Interesting & varied language stories from all around the world, curated by our dedicated writer. From the topical to the absurd, the grand and the obscure, it’s all here for you to enjoy.

apps for endangered languages

6 Apps For Endangered Languages

By the end of this century, linguists expect more than half of the languages in the world to die. It’s a bleak statistic, especially given how deeply language and cultural identity are bound together. But linguists, language activists and the people who speak endangered languages are fighting back.

Want to save an endangered language? There might be an app for that! There are apps to teach endangered languages to people who don’t speak them.  Alternately, some apps make it easy to record native speakers of any endangered language, translate what they’re saying, and share it with linguists and language preservationists.

If you’re interested in learning or preserving an endangered language, here are 6 apps for endangered languages that might interest you:

Ma! Iwaidja

Language: Iwaidja, an indigenous Australian language. There are only about 150 Iwaidja speakers left, although children are still learning it. This app serves two purposes:

  • It teaches the language, with a dictionary, a phrasebook and a “Wordmaker” that lets users experiment with phrases and sentences to see how different elements of Iwaidga grammar and syntax work together.
  • It allows anyone working with Iwaidja speakers to input new words, phrases, and translations.

Read more

Slang Around the World- Colorful Words and Phrases to Tickle Your Funny Bone

Your English teacher may not have approved of it. And the older generations may start muttering about kids and lawns when they hear it. But slang helps keep languages interesting and alive. And many of the words and expressions we use today started out as slang. Often playful and colorful, slang is like a laboratory for language.

Slang is everywhere, and most of it defies direct translation. Want to learn more about slang around the world? We’ve collected some of the funniest and most interesting slang words and phrases in different languages.

Funny Australian Slang: Who gave that lizard a beer?

Australia is known for its colorful way with the English language. Here’s one of the most puzzling Aussie phrases:

Flat out like a lizard drinking.

Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with drunk reptiles. Instead, it means you’re extremely busy.

Long Teeth and Spanish Cows: Funny French Slang

Avoir les dents longues. 

Translation: Long in the tooth.
Meaning: In English, of course, this expression means “old” or “elderly.” In French, though, it simply means “ambitious.”

Spanish cow is funny French slang.

Who are you calling a Spanish cow?

Parler comme une vache espagnole.

Translation: To talk like a Spanish cow.
Meaning:  To speak poorly.

Arrête de te la péter.

Translation: Stop snapping your suspender against your chest. But “péter” also means “to fart.”
Meaning:  Stop bragging. Read more

US “Alt-Right” Gets Lost in Translation

The “alt-right” was a notable force in last year’s election for US president. The loosely organized collective of right-wing trolls spread memes and “fake news,” helping to influence public opinion against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump. They certainly weren’t the only factor, but they had an impact.

But when they tried to duplicate their success in the French election, they failed. And while their failure inspired sighs of relief from people around the world, it’s also an informative case study on the importance of localization. Here are 3 lessons we can learn from it.

Assess The Market

Before selling your product in a new territory,  you need to research the market. How will your product fit in? What are your target customers like? How do they get their information? That rule holds even if your “product” is a loathsome ideology.

According to the New York Times,  “alt-right” trolls from a particularly vile corner of 4chan issued a “call to arms” after the announcement of a runoff election between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. The results:

Within days, the online thread — and similar discussions across the internet — was flooded with hundreds of users in the United States offering to help the digital campaign.

But the American tactics have not translated overseas.

It’s not just that their candidate lost. The New York Times commissioned a social media analysis to see how well the “digital campaign” penetrated the French market. Apparently, not very well:

The analysis . . .  showed that more than one-third of posts linked to certain political hashtags originated from the United States, although few went viral in France.

So, despite the global nature of the Internet, US-based social media chatter about the French election tended to stay in the United States.

