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 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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Intro to Linguistics: Orthography

When someone says the word "language", your first thoughts are probably about spoken language. That's only natural, but in today's society written language is often just as important, if not more so! Try imagining how our world would function without writing. You certainly wouldn't be reading this, and the internet would be nearly useless.

Since writing is so integral to society, it makes sense that most languages have an orthography, or standardized writing system. The word itself comes from the joining of the Greek words orthos ("correct") and graphein ("to write") to make the word orthographia, meaning "correct writing".

The orthography of a language includes several different aspects of writing. One of the most important aspects of a language's orthography is its spelling, or transcription of sounds into letters or symbols. 

Isaiah, depicted here contemplating capitalization rules.
Capitalization is also important, especially since improper usage can influence opinions people have of you. Capitalizing lEttErS inDisCriMInateLy could make people think you're incapable of using a computer, aren't very educated, or are insane. On the other hand, WRITING LIKE THIS can make it seem as if you're angry or shouting, which likely isn't your intention. 

Orthography also addresses things like word breaks. It's preferable for readers if you don't make all your words runtogetherlikethis. It's also important to remember to use punctuation, which can be a fun part of writing when used properly. Just don't overdo it with the exclamation points!!!!!

In the past, we've also discussed the various types of writing systems used by world languages, from alphabets to syllabaries. While English is content with its single Latin-based alphabet, other languages use multiple writing systems. Romanian can be written using either a Latin-based or a Cyrillic-based alphabet, while Japanese uses five different writing systems!

Most modern languages have orthographies, though there are undoubtedly still some indigenous languages out in the world that exist only through speech. Of the languages that are written, some have orthographies with very strict rules that are set by governing bodies often known as language academies. Others, such as English, don't have a specific standard, which is why the spelling of Brits and Americans differs. If the differences were so extreme that "fish" in one variety was "ghoti" in another, there could be major reading comprehension problems. Replacing the occasional s with a z or leaving out a few u's really isn't so bad, if you think about it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Language Learning Methods: Language Camps

In the past we've covered a few specific methods for learning languages, such as immersion, choral drilling, and flashcards. Today we'll be covering camps, in which learners, usually children, go to a country where the target language is spoken.

Spending time in a foreign country allows learners to experience everyday life, see the foreign language objects in the flesh, and put names to faces, so to speak. There are many advantages to language camps, particularly for those who are tied down and can't just leave their home to go abroad permanently to learn another language.

S'mores and campfire stories while
learning a foreign language, anyone?
Language camps can be great for older children, especially those in secondary education as younger children in primary school would be more likely to have problems spending extended periods of time away from their parents.

When tied in with entertaining activities, the rate at which people learn is greatly increased. There's nothing better than enjoying yourself, and it's even better when you don't even realise you're learning a language at the same time. When organised as part of a school visit, teachers can also benefit from the experience. They can brush up on the languages that they may not get to speak so often with native speakers, as well as showing their pupils everything they've been teaching them with real people.

The only downside to language camps is the expense. Travelling to another country and paying for the service and accommodation can cost a fair amount, and there probably aren't many schools that would be willing to pay for the service.

However, if the school is willing to pay or you have the disposable income to afford such a trip for yourself, your children, or are part of a school, then a week or two in a language camp or foreign language activity centre could be just the right thing to improve your language skills and have a great time doing it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Get It Right: Accept And Except

Several months ago, we looked at the difference between the words affect and effect and how to properly use them. Today we've got another similar-sounding pair for you. They differ considerably in their definitions, so after you've read this post and learned them you should have no excuses for incorrect usage!


First of all, it is important to know that accept is always a verb. It has a few definitions, but it should help you to remember that they all have positive connotations.

It's amazing that checks haven't been completely phased out
due to technological advances after hundred of years in use.
It can mean that you recognize something to be true, as in "I accept your position that Star Wars is superior to Star Trek."

It's also used when you receive something willingly, such as "I accept this Academy Award." Similarly, it can denote ability to receive something. If you live in the U.S., you've undoubtedly been in stores before that have signs that proclaim "We do not accept checks".

Finally, it can be used as a formal way to say yes, like when you say "I happily accept your proposal of marriage" to the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio or Gael García Bernal in your dreams.


While accept has positive connotations, those of except are generally negative. It can be used as a preposition, a conjunction, or a verb. 

Calling them aubergines doesn't
make them taste any better.
As a preposition, it is a synonym for excluding, as in "I like all vegetables except eggplant."

When it's a conjunction, it can be a synonym for but, such as in the phrase "I would eat the beautiful meal you made, except I'm allergic to eggplant."

Except is also occasionally found in verb form, though most people prefer to use exclude or take exception to in its place. 

We accept that the grammar rules of English can be difficult to follow at times, but that doesn't mean you're excepted from them! Are there other grammatical errors that drive you crazy? Let us know about them in the comments below and we'll be sure to cover them in the future.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Language Profile: Sindhi

This week we're taking a look at Sindhi, an Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Sindhi ethnic group of Pakistan. Sindhi is the official provincial language of the Sindh province in Pakistan, but is also spoken in other parts of the country such as Balochistan. It is also one of the many officially recognized languages of India, though it is not associated with any particular region.

Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi, the tomb of the founder of Pakistan.
Sindhi is the native language of about 15% of Pakistanis, principally in Sindh province, where it is taught in schools and used by the government. The cities of Karachi, Hyderabad, and Sukkur have the largest populations of Sindhi speakers in the region.

The Sindhi language also has a long literary tradition. Its poetry and literature were especially influential in the region between the 14th and 18th centuries.

In terms of its lexicon, Sindhi has borrowed many words from Arabic and Persian due to the cultural influences of various conquests of the Sindh area throughout history. More recently, the language has picked up vocabulary from English. There are also several regional dialects. Those used in Pakistan tend to be more heavily influenced by Urdu, while in India they are more influenced by Hindi.

As for writing, Sindhi is mainly written using a Perso-Arabic script with additional letters for sounds specific to the language. It has quite a large alphabet, with 46 consonants and 16 vowels! It is also occasionally written using Devanagari script in India, though the Perso-Arabic script is also used there.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Statehood Day: The Languages of Slovenia

Yesterday was a holiday in Quebec, but today we're heading from North America across the Atlantic and into Eastern Europe. We have another holiday for you in the form of Slovenia's Statehood Day, the day that the country became independent from Yugoslavia. If you haven't been, modern Slovenia is a beautiful place that definitely deserves its own post.

It goes without saying that the native and official language of Slovenia is Slovene, which is spoken by nearly 90% of the population. With Italy and Hungary just next door, Slovenia also has a decent number of speakers of Italian and Hungarian.

An artist's rendition of the island on Lake Bled, Slovenia.
Serbo-Croatian languages such as Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin can also be found in Slovenia. The Romani language, despite being spoken by only 0.2% of Slovenia's population, is protected under Slovenian legislature.

Historically, Slovenia's linguistic landscape was significantly different. Unfortunately, World War II and the events that followed were hugely detrimental to the ethnic, racial, and linguistic diversity of then Yugoslavia.

German used to be spoken in Slovenia, but an expulsion of German people following the Second World War led to a hefty decline in speakers, leaving German to be natively spoken by fewer than 2,000 people in the whole of Slovenia.

The Bavarian dialect of German, Gottscheerish, was also historically prominent in Slovenia. Again, this language also suffered due to expulsion of its speakers following WWII. The Czech language also suffered a similar fate to German and Gottscheerish and is now seldom spoken in Slovenia.

That's it for this week's special days and holidays. Tomorrow we'll be back to our regular schedule with our weekly language profile.

Monday, June 24, 2013

La Fête nationale du Québec: The Languages of Quebec

Today is the National Holiday of Quebec, or La Fête nationale du Québec as it is called in French, Quebec's only official language. It is also the Catholic holiday of St. John the Baptist Day, and it's no secret that there's a good historical and cultural significance of Catholicism when it comes to the Québécois, French Canadians, and French Americans.

Despite the legal status of the French language, Quebec has had its fair share of controversy when it comes to the influence of EnglishAround 80% of the population speaks French as their first language, and over 97% of those in the province can speak the language.

The Parliament Building in Quebec City
Even though English is clearly the minority language with less than 8% of those in Quebec speaking it as a first language, many concerns have arisen as it is believed by some that the French language is at risk from the ever-encroaching English language that represents a tiny minority. The "pastagate" scandal has raised some eyebrows, but that's not what Quebec is about.

After the battling between Canada's two most prominent languages is over, Quebec is left with a respectable number of Arabic, Spanish, and Italian, speakers. After that, there's Chinese, Berber, Portuguese, Romanian, Vietnamese, and Russian, though none of these languages have huge numbers of speakers in Quebec.

The native peoples in Quebec account for around 71,000 people, of which nearly half speak an Aboriginal language as their first language. The languages spoken by this group are mostly from the Algonquian language family, a group of languages that originally covered a large portion of North America, from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains through what is now Canada and the northern states of the US.

A smaller number of natives speak Iroquoian languages, which originally were found in areas around southern Quebec, Ontario, and in the US, from what is now Upstate New York to further afield, including modern-day Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Of course, this was all before European contact and the colonisation of North America, so the distribution of these languages has changed quite considerably since then.

On the Northern side of the province one can find, unsurprisingly, Eskimo-Aleut languages. Currently there are relatively few speakers, while the pre-colonial distribution of these languages reads like a map of places you wouldn't want to go if you prefer to spend your holidays on the beach sipping a margarita.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In South America

Yesterday we looked at some of the best multilingual cities in Mexico and the Caribbean. Today we're looking at South America, a region typically known for the prominence of Spanish, excluding Brazil, where Portuguese is usually the language of choice.

