This week in languages August 4, 2017

by on August 4, 2017



The Spanish Royal Academy has set up a Judeo-Spanish branch in Israel to preserve Ladino, the language spoken by Spain’s Jewish population that was expelled five centuries ago. There are an estimated 400,000 speakers of Ladino in Israel with varying degrees of proficiency, reports The Guardian. “All of this has been miraculously preserved over the centuries. There’s literature, folklore, translations of the Bible and even modern newspapers written in Ladino.”

In Peru, the Cusco-Collao dialect of Quechua will soon be taught in Cusco schools from primary level to university level, reports Remezcla. A regional ordinance will soon mandate that learners be able to speak, read, and write the language.

Language documenters will love this one: College students Marc Assens and Andre Bastié developed a free tool called Happy Scribe to help transcribe audio files for 9¢ per minute! The application is now able to handle up to 1,000 concurrent users, but has not cracked the code for getting past issues like thick accents.

For the first time, a PhD dissertation has been written in Twi, by Dr Nana Anima Wiafe-Akenten from the University go Ghana. When she was 10, Dr Anima was mocked for believing Twi would ever be heard on TV. Since then, she has become a Twi news-reader, radio host, Twi teacher, lecturer, and gained a PhD in Ghanaian Language Studies (Akan Linguistics – Media Discourse).

Last Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a bill that would bring back bilingual education—a turnaround from a 15 year old referendum that widely banned schools from teaching courses in their native tongues, reports The Boston Globe. “The House measure would loosen current requirements for school systems to seek waivers to the English-only rule, while the Senate bill would abolish the waivers and instead give school systems a choice of specific programs, including English immersion and bilingual education.”

Commentaries and Features

Is it too late to undo linguicide? PhD student at the University of Manitoba, Lorena Fontaine struggles to revitalise aboriginal languages—once suppressed by Canada’s residential school system—and argues that Canadian Indigenous communities have a legal right to maintain their language. Listen to the podcast here on CBC Radio.

Unconscious sexual stereotyping evoked in making a film? This seems to be the case when, with a tool developed to analyse “over 53,000 dialogues in nearly 1,000 film scripts”, researchers from the University of Southern California’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab found men to have a far greater volume of dialogues than women. Dialogues “scripted for women” were also found to contain relatively fewer swear words, at the same time that they expressed relatively more positive emotions (or valence) “correlated with using language connecting with family values”. Further, by positioning “each character as a ‘node’ or hub” in a network web of character-to-character relationships modelled on film dialogues, it was found that with the exception of horror movies, the removal of nodes representing female characters did not drastically alter film plots.

What’s in a whistled language? On the Greek island of Evia, 2,500 years of unexplored linguistic history apparently. The whistled tongue of the island, Sfyria (from Greek sfyrizo, meaning ‘whistle’), has but six surviving shapers and farmers in a small hamlet and is critically endangered, as reported in BBC’s language profile of Sfyria.
☞ Read Fuad Johari’s language profile of the whistled language, Silbo Gomero from the Spanish Canary Islands here.

Film critic for Variety Peter Debruge reviews the Mexican film ‘I Dream in Another Language’ on the calamitous loss of languages explored through Zikril, a language constructed for the film. The film suggests that “while primitive, Zikril was more evolved than our language in some key respects, such as allowing its speakers to communicate directly with the birds and trees. It all leaves us wondering what emotions Zikril might have allowed them to express that Spanish or English do not, and whether certain modern ideas simply had no analog in their language — beautiful ideas seldom raised in cinema, making this tale nearly as rare as the culture it depicts.”

Linguistics professor Claire Bowern wanted to give students the opportunity to “analyze things that haven’t been analyzed before”, and so developed the Grammar Boot Camp—funded by a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant—to get students involved in studying aboriginal languages and the writing of a grammar of the language of interest. In this year’s iteration of the Boot Camp, student participants spent a month at Yale University studying archival field notes from 1830s–1950s and recordings of Noongar, an Australian aboriginal language.

What career options do linguistics graduates have? Jessica Matchett, senior analyst of cyber terrorism applies her knowledge of discourse analysis to her job of sussing out the authenticity of Tweets from global terrorist group ISIS and drug dealers, reports Newsletter.

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