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The English Language Goes Social

2009 was the year the English language officially went social, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

First, in November, the Oxford English Dictionary declared “unfriend” to be the “Word of the Year.” Now, Oxford English Press has released a new list of “Words of the Year,” several of which also come from the world of social networking.

According to the Telegraph, the list was compiled by dictionary expert Susie Dent for the Oxford English Press, and it definitely illustrates how much the rise of social networking sites is changing our language. Here’s a quick breakdown of the words that were drawn from social media and the Internet:

  • Tweetup: A gathering, organized via Twitter, where Twitter users meet in real life.
  • Hashtags: A way to track topics and conversations on Twitter by placing the hash sign (#) before the topic of the  post. Hashtags are often used to organize tweetups.
  • Tag cloud- A way to show readers what topics are the most important or most frequently discussed on a blog by arranging the tags in a loose cloud formation, with most frequently used tags larger than the others.
  • Slashdot effect: What happens when a larger, more popular website links to a smaller site, sending a flood of new traffic that causes the smaller site to slow down or crash.

It’s not just the Oxford English Dictionary, either. The Global Language Monitor’s Word of the Year from 2009 was “Twitter.”

In an article on the PC Monitor, Paul Payack, the President of the Global Language Monitor, explained the decision by saying, “In a year dominated by world-shaking political events, a pandemic, the after effects of a financial tsunami and the death of a revered pop icon, the word Twitter stands above all the other words.”

Duolingo

What language does the Internet speak? All languages, of course, but English much more so than others. Per Wikipedia, anywhere from 65 to 85 percent of the content on the World Wide Web today is written in English. That’s great for all of us English speakers, but what about the huge chunk of the world that doesn’t speak English? Their Internet experience is necessarily limited by their language skills. 

Luis von Ahn, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, wants to change that equation by doing nothing less than translating the entire Internet.

Obviously, that’s a staggering prospect considering the sheer amount of content on the web. But according to Fox News, that’s the ambition behind Professor von Ahn’s new language-learning start-up Duolingo. Duolingo offers free language learning to everybody. Since the best way to learn is by doing, language learners on the service are simply assigned a few sentences to translate from the language they’re trying to learn into their native language. Each little snippet of text is from a real website. Duolingo then records the translation, compares it to other people’s translations of the same sentence and determines what the best translation for the sentence probably is. This is similar to the method used by Facebook to translate its website, though of course Duolingo’s project is much more ambitious in scope. Read more

closest to English

Which Languages Are Closest to English?

Have you ever wondered which languages are most closely related to English? Well, wonder no more! Here are the 5 languages that linguists say are the most closely related to English. Some of them might surprise you…

The Closest Language to English: Scotsscotslanguagemap

The closest language to English is Scots . . . assuming you consider Scots a language, that is. According to a 2010 study by the Scottish government, a majority (64%) of Scottish people don’t.

And yet, Scots began to diverge from English as far as back as the Middle English period.  The UK government classifies it as a regional language and it is protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Fast Facts About the Scots Language

  • Scots is spoken by about 1.5 million people
  • Technically, the Scots alphabet has one more letter than the English alphabet. The last letter, called yough, looks like a backward “3.” The letter “z” usually replaces it.
  •  Scots has been primarily an oral language for so long that it does not have a standard spelling system.

Scots is not only the closest relative of the English language, it’s also been heavily influenced by its “big brother.” So, how easy is it for an English speaker to read Scots? Try it for yourself!

Aw human sowels is born free and equal in dignity and richts. They are tochered wi mense and conscience and shuld guide theirsels ane til ither in a speirit o britherheid.

Got that? It’s Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Here’s the English translation:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Read more

Want to See the World From a New Perspective?

Learning how to speak another language can be a lot of fun, and knowing how to speak one is a useful, marketable skill in today’s world. But there’s another reason to learn a new language. It may sound like a cliché, but a new study indicates that learning a second language can actually change the way you see the world.

The study looked at people who spoke Japanese, people who spoke English and people who spoke both languages, and asked them to distinguish between different shades of blue.

Why blue? The Japanese language differentiates between light blue (mizuiro, or “the color of water”) and dark blue (ao) in a way that English does not. Read more

The Evolution of English

All languages change over time, and English is no exception. Now, a physicist at the University of Maribor in Slovenia has used a computer program to analyse the text of 5.2 million books published since 1520, to find out how language use has changed over the centuries.