Cochabamba, Bolivia - The first stop in our search is the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. It is home to around 700,000 people and aside from Spanish, the native language of Quechua is also spoken. Thanks to the businesses in Cochabamba, English is also becoming more commonly heard in the city.
Iguaçu Falls, on the border between
 Brazil and Argentina

Pomerode, Brazil - The city of Pomerode is known as the most German city in Brazil, which unsurprisingly doesn't take much. However, Portuguese and German are popular languages there. In fact, German is so popular due to the heritage of the population that the local area is home to Oktoberfest celebrations every year.

Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil - Nestled on the border of Brazil and Argentina, the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu has high numbers of both Portuguese and Spanish speakers, as one would expect. Due to immigration, Korean, Chinese and Arabic can also be heard, as well as any of the languages spoken by tourists visiting one of Brazil's most popular destinations.

Buenos Aires, Argentina - The capital of Argentina is home to people from all walks of life. Spanish is the main language of the Porteños but Italian, German, French and Arabic are the other main languages to be heard around the streets.

If we've missed any noteworthy multilingual cities in South America, tell us about them in the comments below!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In Mexico And The Caribbean

After exploring the best multilingual cities in Europe, we headed to Canada and then onto the US in search of the best places to go for those who love languages.

Today we're heading south of the border into Mexico and then onward to the Caribbean. First stop, Tijuana...

Tijuana, Mexico - The city of Tijuana is basically San Diego's Mexican cousin. Excluding the US-Mexico border, the two cities are joined. When joined with San Diego, the conurbation is the third largest bi-national metropolitan area in the world, and is home to many Spanish and English speakers.

Whilst Tijuana may not offer the best entertainment for everyone, it certainly attracts a certain type of crowd and if that's your thing, enjoy it!

Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City
Mexico City, Mexico - The capital of Mexico, known in Spanish as Ciudad de México, was originally an Aztec city known as Tenochtitlan until Spanish settlers came along and effectively flattened the place. It is now home to nearly 9 million people and houses people from many walks of life.

Aside from the obvious presence of Spanish, there are speakers of other languages from Spain, such as Basque, Catalan, and Galician. More popular languages spoken in Mexico City include English, French, and German from Europe, Asian languages such as Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, and due to religious ethnicities, Hebrew and Arabic are also prominent.

Oranjestad, Aruba - Although Aruba is technically in South America, we've decided to include a couple of Caribbean islands in our list for today since they're not a part of the mainland and make a good place to stop off before we dive straight into the best of South America.

With Dutch and Papiamento as the official languages of Aruba, Oranjestad also has prominent numbers of English, French, and Spanish speakers. Plus it's on a Caribbean island, what more could you ask for?

Willemstad, Curaçao - The capital city of Willemstad is another multilingual city which features Dutch and Papiamento as its official languages. Willemstad also features a good number of Spanish speakers.

Tomorrow we'll be continuing our journey into South America!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Intro to Linguistics: Linguistics and Anthropology

Today we're taking a look at two fields of study that join ideas from linguistics and anthropology. Linguistic anthropology and anthropological linguistics certainly sound similar, so how do they differ?

Anthropological linguistics is the study of the relationships between language and human culture, and focuses more on written documentation. Linguistic anthropology, on the other hand, studies humans by looking at the languages they use, and is more focused on theoretical research. Basically, anthropological linguistics places more emphasis on the study of language, while linguistic anthropology is all about the study of humanity.

Are you talking to me?
The field of anthropological linguistics started out as an attempt to keep documentation on languages that seemed likely to face extinction. The languages were then analyzed to find out more about their linguistic characteristics. Descriptive linguistics provided researchers with information on the phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics of the languages, while historical linguistics focused on things like language families and etymology. The study of the sociolinguistics of the languages also gave more information on the connections between language and social relationships. 

With linguistic anthropology, the focus is all on how language influences human culture. It tells us how language can shape communication and perceptions as well as organize cultural beliefs. Color terminology is a great example of language influencing our visual perception. Most English speakers would argue that red and pink are distinct colors, while in other languages they are sometimes considered to both be shades of the same red color. However, Russian identifies two distinct colors that we would say fall in the blue category. To a Russian speaker, it would be incorrect to use one word for both because they are so clearly distinct in their mind, just as we would argue the same for red and pink. It's pretty cool to think that it's because of the influence of language on the mind!

Despite their small differences, these two scientific fields are really just two peas in a pod. At the end of the day, it's probably just easiest to say linguistics and anthropology are a perfect pair of fields to work together. After all, how could you truly study humans without language, or vice-versa?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chinese Loanwords: Part 2

In yesterday's post we took at look at some Chinese food terminology that has made its way into popular use in the English lexicon. Today we're continuing with other interesting vocabulary from a few of the many varieties that belong to the Chinese language family.

Brainwashing - This term was coined during the Korean War, when it was used to refer to the concept of manipulating someone to change their beliefs, often through psychological torture. It comes from the literal translation of the Chinese phrase xi nao, as xi means "wash" and nao means "brain". 

Chopsticks - Why is it so difficult to master the use of these eating utensils as an adult? It's thought that the "chop" in their name comes from the Chinese Pidgin English term chop chop meaning "quickly", which in turn may come from the Cantonese kap meaning "urgent". It's a shame that they usually make eating meals slower for us!

