This week in languages: October 21, 2016

by on October 21, 2016



Applications for this year’s Endangered Languages Documentary Programme grant cycle for linguistic documentation of endangered languages is now open! Every year, the Programme offers four grant types for applicants affiliated to entities that handle grants and who have experience in modern linguistic documentation, benefitting projects since 2002. The deadline for this cycle of grant applications is January 15, 2017.

Can Facebook help to save endangered languages? Facebook now has translation options for 9 endangered languages including Corsican, Breton, Basque, and Tamazight, and are working on translating others like Cherokee and Yiddish. With languages like English dominating the internet as a main language of communication, it is hoped that introducing these endangered languages will help communities “cross the digital divide”.

A new course in Arbanasi for high school students has launched in Vladimir Nazor Gymnasium [High School] in Zadar, Croatia. Arbanasi is a highly endangered language with less than 500 speakers left; it “combines elements of the northern Albanian “Gheg” dialect, with Croatian Dalmatian dialect, and bits of Italian. The curriculum was drafted by Professor Isak Shema and has been approved by the Croatian Education Ministry as a non-gradable course.

Tahltan, an endangered language spoken in Northern British Columbia, Canada, celebrates the release of a new documentary “We are speaking our language again”, which follows the community’s efforts in revitalising the language. Watch the documentary here!

Commentaries and Features

The small Heiltsuk indigenous community of Bella Bella, British Columbia has made a remarkable recovery in recent years from the economic difficulties, various social problems and high youth suicide rate that formerly plagued it. An integral part of the solution? Instruction in the Hailhzaqvla language, as important to Heiltsuk culture as the salmon on which their economy is traditionally based.

Ever wondered why baby would look a wee bit longer at mum, if not also blink more at her, when hearing mum speak a language different than usual? This article reports on a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, where researchers found that as young as 8 months, babies’ eye blinks, duration of eye gazes, and brain activity in their pre-frontal cortex (PCF) “predicted how distinctly they responded to the unexpected situation of a person speaking inconsistently with their language”. This is taken as evidence to suggest that even in young children, the PCF is sufficiently developed for complex mental tasks, such as reworking any prior association established between certain people and certain languages.

Babies discriminate between native and foreign languages! A new study published in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America suggests that babies can discriminate between in-group and out-group speakers, and so when baby is staring into the distance when you’re talking to hir, it’s a conscious decision, and “given the choice of listening to someone speaking in their native language and someone speaking another tongue, 11-month-old babies will consistently ignore the foreign speaker and pay attention to the person speaking the language that’s familiar to them”.

6 Responses to “This week in languages: October 21, 2016”

  1. I’m not familiar with all the languages in your Facebook list, but I do know that Basque and Yiddish aren’t endangered.

    • Natalie Chang

      Hi Meg, the languages on the list are actually considered endangered based on UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. According to the Atlas, Yiddish has the status of being “definitely endangered” while Basque is considered to be at a “vulnerable” degree of endangerment.

      Hope this clears things up!

      (Also, If you’re interested in finding out more about the Basque language and its complex socio-political history, here’s the link to an article:

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