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Baby talk

When Do Babies Start Learning Language?

By now, almost everyone knows that infants begin to learn language long before they utter their first words. But did you know that babies start learning language before they are even born? At least, that’s the conclusion that German researchers from the University of Wurzburg came to in a new study, published in the journal “Current Biology.”

For the study, the researchers recorded and analyzed the cries of 60 different newborn babies. Some of the babies were born to French-speaking parents; others were born to German-speaking parents. You might think that that wouldn’t matter, that all babies sound the same when they cry. However, the babies were only 3 to 5 days old, and they were already crying in “accents” that mimicked the intonations of the adult’s language. So, the French babies’ cries had a rising inflection, and the German babies’ cries had a falling inflection.

According to the researchers, the babies were most likely imitating the speech they had heard while in the womb.  In this article from the BBC, researcher Kathleen Wermke said that  “The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their foetal life. Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants’ crying for seeding language development.”

Wermke also theorized that the babies were trying to bond more closely with their mothers by mimicking them in the only way possible-through the intonation of their cries.

In Italy’s South Tyrol, German Trail Signs Cause Controversy

The Italian province of South Tyrol has always been a land apart. Originally part of Austria-Hungary, the province only became part of Italy in 1919, after World War I ended.

Since then, the inhabitants, most of whom speak a dialect of German, have often been made to feel that they don’t “fit in” in their own country. For example, when the Fascists ruled Italy, the government made a concerted effort to ban public use of the German language in the region, and to encourage Italian speakers to immigrate and “crowd out” South Tyrol’s original inhabitants. Things got better after the end of World War II, when strong protections for German language speakers were made law and the province was granted a large degree of autonomy. Read more

5,000 New German Words

According to the BBC around 5,000 new words have been added to the German language in the latest edition of the well respected German dictionary, Duden. Most of the new words have come from the English speaking world.

New terms have been added such as ‘After show party’, ‘No-go area’, ‘It girl’ and ‘Babyblues’.

Twitter fans also gained a new word ‘Twittern’, which means to Twitter (or to Tweet, which ever you prefer).

New words have also come from the current global financial Crisis. ‘Kreditklemme’, meaning credit crunch has appeared for the first time. Other new words include ‘Konjunkturpaket’ which means ‘stimulus package’ and ‘Abwrackpraemie’ this translates as ‘car scrappage bonus’.

The German language is well known for its use and creation of extremely long compound nouns, for example the new edition of the dictionary includes a fantastic 23 letter example ‘vorratsdatenspeicherung’ which translates as ‘telecommunications data retention’.

The Duden was first published in 1880 by Konrad Duden. New editions of the dictionary are released every four or five years.

German Language Can Be Fun!

Learning a language can sometimes become a real struggle:  grammar, conjugation and structure are all that you can think of and you feel that your head is going to explode.  Some languages are harder to learn than others and personally I found German pretty challenging… For all of you guys trying to make German your second language, time to take a break in your studies and discover some fun facts about this unique dialect.

  • German and English are both sister languages: many German words are identical to their English counterparts.
  • Be careful with some meanings: for example “gift” in German means “poison”, “mist” means “bird droppings”, “rat” means “advice”.
  • German has 3 genders for its nouns: masculine (der), feminine (die) and neuter (das).
  • Famous for long words:

Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” has 63 letters and means “beef labelling regulation and delegation of supervision law”

Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften” has 39 letters and means “ legal protection insurance companies” Read more

Does the German Language Sound Angry?

Just like different types of music, each language has its own distinctive sound. French, often described as the “language of love,” could be compared to a soft, seductive ballad. English might be a radio-friendly pop song. But what about German? By reputation at least, the mother tongue of Bach, Beethoven and Goethe is the death metal of languages. Non-German speakers often describe it as “harsh,” “angry” and “guttural.”

This reputation is used to hilariously good effect in the videos below, which translate the same word into multiple languages, ending with German:

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Confusion over Nazi Slogan Translations

The federal court of justice has overturned the conviction of a man who was fined 4,200 euros for possessing and transporting 100 t-shirts which were to be sold with the words ‘Blood and Honour’ printed on the front.

‘Blood and Honour’ is a translation of the German ‘Blut und Ehre’ which was a Hitler Youth slogan.

The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary organisation of the Nazi party, which existed from 1922 until 1945. Young boys were recruited both voluntarily and under duress and trained to be soldiers and ‘true believers’. By the Second World War the Hitler Youth had over eight million members.

