Small Talk- More than Just Monkey Business

For most primates, grooming is the number-one social behaviour. We’ve all seen nature shows on TV that show a band of chimps combing through one another’s other’s fur.

However, among humans, picking fleas off your neighbour’s scalp is generally considered anti-social behaviour. Instead, we bond by talking, whether it’s about sports, the weather, the news, or the latest round of celebrity gossip.

Now, scientists have found evidence of similar behavior among a species of monkey known as the macaque. Like humans, macaques, especially female macaques, tend to form large social networks. These networks simply consist of too many individuals to make grooming an effective method of bonding. It would just take too much time. The scientists conducting the study theorized that since macaques have such large social networks, they may be using vocalizations as another method of bonding, one that’s equally as important as mutual grooming.

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International Mother Language Day

The 21st February was the tenth International Mother Language Day. The day was officially named so by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

There are 6,000+ languages around the world and many of them are in increasing danger of becoming extinct. 2,500 languages are officially listed as endangered. According to UNESCO there are 5 levels of language strength. These are, unsafe, definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered and extinct.

Worrying Statistics from the UNESCO

•    200 languages have become extinct in the last 3 generations.

•    538 languages are officially critically endangered

•    502 languages are severely endangered

•    632 languages are definitely endangered

•    607 languages are unsafe

The International Mother Language Day was set up to encourage people to take an interest in there mother tongue language. It is important that we do not let these languages become extinct.

In the UK the dominant language is English but there are many other languages which are slowly disappearing. Welsh is slowly being forgotten despite desperate efforts by the Welsh Assembly Government to increase awareness and even making it compulsory for commercial companies to have their welsh documents translated and interpretation facilities readily available.

Two old UK dialects are already extinct and have been since around the 1950’s. They are Manx (Spoken in the Isle of White) and Cornish (Spoken in Cornwall). Yola which is spoken in southern Ireland is also extinct.

International Mother Language Day is celebrated all over the world. Its objective is to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Many countries have built monuments to help raise awareness and conserve their mother languages.

It is important that we recognise the importance of our ancestral languages and learn from older generations, keeping as many languages as possible alive.

Foreign Language Ban Enforced by Postmaster

A Postmaster from Nottingham has banned foreigners who can not speak English. According to the BBC Mr Deva Kumarasiri said that he could not serve people if he was unable to understand what they were asking for.

He claims to have refused service to six customers as they were unable to communicate effectively in English. He believed they were wasting his time and upsetting other customers who had to wait to be served.

Mr Kumarasiri came to England 18 years ago and made an effort to learn English, he had no choice. The United Kingdom is now much more open to foreign language requirements. His point is that if he did it so should other foreigners who move to the UK. A valid point, but refusing to serve these people in a post office which is supposedly a service available to all is unacceptable.

On the BBC Mr Kumarasiri is quoted as saying:

“I was born and raised in a different country, my language was different, my religion was different. But when I came to England I obeyed the British way of life, I got into the British way of life. That is what I ask everyone else to do – respect the country where you are working and living.”

Britain has become a multicultural society and people should be encouraged to speak their native language. At the same time, if they have chosen to live in the UK they should be prepared to take on the British way of life and try to learn the language.

Local language skills are vital to help people get by when doing everyday activities. Obviously translation services are also important, especially for legal and medical services. People might speak English but still feel more comfortable communicating in their native language when dealing with complex documents.

It is an awkward debate and immigration is currently a sensitive political issue. The immigration laws were amended in November 2008. The new laws basically mean that if the immigrant is from outside the European Union Economic Area they must have a basic understanding of English before they can enter the country, if they are coming here to work. Many other rules were also brought in to make the process more efficient.

Those coming in from abroad should also at least be prepared to learn English. Translation services are available when needed and at little cost to government services and departments, but it seems only polite to at least try to learn the language. Perhaps that is a particularly British thing to say. This debate will continue for years to come as long as Britain remains an attractive option for foreign immigrants.

To Tweet or Not To Tweet-That Is the Question

Well, its official. “Twitter” has officially joined the English language as a verb, at least according to the Associated Press.

The latest addition of the AP’s Stylebook (the style Bible for most of the press) includes the verb “to Twitter” as acceptable usage. Of course, if you use Twitter, you may be aware that some people say “to tweet” instead of “to twitter.”

Snotty grammar geeks on both sides of the divide often step up to ostentatiously correct each other in blog comments and forums.

Currently, it’s almost impossible to talk about Twitter without sounding foolish to somebody. Nobody disputes that an update posted on Twitter is a tweet, but saying “I just posted a tweet” sounds awkward, so you really do have to take sides.

Has the AP settled the debate? Actually, no… They have also approved the use of “tweet” as a verb, leaving the word choice up to individual writers.

So which is it, to twitter or to tweet? The AP may not be taking sides, but Twitter co-founder Biz Stone did, in an interview with TV show The View, last month. According to Mr. Stone, “to Twitter” is the preferred nomenclature.

In addition to approving the use of “twitter” and “tweet,” the AP Stylebook also has its very own Twitter account. You can keep in touch with them by following @ AP Stylebook. However, they don’t take grammar questions through the Twitter account. If you have additional questions about how to write about Twitter’s products and services, you can use the “Ask the Editor” feature on the AP website.

By the way, a couple of weeks ago, we reported that the English language was about to acquire its one-millionth word, at least according to the publicity-hungry folks at the Global Language Monitor. Oddly enough, the one-millionth word was recently declared to be “Web 2.0.”

