Friday, September 27, 2013

September 27: World Tourism Day

As today is World Tourism Day, we felt it only apt to recognise one of the greatest benefits of learning languages, travelling the world.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation has celebrated this day since 1980 despite the day being decided ten years earlier in 1970. World Tourism Day is all about raising awareness of global tourism and promoting the ways in which tourism improves the world. The benefits of global tourism can be seen in many elements of life, be they social, cultural, political, or economical.

Algorrobo, Chile. Sun, sea, sand, and,
most importantly, Spanish.
Over the years, World Tourism Day has had various themes, including world peace, development, education, job creation, ecological sustainability, tourism for sport, heritage preservation, and the tourism industry itself.

Aside from the aforementioned benefits, we can't ignore the huge benefits world tourism lends to learning languages. If, like us, you speak English as your mother tongue, then you will be more than familiar with being spoken to in English whilst on holiday. If you're in a particularly touristy area, then it's very likely that the reason the locals speak to you in English is because of the high level of tourism in the area, combined with the fact that many others in the world speak English as a lingua franca and that many native English speakers, particularly those from the US and the UK, are embarrassingly monolingual.

On one hand, you find that many of those who grow up in tourist areas have improved linguistic abilities compared to those who have not. On the other hand, many of those who have spent long periods of time abroad tend to have better linguistic abilities than those who have never left home.

So celebrate world tourism! Everybody deserves a good holiday, especially if you can learn languages doing it!

Monday, September 23, 2013

How To Be An English Language Tourist? by David Crystal

The Lingua File is delighted to have David Crystal as our guest contributor today as he tackles the question, "how to be an English language tourist?":

Hilary and I asked ourselves this question repeatedly when we were planning the tour that we eventually wrote up as Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain. Where can you find out about the places that influenced the character and study of the English language in Britain? How do you get there? And what do you find when you get there?

Places are often mentioned in textbooks and historical accounts, but you can get only so much out of such drab statements as 'the Anglo-Saxons arrived at Pegwell Bay in 449 AD', or 'King Alfred defeated the Danes at Edington in 878', or 'Dr Johnson compiled his dictionary in the attic of a house in Gough Square in London'. For textbook writers, that is usually the end of the story. For us, it was the beginning. What was that coastline like? What was the battlefield like? What was the attic like?

Pegwell Bay, Edington, Maldon, Lindisfarne, Lichfield, Stratford ... We went to over 50 places where something important happened. Most of the time, we found that the relevance of the language to the place had been forgotten - if it had ever been realised. But there are a few spots where it is remembered. There is even the occasional monument. Our favourite is the memorial to English dialect-writers in Rochdale, Lancashire. A runner-up is the huge monument to Bible-translator William Tyndale, in North Nibley in Gloucestershire - though 'runner-up' is perhaps not the best way of describing it, as it is is on the top of a hill which takes some climbing.
The dialect writers' memorial in Broadfield Park, Rochdale. The building to the left is the
town hall. © Hilary Crystal.
That's a point. If you want to be an English-language tourist, you have to be fit, or reasonably so, as some of the places where important things happened involve a bit of a walk, and sometimes over quite muddy and hilly countryside. So you should take boots too. But the outcome is always worth it. Even though I thought I knew some of the places very well, from my past reading and writing about the language, I was never prepared for what we found when we made the actual visit. The photographs often tell the story better than the words, and are an essential part of the narrative. It confirmed me in my feeling that the English language is not only diverse and fascinating, but unpredictable and exciting as well. For instance...

In Jarrow, up in the north-east of England, where Bede worked and wrote, we were not expecting to encounter a class of mini-monks all dressed in tiny habits. In Alloway, Scotland we were not expecting to see the worship of Scots national poet Robert Burns extend to his being portrayed in a mischievous re-creation of Da Vinci's 'Last Supper'. In Old St Pancras churchyard in London, we were not expecting to find piles of gravestones to be part of the story of pronunciation lexicographer John Walker. In York, we were not expecting to find the aftermath of lead-thieves, when we visited the places where Lindley Murray wrote his grammar.

Murray's summerhosue at The Mount School, York. His writing desk and wheeled invalid
chair are preserverd in the school. When we visited, the lead from the roof had disappeared
for the third time, hence the temporary tarpaulin flapping dismally here. © Hilary Crystal.
With locations as far apart as the south-east of Kent and the Scottish lowlands, and from the west of Wales to the East Anglian coast, Hilary and I drove several thousand miles to compile what proved to be a somewhat unorthodox combination of English language history and travelogue. It was a hugely rewarding experience, though, which added a strong sense of place to our existing knowledge of language topics and personalities, and we strongly recommend doing the same sort of thing in your own locality, wherever you live, as a powerful way of making language study come alive. Field trips are not just for historians, geographers, and archaeologists. The English language lurks around every corner, in every country in the world, awaiting your call.

