This week in languages: May 12, 2017

by on May 12, 2017

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



What are the effects of an iPad on a child’s language acquisition? A study involving almost 900 children drew some interesting results that were presented at the recent 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting. Researchers suggest that “the more time children between the ages of six months and two years spent using handheld screens such as smartphones, tablets and electronic games, the more likely they were to experience speech delays.” reported CNN.

A Belgian school for migrants is getting flak from textbooks teaching French that use socio-emotionally ignorant examples such as “Daddy throws a bomb and goes to prison”, drawing on stereotypes that link migrants to extremism. Euronews reports that the books were compiled three years ago and that a crisis meeting is in the works.

Talking tough makes you tough! Psychologist Richard Stevens from Keele University posits that swearing makes people physically stronger: “When people cursed their way through the half-minute bike challenge, their peak power rose by 24 watts on average… In the 10-second grip task, swearers boosted their strength by the equivalent of 2.1kg, researchers found.”

What do you call someone who hasn’t mastered the art of rolling over in a kayak? Makittaqanngitsoq. That’s the word for it in Greenlandic, Kalaallisut! If you know an untranslatable word in a minority language, share your knowledge on

Commentaries and Features

Brexit does not mean ‘langxit’ (if the words ‘language’ and ‘exit’ can be blended as such). As reported in The Economist, the English language is likely to keep its role in the European Union (EU) even without Britain as a member. English is one of three working languages in the EU (the other two being German and French), and a shift towards the use of English over the years as the EU expanded generates less motivation for a shift back to either French or German. This, on top of the statistics showing a vast majority of students outside of Britain learning English at the secondary and primary levels, means that EU partners are set to “always remember the linguistic gift [Britain] is leaving behind”.

Emory College senior Emma Reidy talks about her thesis on scepticism about claims that emojis are becoming a ‘new language’, in Phys Org. Reidy conducted a study with her college peers that involved them translating a set of 50 emojis into sentences and in reverse, translating well-known sentences (i.e. “To be or not to be, that is the question”) into emojis. Her results: “users couldn’t agree on the meaning of single emojis… Even more curious, the same user ended up deciding to use an emoji they had already defined—for example, the flushed face to mean shocked—for an entirely different meaning, such as being flirty or coy”.

How does diversity in language landscape hint at the biodiversity of a location? In this piece for South China Morning Post, Lisa Lim considers the correlation between the two diversities and finds that “when traditional habitats and ecological niches come under threat, the languages and cultures of indigenous peoples who inhabit them often also become endangered”.

What’s in a false friend? Chi Luu animates linguistic false friends in a variety of languages for JSTOR Daily and considers their place in the history of language change over time. You sure your friend is a gift now? (Gift = German poison, Norwegian married, English present.) More on semantic false friends from Unravel here.

Do bilinguals think about time differently depending on the language context in which they are estimating the duration of events? A recent study published in Journal of Experimental Psychology thinks so because “different languages also embody different worldviews, different ways of organizing the world around us. And time is a case in point”, reports Science Daily. Writer Olivia Blair finds that “bilinguals are more flexible thinkers than those who just speak one language”, in a piece for Independent.

How did a Chinese language that originated in Fuzhou city in Fujian province end up in Singapore? In The Straits Times, Charmaine Ng takes a look at the presence of the Hock Chew language in Singapore, where “the obscurity of Hock Chew has turned it into a secret language of sorts for its speakers here. In 2015, Hock Chews made up less than 2% of the resident Chinese population”.

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