Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Weekly Articles from The Lingua File

Here at The Lingua File we love talking about language and we love writing our blog posts. Since paying the bills and doing our beloved jobs as translators takes up more than enough time, starting Monday, we'll be posting weekly.

Don't worry, though! The rest of the week you can check out our social media profiles for the other language news from around the web.

We'd like to thank all our readers and followers for their support over the years and for their ongoing support in the years to come! Keep loving languages!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of the Gambia

This month we've explored the languages of a diverse group of countries: Lesotho, Macedonia, Botswana, and Latvia. Today we're going to conclude this month's posts with a look at the languages spoken in the Gambia, the smallest country on mainland Africa.

The Official Language

As with many African countries, the sole official language of the Gambia is English, which was introduced during the colonial period. The Gambia gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1965, but English has remained a key language.

However, it is only used as a native language by about 1,000 Gambians, while another 40,000 speak it as a second language. Given that the country's population is over 1.8 million people, English is clearly overshadowed by the Gambia's indigenous languages.

Other Languages

One interesting fact about the Gambia's indigenous languages is that they all belong to the Niger-Congo language family. The country's most spoken language is Mandinka, which is used by about 480,000 Gambians. It is a tonal language, and is written using both Latin and Arabic-based writing systems.

The Gambia River
The Gambia's number two language is Pulaar, which is spoken by about 260,000 people, followed by Wolof, which is used by another 220,000. Pulaar is one of the Fula languages used throughout Western and Central Africa, while Wolof is the most widely spoken language in Senegal, which surrounds most of the Gambia.

Another prominent language is Serahule, also known as Soninke. It belongs to the group of Niger-Congo languages known as Mande languages, and is the native language of approximately 166,000 Gambians. There are also about 56,000 native speakers of Jola-Fonyi, which is also used in Senegal, and 30,000 native speakers of Serer, the language of the Serer ethnic group.

The Ethnologue lists two more languages that are spoken in the Gambia, both of which happen to have more native speakers than English, the official language. There are about 20,000 native speakers of the Mandjak language, and 6,000 native speakers of Karon. Both Mandjak and Karon belong to a group known as the Bak languages.

Finally, it's worth noting that French and Arabic are widely used throughout the Gambia as second languages. In fact, in 2014 the country's president suggested that the official language should be switched to Arabic, as English is a colonial relic. However, no changes have been made official yet.

Friday, August 26, 2016

It's So Fluffy! What Does "Fluffy" Mean If You Don't Speak English?

The other day I came across something sort of weird... the word "fluffy" isn't very universal. Sure, a lot of languages have similar words, but none are exactly the same. I currently live in Spain, and I've found that my Spanish-speaking friends who speak English understand it, while those who don't can't find a useful translation that really encompasses everything the English word means.

So what does it mean? If you look "fluffy" up in a dictionary, the first definition you might get is: "of, resembling, or covered with fluff".

You must admit, that's pretty useless if you don't know what "fluff" is.

Apparently, "fluff" is "soft fibres from fabrics such as wool or cotton which accumulate in small light clumps".

In English, clouds can be fluffy, clothing can be fluffy, and above all, soft toys can be fluffy. If you've ever seen the film Despicable Me (in English), you'll have seen, without a doubt, the best example of "fluffy" in use.

In the film, a young girl named Agnes sees a plush unicorn toy at a funfair and exclaims "It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!", a perfectly natural reaction to such an incredible and "fluffy" prize. Take a look at the following clip:



As you can see, you can check out this scene out in a multitude of languages. If you go straight to European Spanish, which started the whole debate, you'll see she uses the adjective blandito (soft), while the Mexican Spanish version uses hermoso (beautiful). Here's the European Spanish version for your viewing pleasure:


I'm not criticising the dubbing here, but just pointing out that maybe "fluffy" doesn't really exist or work well in Spanish. However, let's have a look at how they dealt with it in France...

The French version says C'est trop génial!, which is more or less "It's brilliant!", which completely ignores the plush and fluffy nature of the soft toy. However, it doesn't make the scene any less cute!


These aren't the only two examples. The Italian version uses morbido (soft) and the Portuguese version uses fofo (cute).

However, I don't think it's just a Romance language issue! For Danish, they chose to use nuttet (cute).

From the versions available, I reckon German comes the closest with the term flauschig, which apparently means "fleecy" (though I'm not a German expert). To me, that seems quite adequate when it comes to describing the unicorn, don't you think?

