Sunday, June 30, 2013

Languages In The News: June 2013

Since June is drawing to a close, we're looking at how languages made it into the news over the last month. We try to post everything to our Facebook page if you'd like to keep up with the news as it happens, but if you'd just prefer to see it summarized, then look no further!

The month started with The Economist featuring a look at the history of the Spanish language and its unlikely rise to become one of the most important languages in the world.

Many Americans say that these apples
are coated with "car-ml".
If you're a map fanatic, you might be interested in these American dialect maps shared by Business Insider that quickly went viral across the internet. The maps were recently made by a graduate student, but they're based on data from a dialect survey created by a couple of Harvard linguists over a decade ago. The original survey results give insight into regional syntax, vocabulary, and pronuncations. One of these linguists is now working on a new study of variation of the English language across the world. If you want to be represented, you can participate here.

In scientific news, The New Yorker gave a brief summary of a recent study published in Nature that reveals previously unknown connections between birdsong and language development in human babies. Also of interest is a National Geographic article that discusses the possibility that geography can influence the phonology of languages. In particular, the study in the article claims to reveal a connection between high altitudes and the use of ejective consonants.

Political news this month included this revelation from The Telegraph that some British ambassadors based in Arabic-speaking countries have very little knowledge of the language used in the region. In fact, three speak no Arabic at all! 

Meanwhile, in the United States, an entire speech was given in a language other than English for the first time in the history of the U.S. Senate. Senator Tim Kaine's Spanish-language speech in support of the immigration bill that eventually passed in the Senate later in the month was covered by NPR, which also provided a brief look at other non-English speeches in Senate history.

Window Rock, Arizona, where the Navajo version of
Star Wars will be released in early July
In the entertainment world, we had news that the original Star Wars film will be released in the Navajo language in early July. The premiere will take place in Arizona at the Navajo Nation Fair, though sadly, it is not currently destined for DVD release. 

We were also excited to read NPR's piece on the new ELSA device, which stands for Enabling Language Service Anywhere. With the press of a button, the user is connected to a live human interpreter, who can then help two people who don't speak a common language to communicate! 

Finally, language blog Lexiophiles and online dictionary bab.la gave the results of their yearly competition that allows the public to vote for their favorite language-related content on the web. We were delighted to find out that we made it to number 71 on the list of the Top 100 Language Lovers in our very first year. We'd like to extend our sincerest thanks to everyone who voted for us, as well as all who take the time to read the blog, leave comments, and interact with us via Facebook and Twitter