This week in languages: December 23, 2016

by on December 23, 2016



Much has changed in the world within a year. In retrospect, Merriam-Webster Dictionary looks back at the words that has defined the year. The word surreal came out tops in the list of Words of the Year of 2016, because of the spike in the number of people searching for the word during times of tragedy or surprise. “We saw the largest spike in lookups for surreal following the US election in November.” Other words that sent people crawling to their dictionaries—or MW at least—are: revenant, icon, in omnia paratus, bigly, deplorable, irregardless, assumpsit, faute de mieux, and feckless.

18 December marked the 4th celebration of World Arabic Language Day! UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova called the language “a global language”, a “bridge between cultures”, and noted “its immense contribution to science and universal culture, including philosophy and the arts.” Arabic and its many dialects is currently spoken by over 420 million people around the world.

“Whatever”, “no offense, but”, “ya know, right”, “I can’t even”, and “huge” have earned the dubious distinction of being Americans’ top five 2016 language pet peeves, according to an annual poll by Marist College. The results also highlight some interesting divisions based on political party affiliation and age.

Commentaries and Features

The Inuit language in Canada has long been divided between two writing-systems, with Canadian Inuits living in the eastern Arctic region using a a system of syllabic writing (using triangles, humps, dots, and squiggly lines), and those in western Arctic using a writing-system based on the Roman-alphabet. Recently, the country’s Inuit-language task force “decided that the future of the language should be written using the Roman alphabet, rather than the syllabic system“.

With English used as a global lingua franca, non-native English speakers now outnumber native-English speakers from countries like England and the United States. The British Council estimates that 2 billion people will be speaking English at a useful level by 2020. The issue? As new varieties of English emerge, each with their own particularities, native-English speakers might just have to change the way they communicate to become more intelligible to those around them, BBC reports.

Mersiv (pictured in the header image) is a conceptual language teaching device that aims to immerse its users in their target language. At at its most basic “passive” mode, the device “captures the language-learner’s surroundings and chats with the user through the earpiece—kind of like having a language teacher constantly whispering lessons in your ear.” The prototype for Mersiv, however, is still being developed. Oh well, back to Duolingo in the meantime!

Thousands of languages around the world are on the verge of extinction, never to be heard of again. But ever wondered what some of these languages sound like? Mother Nature Network captures in this article, audio samples of 5 endangered languages including Elfdalian, Wintu, and Tofa that are facing the threat of language death.

Are you a fan of Cards Against Humanity and Singlish? A team of two youths, Gabriel Leow and Tan Yong Heng, have built a Singapore-friendly version of the popular card game called Limpeh Says (literally ‘my father says’ in Hokkien). Lend them some Kickstarter support here to get a set!

What makes influential science? Telling a good story“, reports Science Daily. Researchers at the University of Washington analysed abstracts of 700 scientific papers on climate change, and found that the most influential and highly cited papers were written in a more narrative-style (i.e. like a story). These tended to include “elements like sensory language [and] a greater degree of language indicating cause-and-effect.”

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