Finally, there's the Swedish version, for which I have no idea. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Here it is:


Apparently the word is fluffsi, or something like that. Is this accurate or a loanword?

When it comes to the word "fluffy", is it uniquely English or just a lacuna between English and Romance languages? Do you have a better translation in your own language? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below, especially Swedish speakers, since your dubbing has me bamboozled!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Latvia

In our last country profile, we looked at the languages of Botswana, a country in southern Africa with over two dozen native languages. This week we'll be focusing on Latvia, a Baltic state in northern Europe which is home to considerably fewer languages.

Gauja National Park in Latvia
The Official Language

Latvia's one and only official language is Latvian, which is the native language of nearly 1.5 million Latvians and a second language of another 500,000. It is a member of the Baltic language family, which only contains two living languages: Latvian and Lithuanian, which is the official language of neighboring Lithuania.

Another prominent language in Latvia is Russian, due to the country's complex history with the Soviet Union. Russian remains the country's most widely spoken minority language, with nearly 700,000 native speakers and almost 1.4 million second language speakers. In fact, it is so widely used that the country's government held a constitutional referendum in 2012 to determine whether it should be added as a second official language, but nearly 75% of the population voted against the proposal.

Other Languages

The Ethnologue lists four other languages that are used as native languages in Latvia: Latgalian, Baltic Romani, Yiddish and Liv. The most spoken of these four languages is Latgalian, which some linguists consider to merely be a dialect of Latvian, although it is a standardized variety that is protected by Latvian law. There are about 200,000 native speakers of Latgalian in Latgale, the easternmost region of the country.

Latvia is also home to about 8,000 native speakers of Baltic Romani, a group of Romani dialects spoken in the Baltic states, Poland and Russia. It is followed by Yiddish, the Germanic language with Hebrew and Slavic influences which is spoken by around 800 Latvians.

Last but not least, there's Livonian, which belongs to the Uralic language family. While the last native speaker died in 2013, there are still about 200 people who speak it as a second language. This means that instead of being classified as extinct, it's considered dormant, which is pretty fitting for a language also known as Liv.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The End of the Linguistic Relativity Rainbow

On Friday, we looked at linguistic relativity, scholars Berlin and Kay, and how languages exist in different stages according to how they name colours. To put it simply, their work showed that all humans understand colours in the same way, and that differentiation is not due to culture.

This was considered to be true because the ranges of colours in each language match up across languages. For example, in the Stage II languages we mentioned on Friday, the red they distinguished would fit within the same range of red shades across other languages.

The Munsell System that was used by Berlin and Kay.
This means that any given Stage II language should consider "red" to be within the same range as in other languages, regardless of stage, given that they distinguish the colour "red". This understanding of colour and language became known as the universalist view. All colour perception is inherent within humans, so no matter what language you speak, you generally distinguish colours across the same ranges on a physiological level.

The scholars Kessen, Bornstein, and Weiskopf tested this idea using babies, in order to see how they responded to different colours of light. This was done by measuring habituation, whereby you respond less to a given stimulus as you get used to it. For example, you might get a fright if you hear a sudden loud noise, but if you constantly hear sudden loud noises, you barely respond.

In their study, the babies responded more to what we'd think of as distinct colours, rather than different shades or hues of the same colour, just like adults would. This supported the idea that our understanding of colour is with us before language has an opportunity to affect how we think about colour.

Of course, if you're familiar with academia, you won't be surprised to find out that there are ideas challenging Berlin and Kay's work. Their methodology was later criticised by other scholars for being Eurocentric and Western.

While Berlin and Kay thought that the concept of colours was universal, their critics started to side with the ideas of Sapir and Whorf, saying that language does shape how we think. This side of the argument is known as the relativist view.

Russian Blues, geddit?
If we don't all see or understand colours the same way, how could we test this? An interesting test used native speakers of English and native speakers of Russian. In the Russian language, there are unique terms for what English would call dark blue (siniy) and light blue (goluboy).

English speakers were asked to match a reference colour to one of two choices. If they were what we think of as different colours, they could do it pretty quickly. If they weren't, it took them a little longer. This meant the Russian speakers were quicker at matching their two known blue colours than English speakers were. You can find the study here.

What's the conclusion? A lot of studies support the idea that all of us have the same inherent understanding of colours, and a lot of studies support the idea that languages affect how we understand colours. What's at the end of the linguistic relativity rainbow? Who knows? The debate rages on!

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Beginning of the Linguistic Relativity Rainbow

Linguistic relativity is based on the works of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, and describes how the language we speak can affect and shape the way we see the world and how we think.

