This week in languages: July 14, 2017

by on July 14, 2017



Remember Valar Morgulis? Duolingo now offers a course in High Valyrian, the language spoken by Danaerys Targaryen in the fantasy epic Game of Thrones. Mind you, this is the most formal version spoken on by Westerosian royalty, not the regional versions spoken by riff-raff such as slave trader Kraznys mo Nakloz. Learn High Valyrian here!

How can sign language signers communicate with those who can’t sign? Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, developed motion-sensitive gloves that could translate 26 letters in American Sign Language to text on a smartphone or computer via bluetooth, reports New Scientist. “ASL is a language all of its own, but few people outside the deaf community speak it. For many signing is their only language, as learning written English, for example, can be difficult without having the corresponding sounds to go with it.”

This Pride Month, London Underground has ditched its gender-binary greeting “ladies and gentlemen” to the more generic, “good morning everyone”, in a bid to come across as more welcoming to all commuters. LGBT groups and London mayor Sadiq Khan supported the move, reports The Telegraph.

Thought the German language couldn’t have any more letters? The German Spelling Council has now included the capital letter form of the Eszett (ß) to the language where a double SS would have been in place. While new addition, ẞ, will never be found to be word-initial, German passport holders with an Eszett to their name will now be able to spell their name without the double S, reports The Local de.

Commentaries and Features

Then of course there is LOL, for “laugh out loud,” which actually means the opposite, because nobody using LOL has actually laughed out loud since at least 2015.” The New York Times investigates the surprising nuances of laughing online in text-speak including the differences between haha, HAHAHA and ha ha. Much lulz.

Miriam Faine reflects on Australia’s values of multiculturalism and multilingualism in this piece for Language on the Move, with news of barriers in place to welcome new citizens: A (thankfully rejected) government document—Strengthening the Test for Australian Citizenship—proposes new criteria that would stymie the path to citizenship for some refugees in Australia, such as an English competency equivalent to Band 6 in the IELTS. “When Prime Minister Turnbull claims that imposing the test is ‘doing people a favour’ he has not understood that when migrants and refugees fail to acquire English, it is not for want of trying.”

BBC Radio 4 featured Cornish songwriter and performer Rory McGrath and his appearance at the “multlingual alternative to the Eurovision song contest”: the SUNS International Festival, where the use of English is prohibited. On the programme, Rory also discussed the wider endangerment of many of the world’s smaller languages, as well as efforts to protect Cornish and other such languages like it.

Is there a “correct” size or curve for commas and semi-colons? Apparently so, according to a marking guidance at the Department of Education in the UK, where primary schoolers have been penalised for their correct use of punctuation in an incorrect form. The guidance reads ““Where the separation of the semi-colon is excessive, neither element of the semi-colon should start higher than the letter ‘I’. The dot of the semi-colon must not be lower than the letter ‘w’ in the word ‘tomorrow’, reports The Guardian. #SATsshambles

Dafke. Cholera jasnaA plague on your house! Who were you most likely to hear salty language from when you were growing up? For Nina Porzucki, it was nanna. She and Patrick Cox speak to Swearologist and author Stephen Dodson and author Marilyn Chin about the world of swear words in a delightful The World in Words podcast.

From language teachers to official meetings, personal relevance to global communicative ability: What’s the econo-linguistic cost of a Brexit? Abigail Parrish and Ursula Lanvers collate and discuss articles that talk about the linguistic landscape of a post-Brexit UK and EU, in The Conversation.

With nation-building in mind, Singapore’s early governors implemented language policies that homogenised the three main ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay, Indian. Was this a good move for the statal narrative or the final nail in the coffin for heritage languages like Teochew, Javanese, Cantonese, Bengali, Bugis, Kristang, etc? Singapore theatre company W!LD RICE will explore the resultant intergenerational dynamics of these policies in a re-run of their play, Grandmother Tongue, to allow audiences to “understand just what it means to spend decades in linguistic and cultural exile”. The play will be performed in Teochew (with English surtitles) and English. On the 14 October run of Grandmother Tongue, the play will have simultaneous interpretation in Singapore Sign Language for the deaf. Catch the early bird discount from now till 26 July and buy your tickets soon!

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