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Te reo Māori and Welsh: Two indigenous languages, two stories of revival

Welsh is a dead language. This is what I’ve been hearing my entire life. I’ve always been aware of the comparison between my language and te reo Māori. Both, I knew, shared the precarious position of being endangered languages. I was surprised, then, to read this article looking to Wales with admiration for its handling of the […]

Can Indigenous Language Comics Save a Mother Tongue?

Tlaloc is a tempestuous deity: provider and withholder. The god of rain, he looms large in the belief system of the Ñäñho people*, who reside in the seasonally parched plateau region of Central Mexico. In the heavens above, Tlaloc lives within a paradise of lush vegetation and endless water in clay pots. If only he’d […]

How We Extract Meaning From Language

Much has been said about the remarkable ability humans have to extract meaning from language. That ability is remarkable indeed. In a split second, we perceive a spoken or written word and immediately assign meaning to it while concatenating (stringing together) the various words in a sentence. At the end of the comprehension process, the […]

Researchers reconstruct major branches in the tree of language

The diversity of human languages can be likened to branches on a tree. If you’re reading this in English, you’re on a branch that traces back to a common ancestor with Scots, which traces back to a more distant ancestor that split off into German and Dutch. Moving further in, there’s the European branch that […]

Indigenous languages are a bedrock of Alaska Native culture, but they are disappearing fast

Indigenous languages are a bedrock of culture among Alaska Natives, but apart from a handful of exceptions they are endangered.  There are 21 Indigenous languages officially recognized by the State of Alaska, but every year there are fewer proficient speakers of these as elders are lost and the power of Western culture exerts powerful influences […]

Why Are So Many Languages Dying Out?

Endangered vernaculars have been dying out at unprecedented rates since the 1960s. Invariably, they give way to one of the world’s more dominant languages such as Arabic, English, Mandarin or Spanish. Now, more than 40 percent of the world’s 7,000 or so languages are thought to be at risk of extinction, some with just a […]

Struggling to Learn a New Language? Blame It on Your Stable Brain

A study in patients with epilepsy is helping researchers understand how the brain manages the task of learning a new language while retaining our mother tongue. The study, by neuroscientists at UC San Francisco, sheds light on the age-old question of why it’s so difficult to learn a second language as an adult. The somewhat […]

Reviving a once-forbidden dialect: ‘All French is good French’

When Janice Prejean was growing up, if she wanted to speak with her grandparents, she had to do it in French. To crack the code of the private conversations and jokes that flew over the heads of children at family gatherings, she also needed to know the language. “My lifestyle as a child and a […]

Bat pups babble and bat moms use baby talk, hinting at the evolution of human language

“Mamama,” “dadada,” “bababa” – parents usually welcome with enthusiasm the sounds of a baby’s babble. Babbling is the first milestone when learning to speak. All typically developing infants babble, no matter which language they’re learning. Speech, the oral output of language, requires precise control over the lips, tongue and jaw to produce one of the basic […]

African languages to get more bespoke scientific terms

There’s no original isiZulu word for dinosaur. Germs are called amagciwane, but there are no separate words for viruses or bacteria. A quark is ikhwakhi (pronounced kwa-ki); there is no term for red shift. And researchers and science communicators using the language, which is spoken by more than 14 million people in southern Africa, struggle to agree on […]

‘Mind blowing’: Grizzly bear DNA maps onto Indigenous language families

The bears and Indigenous humans of coastal British Columbia have more in common than meets the eye. The two have lived side by side for millennia in this densely forested region on the west coast of Canada. But it’s the DNA that really stands out: A new analysis has found that the grizzlies here form […]

Meet The Woman Who Created An App To Save Her Endangered Language

After the Vietnam War, Annie Vang’s parents escaped persecution in Laos and traversed the Mekong River in the dead of night to seek safety in Thailand. “My family had no choice but to flee or die,” she says. Vang and her family are Hmong, an ethnic and cultural group who lost their land—and way of […]

Researchers use AI to unlock the secrets of ancient texts

The Abbey Library of St. Gall in Switzerland is home to approximately 160,000 volumes of literary and historical manuscripts dating back to the eighth century—all of which are written by hand, on parchment, in languages rarely spoken in modern times. To preserve these historical accounts of humanity, such texts, numbering in the millions, have been […]

Fort Smith youth create new board game to preserve Cree language and culture

A new N.W.T board game is bringing Cree language and culture to northern communities.  Ryan Schaefer and Eyzaah Bouza, both 20 years old from Fort Smith, created the game to be like Snakes and Ladders, with a traditional twist.  Named Trails and Overflow, the game takes players through a South Slave trap line where their knowledge […]

The Swiss Language That Few Know

The Sarine River skirts the edge of Basse-Ville (lower town), dividing both the canton of Fribourg and the city of Fribourg into two sectors: German-speaking and French-speaking. The city of around 40,000 people is clearly one of duality: street signs are all in two languages; residents can choose whether their children will use French or […]

The Spanish island that communicates by whistle

On the rugged crags of Barranco de Ávalo, a ravine on the small Canary Island of La Gomera, two local 12-year-olds were practicing their Silbo Gomero, the local whistling language. For an entrancing few minutes, Irún Castillo Perdomo and Angel Manuel Garcia Herrera’s lilting warbles reverberated around the barren gorge and soared proudly into the air like […]

American linguist develops braille alphabet for traditional dialect of the Ts’msyen people

Harris Mowbray has never been to Prince Rupert, B.C., but he has left his touch there. Mowbray, an amateur linguist and software programmer based in California, in collaboration with Prince Rupert resident and Gitga’at Nation member Brendan Eshom, has created a braille alphabet for Sm’algyax, the traditional dialect of the Ts’msyen people of the north coast. […]

Why neural networks aren’t fit for natural language understanding

One of the dominant trends of artificial intelligence in the past decade has been to solve problems by creating ever-larger deep learning models. And nowhere is this trend more evident than in natural language processing, one of the most challenging areas of AI. In recent years, researchers have shown that adding parameters to neural networks improves […]

Aboriginal languages making comeback through new training program and dictionaries

Colonial bans on speaking Aboriginal languages meant only a handful of Kaurna words — the Indigenous language of South Australia’s Adelaide Plains — were still in common usage 50 years ago. The Kaurna language and others are now being revived with the help of linguists and, for the first time, tailored training courses to help language learners pass their skills back to […]

The Global Extinction of Languages Is Threatening a Vital Type of Human Knowledge

As human languages are driven to extinction around the world, a verbal encyclopedia of medical knowledge is on the brink of being forgotten. Among 12,495 medicinal uses for plants in indigenous communities, new research has found over 75 percent of those plants are each tied to just one local language. If these unique words trickle out […]

How do children learn languages faster?

Children at a younger age learn languages at a much faster pace than teens or older people. The explanation for this learning advantage lies in the differences in the way that people speak to children and adults. The results were published in an advance online publication of the journal of Psychological Science. For the first time, […]

What Language Did the Vikings Speak?

When the Vikings first began to spread out from their northern lands to raid and conquer large swaths of Europe at the end of the 8th century, they were aided by superior maritime skills and the development of sailing technology. But how did they conceive their plans and communicate the intelligence over a vast swath of […]

A new language is here, and almost everyone in the world knows it

What is common between Indian WhatsApp uncles and Kim Kardashian? It’s the use of emojis. From namaste to poop. US reality star Kim Kardashian threw her daughter North West a poop emoji-themed birthday party recently. And this doesn’t sound nearly as weird as it should. This is because at this point, everyone has a relationship (love or […]

Sequoyah and the Almost-Forgotten History of Cherokee Numerals

By 1828, Sequoyah was at the peak of his renown. His syllabary had been accepted by the Cherokee National Council at its national capital in New Echota, Georgia, in 1825. The laws of the Cherokee nation were printed using the syllabary in 1826, while the bilingual, biscriptal newspaper the Cherokee Phoenix began printing in 1828 […]

What makes someone bilingual? There’s no easy answer

It’s estimated that half the world’s population is bilingual, and two-thirds of the world’s children grow up in an environment where several languages intersect. But while bilingualism is common, its definitions are varied. They are often based on people’s experiences or feelings about language—what they convey and what they represent. The question also divides linguists. While […]

The Global Extinction of Languages Is Threatening a Vital Type of Human Knowledge

As human languages are driven to extinction around the world, a verbal encyclopedia of medical knowledge is on the brink of being forgotten. Among 12,495 medicinal uses for plants in indigenous communities, new research has found over 75 percent of those plants are each tied to just one local language. If these unique words trickle out […]

What the Terms for ‘Rainbow’ in Different Languages Tell Us About Religious Politics

When I was carrying out fieldwork among the Newah of Thecho village in Kathmandu valley, a rainbow appeared and the kids in the village started to shout ‘Lãyelãmã’ with joy. As a student of anthropology, I was intrigued and wanted to find out what it means and how it tied in to Newah culture. So, I […]

Healing words: Taiwan’s tribes fight to save their disappearing languages

In a modest conference room near the edge of Taiwan’s Sun Moon Lake, Panu Kapamumu holds up an unwieldy A3 booklet. The home-printed document contains every known word of Thao, the language of his Indigenous tribe. Kapamumu runs his finger down the list, reading out a selection of Thao words, meanings and translations. He reads […]

Deciphering The Mysterious Minoan Language Of Ancient Crete

The mythological history of the Greek island Crete goes back pretty far — one of its earliest kings was supposedly the son of the gods Zeus and Europa. King Minos was no benevolent ruler as far as the stories go, demanding a tribute of 14 children from Athens every nine years to feed to the […]

This Heavy Metal Band Is Hell-Bent on Saving an Endangered Language

While taking the stage at Gillian’s Inn – a bar, restaurant and performance space in northern São Paulo, Brazil – the band Arandu Arakuaa compels the crowd into a moment of silence, unusual during a heavy metal show. Soft notes from the guitar, drums, contrabass and maracas, played by four men in the dress and […]

Cambridge researchers add back swear words and vulgarity to Ancient Greek dictionary removed by the Victorians

The “most innovative dictionary of its kind” has been compiled by Cambridge researchers in a feat that took more than 20 years and even “took over” the editor’s life. Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s classics faculty have spent 23 years reading Ancient Greek literature to create the Cambridge Greek Lexicon, described by the university […]

How do machines translate linguistically distant languages?

“Poisonous and evil rubbish”. “Pregnant woman over 70 lounge”. “Slip and fall carefully”. Such semantically and syntactically erroneous sentences were not taken from a practice sheet in an English language classroom, but extracted from machine translation (MT) software and published on street signs in East Asia. Incorrect automated translations of the like trigger either raised […]

Linguistic and biological diversity linked

Cultural diversity—indicated by linguistic diversity—and biodiversity are linked, and their connection may be another way to preserve both natural environments and Indigenous populations in Africa and perhaps worldwide, according to an international team of researchers. “The punchline is, that if you are interested in conserving biological diversity, excluding the Indigenous people who likely helped create […]

Europe’s language that few speak

With a population estimated at just around 200, Europe’s smallest ethnic group is fighting to save its language and culture from extinction. When Davis Stalts spoke of his seafaring grandfather, it was with the reverence accorded to a mythical hero. “He had hands this big,” he gestured, capping off a large space with his palms. […]

Ancestors May Have Created ‘Iconic’ Sounds As Bridge To First Languages

The ‘missing link’ that helped our ancestors to begin communicating with each other through language may have been iconic sounds, rather than charades-like gestures — giving rise to the unique human power to coin new words describing the world around us, a new study reveals. It was widely believed that, in order to get the […]

This new app from Google is designed to preserve the words of fading languages

For many reasons, including globalization and cultural assimilation, a handful of languages, such as English, Spanish, and Mandarin, are dominating the world’s linguistic landscape—and that often comes at the expense of older and less popular dialects, which slowly fade out. It’s estimated that a language goes extinct every 14 days; almost half of the world’s 6,000 to […]

Waldeinsamkeit: Germany’s cherished forest tradition

Everybody is at it in Germany. They’re doing it in the trees in the Black Forest. Out in the magical Harz Mountains. In the national parks of Bavaria when silhouetted in the moonlight. And in the city centre woodlands of Berlin and Munich. Sometimes when completely nude, too. This isn’t a story about the sex lives […]

My belly is angry, my throat is in love: Body parts and emotions in Indigenous languages

Many languages in the world allude to body parts to describe emotions and feelings, as in “broken-heart,” for instance. While some have just a few expressions like this, Australian Indigenous languages tend use a lot of them, covering many parts of the body: from “flowing belly” for “feel good” to “burning throat” for “be angry” […]

Linguists predict unknown words using language comparison

For a long time, historical linguists have been using the comparative method to reconstruct earlier states of languages that are not attested in written sources. The method consists of the detailed comparison of words in the related descendant languages and allows linguists to infer the ancient pronunciation of words which were never recorded in any […]

In Brazil, smartphone initiative keeps indigenous languages alive

For smartphone users deep in the Amazon, sending a text message in the Nheengatu language just got easier – giving their endangered native tongue a better chance of survival in the digital age. Nheengatu, spoken by Amazon tribes in Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia, is now available as a language option on a range of new […]

The College Student Who Decoded the Data Hidden in Inca Knots

There are many ways a college student might spend spring break. Making an archaeological breakthrough is not usually one of them. In his first year at Harvard, Manny Medrano did just that. “There’s something in me, I can’t explain where it came from, but I love the idea of digging around and trying to find secrets […]

Alphabet’s ‘missing link’ possibly discovered

An alphabetic inscription written on a jar fragment found at the site of Tel Lachish in Israel and dating back around 3,450 years may provide a “missing link” in the history of the alphabet, a team of researchers said. “Dating to the fifteenth century B.C., this inscription is currently the oldest securely dated alphabetic inscription from the […]

‘Culture is language’: why an indigenous tongue is thriving in Paraguay

On a hillside monument in Asunción, a statue of the mythologized indigenous chief Lambaré stands alongside other great leaders from Paraguayan history. The other historical heroes on display are of mixed ancestry, but the idea of a noble indigenous heritage is strong in Paraguay, and – uniquely in the Americas – can be expressed by most of […]

First Nation Naaguja language no longer ‘sleeping’ as song added to ABC Radio playlist

A song in the “sleeping” Naaguja language by Geraldton’s Theona Councillor has been added to ABC Radio’s national music play list and is being heard across the country. Ms Councillor’s track Ngaalija Yangoogoo Yaanaa (Come Let’s Walk Together) was recorded as part of a project by WAM (West Australian Music) to promote local, regional music titled Sounds […]

The more languages you speak, the easier it is for the brain to learn more

TOKYO, Japan — For those of us confined to knowing just one language, learning an additional dialect can feel impossible. Many bilinguals, however, marvel at the language skills of multilinguals (individuals fluent in three or more languages). Interestingly, a new Japanese study reports the collection of ground-breaking neurological evidence indicating lingual skills are additive. In other words, […]

Sweden’s lost forest language now has international speakers

Elfdalian (Övdalian/Älvdalska) has a name that sounds like it came straight frm a Tolkien novel, but it’s a real, North Germanic tongue spoken by 3,000 people in the Älvdalen area of Dalarna County in Western Sweden. The language has its roots in Old Norse like Swedish, but developed in isolation since the Middle Ages and retains a […]

Foot greetings and face condoms: Germans coin 1,200 new words about the pandemic

People in Germany have coined more than 1,200 new words about COVID-19 since the pandemic began.  There’s coronamüde, which literally translates to “corona-tired,” to describe pandemic fatigue. If that doesn’t quite cut it, you could go with the more dramatic coronaangst. Either feeling is likely to set in when you’re overzoomed from too many video conferencing calls. “I think we are now in a very […]

Hawaii’s Forgotten Native-Language Newspapers Are a Treasure Trove of Climate Data

There were once more than 100 native language newspapers in circulation in Hawaii that chronicled daily life on the islands. As early as 1834, the newspapers supplied native Hawaiians with news, current affairs, opinion, and, importantly, information about extreme weather events. In 1871, an intense hurricane struck the islands of Hawaii and Maui, causing catastrophic […]

Podcaster uniting Dene Athabaskan speakers across the continent

Willis Janvier has speakers of many Dene Athabaskan languages, from Saskatchewan to Arizona Dene Athabaskan languages spread vast across much of North America, and one man has set out to teach it online through a video podcast. Willis Janvier is from La Loche, Sask. and currently lives in Moose Jaw where he’s studying Indigenous social work […]

‘Anumeric’ people: What happens when a language has no words for numbers?