David Crystal is known throughout the world as a writer, editor, lecturer and broadcaster on language. ‘Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain’ by David and Hilary Crystal is published on 26 September 2013 by Oxford University Press.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Spelling Wars: The Problem With Reviving Languages by Rhian Davies

You may be one of those who cringes at the sight of a misplaced apostrophe or a misspelled word. You may even dislike the spelling differences between American and British English; the sight of an extra ‘u’ (or lack of) in words such as colour or honour may cause you to shudder. But these are somewhat minor in comparison to other languages, which are yet to agree on a standard spelling at all. This is especially true for minority or endangered languages whose speakers may disagree on spelling for various reasons.

The example I present to you today is Cornish, a Celtic language closely related to Welsh and Breton. Many claim that the Cornish language died in the late 18th century along with its last native speaker, while others say it never died at all. It is at least agreed that Cornish certainly died as a widespread community language and so it has been undergoing a revival since the early 1900s.

Cornish is rather unique in that its dialects today are based on time rather than geographical location, the latter being the case for the majority of languages. This is because revivalists have chosen to base their versions of the language on various sources from different eras, namely from the 18th century, as it was last spoken natively, and from mediaeval manuscripts. Both varieties have different grammar, lexicons and of course, orthographies.

Cornwall, the historical home of the Cornish language.
But why was there any need to revive the language from the Middle Ages when it was spoken right up until the 18th century? Many revivalists saw the Cornish spoken in the 18th century to be so influenced by English that it was too impure, so they looked back for a ‘golden age’ of the language on which to base a revival. Mediaeval Cornish undoubtedly had far fewer English loanwords and was seen by many as being superior, whereas others believed the revival should be based on how Cornish was last spoken, to continue where the language left off, as it were. Because of these disagreements there have been a number of different varieties of spoken and written Cornish that have come out of the revival, each with their own supporting groups. Some orthographies for example make use of the letters C, Q, Z while others use only K and S respectively. We need only look at the various spellings for the language's name itself to see how much variation there has been over the years: We have Kernowek, Kernewek, Curnoack, Kernuack, Kernûak amongst several others. In English, many often get confused over which is the correct or appropriate spelling: grey or gray? In Cornish, we have had loes, lōs, loos and looz to disagree and scratch our heads over.

In recent years, the Cornish-speaking community has come to an agreement over a standard written form of the language, aptly named the Standard Written Form. Even within this official standard there are acceptable spelling differences: “A wodhes ta kewsel Kernewek?” and “A wodhes ta kowsel Kernowek?” are both acceptable ways to spell the Cornish for ‘can you speak Cornish?’. Even after the standardisation of the language, there is still some dispute amongst speakers and Cornish linguists on how the language should be written.

Rhian Davies is a Language Policy & Planning student currently working on a website detailing the Brythonic languages.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Grito de Dolores: The Languages of Mexico

With today being Grito de Dolores, the day marking the start of Mexican War of Independence, we'll be having a look at the languages spoken in Mexico. Grito de Dolores, meaning "the Cry of Dolores", was effectively a declaration, or pronunciamiento in Spanish.

It would take 11 years before this was signed.
The declaration was made in the small town of Dolores Hidalgo, which is now known as Dolores Hidalgo Cuna de la Independencia Nacional, meaning Dolores Hidalgo Cradle of National Independence. Dolores Hidalgo is now home to over 50,000 people, and though it is obviously not the capital of Mexico, that being Mexico City, it is incredibly important in Mexican history.

As you probably know, the Mexicans were fighting for independence from Spain. The Spaniards had brought many of their customs and conventions to the Mexico, including their language. Spanish is spoken by nearly 93% of the population of Mexico, but don't fool yourself into thinking Mexico is a linguistic wasteland.

Mexico is home to 68 indigenous languages, all of which are considered Amerindian. However, the classification of languages as Amerindian is somewhat controversial as this even includes various language families and even language isolates.

Mexico has the second-largest number of speakers of indigenous languages in the Americas after Peru. However, as a percentage of the population the figure appears surprisingly low.

The most widely-spoken of Mexico's indigenous languages is Nahuatl, which is spoken natively by more than a million Mexicans and 1.5 million people across the globe. Nahuatl was the language spoken by the Aztecs since around the 7th century.

Comalcalco, a Mayan archaeological site.
Yucatec Maya, known natively as Màaya t'àan, is a Mayan language spoken by over 700,000 people in Mexico. The Mayan languages were and are spoken by the Maya people who are generally distributed across southern Mexico and northern Central America.