While this is sometimes known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the hypothesis itself was not created by Sapir and Whorf, but rather by linguists Roger Brown and Eric Lenneberg. Brown and Lenneberg decided they would use colours to test Sapir and Whorf's ideas. Since then, colours and linguistic relativity have been the best of friends.

What is the difference between blue and green? If you speak English, or one of the languages that distinguishes between them, you're probably thinking that they are obviously different colours. However, if you speak a language that doesn't distinguish between them, there is no difference. When presented with what I call "green" and what I call "blue", you would probably describe these two blue-green colours based on whether they're a light, dark, rich, or pale blue-green, rather than providing unique colour terms for each.

How many colours are there in this ring?
With this in mind, today we'll be looking at the work of American scholars Brent Berlin and Paul Kay. These two worked with colours and languages and suggested that languages, in terms of the colours they distinguish, can be classified as being at a certain stage.

For example, in a language in Stage I, there are two distinct colour terms that describe either a dark-cool colour or a light-warm colour. You could consider these similar to, but not exactly the same as black and white in English. Every language has at least these two distinctions.

Languages in Stage II include three distinct colours: those from Stage I (the previous stage) and the colour red. Pretty simple, right? So let's have a look at all of Berlin and Kay's stages:

Stage I: Dark-cool and light-warm
Stage II: Red
Stage III: Green or yellow
Stage IV: Green and yellow
Stage V: Blue
Stage VI: Brown
Stage VII: Purple, pink, orange, or grey

Berlin and Kay stated that languages developed terms for certain colours in certain orders, and would not have distinctions for colours in the higher stages before distinguishing those in a lower stage.

This means, according to Berlin and Kay, that our blue-green issue from earlier would exist in all languages of Stage IV or lower (as a Stage V language would distinguish between them). This also means that any language that distinguishes brown from other colours already distinguishes blue from green.

That's just the start of our trip to the end of the linguistic relativity rainbow; we'll be back on Monday with more ways to consider how languages, and their users, name colours.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Problem with Going to Cinemas in Other Countries

As you may have guessed from a few of my previous posts, I'm getting into subtitling and foreign media in a big way. In the past I've mentioned some of the problems with Netflix's subtitling and how well Crunchyroll subtitles anime. Today I'd like to talk about the problems with visiting the cinema when living in another country, like I do in Spain.

Last week I went to see Suicide Squad with my brother, who doesn't speak much Spanish. This meant that the best option was to watch the film with its original audio and Spanish subtitles.

However, there is one problem with this. We were watching the film in English, with Spanish subtitles, as English speakers. This meant that the subtitles were for Spanish speakers, and it's just a happy coincidence that the film was almost exclusively in the English language. Yet since we're English speakers, we could enjoy the dialogue since it was almost exclusively in English.

Almost...

There are a few parts of the film in Spanish, as well as parts in what I believe was a fictional language. These parts were still only subtitled in Spanish like the rest of the film. This was obviously quite problematic for my brother, who was briefly out of the loop at a rather important moment in the story.

This made me realise that the original version wasn't really for us. The subtitles were for those with hearing difficulty or for people who hate dubbing. If you're watching the original version of a film because you speak the language of the original version, you're going to run into a few problems if the film features any languages you don't speak.

Ideally, I'd like to see the original versions of films shown as originals, complete with subtitles where appropriate. They could always have two sets of subtitles in these rare instances, especially when scenes are hugely important to the plot of the film! That said, they couldn't have saved the Suicide Squad...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Botswana

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the languages spoken in Lesotho. Today, we'll be exploring the linguistic landscape of Botswana, another landlocked country in southern Africa.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Botswana is English, which is a remnant of colonial times when the country was under British rule. However, English is not the country's most spoken language. It is only spoken as a native language by about 30,000 people in Botswana, while another 600,000 use it as a second language.

Other Languages

As it turns out, the most spoken language in Botswana is Setswana, also known as Tswana. Setswana is a Bantu language that is indigenous to the region. Over 1.25 million people in Botswana speak Setswana as their mother tongue, while another 150,000 use it as a second language.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana.
According to the Ethnologue, over two dozen other languages are spoken in Botswana. When it comes to Botswana's ten most spoken indigenous languages, including Setswana, nine are Bantu languages. Kalanga boasts over 150,000 native speakers, Kgalagadi has about 40,000, and there are also about 20,000 Mbukushu speakers. There are also between 11,000 and 15,000 native speakers of Birwa, Nambya, Lozi, Zezuru, and Herero.