Numbers do not exist in all cultures. There are numberless hunter-gatherers embedded deep in Amazonia, living along branches of the world’s largest river tree. Instead of using words for precise quantities, these people rely exclusively on terms analogous to “a few” or “some.” In contrast, our own lives are governed by numbers. As you read this, […]

Robo-writers: the rise and risks of language-generating AI

In June 2020, a new and powerful artificial intelligence (AI) began dazzling technologists in Silicon Valley. Called GPT-3 and created by the research firm OpenAI in San Francisco, California, it was the latest and most powerful in a series of ‘large language models’: AIs that generate fluent streams of text after imbibing billions of words […]

In a Momentous Discovery, Scientists Show Neanderthals Could Produce Human-Like Speech

Our Neanderthal cousins had the capacity to both hear and produce the speech sounds of modern humans, a new study has found. Based on a detailed analysis and digital reconstruction of the structure of the bones in their skulls, the study settles one aspect of a decades-long debate over the linguistic capabilities of Neanderthals. “This is […]

How English became the language of physics

During Michael Gordin’s childhood, his mother—who grew up speaking French and Moroccan Arabic—mostly conversed with his father in his father’s native Hebrew. But both of Gordin’s parents spoke to Gordin and his brothers in English, even though Gordin’s father was less nimble in the language. “It wasn’t until much later that I came to realize […]

What’s Going Wrong with Chinese Literature in Translation?

Toward the end of every year, when China’s magazines, newspapers, and online portals publish their lists of the best books of the year, we are reminded of the vast gulf between the books that are being read in China and the books being translated from Chinese for readers around the world. A look at 2019’s list […]

Saving Languages From Extinction, With The Help Of AI

Let’s begin with a little quiz: Across the earth, there are 7 continents and 197 countries. How many languages are spoken? The answer is around 7,000, but if this number surprises you, it’s because you suffer from the distorted perspective that half of the 7.8 billion inhabitants of the planet express themselves or communicate through […]

Pace of prehistoric human innovation could be revealed by ‘linguistic thermometer’

Multi-disciplinary researchers at The University of Manchester have helped develop a powerful physics-based tool to map the pace of language development and human innovation over thousands of years – even stretching into pre-history before records were kept. Tobias Galla, a professor in theoretical physics, and Dr Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero, a specialist in historical linguistics, from The […]

How the brain processes sign language

The ability to speak is one of the essential characteristics that distinguishes humans from other animals. Many people would probably intuitively equate speech and language. However, cognitive science research on sign languages since the 1960s paints a different picture: Today it is clear, sign languages are fully autonomous languages and have a complex organization on […]

Chinese minority languages among those at risk of dying out, with no one left to speak them, study finds

Dozens of languages and dialects in China are in danger of disappearing, a new study has found. According to the study by website WordFinder, based on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 25 of China’s spoken languages are “critically endangered”. This puts it seventh in the […]

Indigenous sign languages once used to help nations communicate still being used today

American Sign Language is the most widely used sign language for those who are hearing impaired or deaf, but Indigenous people used sign languages long before the development of ASL.  There’s Plateau Sign Language, which is used on the West coast by nations such as the Salish, Inuit Sign Language and Plains Indian Sign Language. Martin […]

World’s oldest and largest Spanish-Chinese dictionary found in UST

Spanish and Taiwanese scholars have discovered the world’s oldest extant and largest Spanish-Chinese dictionary at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Archives. The 400-year-old “Dictionario Hispanico Sinicum” (DHS) provides not only the Chinese characters and Mandarin terms to Spanish words, but also their equivalent in Hokkien, the language spoken in Taiwan and Fujian province in […]

The Greek Language is Not Dying; It’s Merely Changing

Is the Greek language, one of the most ancient and rich languages in the history of mankind, dying due to an avalanche of foreign words being introduced to the everyday vocabulary of native speakers? Words such as “rapid tests”, “click-away shopping”, and “lockdown” are now widely used in Greece. Some experts fear that the contamination of […]

Language and identity: the stories behind the world’s endangered languages

As Europeans began to colonize North America, Native Americans were placed in reservation boarding schools, where students were taught English and subjected to forced cultural assimilation. This forced assimilation took a toll on linguistic diversity on the continent and as a result, North American indigenous languages have been on the decline since 1790. For human […]

Surprising ways AI can help recover lost languages

When an apparently indecipherable manuscript from a lost language turns up, AI can help. But first, how is a language born and how does it die (or get lost)? We really don’t know how human language was born. Theories abound but all we know for sure is that it is unique. In a 2017 paper at BMC Biology, evolutionary […]

A New Way to Trace the History of Sci-Fi’s Made-Up Words

One thing nerds like to argue about is what nerds are allowed to argue about. If you agree to stipulate that science fiction is often one of those things—and, hey, we could argue about that—then a problem to solve is the boundaries of that genre, the what-it-is and what-it-isn’t. That’s not straightforward. Finding the edges of […]

Nepal Struggles to Preserve Its Indigenous Languages as Those Speaking Them Dwindle

At last count Nepal had 129 spoken languages, but even as new ones are identified, others are becoming extinct. At least 24 of the languages and dialects spoken in Nepal are ‘endangered’, and the next ones on the verge of disappearing are Dura, Kusunda, and Tillung, each of which have only one speaker left. “It […]

To the brain, reading computer code is not the same as reading language

In some ways, learning to program a computer is similar to learning a new language. It requires learning new symbols and terms, which must be organized correctly to instruct the computer what to do. The computer code must also be clear enough that other programmers can read and understand it. In spite of those similarities, […]

Welcome back: the recovery of Australia’s Indigenous languages

Dharug* woman Jacinta Tobin is Buruberongal (belonging to the kangaroo, the people from around Richmond) and Canamadagal (belonging to the possum, the people from near Prospect). But growing up dyslexic in Emu Plains in the 1970s, she didn’t know the names of the western Sydney clan groups of her ancestors, or know they were “Dharug […]

Bringing a language back to life

With fewer and fewer fluent speakers of the Crow language, advocates for revitalizing it hope a free online dictionary can aid people already working to bolster their skills and make learning the language more accessible. On Thursday, a group of linguists, native Crow speakers and programmers launched the app after four years of work on […]

The next generation is bringing Australia’s ancient languages into the future

Before colonisation, over 250 First Nations languages were spoken in Australia. Now, just over 100 are still in use and 90 per cent are considered “endangered”. “Without your language, you’re nobody,” Ms Holden said. “Your language describes your country and your culture. That’s why it’s so important for us.” Ms Holden is one of a […]

The Inspiring Quest to Revive the Hawaiian Language

Pelehonuamea Suganuma and Kekoa Harman were bright-eyed high schoolers in Honolulu when they first crossed paths, in the 1990s. The two were paired for a performance—a ho‘ike, as such shows are known in Hawaiian. Both teenagers had a passion for hula and mele (Hawaiian songs and chants), and they liked performing at the school they’d […]

Losing elders to COVID-19 endangers Indigenous languages

Eliézer Puruborá, one of the last people to grow up speaking the Puruborá language, died of COVID-19 in Brazil earlier this year. His death at the age of 92 weakened the fragile hold his people have on their language. Indigenous languages in Brazil have been threatened since the Europeans arrived. Only 181 or so of […]

The Tale of One Tiny Songbird Is Amplifying an Ancient Mayan Language

Maria de Los Angeles Azuara couldn’t hold back tears when she heard two dozen children singing at a small school in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Guided by their music teacher, the elementary students performed a song they’d adapted about a new friend, a young Golden-cheeked Warbler named Chipilo who lived in the same mountains […]

How the pandemic has widened the opportunity to take translated literature to readers

The fear and uncertainty created by the deadly invisible pathogen permeated at first our public spaces and our physical boundaries and then, slowly but perceptibly, our homes, our conversations, our skins, our souls, and our hopes. For a while, it seemed as if survival was the only mother tongue in a country of more than […]

How the German language differed between East and West

One surefire way to tell whether somebody is an east or west German is to ask them what noise a duck makes. West Germans will typically say quak, quak, while east Germans will say nak nak nak. As far as the latter are concerned, it’s frogs that go quak, not ducks. The sound nak nak […]

Can online classes during the pandemic bring back an endangered language?

The pandemic has steered a lot of learning online, and language classes have been no exception. But learning an indigenous language with few native speakers left — such as Abenaki, spoken by Vermont’s original inhabitants — presents a unique challenge, and precarity is its own brand of pressure. Language teachers hope that lessons learned during […]

How does being bilingual affect your brain? It depends on how you use language

Depending on what you read, speaking more than one language may or may not make you smarter. These mixed messages are understandably confusing, and they’re due to the fact that nothing is quite as simple as it’s typically portrayed when it comes to neuroscience. We can’t give a simple “yes” or “no” to the question […]

Wizard battles and demon circles revealed in newly translated Christian texts

Have you ever heard the story of a wizard battle that supposedly took place when an early church was constructed? Or how about the story of a border guard who defied King Herod’s orders and spared Jesus’ life? Scholars have now translated these and other “apocryphal” Christian texts (stories not told in the canonical bible) […]

Subtle Ways Your Language Shapes the Way You Think

You spend almost all of your waking hours—and even some of your non-waking hours—using language. Even when you’re not talking with other people, you’re still running a monologue in your head much of the time. And you also frequently use language when you dream. Given the degree to which you use language not only for […]

Adding Words To The Dictionary Has Always Been A Slow Process. Then COVID-19 Hit

There’s been no shortage of criticism in recent week of everyone from business leaders to public officials to individual citizens, for not moving fast enough to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. But one industry whose stock-in-trade is to work slowly is moving with unprecedented speed: The dictionary. Not every new word that makes […]

How COVID-19 is changing the English language

In April, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary did something unusual. For the previous 20 years, they had issued quarterly updates to announce new words and meanings selected for inclusion. These updates have typically been made available in March, June, September and December. In the late spring, however, and again in July, the dictionary’s […]

A language generation program’s ability to write articles, produce code and compose poetry has wowed scientists

Seven years ago, my student and I at Penn State built a bot to write a Wikipedia article on Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s play “Chitra.” First it culled information about “Chitra” from the internet. Then it looked at existing Wikipedia entries to learn the structure for a standard Wikipedia article. Finally, it summarized the […]

Hindi might not be the national language – but it is growing rapidly across India

Is Hindi being imposed on the states of the Indian Union that don’t speak the language? For the past few weeks, a range of people living in South India have made this claim, arguing angrily that the Union government is forcing the Indo-Aryan language onto Dravidian-speaking states. On Monday, former Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy […]

Norway has been bilingual since the Middle Ages

The fact that Norwegians wrote with runes in the Viking Age and Middle Ages is well known. But how did it go when alphabetic writing arrived and we switched from runes to the letters we know today? New research on inscriptions with letters shows that the transition was far slower than many believe. “We find […]

The 360 stones which show off the earliest writing in Ireland

Ireland is well known for its rich literary tradition stretching back to the early medieval period. Dating from roughly the seventh century (although mainly surviving in later manuscript copies), our earliest texts contain diverse material in both Latin and Irish. However, there was writing in Ireland in the centuries prior to this. This was not […]

Viking Runes: The Historic Writing Systems of Northern Europe

Viking runes were not for everyday use. The Northmen’s history was told orally, and runes used only to record moments of great importance. Let’s dive deep into the fascinating world of the Viking alphabet. We’ve talked before about the many remaining runestones of Scandinavia. These magnificent monoliths with intricate imagery litter the landscape of Scandinavia. […]

Animated speaking: New cartoon focuses on Cherokee language

As a child growing up in Northeast Oklahoma, Betty Frogg grew up in a home learning to speak Cherokee first, then English. Frogg’s parents, Louise Ross Springwater and Lacy Christie, encouraged her to speak their native language at home, even as she became bilingual while attending the Seneca Indian School in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. Her father’s […]

Machine learning reveals role of culture in shaping meanings of words

What do we mean by the word beautiful? It depends not only on whom you ask, but in what language you ask them. According to a machine learning analysis of dozens of languages conducted at Princeton University, the meaning of words does not necessarily refer to an intrinsic, essential constant. Instead, it is significantly shaped […]

Scientists discover brain hack for language learning

WE ALL KNOW THAT YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS, but what about an old human a new language? Previous research suggests that it’s much easier for young children to pick up a new language than it may be for their parents or even older siblings. A new study offers a solution to […]

How AI systems use Mad Libs to teach themselves grammar

Imagine you’re training a computer with a solid vocabulary and a basic knowledge about parts of speech. How would it understand this sentence: “The chef who ran to the store was out of food.” Did the chef run out of food? Did the store? Did the chef run the store that ran out of food? […]

Animals That Can Do Math Understand More Language Than We Think

It is often thought that humans are different from other animals in some fundamental way that makes us unique, or even more advanced than other species. These claims of human superiority are sometimes used to justify the ways we treat other animals, in the home, the lab or the factory farm. So, what is it […]

The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years

One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than a lox bagel—a century-old popular appetizing store, Russ & Daughters, calls it “The Classic.” But Guy, who has lived in the city for the past 17 years, […]

Quarantinis and covidiots: How language has changed during the pandemic

There’s no social distancing from the fact COVID-19 has changed the way we speak and communicate. University of Saskatchewan linguistics professor Veronika Makarova said new terms and phrases have made their way into language as a result of the pandemic. “Every time there is something new happening in our lives, the language reflects that,” Makarova […]

Languages will change significantly on interstellar flights

It’s a captivating idea: build an interstellar ark, fill it with people, flora, and fauna of every kind, and set your course for a distant star. The concept is not only science fiction gold, it’s been the subject of many scientific studies and proposals. By building a ship that can accommodate multiple generations of human […]

The drive to preserve the Lil’wat language

In mid-March, Valerie St-Arnaud and her husband Dave Leveille found themselves hurtling cross-country in a large, black RAM Promaster van during not just a snowstorm, but also a burgeoning pandemic. The couple had just purchased the van from Ontario and were in the process of bringing it back home to Pemberton. “We were at our […]

Central Europe’s Most Mysterious Language

Located between Bielsko-Biała and Oświęcim, Wilamowice may seem like a regular southern Polish town lost somewhere in the hilly landscape of the Lesser Poland region. Yet to some, Wilamowice may be the most fascinating place on the map of Europe – the linguistic map of Europe, that is. All of this is because of a […]

Why Some Words May Be More Memorable Than Others

Thousands of words, big and small, are crammed inside our memory banks just waiting to be swiftly withdrawn and strung into sentences. In a recent study of epilepsy patients and healthy volunteers, National Institutes of Health researchers found that our brains may withdraw some common words, like “pig,” “tank,” and “door,” much more often than […]