It's nearly impossible to find a photo of a
shih tzu without a shiny bow in its hair.
Feng Shui - If you haven't heard of this concept before, it's all about natural balance and positive energies, and can even help you choose the perfect orientation for furniture placement in your new house. Due to its focus on nature, it should come as no shock that it comes from the Chinese words feng meaning "wind" and shui meaning "water". 

Shih Tzu - We love animals, so we couldn't help but mention this funny little dog breed. Their name comes from the Chinese term shizigou, with shi meaning "lion", zi meaning "son", and gou meaning "dog". They're known as "lion dogs" because they were actually bred to look like depictions of lions in traditional Chinese art! 

Yin and Yang - Many Westerners think of a yin-yang as a fun symbol they drew alongside hearts and peace signs as a child, but it's in fact a symbol of a Chinese philosophy that describes how opposite forces are connected in the world. Both yin and yang come from Mandarin. Yin means "female, night, lunar", while yang is the opposite, meaning "male, daylight, solar".

Are there any great Chinese loanwords that we left out of our list? Let us know in the comments, and please include a definition. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Chinese Loanwords: Part 1

In previous weeks, we've looked at loanwords from languages like Hebrew and Nahuatl that have made it into the English language. Today we've decided it's finally time to tackle some Chinese loanwords, starting with a quick taste of some food terminology taken from various members of the Chinese language family.

Bok Choy - If you've ever eaten Chinese food and ordered this, we hope you weren't surprised to find cabbage on your plate. This Chinese variety of cabbage gets its name from Cantonese, and literally translates as "white vegetable".

Chop Suey - This dish is quite popular in Chinese cuisine outside of China, which is arguably quite different from the real thing. Its origins are unclear, but it may actually have been invented by Chinese immigrants in America in the early 1900s. In any case, it's generally made of whatever meat you have available cooked with eggs and some vegetables in sauce, served over rice or noodles. Due to this very unspecific recipe, it should come as no surprise that its name comes from the Cantonese term tsap sui meaning "odds and ends" or "mixed pieces".

We wish we could have some dim sum right now...
Dim Sum - What could be better than a delicious brunch full of tiny but filling portions of dumplings, steamed buns, egg rolls, cakes, and tea? This Cantonese tradition literally translates as "touch the heart", which is said to refer to it being not a main meal, but a snack.

Kumquat - We're pretty sure this one wins the award for being the most interesting fruit name in English. These small orange fruits get their name from the combination of Cantonese kam meaning "golden" and kwat, meaning "orange".

Oolong - Speaking of interesting names, this dark variety of tea has a fairly unique name as well. It's likely from the Amoy dialect term wu-lung, and literally translates as "black dragon"!

Tea - Last, but certainly not least, we have the second most popular beverage in the world. (If you're wondering, water wins the top spot.) Many Americans wrongly assume it's a British invention given their well-known love of tea, but it actually originated in China. Its name comes from the character 茶 (we hope this is correct, as we can't read Chinese!), which has differing pronunciations in various Chinese languages. In the Amoy dialect, it is pronounced like te, which is where we get "tea" from. However, in Cantonese, it is pronounced cha, which eventually became "chai", a term we usually reserve in English for spiced teas.

Tomorrow we'll conclude our look at Chinese loanwords with some non-culinary terminology.

Read part 2.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Get It Right: Loan And Borrow

Some of you may think that the title of today's post may seem a bit insane. We can assure you that this is a mistake that people actually make. Due to the semantically similar definitions of loan and borrow, those who aren't too smart sometimes confuse the two despite them effectively being opposites.

The Bank of England is all too familiar with the differencce
between loan and borrow.

Will you be granting somebody else use of one of your possessions? Then you are loaning or lending something. If you still struggle to remember whether it's "loan" or "borrow", then you should note that you can attain a loan from a bank and it's certainly not your money. Though the word loan in this instance is the noun form, it should help to know that you can't get a borrow from the bank, though you definitely can borrow money from the bank.


Borrow is effectively the opposite of loan. This is when you make use of or have possession of something that does not belong to you, usually with prior permission. You can "borrow" things without the owner's permission, though you really shouldn't because in the eyes of the law this usually will constitute theft.

If you still cannot work out the difference between these two simple words, you should ask a friend if you may borrow a book on English grammar. We're sure they will loan you a copy if they're not using it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Language Profile: Dutch

This week's language profile is on Dutch, a Germanic language that is spoken all over the world due to the many colonies of the Dutch Empire. Today we'll be looking at the language continent by continent. 

The Rijksmuseum, a Dutch national museum in Amsterdam.
Naturally, we begin in Europe where the language came into existence. Dutch is the sole official language of the Netherlands, where it is spoken by the vast majority of its population. It is also an official language alongside French and German in neighboring Belgium, which was a part of the Netherlands until it declared independence in 1831. Also known as Flemish in Belgium, it is spoken by about 60% of the population.

