This week in languages September 15, 2017

by on September 15, 2017



A new law passed in Ukraine mandates that all public education beyond grade 4 be conducted in the Ukrainian language, a move denounced by the country’s minority Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian communities, reports the Budapest Beacon. Amidst the negative reactions to the announcement, Hungary’s minister of foreign affairs and trade, Péter Szijjártó, warned that “Hungary would not support any Ukrainian initiatives at any international bodies if the law comes into force”.

Hundreds of languages such as Hungarian, Spanish, Punjabi, Bengali, and Turkish are theorised to share a common forebear called Proto-Indo-European estimated to exist around 4500 to 2500 BCE. But what could it have sounded like? Listen to recordings of stories in the hypothetical language, as reconstructed by historical linguists, in Digital Music News.

“Many marketing experts suggest ethnic restaurants use native language on their menus to increase authenticity”, according to Stefanie Liu, co-author of a new paper published in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. Findings suggest that having (non-English) native languages on menus will negatively affect customers’ opinions of the restaurant, reports Excuse the awkward use of the word ‘ethnic’ here.

Is there any way to connect language acquisition with the internet of things? Cue voice user interface, Alexa, a tool that could integrate language learning (and interpretation) with smart devices in the home domain. Given the climate of digital technologies and virtual learning, writer Jacob Pastrovich believes that “smart-home devices make the most sense as the best language learning technology to make an outsized impact”.

Commentaries and Features

Need a word for the heads of your decapitated enemies or the smell of a man after sex? Darach Ó Séaghdha shares his knowledge and humour from his book Motherfoclóir: Dispatches from @theirishfor. There’s lots of utsadh to be had! Check out Darach’s free Motherfoclóir podcast for more on the Irish language and its quirks.

In “a kind of political resistance and provocation”, the art world is seeing the revival of words to neutralise gendering inherent in the terms ‘Latino’ and ‘Chicano’. Seen among LGBT communities online since 2004, the use of ‘Latinx’ and ‘Chicanx’ (say Latinex and Chicanex) in the art world seeks to empower artists from the community, reports New York Times.

Lost for words? Worry no more, for linguists at the University of New York have uncovered 30 lost words from “historic texts and etymological dictionaries”. The researchers hope the uncovered words would help people connect with language of the past. So the next time you meet a ‘snout-fair’ ‘quacksalver’, make sure you’re not ‘betrumped’! Check out the article for what we mean.

Do all ethnically Chinese people speak Mandarin Chinese? Malaysian Michelle Chen bemoans the common perception that ethnicity determines language repertoire in this piece, based on her recent experience at a post office, for Free Malaysia Today.

Off in the Scottish central lowlands, a foreign sound dances with the gales. Mark O’Donnell, the 22 year old striving for recognition of Focurc in Scotland, works through a campaign online to raise awareness of its unique features and the hundred of remaining speakers. Read the story of the Mark’s efforts as the first person known to document and transcribe Focurc, and the backlash he has received from the academic circles in “conlanging” the ‘Scots dialect’.

Sei gwai lou. 死鬼佬。 Most languages have derogatory and uncanny names for foreigners of their land, but how were they derived and interpreted? Lisa Lim shows us a couple of examples through the lens of Chinese languages in East and Southeast Asia in this piece for South China Morning Post.

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