This week in languages: September 23, 2016

by on September 23, 2016



Apart from Dutch, what’s the other official language spoken in the Netherlands? Frisian. Now you can learn this minority language—the language most closely related to the English language—with Future Learn here! Lessons start 26 September 2016. Or find out more about Frisian before you commit to learning it.

Don’t be such an ah beng! The Oxford English Dictionary adds to its inventory of words every other day. Can you keep up? Test yourself with this quick BBC quiz!

Found your herd? Marsal Gavalda, director of machine intelligence for the location-based social network in the US, Yik Yak speaks with The New York Times about the study of language in analysing patterns and connecting people.

In 2018, deaf students (who currently attend a special education establishment called Lighthouse School) in Singapore will have a primary school of their own, the Ministry of Education announced. The idea behind pooling the resources of different schools/programmes for deaf students was to “provide them with a greater sense of community, with more opportunities for mutual communication through signing, social interactions and peer support.”

Why does Australia have so many indigenous languages? Are they all from the same language family? And how did they emerge in Australia? A new joint study between linguists and geneticists has found that the genetic split between Papuan and Aboriginal Australian ancestors mirrored linguistic divergences on the continent despite occurring thousands of years apart. “The genetic analysis also found no evidence of multiple migrations into Australia, suggesting that Pama-Nyungan (Australia’s largest language family) languages must have diversified on the continent.”

Commentaries and Features

Are people morally different when different languages in their repertoire are activated? Linguist and psychologist Julie Sedivy, in a piece on behaviour and society for Scientific American, says yes. “When we use a foreign language, we unconsciously sink into the more deliberate mode simply because the effort of operating in our non-native language cues our cognitive system to prepare for strenuous activity.” Find out how our experiences in various languages affect the way we remember them and project ourselves in our daily lives. Carl Romm looks at some studies that prove this in a piece for NY Mag. 

The Endangered Language Alliance Toronto (ELAT) is working tirelessly in the Canadian city to document and preserve the more than 140 languages and dialects that are spoken by its various inhabitants, who come from about 200 distinct ethnic origins. ELAT has thus far worked on Bukhori, a language spoken by Jews in the Central Asian city of Bukhara, and Harari, a language spoken in Ethiopia, among others, and have made use of social media such as tweets to assist them.

Yeo Su-Wen laments the inability of young Chinese Singaporeans to speak the Chinese ‘dialects’ (i.e.  Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka) of their ancestors, Today Online. In a country where the state used to discriminate against radio broadcasts and television series in Chinese ‘dialects’, Yeo hopes that the new Hokkien drama series “Eat Already?”, released on September 9, would “benefit dialect speakers by informing them of government schemes, and aid the younger generation by exposing them to these dialects.” Language Log compiles the reactions to the 30-min-per-episode drama series and the state of Hokkien in Singapore here. Meanwhile, BBC’s James Harbeck contemplates the history of Singlish (or Singapore Colloquial English) and its role in Singapore today in a great summary of the creole tongue.

On the life of an aphasiac: “I felt less judged and more accepted. I found the phrase “language barrier” played to my advantage. With the people I met on these trips, what we didn’t understand about each other actually connected us more deeply.” In MEL magazine, the author traces the life of David Dow, who suffered from aphasia after a stroke when he was aged 10.

Initiatives such as Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation’s Lakota Immersion Childcare Programme and Four Directions Family Center’s Ojibwe and Lakota immersion programme are helping breathe new life into native language education in the United States. Such programmes contribute not only to the revitalisation of endangered indigenous languages, but also to the mitigation of the socio-economic difficulties faced by many native children.

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