Mexico's third-largest indigenous language, Mixtec, has around 400,000 speakers in Mexico, particularly in the states of Oaxaca, Puebla, and Guerrero. Mixtec speakers can also be found in the American state of California, but in very low numbers.

Zapotec languages are spoken by just under half a million people and are found in a similar distribution to Mixtec languages. In addition to the states of Oaxaca, Puebla, and Guerrero, Zapotec languages are also spoken to some degree in the state of Veracruz.

There are of course many, many more languages in Mexico, far too many to have in today's post. However, we hope we've given you a quick idea of the linguistic landscape of one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the Americas.

Friday, September 13, 2013

12 Uncomplicated Ways To Implement Italian Into Your Everyday Routine by Cher Hale

Learning Italian, or any language for that matter, becomes so much more fun when you stop wrestling with the likes of grammar books and endless flashcards.

Those are useful tools worthy of being a part of the language learning process, but practice through daily routine is also a part of the process and deserves some public esteem.

So what are twelve close-to-painless ways you can change today to implement Italian into your everyday life?

1.) Change your cell phone language to Italian.

Be mindful of your learning level. This would make more sense for an intermediate learner, but if you’re a beginner and feel up to the challenge, I support you.

If you have an iPhone, changing a language is as easy as going to
‘Settings → General → International → Language → Italiano’.

Cocktail party fact: If you have an iPhone 5, Siri will also be able to speak Italian to you. So now you can practice your pronunciation and comprehension!

If you’re not on the Apple bandwagon, you’ll have to do a quick Google search for your phone model.

2.) Follow boards on Pinterest about learning Italian.

If you love Pinterest, you’ll love this option. Here are some great boards to follow that teach Italian or are native Italian.

  • Speak to me in Italian
  • Italian Obsession
  • Learning Italian

  • Like Italian fan pages on Facebook.

    This way you’ll get their updates in your stream. I suggest you bookmark Wordreference
    as your go-to Italian dictionary when you don’t know a word.

    Here are some great Italian fan pages to get started with:
    - a page with Italian jokes and cultural references
    - a famous singer in Italy
    - a famous singer in Italy

    Also, join a group dedicated to Italian like this one.

    4.) Make the homepage of your web browser an Italian web site.

    It will be the first thing you see whenever you open up your browser, and it’s likely you’ll get lost in an article or three.

    Here are some options for Italian websites:
    - available in English and Italian
    - Italian news
    - available in English and Italian
    - Fashion and lifestyle magazine adapted to Italy

    5.) Change the background on your computer to an Italian quote or phrase.

    Find an image you love from one of the Pinterest boards, save it to your computer, and change your settings according to your computer.

    If you have a Macbook,

    just go to the Apple icon → System Preferences → Desktop & Screen Saver → Desktop → Choose the ‘+’ symbol to find the picture → Choose → Voila!

    6.) Make the background of your phone an Italian quote or phrase.

    Same concept as above. You can save a picture directly to your camera roll from the Pinterest App.

    Here’s how you would do that on an iPhone:

    Go to Pinterest Application → Choose an image → Press the upper right hand icon with the arrow → Press ‘Save to Camera Roll’ → Go to Camera Roll → Press the lower left hand icon with the arrow → Find the icon ‘Set as wallpaper’.

    The picture on the right side is how it will look if you’ve already changed your phone settings to Italian!

    7.) Change your language on Facebook to Italian.

    Go the gear icon at the upper right hand side of your Facebook page. Choose settings → Language → Change → Italian.

    8.) Play Italian songs on Youtube while you browse the web.

    Start with this Italian music playlist or build your own using it.

    If you really love using music to learn a language, you’ll want to know about The Mimic Method,
    a language learning method based solely on music and sounds.

    9.) Follow native Italian speakers and Italian teachers on Twitter.

    Here are some great users to start with:

    - an easy way to learn Italian through podcasts

    - a famous author and actor in Italy

    - a famous ballerina, actress, and conductor in Italy

    - phrases and vocabulary from a lover of the Italian language

    - Italian phrases and foreign language resources

    10.) Change your alarm to an Italian song.

    Download an Italian song (with some extra oomph) to your phone and set it as an alarm for the morning.

    11.) Set a calendar appointment on your phone with an Italian phrase.

    If you’re like me (a time management junkie), you use your online calendar to keep track of your life. Set a calendar appointment daily/weekly for a phrase. Set an alarm reminder for it, and it will pop up at that time, reminding you of the phrase and that you should be learning Italian.

    12.) Choose one Italian podcast to listen to while you’re in the car, taking a jog, or making dinner.