These gloves let you ‘hear’ sign language

An estimated half a million Americans with hearing impairments use American Sign Language (ASL) every day. But ASL has one shortcoming: While it allows people who are deaf to communicate with one another, it doesn’t enable dialogue between the hearing and the nonhearing. Researchers at UCLA have developed a promising solution. It’s a translation glove. […]

Students Assist with Mayan Language Revitalization Project

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – “Saqarik!” (sah-kah-REEK!) “Good morning!” So began presentations to grade schoolers in Nahualá, Guatemala, given by four Middlebury students as part of a Mayan language revitalization project this past January. The project was led by Associate Professor of Luso-Hispanic Studies Brandon Baird. “The school kids would always laugh when they heard us speak […]

In Milpa Alta, people still speak the Aztec language

In the 1970s, before workers laid the asphalt that became a two-lane highway connecting Mexico City with Milpa Alta, the southernmost of the city’s 16 delegations, Javier Galicia-Silva’s grandmother would hike down the hills to Xochimilco each day at 04:00. From here she would take a chalupa (a large water taxi) along the ancient canals […]

How Did Human Language Evolve? Scientists Still Don’t Know

Humans have language and other animals don’t. That’s obvious, but how it happened is not. Since Darwin’s time, scientists have puzzled over the evolution of language. They can observe the present-day product: People today have the capacity for language, whether it be spoken, signed or written. And they can infer the starting state: The communication […]

Scientists make a spectacular discovery about the origin of language in the brain

Mammal brains, unlike bones, do not fossilize. This fact presents a conundrum for scientists trying to understand how we came to be how we are. For example, scientists have long argued over how humans became able to speak — if only they had an ancient brain to settle the debate! But with no time machine, […]

How Technology Helps Preserve Endangered Indigenous Languages

Of the 537 federally recognized Native American tribes, only 139 of them still have speakers of their native language, and more than 90% of those languages are at risk of becoming extinct by 2050. Languages carry tribal knowledge, culture, humor, conversation styles, spirituality, and traditions. When language speakers decrease dramatically and parts of the language […]

Can emojis be evidence in court? Forensic linguists are figuring it out

Emojis have become ubiquitous in text communication – messages are peppered with smiley faces, hearts and other graphic icons. They were first drawn by graphic designer Shigetaka Kurita, and generated by a Japanese communications firm called NTT DoCoMo in the late 1990s. Now they’re everywhere. But would you be quite so quick to insert an […]

Why Do Human Beings Speak so Many Languages?

The thatched roof held back the sun’s rays, but it could not keep the tropical heat at bay. As everyone at the research workshop headed outside for a break, small groups splintered off to gather in the shade of coconut trees and enjoy a breeze. I wandered from group to group, joining in the discussions. […]

Fight to revitalise Arabic language learning begins with children’s books

When Maitha Al Khayat was a young pupil, she often stood at the back of the classroom, during Arabic lessons, hoping she would not be chosen to read out loud. Now an acclaimed children’s book author, she said she struggled to stay engaged because the classes were overly focused on grammar and they studied books […]

A Unifying Yiddish Library in Tel Aviv’s Dilapidated Bus Station

It happened one night in 2006. The actor and singer Mendy Cahan, accompanied by two bitter and exhausted movers, parked a large van with a container in the parking lot of Tel Aviv’s New Central Bus Station. Cahan quietly opened the container, and the trio began to pull out large boxes sealed with duct tape. […]

Save the Words

The fight to keep indigenous languages alive, through speaking, software, and day care. Class starts with a prayer, but there’s no Jesus, no Muhammad, no saints or Abrahamic God. And no English. Reciting “Lavina’s Prayer” requires a handout that everyone falteringly reads from, guided by Joey Awonohopay, the director of the Menominee Language and Culture […]

The next chapter of Indigenous representation in video games

Carl Petersen is a member of the Oohe Nunpa (or Two Kettles) band of Lakota — a tribe indigenous to the North American Great Plains — and a 21-year-old self-proclaimed “Gen-Z/Millennial.” But his childhood wasn’t the always-online one you might expect. His first dial-up connection was to Rapid City, South Dakota, a town 180 miles […]

Keeping Coast Salish Languages Strong

Technology plays an important role in helping Hul’q’umi’num’ learners improve their fluency. Agnes Violet Sharon Seymour’s desire to learn Hul’q’umi’num’ stretches back to when she was a girl, listening to her father and uncle talk in the Coast Salish language. I wanted to be able to communicate and understand them,” she says. Seymour wants that […]

How the visual language of comics could have its roots in the ice age

Neil Cohn’s love of comic strips began in his family’s attic. In one of his earliest memories, he recalls his dad climbing the stairs and pulling down a box of 1960s Batman and Superman books that he had stashed away from his own childhood. To Cohn’s four-year-old self, it was as if they’d been imported […]

Card game celebrates pre-colonial Filipino script baybayin, and creator hopes to help inspire its revival

A young Philippine artist and freelance illustrator has created a card game she hopes will inspire her countrymen to help revive the written language used by their ancestors. Patricia Ramos hopes her simple game will teach players across the Philippines how to read the ancient writing system of baybayin, widely used before the Spanish invasion […]

Forensic linguists explore how emojis can be used as evidence in court

Emojis have become ubiquitous in text communication – messages are peppered with smiley faces, hearts and other graphic icons. They were first drawn by graphic designer Shigetaka Kurita, and generated by a Japanese communications firm called NTT DoCoMo in the late 1990s. Now they’re everywhere. But would you be quite so quick to insert an […]

Talking about the future of teaching Indigenous languages

The Auditor General’s report on education in the territory released in February painted a dismal picture of Indigenous language education. “After our audit in 2010, the department acknowledged its need to review its policy for Indigenous language and culture-based education. It completed this review in 2014, which found that its model was not leading to […]

Word nerds may be faster at learning to code than math whizzes

That’s because writing code also involves learning a second language, an ability to learn that language’s vocabulary and grammar, and how they work together to communicate ideas and intentions. Other cognitive functions tied to both areas, such as problem solving and the use of working memory, also play key roles. “Many barriers to programming, from […]

How a child’s first language includes more than words

This International Mother Language Day (Feb. 21), Canadians celebrated their multilingual heritage by recognizing flexible uses of languages. According to UNESCO, “Mother tongue or mother language refers to a child’s first language, the language learned in the home from older family members.” As a linguistic anthropologist who studies language use in diverse communities, I know […]

‘The kids soak it up’: How Aboriginal language transformed a school

Aboriginal elder Michael Kulka overheard a conversation between students that stopped him in his tracks while on a recent visit to the local primary school at Mossman, an hour north of Cairns in far north Queensland. It wasn’t the topic of the discussion that struck him, but the fact that the children were speaking in […]

Turkey’s endangered languages

Eighteen languages in Turkey are currently listed as endangered, vulnerable, or have become extinct, according to UNESCO. This is a result of decades of government policies that have not put other languages on an equal footing with Turkish, the first language of around 80 percent of the population. The history of forced Turkification targeting non-Turkish […]

Author hopes informal lesson book will help turn Indigenous language speakers into language teachers

An Ojibway language teacher and author is hoping that anyone who can speak an Indigenous language can use her new book to teach others. “It could be used by any group at all — Ojibway, Cree, Dene, Inuktitut — it’ll be applicable to any language in the world,” said Patricia Ningewance. Ningewance is from Lac […]

After ‘Parasite,’ Are Subtitles Still a One-Inch Barrier for Americans?

Last month, when Bong Joon Ho, the South Korean director of the film “Parasite,” accepted the Golden Globe for best foreign language film, he teased American moviegoers that a whole world of wonderful cinema awaited them beyond Hollywood. “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing […]

Turkey’s language activists keep Armenian dialect alive in music, literature

His most recent album sung in Homshetsi can be taken as an SOS call, says Hikmet Akcicek. The tongue, a northwestern dialect of Western Armenian, is one of 15 endangered languages spoken in Turkey — and Akcicek’s band Vova means to keep it alive. The cover of the band’s July record, “Garmi Doc” (“Red Truck” […]

Why emojis and #hashtags should be part of language learning

Learning a language after one’s early childhood home language is often referred to as second language learning (despite the fact people may in fact be learning their third or fourth languages). In Canada, an officially bilingual country, both English and French are widely taught in superdiverse urban centres. Increasingly, a popular avenue for adult language […]

World’s largest linguistics database is getting too expensive for some researchers

It was 2015 when Gary Simons knew that something had to change. That was the year spare funds started to dry up at the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), a Bible translation group that helped revolutionize the documentation of endangered languages in the mid–20th century. SIL’s budget had long supported Simons’s passion project: Ethnologue—or “the […]

3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Stone Tablet Gets Translated, Changes History

Dr. Daniel Mansfield and his team at the University of New South Wales in Australia have just made an incredible discovery. While studying a 3,700-year-old tablet from the ancient civilization of Babylon, they found evidence that the Babylonians were doing something astounding: trigonometry! Most historians have credited the Greeks with creating the study of triangles’ […]

How New Indigenous Languages Are Changing Australia

Before European colonization, as many as 300 languages were spoken on continental Australia, reflecting the cultural diversity among its original inhabitants. Today, only about 40 to 60 of these languages remain, with more than half of them no longer learned by any children. Yet the dynamic nature of language is giving some indigenous groups and […]

The Unknown Story of the Greeks Who Shaped the Latin Alphabet

The Latin alphabet is undoubtedly the world’s most recognizable form of written language, whose history goes back in time to the eras of ancient Greek and Roman dominance of the entire Western world. In its modern form, with its many variations and alterations, the Latin alphabet is officially used by an amazing 131 sovereign nations, […]

Can This Indigenous Language Thrive in a Digital Age?

On any given day, people throng the busy market in Concepción, Paraguay. Shoppers peruse the multicolored array of fruits and vegetables and occasionally pause to chat with the vendors or inquire about a price. Old women eye up potential buyers of yuyos, traditional medicinal herbs that they assure will cure any ailment, from hangovers to […]

The Language and Mind: In Which Language do you Think?

The Language and mind! The scientist “August Kekulé” was stuck in a big problem. The man spent a long time trying to imagine the chemical structure of gasoline, but he could not reach anything. Imagining the shape of petrol rings lined up seemed an incomprehensible issue. While he fell asleep, a dream drew his famous […]

Language Rights Are Human Rights: A Hope for a Future of Linguistic Diversity

Welcome to our language Taste The Sauce —Reesom Haile, Eritrean poet (translation by Charles Cantalupo) The interview was ending. I was anxious to get on with my day. But the interviewer had one last question for me: “So what is your hope for the future?” As I pondered the question, it occurred to me that […]

Reviving aboriginal language through literature and tech

A group of academics and indigenous language advocates are using technology and books to try to revive an endangered aboriginal language. Dr Hilary Smith is a linguist and author who has just launched a series of children’s books written in the aboriginal Gamilaraay language. She’s been working for the last four years in Gunnedah, north-east […]

The Realest Language

There are a lot of different kinds of books about language. Dictionaries record and define a word’s meanings; thesauri lay out its synonyms; and books on modern usage tell you how to string the word together with others to form sentences. There’s something culturally remarkable about language reference books: From etymology to slang to avoidable […]

Emotions Get Lost In Translation, A New Study Finds

Researchers find that different languages express emotions differently although they may be translated to the same word, implying the need for greater emphasis on communication in cultivating collaboration across global teams. Today more than ever we are living in a world where the distance between time and space has been made shortened due to the […]

Researchers map ancient language in West Australian outback

Amid widespread concern about the disappearance of Indigenous languages, the former Catholic mission of Balgo is located in a linguistic melting pot that is thriving after tens of thousands of years. Now, scientists want to map the local “lingua franca” called Kukatja, which is spoken more fluently than English by residents of all ages and […]

How to Resurrect Dying Languages

In the 1970s, the Hawaiian language seemed poised for extinction. Only about 2,000 native speakers remained, and most were over age 60. Then a dedicated group of advocates launched immersion schools, a Hawaiian radio program, and an island-wide movement to resuscitate the melodious language. Today more than 18,600 people speak Hawaiian as fluently as they […]

Can You Lose Your Native Language?

I’m sitting in my kitchen in London, trying to figure out a text message from my brother. He lives in our home country of Germany. We speak German to each other, a language that’s rich in quirky words, but I’ve never heard this one before: fremdschämen. ‘Stranger-ashamed’? I’m too proud to ask him what it […]

‘A way to keep our language alive’: How the Atikamekw Nation uses Wikipedia to promote its language

What started out as a high school computer science project has grown into the only active Wikipedia in Canada operating in an Indigenous language. Wikipetcia Atikamekw Nehiromowin includes over 1,000 articles, sound clips and photos representing life, history and culture of the three Atikamekw communities in Quebec. “They cover common words, the cities of Quebec, […]

The use of poetry in preserving endangered languages

Language is a powerful cultural and political tool which provides a major cultural unity in many countries. Poetry conceptualises and unites cultures and thoughts, manipulates ordinary language and in its effortless simplicity and diversity, touches minds and souls. A recent podcast by The Guardian explores the measures taken to preserve endangered languages globally through poetry, […]

How do you crack the code to a lost ancient script?

How do you go about deciphering the script of a wholly different language that was lost more than 3,000 years ago? Linguist and archaeologist Dr Brent Davis says it’s like walking out on a tightrope anchored at just one end and supported by nothing but thin air, hoping you find something to stop you from […]

5 Languages That Could Change the Way You See the World

I went to my neighbor’s house for something to eat yesterday. Think about this sentence. It’s pretty simple—English speakers would know precisely what it means. But what does it actually tell you—or, more to the point, what does it not tell you? It doesn’t specify facts like the subject’s gender or the neighbor’s, or what […]

Why words make language

From hieroglyphics to emojis, and grunts to gestures, humans have always used multiple modes to communicate, including language. If you’ve ever sent a text using emojis, which the recipient received and understood, then you’ve communicated in a new language code. Communication codes have been with us since the grunts of our ancestors developed in to […]

The Oxford English Dictionary, like the English language, is all about change

Samuel Johnson once said a dictionary should aim to “not form, but register” the language. Indeed, a dictionary should “not teach men how they should think,” he continued, “but relate how they have hitherto expressed their thoughts.” We tend to think of our dictionaries as tools of instruction; as books that set the standard, with […]

Smartphone keyboards designed for traditional languages at cutting edge of their survival

An international software firm developing smartphone keyboards specifically designed to write in traditional languages is helping people protect their language. The project, called Keyman, allows people to type in one of more than 600 different languages, most of which are majority languages. A majority language is one spoken by large groups of people such as […]

Invented Languages and the Science of the Mind

Hildegard von Bingen was something of a medieval genius. She founded and was Abbess of a convent at Rubensberg in Germany, she wrote ethereally beautiful music, she was an amazing artist (one of the first to draw the visual effects of migraines), and she invented her own language. The language she constructed, Lingua Ignota (Latin […]

Recognizing And Reviving Argentina’s Indigenous Languages

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina may be South America’s most Europeanized country, with Spanish, of course, as its official language, but it also has 36 recognized indigenous tongues (belonging to 38 peoples). That is the conclusion that researchers involved in a year-long project create the country’s first comprehensive language map presented earlier this month in Buenos […]

Why the language-ready brain is so complex

In a review article published in Science, Peter Hagoort, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Radboud University and director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, argues for a new model of language, involving the interaction of multiple brain networks. This model is much more complex than the classical neurobiological model of language, which was largely […]

