This week in languages: December 30, 2016

by on December 30, 2016



Duolingo, the company famed for gamifying language learning, has launched “Duolingo Clubs”. This new feature allows a language learner of any of the app’s 19 languages to form a Club of up to 15 players to compete with (or encourage) while tracking team progress.

A theoretician who believed the only way to prove theory was with empirical data, “a gifted and creative experimenter”, and “a courageous thinker”. This was the description given of Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith in a report of her recent passing. In her lifetime, Professor Karmiloff-Smith has published major works such as A Functional Approach to Child Language, Beyond Modularity, and Rethinking Innateness. Reported to be less than conventional in her methodologies and theoretical questions, Professor Karmiloff-Smith leaves a legacy of scholarship that is both challenging and inspiring for the field.

Commentaries and Features

What’s it like to renounce your native language and adopt a new one? In “To Speak is to Blunder, Li Yiyun writes about her decision to give up her mother tongue for the English language and the ways in which it has helped to erase memory: “Over the years, my brain has banished Chinese. I dream in English. I talk to myself in English… To be orphaned from my native language felt, and still feels, like a crucial decision.”

After his 67 year old sister was brutally murdered recently, Pablo Ocagane remains the only speaker left of Resígaro, an Amazonian language spoken in the Peruvian Amazon. Revitalisation efforts which had been planned with the Peruvian Government will now be undertaken by Pablo alone.

Eight hours by boat from Peru’s eastern city of Pucallpa, one would find a hidden community, living voluntarily in isolation. “The bank of material collected about Iskonawa ‘speaks volumes about the possibility of coexistence among humans and between humans and nature.’ If we lose Iskonawa… we lose our own human heritage.” In a piece for the Archaeology News Network, Laura Ferguson recounts the rediscovery of an under-documneted language in Peru—on the border with Brazil—called Iskonawa. The language, documented to be spoken by just 14 people today,  Find out more about the research project striving to document and revitalise language here!

Linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff argues that “many Democrats, progressives, and members of the news media help Donald Trump every day” simply by spreading and repeating his words and therefore his message, in a commentary on his blog.

Haven’t gotten enough of Christmas? Gretchen McCulloch pulls off linguistics Hanukkah jokes in All Things Linguistic. In addition, John McWhorter tell us what we can learn about the language of carols in English, grammaticalisation and its role in language change, and the original meaning of “merry”. Listen to the Lexicon Valley podcast here.

What are some words you could live without? For The Boston Globe, Alex Beam comes up with a list of words that reflected the socio-political mood of 2016 and that “we wouldn’t care if we never heard again until 3017 or later”, such as Yuge/Huge, sharing economyzi/zir, and pivot. For US$25 a year, the author is tempted to adopt a word on Wordnik, if only to to put some words to rest forever, in what he calls ‘logo-euthanasia’.

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