This week in languages: December 8, 2017

by on December 8, 2017

This week’s round up compiles language news from the last fortnight.



Great news! The US Senate has passed the Esther Martinez Native American Preservation Act (named in honour of storyteller and language advocate, Esther Martinez) on 29 November 2017, reauthorising federal Native American language programmes until 2023. This would enable opportunities for “tribal communities to assess, plan, develop, and implement projects that ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native languages”, according to the Linguistic Society of America.

Brain regions associated with visual processing are activated in bilinguals solving maths problems in their second language, unlike their monolingual peers, according to scientists from the University of Luxembourg, reports Adults who took on maths problems did faster for sums in their mother tongue, even if they were taught German and French in school and gained fluency in both.

Unlike children with dysgraphia, children with dyslexia experience difficulties in physical writing associated with spelling rather than motor disorders, reported in Science Daily. To determine how spelling disorders affect handwriting, researchers got dyslexic children to spell out words in writing. The children were found to have particular difficulty with shaping “irregular and pseudo words”, in a test that also required them to write out regular and non-pseudo words. The findings indicate that symptoms of dyslexia often overlap with those of dysgraphia, resulting in misdiagnoses of children with dyslexia as having dysgraphia.

The Irish government is aiming to increase the number of students learning two foreign languages in state exams in an ambitious 10-year strategy, in spite of a shortage of qualified teachers to teach them, reports Irish Times. As part of efforts to prepare Ireland for Brexit, languages like Mandarin Chinese will be introduced to the curriculum to boost students’ future-preparedness.

Israeli street signs are seeing a rise in Arabic words, alongside Hebrew ones. Currently, about 40% of the signs feature Arabic translations; but the government hopes for all signs in the country to be bilingual Hebrew-Arabic by 2020. Given that 1.8 million of Israel’s citizens are Arabs, the move aims to “narrow the gap between Jews and Arabs in education, housing and policing” in addition to other integration policies.

Commentaries and Features

Is your mother tongue the national language? Hailing from the Philippines—home of 187 languages according to Ethnologue—Pia Tenedero writes about the minoritisation of so-called minority languages in the face of global migration, for Language on the Move.

A native Spanish speaker, Ivan Miguel reflects on the ways in which learning a new language changes one’s perception of reality, for Quartz. He uses his own experience of moving from Spain to New York to illustrate how learning a new language changes our perception of reality.

Preschoolers can learn the critically-endangered Tlingit at ‘language nests’ such as the Haa Yatx’i Hidi early childhood education centre in Carcoss village in Yukon, reports CBC News. The language—spoken by communities in southeast Alaska, southern Yukon, and northern British Columbia—has just 3 birth speakers, or people who grew up learning and speaking the language natively, left but is now seeing a revival among the young. “She’s relearning her language as an adult, and she teaches because she wants the kids to have an opportunity she was denied.”

Just as French PM issues a ban on the gender-neutral middot (also know as the median-period) and professor of French Renaissance Éliane Viennot launches a petition to end masculine dominance in French grammar, in the New Statesman, Glosswitch makes a case for the novel punctuation to be more gender-inclusive.  “For example, the word for a mixed-gender group of readers is usually written as lecteurs, even if the women outnumber the men, rather than with the feminine plural, lectrices. Using inclusive writing, the word would be written as lecteur·rice·s.

What’s your word of the year? With political crisis and activity making headlines all year and the rise of ‘fake news’, the Cambridge Dictionary declared it populismFor Cas Mudde, it’s nativism, she argues in The Guardian. “This year mainly stands out for the way in which nativism has been whitewashed as populism.”

Assistant Professor of Psychology Evan Bradley of Penn State Brandywine writes about why “continued support for research in all areas of linguistics, basic and applied, will have benefits for every field of inquiry which includes human behavior, for technological and economic development in a global society, and for the health of cultures and institutions”, in Why Social Science.

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