In the latter years of the Second World War the Hitler Youth held a large recruitment drive calling up boys as young as ten years old which meant that most young males in Germany became members. As part of their uniform the young boys aged 10 – 18 wore daggers which had the swastika symbol on the handle and early examples had the words ‘Blut und Ehre’ inscribed on the blade. ‘Blut und Ehre’ or in English ‘Blood and Honour had become their motto.

Today the display of Nazi symbols or slogans is forbidden in Germany, but the court ruled that the ban only applied to slogans or text written in German. The court said the context of the original phrase had been sufficiently distorted to render its usage legal. It also said, “By translating it into another language, the Nazi slogan, which is characterized not just by its meaning but also by the German language, is fundamentally transformed.”

The defendant however has not been released. He may now be charged with supplying goods with Nazi imagery on and there is a possibility he could still be convicted of using the English phrase “Blood & Honour” because it was also the name of a far-right organization that is banned in Germany, the original verdict had not taken this into account. The man has not been named at this time.

Surely that is the slogan no matter what language it is in. It has been printed for maximum effect, to offend and upset others.

Does the UK Need More Foreign Language Speakers?

Is the UK facing a shortage of foreign language speakers in the near future?  That seems to be the case, a new study from the CBI confirms.

Last year, the British Council released a report describing the potential economic harm caused by not having enough UK workers with the right foreign language skills.

The 2014 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey supports those conclusions. According to the CBI survey, two thirds of UK employers prefer to hire employees with foreign language skills.

Which languages are companies looking for? The most requested language was French, with 50% of businesses looking to hire French speakers. 49% were looking for German speakers, and 44% were looking for Spanish speakers. However, the number of businesses looking for Mandarin and Arabic speakers is growing. For example, 31% of the firms surveyed considered Mandarin a  useful language for their business. In 2012, only 25 percent did. Likewise, demand for Arabic language skills is up 4 percent since 2012.

In a statement,  CBI deputy director general Katja Hall expressed concern about the number of UK students learning these languages:

“With the EU still our largest export market, it’s no surprise to see German, French and Spanish language skills so highly prized by companies. But with China and Latin America seeing solid growth, ambitious firms want the language skills that can smooth the path into new markets. It has been a worry to see foreign language study in our schools under pressure with one in five schools having a persistently low take-up of languages. The jury remains out as to whether recent government initiatives can help spur a resurgence in language learning. Young people considering their future subject choices should be made more aware of the benefits to their careers that can come from studying a foreign language.”

To address this problem, the  government is making foreign  languages mandatory in UK schools starting at age seven.

Is there anything else we should be doing to encourage British children to learn foreign languages? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by mklapper

Johann von Goethe

Germany Seeks to Enshrine the German Language

What could be more German than the German language? At least, that’s the question being asked by members of the German Christian Democrat political party, which is seeking to change the German Constitution to include the following 6 words:

“The language of the Federal Republic of Germany is German.”

The Associated Press notes that ever since World War II, the German language has been in need of an image makeover.

Long after the last vestiges of the Nazi regime were banished, the German language’s sinister reputation lives in on the accents of Hollywood villains and other aspects of pop culture.

For example, the American rock band Tool included a song in German  called “Die Eier von Satan”  on their album Aenima.

The song uses the popular association of German with fascism to make non-German speaking listeners think they are listening to a Nazi speech of some sort, but it’s actually just a recording of someone reading a brownie recipe in German.

It’s unfortunate that World War II has left a cloud hanging over the language of German Romanticism, and of poets and philosophers like Goethe and Hegel.

So, although Germany is seeing an increase in the population of immigrants, this proposal is presented as being more about rehabilitating German’s image than about making people feel unwelcome. The AP article states that “For many Germans, enshrining the language is more about strengthening the country’s image on the international stage rather than fears about foreign influence.” They also feel that the resolution would make it easier to have German listed as an “official” language of the EU.

Still, the proposal is opposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and by other German political parties, including the Social Democrats and other opposition parties. For example, according to Speigel Online,

“Others worry that the CDU’s motion could be interpreted as offensive to minorities living in Germany, whether it be ethnic Danes in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Sorbs in Saxony or the roughly 3.3 million Germans of Turkish origin living in the country. Ayyub Axel Köhler, the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), told the Hanover daily Neue Presse that the measure was “laughable and small-minded.” “No one doubts that German is the official language,” Köhler added. “It’s obvious that knowing German is a key requirement for integration.”

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.

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