In terms of Botswana's top indigenous languages, only one isn't a Bantu language. That language is Hai||om, a member of the Khoe language family, which is known for its clicks. There are over 30,000 Hai||om native speakers in Botswana.

In addition to Hai||om, there are several other Khoe languages spoken in Botswana. Naro, Shua and Tsoa all have over 2,000 native speakers, while languages like ||Ani, ||Gana, |Gwi, Khwe, Kua and Khoekhoe have between 200 and 2,000.

There are also a few more Bantu languages left to mention. Ndebele boasts about 8,000 native speakers, while Kuhane is used by 6,000, and Tswapong, Yeyi and Gciriku are used by between 2,000 and 5,000 people in Botswana.

The last four languages we'll be mentioning today are Afrikaans, Ju|'hoan, !Xóõ, and ‡Hua. You've probably heard of Afrikaans before, since it's a Germanic language closely related to Dutch that is one of the official languages of South Africa. Botswana is home to about 6,000 native Afrikaans speakers. There are also about 5,000 native speakers of Ju|'hoan, a member of the !Kung family, and another 2,000 speakers of !Xóõ, which is known for its impressive phoneme inventory. Last but not least, there are about 30 native speakers of ‡Hua, a nearly extinct language that is possibly related to the !Kung languages.

Friday, August 12, 2016

How Crunchyroll Gets Subtitling Right

Last year I wrote a post about the poor quality of subtitling on Netflix and am sorry to say that the same problems and frustrations continue to bug me. I've watched entire shows riddled with subtitles whose content is just nonsense.

It should read "And I even got that award off those feminists"
Netflix's subtitles for the British sitcom The IT Crowd were so awful that I can only imagine that they may have been automatically generated, not checked over, and subsequently just thrown onto the bottom of the screen.

YouTube should also get a special mention for subtitling quality. However, even though a lot of YouTube videos use automatically generated subtitles, the platform is kind enough to tell you they are and you don't have to pay a subscription for it like you do with Netflix.

However, the purpose of today's post isn't to name and shame bad subtitling (even though I just did), it's to praise Crunchyroll, a streaming service for anime, whose subtitles look like they were lovingly created and carefully implemented into shows.

If you don't watch anime, then you're probably not familiar with the platform Since all its shows are from Japan with Japanese audio, with the exception of a few dubs, a lot of subtitling goes on and they do it so well.

It's important to remember that Japanese uses a different writing system to English. One of my complaints with Netflix was that the Japanese text in scenes is often left untranslated. On Crunchyroll, not only are the subtitles placed over the Japanese text, but they also use same colouring as the original Japanese text, which makes everything clearer and makes the shows so much more enjoyable.

Crunchyroll's subtitling is exemplary of how to do it. Netflix should definitely take a page out of their book when it comes to subtitling all their programmes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Macedonia

We started August with a look at the languages of Lesotho, a landlocked country that is completely surrounded by South Africa. Today we're shifting our focus to Macedonia, another landlocked country, which is located in Southeast Europe.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Macedonia is Macedonian, a Slavic language that is so closely related to Bulgarian that some people consider it to be a dialect of Bulgarian. It is the native language of over 1.3 million people in Macedonia, and is also used as a minority language in neighboring countries like Albania.

Recognized Minority Languages

Galičica Mountain in Macedonia
Macedonia's government also officially recognizes six other languages as minority languages: Albanian, Turkish, Balkan Romani, Serbian, Bosnian and Aromanian. In some areas where they are spoken by at least 20% of the population, they even share co-official status with Macedonian.

Albanian, the official language of neighboring Albania, is the second most spoken language in Macedonia, with over 500,000 native speakers. It is followed by Turkish, the native language of over 70,000 Macedonians, and Balkan Romani, which is spoken by over 38,000 people.

Serbian and Bosnian are two of the four standard varieties of the Serbo-Croatian language. There are nearly 25,000 Serbian speakers in Macedonia, as well as over 8,000 Bosnian speakers. Finally, there are about 7,000 native speakers of Aromanian, a Romance language.

Other Languages

The Ethnologue lists three other native languages spoken in Macedonia. First, there's Balkan Gagauz Turkish, a Turkic language. It is spoken by about 4,000 Macedonians, and is also used in Greece and Turkey.

Macedonia is also home to about 2,000 native speakers of the endangered Megleno-Romanian language. It is closely related to both Romanian and Aromanian, and is spoken in villages along the border between Macedonia and the Greek region of the same name.

