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The Cherokee Language

In parts of the United States today, including Tennessee, North Carolina, and Oklahoma, road signs are marked with unfamiliar symbols that don’t correspond to English letters. Passing through these areas, you may wonder what the symbols mean.

In all likelihood, you are looking at signs written in the Cherokee language, a remarkable example of linguistic resilience. In spite of 100 years worth of efforts to stamp it out, there are still approximately 22,000 native Cherokee speakers alive today.

How did they manage to preserve their language?

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kevin-the-teenager

Teenagers Save Languages

Kids these days, right? No respect for their elders, no respect for tradition…

If you’ve caught yourself thinking something like this, here’s a nugget of information that might surprise you: Teenagers in several different parts of the world are resurrecting endangered languages, using them for text messaging as well as online communication.

For example, according to Mobiledia.com, teens in southern Chile have been posting videos on YouTube of themselves rapping in a mixture of Spanish and Huilliche, an indigenous language with only about 2,000 speakers according to Wikipedia. Meanwhile, teens in parts of the Philippines text in  Kapampangan, a regional language. In parts of Mexico, young people similarly use the endangered language of Huave, with only 18,000 speakers, as a code for text messages. Read more

Babies Language

Do sounds have inherent meanings or connotations that influence the development of language? The results of a new study covered on Science Daily suggest that they might – that is, that there are certain sounds that we instinctively associate with specific physical characteristics, like “larger” or “smaller.”

In the article, Marcela Peña of the  International School for Advanced Studies explained that the study sought to answer some big questions:

“What is the nature of language? Is everything symbolic or arbitrary? Or are there particular physical aspects of learning that we exploit” to begin to make sense of a large, complex, and — for a tiny infant — brand-new world.”

To find out, the researchers tested 28 four-month-old infants to see if they associated certain sounds with concepts like “larger” or “smaller.” The babies, all from Spanish-speaking homes, were exposed to a variety of meaningless combinations of consonants and vowel sounds, along with a variety of shapes of differing sizes.  Read more

Texting in Endangered Languages

If you’re trying to preserve an endangered language, technology can be both your best friend and your worst enemy. More and more frequently, however, technology has become an ally in the quest to keep indigenous languages alive. Apps and computer programs have been developed to bring these previously left-behind languages into the digital age. That makes it easier and more practical for people to keep using them.

Indigenous Language Institute executive director Inée Slaughter explained this sea change to the New York Times:

“For a long time, technology was the enemy.  Even in 1999 or 2000, people were saying technology killed their language. Community elders worried about it. As television came into homes, English became pervasive 24/7. Mainstream culture infiltrated, and young kids want to be like that. It was a huge, huge problem, and it’s still there. But now we know ways technology can be helpful.” Read more

Nordic Languages

Nordic Languages

The Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic languages are collectively known as the Nordic languages. Since they are all descended from Old Norse, these languages have a lot in common.

In fact, someone who speaks one language can often understand someone who speaks another Nordic language, although it may take a bit of effort to do so. The Nordic languages, also known as North Germanic languages, are spoken today by about 20 million speakers.

Naturally, they are spoken primarily in the Nordic countries. However, there are also small populations in Canada and the US that speak Nordic dialects.

 

Old Norse

Old Norse was the mother tongue of the Vikings, who carried it to Iceland and to various other settlements during the Viking Age. Old Norse evolved around the 8th century AD from an older language called proto-Norse. Although there were two distinct Old Norse dialects, Old East Norse and Old West Norse, the differences between the two dialects were minor and a speaker of one dialect would have no trouble understanding speakers of the other.

In the late 8th century, the Vikings burst out from Scandinavia to terrorise England, Ireland and Scotland as raiders and pirates. This explosion of activity was probably mainly due to population pressure in the Scandinavian countries at the time. Whatever the motivation, the Vikings and their longboats soon became a source of fear for coastal residents and sailors in surrounding countries.

The Vikings and their Longboats

When most people picture the Vikings, they picture huge savages in horned helmets destroying entire villages for fun and profit. Naturally, the truth is little more complex than that. Also, several of the myths surrounding the Vikings are simply incorrect. For example, Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets. They wore conical metal helmets that might have had designs hammered into them, but never had horns attached. Also, they weren’t necessarily savages. At least, they probably were not any more savage than other Europeans alive the same time.

