This week in languages: 2 March, 2018

by on March 2, 2018

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



International Mother Language Day was celebrated on 21st February. What does your mother language mean to you? Read what the directors of Language Landscape have to say about celebrating their mother languages. “There are complex social, political and economic dynamics at the heart of each choice, and I’m not even a speaker of a minority or endangered language!”

Our scalps emit a signal when we comprehend. This, in short, is what neuroscientists from Trinity College Dublin and University of Rochester found. The signal that shows comprehension is supposedly a brain response to the similarity or difference of a word to the words that come before it in a story. And when the listener is distracted or the narration of a story is unclear due to noise, the relevant signal disappears. Not sure what our readers think, but the idea of being able to complete a comprehension test just with a measurement of our brain signals sure sounds attractive!

While conducting the People’s Linguistic Survey of India in 2010, literary critic and activist Ganesh Narayan Devy discovered that 600 out of the 780 languages he documented were potentially dying. In this interview with, he addresses the endangered and dead languages of India, as well as the impact of colonisation on India’s language system. “Each dead language takes away a culture system.”

In a sea of global online communication in English, the influence and ubiquity of Icelandic—spoken by no more than 340,000 people—among locals are fading in a process called ‘digital minoritisation‘. With words like völva, “a marriage of tala, which means number, and völva, prophetess”, Icelandic has no problems keeping up with technology unlike most other languages that borrow from English. Yet the lack of an online presence of Icelandic threatens its popularity among youths and survival past its 1,000 year old history.

Commentaries and Features

Did you know? The law banning instruction in the Hawaiian language was not repealed until 1986! Rising Voices interviews @aloha_aina who famously published memes infused with Hawaiian wisdom called ōlelo no’aeau (‘poetic sayings’), about the Hawaiian experience and the revival of Hawaiian language, dance, and martial arts, 100 years after the traditions’ repression. “E ala e. E ho‘omau kākou. Rise up. And, persevere.”

Inspired by recently deceased sci-fi author Ursula le Guin and the Pravic language of her novels, Kings College London teacher Martin Edwardes recreates the Pravic tongue, an anarchist language, and discovers Pravlish (an anglicised version of Pravic) in this piece for The Conversation. “This language was devised by the first settlers, to make the everyday casual ownership which pervades human languages almost impossible to articulate.”

Trying to decide whether to learn a second language? Consider the many benefits of bilingualism discussed in this article by Channel NewsAsia, including better focus and creativity and the ability to form stronger social bonds.
☞ You might also like Issue 6 of Unravel with a special feature on polyglotism.

The British Council reckons that English is spoken at a useful level by some 1.75 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population.” No other language has changed the world in so short a time frame. But how long will this global dominance of English last? Nicholas Ostler posits that its dominance might be challenged by rising powers such as China, India, or Brazil, in this piece for The Guardian.

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