The Dutch language has also left a lasting mark on the linguistic makeup of Africa. Dialects of Dutch spoken by settlers in Southern Africa eventually became Afrikaans, now considered to be a "daughter language" of Dutch. Afrikaans is fairly mutually intelligible with Dutch since over 90% of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin, but it has also been lexically influenced by Malay, Portuguese, and other African languages. It is widely spoken in South Africa and Namibia. 

As we mentioned in last week's language profile, Indonesian was also greatly impacted by the Dutch language. The long presence of the Dutch East India Company in Southeast Asia had a significant influence on the vocabulary of Indonesia's lingua franca.

In North America, the Dutch founded a trading post they named New Amsterdam in 1626, which later became New York City. Despite the eventual British takeover, many place names in the area retain their Dutch roots, including Brooklyn (Breukelen), Harlem (Haarlem), and Coney Island (Conyne Eylandt), which means "Rabbit Island". It's also interesting to note that the eighth U.S. President, Martin Van Buren, was a native Dutch speaker from New York, and the only President not to have spoken English as his native language.

A harbor in Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao.
Heading south to the Caribbean, we find the islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten. Dutch is the sole official language in the first two, though it is mainly spoken in school, while the creole known as Papiamento is preferred the rest of the time. In Sint Maarten, it is co-official with English.

Finally, we reach the South American country of Suriname that gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975. Despite Dutch being its sole official language, the lingua france of the island is Sranan Tongo, an English-based creole with lexical influences from Dutch, Portuguese, and some African languages.

It should come as no surprise that Dutch has plenty of regional dialects as well given its use in places that are vast distances from each other. Its vocabulary is mainly Germanic, with some words of Greek and Latin origin plus some French terms thrown in for good measure. Diminutives are also a favorite feature of the language, and are denoted by the suffix -je added to nouns.

In terms of writing, Dutch uses a Latin script with the addition of the IJ digraph. A digraph is a single phoneme represented by two letters. In this case, the sound [ɛi] is represented as IJ, but is also sometimes seen as Y.

If you need one final fact to prove how awesome the Dutch language is, check this out. The largest dictionary in the world is the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, a Dutch dictionary containing over 430,000 words. It took 147 years to complete the first edition and is 45,000 pages long!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In The USA

Since we finished yesterday's post on the best multilingual cities in Canada in Montréal, we thought we'd start today's post by heading a few hours south into the state of New York, where we find ourselves in the Big Apple ready to experience best multiculturalism and multilingualism that the US has to offer.

The Statue of Liberty welcoming
immigrants to the United States.
New York City, New York - America's most famous city has a rich heritage of immigration and is the epitome of the US as a cultural melting pot. Aside from the obvious presence of English and America's second language, Spanish, New York City (NYC) boasts a huge Chinatown area complete with a large number of Mandarin speakers and, of course, amazing food!

There are up to 150 languages spoken in NYC, so we won't list them all. There are large numbers of Italian, Russian, Yiddish and Arabic speakers to name a few. What we can say is that if there's a language you would like to hear, then you should be able to find it here.

Miami, Florida - If Will Smith's song Miami hasn't given it away, Miami boasts a huge Hispanic community. The Spanish language is so prominent in Miami that it is accepted as an official language of the government. You can also find a good number of speakers of French Creole.

San Diego, California - If you know any Spanish, you can guess where we'll be going with San Diego. The city was historically Spanish, and aside from taking a Spanish name it also took a huge number of Spanish settlers and colonists. San Diego is also very close to the Mexican border and the popular city of Tijuana.

The entrance to the Chinese Theatre in LA.
Sadly, it has nothing to do with the language.
Los Angeles, California - Los Angeles (LA) has a huge proportion of Spanish-speaking residents. Nearly 40% are estimated to speak Spanish, and the city boasts several ethnic neighbourhoods where other languages are spoken such as Mandarin Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Thai, and Arabic.

Seattle, Washington - This city isn't just the home of Starbucks and the band Nirvana. Seattle boasts a multinational community and ranks as one of the most livable cities in the US. You can find English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian and Japanese within its sometimes rainy streets. It's only a stone's throw away from Vancouver as well, so we're almost back where we started yesterday with Canada's best multilingual cities.

Are there any other multilingual cities in the US we may have missed? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In Canada

Since we covered the best multilingual cities in Europe last week, we felt it was only right to look at some North American cities this weekend. Today we're covering Canada, and tomorrow we'll head south into the US. Let's start our visit with Vancouver.

English Bay, Vancouver
Vancouver, British Columbia - If you leave Vancouver heading west you'll end up in "the East". Vancouver's proximity (it is only a few thousand miles, after all!) to Asia has helped cultivate some of the immigration that has left one of the World's Most Livable Cities with a huge Asian population and, as a result, Chinese and Cantonese as very popular languages within the city.

Aside from Mandarin and Cantonese, Punjabi, Persian, Tagalog, Korean, Italian, German, and French can also be heard in Vancouver. Despite French also being an official language of Canada, Mandarin and Cantonese are more popular in this area.