Different Countries, Different Cultures, Different Marketing

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Star Wars Translations, Emoji, Talking Dolphins and More: 9 Language and Translation Stories Worth Reading

Waiting impatiently for the weekend to start? We’ve handpicked 9 interesting stories from the world of language and translation to keep you informed (and amused):

French Translation of Last Jedi Trailer Prompts Questions

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve probably seen the Last Jedi trailer already. If you’ve missed it, you can watch it below. Go ahead, we’ll wait:

So, it’s time for the Jedi to end, is it? That line, from the presumed Last Jedi himself, Luke Skywalker, naturally prompted a flurry of online commentary and questions. And then, the French version of the trailer came out, prompting even more questions.

 According to Mashable:

“[T]he dubbed trailer ends with the line “le temps est venu pour les Jedi d’en finir,” which translates to “the time has come for the Jedi to put an end to it . . . Disney France is aware of the difference in meaning — but decided to keep it that way regardless.”

Read more

How to Celebrate May Day Around the World

Yesterday was May Day, and that means it’s time for a party. Or a protest. Maybe both.  Why are May Day celebrations around the world so different? To find out, let’s take a look at the history of the holiday and the places where it’s celebrated.

Traditional May Day Celebrations Around the World

In the northern hemisphere, May Day celebrates the coming of spring (or of summer, depending on where you are).  Many May Day traditions have roots that go back to before the arrival of Christianity.

For example, the ancient Romans celebrated the end of April with a six-day-long festival in honor of the goddess Flora. The festival featured games, performances, “lustful” animals like hares and goats running rampant, flowers and a sacrifice to Flora at the end.

Meanwhile, Celtic cultures traditionally observed Beltane on the first of May, with bonfires, flowers, decorating a May Bush, and offerings to the fairies to keep them from making mischief at the expense of the villagers’ herds.

Traces of these ancient rites remain in traditional May Day celebrations around the world, often mixed in with Christian beliefs.

May Day Around the World: United Kingdom

For example, in parts of the UK, May Day celebrations include dancing around a maypole, crowning a May Queen and traditional morris dancing. Some towns have also brought back Jack in the Green, a drunken ruffian character clothed in foliage. Jack in the Green was once a common sight at May Day festivals until Victorian morals did away with him.

Meanwhile, Cornwall hosts unique May Day celebrations, including the ‘Obby ‘Oss festival in Padstow and Flower Boat parades in Kingsand, Cawsand, and Millbrook. For the  ‘Obby ‘Oss festival, villagers decorate the town with a maypole, flowers, and greenery.  Teams of dancers parade through the town. One of them carries a model hobby horse with jaws that snap shut and tries to snatch young women as they pass by. Read more

Icelandic language

The Future of the Icelandic Language 

The Icelandic language is as close as you can get today to the language of the Vikings. Brought to the Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th century, it is the closest living language to Old Norse.  But is the modern digital age threatening to wipe out Icelandic?

It depends on who you ask.

If the latest headlines are to believed, Icelandic is on its last legs. Here’s a sampling:

Icelandic Language At Risk Of Extinction As Robots And Computers Struggle To Understand It – IFLScience.com
Computers don’t even understand it: Icelandic people worrying their language is facing extinction- Associated Press
Low Wages And Digital Death: Icelandic In Crisis

Is the future really all that bleak? Let’s find out.

Is the Icelandic Language in Danger?

At this point, Icelandic is not endangered.  It’s not even classified as vulnerable or threatened. It’s the official language of Iceland. It has 331,000 native speakers. That may not seem like a lot compared to English. But it’s well over the “magic number” of 35,000 that economist David Clingingsmith recently identified as the number of speakers need to keep a language safe (assuming he’s correct).

And most importantly, Icelanders are still teaching the language to their children.

So why all the alarmist headlines?

Icelandic and the Rise of the Machines (That Speak English)

Over the past decade, Icelanders have become increasingly concerned about the cultural presence of the English language.  Knowledge of English is widespread in Iceland.  Because English is so prevalent on the Internet, Icelandic people (especially Millenials) have more reason to use it than ever before.

