Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Languages in the News: February 2014

As we enter March we're looking back at some of the language news stories that were hitting the headlines in February, and the very end of January. While most headlines were dominated by news of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the month ended with the Washington Post covering an interesting story from the US claiming that a legislator in New Mexico wanted to count programming as a foreign language skill.

The Week ended the month with the story of how Netflix managed to alienate its deaf customers, through a variety of bad subtitling practice.

Is French important? The countries that make up this flag
would say so.
One of the most controversial series of language stories stemmed from a piece in The New York Times stating that the French government is a big advocate of French language programmes in New York. This led to an article in New Republic telling us to stop pretending that French is an important language, claiming that Spanish and Chinese are more important languages for New Yorkers to learn. While this may be true, it divided opinions due to its dismissive nature of French as an important language, rather than simply stating that the other two languages are more important.

Business Insider provided a rebuttal by giving us 7 reasons you should teach your children French, showing us that French isn't as unimportant as the New Republic article would have us believe.

The Guardian gave us an interesting article on untranslatable words, and though none of the words were technically untranslatable, the article was more focused on difficult to translate words. Elsewhere in The Guardian there were concerns at the drop in language students in UK universities, an ongoing problem that doesn't seem to show any signs of being rectified under the current government, but we'll leave politics for a politics blog.

The BBC asked the question whether English still borrows words at the start of the month and in mid-February was decoding the signs left my construction workers on pavements.

The Register explained an interesting issue surrounding Google Translate. It just so happens Google Translate is terrible because Google Translate is terrible. This is due to people using the machine translation for websites and other documents then publishing them online. This leads to Google using these translated documents as sources to train the programme, meaning that Google accepts these poor translations as real translations and effectively makes itself dumber.

The island of Ireland, the home of Irish.

The Economist explained the difference between a dialect and a language, after Hong Kong claimed Cantonese was not an official language but rather a dialect of Mandarin.

The Oxford Dictionaries Blog gave us the lexicon to understand freestyle skiing at the Sochi games and Buzzfeed, in a surprise turn, gave us a list, albeit a list of 21 Victorian slang words that we should be using.

The Smithsonian showed us that "huh?" is an almost universal utterance and a fascinating piece by Ben Faccini in Aeon explained why he wanted his children to be bilingual.

The Guardian was back at the end of the month and asked whether musicians are better language learners.

Aside from these news stories, we also discovered James Chapman's Tumblr, which includes many lovely drawing of onomatopoeia in various languages.

That's all the news we had for February, but if there are any we missed that you feel deserve a mention, tell us about them in the comments below.

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