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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.”

Biologist May Have Discovered the Origin of Language

Everyone who’s ever studied Shakespeare knows that languages change over time. And if you look at the vocabulary, it’s obvious that language like French and Spanish are related. Professional linguists classify languages based on how closely they are related, and try to uncover how ancient languages evolved and branched off to form new languages over time.

But looking at how words from different languages are related to each other will only take you back so far. 9,000 years to be precise, which is how old the Indo-European language tree is.

According to the New York Times, biologist Quentin D. Atkinson, working at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, decided to take a different approach: looking at phonemes instead of words. For the non-language geeks out there, phonemes are the smallest elements of language that are capable of changing the meaning of a word. Think consonant sounds and vowel sounds, or, in certain African languages, clicks. Read more

An (Updated) Harry Potter Vocabulary Guide

This year, Harry Potter fans are thankful for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The new movie, released last week, gives fans a chance to revisit the wizarding world. But this time, the action happens on the other side of the pond, in  1920’s New York.

If you have friends who love Harry Potter, you might have noticed them lapsing into “Harry Potter-speak,” even in casual conversation. J.K. Rowling created a rich vocabulary for her fantasy world. But what if you don’t speak the language? What’s a muggle to do?

Read our Harry Potter vocabulary guide, of course! This handy glossary will make it easier to converse with your Hogwart’s-loving friends.

Harry Potter Vocabulary Guide – Words From the Original Series 

Animagus (plural: Animagi): Wizards who can transform into animals.

Auror: A magical detective who hunts dark witches and wizards.

Butterbeer: a favorite boozy drink of wizards, butterbeer is usually served warm and is described as tasting of butterscotch.

Muggles: normal, non-magical humans. This word has actually escaped the confines of Rowling’s fantasy universe and is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. According to LanguageRealm.com, Rowling claims the term is based on the insult “mug,” but it was first used as the name for a villain in a short story by Lewis Carroll, and was also used as slang for marijuana back in the 20’s.

Apparate/Disapparate: to “disapparate” is to disappear. After disapparating from a particular location, a wizard can then “apparate” somewhere else, no matter how far away. From the Latin “appareo,” to become visible. Read more

Brain of a Bilingual Baby‎

New parents are bombarded by well-meaning advice about how their parenting techniques could affect their child’s developing brain. A lot of this advice is exaggerated, like the potential benefits of showing your tots “Baby Einstein” videos. However, there’s a scientific consensus that infancy and early childhood is the best time to become bilingual, and that early exposure to two languages can have lasting, generally positive effects on cognition.

But why is it that? Scientists are just beginning to understand how bilingualism affects brain development in infants, and a new study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences adds another piece to the puzzle. Read more

Huh: A Universal Word?

There are few, if any, words that are the same across all languages and language families, but a team of linguistic researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands think they might have found one:
“Huh.”

Wait, huh? Huh? Is “huh?” even a word? I’d always considered it more of a verbal tic, but the researchers argue that it is, and that it’s one of the only words that needs no translation. They listened to recordings of people speaking ten different languages from different language families around the world, and analyzed written texts from 21 more. They’ve concluded that “Huh?”(or a very similar sound) is used in all of these languages in the same way: as an attempt to clarify meaning when one person isn’t quite sure they heard what the other one was saying.

While they have not yet verified the existence of “huh?” in all of the world’s almost 7,000 languages, but head researcher Mark Dingemanse told Smithsonian.com, “We are ready to place bets.”

As for whether or not “huh” is a word, the researchers argue that it is:

“A true word is learned, and follows certain linguistic rules, depending on the language spoken. Huh? fits this definition: For one thing, huh has no counterpart in the animal kingdom; for another, unlike innate vocalizations, children don’t use it until they start speaking. Moreover, in Russian, which doesn’t have an “h” sound, huh? sounds more like ah? In languages using a falling intonation for questions, like Icelandic, huh? also falls. All in all, Dingemanse concludes that huh? is a bona fide word with a specific purpose “crucial to our everyday language.”
Why does “huh” or something very close to it appear in so many unrelated languages? In an article published on the PLOS ONE website,  Dingemanse calls it  “the result of convergent cultural evolution: a monosyllable with questioning prosody and all articulators in near-neutral position is the optimal fit to the sequential environment of other-initiated repair.”
In other words, its such an easy way to stop someone and indicate that you might need them to repeat whatever it is that they just said, that it’s evolved to sound the same in almost every language.
Interesting, huh?

