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.

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

What Are the Oldest Living Languages?

Have you ever wondered what the oldest living languages are? That question is harder to answer than it might seem at first. The origins of many languages are lost in time, and it’s hard to say which is the oldest.

That said, some languages are older than others. So, let’s take a look at 10 of the oldest living languages in the world today:

Hebrew

How old is the Hebrew language? Over 3000 years old
Where is it spoken? Primarily in Israel
Number of speakers: Over 9 million people worldwide, including 5 million speakers in Israel

Hebrew is the only living language remaining in the Canaanite family. The oldest Hebrew inscriptions date back to 3,000 years ago.

But by 400 CE, it was hardly ever spoken. People still studied the language. It was used in Jewish religious ceremonies and in literature and poetry. But they didn’t use it in their everyday lives.

Languages die when people don’t speak them. So, how did Hebrew come back from the dead?

The change began in the late 19th century, as Jews began to return to Israel.  Some began using it at home, with their families. Then, it moved to a language of instruction in some schools. And finally, it became the language of everyday life, with Jewish immigrants to Israel from around the world obliged to learn it and speak it.

Tamil

How old is the Tamil language? Over 2,200 years old
Where is Tamil spoken? Mainly India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Malaysia
Number of speakers:  70 million native speakers

The language of the Tamil people has been called the “the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past.”

In 2004, archaeologists unearthed earthenware burial urns inscribed with a “rudimentary” Tamil Brahmi script carbon-dated to 500 BCE.  So far, this is the oldest example of Tamil. By 300 BCE, Tamil already had a thriving literary tradition.  Read more

Talking Robots, the New Silk Road and More: 10 Language and Translation Stories To Read Today

Got some time to kill? Wondering what’s been going on in the world of language and translation? We’ve handpicked 10 noteworthy stories for you to enjoy on your next coffee break. Enjoy!

Translation project brings Kurdish-language novels to Syria

For years, Kurds in Syria have been banned from reading books in their own language. Offenders caught in possession of Kurdish literature were often imprisoned. Now, a non-profit initiative called Hunar is translating books into Kurdish to help save the Kurdish language.

As Abdo Shehu, who works on the project,  explained to the Daily Mail, “We’re doing our best not only to translate literature but also philosophy and thought… so that Kurds can read world literature in their mother tongue.”

NPR Reporter Tests Translation Apps in China

An NPR reporter recently tested out Google Translate and Baidu’s translation app during a trip to China.  Her experience using the apps on a quest for a pedicure was mixed -some technical glitches and translation errors, but also a long conversation with a pedicurist who did not speak English.

This is an interesting read on the promise and pitfalls of these apps, which are great for personal travel but not quite reliable enough for business use.  Read more

April fools day around the world

April Fool’s Day Around the World

It’s always a good idea to be skeptical about what you read on the Internet, but on April 1st that’s especially true. Why do we play pranks on each other on April 1st? There are a couple of theories as to how this holiday got its start. The first theory is that April Fools Day began after Europe switched from the old Julian calendar to the modern Gregorian calender. Prior to the switch, most of Europe celebrated the beginning of a new year from the 25th of March to April 1st, to coincide with the festival of the Annunciation.  “April Fools,” then, was a day to play jokes on “April fools,” or people who insisted on celebrating New Year’s on the wrong day.

Read more

6 Reasons Multilingual Content Marketing is More Important than You Think

Are you making the most of your content marketing efforts? If your business serves an international audience and doesn’t have a multilingual content marketing strategy, the answer is probably a big, fat “NO.”

Is your content marketing strategy English-only? Do you (gasp) not have a content marketing strategy at all? Then you definitely aren’t reaching all fo your potential customers as effectively as you could be.

Here are 6 reasons why a multilingual content marketing strategy can help you win customers and influence people around the world.

What is Multilingual Content Marketing?

But first things first. Let’s start with some background. What is multilingual content marketing, anyway?

Copyblogger defines content marketing like so:

“Content marketing means creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.”

Multilingual content marketing means doing this in more than one language. It’s more difficult than it sounds, especially as different cultural beliefs and expectations come into play. But it’s worth it. Here’s why: Read more

3 Ways Technology Leaves Some Languages Behind

When it comes to preserving language diversity, technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the Internet makes it easier than ever before to preserve dying languages and to allow people to learn them. On the other hand, technological advances often favor certain languages over others.

Here are some of the ways technology geared toward English speakers is leaving some languages behind, along with the people who speak them.

Lack of Online Content

In the beginning, most Internet content was in English. This has steadily declined over time, and the latest numbers show only 52% of languages are written in English.

That’s good news for people who don’t speak English . . . but only if they speak one of the select few other languages with a significant online presence. As Katherine Schwab noted in the Atlantic, only 5% of the world’s languages are even represented online.

Even national languages like Hindi, with the third-highest number of total speakers in the world, are woefully under-represented, used on a mere .01 percent of the 10 million most popular websites.

And what good is Internet access if you can’t understand the content? Read more

Why French is Important: 12 Facts You Should Know

March 18-26 is French Language Week (or more properly, Semaine de la Langue Française et de la Francophonie).

In that spirit, we’d like to offer our own salute to the French language.  Over the past few years, it’s become somewhat fashionable to say that French is passé. For example, see this article in the New Republic, called “Let’s Stop Pretending That French Is an Important Language.”

So, why is French important in today’s world?

Here are 12 reasons  why French is still an important language (and one that global businesses can’t afford to ignore.)

80 million people around the world speak French as a native language.

61 million of them live in France, naturally. But French-speaking communities exist around the world:

  • Quebec and New Brunswick, Canada
  • Wallonia, Belgium
  •  Parts of Switzerland
  • Monaco
  • 22 French-speaking countries in Africa

Amongst EU citizens, French is the fourth most common mother tongue. Or maybe it’s the second most common. It depends on who you’re asking.

12% of EU citizens speak it. And while the number of French native speakers may pale in comparison to the number of native speakers of Mandarin, Spanish or English, that’s only half the story.

Because . . .

274 million people around the world speak French.

190 million people speak French as a second language, and experts estimate that a total of 274 million people around the world can speak French as either a first or a second language.  Out of that number, 212 million use it daily.

Meanwhile, 1 out 5 Europeans speaks French as a second language. Read more

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