Toronto, Ontario - Given that Ontario borders Québec, Canada's principally French-speaking province, you can expect Toronto to have a fairly mixed bag when it comes to languages. Often confused as being the capital by ignorant foreigners (and a few poorly-educated Canadians), Toronto has very multicultural surroundings which can be found leaking into the city and government.

Ottawa, Ontario - Sitting right next to Québec, Canada's actual capital city has its own motto in both English and French. Advance-Ottawa-En Avant represents the country's two official languages, and the University of Ottawa is the largest bilingual university in the world.

Olympic Stadium in Montréal, which features
the tallest inclined tower in the world.
Montréal, Québec - As you could guess by the accent on the letter e, Montréal, or Montreal when Anglicised, is the largest city in the province of Québec. Recently the city has been in the headlines as a centre of controversy following multilingual political upheaval and the language debate within Québec. The famed Pastagate scandal following the over-Francofication of the city and tensions between French-speaking and English-speaking communities has been tarnishing Montréal's reputation.

That said, Montréal is a wonderful melting pot of French and English cultures, not to mention that Spanish, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, and Arabic can also be heard around the streets of the world's second largest French-speaking city.

That concludes our quick trip across Canada. Are than any multilingual cities you feel we may have missed? Tell us about them in the comments below! Tomorrow we're heading south into the US.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How Key Is Localisation For The Next-Gen Consoles?

The internet, social media, and seemingly the world appear to be ablaze with talk of the newest consoles. The Wii U has been on the market since last Christmas, and though February brought the PS4 announcement, fans weren't shown any noteworthy glimpses of the console until Sony's presentation at the start of E3 in Los Angeles this week.

Microsoft had already shown off the hardware for the new Xbox One, which is scheduled for release in November. The issue of digital rights management (DRM) and second-hand games had already been the main talking point between the PS4 and Xbox One, with Sony poking fun at their rivals with a "how-to" video on trading games.

Ignoring a typical fanboy argument, we'd like to look at how important localisation and translation will be as these two consoles square up against each other towards the end of the year. Be warned, if you have a fear of statistics the next few paragraphs have a lot of them!

We've seen this battle before...
Sony's current offering, the PS3, has sold over 13.5 million units in the US, 3 million in the UK and around 1.5 million in Canada. Japan accounts for over 6 million units, which, given that Sony is a Japanese company and has a good fanbase in Japan, is hardly surprising.

In total, the PS3 has sold around 77 million units as of January 2013, and at least 40 million of these surely must have gone to locations that are not English-speaking. This would make a majority of the unit sales neither English nor, more importantly, Japanese.

As for the Xbox 360, 25.4 million units were shifted in the US, beating the PS3, same goes for the UK with 8 million units, and 1 million were sold in Australia and New Zealand. The American company Microsoft certainly has it better when it comes to English-speaking territories.

With only around 1.5 million units sold in Japan and only 13.7 million sold across the whole of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, could it be said that Microsoft is relying too much on English-speaking markets? With 77.2 million units sold in total according to latest accounts, which is slightly better than the PS3, Xbox is in the lead. However, it should be noted that the Xbox 360 was released almost a year before the PS3.

With such a high number of units supposedly requiring localised content, it would be silly to assume that consoles can sell themselves solely on the hardware, the games and software are crucial to their success.

This is particularly relevant in Sony's case.
It's fair to say that the success hinges on more than just translation. Few gamers would be happy with subtitles when a story could be dubbed. This is perhaps the only time when we advocate the use of dubbing over good ol' subtitling.

We're by no means saying that either of these companies has forgotten about the importance of localisation. Rather, we're suggesting that given the weight of international markets, whoever gets their international marketing strategies and software localisation correct will probably be crowning themselves the King of Consoles by this time next year.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Languages of Russia, Part 2

Yesterday, we covered the half of Russia's co-official languages that come from the Turkic and Mongolic language families. Today we are finishing the list off with the remaining languages from the Caucasian, Uralic, and Iranian language families. Let's get to it!

The Northeast Caucasian Languages

Following the Boston bombings this year, Chechen was the word on the tip of everybody's tongue. Chechen (which is unrelated to the Czech Republic or the Czech language) is spoken in Chechnya by around 1.36 million people.

Chechnya's Lake Kezenoy-am, near the Dagestan border.
Avar is spoken in the Republic of Dagestan. Although it is also spoken in Azerbaijan,  Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey, the majority of its speakers are found in Russia.

The Ingush language of Ingushetia was originally written using an Arabic abjad before being replaced by a Latin alphabet during the October Revolution, but nowadays is written using Cyrillic. The language has around 400,000 native speakers and can be found in Kazakhstan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia, of course.

Lezgi, which can also be known as Lezgian, is another of Dagestan's co-official languages with Russian. The language has around 800,000 speakers and is considered "vulnerable" according to UNESCO.

