This week in languages: January 12, 2018

by on January 12, 2018



If you’ve been guessing it all along, yes, you’re right, fake news has been voted as the 2017 Word of the Year. Voters were members of the American Dialect Society, which comprised “lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars”. An unsuccessful contender for Word of the Year 2016, fake news’s success in getting this place in 2017 was attributed to a shift and expansion of its meaning, contributed in large by President Donald Trump’s “repeated use” of the word beyond its ‘original’ definition.

Iran has banned English from being taught in primary schools. The ban came after its state leader said that learning English from a young age opened the way to a Western “cultural invasion”, reports Reuters.

You’re more likely to deny the truth in your second language. Researchers put balanced Welsh–English bilinguals to the test by giving them statements about their native Welsh culture to categorise as as true or false, reported The Conversation. The results? “In Welsh they tended to be less biased and more truthful, and so they often correctly identified some unpleasant statements as true. But in English, their bias resulted in a surprisingly defensive reaction: they denied the truth of unpleasant statements, and so tended to categorise them as a false, even though they were true.”

Commentaries and Features

Paraguay is the only country in the Americas where the majority of the population speaks a single indigenous language: Guaraní. But despite this, a history of dictatorship, humiliation in schools and general persecution of Guaraní speakers has led many to look down to the language in favour of Spanish. Today, however, its image is slowly improving with the support of intellectuals, politicians, artists, and everyday Paraguayans, reports The New York Times.

Why do we have all these people from countries (who are a) hole of s— coming here?” read Trump’s translated remarks, from the Spanish news agency EFE.


“It’s a bit literal,” one Spanish-speaking reader tweeted.”

How do translators and interpreters around the world translate Trump’s profanities into their language? Washington Post discusses the several ways in which foreign news outlets translated Trump’s latest remark about “shithole countries” during a meeting about protection for immigrants.
☞ If you’re interested in translation, check out Artur Viana’s article on Equivalence and fidelity in literary translation or Zohal Osman’s article on the gap between word and deed in Afghanistan.

“Our parents gave up what was ours for a language that isn’t; now we are left to grab back what truly represents our culture, our spirit. Patuá is our language; it is ours.” The language of the indigenous Eurasians in Macau called Patuá (or among those who speak it: Maquista), was a language long neglected but now with budding efforts, especially in the drama scene, to revitalise the tongue spoken by just a handful, in The Guardian. A blend of Portuguese, Cantonese, and Malay, the creole tongue was spoken by Macanese. Follow Unchinho di Língu Maquista – Patuá 來一點土生土語 – 澳門 土生土語 on Facebook for awesome flashcards in Patuá, with English and Chinese translations.

Why does most of the world’s languages use a variation of either té or cha as the word for “tea”? Both words come from inland and coastal provinces in China, and, according to Quartz, “The words that sound like “cha” spread across land, along the Silk Road [whereas] The “tea”-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.” Check out Quartz’s article on “eteamology”!

She’s 15 and helping to revive a fading indigenous language! Over in Canada’s British Columbia province, Tessa Erickson is developing an app and organising a summer camp to teach younger people in her community the Nak’azdli dialect of the Dakelh language. “The language is really important to me, personally, because it’s a way to connect with my community and really bridge the gap between the generations,” she says.

What hope do monolingual parents have in raising bilingual children?” Leher Singh for Channel NewsAsia explores ways in which monolingual parents can actively raise bilingual children. The key points? Family support, high-quality exposure and interaction opportunities for both languages, and that children see the relevance and appeal of both languages in their lives.
☞ Read all about Janet LoSole’s adventures in raising her daughters to speak Canadian French in Second language learning and relevance – a Canadian perspective from Issue 12!

Among the recognised ethnic minorities in China, there is a small group in the southwest of China called the Na’xi, based at the foothills of the Himalayas. As early as 1253, its people have used a pictographic script called Dongba for its religious texts. Dr Duncan Poupard, Assistant Professor (Translation) at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Naxiologist, profiles the unique and mysterious script in this post in the British Library‘s Asian and African Studies blog.
☞ Frances Loke Wei also documents her time in Lijiang, Yunnan Province where she discovered the Na’xi tongue and its inseparable cultural ties with nature.

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