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Why Do Languages Have Gender?

Why do languages have gender? For an English speaker, grammatical gender is one of the most vexing aspects of learning a new language. As Mark Twain once wrote in reference to German:

“A person’s mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it! A person’s nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience haven’t any sex at all…”

Doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it? And yet many, if not most, languages across the world divide nouns up by “gender,” often in quite arbitrary ways. Here’s a quick primer on this interesting language characteristic, along with some tips and tricks to make learning gendered languages easier.

Grammatical Gender Vs. Natural Gender

It’s important to distinguish between grammatical gender and natural gender. Natural gender is simply the gender of a person, animal or character. Grammatical gender is a way of categorising nouns; it doesn’t necessarily match up with the “natural gender” of the person or object being described.

In some languages, grammatical gender is more than just “male” or “female.” Some languages have a “neuter” class, while others have different genders for animate versus inanimate objects.

Languages also have different ways of assigning gender. Some languages go by the physical characteristics of the object in question. Often, mythology and cultural views on gender come in to play, too. For example, in the Alamblak language of Papua New Guinea, the masculine gender “includes things which are tall or long and slender, or narrow (e.g. fish, snakes, arrows and slender trees).” Hmmm. I wonder why? Read more

Lá Nua Closes Its Doors

Lá Nua, the only Irish language newspaper published on a daily basis, has closed down due to a lack of funding.

Lá Nua, which means “New Day” in Irish, stopped its presses at the end of the year. The newspaper had been in print for more than 20 years, but according to Eurolang.net, there simply wasn’t enough demand to keep publishing it.

The newspaper was funded by Foras na Gaeilge, an organisation set up to promote the development of the Irish language and to serve as its governing body. According to Eurolang, the organisation stopped funding the paper because not enough people were reading it.

However, the paper’s managing director, Mairtin Ó Muilleoir, believes the decision was made too hastily. He is quoted as telling the Belfast Telegraph, “At a time when an Irish-speaking Gaeltacht Quarter is taking shape in west Belfast, the decision to stop publishing a daily newspaper is counterintuitive and unwise.”

According to Wikipedia, the newspaper had a circulation of “a few thousand” readers. The paper has been struggling for some time: according to this blog post, it almost closed in March of 2008, again due to funding issues.

While it’s definitely sad that Ireland no longer has a daily newspaper written in Irish, Foras na Gaeilge is going to replace Lá Nua with a weekly publication and a website. They’re currently looking for a company to publish it and offering a grant of 400,000 euros per year. If demand grows for a daily newspaper written in Irish, they might be willing to start funding for a daily paper again.

The closure of the paper is an excellent example of how hard it is to reverse the decline of a language once the process has started. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less of a worthwhile endeavour, but it does offer a lesson about the importance of encouraging language preservation before the situation becomes dire.

Chicago’s Translation Needs Are Evolving

The city of Chicago in the USA has found that as a new influx of refugees settle in the city their translation needs are increasingly difficult to meet especially in a time of financial crisis.

There are growing communities of people from Iran, Burma and Burundi along with a whole host of other nations. New languages have entered the streets of the ‘windy’ city, like Farsi, Karen and Kirundi. The cities services are trying hard to meet their translation needs.

The worry is that without good translation services these people are at risk of being exploited simply because they are unable to communicate effectively in English.

According to the 2000 US census more than 15,000 African language speakers live in Chicago. With all the bureaucracy regarding entering the country the need for languages such as Swahili is gradually increasing and in turn translation costs for the city are increasing.

Approximately 2,600 African refugees arrived in Chicago between 2000 and 2006, this is possibly the largest number of refugees to arrive in Chicago. Since 2006 around 400 Burmese and 330 Iraqi refugees have arrived in the city and the number is always increasing.

Chicago agencies do try to provide interpreting services in whatever language necessary to all. The Chicago Courts have on-site interpreters for languages they use every day, Spanish, Polish and American Sign Language. All other languages are grouped into what they refer to as ‘Exotic’ languages. The most requested languages in this group are Korean, Russian, Croatian and Arabic. The courts are expected to find an interpreter for non-English speakers within 48 hours.

These services are essential an interpreter can have a huge effect on an immigrant’s future in life-altering situations.

As America tries to cope with the recession, translation services are slipping down the list of priorities for the local authorities. They are essential services which can help change lives and even save them. Hopefully America will not ignore their foreign immigrant population and keep providing translation services no matter what the cost.

Indian Beggars Become Multilingual

Are you more likely to give money to someone who asks you for it in your native language? According to this article from The Sun, beggars and street performers in New Delhi are becoming multilingual, hoping to increase their haul from foreign tourists during the Commonwealth Games next year. Although most of the tourists expected for the games will probably speak English, beggars are adding languages like French and Spanish to their repertoire as well.

Many of the beggars are children who were born into families of beggars. Although most of these children will never receive formal schooling, the beggars of New Delhi have set up “language schools” of their own.

Classes usually take place at night, and consist of learning helpful phrases in other languages, such as “I am an orphan.” Beggars are also trained to recognize foreign currency and determine its value.

Begging is actually an organized occupation in New Delhi, with an estimated 100,000 beggars in the city. Beggars are assigned specific places and times to beg, and move around so that no one beggar is in the same place for too long.

The entire enterprise of begging is targeted to achieve the maximum amount of profit possible. Why learn to beg in more than one language? According to a beggar quoted in the Sun article, it adds a “personal touch” to begging. As businesses are learning the world over, it pays to speak to your customer in his or her native language!

President Obama

President Obama in Controversy over Healthcare Translation Policy

Accoring to various news reports there is controversy in the USA this week over ‘ObamaCare’ policies which state proposed healthcare reform plans which include providing on site interpreters for patients who have limited English. The healthcare reform legislation is currently pending in Congress.