The Northwest Caucasian Languages

The languages known as Kabardian and Adyghe are closely related. Kabardian has around 1.5 million speakers and holds its co-official status in both the Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia regions of Russia. It's also spoken in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Jordan.

Mount Elbrus in Karachay-Cherkessia is a dormant volcano
and the highest mountain in all of Europe.
The Adyghe language is the co-official language of Adygea, has around 500,000 speakers and can also be heard in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Macedonia. It is disputed whether Kabardian is a dialect of Adyghe or not.

Our third Northwest Caucasian language is Abaza, another co-official language of Karachay-Cherkessia and a language spoken natively by a meagre 48,000 people, 35,000 of whom live in Russia. Interestingly, in Russia the language is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, whereas in Turkey where it is also spoken, it is written using the Latin alphabet.

The Uralic Languages

Our first Uralic language is Mari. It is spoken by nearly 500,000 people across several regions of Russia, prominently so in the Mari El Republic, where it is the co-official language with Russian.

The Udmurt language is also estimated to have around 500,000 speakers. It is principally spoken in Udmurtia and frequently borrows words from both the Russian and Tatar vocabularies.

Pushkin Park in Saransk, capital of Mordovia. It is named after
Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, depicted here in plants.
Our next two Uralic languages, Moksha and Erzya, have around 432,000 speakers combined and are considered to be Mordvinic languages. Independently, both languages hold co-official status with Russian in Mordovia.

Komi-Zyrian, which is also known as either Komi or Zyrian, is another Uralic language with just under 300,000 native speakers. It's the co-official language of the Komi region in Russia.  

Mansi is spoken only by about 7,500 people in the region of Khanty-Mansi. The four main dialect groups of Mansi are so distinct that there is little to no mutual intelligibility between them.

And One Iranian Language...

The only Iranian language to have co-official language status in Russia is Ossetic. It is spoken in the region of North Ossetia in Russia and the disputed region of South Ossetia, which many nations consider to be part of Georgia. There are between 500,000 and 640,000 speakers of this language, though estimates vary.

There you have it! That is the last of the 26 co-official languages of Russia! We hope your vodka-induced hangover from yesterday's celebrations has finally subsided!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Russia Day: The Languages of Russia, Part 1

On this day in 1990, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, as a member of the Soviet Union, undertook a huge constitutional change which would lay the foundations for Russia to become the country it is today. It wasn't until Christmas Day in 1991 that they would make the change, and every year since then the country has celebrated Russia Day.

Since it's fairly topical, we thought we'd take a look at some of languages spoken across the world's largest country, Russia. Russian is its most spoken language, but we've already covered that in its very own language profile. Today it's the lesser-known languages spoken in Russia that have our undying attention.

Russian is the official language, though there are 26 other languages with co-official status in various regions of the country. Today we'll be quickly covering all the co-official Turkic and Mongolic languages.

The Turkic Languages

Tatar is the co-official language of Tatarstan, is spoken by around 6.5 million people and can be written using the Cyrillic or Latin alphabets or an Arabic abjad. The language spoken in Chuvashia, Chuvash, has around 1.6 million speakers and is considered a Turkic language. However, unlike Tatar, it is only written using the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Temple of All Religions in Kazan,
the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia.
The third of our Turkic languages native to Russia is Bashkir, a language spoken by around 1.4 million people in the Russian region of Bashkortostan where it holds co-official status. Azerbaijani has 23 million speakers across the world but fewer than 700,000 of them are native to Russia. Unsurprisingly, the majority of its speakers are found in Azerbaijan.

The remaining languages known as Yakut, Tuvan, Nogai, Altay and Khakas all have very small numbers of speakers but nonetheless hold their co-official status in each of their respective regions, the Sakha, Tuva, Karachay-Cherkess, and Altai Republics, and the Republic of Khakassia. Karachay-Balkar is co-official in both the Kabardino-Balkar and Karachay-Cherkess Republics.

The Mongolic Languages

The Ulan-Ude Ethnographic Museum in Ulan-Ude,
the capital of the Buryat Republic, Russia.
Buryat, the first of our two Mongolic languages, is another language that is dubiously classified. Is it a language in its own right or merely a dialect? Some consider Buryat to be nothing more than a dialect of Mongolian, but since it has its own co-official status in the Buryat Republic in Russia, we'll go with it being a language. Buryat has around 500,000 native speakers with almost 370,000 of those inhabiting the Buryat Republic in Russia.

Our other Mongolic language, Kalmyk, has only around 153,000 speakers, the large majority of which live in the Russian region of Kalmykia.

Tomorrow we'll be back with the next 14 of Russia's co-official languages!

Read part 2.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Language Profile: Indonesian

Back in February, one of our language profiles featured Malay, an Austronesian macrolanguage. In that post, we focused on Malaysian (also confusingly known as Malay), one of its two standard varieties. Today we'll be looking at the other standardized register of Malay which is known as Indonesian. Though the two varieties have different names, they are mainly considered to be distinct for political and historical reasons.

