This week in languages: October 28, 2016

by on October 28, 2016



Californian voters are being asked to overturn a law restricting bilingual education in public schools. This comes in the wake of wait lists and increasing enrolments for dual-language programmes. In one such programme in Cahuenga Elementary School, teachers employ an interesting tactic of “help(ing) students differentiate between” the languages learnt by wearing shirts of different colour.

Linguist Charles Yang from the University of Pennsylvania has “determine[d] how high a child would have to count to fully develop the concept of numbers over time“. Children learning how to count look for general rules to help them process words that follow the rule. But the more irregularities there are in the number system (e.g. 11 isn’t read as one-teen in English), the longer children take to learn how to count up to a 100. By using an “equation based on the number of exceptions to a rule,” Yang discovered that if children could count up to 73, they would be able to count to 100 and beyond.

Commentaries and Features

Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki at PRI’s The World in Words podcast profile the amazing story of the revitalisation and reawakening of the Myaamia language, some 30 years after the language became dormant, and the people who made it possible, including Daryl Baldwin, David Costa, and Julie Olds. As Baldwin observes, “I think it was David’s work in linguistics and the reconstruction of the language, my passion for language learning in the home, and Julie’s passion to bring language back to the community, that really kind of came together and I think really launched this.”

Linguistic Society of America member and MIT linguist Michel DeGraff has provided the UN with advice and input regarding the linguistic rights of children around the world. He based many of his comments on his native Haiti, where the systematic oppression of Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) speakers at the hands of a French-based education system in particular is troubling. Although no more than 10% of Haitians can actually speak French, Kreyòl speakers (especially schoolchildren) are constantly discriminated against – resulting in what DeGraff refers to as “linguistic apartheid”.

A commentary published by NPR this last week discusses traditional print media’s reticence towards printing obscenities exactly as public figures use them at the podium, in private, or in locker rooms. But The New York Times’ decision to print Donald Trump’s use of the “slang term for a woman’s genitalia…that starts with P” is a break with tradition. As Geoff Nunberg argues, it was probably the first time a public figure had been heard using it in what he describes as ‘predatory contempt’. If you’re interested to get a small insight into the workings of the mind of Donald Trump during the last presidential debate? Quartz gets a body language expert to analyse what Trump was really trying to say and how he thinks of Hillary Clinton.

In 1997, J.K. Rowling published the first of the infamous Harry Potter book series that reached out to readers in over 60 languages across 200 territories! Watch this video to find out what the translation of Harry Potter books entailed.

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  9. California voters are being asked to reconsider a law that restricts bilingual education in public schools. This initiative is influenced by the growing demand for dual-language programs, evidenced by wait lists and rising enrollments. One example of such a program is at Cahuenga Elementary School, where an innovative teaching method is employed: teachers wear different colored shirts to help students differentiate between the languages being taught.

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