Last but not least, there are an unknown number of speakers of the Adyghe language, although most speakers of this language reside in Russia and Turkey.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Etymology of the Olympics: Part 2

Before the weekend, we started looking at the etymologies of Olympic events. Today we'll finish up with the remaining events.

Pentathlon

Much like the Olympics themselves, this term has Greek origins. Since the pentathlon includes five events, it's a merger of the Greek word pente (meaning "five") and athlon (meaning "contest"). However, it used to be called the pentathlum, using the Latin name.

Rowing

This event gets its name through Proto-Germanic roots and lent itself to a variety of Northern European languages. When it arrived in Old English, the verb "to row" was rowan.

Rugby

Like "badminton", this sport gets its name from where the sport was first played. Rugby should really be called "rugby football". Rugby is a town in Warwickshire, England, if you were wondering.

Sailing

Like rowing, this sport's name also originates from Proto-Germanic. In Old English, the word was seglinge, but became sailing when the Old English word for "sail" changed.

Shooting

Shooting comes from Proto-Indo-European roots, and was scotung in Old English before referring to the sport as of 1885.

Swimming

Interestingly, the verb "to swim" was swimman in Old English, but "swimming" comes from making "swim" a verbal noun.

Taekwondo

Like judo, taekwondo is a way of doing something. In Korean, do is "a way or manner", tae means "to kick", and gwon means "to punch", so taekwondo is literally "the way of kicking and punching".

Tennis

Tennis comes from French; Old French, to be precise. In fact, it comes from the Old French verb tenir, which means to hold, receive, or take. The imperative form of this verb was tenez, which entered Middle English as tenetz and tenes. This evolved into the "tennis" we know today.

Triathlon

Remember pentathlon? The term triathlon is almost the same, but with pente being replaced by tri, meaning three, instead of five. It only has three events, rather than five.

Volleyball

The word volley comes from Latin volare, meaning "to fly", and then French volée. It eventually referred to the act of volleying the ball in tennis in the mid-19th century before combining with the word "ball" to give us the term "volleyball" that we use today.

Water Polo

The word for the game "polo" came from the Balti word for "ball", polo. Polo was played in Asia long before it made its way to England and was adapted for the water, at which point it became known as water polo.

Wrestling

Wrestling came from the Old English term wræstlung, while referring directly to the sport itself was the verbal noun of wræstlian.

Well, that's the remainder of our Olympic etymologies! We hope you enjoy the games as much as we surely will.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Etymology of the Olympics: Part 1

As we said on Wednesday, we're pretty excited for the Olympics. With that in mind, we thought we'd look at the events in the competition and how their names made their way into the English language.

Archery

The term "archery" came from the Anglo-French archerye and Old French archerie. These words, of course, came from the word for "archer". All the words surrounding archery inevitably have their roots in the Latin for bow, arcus. The root of arc comes from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and meant "bowed" or "curved".

Athletics

Linguistically, "athletics" refers to the events in which "athletes" participate. In Greek, athlos was a contest and athlon was a prize. So basically, athletes compete in a contest to win a prize. Sounds about right, doesn't it? The term athletes in Greek was a prizefighter. This made its way into Latin as athleta and into English in the early 15th century.

Badminton

The racket sport of badminton takes its name from where the sport was first played. Badminton House was in Gloucester, United Kingdom. Its name came from the Old English Badimyncgtun.

Basketball

It's a sport using balls and baskets, what more do you want?

Boxing

Boxing takes its name from box, a 14th-century verb that meant "to beat" which later meant "to fight with the fists" and gave us "boxing".

BMX

BMX is short for "Bicycle Motocross". We'll get to "cycling" in a bit.

Canoe (Slalom and Sprint)

The sport is named after the boat used. The word for that boat, canaoua, came from the Arawakan language used in Haiti in the mid-16th century. Many variants made their way into English, but by the 17th century it was established as "canoe".

Cycling

The term "cycling" refers to riding a bicycle, but "cycle" comes from Latin and Greek. In Greek, the work kyklos referred to many circular things and motions. This became cyclus in Late Latin.

Equestrian

Equestrian events involve horses, and the term itself means "relating to horses". However, the term eques in Latin was a horseman or a knight, and equus, of course, means "horse".

Fencing

"Fencing" is technically a shortened form of "defencing", the act of defending oneself. Just like you have to do in this swordsman's sport.

Football

Football obviously comes from putting the words "foot" and "ball" together. However, if you're from one of the countries that calls it "soccer", the term comes from the shortening of "association football".