Israel to Remove Languages Other Than Hebrew From Road Signs

In a move that may cause confusion among travellers and will surely cause discomfort among some of its Arab citizens, Israel’s minister of transport, Yisrael Katz, has declared that the country will get new road signs-in Hebrew only. Right now, road signs are trilingual, with the names of cities, airports and other destinations spelled in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

Why change the signs? Well, the official answer given by the minister of transport is that having three different languages on each road sign confuses people. Of course, there’s probably a little bit more to it than that…the language used on street signs is often about declaring ownership or establishing  cultural dominance.

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Jerrod Kessel and Pierre Klochendler state that “the political motive is ill-concealed.” They quote Mr. Katz as follows: “Some Palestinian maps still refer to Israeli towns and villages by their pre-1948 [pre-Israel] names: Beisan instead of our Beit-Shean. They want to turn the clock back. Not on my signs! We won’t allow anyone to turn Yerushalayim into al-Quds.”

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, there’s also been a bit of a tussle in Jerusalem itself over the trilingual street signs, with vandals painting over the Arabic portions of the signs.  A more moderate group of Jewish “vigilantes” has taken matters into their own hands, placing stickers printed with the appropriate Arabic street names on top of the vandalized signs.

Seen in this context, it’s easy to see why the minister of transport’s actions could make Israel’s Arabic citizens feel unwelcome. According to the New York Times op-ed, one in 5 Israeli citizens is Arabic, and Arabic is one of the country’s national languages.

The rest of the New York Times editorial gets a little nonsensical in its argument, as the writers claim that since “Israel” is spelled “Yisrael” in Hebrew, Katz’ changes “will be literally wiping Israel off the map.”

Adding a “Y” to the name of a country hardly qualifies as “wiping it off the map,” and as far as English-speaking travelers are concerned, well, when you travel to a foreign country you should make an effort to learn how city/street names are spelled in the local tongue. The real concern is that the move will likely increase Israeli Arabs’ sense of disenfranchisement in their own country. It could also have practical consequences for Israeli citizens. For example, the Jewish Daily Forward article quotes cabdriver Muhammed Dabash saying “When I need to take a passenger somewhere, I read the Arabic on the street signs.”  What will he do once the new street signs are up?

Hit West End Show Pioneers Translation Device

The hit West End show Hairspray, currently showing at the Shaftesbury Theatre has introduced a pioneering system which translates the show into 8 languages according to the BBC.

With one third of theatre audiences in London being tourists AirScript developers, Cambridge Consultants, hope the handsets will attract more tourists to London’s theatres.

The translation is received via WIFI and scrolls down throughout the performance. The handset has LED backlighting and the screen has a black background and orange text to minimise glare. It could be quite annoying for other theatre users if the device was too bright. It costs just £6 to hire the device.

The translated subtitles are delivered manually to make sure the line hits the screen at the same time as it is delivered on stage.

It could be quite distracting to look at a device for the whole show rather than getting lost in what’s happening on stage, but it is a great tool for tourists and can only get better as the technology advances.

Tum Island

Some Useful Polish

Here’s some useful Polish language words and phrases. I hope you are planning a visit to Poland and get to use them soon.

English on the left, Polish on the right.

Polish Phrases

Yes = Tak

No = Nie

Thank you = Dziękuję

Thank you very much = Serdecznie dziękuję

You’re welcome = Nie ma za co

Please = Proszę

Excuse me = Przepraszam

Hello = Dzień dobry Read more

Losing Language

“Poetry is just the evidence of life.  If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash”.

This is a quotation of the artist Leonard Cohen which points out the necessity of poetry. It is the same for language. Humans need to talk and share between us but for this, reading literature is very useful. Aristotle said:

“Man is by nature a political animal”.

This means that Humans want to live in society and to develop social relationships with other citizens.

Language, in the strict sense of the term, allows us to communicate but literature and poetry allow us to embellish it. Classical language is losing its value and giving way to the modern. This is represented by mobiles and Internet language, for example “LOL” or “OMG” (oh my God).

Two main reasons can explain losing a language. The first fundamental reason is Time Acceleration: we live more quickly than before and we have less and less time to live. That is why we use abbreviations languages and news means of communication (SMS, SKYPE, FACEBOOK, TWITTER etc.). Paradoxically, people lives much more quickly but spend more time behind the TV! Time Acceleration can also cause other reasons such as Modern Technology and News means of communication. As I said above, Internet and Mobile phones caused the weakening of language even if we need it to work and to communicate .It would be difficult to do without it… Read more

Cuts Threaten Italian Academy‎

Across the globe, government services are being slashed in the name of austerity. In many countries, language services are not exempt from the chopping block– and in Italy, the damage may go so far as to include the Italian language academy itself, the Accademia della Crusca.

The academy was established in either 1582 or 1583. It published the first Italian dictionary ever released in 1612. Ever since, it has focused on training linguists and researchers who study Italian, working with the Italian government and other international governments to promote respect for all of Europe’s languages and working with schools and other organizations to keep the Italian language alive and vibrant by sharing “historical knowledge of the Italian language and awareness of its present evolution.” Read more

Ojibwe Language Into Modern Day

The Ojibwe language is the fourth most common Native American language spoken in North America, with a total of approximately 56.531 speakers in the US and Canada. Even so, like most native languages, it is in some danger of dying out as most of the speakers are elderly.

However, steps are being taken to preserve the language. One effort, which is being led by University of Minnesota Duluth education professor Mary Hermes, involves creating a series of videos showing Ojibwe being used in casual, everyday situations, as it will have to be spoken if it is to survive and thrive in the future. Read more