This week in languages: February 3, 2017

by on February 3, 2017



Thanks to nanotechnology and to the Rosetta Project, a ‘language library initiative’ developed by the Long Now Foundation, it is now possible to wear a small pendant containing text in over a thousand languages. Said text is of course only visible with a microscope, and the necklace is only available to those willing to donate $1,000 to the foundation. But even so, it serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of language preservation.

Together with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and 150 other groups from the science community, the Linguistic Society of America has stated its opposition to the recent Executive Order issued by US President Donald Trumps’ administration, which would bar immigration and travel from selected Middle Eastern countries. Read their statement to Trump here. LSA will soon address the linguistic aspects of their opposition to the order.

Does a representative Standard Swedish (Rikssvenska) accent exist? A Swedish linguistics professor has collaborated with a recruitment consultant firm to create a new Standard Swedish accent and has even trained voice actors to speak with it. The point? “The new Standard Swedish shows in a slightly absurd way that there is no such thing as correct Swedish, at least not if we want to let people across the whole of Sweden be represented, or want to just let some imaginary “ur-Swedish” be the measure.”

Commentaries and Features

What’s in a sign? Priscilla Goy profiles Singapore Sign Language in this piece for The Straits Times. Through the local deaf community of about 500,000 people, the language has evolved organically with influence from Shanghainese Sign Language, American Sign Language, locally-developed signs and Signing Exact English (“a system of word-for-word signing which follows the English sentence structure and is not used widely for communication”, as Goy explains. To bring the language to more people, the Singapore Association for the Deaf is working on an app.

In the age of the post-truth, is there a place for facts? There’s reason why we see dictionaries as the “platonic ideal of the dictionary”, writes Philip Seargeant in The Independent. But user beware: “Language has the ability to be surprisingly stable, despite its constant evolution and endless variety.”

Of emperors, multilingual lives, and walls: In view of US President Donald Trump’s first weeks in office, Ilan Stavans reflects on the history of presidents in the US and how it reflects the changing face and role of the Spanish language in the US for The New York Times.

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