This week in languages: September 30, 2016

by on September 30, 2016



I fink “th” sounds are making the nooze again. HSBC commissioned a report called “The Sounds of the Future” for the launch of its new ID, currently rolled out to 15 million users. Results showed that the British English language as we know it, is undergoing a massive change in pronunciation of its words in the city of London in the UK, reports The Telegraph. With the influx of foreign tongues in the cosmopolitan city, influence from other languages will cause the replacement of “th” sounds to “f”, “d”, or “v” sounds, for example, to produce ‘fick’ for “thick”.

In a bid to celebrate the multilingual culture of Britain’s inhabitants, pop-up National Museum of Languages centres can soon be found in shops in the high streets of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Cambridge, and Nottingham! Funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project aims to raise awareness of the importance of language in relation to identity, culture, and society at large, reported The Belfast Telegraph. The announcement came as Europe marked its European Day of Languages on Monday.

This September 28, the University of Erlangen will be hosting a four-day conference on German dialects, which are fast-dwindling receptacles of cultural knowledge and perspective, reports Deutsche Welle. “Currently, UNESCO considers seven dialects, including Bavarian, to be vulnerable. Four, including Yiddish, are deemed definitely endangered, and two (Saterlandic and North Frisian) critically endangered.” Jefferson Chase hypothesises that increased mobility and the omnipresence of mass media are reasons why the dialects are dwindling at a fast rate, and makes a case for the inherent and value of (German) dialects.

Commentaries and Features

30 September marks World Translation Day! Oxford University Press, India’s consultant of publishing, Mini Krishnan reflects on some efforts at rebuilding Babel in The Hindu. “The publishing history of any Indian language in English translation shows the same language spoken differently, written differently, and understood differently translated into a single smoothie for a reader waiting to enter those experiences. The staggering variety folded and layered in the Hindi language (for instance) vaporises in English.”

Enough already. Genus Shoyn. Dan Nosowitz traces the meaning of the American Jewish Accent, and demonstrates the linguistic diversity of New York, which is” home to more Jews than any city in the world besides Tel Aviv.” Atlas Obscura reminds us of the sponge that is the English language: “Klutz, schpiel, maven, and especially food words (bagel, pastrami, challah) are fairly likely to find their way into the speech of a non-Jew, though not at the same frequency or in the same variety as they might in the speech of a Jew. Some are even weirder than a simple loanword from Yiddish or Hebrew: think of adding “schm” to the beginnings of words, as in “money schmoney” or “art schmart.””

On learning an indigenous language as an outsider: “In terms of speaking ‘their’ language, it is important to remember any language is not just a language in terms of words and sounds and grammar, but part of a history and a place to which, in relative terms, I am a newcomer.” Dr Cassie Smith-Christmas pens her thoughts on being a ‘white linguist’ for Belonging, Identity, Language, Diversity Research Group (BILD) after having read with fascination Taté Walker’s piece on “3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Learning an Indigenous Language as a Non-Native” in Everyday Feminism. 

How effective are language nests in revitalising endangered languages and dialects? “While the window for learning language remains open throughout the life span, the earlier children are exposed to a language, the less effort it takes to learn, on average. Research demonstrates that when people are engaged in a language-rich environment during early childhood, they are more likely to develop peak proficiency in the language, including control over the sound system and grammatical structure.” Rob Grunewald makes a case for teaching Native American children their heritage language(s) in order to build a healthy support system for their cultural and cognitive development in a piece in the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

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