This week in languages: January 20, 2017

by on January 20, 2017



Researchers in Hanyang University in Seoul led a study, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, to determine how much of their birth language babies recall, in spite of moving to another country in early life. The BBC reports on the study conducted on Dutch-speaking adults adopted from South Korea, which found that “the early experience of adopted children in their birth language gives them an advantage decades later even if they think it is forgotten“.

With just five to six fluent speakers of Metlakatla left in the world, the members of Metlakatla Nation in in British Colombia in Canada met over the weekend to discuss ways to preserve their culture, history, and language. Potential solutions include the repatriation of Metlakatla artefacts, petroglyphs, and a cultural programme, CBC News reports.

Commentaries and Features

Accademia della Crusca, a language research institution whose work includes guarding the linguistic purity of the Italian language, has warned that Italian is under threat from Anglicisms and speakers’ inattention to grammar. Words like chiacchierare (‘to chat’) are slowly being replaced by new English-Italian hybrids like chattare, while baby gang is an Anglicism referring to ‘a band of young delinquents, vandals or criminals’. Many Italian words like accolito (‘acolyte, henchman’) also face extinction because they are no longer used in daily discourse.

“English became hegemonic after two world wars and a long history of imperialism. But, the standard Malay language, as a nationalist medium of propaganda, possesses sub-imperialist motivations too. One language dominates at the expense of another. The official “standard Malay,” which is a Malay dialect of the erstwhile Malaccan-Johor-Riau Empire, became “Bahasa Melayu” at the expense of other Malay dialects such as Loghat Utara or Base Tranung.” Reflecting on the state of language politics in Malaysia, Tan Zi Hao writes about the shame of the increasingly common phenomenon of language shaming in the country for New Mandala.

Why are numbers the way that they are today? Alessandra King tells us the story of how these functional and ubiquitous symbols came about in this TED-Ed video.

Zhou Youguang, the chief architect of the Hanyu Pinyin system in which Mandarin Chinese is written using the roman alphabet, died on 14 January 2017. The Economist considers the reasons why pinyin continues to coexist with the (less efficient) system of writing with Chinese characters.

The word trump “connotes a certain grandiosity” in English, but how is it translated and transliterated into other languages? This story from PRI‘s The World in Words attempts to answer that question with regard to American Sign Language, Russian, and Mandarin. It also explores the connotations that trump carries in those languages.

“We need a vocabulary of resistance,”

write Michelle Moyd and Yuliya Komska for The Guardian. Moyd and Komska point out that Donald Trump’s language—variously considered “redundant, formulaic, aggressive [and] ‘post-literate'”—has been repurposed by the opposition rather than flatly rejected. The effect? Trump’s rhetoric saturates America’s linguistic landscape. “[It] does little but reproduce the familiar speech bubbles.”


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