Golf

After a century out of the Olympics, golf is back. The sport gets its name from Scottish in the mid-15th century; the term gouf came from the Middle Dutch term colf meaning a "stick", "club", or "bat". Nowadays, you can only play golf with a club, though.

Handball

Another obviously named ball sport. "Hand" + "ball" = "Handball".

Hockey

The term for hockey is thought to have come from a Middle French term for a shepherd's staff, the hoquet, since hockey sticks are thought to resemble the staves and crooks used by shepherds.

Judo

The martial art of judo, which originated in Japan, unsurprisingly has a Japanese name. In Japanese, judo means "gentle way", as ju means "gentle" and do means a "way" or "art". What you see is what you get.

As we're halfway through the Olympic events, we'll continue our look at the rest of the games on Monday, when we'll be even more excited as the competition will be in full swing!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Why We're Excited About the Rio Olympics

We love the Olympic Games, and considering the fact that our third most popular post of all time was dedicated to the strange motto of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, we imagine you must like them too!

As you're probably aware, the 2016 Summer Olympics are taking place in Rio this month, with the opening ceremony being held this Friday. Despite the general disarray in terms of planning, terrible environmental conditions, and intense political turmoil that are making the Olympics a bit of a nightmare for Brazil, we're still excited to see athletes from all around the world come together to compete.

One of the coolest things about the upcoming Olympics is that there will be a record number of participating countries - over 200 in fact, including first-time participants Kosovo and South Sudan. There will also be a team of 10 refugee athletes who will compete under the Olympic flag. Originally from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these 10 athletes will compete in various athletics events, as well as judo and swimming.

Personally, my favorite parts of the Olympics are the opening and closing ceremonies. They're always spectacular shows that highlight the history and culture of the host nation, so I can only imagine that the home of Carnaval will put on a great show. I also love to watch the Parade of Nations, when most of the participants walk into the stadium country by country. Not only is it a great way to brush up on your knowledge of country names, but you also usually end up learning interesting facts about the countries and their athletes.
The Lagoa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.
This year, the Olympics will also provide a great opportunity for language lovers to learn a bit of Portuguese as it is the official language of Brazil, and therefore one of the official languages of the games. While your local broadcaster will undoubtedly provide commentary in your native language, you should still be able to hear plenty of Portuguese as you watch events like the Parade of Nations or medal ceremonies.

However, one of the strangest Olympics-related news stories from the past few weeks is that NBC, the television network that pays exorbitant amounts of money to be the official Olympics broadcaster in the United States, reportedly tried to get them to change the language of the opening ceremony. Apparently, they thought it would make for better television if the United States came near the end of the Parade of Nations. Since countries enter the stadium in alphabetical order based on the host nation's language, the United States team will enter early in the list since in Portuguese, it's known as Estados Unidos.

Finally, unlike the bizarre "Hot.Cool.Yours." motto used in the Sochi Olympics, this year's motto is fairly straightforward. It's Um mundo novo, or "A new world" in English, which is fairly self-explanatory.

What are your favorite parts of the Olympics, language-related or otherwise? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Lesotho

Last week we looked at the many fascinating languages spoken in Namibia, a large country located in southern Africa. Today we'll be exploring the linguistic diversity of the nearby country of Lesotho, a small country completely surrounded by South Africa.

The Official Languages

Katse Dam in Lesotho is the second largest dam in Africa.
Lesotho has two official languages: Sotho and English. Sotho, also known as Sesotho or Southern Sotho, is the country's most spoken language, with over 1.7 million native speakers. This Bantu language is the primary language of most of Lesotho's population, and is widely used for everyday communication, as well as being used as an administrative language.

English, the other official language, is primarily used in government. According to the Ethnologue, it is used as a second language by about 500,000 people in Lesotho, but is not often used as a native language.

Other Languages

The second most widely spoken language in Lesotho is Zulu, another Bantu language. In addition to being the native language of nearly 250,000 people in Lesotho, Zulu is also one of South Africa's 11 official languages.

Unlike Namibia, which was home to a quite large number of languages, Lesotho's entry in the Ethnologue only lists five languages. The final two languages are Phuthi and Xhosa, which are both Bantu languages, just like Zulu and Sotho.

Phuthi is the native language of over 40,000 people in Lesotho. It is closely related to Swazi, an official language in both South Africa and Swaziland. Xhosa, on the other hand, is the native language of about 18,000 people in Lesotho. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's also an official language in neighboring South Africa.