This week in languages November 10, 2017

by on November 10, 2017

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


27/10/2017–10/11/2017

Headlines

The First Peoples Cultural Council of Canada has announced that its ground-breaking FirstVoices Dictionary Apps are now available for free download on all Android devices for the following languages -Ehattesaht, Halq’eméylem, Hlg̲aagilda X̲aayda Kil (Skidegate Haida), Ktunaxa, Kwak̓wala, Nazko-Dakelh, Nisg̲a’a, Northern St̕’át̕’imcets, Secwepemc, SENĆOŦEN, Sliammon, Líl̓wat-Ucwalmícwts, and Xeni Gwet’in. They were built using open-source software and are not only the largest collection of open-source Indigenous language apps in the world, but the first to be available for both iOS and Android.

Can understand or not? Google Assistant can now respond in a variety of English accents such as British English, American English, Canadian English, and now Singlish, reports TODAY. “Actually Singlish is quite cheem. I am still learning. Tahan a bit can? World-class Singlish coming soon!” Meanwhile, the Infocomm Media Development Authority in Singapore makes plans to launch the first artificial intelligence library with Singapore English voice samples, reports The Straits Times. It is hoped that local companies can tap into the speech and voice recognition market with this national speech corpus.

Ever wondered how effective free language apps are in helping you learn a new language? This piece by languagetrainers.com weighs the pros and cons of learning a new language via an app. The conclusion? Nothing beats good ol’ human interaction, of course, but free apps can greatly supplement your language learning!

Commentaries and Features

People speak way too much to their children in other parts of the world! This would seem the case from the viewpoint of the Tsimane people, “forager-horticulturists from the Bolivian Amazon”. Researchers have observed that young Tsimane children are on average spoken to less than a minute an hour—several times less than the duration young children are spoken to in Western industrialised countries. With the difference in linguistic experiences between Tsimine children and their Western counterparts, research is underway to uncover whether the association between child language development and the words spoken to children is universal across communities.

The growing push for worldwide linguistic, cultural, and environmental/species preservation has led linguistics to better understand the vast amount of ecological knowledge encoded in many endangered languages. If those languages are lost, in other words, global biodiversity will also suffer, argues David Stringer on Medium.

Can trees communicate? Quartz‘s Ephram Livni investigates the world of speaking trees and the complex system and academic effort to show humans and nature can live in harmony. Biologist and author of The Song of Trees, George David Haskell notes: “In Waorani, things are described not only by their general type, but also by the other beings surrounding them. So, for example, any one ceibo tree isn’t a “ceibo tree” but is “the ivy-wrapped ceibo,” and another is “the mossy ceibo with black mushrooms.””

The latest PRI podcast (The World in Words) covers the discovery of American poet Jennifer Kronovet’s poem “The Wug Test” and her journey learning Yiddish to translate Yiddish poems from the early 20th century, to have “a conversation with the dead”.

Does it make a difference to a child’s development if their home language and medium of instruction in school are two different languages? Find out in this BBC podcast on multilingualism, where academic Gustavo Perez Firmat and developmental linguistics academic Antonella Sorace, and cognitive scientist Ellen Bialystok are asked for their thoughts on the topic.

Ingrid Piller responds to reactions to her earlier post on banal cosmopolitanism of the ubiquitous welcome sign worldwide, and argues that there exists a hierarchy in which these signs are framed. Case in point: “Letters from Felix: a little rabbit on a world tour”, otherwise known in German as “Briefe von Felix: in kleiner Hase auf Weltreise”.

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