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Is English Threatening German?

Is the German language in danger? According to The Guardian, some German linguists think so.  Apparently English, German’s bigger brother, is encroaching on its sibling’s turf.

The problem is especially notable when it comes to technology – English is coining new buzzwords like “follower” and “livestream” and exporting them at an astounding rate, so quickly that the English versions catch on before German translations can gain traction.

The German Language Association, or VDS, has been trying their hardest to play catch up. This month, for example, they suggested that Germans say”Anhänger”instead of “follower”, “Direkt-Datenstrom” instead of “livestream” and “Geselligkeit” instead of “socializing.” Read more

Italian University To Go English-Only

The Politecnico di Milano, an Italian university that’s known throughout the world for its architectural and engineering programs, just made a surprising announcement: starting in 2014, most degree programs will be offered in English only. No Italian.

Why would an Italian school move to an English-only policy? In an interview with the BBC, the school’s rector, Giovanni Azzone, explained that he believed the school had no choice if it wanted to stay competitive worldwide:

“We strongly believe our classes should be international classes – and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language… It’s very important for our students not only to have very good technical skills, but also to work in an international environment.”

The school wants to be able to attract students from the US and the UK, as well as from India and Asian countries where English is a common second language. He continued, “We are very proud of our city and culture, but we acknowledge that the Italian language is an entry barrier for overseas students.”

Learning English as a second language can open up doors, and some of the Italian students interviewed by the BBC approved of the idea because it would give them a chance to improve their English proficiency via immersion, without having to leave the country. Other teachers and students were concerned that the quality of instruction would suffer once everyone had to switch to a foreign language.

Professor Emilio Matricciani, who has started a petition against the decision, explained:

“Speaking Italian to our countrymen is like watching a movie in colour, high definition, very clear pictures. On the contrary, speaking English to them, even with our best effort, is, on the average, like watching a movie in black and white, with very poor definition, with blurred pictures.”

What do you think? Is it right for a public university to adopt another country’s language? If all the degrees are in English, will students who travel there to study be missing out on the chance to experience the local culture?

Photo Credit: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by bibendum84

Old England

Oldest English Words

According to the BBC Reading University researchers have identified some of the oldest English words in the languages history.

‘I’, ‘We’, ‘Two’ and ‘Three’ are among the oldest known words, which could be thousands of years old.

The Researchers have created a computer model, which can analyse the rate of change of words. It can also predict which words will become extinct.

They believe “squeeze”, “guts”, “stick” and “bad” could become obsolete first.

The computer programme is designed to log a timeline showing how modern Indo-European words have changed over time. Students can use the software to look up any date and they can see which words were used at that time.
The researchers using the computer programme found that common words or words with precise meanings were more inclined to be the oldest and most long standing.

Basically, if you were able to go back in time (if you can that’s amazing you should tell someone about that!) Reading University could provide you with a pocket guide to the language of that time. This would enable you to communicate with English speakers throughout the ages.

This amazing piece of software can also travel forward in time and predict how words are likely to change in the future.

Does the T.A.R.D.I.S have this facility the Doctor might find this tool very useful.
Basically these guys have too much time on their hands; if they invented a tool to actually travel in time then I’d be impressed.

Words will change over time, it is inevitable. Kids make up words all the time, some stick, some don’t. New words are added to our dictionary now and again, but I don’t think old ones really disappear or become extinct. They will always be remembered somehow in books or multimedia programmes.

I guess words go out of fashion. It’s all swings and roundabouts really.

Archive of English Accents

English is the third most commonly spoken native language in the world, and if you count people who speak it as a second language, it’s probably the language with the most speakers overall. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone speaks it in the same way – far from it! Even among native English speakers, there are too many local dialects and accents to name. When you throw in people who speak English as a second language, the variation becomes even more extreme.

To help document and catalogue the many different ways in which English is spoken, Steven Weinberger, a linguistics professor George Mason University in the United States, has created the Speech Accent Archive.

According to Voice of America, the archive consists of recordings of people reading the following paragraph, written to include most of the sounds in the English language: Read more

How British Travelers Deal with Language Barriers

It’s not exactly news that most travellers from the UK don’t bother to learn the local languages of the places they visit. A 2011 study by travel agency Sheila’s Wheels found that “51 percent of British travellers said they “rarely” took the time to learn how to say anything in the local language before taking off.”

Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect to become fluent- but memorizing at least some key words and phrases tends to make life easier for you and earns goodwill from the locals.

If you can’t speak a word of the local language, how do you expect to be able to communicate? The results of a new survey from online interpreting firm i-interpret4u show the typical methods many Brits use to communicate across cultures. According to a write-up on Travel Daily News, one-third of respondents reported using one or more of the following methods to communicate:

  • Making hand gestures.
  • Speaking more loudly and slowly. (Note: It’s not that they can’t hear you, it’s that they can’t understand.)
  • Smiling and pretending to understand. Read more

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.”