This week in languages: January 5, 2018

by on January 6, 2018

29/12/2017–05/01/2018

Headlines

Registration for The Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang) 2018 in Gainsville, Florida is now open! From 18 June–20 July 2018, connect with academics, students, linguists, and indigenous language members to discuss community-based language documentation and revitalisation! Very exciting list of courses to look forward to!
☞ Read all about Unravel editor, Kevin Martens Wong’s incredible time at an earlier iteration of CoLang 2016 in Alaska here. It has since inspired the Kodrah Kristang initiative in Singapore that aims to revitalise the endangered Portuguese-Malay creole there.

The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages last week released an online talking dictionary for Gutob, the endangered Munda language of India’s Odisha state. In addition, the trove of videos, audio recordings, and images collected by the Living Tongues field team is now available to the public at online archive PARADISEC here.

Harvard University undergraduate Manny Medrano spent his spring break analysing Inca khipus, or an ancient form of mercantile communication through a system of rope knots, and finds that their “complex colour system appears also to represent more complex narrative information like names, geography and history”. His findings will be published in the journal Ethnohistory. There are about 1,000 khipu artefacts still in existence today, and Medrano will spend the rest of his undergraduate years combining applied mathematics and archaeology.

Over in Singapore, 23 new proposals to encourage the use of the state-defined ethnic ‘mother tongues’ (Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil) have been supported with the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, which started in 2011 and was named after the country’s ex-Prime Minister who championed bilingualism, reports TODAY. Projects included a (Mandarin) Chinese mobile learning app, theatre programmes, and singing competitions. A spokesperson for the Fund highlighted the importance of bilingualism as part of national identity as well as economic value.

Commentaries and Features

Ever had a word invented exclusively for use within your circle of folks? Well if so, you’re not alone. ‘Familects’, as linguists call these, are symbols of family bonding and playfulness. Sometimes coined by young children and often collected and safeguarded by their parents and grandparents”, examples of such endearing family-invented words include ‘shnibble’, to refer to “the tasty end cuts of roasted meats”, ‘phonk’, to be said upon hearing someone fart, and ‘birkle’, to refer to a “reflux burp”. Nope, these words are not likely to be found in any dictionary, but that should not stop an unrestrained ‘phonk’ and ‘birkle’ among your nearest and dearest after indulging in the last of the ‘shnibble’.

Imagine yourself frozen in 1847 Alaska, in a sleepy little town called Ninilchik in the Kenai Peninsula, 185 miles from Anchorage. The language of its Russian-Alaskan residents is a Russian dialect, similar to a “form of Russian that dates back to the time of Alexander II, long before Alaska became America’s 49th state”, writes This Day. Documentation work on Ninilchik Russian is underway by linguists of the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Linguistics, who are compiling a dictionary and recording speakers.

Online woman’s magazine Bustle is banning the word “flattering” from its website and from its sister sites Elite Daily and Romper. Why? In a letter addressed to Bustle‘s readers, Editor-in-chief Kate Ward writes,” ‘Flattering’ is a form of subtle body-shaming — it’s used all too frequently on glossy covers, on the red carpet, and, yes, by your friends and relatives to imply an ultimate goal of thinness.” “You won’t be subject to terminology that makes you feel lesser or left out”, she promises. Apparently “flattering” should be banned cuz its “a word that asks us to constantly evaluate ourselves”.

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