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Bremen, Germany Hosts World's First Festival of Languages

Bremen, Germany is holding a “Festival of Languages” which started on the 18th September. The festival celebrates all of the world’s 6,500 languages. According to this article it is the first of its kind in the world and will last 21 days.

So, what does one do at a “Festival of Languages?” The events scheduled include music, theater and art exhibits, as well as chances to learn important phrases in a variety of languages.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the festival is the construction of a “Pyramid of Language” out of 6,500 cubes of wood. Each cube represents one of the world’s languages, and will be decorated with a word or phrase from that language before being placed onto the pyramid.

The finished product will be 6 meters high, and festival organizers say it will take a week to complete. Pretty impressive…but why go through all the trouble?  According to Professor Thomas Stolz of the University of Bremen:

“The idea behind the pyramid of languages is to give the spectators something more concrete and tangible to watch, which helps to convey the enormous linguistic wealth of our world.”

The goal of the festival is not only to celebrate linguistic diversity, but also to raise awareness about threatened and endangered languages. According to the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, half of the languages spoken today will probably die out within the next century. In fact, endangered languages are disappearing at the rate of one every 14 days!

In the “Pyramid of Language,” all of the wooden cubes are of equal size. As Professor Stolz explained, one of aims of the festival is:

“to show that all languages are equal, no matter how large, politically or economically potent their speech-communities are.”

Chinese New Year 2009

Today is Chinese New Year an ancient festival which is celebrated not only in China but around the world.

This year is the ‘Year of the Ox’ which symbolises prosperity through fortitude and hard work.

Chinese New Year is an exciting, flamboyant event. As the clock strikes midnight the firecrackers are set off making a deafening sound and colourful fireworks fill the sky. Crowds of people meet in the streets to greet each other and exchange gifts.

There are many traditions and superstitions surrounding Chinese New Year. Red envelopes (also known as ‘lucky money’) are given from married couples and the elderly to young people who are not married and young children. They are filled with money, varying from a couple of dollars to a few hundred, which is said to suppress evil spirits.

The money enclosed in the envelope must be an even number. Although you will never find $4 in one as the number 4 is considered bad luck. The number 8 however is said to be good luck so it is very common for young children to receive $8.

Fireworks are incredibly popular on Chinese New Year. It started back in ancient China when they used to fill bamboo sticks with gun powder. These were burnt to create small explosions thought to scare away evil spirits.

In modern times the firecracker has taken the place of these homemade death traps. Usually firecrackers hang from a string, wrapped in red paper, with gunpowder at the centre. Firecrackers are known for their deafening explosions which as in ancient China it is said to drive away evil spirits.

Although Firecrackers are an integral part of the New Year’s celebrations they have been known to have caused many injuries over the years, which led to the government banning the use of firecrackers for years. Incidents of blinding, people loosing body parts and other grievous bodily harm incidents are reported every year, more commonly in the New Year’s festival season.

The bans on fireworks don’t seem to last forever as many major cities across China and around the world have lifted their bans on these products. It seems that after major incidents like the deaths of 6 people and 58 others injured, governments ban firecrackers for anything up to ten years. After that they start using them again until there is another major catastrophe where people loose their lives.

A lot of the traditions surrounding the festival are about scaring or driving away evil spirits, to start afresh going into the New Year. Everything is centred on the colour red, during the 15 days of Chinese New Year. All of these traditions and symbols are used to invoke luck, happiness and prosperity for the year ahead.

Welsh Language & Culture Festival

This past weekend, on July 30th, Wales kicked off its annual National Eisteddfod in a field in Wrexham. If you’re not from Wales, you may be asking yourself: What, exactly, is an Eisteddfod?

Basically, it’s a yearly festival celebrating Welsh language, literature and culture. Originally, it was a gathering of bards, where poets and musicians came to test their skills against one another. The first such event that we know of was held by Lord Rhys of Cardigan in 1176.

Today, the National Eisteddfod not only includes poetry, literature, dance and musical performances, but also features exhibits devoted to science and technology and booths where Welsh artisans can peddle their wares. The location changes every year, but it is always held in the countryside. The main fairground is known as the maes. Read more

St. David’s Day

This Sunday (1st March) is St. David’s Day.

The Welsh are very proud of their heritage. St. David’s Day is a major event across the region. In Cardiff a large parade is held every year.

For the first time this year Swansea Council will be hosting St. David’s Week Festival with a range of musical, sporting and cultural events.

A little history on St. David…

Born in the 15th century he was later educated at Henfynyw (Old Menevia) in Ceredigion.

He founded a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosin (The Vale of Roses) where St. David’s cathedral now stands. The site is possibly an early religious community and has associations with St. Patrick who is thought to have spent time there before heading back to Ireland from Porth Mawr to convert the Irish to Christianity.

The exact year of his death is not known but the date of 1st March was chosen to commemorate his death and celebrate the patron saint.

St David is possibly the only patron saint of the four chief nations of the British Isles to have been born in the land which adopted him.

Traditions….

For years children were given a half day off from school on St. David’s Day. This custom no longer officially continues but it depends on the school.

Young girls often wear traditional Welsh costumes on St. David’s Day. The costume consists of a long woollen skirt, white blouse, woollen shawl and a Welsh hat. A Welsh hat is a tall stovepipe-style hat, similar to a top hat.
The national emblems of Wales are the Daffodil and the Leek.  The association between leeks and daffodils is strengthened by the fact that they have similar names in Welsh, Cenin (leek) and Cenin Bedr (daffodil, literally “Peter’s leek”).
The flag of Saint David often plays a central role in the celebrations, and can be seen flying throughout Wales.

Chinese Opera Program

Music may be the “universal language,” but that didn’t make learning to sing opera in Chinese any easier for the 20 American singers who joined China’s “I Sing Beijing” program this summer. The Associated Press chronicled the vocalists’ struggles in a recent article.

You probably remember learning to sing “Frère Jacques” and “Feliz Navidad” in school as a child. Unfortunately for the vocalists, learning to sing opera well in Mandarin is decidedly more challenging. For example, vocal coach Katherine Chu told the AP:

“Singers are already sensitive to pitch, which is a big advantage in learning Mandarin. But certain words, like ‘zi’ and ‘zhi,’ aren’t singer-friendly. These words can tighten the jaw so we have to teach them how to carry the tones.”

And there’s more…Mandarin includes sounds that aren’t even found in English as well as different intonation patterns, making it quite difficult to master. Read more