This week in languages September 8, 2017

by on September 8, 2017



A new study published in Nature Human Behavior has shown that creoles—languages usually produced in “multilingual situations of extreme social upheaval” like colonial slavery—take their grammars from other languages instead of innovating grammar from scratch. According to Martin Haspelmath, one of the researchers: “What this means is that there is no evidence for [an initial] pidgin stage in the history of these languages.” It also means that despite their mixing of grammars, creoles aren’t all that different from other languages because they “maintain the linguistic structures present in the generations that preceded them.”

Gestures augment speech in social interactions. This was found to be the case in observations of the question-response sequences of research participants, reports Science Daily. Researchers found questions asked with gestures to elicit quicker answers than questions asked without gestures. Quicker answers were also given when gestures terminate before than when they terminate after the end of a question. So the next time you need a quick response to ‘Coffee?’, raise the pot at the same time you ask.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in the United States has pledged $2.1 million to revitalise endangered Native American languages in partnership with the First Nations Development Institute. The NEH and First Nations aim to “stem the loss of indigenous languages and cultures by training new generations of Native American language speakers, and by establishing infrastructure and models for immersive Native-language programmes that may be replicated in other communities.”

This past week, Duolingo, the popular online language learning programme, launched the beta version of its Czech course, bringing it to a total of 24 languages offered to speakers of English. Czech it out!

Commentaries and Features

Hephzibah Anderson of the BBC discusses Matthew Engel’s new book That’s the Way it Crumbles: The American Conquest of English. In it, Engel argues that words like “cookie,” “closet,” “awesome,” and “apartment” have effectively infiltrated and cheapened British English and will continue to do so at an alarming rate.

Google celebrated British Sign Language and the opening of Braidwood Academy with a Doodle on 6 September. Braidwood Academy was the first school for deaf children in the UK and pioneered the use of sign language in lessons. Its founder, Thomas Braidwood, contributed to the development of British Sign Language—now the most commonly used form of sign language in Britain.

How many languages can you rap in? The Bilingual Foundation recently awarded its Bi-Plurilingualism Prize to Greis—a Swiss rapper who raps in both French and Swiss German—for his total immersion in the main Swiss cultures of both languages and defence of their values.

WalesOnline features an impassioned commentary on the “ugly and tedious” debate that aired on the BBC Newsnight. The rhetoric that keeps surfacing, say Steffan Rhys and Robert Harries, is one marked by a “misguided” belief that speaking Welsh equates to “being political”, is an impediment to mastery of other languages, and that Welsh needs government programmes, laws, and taxpayer money to keep it afloat. Yet to the several people that Rhys and Harries interviewed, Welsh is very much a living and breathing language that many Welsh people continue to use as their first language.

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