Archive for January, 2013

Modern Zulu

Posted on January 29th, 2013by jake
In Zulu | Leave a Comment »

Throughout history great novelists have influenced and expanded their native languages. Dante added to Italian, Shakespeare coined many words for English, and now Phiwayinkosi Mbuyazi created ’450 new words in Zulu, the mother tongue of a quarter of South Africa’s 50 million population.’ Mbuyazi wanted to write a novel in his native language but found that many words he wanted to use did not exist in Zulu.

His book, titled “Amayiphendleya,” is an adventure tale about four teenage boys and the wonders of technology. For the first time in Zulu history they come across an isilolongamoya — a machine that controls the air temperature, or air conditioner. They also come to terms with umnukubalo, (pollution) and with ubungqonela (domination), both words derived from their function or sound.

Many people dislike the idea of creating new Zulu words as they wish to keep the language “pure”. Mbuyazi rejects this idea however claiming that if Zulu does not keep up with the times the language will eventually be left behind.

He hopes that the new words will catch on with the legions people who speak Zulu as a first and second language, and eventually become part of everyday vocabulary. But the author’s own path shows how many hurdles exist. He had to set up his own publishing company after several mainstream houses turned him down, saying there was “no market for Zulu literature.” A recent industry survey showed no Zulu books were published in 2011, except for school books.

It is baffling that publishing houses do not think 12.5 million people whose mother tongue is Zulu do not constitute as a viable market. This astounding statistic just highlights the importance of Mbuyazi’s work and the necessity of Zulu to keep up with the times.

via: Oman Observer


Posted on January 26th, 2013by jake
In Historic, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

Manx, the Celtic native language of the Isle of Man is experiencing a revival. Much like Welsh in Wales, when visiting the Isle of Man you will notice Manx road signs, radio shows and mobile phone apps. This wasn’t always the case though.

“If you spoke Manx in a pub on the island in the 1960s, it was considered provocative and you were likely to find yourself in a brawl,” recalls Brian Stowell, a 76-year-old islander who has penned a Manx-language novel, The Vampire Murders, and presents a radio show on Manx Radio promoting the language every Sunday.

Amazingly in the 1860s there were people on the Isle of Man who couldn’t speak any English. Immigration to England for work purposes spread English across the island. Gradually the Manx language fell out of favor and people who still spoke Manx were seen as backwards and were even sometimes physically assaulted. Things became so dire for the language that ‘Unesco pronounced the language extinct in the 1990s.’

The current revival is down to lottery and government funding which have made a remarkable impact upon the languages status in the last 20 years.

Now there is even a Manx language primary school in which all subjects are taught in the language, with more than 60 bilingual pupils attending. Manx is taught in a less comprehensive way in other schools across the island.

via: BBC News

Polish On The Rise

Posted on January 23rd, 2013by jake
In English, Polish | Leave a Comment »

Since the British census results were released we have been treated to a barrage of news stories brimming with statistics. The latest story to hit the headlines is that Polish has become Britain’s second biggest language.

Polish is now the main language spoken in England after English, according to 2011 census data released by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday.

This is not surprising as the amount of Polish people moving to Britain after Poland became a member of the EU was substantially larger than was predicted. This headline has given right wing newspapers ammunition against immigration, however,  the headlines are somewhat deceptive. Welsh is in fact the second largest language in Britain but has for some reason been lumped in with English. To achieve the sensational headline, languages indigenous to Britain have been lumped together in first place. It is however interesting to find that Polish is clearly a useful language to learn in Britain.

via: The Guardian


Posted on January 19th, 2013by jake
In Accents, Education, English | Leave a Comment »

Sacred Heart Primary School in Middlesbrough, England has made the news because of the headteachers efforts to ensure standard English is spoken by her pupils. A letter has been sent home to parents asking for their support in ensuring children say “work” instead of “werk” and do nor pluralise “you” by saying “yous”.

Headteacher Carol Walker said she wanted to teach standard English, not to remove the Teesside accent.

Of course many pronunciations like “werk” and grammatical anomalies such as pluralising “you” are signifiers of a regional dialect and go hand in hand with the accent. It would appear that the parents of the Sacred Heart Primarty Schools pupils are backing the headmaster however, with parents responses being “”really positive” with no “negative reaction” at all.” The Headteacher was quoted as saying:

“I am not asking children to deny where they come from. I am saying to them there are certain situations where they need to be able to use standard English.”

The BBC obtained a copy of the letter sent to parents and printed the list of offending words.

Head teacher’s language list

  • I done that – I have done that or I did that
  • I seen that – I have seen that or I saw that
  • Yous – The word you is never a plural
  • “School finishes at free fifteen” – “School finishes at three fifteen”
  • Gizit ere – Please give me it
  • I dunno – I don’t know
  • It’s nowt – It’s nothing
  • Letta, butta – Letter, butter
  • Your – Your late should be you’re late
  • Werk, shert – I will wear my shirt for work
  • He was sat there – He was sitting there

via: The BBC

German Faux Pas

Posted on January 16th, 2013by jake
In German | Leave a Comment »

DW has an interesting article about the German language and the faux pas contained within it. Each year a group of prominent linguists choose The Unwort des Jahres, or “German Faux Pas Word of the Year”. This year the award went to Opfer-Abo which translates into “victim subscription”.

The term was used by celebrity weatherman Jörg Kachelmann in several interviews to describe the way in which women in German society could further their own interests by making false accusations – including the charge of rape – against men. Kachelmann had been accused by his ex-girlfriend of raping her. Though he was later acquitted in court, the accusation destroyed his reputation.

Although in Kachelmann’s case it was found that a false accusation was made, the word entering the German vocabulary is a dangerous game meaning women who make truthful claims could be dismissed. The article also reveals what many would deem as discriminatory language being used to order beer and name party confectionery.