In 1928, Indonesian became the "unifying language" of Indonesia, but wasn't the official language until 1945 when the country gained independence from Japanese control. Other languages such as Javanese, Sunda, and Madurese are spoken in the country, but Indonesian is considered the lingua franca of the archipelago. These other languages have influenced various dialects of Indonesian, and Indonesian slang is quite popular in society as well.

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia
As the lingua franca, the Indonesian language is used in many areas of Indonesian society. It's the language of instruction in education and is also used by the media and the government, not to mention the upper classes of society and in most formal situations.

Despite sharing about 80% of its lexicon with Malaysian, there are some differences between the two standard varieties in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary. Over the years, Indonesian's lexicon has been influenced greatly by other languages. It contains many Javanese words since the Javanese are the majority ethnic group of the country, as well as Dutch terms from its former colonizer. The language also borrows from Arabic, Persian, Portuguese, and Chinese.

If you think you'd like to learn Indonesian, at the very least you should have an easy time learning the alphabet! The Indonesian alphabet is Latin-based and contains the same 26 letters used in English. It was originally based on the Dutch alphabet. Speaking of Dutch, we'll be learning more about it in next week's profile!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Portugal Day: The Languages Of Portugal

This guy has a whole national day in his honour.
Since today is Portugal Day, or Dia de Portugal, de Camões e das Comunidades Portuguesas in Portuguese, the day is technically in honour of Luís Vaz de Camões, who is considered to be the greatest poet of the Portugese language.

We felt it was only fitting to pay homage to the languages spoken in Portugal today. Since we've already covered Portuguese, we thought we should recap and then delve into some of the lesser-known languages that are spoken in Europe's westernmost nation.

Though Portuguese originated in what is now Galicia, Spain, it is certainly more prominent in Portugal where it is spoken almost universally, though not by every single person. Like many other languages, it has several dialects that are prominently used in various regions of Portugal. None is more interesting than the Barranquenho dialect found in the town of Barrancos, which is located on the border between Portugal and the Spanish regions of Andalusia and Extremadura. As a result of its placement, the dialect is heavily influenced by the variety of Spanish that is spoken there.

Another language found in Portugal is Mirandese, a language descended from the Astur-Leonese language group, which is of course found in the Spanish region of Asturias and the province of León. It is certainly more of a language in its own right rather than a dialect, especially given its co-official status for local matters in the areas where it is spoken.

Despite Portugal's proximity to Spain, only 9% of the population speaks Spanish as a foreign language, whereas 24% speak French and a huge 32% speak English.

Do you celebrate Portugal Day? If so, we'd love to know what you do to celebrate the day, so please let us know in the comments below!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hebrew Loanwords: Part 2

In yesterday's post, we briefly looked at the history of the Hebrew language, as well as introducing you to a few of our favorite Hebrew loanwords that have made it into the English lexicon. Today we're concluding our look at Hebrew with six more interesting loanwords. We've saved the best word for last.

Nimrod holding a fawn.
Messiah - This word has several different meanings depending on which religion you ask. In the Old Testament of the Bible, a messiah was someone who would come to lead and save the Jewish people. Christians, of course, believe that this divine figure has already come, known as Jesus. In any case, the word comes from either the Hebrew term mashiah or Aramaic meshiha, meaning "the anointed". The word eventually became Messias in Greek and Latin before appearing in English.

Nimrod - Historically, Nimrod is a biblical character who was a great hunter. For centuries, the term nimrod was fittingly used to mean "great hunter". Somewhere along the way, the term came to mean a foolish person in American English. Some suggest that this usage originated in a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which he calls Elmer Fudd (a foolish hunter), a "poor little Nimrod". Presumably, many viewers didn't know that it was a sarcastic joke about Elmer's hunting skills instead of a fancy term for an idiot. Alas, the Oxford English Dictionary dates the "fool" meaning to at least five years earlier, so perhaps it's not the cartoon's fault.

Pharaoh- The kings of Ancient Egypt were named Par'oh in Hebrew, which became Pharao in Greek and Pharaonem in Latin before making its way into the Old English lexicon as Pharon.

Satan, Sin and Death by English painter William Hogarth
Satan - Surely you've heard of this guy. He's the "supreme evil spirit" in several religions, who tempts humans to do bad things and rules the underworld. The name Satan comes from an identical Hebrew word meaning "adversary" or "one who plots against another". Originally it referred to any angels sent to Earth to obstruct human activity, but eventually evolved into the idea of the being we now refer to as the devil.

Schmooze - When you do this, you're generally engaging in small talk with someone in order to get something from them, like a job or a promotion. The word comes from the Hebrew term shemu'oth meaning "news, rumors", and came to English via the Yiddish shmuesn meaning "to chat".

Schwa - We told you we'd saved the best for last! It turns out that everyone's favorite unstressed mid-central vowel, written [ə] in IPA, comes from the Hebrew word shewa, which literally translates as "emptiness". The English spelling comes from the German word Schwa.

If you know of any interesting Hebrew loanwords into English that we've missed, please let us know in the comments below, and include a definition.