The Vikings lived during an especially violent period in European history. Warfare was much more commonplace than it is now, and although Vikings certainly did there share of dirty deeds, they weren’t the only savages around. In his campaigns to Christianise the Saxons, for example, Charlemagne had 4,500 Saxon prisoners killed in one day in response to a rebellion. Charlemagne is often described as ‘wise’ and ‘kind’ by historians, so it seems that the pagan Vikings may have been the victims of a historical double standard. Vikings were not merely uneducated heathen thugs. They had an amazing culture with a rich set of myths and folklore, a love of poetry, and their own system of writing.

In their longboats, they were also incredible sailors and intrepid explorers. Icelanders speak a Nordic language today because the Vikings discovered and colonised it. They also discovered Greenland and maintained a settlement there for many years. Leif Ericsson, a Viking living in Greenland, was the first European to discover the New World, approximately 498 years before Columbus. In L’Anse aux Meadows, Canada, visitors can inspect the remains of a Viking settlement, quite possibly ‘Vinland’ as described in Eric’s Saga, although the exact location of Vinland is still a matter of bitter scholarly dispute.

Additionally, Vikings were a literate society. Like other Germanic peoples, they used the runic alphabet as a system of writing until they were Christianised, when they adopted the Latin alphabet. The Scandinavian version of the Runic alphabet is named Futhark, after the first 6 letters of the alphabet. Runes had a variety of uses: they may have been used for magic and in rituals, they were used to memorialise people and events on runestones, and at least in the latter part of the Viking Age they were also used for everyday purposes such as labeling personal items. Of course, not everyone could write, but it was an important skill for upper-class Norseman and mastering the runes increased ones prestige.

Ancient Runes

According to the Eddas, a cycle of mythological Norse poems, the runes were discovered by the god Odin at a great personal cost. He hung for 9 days on a tree without food or water, pierced with a spear, and at the end of the nine days the runes were revealed to him. This myth demonstrates how important literacy was to the ancient Norse. There are two stories that describe how the runes were passed on to humans. In one version of the story, the god Rig or Heimdall fathered 3 sons, with each son representing one of the three classes in Norse society (slaves, freemen, and lords). The runes were taught to the noble son and passed down to his descendents. In another myth, a human stole Odin’s rune staff, learned the runes and taught them to other people.

The ancient Norse also loved poetry, considering it too to be a gift from Odin. Norse poetry encompassed a variety of different forms, ranging from epic sagas to shorter verses suitable for runestones. Poetry could cover a range of topics, including episodes from Norse mythology, the deeds of heroes, and the deeds and accomplishments of ordinary Norsemen who did extraordinary things. Many of the long epic poems, known as sagas, were collected and preserved in Iceland.

As time went on, the different dialects of old Norse became more and more distinct from each other, eventually forming 6 different languages: Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish and Norn, an extinct language that was once spoken in Norse-occupied regions of Orkney and Shetland. Of the surviving languages, Icelandic is actually closest to Old Norse. In fact, when written down the two languages are almost identical, and Icelanders can read Old Norse manuscripts without much difficulty. However, the way the language is pronounced has changed dramatically over time in Iceland as well.

The Nordic Council

Today, the Nordic countries are bound not only by a common linguistic heritage.

They also cooperate as part of the Nordic council. In 1987, the Nordic Council enacted the Nordic Language Convention, which gives citizens of Nordic countries the opportunity to use their own native language in certain circumstances while they are in other Nordic countries. Situations where the Language Convention applies include hospital visits, interactions with authorities such as tax offices, social security offices, the police and in the court system.

All I want for Christmas

It’s the 25th of November today and in exactly 1 month, it will be Christmas! I can’t believe that this year went so quick… You get caught up in your daily routine and often birthdays, weddings or celebrations come quicker than you first thought. I realise that I have 30 days to buy the presents for my family, to be honest with you guys, I’m stressing out!! Because we live in a society of consumption, people already have what they want and it’s become harder each year to find original and unique gifts to offer. I regret these times when putting an orange underneath the Christmas tree used to make kids happy! Now they are all about PlayStation, Apple devices, designer clothes or fancy bags. (Same with adults really)

So today, I took my mission very seriously and surfed the web for a couple of hours looking for some unusual ideas. Because if you are an avid reader of this blog, you must be interested in travels and languages, I found the top 10 Christmas gifts especially for you guys.

1. A Language course

Very useful if you plan of moving to another country next year.