The results lead to a couple of interesting observations. First of all, the Reformation and the Enlightenment seem to have had a huge impact on the most commonly used English words and phrases. For example, the New Scientist notes that in 1520, “of the Pope” was the most common three word phrase. In 2008, it was “one of the.”

Likewise, some of the most frequently used five- word phrases in the 1500’s were “the Pope and his followers”, “the laws of the Church” and “the body and blood of Christ.” These have been replaced by prepositional phrases like “”at the end of the”, “in the middle of the” and “on the other side of”. Simply put, we’re not as religious as we once were. Or at least, our literature isn’t.

As Lifehacker observed, you would think that the rise of the Internet would lead to another burst of evolution in our language use, especially with all the new tech buzzwords being added to Oxford English Dictionary and the longstanding linguistic debate over the effects of text messaging. However, that’s actually not the case.

As Professor Perc explained to the Australian:

“It seems that the words and phrases we use for writing books have matured, which in turn invites the conclusion that the English language itself is matured over the years. Today we know what to expect when opening up a book, much more so than we would have if opening a book in the 16th century.”

I’d always heard that English was one of the hardest languages to learn, but Professor Perc told the New Scientist that its linguistic stability could actually make it easier to master than a language that’s still in flux:

“If phrases reappear in a book, it’s easier to follow. In China, where globalisation is still taking place, there’s still a lot of change in the language, and that probably makes it harder to learn.”

 

English is About to Get Its Millionth Word

The English language is about to hit a new milestone next month, according to this article on UPI.com.

Paul JJ Payack is predicting that the millionth new English word will be coined on June 10, 2009 @ 10:22 am Shakespeare’s time. How can Payack, the president of the Global Language Monitor, tell when the millionth word will be added? Is he psychic?

Not quite. The prediction is based on analyzing how fast words are currently being created-about once every 98 minutes, according to this earlier article about the researchers. At that rate, on June 10, 2009, the Global Language Monitor figures that we will officially hit 1 million words.

Here’s the question, though: How do we know when a new word is created? People coin words all the time-who decides when they officially get to join the English language?

Actually, it appears that the Global Language Monitor gets to make that decision-at least as far as their research is concerned.

Currently, they are trying to decide which words have the honour of becoming the millionth word in the English language.

According to the articles referenced above, here are some of the contestants:

•    Defollow
•    Defriend
•    Greenwashing
•    Noob
•    Chiconomics
•    Bangster (a combination of bankster and gangster)
•    Mobama
•    Recessionista
•    Wonderstar (think Susan Boyle)

Which word will be the winner? And how does the Global Language Monitor get the authority to declare that “greenwashing” is just now a word? Or “noob”?

And do these guys actually look up the words they are considering on UrbanDictionary.com? Because if they did, I don’t know why they’d consider assigning “chiconomics” to the historic role of the English language’s millionth word.

WARNING: If you are easily offended, please avoid looking up “chiconomics” at Urban Dictionary’s site.

Since this seems to be an arbitrary decision-making process for an arbitrary milestone, perhaps they should set up a website and let people vote on which of these words will be the “official” millionth word in the English language. Power to the people!

Language Classes For Immigrants

Everybody wants immigrants in the UK to learn English, but budget cuts are about to make it much more difficult for them to do so. According to the Independent, almost 80,000 people in the UK will soon lose access to free English classes. To help trim the budget, free English classes are to be reserved for active job seekers. Everyone else will have to pitch in at least half the cost of the classes, which can cost up to £1,000 per year, money that in many cases simply isn’t there.

The requirement that immigrants be on “active benefits” to access free classes means that women will bear the brunt of the cuts. Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told the Independent:

“Women are the most likely not to be on active benefits and are therefore the most likely to be affected by this policy. The Government says everybody has the right to integrate, but it is impossible to integrate if one can’t speak English. To ignore the needs of the most vulnerable people in society makes a mockery of the Big Society rhetoric.”

Having a population of women who are isolated and completely dependent on their husbands and children to interact with outside world creates its own problems, as well. Plus, many of these women would prefer to work outside the home, but of course they need to learn English to do so. Sure, some people can teach themselves a new language on their own, from books and TV shows, but many others need the structure and guidance found in a classroom setting. Read more

The Different Types of English

Who invented the English language? This is a question that is just as complicated and diverse as the language itself. In truth, English can be considered one of the few “melting pot” languages of the world. With far-ranging roots including (but not limited to) Germanic, Dutch, Latin, Old Norman, French and even ancient Greek. It should come as no surprise that English offers an interesting insight into the past.