English language advocates are up in arms as this could add a significant increase to the cost of healthcare in the USA and they believe it will discourage foreign immigrants from learning English. Surely, in today’s multicultural society the provision of translation services to medical institutions is essential.

America needs to look at itself and its history to see that America was made what it is today by foreign settlers who didn’t all speak English and certainly not American English!

Have some respect for your history and accept the fact that not everyone speaks English. The Spanish for example were one of the first European settlers in the US in 1513. Surely they have a right to speak Spanish if they wish to do so. America is meant to be the ‘Land of the Free’ after all.

Yes it seems logical that if you move to an English speaking country you should learn the lingo but even if you do, when your child is dying in A&E (sorry America suppose that’s ER to you) you may not be able to express what is wrong in your second language. To be sure the patient or their guardian fully understands what is happening it is essential that adequate language translation services are provided.

Message in a bottle

Message in a bottle

A French love letter was found near Falmouth, Cornwall last week.

The beer bottle was found by Martin Leslie, a coastguard manager, and his family as they walked on Praa Sands, near Falmouth.

The bottle was poking out of the sand; its top was sealed with red candle wax. Inside was a three A4 pages handwritten in French and dated September 28th.

Mr Leslie had a go at translating the letter using the internet but could only decipher words relating to love, death and missing someone.

He assumed that the letter must be a suicide note and handed the letter to Falmouth Coastguards to pass onto their counterparts in France.

According to the Telegraph Mr Leslie said the woman said she and her lover shared magical moments together but that she understood that he had to return to his wife. She finished by saying she hoped to find another man like him with whom she could live a beautiful life.

The letter said ”These magic moments are pure secret. The secret of life and pleasure without limits. In twenty years, it will still be here, the previous moments of happiness, when life will get dreary, we will be able to tap into these memories to remember what it is to live again.”

Mr Leslie plans to keep hold of the letter which is unsigned and has no contact address on it.

I Love you

I Love You in 25 languages

To help you to be extra romantic this Valentine’s Day we have posted  numerous translations of I Love You below… Good Luck!

I love you in Bulgarian: Обичам те
I love you in Catalan: T’estimo
I love you in Chinese: Cantonese: 我愛你 – Mandarin: 我愛你; 我爱你
I love you in Croatian: Volim te
I love you in Czech: Miluji tě
I love you in Danish: Jeg elsker dig
I love you in Dutch: Ik hou van jou
I love you in Estonian: Ma armastan sind
I love you in French: Je t’aime
I love you in German: Ich liebe Dich
I love you in Greek: Σ’ αγαπώ
I love you in Hungarian: Szeretlek
I love you in Irish Gaelic: Tá grá agam ort
I love you in Italian: Ti amo
I love you in Japanese: 大好き
I love you in Latvian:  Mīlu tevi
I love you in Polish: Kocham cię
I love you in Portuguese: Amo-te
I love you in Romanian: Te iubesc
I love you in Russian: Я тебя люблю
I love you in Slovene: Ljubim te
I love you in Spanish: Te amo
I love you in Swedish: Jag älskar dig
I love you in Turkish: Seni seviyorum
I love you in Welsh: ‘Rwy’n dy garu di

Good luck!

and… (thanks to Mark Angel Brandt)

I love you in Norwegian: Jeg elsker deg

 

French is often considered the language of love, to make sure yours isn’t letting you down choose a trusted provider. Our French translation services are relied on by governments and businesses worldwide, contact us today to find out more

 

Akkadian Dictionary Finally Published

Over 4,000 years after the death of Sargon the Great, scholars have finally finished compiling a dictionary for the Akkadian language.

The Akkadian language is probably the first language in the world that was written down, using a set of small, stylized pictures called cuneiform. From its origins in the ancient city-state of Akkad in what is now Iraq, use of the language spread along with Sargon’s empire to cover much of the Middle East. The Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest known written legal codes, was written in this language.

Speaking to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Gil Stein, head of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, which compiled the dictionary, explained the project’s importance:

“The Assyrian Dictionary gives us the key into the world’s first urban civilization. Virtually everything that we take for granted … has its origins in Mesopotamia, whether it’s the origins of cities, of state societies, the invention of the wheel, the way we measure time, and most important the invention of writing. If we ever want to understand our roots, we have to understand this first great civilization.”

Work on the dictionary started in 1921. Back then, scholars thought they were looking at the Assyrian language, so the project is called the “Chicago Assyrian Dictionary” even though the language in question was later found to be Akkadian, of which Assyrian is simply a dialect.  Read more

iPhone App Helps Troops

When it comes to Afghanistan, winning the all-important “battle of hearts of minds” has proven to be quite difficult…especially when soldiers don’t speak the language. Now, a new, free iPhone app is available to help soldiers learn Dari, one of the local languages. The app, TripLingoDari, was recently profiled on CNN.com.

Dari, the Afghan dialect of Persian, is spoken by about half of the country’s inhabitants. Being able to speak it, even with a limited vocabulary, is a huge advantage for NATO soldiers. Lt. David Duffus of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland told CNN that the app has been a big help: “It helps break the ice with the locals… I can talk directly to the soldiers without needing an interpreter and when we are under fire that can save lives — ours and theirs.” Read more

Chinglish

Language barriers and mistranslations are fertile ground for comedy. Chinese translations of English seem to be particularly vulnerable to gaffes, possibly due to a shortage of fluent English speakers and a corresponding over-reliance on translation software.

As an aside, it should be noted that English speakers have their own problems when it comes to translating Chinese characters. Also, at least our Eastern brethren’s translation failures seem to be confined to signs and menus as opposed to permanent tattoos. You can always change a sign! Read more