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.

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

11 Interesting Facts About the Irish Language

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! In honor of the occasion, let’s get to know the Irish language a little better. Here are 11 facts about Irish that will make you sound smarter when you’re out celebrating with a pint tonight:

Approximately 1.77 million people speak Irish in Ireland today.

Anywhere from 30% to 40% of the population of Ireland can speak Irish.  However, only around 140,000 of them are native speakers. Most learn it as a second language. Only around 82,000 people speak it daily outside of school.

The language has spread outside of Ireland, too.

For example, about 18,000 Americans speak Irish at home.  There are about 9,000 Irish speakers in Great Britain. And there is even a (small) official “Gaeltecht” in Ontario, Canada. 

Irish used to be one of the main languages of Newfoundland, Canada.

Starting in the late 1600s, Irish immigrants began arriving in Newfoundland to work in the cod fishery there. Between 1750 and the 1830, the stream of Irish arriving on the island turned into a flood. By 1815 there were more than 19,000 Irish in Newfoundland, and the majority of them spoke Irish.

The language died out in Newfoundland by the 19th century, but it left some traces in the local dialect that still persist today.

The Irish language has even been used in space.

In 2013,  Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield sent a tweet captioned in Irish from the International Space Station. This marked the first time the Irish language was used in outer spaceRead more

Funny Sign Translations: 30 More Signs We Didn’t Translate

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs . . . but sometimes they get lost in translation! We’ve scoured the Internet for funny sign translations, and this is what we found. We certainly didn’t translate any of these, but we hope they give you a laugh:

Well, that’s not helpful

Lost in translation

If this place catches fire, we’re in trouble…

What AM I supposed to do then?

tsinc2x

Imgur/ JaromirAzarov

I’ll just stand here looking bored, I suppose . . .

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

datnbyh

As if pressing the big red button wasn’t tempting enough, pressing this particular big red button appears to bring on the apocalypse. You know you want to push it, just to see what happens. Don’t you?

Bad trip, man, bad trip!

kywqwrh

Sounds like someone should have passed on the brown acid…

I think I’ve lost my appetite. . .

wyciqf2-1

Imgur/JaromirAzarov

I’m not sure what they serve here, but I don’t think I want it for breakfast.

Brilliant idea

 6rw1gul

Just what everyone needs after a night out of Indian food! Someone is going to make a fortune off this. Read more

Irish Translations and Traditions for St. Patrick’s Day 

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, the time of year when everyone is at least part Irish (or pretends to be.) But put down the green beer – it’s time to take your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to the next level.  And we’re here to help, with a round-up of St. Patrick’s Day traditions from around the world and some helpful Irish translations for a more authentic St. Patrick’s Day experience.

St Patrick’s Day Traditions Around the World

St. Patrick’s Day originated in Ireland as the feast day of St. Patrick. But it really came into its own amongst Irish immigrant communities in the United States. And since Ireland has historically been a nation of emigrants, St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated around the world.

St. Patrick’s Day Traditions Around the World: Parades6995631593_da7b3ac6b3

Surprisingly, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade didn’t even take place in Ireland. It was held in New York City in 1762. Ireland didn’t get in on the action until 1903!  Read more

human translation vs machine translation

A Translation Showdown: Man vs Machine Translation

Computer scientists began trying to solve the problem of machine translation in the 1950s.  Since then, both the availability and quality of machine translation have improved tremendously. But in the battle of human translation vs machine translation, are humans now expendable?

Some scientists working on machine translation claim that with recent improvements, algorithms are almost as good at translation as humans.  And when the subject of “jobs that will soon be taken over by robots” comes up, futurists almost always put “translation” in the crosshairs.

But what happens when machines take on human translators? Earlier this month, Sejong Cyber University and the International Interpretation and Translation Association of Korea decided to find out. 3 machine translation programs went up against a group of human translators. It was a translation showdown: human translation vs machine translation.

Man versus machine, the translation industry’s version of the famous contest between John Henry and the steam-powered hammer  Guess who won? Read more

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