This week in languages: November 11, 2016

by on November 11, 2016



11 November marks the start of the Mother Tongue Language Reading Festival in Singapore! For a full list of events, the National Library Board has compiled this list. In a bid to encourage a new generation of readers, the government has initiated a National Reading Movement, which consists of increasing the number of reading clubs and putting emphasis on the country’s three non-English official languages: Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.

Ukrainian songs must make up at least 25% of Ukrainian radio stations’ daily playlists from now on. The new law, put into place on 8 November, was implemented to discourage “separatist moods” in a country where a third of the population speak Russian as a native language alongside Ukrainian, reports BBC News.

DeafBlind Americans now have a way to communicate, through a new language called Pro-tactile American Sign Language, reports Quartz. In a country with 45,000–50,000 DeafBlind people, the US is seeing a growing pool of users for this language. Hearers can now be perceivers too. For transcripted videos of pro-tactile ASL, check out this vlog.

Commentaries and Features

While some in the recent election were having sleepless nights over the future of leadership in the US, linguists were caught up trying to figure out whether criticisms directed at Hillary Clinton’s vocal pitch stemmed from “negative social judgements of women”, whether President-Elect Donald Trump did indeed say ‘bigly’ for ‘big league’, and how many tweets, in a corpus of Trump’s “angry” tweets, were actually written by the man himself. Oh yes, the linguists were busy in the recent election, not with counting votes, but with keeping tabs on pronoun usage and other linguisticky stuff tagged to each presidential candidate, as reported in the University of Oregon blog. In victory, Trump appears to be presenting a more inclusive image of himself through increasing his use of inclusive pronouns like “we”, as Christian Lundberg points out in a piece for Live Science. In the wake of the US presidential elections, we remember the diversity of the country by playing with Jill Hubley’s interactive map of the 33 languages spoken at home in New York City. The majority of New York City dwellers speak English in the home domain, followed by Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc?), Yiddish, and Russian.


Formal academic writing usually shuns personal pronouns (no ‘I’s or ‘We’s allowed) in favour of the passive voice (e.g. “The ball was hit” instead of “I hit the ball”) to create an impression of objectivity. A new study, however, has found that academic papers are increasingly using informal features like personal pronouns. The group leading the trend? Biologists.

What’s English going to sound like in a century? Michael Erard hypothesises the fate and sounds of the language in the 22nd century. “The success of English — especially the fact that it is used by many non-native English speakers — means, among other things, that the history of the language is no longer a reliable map about how its pronunciation might change.” Listen to three audio clips of what a reading of A Tale of Two Cities sounds like in Old English, modern British English, and a hypothetically, in 100 years!

Languages all change and evolve, but how does it actually happen? TED-Ed leads the way to answering this question in this great video.

What’s in a word? Lots of etymology and morphology, apparently. For Language Log, Geoffrey K. Pullum writes about his shame of only just discovering that “tiramisu” is ‘pull me up’ in Italian, and points out some gaps in the parallel formation of some common English words.

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