This week in languages September 22, 2017

by on September 22, 2017



In an effort to increase its presence in Africa, the BBC will be launching radio shows and three news websites in Ethiopia and Eritrea. These services will include news in Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia), Afaan Omoro (the language of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group), and Tigrinya (the primary working language in Eritrea).

Speak a second language? The Ladon Language team is looking for volunteers to help with free translation in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and now Maria. The group is currently focusing on “helping responders and volunteers communicate with non-English speakers so they can get adequate support and aid,” says its founder.

Researchers at the University of Luxembourg have found that bilingual speakers calculate differently depending on the language used. The study’s test subjects spoke Luxembourgish as their mother tongue but were equally fluent in German and French. They also solved simple addition tasks in both German and French languages equally well. However, when presented with more complex math problems in French, their second language of instruction, “the test subjects had to systematically fall back on other thought processes, not observed so far in monolingual persons.” More details here.

Are you a budding linguist looking for an outlet to showcase your term research? Mesh, an online journal for undergraduate work, has recently been launched. The journal is keen to receive submissions that cross disciplines, from works that pair written and video modes of presentation, to course designs that synthesise multiple subject areas. If you love meshing stuff to challenge the mental boundaries of your lecturers, this journal is tailored for you!

In a new study, MIT cognitive scientists have found that languages, irrespective of where they are spoken, tend to divide the “warm” part of the colour spectrum into more colour words like orange, yellow, and red, compared to the “cooler” regions which include blue and green. This may be due to “warmer” colours being more prominent in our daily lives, while “cooler” colours tend to exist more in the background. The bottom line? We more easily communicate the concept of warm colours rather than cool ones. Read The Atlantic‘s take on the study.

When we look at it, it turns out it’s the same across every language that we studied. Every language has this amazing similar ordering of colours, so that reds are more consistently communicated than greens or blues.

Also, just in case you were scratching your head over the whole business regarding Donald Trump, Kim Jong-Un, and #dotard, read The Washington Post‘s short history of the word “dotard” here.

Commentaries and Features

Kei te pehea koe? Over in New Zealand, a Maori version of the popular Disney animated movie Moana was screened for free in 30 cinemas, and without English subtitles! Tickets to Moana reo Māori were fully booked within 30 minutes and the film was well received by Maoris who felt that this representation in popular culture helped younger people to better appreciate and relate to their language and culture.

Mandarin is China’s official language, but over 275 indigenous languages and regional dialects are also spoken in the country. Meet the Chinese rappers who are attempting to preserve their dialects through rap music. Liu Liang Ji a.k.a. Mr. Weezy, for example, raps in Shanghainese: “I use the dialect to rap because I feel strongly attached to Shanghai’s regional culture […] If a place or a nation can’t even protect its own local culture, how can it talk about cultural development?”

You can now start learning a new language with MondlyVR, the first language app to be available on Google‘s Virtual Reality platforms. The app features instant immersion in real-to-life scenarios and feedback on your pronunciation sans judgmental looks in 30 languages, among other highlights.

Finally, for a lighthearted read in an otherwise turbulent week, see Frankie Thomas’s piece on the pleasures of studying Latin over at The Paris Review: “Latin is fun because all its native speakers are dead and will never have to meet you.”

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