This week in languages: January 6, 2017

by on January 6, 2017



2016 was an especially difficult year to sum up in one word, and results varied widely among the various countries that did so. For Americans, surreal, xenophobia, and paranoid came out on top, but other winning choices from around the world — such as Australia’s “democracy sausage” and Norways’s hverdagsintegrering (‘everyday integration’) didn’t carry the same dark connotations.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found that scientific research still faces significant barriers caused by language. New research published in languages other than English tend to be overlooked at the international level, and may result in bias towards evidence published in English or impede the transfer of knowledge. Reports on pigs infected with avian flu in China, for example, “initially went unnoticed by international communities, including the World Health Organisation and the United Nations, due to publication in Chinese-language journals.”

Can’t get enough of Duolingo? Now you can join Language Clubs and compete with others in your quest to learn a new language in a fun way. Language Clubs for 20 different languages have been launched and more are expected to come.

The Tokyo Metro is rolling out “new” technology to mitigate communication woes in non-Japanese interactions, specifically with tourists. The Megaphone Translator — actually a “glorified tape  recorder” — translates specific messages like instructions during emergencies for masses of people who know English, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. A feather on the hat of the tourism industry we suppose.

OPEN CALL FOR: Proposals to develop a series of books targeted at children from kindergarten to primary four level and written in Singapore’s “mother tongue” languages of Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. The Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism announced on Tuesday that they “would like the content to be set in the Singapore context and feature local elements that will allow children to better relate to the story”, as such content is lacking in the country, reports Channel News Asia. Guidelines for the application process can be found here. Submit by 4 Feb.

Commentaries and Features

Chatterbox, a startup in the UK, trains and then employs refugees to provide language classes and share their language with learners in the UK both face-to-face and online. The social venture started by a one-time Afghan refugee aims to speed up to integration of newly-arrived refugees into the UK labour market and provide the UK with much-needed language skills, a deficit of which costs the economy £48 billion annually.

Do the Democratic and Republican parties of the United States even speak the same language? Melanie Hoff built her Partisan Thesaurus to find out just that. She says, “We may think when we talk about the word democracy, we mean the same thing. But in this project I’m trying to show that we may not even agree on what we disagree on.” The Partisan Thesaurus uses a machine-learning algorithm input with a corpus of liberal and conservative texts. It then forms a list of words that either party associates with words like “democracy” or “home”.

As many Chinese look forward to the Lunar New Year, Julie Sedivy considers the superstition inherent in the Chinese language and psyche, and finds that this leads Chinese-language speakers to make themselves crystal clear in potentially ambiguous interactions, in a piece for Nautilus. “It is all right to give apples, because their name sounds like “peace” but not pears, whose name overlaps with “separation.”

Is the world missing out on literature that isn’t translated into English? Dene Mullen finds out how hard it is to get published in Indonesia and explores how the lack of quality translation is affecting the literary industry, culture, and tradition in Indonesia, for Southeast Asia Globe.

Latin a dead language, you say? Uncannily, not entirely in the heart of Southeast Asia in Singapore. For The Straits Times, Melody Zacchaeus traces the use of Latin in school mottos, niche language schools, and religious contexts in the country. More on Latin and the Romance language family in Unravel’s Issue 5.

When the European Union started out in the 1950s, “it included just six nations, and in three of them many people spoke French.” Today, the Union has 24 official languages that are starting to strain the finances when it comes to translation and interpretation, predicted to run into more than USD 1 billion annually. James Kanter finds out why in the eyes of some of its member countries.

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