This week in languages: July 29, 2016

by on July 29, 2016



The American news network NBC has unsuccessfully appealed to have the official language of the 2016 Olympics be changed from English to Brazilian PortugueseThe Sydney Morning Herald observes that this is because “switching the languages would have put the United States’s 555 athletes near the back, giving American audiences a reason [[to] watch the full broadcast”; in Portuguese, the United States’ Portuguese name Estados Unidos means that American athletes will instead enter in the middle of the broadcast.

South African universities’ language policies are once again in focus. The war between AfriForum and the country’s universities has begun to grow as an urgent application by AfriForum to block Unisa’s shift to English-only education has been thrown out by the Pretoria High Court. Meanwhile, the Higher Education and Transformation Network, a non-profit in the country, has declared that it will join universities in “vigorously challenging” AfriForum’s case. It stated that it will apply as a “friend of the court”.

The Chief of the Deline community in Canada’s Northwest Territories,  Leonard Kenny, has noted his desire to make North Slavey the language of the Deline government, with about two-thirds of the community speaking the language, although that number is declining. The Deline community is scheduled to become an autonomous community in September this year.

Commentaries and Features

If and when humans finally make contact with extra-terrestrials, what would we do about the language barrier? Do we as humans possess a built-in universal grammar that would prevent us from grasping an alien language? Or could we use our cognitive abilities to make sense of such a language without fully understanding its grammar? Dr. James Carney of Lancaster University examines both sides of this question while remaining “cautiously optimistic” that mutual comprehension might be possible.

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