This week in languages: January 13, 2017

by on January 13, 2017



Calling all emerging translators! Asymptote has launched the third edition of their international translation contest called Close Approximations with a top prize worth USD 1,000 and a feature in their April 2017 issue. Two runners-up also stand to win USD 250. Deadline: 1 February, 2017.

New research showing that baboons can produce five distinct vowel-like sounds (similar to humans) despite their high larynxes suggests that language may have originated earlier than previously thought. Scientists have traditionally argued that human language originated 70,000 to 100,000 years ago when homo sapiens developed low larynxes that make it easy to speak. The new findings, however, show that “a nonhuman vocal tract [can] produce enough sounds [to] communicate linguistically“, and raises the possibility that the last common ancestor of baboons and humans used language to communicate millions of years ago.

Teachers and lawyers in the city of Bamenda in the central African country of Cameroon have striked in protest against language policies that they deem discriminatory against them. The Bamendans generally speak English, which is an official language but is not used in courts or in schools, where French is the sole medium of communication.

Disney’s popular Aladdin will be performed as a bilingual musical in Los Angeles, USA, from Friday until 19 Feb to cater to a Spanish-English bilingual audience. The musical, Aladdin Dual Language Edition / Edición De Lenguaje Dual, features an English-speaking Aladdin and Spanish-speaking Princess Jasmine.

In yet another study in the argument for multilingualism, researchers have found that bilingualism is “better for saving brain power as we age”, reports Montreal Gazette. A team from Université de Montréal conducted a visual-spacial study on one monolingual and one bilingual group found that bilingual speakers are trained to focus on one piece of information with less distraction than monolinguals, thus making the “brain more efficient and economical with its resources”.

Commentaries and Features

In 2005, Professor Daniel Everett published a paper that generated a great deal of controversy. In it, he challenged Noam Chomsky’s Universal Grammar hypothesis by citing Pirahã, an Amazonian language that lacks colour words, numbers, subordinate clauses, and other features that one might expect to be universal. Now, over 10 years later, Everett is wondering, “I took on Noam Chomsky’s ideas about language and unleashed a decade of debate and ridicule. But is my argument wrong?”

Light verbs are verbs that (to put it simplistically) don’t contain much meaning without combining with another word, usually a noun. In “Light verbs and suicide“, Zipf’s Law analyses the use of a light verb like “commit” in relation to suicide (“to commit suicide”) and finds that “commit” is most closely associated with words like crime, sin, murder, offender and defendant among others. “Its connotation of illegality and dishonour intensifies the stigma attached to the one who has died as well as to those who have been traumatised by this loss.”

Find it hard to talk to the in-laws? Some languages make it harder than others. Avoidance speech or “mother-in-law languages” is used in some cultures around the world to restrict the ways one (usually the daughter-in-law) can speak to their in-laws after marriage. Some Bantu languages in South Africa, for example, prohibit married women from “using their father-in-law’s name, or any word that has the same root or similar sound.”

Through the experiences of 9 people from Québec’s largest city, Montreal in Canada, Aisha C. Vertus shares why Québec’s music industry is divided over language for The Fader. “The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), an independent body that regulates broadcasting in the country, has created special rules for Francophone media: 65% of radio content must be French language, while 35% must contain Canadian content.”

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