This week in languages: July 7, 2017

by on July 7, 2017

This week’s round up compiles language news from the last fortnight.



Too many illustrations in storybooks can hinder word learning. This is the finding, in short, of an experimental study carried out in the Word Lab at The University of Sussex. Researchers found that three-year-olds who were read storybooks with illustrations on only the right-hand page “learned twice as many words” as three-year-olds who were read storybooks with illustrations on both the right- and left-hand pages. For the children exposed to storybooks where both right- and left-hand pages were illustrated, word-learning was improved when researchers added a “hand swipe gesture” to direct the children’s attention to “the correct illustration” corresponding to a new word introduced in a page.

Studies have found that children learn better when fathers read to them before bedtime. This comes about because fathers speak to their children differently, tending to relate the stories that they tell to their own experiences using complex and abstract language, while mothers tended to concentrate more on labels and naming objects.

Approximately 7,000 languages are spoken worldwide, but it has been estimated that two thirds of the world’s population speaks only twelve of them. According to geographer Benjamin Hennig, though, “it is the diversity of the languages spoken by the few that makes language a remarkable cultural phenomenon.” In this eye-opening article, Hennig provides a variety of maps and statistics that illustrate the number, location, and diversity of the world’s endangered languages.

Unravel pays its respects to Hank Oliver, the fluent speaker of Choinumni, who passed away on 22 June in Piedra, California. Also a passionate musician, Hank wrote “radical” songs in the 1970s and 1980s such as “In the Snows of Wounded Knee” that allude to numerous atrocities heaped upon Native American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As the Fresno Bee reports, Hank “gave us that culture, that history, that our elders tell us in hopes that we pass it on to the next generation”.

The first week of July every year marks NAIDOC Week, a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and achievements of first Australians! This year’s theme is Our Languages Matter, in acknowledgement of how “[a]ll Aboriginal languages have been threatened by the European colonization of Australia and discriminatory government policies. Despite this, Aboriginal communities have worked hard to maintain and revive their languages,” writes Language on the Move. 

Swahili will soon be an official tongue in South Sudan, reports Africa News! The government has called on Tanzania—one of the three countries where Swahili is has official status, the other two being Kenya and the DRC—to assist with such an arrangement as South Sudan joins the East African Community where Swahili is the official language.

Commentaries and Features

An article on SplitSider brings to light a unique poetry slam—one conducted entirely in sign language. A group at the Nuyorican Poets’ Café has hosted numerous American Sign Language (ASL) slams in New York City, and is expanding to its other cities in the United States. In a bid to empower members of the deaf community and to show the sophistication of sign language, ASL Slam includes storytelling, poetry, sketches, improv, and stand-up comedy, which are verbally interpreted for an ever-growing hearing audience.

Thinking of what job you might take on after studying linguistics? Being a copyeditor is certainly an option. Audrey Chapman, a copyeditor, writes about how the subject of linguistics has sensitised her to phonesthemes, baby talk, glottalisation, and dialectal variation in vocabulary use. As she notes, her editorial work continues to give her the opportunity “to witness the strangeness, beauty and trippiness of language in action.”

Planning a trip to Italy (or any place where Italian is spoken widely, really) or are you learning the language just for fun? Here’s a link to four free and quick Italian language games to help you practice! Produced by, the games aim to help learners practice basic phrases, question words, numbers and how to make a phone call—all in Italian.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is finally being translated into Scots and will be published in October later this year! The Scots translation comes 20 years after the publication of the first book in the wildly popular series about wizardry, friendship and betrayal, and which has already been translated into 79 other languages.

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