Here’s How Words Get Removed from the Dictionary

The dictionary isn’t forever. Here’s the lowdown on what happens to a word when its popularity starts to wane. You can’t call someone a frutescent snollygoster anymore—at least not officially. Those words have been deleted from the dictionary, so you’ll have to come up with alternate terms to describe a shrubby, unscrupulous politician. And those […]

Here’s How Words Get Added to the Dictionary

Just look it up—or look here to check out the dish on dictionaries that logophiles will love! (Logophile means word lover!) What’s the deal with new words? Where do they come from and how do they go from obscure to official? First, new words have to circulate in culture to make it into the dictionary. […]

Reclaiming a culture: How Indiana University is helping an indigenous community restore its endangered language

More than 2,000 hours of audio and video field recordings of vocabulary, interviews and storytelling from indigenous people reside in the collection of the American Indian Studies Research Institute at Indiana University. Now, some of these recordings are being put to use to help one indigenous community reclaim its endangered language and culture. The institute […]

Why larger communities create more systematic languages

The differences between the 6,800 or so languages that currently exist in the world are remarkable. From Cantonese, in which a speaker must perfect six different tones each of which change the meaning of a single word, to Georgian, in which verb endings vary not just according to the tense or plurality (as in English), […]

Gesture as language: why we point with a finger

Pointing at an object… in one sense you might say that this simple gesture doesn’t just replace a word, but that it is a word—perhaps the first word. We know that it and other such gestures play a fundamental role in human language, but until now, we have not known where these gestures come from. […]

Why Red Means Red in Almost Every Language

When Paul Kay, then an anthropology graduate student at Harvard University, arrived in Tahiti in 1959 to study island life, he expected to have a hard time learning the local words for colors. His field had long espoused a theory called linguistic relativity, which held that language shapes perception. Color was the “parade example,” Kay […]

Indigenous Languages Are in Danger of Going Extinct Around the World

Seven thousand indigenous languages are spoken around the world today, and four in 10 of them are in danger of going extinct, a recent United Nations study warned. After its release in August, U.N. experts called for a series of steps, including new laws and international commitments, to reverse what they described as the “historic […]

Why the language-ready brain is so complex

The capacity for language is distinctly human. It allows us to communicate, learn things, create culture, and think better. Because of its complexity, scientists have long struggled to understand the neurobiology of language. In the classical view, there are two major language areas in the left half of our brain. Broca’s area (in the frontal […]

Found in translation: How 57 different languages have interpreted Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’

Translators are the unsung heroes of literature. Or, to be fair, largely unsung – they have a share in the International Booker Prize which recognises author and translator, who divide the 50,000-pound prize money and there is International Translation Day on September 30. It’s a chance to celebrate the small presses which publish translated novels […]

Stories etched in wax: Preservation project saves sounds of the past

Indiana University’s Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative met a major milestone this summer by completing its wax cylinder digitization project. Wax cylinders are antiquated audio recordings made of thin brown or black wax. They can be easily damaged just by the heat from your hands, and dropping one could destroy it. IU Libraries’ Archives of […]

Is this the birthplace of written Spanish?

After a short drive uphill from the small village of San Millán de la Cogolla, I found myself standing before the Suso monastery. Founded by the 6th-Century hermit monk St Millán, the monastery feels as if it belongs to another time and place. From this secluded spot surrounded by woodland, I had views of the […]

Sign languages emerge just like verbal languages do: Linguist

Sign languages emerge through a natural process in deaf communities just as verbal languages do, after a language community is formed, according to a linguist. “Sign languages are perceived as the translated language of verbal language, on the contrary, they are independent,” Zeynep Acan Aydin, a linguist at Hacettepe University, told Anadolu Agency, as the […]

Indigenous language puzzle receives missing piece after freak find buried in old book

Caroline Hughes, who researches the Ngunnawal language of the Canberra region, made the find during a workshop last week. The words, buried in a book held in Adelaide, were drawn to her attention by a relative she met while tracing her family history. “She mentioned to me in an email last week that she’d found […]

Why We Love to Learn Klingon: The Art of Constructed Languages

In 1996, linguist D’Armond Speers became notorious for attempting to raise his baby son Alec as the world’s first native speaker of Klingon, an invented language from the Star Trek universe. Speers eventually abandoned the experiment when his son showed a marked reluctance, at the tender age of five, to use the language, but that […]

Want to build a language from scratch? Start with the question who will speak it, and why

It’s well known that JRR Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings cycle to create people to speak the languages he had invented. But, in the television age, artificially created or invented languages – we call them conlangs – have been gaining increasing attention with the popularity of television series such as Star Trek and […]

Machines Might Not Mind Your Accent Anymore

For speech recognition systems, a change in the accent can be confusing. Words under the influence of local languages sound different and a typical homepod device can mistake an Asian speaking English or even something as native as a thick Irish accent. Deep Learning algorithms are the work horses behind these devices. The training data […]

How to build a ‘perfect’ language

It’s well known that JRR Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings cycle to create people to speak the languages he had invented. But, in the television age, artificially created or invented languages – we call them “conlangs” – have been gaining increasing attention with the popularity of television series such as Star Trek and […]

DNA indicates how ancient migrations shaped South Asian languages and farming

A new DNA study of unprecedented size has unveiled ancient human movements that shaped the genetic makeup of present-day South Asians in complex ways. Those long-ago treks across vast grasslands and through mountain valleys may even have determined the types of languages still spoken in a region that includes what’s now India and Pakistan. The […]

How the limits of the mind shape human language

When we speak, our sentences emerge as a flowing stream of sound. Unless we are really annoyed, We. Don’t. Speak. One. Word. At. A. Time. But this property of speech is not how language itself is organised. Sentences consist of words: discrete units of meaning and linguistic form that we can combine in myriad ways […]

Revitalizing Indigenous Languages Is Critical

Being fluent in a world language is a desirable skill in modern day society. However, some languages are suffering and in danger of extinction — namely those of the indigenous peoples. “There are between 6,000 and 7,000 world languages in the world today,” Brian Keane, rapporteur of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said in […]

Welsh Wikipedia Gives Me Hope

If you say, “Alexa, faint o’r gloch yw hi?” the smart speaker will not understand that you are asking for the time of day. That’s because Welsh is not one of the eight languages currently supported by Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices. Gareth Morlais, a Welsh language and digital media specialist for the Welsh government, has argued […]

Speaking in Tongues: From Elvish to Dothraki, the rise of invented languages

In the language spoken by the Dothraki on the violent and popular HBO show Game of Thrones, the word for cat is keli. Reasonable, you might think. The show is based on the books written by George R.R. Martin, surely he can come up with whatever words he likes for the animals living in a […]

Indigenous Women Are Publishing the First Maya Works in Over 400 Years

I’D STUMBLED UPON TALLER LEÑATEROS—the “Woodlanders Workshop”—completely by chance. I was walking aimlessly through the pastel-hued streets of San Cristobal de las Casas, trying to get a feel for what my guidebook had described as southern Mexico’s “most beautiful colonial city.” One particular street was quiet, dusty, and less colorful than the rest. But there […]

In 21st century, threats ‘from all sides’ for Latin America’s original languages

At school in Tecate in the 1950s, a city sitting on Mexico’s border with the United States, Josefina Meza was welcomed by a chorus of children’s chants in a language she did not understand. “Pinches indios, pinches indios,” her peers called out. At first, Meza thought they wanted to be her friends. But her brother […]

Meet The Startup Revolutionizing The Language Of Biology

London-based software platform Synthace is on a mission not just to digitize the lab, but to revolutionize the way biology is done with one simple idea: a universal language. Consider the automotive industry and its suite of tools that take an initial idea through to simulation, build and testing. After Autodesk was formed in 1982, […]

The US island that speaks Elizabethan English

I’d never been called a dingbatter until I went to Ocracoke for the first time. I’ve spent a good part of my life in North Carolina, but I’m still learning how to speak the ‘Hoi Toider’ brogue. The people here just have their own way of speaking: it’s like someone took Elizabethan English, sprinkled in […]

Machine learning has been used to automatically translate long-lost languages

In 1886, the British archaeologist Arthur Evans came across an ancient stone bearing a curious set of inscriptions in an unknown language. The stone came from the Mediterranean island of Crete, and Evans immediately traveled there to hunt for more evidence. He quickly found numerous stones and tablets bearing similar scripts and dated them from […]

The surprising story of the Basque language

A few steps from the entrance to the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, one of San Sebastian’s most visible landmarks with its sky-piercing gothic spire, lies a simple, two-faced earthen slab. In this corner of Spain’s Basque Country, it seems out of place: carved on one side with an Apostolic cross and on the other […]

Iceland is inventing a new vocabulary for a high-tech future

Every morning, Iceland’s language planners begin their day by taking off their shoes at the communal shoe rack in their office and slipping into pairs of soft clogs. As tourists begin to fill the alleyways of downtown Reykjavik with a faint babble of English, French, Chinese, and Italian, the language planners shuffle quietly back into […]

Ancestral languages are essential to Indigenous identities in Canada

Recent protests against the federal government’s approach to Indigenous language legislation is the latest manifestation of concern regarding the maintenance and flourishing of Indigenous languages and culture. Although these latest protests are centred around jurisdiction and funding, the fundamental issue for Indigenous peoples is support for an essential part of their identity. My work in […]

After 50 years of the Official Languages Act, what is the place of French in Canada?

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act and the International Day of La Francophonie on March 20, an Open Caucus was held at the Senate of Canada to reflect on the place of French in Canada. Professors Stéphanie Chouinard, Michael MacMillan and Benoît Pelletier addressed the following question: What is the place […]

Australia’s Ancient Language Shaped by Sharks

The tiger shark was having a really bad day. Other sharks and fish were picking on him and he was fed up. After fighting them, he met up with the hammerhead shark and some stingrays at Vanderlin Rocks in the waters of Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria to speak of their woes before they set out […]

Coining New Words Key to Revitalizing Native American Languages

WASHINGTON — It was a thrilling find for a then-graduate student in linguistics: While conducting research in Jesuit archives in Quebec in 1999, Michael McCafferty discovered a previously unknown manuscript – a dictionary of the Myaamia-Illinois language, handwritten by a 17th century Jesuit missionary. Comprising some 22,000 entries, the manuscript has played a key role […]

How the world of fonts is making room for Indian languages

Peter Bilak likes to think of fonts as the voice of the text. They convey emotions and tone, just like voices—and just like voices, there are some fonts that are inherently better at communicating a message. Bilak knows this universe of fonts, with their adjunct emotions, intimately. In 2009, the Slovakian typeface designer had co-founded […]

The confusing way Mexicans tell time

When I first stepped foot on Mexican soil, I spoke relatively good Spanish. I was by no means fluent, but I could hold a conversation. So when I asked a local ice-cream seller in downtown Guadalajara when he expected a new delivery of chocolate ice cream, and he said ‘ahorita’, which directly translates to ‘right […]

Do You See What I See?

In a Candoshi village in the heart of Peru, anthropologist Alexandre Surrallés puts a small colored chip on a table and asks, “Ini tamaara?” (“How is it?” or “What is it like?”). What Surrallés would like to ask is, “What color is this?” But the Candoshi, a tribe of some 3,000 people living on the […]

Canadian film made in language spoken by just 20 people in the world

Plenty of films are somewhat incomprehensible, but a forthcoming movie is in a language that only about 20 people in the world can speak fluently. With subtitles, audiences will be able to understand a feature film titled SGaawaay K’uuna, translated as Edge of the Knife, which has its UK premiere in April. It is in […]

A change in our diets may have changed the way we speak

AS THE SAYING goes, we are what we eat—but does that aspect of our identity carry over to the languages we speak? In a new study in Science, a team of linguists at the University of Zurich uses biomechanics and linguistic evidence to make the case that the rise of agriculture thousands of years ago […]

Linguists need preservation of languages to study human language

In a recent article here at ScienceNordic, we argued that this year’s UN initiative International Year of Indigenous Languages is urgently needed in light of the global decline of minority and indigenous languages. In this article, we will delve into how and why we study these languages. Besides the human rights aspect of language extinction […]

There’s a Weird Similarity Between Chimp Communication And Human Language

Behind this sentence lies a solid bedrock of mathematics, one that has been shown to govern all human languages. Linguists have found the hoots and hollers, gestures and expressions used by chimpanzees obey some of the same basic principles, demonstrating the foundations of language have deep evolutionary roots. A study led by the University of […]

2019 is UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages. And we need it to be

Today, 28th of January 2019, the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) will begin. And there are good reasons to spread awareness about the state of the world’s indigenous languages. As linguists, we are all too familiar with the depressing statistics surrounding indigenous languages. As is summarized on websites like Ethnologue, around 4,000 of the […]

Sign languages are fully-fledged, natural languages with their own dialects – they need protecting

We most often think of indigenous languages in the context of colonisation – languages used by people who originally inhabited regions that were later colonised. These are the languages that the UN had in mind when it stated a deep concern about the vast number of endangered indigenous languages. And rightly so. More than 2,400 […]

We still have no idea why humans speak over 7,000 languages

The thatched roof held back the sun’s rays, but it could not keep the tropical heat at bay. As everyone at the research workshop headed outside for a break, small groups splintered off to gather in the shade of coconut trees and enjoy a breeze. I wandered from group to group, joining in the discussions. […]

How an Edmonton-based designer is using fashion to revitalize Indigenous languages

EDMONTON—When Brandi Morin’s kohkum (Cree for grandmother) passed away, her aunties were cleaning her house and found pieces of paper scattered throughout that had short stories and memories on them in their mother’s handwriting. They found the elongated, cursive writings on scrap bits, papers, and even flyers. They compiled all her writings in a mini […]

Did Humans Speak Through Cave Art? Ancient Drawings and Language’s Origins

When and where did humans develop language? To find out, look deep inside caves, suggests an MIT professor. More precisely, some specific features of cave art may provide clues about how our symbolic, multifaceted language capabilities evolved, according to a new paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa. A key to this idea is that […]

Linguistic variation in the Spanish-speaking world

In the modern and advanced world of the 21st century, a world that knows not only globalisation, but incredible advances in science, technology and media, in an era when everything is as easy as pressing a single button, we cannot help but ask ourselves: What would the effects of these developments be on interpersonal relations, […]

The Small Island Where 500 People Speak Nine Different Languages

On South Goulburn Island, a small, forested isle off Australia’s northern coast, a settlement called Warruwi Community consists of some 500 people who speak among themselves around nine different languages. This is one of the last places in Australia—and probably the world—where so many indigenous languages exist together. There’s the Mawng language, but also one […]

These Radio Stations are Reviving Indigenous Languages

In the struggle to preserve Indigenous languages, community radio stations have emerged as a key tool to help mother tongues that were crushed under the weight of colonialism flourish once again. What was once forbidden and punished by the Canadian government — the speaking of one’s own language — can be heard with a turn […]

Is the English language too powerful?

In 2016 I published the “Power Language Index”, a research note on the efficacy of languages. It was a systematic data-driven analysis using 20 indicators to compare the clout of the world’s languages. It tried to answer the question: which language best serves a person to engage in life from a global perspective? The index […]

On a Mission to Save Languages From Extinction

NEW YORK—There are 800 different languages spoken among New York’s 8.5 million residents, and unfortunately, that number may be decreasing. One man is on a mission to make sure the city and the world don’t lose their linguistic diversity. The UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger states that 230 languages have died since […]

How English words entered Arabic through the British empire in Iraq

The British “Mesopotamian Campaign” of the First World War took almost three years to get to Baghdad – and the occupying force faced many challenges once it arrived. In fact, Britain’s overwhelming predominance over Iraq from 1917 to 1947 was a time of rough and violent political and economic “communication”. But the large number of […]

What is killing Mexico’s rich indigenous languages?

