This week in languages: November 4, 2016

by on November 4, 2016



Fancy using virtual reality to learn a language? ImmerseMe, “believed to be the world’s first” such tool, affords travellers the opportunity to “learn practical language skills” for interacting in foreign places, for example, to make purchases and to perform hotel check-ins. Founder of ImmerseMe, Scott Cardwell, with videographer, Tim Armstrong, are reported to be making their way around various countries in Asia and Europe to gather footage for the upcoming learning tool, reported Otago Daily Times.

Ever heard of something called the Foreign Accent Syndrome? It describes a condition where people end up being fluent in a foreign tongue or speaking in a foreign accent after a concussion. In a recent report covers by AOL News, 16-year-old English-speaking Reuben Nsemoh was documented to speak Spanish “like a native” after regaining consciousness from a coma.

A new board game about language death called Dialect has just launched its Kickstarter campaign here. Developed by independent game studio Thorny Games in San Fransisco, the project is backed by David Peterson, who previously worked on the constructed languages Dothraki and Na’vi, and also hopes to “define and explore an isolated community through its beginning, rise and end”.

Help researchers at the University of Cambridge track changes to English (as in from England) dialects over the past 60 years! The free app English Dialects (available on iOS and Android) tries to guess which part of England you come from—based on your answers to 26 questions about the way you pronounce certain words or use dialect terms.

Commentaries and Features

What’s with the fake British accent in old Hollywood films? For Atlas Obscura, Dan Nosowitz traces its history of the Mid-Atlantic accent and how it came to be. “Weirdly enough, this accent class was called a “neutralization technique” at Carnegie Mellon: theoretically, the idea is that it removes regional signifiers like the pin-pen merger. But there is no “neutral” or “accentless” accent; you can replace one accent with another, but the idea that there is some perfect, unaccented variety of English is a myth that’s long been squashed.”

The Straits Times profiles 15-year-old autodidactic teenager Waleed Baqeer Idham, who, after becoming fascinated by elephants and Indian culture, taught himself to speak Tamil and now speaks it fluently. Waleed’s abilities continue to surprise local residents, many of whom observe that “Waleed’s self-taught Tamil is extremely fluent and he uses expressions found in India but not Singapore.”

Chi Luu at JSTOR Daily explores the linguistic phenomenon of reduplication, which is a frequent occurrence cross-linguistically and is used to indicate a variety of linguistic features, including emphasis, diminutivisation and pluralisation. As Chi Luu cogently argues, reduplication in English is often taken for granted and “poo-poo[ed] willy-nilly by researchers”, to which she replies, rules-schmules!

Native English speakers, as it turns out, are very often worse at communicating in professional situations that involve both natives and non-natives. The status of English as a global lingua franca has led many of them to believe that they have no need to learn a second language, but it is that mindset that can lead to an inability to effectively communicate with non-native speakers.

Blogger Amanda Ng reflects on academic writing and speech, suggesting that its density can shut down conversation and obscure marginal voices:

“when i said, “i couldn’t understand her english,” i did not mean not understanding the english itself. after all that enid blyton and harry potter, my coloniser’s language rolls smoothly off my tongue, like a sadly beautiful waterfall. what i meant was that she gave a speech so dense that the very people she researched wouldn’t have understood her ideas about their lives, even if they knew english.”


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