This week in languages: July 21, 2017

by on July 21, 2017



We have been told time and again the benefits of giving young children a bilingual environment. While this can be done with ease in bilingual households, the same cannot be said for monolingual households. A recent study by the University of Washington Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) has shown, however, that babies from monolingual households need not be disadvantaged in learning a second language. The study found that when exposed to “a play-based, intensive, English-language method and curriculum” developed by I-LABS for an hour a day for 18 weeks, babies from monolingual Spanish households in Madrid could in fact produce more English words and phrases than a control group exposed to a standard bilingual programme. The I-LABS curriculum is characterised by features of the speech style parents typically use when “talk[ing] to their babies”.

Singapore celebrates its annual Malay Language Month—or Bulan Bahasa—from 15 August to 15 October this year! Happening at the historic Kampong Glam are folktale-telling sessions, a live gamelan performance, and other events in English and Malay. The celebration was born in 1988 in a bid to encourage the use of the Malay language daily. This festival will revolve around the themes of isilmu (knowledge), budaya (culture), and mesra (relationships).

The first Taiwanese government document written only in an indigenous language was released recently in the eastern county of Hualien, officially implementing the bill passed in May designed to revive endangered languages of the country’s 16 aboriginal tribes. Locals have reported feeling empowered with these changes, and more participation by these people are expected in local issues, reports Taiwan News.

As part of World Emoji Day, Apple has released yet more emojis for the keyboard of its products, to include an increasing number of items and scenarios from real life. Examples include that of a breastfeeding lady, a lady dressed with a tudung headscarf, an erupting head emoji (to show ‘mind blown’ we suppose) and animated smileys.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have found that bilingual infants learn a third language more easily than monolingual infants do. In one experiment, both bilingual and monolingual infants were shown a word from the southern African language Ndebele and an image. The bilingual infants could detect a difference in sound when the same image was shown to them but the word differed, whereas the monolingual babies did not.

Commentaries and Features

Many of us may not realise it, but it is feared that between 50–90% of the world’s languages—and the cultures they represent—could be extinct by the end of the century. Dr. Tucker Childs of Portland State University is working to combat this by collaborating with the Sherbro people of Sierra Leone to record and to document their language before it disappears. He has previously done the same with other West African languages, most notably in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

What do you doDo you get offended when a new acquaintance greets you with this question? Unless you’re from North America, you probably did. Quartz covers some social gaffes made with opening questions to get to know your interlocutor and finds that depending on where you are and where you’re from, you might end up offending hir.

LGBT+, LGBTQ, LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA+? Ever wondered which abbreviation to use or why they are sometimes used interchangeably? Pey Ling Aw for the Inter-University LGBT Network writes about the abbreviations used to refer to the spectrum of gender and sexual categories and why their uses differ.

“The right dialects can help actors create a sense of authenticity and also quickly transmit a lot of information about their characters.” What’s it like in the world of dialect coaching? Ryan Bradley writes for The New York Times on the roles of dialect coach Samara Bay, who teaches Hollywood’s thespians how to sound convincing in their roles with varieties of Texan, Haitian Creole, and African-American Vernacular English accents.

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