“I speak the sounds of the people of the rain” – If you ask the Mixteco people about their first language, the reply is just one example of Mexico’s rich linguistic diversity. Yet linguists, artists and human rights defenders are warning that Mexico is becoming increasingly monotone – and that discrimination, as well as repressive […]

These People Have a Mind-Bending Way to Navigate

The door of Sivek’s house looks out on a rising slope. But when he walks away from the door toward the rear of the building, he is walking “uphill”—even though the floor is flat. That’s because in Sivek’s tongue, indoor space is defined by imaginary slopes that are totally distinct from the world outside. This […]

Can the language of the Vikings fight off the invasion of English?

“Coffee and kleina,” reads a large sign at a roadside coffee shop by one of the main roads in Reykjavik. Not so many years ago, such a billboard would simply have read: “Kaffi og kleina” – in the language of the Vikings, the official language of Iceland. It is a privilege of the few to […]

Millennial Aboriginal Australians Have Developed Their Own Language

Millennials, in a way, are a firmly bilingual group, thanks in no small part to “textspeak.” With the rise of Web 2.0 at the turn of 21st century, instant messaging slang and the bevy of acronyms that resulted have become a de facto marker of age, if not cool-factor. Down under, in the remote village […]

North America’s nearly forgotten language

Even before I saw the water, I heard the rumble. Sounding like a river or a waterfall, the noise was gently muffled by the sword ferns and step moss as it reverberated through the sky-scraping red cedars and Douglas firs. What I was hearing was not a river, and if I’d come along this trail […]

How the South Korean language was designed to unify

“Our husband is also a teacher,” my co-worker told me as she noisily slurped her soup. She was seated beside another colleague, who was slurping hers, too. I was confused. Had I misheard her? Were these women married to the same person? “She’s talking about her husband,” the second co-worker clarified, perhaps noticing my blank […]

Meet the Cultural Illuminati Guarding France’s Most Sacrosanct Asset: The French Language

When you’re known as “the immortals,” as are the 40 members of the Académie Française, it’s hard to take yourselves lightly. Over the course of five centuries, 732 of them have walked the earth and reigned as the guardians of France’s most sacrosanct asset: its language. A linguistic secret service, if you like, they project […]

The Little-known Language Spoken by Jews Across the Medieval Arab World

When it was suggested to Joshua Blau, at the start of his professional career, that he study the letters of Maimonides, there were those who warned him not to undertake the task. The three scholars who had previously begun dealing with the letters had died unnatural deaths. The first was found deceased at his desk […]

Maori Language, Once Shunned, Is Having a Renaissance in New Zealand

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A teenage thrash metal band screams out Maori lyrics in its latest videos. A popular radio host is learning New Zealand’s indigenous language and sharing new vocabulary with his audience. And residents of Merivale Retirement Village in Christchurch are studying Maori, greeting one another in the language that had been unspoken […]

The language the French forbade

On a cold night winter’s night nine years ago, I made my way along icy cobblestone streets, a howling wind at my back, into the medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Dordogne region of south-west France. This area is famous for its prehistoric caves, medieval castles and truffles – but I was here for another […]

Don’t assume language or dialect is locked to a particular place

In an age of globalisation with unprecedented levels of mobility and communication, the world is often described as a “global village”. But this metaphor has implications for how we understand the geographical place around us. There are clearly emotional meanings connected to the concept of place. An expression such as “do you want to come […]

The Mexican art of double entendre

As a Brit living in Mexico, I’ve discovered that many people are intrigued by whether or not I eat spicy food. I once had an entire conversation with a waiter in which he asked me where I was from, what language I spoke, where exactly England was, and finally ended with the question he was […]

Forensic linguistics gives victims and the wrongfully convicted the voices they deserve

“Most people take language for granted, but not you … You and I both appreciate the power and specificity of words.” This quote, taken from the recent Netflix series Manhunt: Unabomber, sums up nicely the notion that language is more powerful than many of us are aware of. Words impact how events and those who […]

Hidden meanings: Using artificial intelligence to translate ancient texts

The ancient world is full of mystery. Many mysteries, in fact. Many mysteries indeed. Who built the monolithic and megalithic structures found all over the world? Why did they build them? How did they build them? What technology did they use? And perhaps most importantly from the point of view answering all the other questions: […]

‘Untranslatable’ words tell us more about English speakers than other cultures

When the word “hygge” became popular outside Denmark a few years ago, it seemed the perfect way to express the feeling of wrapping yourself up in a crocheted blanket with a cosy jumper, a cup of tea and back-to-back episodes of The Bridge. But is it really only the Danes, with their cold Scandinavian evenings, […]

Can language slow down time?

What if the language you spoke caused you to perceive time differently? Does that sound like magic realism? Close: it’s economics. Some recent research papers published in economics journals – notably a 2013 paper by Keith Chen of Yale and a 2018 paper by three Australian economists – have proposed that languages that grammatically distinguish […]

Can these birds explain how language first evolved?

If you want a no-fuss, no-muss pet, consider the Bengalese finch. Dubbed the society finch for its friendliness, breeders often use it to foster unrelated chicks. But put the piebald songbird next to its wild ancestor, the white-rumped munia, and you can both see and hear the differences: The aggressive munia tends to be darker […]

Can £27m a year bring a language back from near death?

The feeling of walking barefoot across a beach in summer and the sun-warmed sand chafing my toes takes me the length of this sentence to describe. My great-great-grandfather, Angus Morrison, would have used one word: driùchcainn. That’s because, born and bred on the fringes of Western Europe, on Lewis, in the archipelago of the Outer […]

How Computers Parse the Ambiguity of Everyday Language

If you’re one of the 2.4 million Twitter followers of the Hamilton impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda, you’ve come to expect a delightful stream of observations, including tweets capturing conversations with his son Sebastian, now 3 years old. Earlier this month, Miranda offered one such exchange under the title, “S’MORES. A Real-Life One-Act Play.” Me: So that’s […]

How language shapes your thoughts – what researchers know

Words work as a glue, allowing us to group together different experiences under one label. This is especially true for concepts that we cannot see or touch. But we still don’t really understand how language works in shaping the meaning of these more abstract concepts, or how it allows us to group experiences together under […]

Welcome To The Era Of Big Translation

Despite the increasing ability to reach foreign customers, the lack of quality translation methods is still the most challenging aspect of global expansion. Currently, even using the most advanced software services are an expensive, complicated, and inaccurate process. The result is that too often, businesses sacrifice millions of dollars in profit because marketing to global […]

Explainer: how Tasmania’s Aboriginal people reclaimed a language, palawa kani

Truganini’s death in Hobart in May 1876 attracted worldwide attention. She was widely, but wrongly, believed to have been the last Aboriginal person to have survived the Tasmanian genocide. Her demise symbolised the devastating impacts of British imperialism on Indigenous peoples. Yet Tasmanian Aboriginal people continue to live on the Bass Strait Islands, in rural […]

How Deaf Children in Nicaragua Created a New Language

Of all the changes within Nicaragua to come out of the overthrow of the Somoza regime by the Sandinistas in 1979, perhaps the least anticipated was the birth of a new language. Nicaraguan Sign Language is the only language spontaneously created, without the influence of other languages, to have been recorded from its birth. And […]

Gurrumul and Indigenous languages offer windows into Australia’s past and present

There’s a scene towards the end of the film Gurrumul, directed by Paul Daniel Williams screening in cinemas now, that stays with me. Set in a record store, somewhere in the United States, we hear innocuous guitar strumming in the background as people obliviously browse albums. Then vocals. In an instant, everyone stops, puts down […]

Why no-one speaks Indonesia’s language

The woman stood in her roadside stall in a quiet neighbourhood in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, chopping tomatoes, beans and spinach, plus one red chilli. Mixing everything in a peanut sauce, she handed the salad, called lotek, to customers who puttered up on motorbikes and waited on blue plastic stools. She was curious about […]

Switzerland’s invisible linguistic borders

It was one of the shortest train rides I had ever taken: just 10 minutes and one stop from the Swiss city of Neuchâtel. Yet when I disembarked in the small municipality of Ins, everything seemed, somehow, different. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Something about the architecture perhaps? People’s body language? […]

Cwtch: The hug invented by the Welsh

I’m a quarter Welsh. My darling grandmother grew up in the Rhondda Valley, a small mining town where her father was the school principal. She didn’t speak a lot of Welsh, other than to delight us by reciting the longest train station name in the world (Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch). I was always aware, though, of the word […]

Where Australians can’t understand English

Traveller’s Rest, the dusty farm where I spent a month climbing, lies 260km north of Cape Town in the bosom of South Africa’s rugged Cederberg ranges. The mountains tower majestically above fertile citrus farmland, forming a wall that keeps the rain – and most of the tourists – to the south. Beyond the barrier of […]

Broadcasts in a Native Language, Speaking to Every Corner of Peru

The language of soccer games is ripe with phrases, metaphors and clichés that reflect modern life: a coach who parks the bus, a midfielder who shoots rockets, a striker who scores with a bicycle kick. But at 11,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes, the vocabulary changes. That is where Luis Soto, who hosts a daily […]

How Wikitongues is saving world languages from linguicide

“In the next 80 years, 3,000 languages are expected to disappear.” That’s what it says on the homepage of the Wikitongues website. And then it adds: “We won’t let that happen.” Last week, ‘we’ was Daniel Bogre Udell, one of two original founders of Wikitongues, and Kristen Tcherneshoff, its volunteer-in-chief. The frontline of their fight: […]

A New Accent Is Developing in Southwest Kansas

Say you’re a young person living in Liberal, Kansas—a small town in the southwestern part of the state, home to about 20,000 people—and someone you know does something fun without you. “I told my friends from Liberal that I had gone to Vancouver to present some research,” says Trevin Garcia, who just graduated from Kansas […]

Why it’s okay for bilingual children to mix languages

Few would consider mastering more than one language a bad idea. In fact, research points to a number of cognitive, economic and academic advantages in being bilingual. Parents who speak different languages understand the family home is an important setting to learn both, and seek various ways to help their children thrive bilingually. One of […]

How Language Hijacked the Brain

I’m sitting in the sun on one of the first mild days of the spring, talking with a modern-day flintknapper about the origins of human language. His name is Neill Bovaird, and he’s neither an archaeologist nor a linguist, just a 38-year-old bearded guy with a smartphone in his pocket who uses Stone Age technology […]

Emotions shape the language we use, but second languages reveal a shortcut around them

A taxi driver recently cut me up on the motorway. Without hesitation, I machine-gunned a string of vulgarity at the poor man. What struck me was that every word that came out of my mouth was in Spanish. As a native speaker of English, having learned Spanish as an adult, English should have been the […]

How does the brain process speech? We now know the answer, and it’s fascinating

Neuroscientists have known that speech is processed in the auditory cortex for some time, along with some curious activity within the motor cortex. How this last cortex is involved though, has been something of a mystery, until now. A new study by two NYU scientists reveals one of the last holdouts to a process of […]

How AI is helping preserve Indigenous languages

Australia’s Indigenous population is rich in linguistic diversity, with over 300 languages spoken across different communities. Some of the languages can be as distinct as Japanese is to German. But many are at risk of becoming extinct because they are not widely accessible and have little presence in the digital space. Professor Janet Wiles is […]

Islands of Language Enter Virtual Reality

There are almost 7,000 human languages spoken around the world, but by the end of the century almost half could be extinct, existing only as preserved specimens in obscure databases. The survival, and even revival, of these endangered languages could well depend on these same databases, but only if they become a lot less obscure […]

Bringing back Languages from Scraps of Paper

In 1904 Daisy Bates, an Irish-Australian journalist and ethnographer, sent out a questionnaire to squatters, police, and other authorities across Western Australia asking them to record examples of the local Aboriginal language. Mrs Bates (1859-1951) was something of an eccentric – wearing full Edwardian outfits even when living in small tents in Aboriginal camps – […]

More than 2,000 of the world’s languages are dying out

As a child, Kanako Uzawa treasured her school vacations, when she traveled from Tokyo to her family farm in Nibutani, a remote village in northern Japan. “There were rice fields extending into the distance,” she says. “It was all very green with fresh air… It was paradise for kids.” Uzawa, who was born in Tomakomai, […]

It’s Important to Know Your ‘False Friends’ in English and French

People learning a second language might have heard of the expression “false friend.” This term is used to describe words in different languages that look alike, but have different meanings. Last month, we looked at examples of false friends in two languages, English and Spanish. Today we will tell you about another language — French […]

Why teachers shouldn’t be afraid of other languages being spoken in the classroom

More than 20% of all primary school and 16% of secondary school children in the UK speak languages other than English. And there are now more than 360 languages spoken in British classrooms. But more often than not, in mainstream schools in the UK, the “home languages” of children can be sidelined at best, and […]

Australia’s taste for translated literature is getting broader, and that’s a good thing

With today’s announcement of the winner of the Man Booker International Prize shortlist, translation again finds itself in the foreground of the literary landscape. This year’s shortlist includes novels translated from a diverse array of languages including Arabic (Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi), Hungarian (László Krasznahorkai’s The World Goes On) and Korean (The White […]

How Do Languages Evolve? This Game Is Finding The Answer!

A team of researchers led by Dr. Olivier Morin at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany have released a mobile app, the Color Game, designed to study how human languages evolve. Dr. Morin’s team identified a problem in how traditional language studies are conducted; participants are often given […]

OED looks for words used worldwide to reflect global nature of English

English has been spoken across the world for hundreds of years. And now the Oxford English Dictionary has launched a campaign to make sure its contents reflects the language’s global nature. The dictionary is looking to expand its entries by including more words from Anglophone countries outside the UK. Eleanor Maier, associate editor of the […]

Studying chimpanzee calls for clues about the origins of human language

Freud, Wilkie and the other chimpanzees peacefully fed and rested in the sun-dappled Tanzanian forest. Mzee Hilali stood next to me, writing notes on the chimpanzees’ behavior, as he had been doing for over 30 years as a field assistant for Jane Goodall’s long-term study at Gombe National Park. Suddenly, a strange, high-pitched call sounded […]

Climate Change Can Also Transform Language

Language bends and buckles under pressure of climate change. Take the adjective “glacial.” I recently came across an old draft of my PhD dissertation on which my advisor had scrawled the rebuke: ‘You’re proceeding at a glacial pace. You’re skating on thin ice.’ That was in 1988, the year that the climatologist James Hansen testified […]

Can genes change the way languages evolve?

Languages are dynamic. After just a few hundred years, the English of Chaucer looks bizarre to today’s readers. The factors that drive language changes are familiar. Interaction with other languages: Roman conquest spread the influence of Latin across Europe. Metaphor: The description of a circle as “round” came to refer to a “well-rounded” individual. New […]

To Communicate With Apes, We Must Do It On Their Terms

On August 24, 1661, Samuel Pepys, an administrator in England’s navy and famous diarist, took a break from work to go see a “strange creature” that had just arrived on a ship from West Africa. Most likely, it was a chimpanzee—the first Pepys had ever seen. As he wrote in his diary, the “great baboon” […]

The words that change what colours we see

The human eye can physically perceive millions of colours. But we don’t all recognise these colours in the same way. Some people can’t see differences in colours – so called colour blindness – due to a defect or absence of the cells in the retina that are sensitive to high levels of light: the cones. […]

Do words get removed from a dictionary when people stop using them?

The Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is generally regarded as the single most comprehensive record of the English language to exist. Included in this work are many thousands of words considered completely “obsolete” by lexicographers. You see, in something of a Hotel California of linguistics, once a word has made it into the […]

Mamihlapinatapai: A lost languages untranslatable legacy

It was spring when I reached the end of the world. On that mid-September day it was cold and raining in the city of Ushuaia, Argentina, but the sky cleared as I trekked nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park, allowing the sun to reflect off crisp glacial waters and snow-covered mountains. In 1520, Portuguese explorer […]

Native Language Schools Are Taking Back Education

For more than 150 years, the Wôpanâak language was silent. With no fluent speakers alive, the language of the Mashpee Wampanoag people existed only in historical documents. It was by all measures extinct. But a recently established language school on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation in Massachusetts is working to bring back the language. The […]

Bringing a dying language back to life

It’s unlikely that many of his grade-school classmates would have predicted that Sunn m’Cheaux would grow up to be a Harvard instructor. “I remember being humiliated in elementary school, because I sounded different from the other kids. I was a Gullah-speaking kid in an English-speaking class. I was a fish out of water,” the artist, […]

The Race to Save the World’s Disappearing Languages

On a residential block at the border between Brooklyn and Queens, Gottscheer Hall appears like a mirage from 1945. Blue awnings advertise the space for weddings and events. Inside, an entryway is covered with the saccharin smiles of “Miss Gottschee” contestants from decades past. “Back then you had to know the language to compete,” says […]

Can Language Save Communities Under Threat From A Globalised World?

As a child, Kanako Uzawa treasured her school vacations, when she traveled from Tokyo to her family farm in Nibutani, a remote village in northern Japan. “There were rice fields extending into the distance,” she says. “It was all very green with fresh air… It was paradise for kids.” Uzawa, who was born in Tomakomai, […]

Saving an Endangered Language

Walk past Abernethy Hall Room 102 on any given Friday afternoon during the semester and you’ll likely hear sounds of an endangered language wafting through the halls. “Siyo.” (Hello.) “Osigwotsu?” (How are you?) “Osigwo.” (I am fine.) “Ihina?” (And you?) “Osda!” (Great!) It’s “AniKahwi,” Cherokee Coffee Hour, for students interested in learning to speak Cherokee. […]

Scientists Probe an Enduring Question: Can Language Shape Perception?

Picture a sunlit Grecian sea or the deep hues of Santorini’s rooftops. They’re both called “blue” in English. But to Greek speakers, the lighter hue is “ghalazio” and the darker color “ble.” When researchers showed native speakers of both languages squares of light and dark blue, they found the Greek speakers viewed the two colors […]

How America became a key market for foreign-language TV drama

Some say it was a Venezuelan terrorist who opened the door for foreign-language television in the US. Others credit a Colombian drug lord. Either way, Carlos, the multilingual 2010 miniseries screened in the US by Sundance TV, and Narcos, the English- and Spanish-language Netflix series that made its debut in 2015 — plus a growing […]

When Genetics and Linguistics Challenge the Winners’ Version of History

Two conquering empires and more than 500 years of colonial rule failed to erase the cultural and genetic traces of indigenous Peruvians, a new study finds. This runs contrary to historical accounts that depict a complete devastation of northern Peru’s ancient Chachapoya people by the Inca Empire. The Chachapoyas—sometimes referred to as “Warriors of the […]

Linguistic time capsule in South America sheds light on human migration

Tiny Suriname, the smallest country in South America, punches far above its weight in linguistic diversity. Many people speak Dutch, but if you visit, you’re also likely to hear Hindi, Javanese, a variety of indigenous languages, Portuguese, Cantonese, and possibly others. This real-world Babel, in a country of fewer than 600,000 people, is a relic […]

The decline of Chinantec whistled speech in Mexico

The small village of San Pedro Sochiapam, deep in the mountainous region of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, is home to the Chinantec people. Here steep footpaths end at chicken coops and cornfields grow on mountainsides, while the villagers clear brush with machetes and children enjoy ice-cream cones from a stall near the town […]

The worldwide web of the Indo-European language family

In 1786, an English judge then resident in Calcutta, Sir William Jones delivered a speech to the members of the “Asiatick Society”, an institution that had been founded by him and a few other like-minded souls in January 1784 with a view to studying Asia and “whatever is performed by man or produced by nature […]

Preserving culture through language

About 20 percent of the world’s population speaks English, according the language learning app Babbel, so it would be hard to imagine the world without it. However, less common languages are facing the possibility of extinction as the number of speakers decreases. This is the case for Lamkang, a northeastern Indian language spoken mainly in […]

Tracking the spread of early hunter-gatherers through language

Scientists have further evidence that an ancient family of languages spread across most of the Australian continent over the last 6000 years, rapidly replacing pre-existing languages. But the puzzle remains as to why. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Auckland and Yale University in the United States have adapted computer models, initially […]

Your Speech Is Packed With Misunderstood, Unconscious Messages

Imagine standing up to give a speech in front of a critical audience. As you do your best to wax eloquent, someone in the room uses a clicker to conspicuously count your every stumble, hesitation, um and uh; once you’ve finished, this person loudly announces how many of these blemishes have marred your presentation. This […]

Help Build a Database of Ancient Graffiti from Pompeii and Herculaneum

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, burying Pompeii and Herculaneum in fatal volcanic ash, the destructive process famously entombed the remains of residents and their material culture. It also, miraculously, preserved their social networks. Just as we DM each other or post to our friend’s Facebook pages today, residents of these ancient cities would […]

Hope for the Future: Alaskan Community Works to Revive Native Languages

Terri Burr hopped in her car, turning on the wipers to sweep the rain from her windshield. She began to drive and talk, barely looking down at the road she takes each morning to meet with her language mentor, John Reese, the 95-year-old, last fluent speaker of the native Alaskan language Shm’algyack in Ketchikan. Burr […]

How I discovered there are (at least) 14 different kinds of love by analysing the world’s languages

No emotion, surely, is as cherished and sought after as love. Yet on occasions such as Valentine’s day, we can often be misled into thinking that it consists solely in the swooning, star-crossed romance of falling deeply “in love”. But on reflection, love is far more complex. Indeed, arguably no word covers a wider range […]

New Evidence Fuels Debate over the Origin of Modern Languages

Five thousand years ago nomadic horseback riders from the Ukrainian steppe charged through Europe and parts of Asia. They brought with them a language that is the root of many of those spoken today—including English, Spanish, Hindi, Russian and Persian. That is the most widely accepted explanation for the origin of this ancient tongue, termed […]

How do you say “smartphone” in Lakota?

“Adorkable.” “Manspreading.” “Frenemies.” Coining new words to fit modern needs is a practice that goes back to the beginning of language; Shakespeare, for example, is said to have introduced somewhere from 1700 to 3200 new words. Peter Hill may not be Shakespeare, but he has cataloged around 3000 new words in the indigenous Lakota language. […]

Calls for national legislation to protect Indigenous languages in Australia

Craig Ritchie, CEO of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), suggests Australia could follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, which introduced the Māori Language Act in 1987, thereby giving Māori official language status. “Under that, every government agency has an obligation to make sure that the work that they […]

These Sámi Women Are Trying to Keep Their Native Skolt Language Alive

Tiina Sanila-Aikio isn’t your everyday president. The 34-year-old is the head of the Sámi people in Finland, the only indigenous population recognized in the European Union. She is also the creator of the world’s first Skolt-language rock albums. Skolt is a Sámi language spoken by just 300 people. Although the Sámi population numbers at least […]

New paper links ancient drawings and the origins of language

When and where did humans develop language? To find out, look deep inside caves, suggests an MIT professor. More precisely, some specific features of cave art may provide clues about how our symbolic, multifaceted language capabilities evolved, according to a new paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa. A key to this idea is that […]

How to decipher a 4,000-year-old tax return

One day in 1994 Richard Salomon, professor of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington, received a small package in the mail. Inside were a number of blurry black and white photographs and an accompanying letter from the British Library asking if they might be of any interest. Salomon started looking at the […]

The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A […]

Does artificial intelligence have a language problem?

Technology loves a bandwagon. The current one, fuelled by academic research, startups and attention from all the big names in technology and beyond, is artificial intelligence (AI). AI is commonly defined as the ability of a machine to perform tasks associated with intelligent beings. And that’s where our first problem with language appears. Intelligence is […]

Language Utilizes Ancient Brain Circuits That Predate Humans

A new paper by an international team of researchers presents strong evidence that language is learned using two general-purpose brain systems (declarative memory and procedural memory) that are evolutionarily ancient and not language specific. Contrary to popular belief, the researchers found that children learning their native language and adults learning a foreign language do not […]

The Japanese words for “space” could change your view of the world

When you are the first person to arrive in a meeting room, do you think of it as being empty or full? If you were raised in the West, a meeting room is made for people to meet. Therefore, if there are no people in that room, then of course it must be empty. As […]

Making history by saving it: UW groups keep indigenous languages alive

When Alyssa Johnston and members of her tribe speak to one another in Quinault, they are often moved to tears by the knowledge that, at the turn of the century, the language was all but dead. The last person who spoke fluent Quinault passed away in 1996. By using recordings of those who spoke the […]

Shor Cling To Way Of Life, Language In Siberia

A phone booth, that rarely works, is about the only sign of modern life to be found in Ust Anzas, a remote village in Siberia’s Kemerovo Oblast. The Shor, an ethnic Turkic minority, live in isolation here, nestled amid the Abakan Range mountains and seemingly endless forests along the shores of the Mras-Su River. Cut […]

The Incredible Linguistic Diversity of Tibet Is Disappearing

Tibet may be best known for its bounty of ancient Buddhist monasteries and stark natural beauty—but it’s also blessed with a vast diversity of languages. The Tibetan Plateau is home to more than a dozen distinct local tongues, many of which come with their own elaborate character systems. Unfortunately, thanks to the growth of internet […]

The battle to make French a “gender-neutral language” is emphasizing the country’s inherent sexism

That the French language remains so central to the culture here wouldn’t surprise most people outside the country. Still, having two teenagers in French middle school has taught me to appreciate how profoundly important it remains for people not just to master their language skills, but to perfect them. Whereas the practice of teaching grammar […]

Even if you’ve forgotten the language you spoke as a child, it still stays with you

Natasha Mumbi Nkonde tells me she’s “haunted” by what she sounded like as a child. Nkonde, who was born in Zambia in 1984 and moved to the UK when she was six, remembers speaking two different languages—Bemba and Nyanja. Naturally, she was forced to switch to English once she migrated to Britain. But it wasn’t […]

Swearing helps us battle pain – no matter what language we curse in

Swear words have many functions. They can be used for emphasis, for comedic effect, as a shared linguistic tool that strengthens social bonds and maintains relationships, or simply to cause offence and shock. They are words that can be emotionally electrifying. We can express utter horror, disdain, or just frustration through the utterance of a […]

African Schools Weigh Teaching in Local Languages

DAKAR — In Alieu Samb primary school, in a working-class section of Dakar, second-graders are learning to read in French. Like most children in Sub-Saharan Africa, they are taught in their country’s common colonial language rather than in their mother tongue. Linguistics professor Mbacke Diagne, of Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University, wants to integrate local […]

‘Saluton!’: the surprise return of Esperanto

In the village of Barlaston, just outside Stoke-on-Trent, a strange language can be heard. It’s not the friendly Potteries dialect, but something that sounds a little like the lovechild of French and German. A Tudor house here is home to the Esperanto Association of Britain (EAB), which encourages people to learn the constructed language. Esperanto […]

Keepers of a lost culture

Beulah Timothy is a ghost of history. So is her brother, Richard Snake, and their childhood friend, Alma Burgoon. Their home is the Delaware Nation Reserve, 3,000 acres of rich farmland 150 miles southwest of Toronto. Small, well-kept homes surrounded by corn fields dot the reserve, which is crisscrossed by gravel roads and bordered by […]

Ol’ Man River – how gendered language shapes the way we see the world

But ol’ man river, He jes’ keeps rollin’ along! Is water male or female – and does it really matter? Unlike languages such as French, Spanish and German, English does not allocate gender to words. Although some things, ships and countries for example, often have feminine associations, there are no grammatical rules to make something […]

Artificial intelligence goes bilingual—without a dictionary

Automatic language translation has come a long way, thanks to neural networks—computer algorithms that take inspiration from the human brain. But training such networks requires an enormous amount of data: millions of sentence-by-sentence translations to demonstrate how a human would do it. Now, two new papers show that neural networks can learn to translate with […]

The world’s smallest language has only 100 words — and you can say almost anything

In Chinese, the word computer translates directly as electric brain. In Icelandic, a compass is a direction-shower, and a microscope a small-watcher. In Lakota, horse is literally dog of wonder. These neologisms demonstrate the cumulative quality of language, in which we use the known to describe the unknown. “It is by metaphor that language grows,” […]

The Rise and Fall of the English Sentence

An iconic sentence, this. But how did it ever make its way into the world? At 71 words, it is composed of eight separate clauses, each anchored by its own verb, nested within one another in various arrangements. The main clause (a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires …) hangs suspended above a […]

Historically, men translated the Odyssey. Here’s what happened when a woman took the job

The Odyssey is about a man. It says so right at the beginning — in Robert Fagles’s 1996 translation, for example, the poem opens with the line, “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns.” In the course of the poem, that man plots his return home after fighting the […]

Humans learn complex grammatical patterns even in extremely challenging circumstances

A large-scale study of languages shows that the grammar of creoles – which emerged in multilingual situations of extreme social upheaval, like colonial slaveries – are composed from the grammars of other languages that preceded them rather than being innovated from scratch. The study, published today in Nature Human Behavior, analyzed a large number of […]

Alberta teacher races to save dying Indigenous language before time runs out

A teacher in northern Alberta is racing to piece together a dying Indigenous language before the last few people who speak it are gone. For the past two years, Victoria Wanihadie has travelled the Peace River area to find people who remember the Beaver culture and language. She jots down their memories and records the […]

Finding the Words for Hope: The Fight for Endangered Languages

“Iktsuarpok” is a word with no direct English translation. From Inuit, it best translates to “the frustration of waiting for someone to show up.” It is a word imbued with special meaning, and a word that may now be threatened. The Endangered Languages Project classifies the Inuit language as “vulnerable,” with only around 20,000 speakers. […]

The Randomness of Language Evolution

Joshua Plotkin’s dive into the evolution of language began with clarity—and also a lack of it. Today, if you wanted to talk about something that’s clear, you’d say that it has clarity. But if you were around in 1890, you would almost certainly have talked about its clearness. Plotkin first noticed this linguistic change while […]

Pennsylvania Dutch: A language that persisted

“Guder Mariye, liewe Kinner!” (Good morning, dear children!) I start most of my mornings with these four words. What’s most interesting about that statement is that I am an American. My family immigrated to the colony of Pennsylvania in the early 1700s and has been here ever since. Twelve generations later, we still speak the […]

Linguists digitise 1970s children’s storybooks to help preserve Indigenous languages

During this time, bilingual education programs were rolled out in remote schools throughout the Northern Territory, allowing schoolchildren to read and write in their native languages before transitioning to reading and writing in English. Thousands of unique, entry-level children’s books, often based on local stories and illustrated by local artists, were created in Indigenous languages. […]

Found in translation: USC scientists map brain responses to stories in three different languages

New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences. And in what appears to be a first for neuroscience, USC researchers have found patterns of brain activation when people find meaning in stories, […]

Natural language processing will help humans and machines have more empathy

With the current breakneck pace of innovation, it may seem like technology is on an aggressive mission to solve all of humanity’s most pressing problems. And in some respects, we’re making great progress. We’ve broken tremendous ground in such areas as renewable energy, disease prevention, and disaster recovery. But when it comes to addressing important […]

Educators Try New Methods to Save American Indian Languages

The United States is home to 562 federally recognized American Indian Nations, each with its own language. Yet the number of Native Americans with the ability to speak their tribe’s language has decreased over the past century. Now, Indian Nations are trying different ways to expand the number of native speakers, and increase interest in […]

Carrying On His Great Grandfather’s Work, A Kansas Professor Helps Keep Their Language Alive

As a kid, Andrew McKenzie had an unusual affinity for languages. He took French in high school (because everyone else was taking Spanish). But that wasn’t enough. “I started to teach myself different languages, like Latin and Greek and Basque and Turkish,” he remembers. “I would drive into the city to a bookstore, and they’d […]

How This Native Educator Is Keeping A Tribal Language Alive

On the Omaha Native American reservation in northeastern Nebraska, one educator is working hard to keep the tribal language alive by helping kids to learn it in school. Vida Woodhull Stabler is the director of the Omaha (or “Umonhon” in the tribe’s language) culture center at Umonhon Nation Public Schools in Macy, Nebraska. She has […]

How Italians influenced a South American dialect

“Argentinian Spanish is sort of hard to understand,” said my sister as she plugged in a fan. It was hot and still in Buenos Aires and we were drinking lemonade on her balcony. I’d just flown into South America for the first time, and I hadn’t slept much on the plane. I was more concerned […]

Evolutionary biology can help us understand how language works

As a linguist I dread the question, “what do you do?”, because when I answer “I’m a linguist” the inevitable follow-up question is: “How many languages do you speak?” That, of course, is not the point. While learning languages is a wonderful thing to do, academic linguistics is the scientific study of language. What I […]

Robert Macfarlane on the enchanted childhood words technology has disrupted

In 2015, a published version of the first chapter in Robert Macfarlane’s last book, Landmarks, went viral. In it, the nature writer and academic talked about the deep, historic connections between language and landscape and mourned the loss of certain everyday words from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Acorn, bluebell, conker: all […]

Wisconsin School Works To Keep Native American Languages Alive Around The World

In Hayward, Wisconsin, a program is working to preserve Native American language and culture in the state and across the world. Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Institute is an immersion school where the Ojibwe language isn’t only taught, it’s the language used to teach all core classes. Waadookodaading means “a place where people help each other,” and […]

Can translations save India’s endangered ‘mother tongues’?

