Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

French – the official Olympic language

Posted on August 11th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, French, Hints and Tips | Leave a Comment »

The London 2012 Olympic Games draw to a close tomorrow, with Team GB having won a record medal haul.

The Olympics have been a great success for their host country, with one minor exception: people have been baffled as to why announcements are made in French first, followed by English. In an English-speaking country, why is this?

Well, it’s because French and English are the official Olympic languages, with French being the official language of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, which is a French-speaking city. French is also used in honour of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman who is considered the “father” of the modern Games.

So, if you’re watching the Closing Ceremony tomorrow night, listen out for those French announcements.

Pronouncing street names in Denmark

Posted on July 28th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Pronunciation | Leave a Comment »

I’ve not yet had the chance to visit Denmark, but apparently their street names are notoriously difficult to pronounce.

A lovely installation in Copenhagen aims to help out tourists with this problem. WTPh? (What the Phonics) has added speakers to street signs, with a recording of the street name playing. When participants lift the speaker off the wall, the recording starts playing the street name – first broken down into syllables and then spoken in full. The names are spoken by a Danish person, so you can be sure they are correct!

Take a look at the project video to see how it works.

The Oxford English Fictionary

Posted on July 21st, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Invented languages, Words | Leave a Comment »

This could well be my new favourite Tumblr: The Oxford English Fictionary.

The Fictionary is dedicated to “Defining words that aren’t real. Yet.” It accepts user submissions as follows:

The OEF exists to define words that do not exist. If you have a word that needs a definition, submit it. If you have a word that already has a definition, that’s very nice, but go contact Merriam Webster instead.

A couple of my favourite recent words are:

Anachronister (noun): a time-traveling spider. (word submitted by anonymous)

Shquibble (verb): to verbally argue with someone, with both sides in full anger, in complete silence after having been shushed by a librarian. (word submitted by Chris)

Why do words get cut from the dictionary?

Posted on July 18th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

Did you know that when new words get added to a dictionary, old ones get cut?

Neither did I, although I suppose it makes sense. An editor from the Merriam-Webster dictionary explains more in this helpful video:

Tattoo meanings

Posted on July 15th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture | Leave a Comment »

Tattoos have become part of mainstream culture over the last few years. Many people have them, including the Prime Minister’s wife, Samantha Cameron.

At one stage it was very fashionable to get a Chinese or Japanese character tattoo. Now it’s largely fallen out of vogue. So if you’re thinking of getting a tattoo, it might be worth thinking about the deeper meaning behind your chosen symbol.

A handy Guardian guide explains some meanings:

2 Anchor
By the late 1800s, 90% of those serving in the British navy were tattooed and sailing iconography is still influential – particularly with the trend for retro “romantic” tattoos. “Tattoos display an individual’s membership to a particular group in society,” writes sociologist Tony Lawrence. Practically, tattoos could help identify drowned sailors. Their meanings, however, depend on the era and even the specific ship. An anchor could mean crossing the equator, the soul of a dead sailor or symbolise hope – we may no longer take perilous journeys on high seas but still seek to “anchor” our self. According to Dr Matt Lodder, art historian at Reading University, rather than having a particular meaning, the anchor has also become an icon of tattooing – like the broken heart and the swallow.

10 Dreamcatcher
One of Miley Cyrus’s 14-odd tattoos, the dreamcatcher, is also sported by Zac Efron. According to Native American mythology, this is a protective covering for infants that stops the bad (in this case: paparazzi, scandal, stalkers) while letting the good (cash, fame, screaming fans) pass through. Urgh.

Take a look at the full article for meanings of some other common symbols, including Sam Cam’s dolphin.

A radical solution for saving languages

Posted on July 7th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Education, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

An Australian town has come up with a radical solution to revive the local Aboriginal language – and has had some amazing results.

The Wiradjuri language is learned by about 10% of the population every week in Parkes, a town in New South Wales. It’s taught in all primary schools as well as high school and TAFE colleges. Learning the language has taught much more than words – it’s given people a purpose, sense of culture and connection to their community.

Ron Wardrop was quiet for a while when I asked him why language mattered to him. “We need to keep the languages strong,” he said. “Like a river, the water tells a story, it just keeps flowing on and on, like generations of people telling stories. If that river dries up, then that knowledge and that flow of language and culture – which gives people a strong sense of connection to self and country – is going to die away. And that would be a sad thing.” Ron understands all too well what’s at stake when language and culture is lost. “If the kids don’t feel they have a sense of belonging, self, Aboriginality, then they feel they don’t have anything. And that’s exactly how I felt when I was a kid.” (Source: ABC)

This story just goes to show that there’s more to languages than words – they can have a much wider benefit.

Guardian Books podcast: Minority languages literature

Posted on June 30th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Are you learning a minority language?

Even if you’re not, this is a great podcast to listen to, and pick up some tips on new books to read.

Claire Armitstead speaks to Clive Boutle, of publisher Francis Boutle, about his Lesser Used Languages of Europe series, and discusses the pleasures and problems of bringing out anthologies of Galician, Breton, Norman, Manx and Cornish writing. She also talks to Paul Gubbins, co-editor of the Esperanto magazine Monato, about the benefits of a truly international language.

Finally, as the inaugural bilingual Dinefwr Literature Festival opens, Sarah Crown asks National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke about the challenges of representing a country with a substantial literary tradition in two different languages. (Source: Guardian)

Gaelic words used in English

Posted on June 28th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, English, Etymology, Irish | Leave a Comment »

Despite having met many Irish people, I’ve yet to visit the Republic of Ireland. It seems that some Irish words may have crept into my speech anyway!

The Oxford English Dictionary has been researching words with Gaelic origins; the research even featured on Countdown! David Cameron and friends might be interested to find that the word “Tory” actually derives from the Irish word “tóraidhe”.

According to OED lexicographer Katherine Connor Martin, the oldest borrowing from Irish into English is “mind”. This is from the Irish “mionn”, “an obsolete term for a type of ornament attested in Old English”.

The most recent imports from Irish to English are “craic”, “punt” and “fleadh”.

“There was a steady trickle of Irish loanwords into English from the 15th through 18th centuries, but this increased to a flood during the 1800s,” said Ms Connor Martin.

“Oddly enough, this apex of Irish imports in English coincided with a period of steep and decisive decline for the Irish language itself.

“The 19th century was also a period of mass emigration, during which Irish immigrants streamed to the rest of the UK and to North America, taking their distinctive vocabularies with them.” (Source: Irish Examiner)

Less-spoken languages

Posted on June 8th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

Think you know your languages?

Try this BBC quiz and see how you get on! I scored a dismal 2 out of 7, despite all the time I spend reading and writing about languages. I obviously need to pay more attention!

Lovely English words

Posted on May 31st, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, English, Words | Leave a Comment »

Over at the Guardian’s Mind Your Language blog, they’re asking: What is the loveliest word in the English language?

Some suggestions include:

Closer to a classical sense of phonetic beauty, it’s as smooth and chubby as a cherub. And finally (those Bs and Ls again) …

A word as sensuous as a single malt. I never did get to kiss the boy in the corduroys but, if I had, I’m sure it would have been as lovely as “balalaika”. (Source: Guardian)

Commenters have suggested various other words, including lugubrious, butterfly, mellifluous, and kerfuffle. What’s do you think?