Then, there’s the rise of the machines: Siri, Google  Now, Alexa, GPS systems . . . it’s now possible to speak to so many of your gadgets and have them talk back . . . in English. Read more

5 Cultures Where Men and Women Really Don’t Speak the Same Language

How many times have you heard someone say “men and women don’t speak the same language?” But that’s not true . . . well, in English, anyway! In some parts of the world, the words people use can vary dramatically based on nothing more than gender.

For example,  in the following cultures, men and women really do speak different languages (at least some of the time).

Chukchi

Chukchi is an endangered language spoken by 5,000 people in East Siberia.  Traditionally, the Chukchi herd reindeer and hunt for seals and whales.

The Chukchi language is made up two gender-based dialects, one for men and one for women. The differences between the two dialects are mostly phonetic. For example, women typically substitute the ts sound for ch and r. So “ramkichhin,” which means “people,” is pronounced as written by men and as “tsamkitstsin” by women.

At the same time, the differences aren’t quite as simple as just swapping one consonant for another, which is why scholars refer to Chukchi as having two separate, but still mutually intelligible, gender dialects [PDF]. Read more

difference between a language and a dialect

What’s the Difference Between a Language and a Dialect?

What’s the difference between a language and a dialect?

The answer is not as clear-cut as you might think.  Let’s look at the different ways to determine the difference between a dialect and a language, and how they stack up in the real world.

Mutual Intelligibility

The most obvious way to distinguish a language from a dialect is by looking at mutual intelligibility. Sure, Americans and Brits have their linguistic differences, but we can usually understand each other. We speak the same language, after all.

Seems like it should be cut and dry, right? Dialects are regional variations of a single language that are still close enough that speakers can understand each other.

But not so fast!

Yiddish scholar Max Weinreich was known to say “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” And in fact, there are plenty of examples of “languages” that are mutually intelligible being classified as separate languages for political reasons  (and vice versa).  Read more

23 Twitter Accounts for People Who Love Languages

Do you tweet? The best thing about Twitter is how easy it is to keep track of your interests. At the same time, there’s so much going on that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which accounts to follow.

So, let us help you out. Here are 23 Twitter accounts for people who love learning about languages or who want to keep up with what’s going on in the language services industry.

Language Facts and Fun

This section is for accounts that focus on languages and language trivia. So, follow them all, make your Twitter feed less boring, and learn some cool facts in the process.

Dictionary.com

Username: @Dictionarycom

Why follow? The popular online dictionary has an equally popular Twitter account. Follow them for obscure word definitions, words in current events and cheeky word-related humor. They are staunch defenders of the idea that words mean things, even when they’re coming from the mouths of politicians.

Sample Tweet 

The Oxford English Dictionary

Username: @OED

Why follow? To improve your vocabulary, of course. Every day, the OED tweets a “Word of the Day,” and they’re almost always worth at least $5.00.

Sample Tweet

Indigenous Tweets

Username@IndigenousTweet

Why follow? To keep up with the latest news on indigenous and minority languages.

Sample Tweet 

Read more

bad video game translations

8 Hilariously Bad Video Game Translations

Those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s remember when video games were the new hotness. Everyone wanted an NES or a Sega Genesis, and we were all so enthralled with the magic of pressing buttons that nobody even cared how bad the dialogue was.

And often, it was bad. Many games were made in Japan first. Translation wasn’t always a top priority. In fact, according to Wikipedia, “Early translations were sometimes “literally done by a “programmer with a phrase book.”  The end result? Some hilariously bad video game translations!

With that in mind, here’s a look back at 8 of the funniest crimes against translation from the video game industry:

Ikari Warriors: Take Good Rest


The end of Nintendo’s famously difficult game Ikari Warriors  had an unexpected reward for the lucky few who were dedicated and skilled enough t0 beat the game: an epic translation fail.

The closing message reads: “You have accomplished the mission.” (So far so good.)
“You are the very prevailer that protect right and justice.” (Thanks . . .  I think.)
I would express my sincere. Thanks to You. Take good rest! Read more

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