In “Translation as Culture”, an article which theorises her work with Mahasweta Devi’s fiction, Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak writes of the irreducible emotional and ethical charge of translating from the mother tongue: “…translation in the narrow sense…is also a peculiar act of reparation – toward the language of the inside, a language in which we are […]

Languages don’t all have the same number of terms for colors – scientists have a new theory why

People with standard vision can see millions of distinct colors. But human language categorizes these into a small set of words. In an industrialized culture, most people get by with 11 color words: black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, orange, pink, purple and gray. That’s what we have in American English. Maybe if you’re […]

With fewer fluent speakers, demand for teachers of Indigenous languages is on the rise

A trend toward “Indigenizing” programming in schools by bringing Indigenous culture and languages into the classroom has led to a demand for teachers who are fluent in Indigenous languages. But with the number of Indigenous language speakers on the decline, school divisions have had a hard time finding qualified and certified teachers. “We had some […]

In Singapore, Chinese Dialects Revive After Decades of Restrictions

The Tok and Teo families are a model of traditional harmony, with three generations gathered under one roof, enjoying each other’s company over slices of fruit and cups of tea on a Saturday afternoon in Singapore. There is only one problem: The youngest and oldest generations can barely communicate with each other. Lavell, 7, speaks […]

Indigenous dictionary may save the Miriwoong language from extinction

Miriwoong is considered critically endangered — on the brink of completely disappearing — but a group in the remote Kimberley is making sure that does not happen. The first official Miriwoong dictionary has been published by Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring (MDWg), a small language and cultural centre in Kununurra. “It’s the language of the land and […]

The Prospects for the Sum of All Human Knowledge in Wikipedia in Indigenous Languages

Historically, indigenous languages have not only been minimized but also marginalized, and this spans every domain, including cyberspace. This has limited the possibility of appreciating other communities, worldviews and traditions. Every indigenous language in the world is undergoing linguistic displacement and, consequently, disappearing. Although some remain active, their use is reserved for private spaces, forcing […]

Lost Languages Discovered in One of the World’s Oldest Continuously Run Libraries

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, a sacred Christian site nestled in the shadow of Mount Sinai, is home to one of the world’s oldest continuously used libraries. Thousands of manuscripts and books are kept there—some of which contain hidden treasures. Now, as Jeff Farrell reports for the Independent, a team of researchers is using new technology to […]

Inventor of Kryptonian aims to revitalize endangered languages

UBC-O’s Dr. Christine Schreyer — an associate professor teaching anthropology and linguistics — went to Krypton. At least, as close any of us will ever get. In 2011, Warner Brothers approached Schreyer to develop the Kryptonian language for Man of Steel. Schreyer began her journey quite young — she has wanted to be an anthropologist […]

Savoring the Spanish of My Youth, as the Language Marches On

ALBUQUERQUE — Something about the languages we speak fascinates me. Roaming around Latin America as a correspondent for more than a decade, I wrote about Palenquero, a Creole language kept alive by descendants of runaway slaves in northern Colombia; Sranan Tongo, Suriname’s lingua franca; Papiamentu, the vibrant language of Curaçao; and even learned how to […]

A New Life for Indigenous Languages in New York City

José Juarez jots down notes in the last minutes before going on air. On the other side of a foam-padded wall, his colleague Leobardo Ambrosio pushes the dials of a soundboard up and down, preparing for the two of them to take their indigenous mother tongues to the mics. Every Monday night, the duo hosts […]

Seven decades after Independence, many small languages in India face extinction threat

The last leg of the 15-km journey from Jalgaon Jamod in north Maharashtra to the tiny village of Sonbardi is arduous and nauseating, especially right after breakfast. A rattling autorickshaw speeding on a road with crater-like potholes makes us wish we were walking instead. As we get closer and the Satpura hill range on the […]

On Living, and Thinking, in Two Languages at Once

People ask me whether I think in French or in English now that I’ve lived in the US a while. I lie when I answer this. I say it depends on what I’m thinking about—English for work, French for family and curse words. This answer is usually welcomed as logical: a language for the intellect, […]

Do men and women really find different words funny? Here’s what the research says

Is the word “booty” really funnier than “ass”? And does the word “bondage” raise a laugh more than “giggle”? A new behaviour research study looks at the perceived funniness of individual English words, and finds that women and men consider different words amusing. But is this really the case? Women and men do often laugh […]

Why Do We Need To Save Dying Languages?

Languages Around The World While it may seem like only a handful of languages are used around the world, the reality is that a vast number are spoken by people in different countries and cultures. In fact, linguists suggest that around 6,500 languages are currently used for daily communication needs. Many of these are not […]

How the once-ridiculed word “finalize” slipped into mainstream American English

“I found the class really impactful.” “I have no bandwidth for this conversation.” “Can you ping me when you’re leaving the house?” Lovers of the English language cringe when they hear corporate speak seep into everyday conversation. But the jargon-ization of language, it seems, is inevitable. In the 1960s, the gatekeepers of American English worked […]

400 Indian Languages Face the Threat of Extinction: Study

Almost 10 percent of the world’s 4,000 languages that face the threat of extinction are spoken in India. Linguist Ganesh N Devy says that while English posed no real threat to major Indian languages, the most threatened languages are the ones spoken in the coastal areas of the country. Devy, chairman, People’s Linguistic Survey of […]

The Grimm Brothers’ Other Great Project Was Writing a Giant German Dictionary

In 1837, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the brothers most well known for their eponymous collection of fairy tales, were kicked out of their home. They had been working as professors at the famous University of Göttingen, Germany, when the King of Hanover, who ruled the area, demanded they and other academics swear an oath of […]

Revitalising endangered languages

Languages are considered endangered when their last fluent speakers reach old age and when children are no longer learning it as their primary tongue. The UNESCO Atlas of World Languages in Danger reveals that 18 of the world’s 2,464 officially ‘endangered’ languages have just one living speaker (Bishuo, spoken in Cameroon, for instance). With the […]

Greece’s disappearing whistled language

Hidden deep in the south-east corner of the Greek island of Evia, above a twisting maze of ravines that tumbles toward the Aegean Sea, the tiny village of Antia clings to the slopes of Mount Ochi. There are no hotels or restaurants within 40km, and the tiny place is so remote that it doesn’t exist […]

Can virtual reality help save endangered Pacific languages?

The Pacific is the most linguistically rich region in the world, with Papua New Guinea alone being home to a staggering 850 languages. Yet experts fear that widespread language loss could be the future for the region. To draw attention to the issue, and to document more Pacific languages, Australian researchers are trialling a new […]

A Universal ‘Language’ of Arousal Connects Humans and the Animal Kingdom

Over a century ago, naturalist Charles Darwin observed that all humans, as well as other animals, exhibit and express emotion in remarkably similar ways. He theorized that vocal expressions of feelings date back to the earliest terrestrial species, hinting that all land animals — and birds too — share a basic, inherent understanding of each […]

Lost in translation: the Ancient books that we can’t decode

In 1908, archaeologist Luigi Pernier was poking around the ruins of an ancient palace in Crete when he unearthed a smallish clay disc that featured a series of mysterious symbols set in a spiral on both sides. Neither its layout, nor the symbols themselves, had been seen before – and neither have they been seen […]

The mysterious origins of Europe’s oldest language

From my car window, I watched Spain transform. From Madrid in the country’s centre to the coastal north, empty land and grazing cows turned to misty green mountains and a shimmering harbour full of boats. I had driven north before, but this was the first time I’d stopped in Getaria, a medieval fishing village with […]

These Scientists Think Local Climates Shaped the Evolution of Language

The thatched roof held back the sun’s rays, but it could not keep the tropical heat at bay. As everyone at the research workshop headed outside for a break, small groups splintered off to gather in the shade of coconut trees and enjoy a breeze. I wandered from group to group, joining in the discussions. […]

Reclaiming A Lost Tribal Language: How, and at What Cost?

Growing up, I spent summers going to the Turtle Project, which was a camp for Aquinnah Wampanoag kids run by our tribe. Aquinnah is a small town on the far end of Martha’s Vineyard. Every year the island swells with seasonal tourists flocking to its idyllic beaches and picturesque towns. Although I never considered myself […]

AI is inventing languages humans can’t understand. Should we stop it?

Bob: “I can can I I everything else.” Alice: “Balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to.” To you and I, that passage looks like nonsense. But what if I told you this nonsense was the discussion of what might be the most […]

Glove turns sign language into text for real-time translation

Handwriting will never be the same again. A new glove developed at the University of California, San Diego, can convert the 26 letters of American Sign Language (ASL) into text on a smartphone or computer screen. Because it’s cheaper and more portable than other automatic sign language translators on the market, it could be a […]

A tiny Indian publisher is translating hidden gems of world literature for global readers

“It isn’t about size. Or the scale. It is about the choice. The instinct that allows you to take the risk to step outside the structures the world of corporate publishing has so magnificently set up. And publish books that in your opinion need to be read.” The mission statement of Seagull Books says it […]

When Did Colonial America Gain Linguistic Independence?

When did Americans start sounding funny to English ears? By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, carefully composed in the richly-worded language of the day, did colonial Americans—who after all were British before they decided to switch to become American—really sound all that different from their counterparts in the mother country? […]

An ‘epic’ translation preserved in Portugal

Irony played its part when conquerors preserved the very language they attempted to destroy. The Konkani language reached its Zenith — of prose, grammar and vocabulary — in the 16th-17th century. The flourishing language had its literature, either oral or partly written on palm leafs, cloth, copper plate and stone before the advent of the […]

This Documentary Uncovers an Afro-Cuban Community Singing in an Almost Extinct African Language

They Are We tells a story that, were it not told by a University professor in the middle of a documentary, you’d swear couldn’t possibly be true. Emma Christopher, who’s written extensively on the Atlantic slave trade and teaches at the University of Sydney, found herself connecting a remote chiefdom in Sierra Leone with a […]

The Highbrow Struggles of Translating Modern Children’s Books Into Latin

According to conventional wisdom, Latin is a dead language. But a simple Amazon search shows that it still has a surprisingly active life—not just in medical and law terminology, but also in children’s books. After serving as the chief language of ancient Rome, and then as the language of scholars and holy men, Latin mostly […]

Cantonese isn’t dead yet, so stop writing its eulogy

When I decided to start studying Mandarin as a teenager, friends and family approved. China was enjoying explosive economic growth, so speaking the country’s lingua franca was sure to open doors. But when I moved to China after college, I ended up in one place where Mandarin doesn’t get you very far: Hong Kong. The […]

How a Secret Criminal Language Emerged From the Underworld

If you were a thief in 1700s England, and wanted to tell a fellow thief that you had spotted a naive rich man (“rum cully”) and you can’t wait to rob his house (“heave the booth”), but you don’t want some do-gooder to overhear and send you to the gallows (“nubbing cheat”)—how would you communicate […]

Authenticity in Alien Worlds: The Art of Creating Languages

Whether you’ve ever consciously thought about it or not, chances are you’re familiar with a constructed language. From Star Trek’s Klingon, to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish, to Avatar’s Na’vi, to Dothraki and Valyrian in Game of Thrones, these fictional languages have lent a degree of authenticity to the worlds they occupy. According to Christine Schreyer, Associate […]

How do you translate classic literature for contemporary readers?

