new media to get their kids to learn Spanish. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), however, se lleva la palma (takes the cake) with the release of four episodes of its ongoing series Space to Ground, about life on the International Space Station, in Spanish. Check out the first episode of Espacio a Tierra here.

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