Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Languages in the News: April and May 2016

There have been lots of fascinating news articles related to language and linguistics over the past two months, so today we thought we'd take a look at our favorites, which cover everything from Shakespeare to Klingon.

50 Shades of Shakespeare: How The Bard Used Food As Racy Code

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare used the word "goose"
(in reference to the bird's meat) to mean "prostitute".
You might have noticed that the internet was blanketed in news stories about Shakespeare throughout April and May. That's because many news organizations were taking the opportunity to mark the 400th anniversary of his death. One of our favorite pieces was this NPR article that examined how Shakespeare linked foods with sexuality in his writing.

If that sounds a bit too racy for you, The Washington Post had a unique article that discussed how Shakespeare's works have influenced the English language. If you have some free time, you can even try a challenge: identifying the 30 Shakespearean words and phrases that they hid in the article. We also recommend this interesting article on Shakespeare's "noggin-busting compounds" by Slate's Lexicon Valley blog.

The Ultimate Latin Dictionary: After 122 Years, Still At Work On The Letter 'N'

We've always imagined that working on a dictionary is a long, difficult task, but this NPR article on the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae demonstrated just how hard it can be. Apparently, this incredibly comprehensive Latin dictionary project first started in 1894, and it's still nowhere near completion. The job includes documenting every single use of every Latin word, going as far back as the 6th century BC!

UW undergraduate team wins $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for gloves that translate sign language

This was definitely one of the coolest news articles we've seen in a while: two University of Washington students created a pair of gloves that can recognize words and phrases in American Sign Language and translate them into spoken language! While it would obviously be great if everyone just learned sign language, that's unlikely to happen, so this device could be incredibly useful in helping deaf people communicate with those who don't know sign language.

Lost In Translation: Study Finds Interpretation Of Emojis Can Vary Widely

As emojis have become increasingly popular, lots of people have claimed that they are even better than language because they're universally understood. However, this NPR article on a University of Minnesota study shows that this is definitely not the case. In fact, significant percentages of people disagree as to the sentiment of certain emojis (positive, negative or neutral). It's also worth keeping in mind that certain emojis are rendered differently on different devices, which can occasionally lead to awkward situations.

A satellite image of Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Five Lost Languages Rediscovered in Massachusetts

If you're a history buff, you might be interested in reading this Smithsonian.com article, which discusses new linguistic research showing that Native Americans in central Massachusetts spoke not one, but instead five or more different languages. Even more interestingly, this could mean that there are many other Native American languages waiting to be uncovered!

Does Klingon belong to everyone? "It's a language - the whole point is to use it!"

Finally, we've got this Salon article on a lawsuit related to a fan film's use of Klingon. Apparently, Paramount Pictures believes that the language belongs to the studio since it was invented by linguist Marc Okrand for use in the third Star Trek film. The article features an interview with a linguist who has created languages for Game of Thrones and other films and TV shows, and addresses whether or not a language can truly be owned by anyone.

Did we leave out an article that you believe merits a mention? Let us know in the comments!