“The idea of the classic is invested in a particular model of history, one that allows for a perpetual tension between the enduring and the transient, and for the survival of the past in ways that are comprehensible even to a radically different present. This comprehensibility is not immediate or unmediated, but involves acts of […]

Understanding the amazing complexity of sign language

Most people are familiar with sign language, the system that deaf people use to communicate. What fewer may know is that there are many different sign languages around the world, just as there are many different spoken languages. So how does the grammar of sign language work? Unlike in spoken languages, in which grammar is […]

Mexican women lead initiatives to rescue native tongues

When Gabriela Badillo traveled to Mérida, Yucatán, more than a decade ago, she encountered children who were timid about speaking the Mayan language. As she later came to understand, fear and discrimination were factors that affected the home teaching and use of the region’s native tongue. “Children were a bit embarrassed to speak Mayan. … […]

Women writers’ work is getting lost in translation

Britain now has a record number of female MPs, more women are on company boards, and work is being done to encourage more women to take up science. Yet women still aren’t equal to men. And if we think in terms of intersectional feminism – the connections between different multi-layered facets of oppression such as […]

The rise of Hinglish: How the media created a new lingua franca for India’s elites

Dominated by the Congress, India’s Constituent Assembly usually witnessed little disagreement. There was one exception, however: language. It was the last major issue discussed by the Constituent Assembly and rocked the body. Should English or Hindi be India’s official language? Hindi plants a flag Like all questions of identity, the matter was really a cover […]

After Years Of Restraint, A Linguist Says ‘Yes!’ To The Exclamation Point

The only literary work about punctuation I’m aware of is an odd early story by Anton Chekhov called “The Exclamation Mark.” After getting into an argument with a colleague about punctuation, a school inspector named Yefim Perekladin asks his wife what an exclamation point is for. She tells him it signifies delight, indignation, joy and […]

The Great A.I. Awakening

Late one Friday night in early November, Jun Rekimoto, a distinguished professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Tokyo, was online preparing for a lecture when he began to notice some peculiar posts rolling in on social media. Apparently Google Translate, the company’s popular machine-translation service, had suddenly and almost immeasurably improved. Rekimoto visited […]

UCLA historian brings language of the Aztecs from ancient to contemporary times

The language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, is undergoing a renaissance in Los Angeles, thanks in part to the efforts of a genial UCLA historian. Once the lingua franca of Mexico, Nahuatl [pronounced na’ wat] was eventually overtaken by Spanish. Today, the indigenous language is spoken only by 1.5 million people in Mexico, many of whom […]

Elon Musk and linguists say that AI is forcing us to confront the limits of human language

In analytic philosophy, any meaning can be expressed in language. In his book Expression and Meaning (1979), UC Berkeley philosopher John Searle calls this idea “the principle of expressibility, the principle that whatever can be meant can be said”. Moreover, in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), Ludwig Wittgenstein suggests that “the limits of my language mean […]

Language alters our experience of time

It turns out, Hollywood got it half right. In the film Arrival, Amy Adams plays linguist Louise Banks who is trying to decipher an alien language. She discovers the way the aliens talk about time gives them the power to see into the future – so as Banks learns their language, she also begins to […]

We’d have a better chance of preserving Africa’s dying languages if we learned their history

In 2008, on his first visit to China and India after taking office as prime minister, Britain’s Gordon Brown announced a plan to promote the English language across the world. Brown said he launched a website that would develop the skills of 750,000 teachers, and help two billion people learn English by 2020. “English does […]

Prevented From Intermingling With Hindi By Language Police, Urdu Dies A Slow Death

In March, the Center told the Supreme Court that it was open to the suggestion of conducting NEET, a single window entrance test for admissions for MBBS and BDS courses, in the Urdu language from the next academic year. This has rekindled the debate on the present state and the future of Urdu language. Every […]

Saving languages

An entire community had cause to celebrate when 11 Six Nations Polytechnic students graduated with the first bachelor of arts degree in Ogwehoweh languages. “It’s been a long road to get here, involving countless people over many years of hard work, long hours of curriculum development, and not to mention weeks of studying by each […]

Lost in Translation: Proust and Scott Moncrieff

Although Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff’s translation of À la recherche du temps perdu is considered by many journalists and writers to be the best translation of any foreign work into the English language, his choice of Remembrance of Things Past as the general title alarmed the seriously ill Proust and misled generations of readers as […]

Saving ‘endangered’ languages in Malaysia

Their feet nimbly tapping out a whirl of steps, the children twirled and swirled to the lively music of Malaysia’s Portuguese Eurasian community. They earned oohs and ahhs and laughter as they cajoled the seated guests to join in the dancing at a recent cultural event in Kuala Lumpur. Made up of schoolchildren, the dance […]

Anthony Burgess’ Legendary Dictionary of Slang Lives

The reaction most readers have to beginning Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange is: What are half these words? That’s because much of the novel is written using Nadsat, a dystopian teenage subculture language fusing British rhyming slang and Russian that Burgess created for the book. But that wasn’t Burgess’ only foray into the […]

India’s Endangered Languages Need to Be Digitally Documented

Every two weeks, a language dies and with it, a wealth of knowledge forever. In India alone, there exist more than 780 languages. The rate at which languages are dying here is extremely high as over 220 languages have died in the last 50 years. In India, 197 languages are categorised as endangered. These are […]

Navajo school immerses tribal youth in Diné language and culture

“Béédaałniih: Diné bizaad bídahwiil’aah. Táadoo biligáana k’ehjí yádaalłti’í. Ahéhee’.” These are the first words that visitors see on a sign at the entrance of Tsé Hootsooí Diné Bi’ Olta’, an elementary immersion school that teaches the Navajo language to its 133 students on the capital of the Navajo Nation. In English, the sign means, “Remember: […]

Has Google made the first step toward general AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has long been a theme of Sci-fi blockbusters, but as technology develops in 2017, the stuff of fiction is fast becoming a reality. As technology has made leaps and bounds in our lives, the presence of AI is something we are adapting to and incorporating in our everyday existence. A brief history […]

Instant Braille translator can fit in your hand

An all-woman team of six engineering undergraduate students at MIT has created an inexpensive, hand-held device prototype that provides real-time translation of printed text to Braille — which could greatly increase accessibility of written materials for the blind. Team Tactile was one of the winners of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize this year for their creation, […]

Israeli woman invents new typeface combining Arabic and Hebrew to promote co-existence

Aravit, a new typeface which manages to merge Hebrew and Arabic letters together, is being billed as a language of peace – and it’s not hard to see why. Liron Lavi Turkenich, a 32-year-old Israeli graphic designer and researcher, was inspired to see if she could combine the two languages by the bilingual road markings […]

A Man Finds An Explosive Emotion Locked In A Word

In 1967, anthropologists Renato Rosaldo and his wife, Shelly, went to live with the llongot, an isolated tribe that lived in the rain forest in the Philippines. It wasn’t exactly an accident that this tribe was unstudied — it was known for beheading people. But Renato and Shelly were undeterred. As they immersed themselves in […]

How Language Led To The Artificial Intelligence Revolution

In 2013 I had a long interview with Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, about advances in machine learning and neural networks and how language would be the focal point of artificial intelligence in the coming years. At the time the notion of artificial intelligence and machine learning seemed like a “blue sky” […]

Nigeria’s indigenous languages endangered, may go into extinction

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said the country’s indigenous languages are endangered and could go into extinction in no distant future if urgent steps are not taken to reverse the trend. In his address at the 2017 Annual Round Table on Cultural Orientation, jointly organized by the Federal Ministry of Information […]

Acoma Pueblo’s Emergency Push To Save Its Language

Acoma Pueblo is considered the oldest continually inhabited community in North America. And only about a hundred people or so still speak the Acoma Keres language. Many of those fluent speakers gathered earlier this month in Acoma to record their voices, saving words, concepts and culture. They’re hoping that someday soon, young people will speak […]

Who Needs a Perfect Language? It’s Already Perfectly Imperfect

Poets, historians, scientists, philosophers – we all seek to capture the world in a net of language. Yet it is the nature of nets to capture some things while letting others slip away. Our words turn experiences into objects, qualities and actions, and we can build these into a kind of structure, a tower reaching […]

Manchu, Once China’s Official Language, Could Lose Its Voice

Tao Qinglan can still speak her mother tongue, Manchu, but everything else has changed since she was born 72 years ago in Sanjiazi Village. She now lives with her Manchu daughter and Han son-in-law in a modern brick house, and they speak Mandarin at home. None of the houses in the village have preserved the […]

New Fighting in Ukraine’s Language War

“I have no desire to become a soldier in this war of words,” Ukraine’s best-known novelist Andrei Kurkov wrote in 2012. He was reacting to the furor over a law instituted by former president Viktor Yanukovych that elevated Russian to the status of a regional language in Ukraine. Kurkov writes mainly in Russian but was […]

Burton Watson, noted translator, remembered

Burton Watson, the foremost translator of Chinese classics and poetry into English and my co-translator of the anthology of Japanese poetry “From the Country of Eight Islands” (1981), died on April 1 in a hospital in Chiba. He was 91 years old. I knew Watson since the early 1970s, so allow me to call him […]

Baloch literature is the repository of love and romanticism

Sometimes it is argued that the only poetry written in Balochistan is about resistance. The term poetry of resistance is often associated with the poetry penned by Baloch writers. While the Baloch intellectual class oppose this hype, they recount how love and war have always gone side by side in Baloch history. It is not […]

The beautiful languages of the people who talk like birds

If you are ever lucky enough to visit the foothills of the Himalayas, you may hear a remarkable duet ringing through the forest. To the untrained ear, it might sound like musicians warming up a strange instrument. In reality, the enchanting melody is the sound of two lovers talking in a secret, whistled language. Joining […]

Is language as we know it still relevant for the digital age?

In analytic philosophy, any meaning can be expressed in language. In his book Expression and Meaning (1979), UC Berkeley philosopher John Searle calls this idea ‘the principle of expressibility, the principle that whatever can be meant can be said’. Moreover, in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), Ludwig Wittgenstein suggests that ‘the limits of my language mean […]

Indigenous verse in national anthem considered to preserve Aboriginal languages

The NSW Government’s Aboriginal Affairs Department has been on a statewide roadshow consulting 14 different Indigenous communities on the draft Aboriginal Language Bill. The landmark legislation is the first of its kind and will set out to promote and protect Aboriginal languages as well as provide legal preservation. Places that have been consulted so far […]

Does your accent make you sound smarter?

They say you should always dress for success, but should that extend to the way you speak? We’re not adverse to dressing appropriately to make a good impression at work or for a social engagement, even if it means wearing clothes we wouldn’t normally choose to put on. Is changing your accent to get ahead […]

The Mysterious History of the Ellipsis, From Medieval Subpuncting to Irrational Numbers

The punctuation mark of the ellipsis is perhaps the most unusual mark in the English language, for punctuation marks are designed to convey meaning by indicating relationships between ideas, but the ellipsis does the exact opposite. It simply indicates that something has been omitted. Sometimes, this omission is poignant, as in J. Alfred Prufrock’s lament […]

A Rare Public Display of a 17th-Century Mayan Manuscript

When you take a close look at the flowery but meticulous lettering in the 17th-century book, you can see that many people wrote the script, at different times. The book includes everything from sermons to poems, and there’s a dedication to Pope Urban IV. The Libro de Sermones Varios en Lengua Quiche, from 1690, is […]

Understanding Languages with Physics and Math

A husband and wife scientist duo from Poland has developed a computer model that simulates how vocabulary exchanges occur between settlers and nomads. According to their results, published in the journal Physical Review E, the nomadic groups are more likely to adopt words from settlers than the other way around. The new model provides a […]

Regional-Language Films Power Indian Entertainment Industry’s Growth

A staggering 1,907 films in 41 languages were certified in India in the 2015-16 timeframe. The Hindi-language industry led the way with 340 films, followed by Tamil with 291, Telugu (275), Kannada (204), Marathi (181) and Malayalam (168). The Indian film industry grew overall by 3% in the financial year 2016-17, but domestic theatrical declined […]

How Movie Magic Could Help Translate for Deaf Students

The technology behind the cooking rats in Ratatouille and the dancing penguins in Happy Feet could help bridge stubborn academic gaps between deaf and hearing students. Researchers are using computer-animation techniques, such as motion-capture, to make life-like computer avatars that can reliably and naturally translate written and spoken words into sign language, whether it’s American […]

Science fiction’s new golden age in China: what it means to the authors, many female, leading the way

The science-fiction genre in China was little known before Liu Cixin was honoured with the Hugo Award for best novel in 2015 for The Three-Body Problem. The first book in Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, it tells of an alien invasion during the Cultural Revolution and has sold more than a million copies in […]

Australian National University’s John Giacon wins Patji-Dawes Award for indigenous language efforts

John Giacon’s decades-long dedication to the revitalisation of indigenous languages has been a sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding pursuit. The Australian National University lecturer and researcher’s work saw him recognised last week with the the Patji-Dawes Award – Australia’s top honour for language teaching. “I used to be a schoolteacher and I think this is […]

Galicia’s disputed Celtic heritage

Last month, the Galician parliament took time to celebrate. The region—a misty, rain-soaked province of Spain pinched between Portugal and the Atlantic—honoured the politicians who drafted the principles of Galician self-rule in 1978 with bagpipes and folk songs. Bagpipes are a surprisingly key part of cultural life and hint at the region’s distinctive Celtic heritage. […]

MIT Student Engineers Invented a Real-Time Text-To-Braille Translator

With just a few hours left to build a groundbreaking gadget, things weren’t going as smoothly as planned. Six young women, all undergrad engineering students at MIT, had established a lofty goal: to create the first-ever affordable device that immediately translates printed text into Braille. The idea could prove revolutionary for the blind community, transforming […]

Bad language: why being bilingual makes swearing easier

My dad had a liberal philosophy of childrearing, but he would always tell us off for swearing. As a result, I grew up feeling very uncomfortable using swearwords. Or, at least, so I thought – when I first moved to Scotland, I noticed that it was actually very easy to swear in English. Interestingly enough, […]

Linguistics Breakthrough Heralds Machine Translation for Thousands of Rare Languages

The best guess is that humans currently speak about 6,900 different languages. More than half the global population communicates using just a handful of them—Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish, and Russian. Indeed, 95 percent of people communicate using just 100 languages. The other argots are much less common. Indeed, linguists estimate that about a third of […]

Why Tolkien’s fantastic imaginary languages have had more impact than Esperanto

JRR Tolkien began writing The Fall of Gondolin while on medical leave from the First World War, 100 years ago this month. It is the first story in what would become his legendarium – the mythology that underpins The Lord of the Rings. But behind the fiction was his interest in another epic act of […]

How number words may have changed us from zeroes to heroes

Imagine a world without numbers. Time and space would lose their meaning: telling time and counting the passing days, months and years would become impossible. Our ability to use numbers is essential for functioning in our quotidian here and now, from scheduling meetings to reading timetables and paying for groceries at the supermarket. But in […]

Native American Two Spirit Fights to Keep Tribe’s Language Alive

The ancestral home of DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren’s tribe is along the banks of the Catawba River, near the modern border of North Carolina and South Carolina. Thousands of years before first contact with Europeans, they called themselves Ye Iswąˀ, or “people of the river.” When George-Warren pulled up to his sister’s house in Rock Hill, […]

University of Arizona works to protect endangered languages

UA faculty members are looking for ways to preserve and revitalize endangered languages in an effort to help students of minority cultures keep their heritage alive. The purpose is to break a cycle of knowledge loss that occurs when children enter schools and learn English, instead of their traditional languages. Nutritional science junior Liz Francisco’s […]

Online classes, modern textbooks helping revitalize Cherokee language

Recent research focusing on Native American languages and how they are taught is helping revitalize the Cherokee language, in part, through online courses and modern textbooks developed by the Cherokee Nation. Using these updated methods, the Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Language Program continues to have a far-reaching impact, with up to 3,000 students taking online courses […]

The Brain Has Its Own “Autofill” Function for Speech

The world is an unpredictable place. But the brain has evolved a way to cope with the everyday uncertainties it encounters—it doesn’t present us with many of them, but instead resolves them as a realistic model of the world. The body’s central controller predicts every contingency, using its stored database of past experiences, to minimize […]

The Race to Create AI-Enabled, Natural-Language and Voice Interface Platforms

Did you ever stop to wonder: What is Amazon not doing with technology? These days, you’d be hard-pressed to answer that question, given the company’s incessant schedule for announcing updates and new products. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant is seemingly everywhere—whether it’s the latest cloud offerings in AWS, new entertainment shows on Prime, automated retail stores, […]

AI Systems Are Learning to Communicate With Humans

In the future, service robots equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) are bound to be a common sight. These bots will help people navigate crowded airports, serve meals, or even schedule meetings. As these AI systems become more integrated into daily life, it is vital to find an efficient way to communicate with them. It is […]

Icelandic is at risk of becoming an extinct language — and technology may be to blame

The people of Iceland, settled by Norsemen over 1,100 years ago, have developed a unique dialect based on Old Norse. Having preserved many ancient elements that are now lost to the rest of the Nordics, Icelandic (like the Sami language in northern Scandinavia) is distinct also because of its inseparable bond with life at the […]

Translators work to preserve languages, dialects and history

Translators play a vital role in saving the world’s languages, their work allowing 6,000 to 7,000 spoken tongues to exist, and 3,000 rare dialects to survive. “Without translation, there is no history of mankind,” said linguist Astrid Guillaume, of the Sorbonne University in Paris. “We know histories and cultures of the world only by way […]