This week in languages: Mar 25, 2016

by on March 25, 2016



Disney-Pixar film Finding Nemo (2003) has become the first animated film to be translated into Navajo and will debut in cinemas across the Navajo nation this month. It is hoped that the translated film will be able to preserve and teach Navajo—”really get our Navajo children’s attention and get them engaged.”

On Monday, DBS Bank in Singapore announced a multilingual interface for over 1,000 of its automatic teller machines, to include instructions in the country’s four official languages: Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, in addition to English. This new system is slated to take effect in June 2016.

A new website known as (woihanble translates to ‘dream’ in the Lakota language) aims to bring relevant news stories and information to a primarily Native American audience in order to further the revitaliaation of Lakota by getting it “out of the classroom”. The new website includes written content entirely in Lakota, as well as audio clips to accompany articles for those who understand spoken Lakota but cannot necessarily read it well.

In China, a project to document and preserve its ethnic minority languages and dialects in locales such as Shanxi, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Chongqing, reached its first milestone. The Ministry of Education and the State Language Commission launched the preservation effort in 2015, and is slated to last over five years.

Commentaries and Features

In honour of International French Language Day, takes a closer look at La langue de Molière and at its status in today’s increasingly English-dominated world. The consensus? While threats certainly exist to French’s vitality as a frequently-studied foreign language, optimism and a hopeful outlook are in order nonetheless—especially given the rapidly-growing number of French speakers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Similarly, the LA Times looks at the increasingly anglicised Spanish language and notes that while “there is always some grumbling about Spanish tradition being lost to English slang”, lexical diffusion and language change are also natural processes that all languages go through. Spanish, as the child of Vulgar Latin, should know this well—and it’s not like the language doesn’t already have dozens of words from Arabic and many other tongues.

At The Conversation, Nick Thieberger describes new efforts at the University of Melbourne to digitise a number of newly discovered cassette tapes containing “the only known records” of several Papua New Guinean languages. Thieberger goes on to describe the difficult but rewarding process of digitisation, and provides some snippets of what has been transferred thus far.

Linguistics professors in Kentucky, USA, have given new life to a partially-constructed language with Proto-Indo-European roots used approximately between 4,500–2,500 B.C., called Wenja, reports Whas11. The married couple led a team of actors to speak Wenja in an action-survival video game from Ubisoft, called Far Cry Primal. Cha Winja warhamas, or ‘We speak Wenja here.”

Over at The Atlantic, Deborah Fallows writes about the use of language in public art installations by City of Asylum—an international community of exiled writers in Pittsburgh. Past projects include Oliver Lake’s “Stoop Is a Verb” in which residents were interviewed about life in Pittsburgh—”If the North Side was an animal, what would it be?” Their answers were collected, key phrases turned into song lyrics, and the songs performed for free in public.

Should indigenous people be the sole gatekeepers and guardians of their language? Does English belong to the English? Aeon generates a discussion on the ownership of language and whether anyone who speaks it can have a say in its future.

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