This week in languages: May 26, 2017

by on May 27, 2017

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



Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan’s Internal Administration Committee recently met for a preliminary review of a bill to officially recognise aboriginal languages as national languages and provide funding to support language development. It is hoped that this will go some way in helping to preserve Taiwan’s 16 aboriginal languages that are in a severe state of endangerment. Kudos Taiwan!

On animation and indigenous language revitalisation: A new animated tv series in Australia called “Little J and Bug Cuz” has been recorded in English and a variety of Australia’s indigenous languages such as Tasmania’s palawa kani, reports ABC News. The palawa kani version involves young people by featuring three young learners for character voiceovers. “Never before has an Australian animated show targeted an Indigenous four- to six-year-old audience. As an Indigenous person this seemed wrong.”

Together with being more responsive to the emotional needs of their toddler daughters than their toddler sons, fathers are reported to use “more achievement-related language (e.g. words such as proud, win, and top)” to their sons, and when talking to their daughters, “more analytical language (e.g., words such as all, below, and much)” is heard. These are the findings from a study by researchers from Emory University and the University of Arizona. The study, part of which involved recordings of fathers’ interactions with their children for one weekday and one weekend day, also found “more language referencing the child’s body (e.g., words such as belly, foot, and tummy)” from fathers of daughters than from fathers of sons in daily interactions.

In South Korea, an emphasis on rigid, hierarchical structure and the use of honorific titles rather than names still dominates the culture of most workplaces. But some, mostly international, companies are attempting to level the playing field and to make things easier on foreign business partners by requiring that their employees take English nicknames such as John or Sophie. Koreans have mixed feelings about this policy.

Commentaries and Features

On authenticity and accents: What does your English accent reveal? Computational linguist Chi Luu writes for the BBC on the perceptions that come with English accents and what it means for a person’s success or intelligence. From poshness to approachability, rudeness to trustworthiness, attractiveness to criminality, the writer points out a couple of useful studies done on such linguistic profiling.

How did colours get their names in different languages? This Vox video explains basic colour categories, such as English blue, green, brown and the Wobé equivalent for all those three colours, kpe, and speaks of a pattern in the way languages have historically consistently categorised colours. Fascinating stuff!

The Straits Times looks at the status of the Hindi language in a weekly series profiling the languages of Singapore. Hindi is the third most widely-spoken language in the world, but remains a minority language in Singapore. That said, the number of Hindi speakers in the small island-nation has more than doubled to 50,000 in the last 15 years. As part of the bilingual policy, Hindi was introduced to schools as a second language alongside other non-Tamil Indian languages like Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, and Urdu in 1989.

We take a coffee, no?  In The Washington Examiner, Dan Hannan reflects on ‘Anglobalisation‘ and the Eurovision Song Contest to draw conclusions on the state of English in Europe, that is, speakers tend to use a new variety: Euro-English.

Will the rise of machine learning and translation make human translators obsolete? Perhaps not, argues Johnson for The Economist, for human translators are also known to be able to ‘transcreate‘, or make sure that the translated work ticks all the right boxes for cultural references, mood, and humour.

What does the Siberian language Ket have in common with North American languages such as Navajo and Athabaskan? In this episode of The World in Words‘ podcast, Alina Simone speaks with historical linguist at Western Washington University Vajda regarding the complex and compelling story of the long-isolated and almost-lost language: Ket.

In 2015, there were an estimated 2,500 Jews in Singapore: “Jewish community that settled here in the 19th century comprised mainly Arabic-speaking Mizrahi Jews from Iraq. Its members include the late former chief minister David Marshall and leading lawyer Harry Elias.” How did their once-common tongues Yiddish andTunisian Judaeo-Arabic live on through the years? Read Annabeth Leow’s piece on the state of Jewish languages in Singapore.

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