In pubs across Bavaria, people order “Negroes” or “Russians,” and receive a wheat beer mixed with cola or lemonade.

“Negro kisses” or “Moor heads,” a German adaptation from the French tête de nègre, or “negro head” – referring to candies made from marshmallows, chocolate and wafers – remain firm favorites at children’s birthday parties.

Many words were coined when racism and sexism were rampant and wide spread. It’s strange to see words left behind in the German language from those days. When one is brought up using these words it’s difficult for people to see the harmful effect they can have. This is why the “German Faux Pas Word of the Year” was founded. To make people stop and look at the language they are using.

via: DW

The Holy Grail

Posted on January 12th, 2013by jake
In Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

A universal translator is like the holy grail for scientists and language learners alike. Imagine, the ability to be multilingual without having to lift a finger (other than to type in your pin number). Scientists claim to have finally grasped the holy grail by inventing U-Star a ‘universal speech translator’. The device is made up of a screen, a video camera, a microphone and translating software. It is currently able to translate ’10 languages, either one-on-one or a conversation involving several different languages. They include Thai, English, Japanese, Mandarin, Malay, Korean, Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi and Vietnamese.’

The new speech-to-speech translation project is a collaboration of eight agencies in Asian countries, including Nectec in Thailand.

Before you throw away your language textbooks keep in mind the intended audience for this product. The device is being marketed to ‘managers, government officials and business people worried about how to communicate with the vastly increased foreign community’. There is currently no price tag attached to the product and as U-Star is a sophisticated electrical product I imagine the price tag will be hefty. There is also the issue of accuracy.

Overall translation accuracy varies between 60 to 90 per cent, depending on the speaking environment and style.

I imagine the people willing to part with money for U-Star hold pretty important positions. 60% accuracy is a little worrying for governments holding peace talks and businessmen closing multimillion pound deals. The quick fix holy grail has a long way to go, so dust off your course notes and get learning.

via: Bangkok Post

Lost In Translation

Posted on January 10th, 2013by jake
In German, Swedish | Leave a Comment »

Although learning another language can be an arduous task requiring hours and hours of strenuous study, there is humour to be found whilst undertaking your studies. The Telegraph has compiled a top 10 list of foreign language faux pas. English is particularly prone to these faux pas as it is composed of many different languages. Many words that English acquired were applied to different words in English than that of its native origin. Add to that the evolution of languages as well as a few coincidences and you get some humourous examples of being lost in translation. Below are some of my favourite examples from The Telegraph’s list.

Swedish – kissa means to urinate, and lustig means humorous, not lusty. Just don’t be surprised if the conversation ends with the word slut – it means “end” in Swedish.

Turkish – Though Turkish people are famously friendly, be careful with a casual hiya, as it sounds the same as the Turkish word for testicles. For a night out, remember that you can’t gamble in a gazino; the word means café in Turkish. You may wind up at a nightspot that features a şarkı, which is a singer, not a shark.

German – If you’re celebrating a birthday there, don’t accept a gift. As a noun, it means poison, not a present. If asked what you’ve bekommen, folks want to know what you received, not what you’ve become. And don’t worry if your friends want to meet you by the Rathaus. In German, Rat means council, and often serves as a prefix for words describing municipal jobs or places.


Underserved Arabic

Posted on January 5th, 2013by jake
In Arabic | Leave a Comment »

From the decline of languages in my last post we move onto to the thriving language of Arabic. According to the website Chief Marketer businesses should ensure that they cater content to an Arabic speaking audience as the language is quickly becoming a major player on the internet.

Recent research from Common Sense Advisory on the size and economic opportunity of online language populations shows that Arabic has surpassed Russian, French, and German in total online population. The language now ranks #11 in share of online spending potential, notching the fastest growth between 2011 and 2012.

Although writing content in Arabic is clearly a good choice for businesses, it is a choice many businesses are not making. Arabic is ‘the most underserved language on top global websites around the world’. As many businesses are not tapping into this audience it makes even more business sense to cater to an Arabic audience as there is less competition. If we look to the future it seems unlikely that Arabic will remain ‘underserved’.

via: Chief Marketer


Panda or Dodo

Posted on January 4th, 2013by jake
In Welsh | Leave a Comment »

The Telegraph recently published an article critiquing British taxpayer money being spent on publishing books in the Welsh language. According to the Telegraph

In the past five years the Welsh Books Council and Literature Wales have received more than £42m from the Welsh Assembly and Arts Council Wales, which in turn receive their funding from Westminster.

Last year the Welsh Books Council received £7.6m of taxpayers’ money out of which £1,853,500 went towards the publishing of Welsh language books. The journalist is aghast at this sum of money being spent because of dismal sales when the books are published. Unfortunately the amount of people that can speak Welsh is declining. According to the latest census only 562,016 people in Wales can speak the native language, roughly 19% of the population. It is hardly surprising given this information that Welsh language book sales are so dismal, as the market is small and diminishing. Where does this leave Welsh? Should we allow it’s decline and eventual extinction or should we treat it like we treat the panda and throw money at it to ensure its survival?

I attended school in Wales and I was required to learn Welsh until the age of 16. The general consensus amongst my peers was that Welsh was a dead language and therefore it was pointless to learn. Much better to spend time on German and French which could help us in the future. I now regret this way of thinking and I regret after countless hours of Welsh lessons being able to say only a handful of phrases in Welsh. Welsh predates English in Britain and has a long and complicated history. I’m of the opinion that if a species like the panda is in need of assistance because its numbers are depleting we need to spend more not less. Is this not the same for languages? The Telegraph appears to believe not, but if schemes like these fall victim to austerity cuts it’s quite likely Welsh will go the way of the dodo.

via: The Telegraph