This week in languages: December 9, 2016

by on December 9, 2016



A study by Indiana University researchers have found that a baby’s first words correlate strongly with the items that the baby is exposed to visually. This could help inform new methods for language teaching for children with language impediments or autism.

“Starting arh, God make the sky and the ground. The ground bo shape, bo simi; then the deep on top is orr-orr one,” reads the Singlish Bible (2016). Did you know it existed? Durian Data Lab writes about hir experience using machine-learning to produce texts in Singlish (or Singapore Colloquial English) on Medium.

Linguist and cartographer Jakub Marian recently translated the most recent Eurostat 2013 data of foreign language learning statistics from European countries into this mapIndy100 looks back at foreign language learning trends in Britain, which has been experiencing a drop in enrolment for GCSE modern languages since the 1990s.

Commentaries and Features

“Why did the lettuce blush? Because it saw the salad dressing.” Slate considers the increasing use of the word “dad” to describe corny, practical and slightly endearing things and situations like jokes and jeans, and points out that its use reflects changes in our views on masculinity.

Despite its importance to our well-being and ability to communicate, language is very often taken for granted as we tend to view the ability to use it as a given. A disorder known as aphasia, however, can result from illness, stroke or trauma and can truly cause a sufferer to lose his or her words or language. Susan Wortman-Jutt details this rare condition in an informative TED-Ed video.

“The grammar of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas.” More than 70 years after these words of linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf, a discussion on linguistic relativity and whether the recent Hollywood blockbuster “Arrival” has any merit makes it to the Smithsonian Magazine. (Spoiler alert) The LA Times are among the many who have commented on this rare film that features a linguist protagonist hero. Meanwhile, Science vs Cinema discusses the linguistic merits of the movie with Jessica Coon, McGill University linguist in a video.

“Linguistic cross-pollination—or theft—has of course been going on forever.” Jeff Stephens writes for on the notion of loan or borrowed—or stolen—words from the English language into German and especially Swiss German. Stephens notes that the section for words starting with a ‘C’ in a German dictionary makes for a particularly interesting read, given that most of the words are English: Cocktail, Countdown, Comeback, Camcorder, and other such words “harvested from all around the world”.

“The written word wasn’t just an extension of the spoken word, but something that opened up new ways of thinking—something that created a whole new world,” wrote Walter J. Ong, Jseuit priest, English professor, and writer of “Orality and Literacy” (1982). Fast forward to 2016, and Joe Wiesenthal reflects on US President-Elect Donald Trumps’s effective and chirpy political rhetoric and notes from the oral tradition of public speech during the campaign, in a commentary for The Straits Times.

As we look forward to the winter season of the northern hemisphere, Chi Luu sums up the hype over the hygge feel and why the English language is going crazy over this cozy, warm feeling, and considers the untranslatable nature of some words in the language.

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