Internet Regulator Approves Multilingual Web Addresses

The internet regulator Icann has voted at its annual meeting in Seoul to allow non-latin-script web addresses. This means that  you could have domain names in Arabic, Chinese and other scripts.

This move is set to transform the internet and will be the most complicated code change in over four decades.

Icann were set up by the US Government in 1998 to oversee the development of the internet. The US Government eased its control over the non profit body last month after years of intense criticism. They signed a new agreement which gives Icann independence for the first time since it was set up. The agreement came into effect on the 1st October and this puts it under the scrutiny of the global internet community.

In some countries they have already introduced solutions to the language barrier, setting up alternatives to the standard Latin-script. This allows users to enter web addresses in their own language. However, these are not internationally approved and do not work on all computers.

The BBC suggests that it will most likely be Chinese and Arabic script, followed by Russian that are the first non-Latin internet addresses.

Icann said it would accept the first applications for IDNs by 16 November, with the first up and running by “mid-2010”.

According to the BBC Icann president and CEO Rod Beckstrom said “Of the 1.6 billion internet users today worldwide, more than half use languages that have scripts that are not Latin-based. So this change is very much necessary for not only half the world’s internet users today but more than half, probably, of the future users as the internet continues to spread.”

Teaching in The Inuit Language

The Inuit, a group of native peoples living in Canada, have a graduation rate of only 25%. Obviously, something has to be done. But what? After studying the issue for more than two years, The National Committee on Inuit Education has concluded that one of the most important strategies for improving the graduation rate among Inuit children is bilingual education: teaching them in both their native language, Inuktitut, and either French or English, depending on the region of Canada.

Mary Simon, the leader of Canada’s national Inuit group, told the Globe and Mail that:

“We need to do much more to get the graduation rates up in terms of our kids who aren’t getting through school…We need to implement an era of new investment. I call on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fulfil the words of his speech from the throne to make Canada’s North a cornerstone of its agenda and … do something truly significant for the next generation of Inuit.”

According to a UN study published in 2008, indigenous children tend to do better the longer they are taught in their native language. Plus, there is ample evidence to show that the current system is not working. A 25% graduation rate is simply not acceptable. Read more

New Guinea’s Languages Fall Silent

The tiny island of New Guinea is a hotbed of linguistic diversity. Though the island is only 462,840 square kilometres in size, approximately one sixth of the world’s languages are spoken here. More than 1,000 languages have been counted on: around 800 in Papua New Guinea and 200 on the side of the island controlled by Indonesia.

Still, language death is a problem even here. According to China Daily, many New Guinea languages are in danger of going extinct, especially those spoken by smaller tribes. For example, anthropologist Yoseph Wally told China Daily that based on his experience, on the Indonesian side of the island:

“It’s Indonesian more and more. Only the oldest people still speak in the local dialect,” he said. Certain languages disappeared very quickly, like Muris, which was spoken in an area near here until about 15 years ago.”

In fact, the same factors that created New Guinea’s linguistic diversity are what make many of its languages so vulnerable. Steep mountains and almost impassable terrain kept tribes isolated from each other, encouraging each to develop their own unique language. However, that means that many of New Guinea’s languages were spoken only by small groups to begin with, and when it comes to keeping a language alive, there really is strength in numbers. Read more

Where to get free foreign language fonts

Foreign language support is required for any kind of digital translation, for both individuals and business e.g. foreign artwork design, websites & document translation. Due to the prevalence of translated material, numerous varieties of fonts have been designed over the years to support the needs of foreign communication.

Certain languages use very different character sets that will not be supported by most of the traditional English or Latin based fonts. Before searching for or downloading a new font, first check if one is already available on your system for the language you require. Sometimes the font you require might be stored on your operating system’s installation disc or just requires activation via the settings on your computer. The more recent the operating system, the more likely it will have extended support for a wider variety of languages.

If you are still unable to find a suitable font for the language you are working with, these websites have a good selection that incorporate support for almost all major languages. They can be accessed for free via the following links:

Once you have downloaded a font, simply drag and drop them into your system’s font folder. The font will then be installed into your system ready to use.

In most cases languages using Latin based alphabets can be used in virtually any computer application, without requiring any added features or facilities. When working with fonts for languages that use non-Latin or extended Latin based alphabets however, you may require additional software and keyboard layouts to properly make use of them and ensure they display correctly.

Due to the limited number of font styles or typefaces available for certain languages, you may have to visit a number of sites to seek out one that fits your requirements. The sites provided should be viewed as a starting point as you will find that certain styles or font families are only available commercially.