2. Lonely Planet ‘s “Best in Travel 2011”

Best guide ever, I remember I bought one when I went to Australia.

3. Lessons in foreign cooking

Be the next Chinese/French or Italian Chef 🙂

4. A Trailfinders gift card

Helping you out with the cost of your flight or hotel.

5. A pocket translator

Always handy to translate some easy sentences like a menu, directions or features.

6. Downloadable language learning tools for your iPod

For all of you guys sleeping, eating and breathing Apple!

7. A Travel journal

Record your amazing adventures and experiences.

8. A Charity donation in your name

It’s good to do something for others.

9. A Dictionary/book of verb tables

Not very exciting but indispensable to your survival abroad.

10. A TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)

Become a teacher and hopefully get a visa downunder.

Which one are you going to ask to Santa Claus? And why?

Keyboard in Maori Language

Maori is the original language of New Zealand, and one of the country’s three official languages. However, despite its official status and efforts at reviving it that date back to the 1980’s, the number of fluent speakers is estimated to be between 10,000 (Maori Language Commission, cited in Wikipedia) and 60,000 (Ethnologue). Approximately 100,000 people can understand Maori but have limited or no speaking capability.

Maori’s future does have a brighter outlook than that of many other indigenous languages, thanks to special immersion schools where children are educated in Maori. However, as technology becomes ever more central to daily life, people need to be able to use Maori on the computer if the language is to stay relevant. Fortunately, this week saw a couple of developments that should make that much easier.

First, a couple of businessmen from Rotorua just announced the release of the first Maori keyboard. The keyboard makes it a great deal simpler to type in Maori, as it includes keys for phonemes like “wh” and “ng” as well for the macrons used to differentiate long vowels from short vowels. Read more

Language Classes For Immigrants

Everybody wants immigrants in the UK to learn English, but budget cuts are about to make it much more difficult for them to do so. According to the Independent, almost 80,000 people in the UK will soon lose access to free English classes. To help trim the budget, free English classes are to be reserved for active job seekers. Everyone else will have to pitch in at least half the cost of the classes, which can cost up to £1,000 per year, money that in many cases simply isn’t there.

The requirement that immigrants be on “active benefits” to access free classes means that women will bear the brunt of the cuts. Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told the Independent:

“Women are the most likely not to be on active benefits and are therefore the most likely to be affected by this policy. The Government says everybody has the right to integrate, but it is impossible to integrate if one can’t speak English. To ignore the needs of the most vulnerable people in society makes a mockery of the Big Society rhetoric.”

Having a population of women who are isolated and completely dependent on their husbands and children to interact with outside world creates its own problems, as well. Plus, many of these women would prefer to work outside the home, but of course they need to learn English to do so. Sure, some people can teach themselves a new language on their own, from books and TV shows, but many others need the structure and guidance found in a classroom setting. Read more

Learn a Foreign Language, Get Rich Slowly

Students struggling with foreign language classes often ask themselves, what’s the point? What’s the point in learning a foreign language, when so many people and companies are willing to cater to you in English?

How does an extra $67,000 sound as an incentive? That’s the amount The Economist determined an average American college graduate fluent in a foreign language could expect to earn over their working life. This was calculated based on research carried out by MIT economist Albert Saiz.

Of course, the actual amount you could expect to gain from your foreign language proficiency depends on factors like what language you learn and what career field you are in.

Per the Economist:

“Albert Saiz, the MIT economist who calculated the 2% premium, found quite different premiums for different languages: just 1.5% for Spanish, 2.3% for French and 3.8% for German. This translates into big differences in the language account: your Spanish is worth $51,000, but French, $77,000, and German, $128,000.”

That’s all well and good if you’re American, but what about in the UK? Here, the difference is even more significant. In 2004, the Michel Thomas Language Centre found that foreign language fluency could increase your income by  £3,000 a year, or £145,000 in a lifetime.  That’s not surprising, considering the UK’s proximity to other, non-English speaking countries.

As an additional bonus, the Michel Thomas Language Centre study also found that learning a second language can increase your popularity with potential romantic partners.

Is this extra earning power likely to decline in the era of Google Translate? Probably not anytime soon. Machine translation is still an imperfect beast. Meanwhile, globalization increases the need for businesses to be able to communicate in other languages. The Economist sums it up well:

One optimistic estimate is that half the world’s people might speak English by 2050. That leaves billions who will not, and billions of others who remain happier (and more willing to spend money) in their own language.

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