However, we also need to realise that different regions of the world speak entirely different dialects while the exact same words will have entirely different definitions in regards to where we live. Believe it or not we do localise (or should that be localize) texts for different ‘English’ speaking markets, this is part of our Transcreation Service. Let me show you what I mean and take a look at some examples that will leave you tongue tied at the end of this article.

The USA Vs the UK

Let’s assume that a British citizen is visiting the states and needs some repair work done on their car. Strutting into a garage and asking the employee to take a look under the bonnet would be quite confusing. “Bonnet” is the head covering for an infant. “Hood” refers to a vehicle. Still, the laughs don’t stop here. Many an American has found himself red in the face after referring to his trousers as “pants”. Suddenly, privacy seems to have been thrown out the window. In the same way, an English woman would never be caught dead wearing a “fanny pack” around town for obvious reasons! I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago on the Association of Language Companies’ blog, the link is here – US and UK EnglishRead more

20 Endangered British Languages

English may be the third most common language in the world in terms of native speakers, but other British languages aren’t faring nearly as well. In fact, the Telegraph reports that Cambridge University has just put together a database that includes 20 British languages that are either endangered or believed to be extinct. Some evolved here, some were brought here, but all once had active, vibrant communities in the UK.

Here’s a little bit about some of the endangered/extinct languages on the list that are native to the UK:

Old Kentish Sign Language: Now extinct, this was a type of sign language once used in Kent. In some communities in Kent, many children were born deaf, and this sign language let them communicate with hearing friends and family.

 

Polari: Derived from elements of English, Italian, Romani and other languages, this was a code language spoken by circus and carnival performers, and by homosexuals at a time when homosexual relationships carried stiff legal penalties. When gay relationships became legal, there was no longer a need to use it. Plus, mainstream exposure ensured that it no longer served its purpose as a secret language.

 

Cornish: In the 18th century, Cornish died out completely. However, it has since been revived and now there are at least 2,000 people who speak Cornish fluently. It is still classified as “critically endangered.” Read more

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday, as well as the anniversary of his death. Although he lived 400 years ago, the Bard still influences the English we speak today.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives him credit for coining more than 2,000 words, though of there’s some dispute over whether or not he actually invented all of them.

How did one man come to have so much influence on the English language? In Shakespeare’s case, it was a combination of luck, talent and craft that allowed him to leave such an enduring legacy behind.  To say that Shakespeare “had a way with words” is a serious understatement, of course, but he also had the good fortune to live in a time when the English language was changing rapidly. Wars were being fought, new lands were being explored, and England’s contact with and knowledge of the rest of the world increased tremendously. The English language needed new words to describe all of these changes, and Shakespeare was perfectly positioned to help supply them.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, here are some of the many words Shakespeare (may have) created:

Aerial: First used in Othello to describe the sky on the horizon, where Othello’s ship is expected to emerge.

Arch-villain: You may think of old James Bond movies when you hear this word, but the first “arch-villain” in the English language was actually the corrupt judge Angelo in “Measure for Measure.”

Fashionable: First used by the character Ulysses in “Troilus and Cressida.”

Tranquil: Though the word “tranquility” dates back to Chaucer, Shakespeare is the first person known to have used the adjective “tranquil.”

Downstairs: First used by Prince Hal in King Henry IV.

Pander: In the medieval tragedy “Troilus and Cressida,” Pandare, Pandaro or Pandarus was a character who arranged to have his niece Cressida sleep first with the Trojan warrior Troilus and then with the Greek lord Diomedes. Shakespeare first used “pander” to mean “pimp” in Henry IV, Part II.”

Majestic: “Majesty” has been in use since the 14th century, but as far as we know, Shakespeare was the first person to use the adjective “majestic.”

Obscene: Yes, Shakespeare coined this word, too, by Anglicizing the old Latin word obscenus.

Sanctimonious: First used by Lucio, in “Measure for Measure:”

“Thou concludest like the sanctimonious pirate, that
went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scraped
one out of the table.”

Image Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by david__jones