    Here are some podcasts for learning Italian to listen to:
    If you want to hear just Italian, here is a podcast to listen to:
    Cher Hale is an instigator of adventure and romance on her blog The Iceberg Project, where she teaches people how to charm Italians with their own language and chase their wanderlust so they have always have a story worth telling.

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    The World of ASL Interpreters by Austin Kocher

    I am an interpreter. I show up to doctors appointments, high school graduations, business meetings, and college classrooms to interpret between American Sign Language and English. I often get the sense from onlookers and oglers that interpreting seems like a sexy, high-visibility high-stakes career for multilinguals. And it can be. I've interpreted for a professional mixed martial arts fight, and for one of the preeminent theoretical physicists who studies dark matter. But being an interpreter is more than flash. It's about riding the everyday Tilt-A-Whirl of language and trying to come out with your equilibrium in balance.

    What is the interpreting field like? According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, there are currently about 50,000 – 58,000 interpreters and translators working in the United States. There are likely around 20,000 ASL interpreters, if we consider that the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf has 16,000 members, and certainly not all working interpreters are RID members. The field is expected to grow 43% by 2020 and with a purported average salary of $43,000, you might think this is a great place to make a living. What the statistics overlook, however, is that many interpreters – most that I know, anyway – don't work full time. Many interpreters are providing a second or supplementary income to a home with a higher-earning partner. Most interpreters also earn additional income by teaching or working in a complimentary field. Staff positions are desirable but rare, with most positions going to successful agencies, K-12 classrooms with main-streamed students, or housed within a disability services department at a college or university.

    As for me, I have been interpreting since 2006 both full time and part time as graduate school has allowed. My associates degree was in interpreting, and I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography at the Ohio State University. My current research is on immigration to the U.S., but my passion for language and culture has led to productive relationships with other interpreters and deaf individuals in graduate schools around the world. Like many service-oriented professions, a Ph.D. doesn't necessarily make me more qualified as an interpreter. But like other interpreters, I find myself trying to stay in good practice by interpreting part time. I also try to give back to the interpreting field by presenting workshops at conferences and writing as much as possible for working interpreters.

    The economic portrait of interpreting doesn't do justice to the daily excitement and disappointments of interpreting. If linguists are the architects of language, then interpreters are the construction site managers, hammer and nails in hand trying to keep the structure from collapsing in the real-world environment. Roland Barthes' announcement in 1968 that the author is dead is no less true when the author is alive in front of you.

    As an interpreter, I am faced with the constant challenge of trying to tell person B what person A said, even though half the time person A isn't really sure what they said, nor are they clear in their own mind what they want to say! On the one hand, formal equivalence between ASL and English is important. But on the other hand, I am always aware that such equivalence is impossible, or at least indeterminate. There are exciting moments when the people I'm interpreting for develop a relationship through my work, like the time I interpreted a bunch of jokes from a Deaf ASL teacher and her students. I left that assignment at the height of professional satisfaction. On the other hand, there are moments that are emotionally devastating, like the time I interpreted between deaf staff members at a school and construction workers. The two groups were clearly at odds with each other, and I doubt they would have resolved their differences even if they spoke (or signed) the same language. But that's what language is like in the world: it's messy, unpredictably unnerving, and unexpectedly gratifying.

    And for all us who love language, that's what makes interpreting such a neat field and one worthy of our curiosity.

    Austin Kocher is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography at Ohio State University. He has been involved with the deaf community since 2002 and has worked as an interpreter since 2006. He blogs at

    Friday, September 6, 2013

    Language And Politics: Defining Language by Jennifer Collins

    If you ever asked yourself what is it that makes language a language, you have probably realized how difficult it may be to give an appropriate answer to this question, even with the extensive knowledge of sociolinguistics. Sometimes, a language and a dialect are separated by a thin line that is often defined by some extra-linguistic forces.

    These extra-linguistic forces are frequently related to political concepts of country and nationality. Usually, the first feature that defines the language is the country it is spoken in. However, being a living thing that develops and progresses, a language cannot always be tied to a precisely defined territory. This is the case with many regions in Europe, for example, where the turbulent history caused many nations to interrelate and merge in terms of culture and language alike.

    How is the official language chosen?

    With the emergence of the notion of ‘nation’, countries adopted different symbols of their national identities. Besides flags, anthems, and coats of arms, an official language is also an important feature that defines both nation and country. However, problems appear in multicultural surroundings and countries where many different languages and dialects are regularly spoken. Recently, The Lingua File featured an interesting article on the Languages of Bolivia, which pretty much illustrates the point.

    In such cases, the official language is chosen based on the number of speakers, current political climate and available funds (for reprinting all the existing material). Therefore, choosing an official language is not an easy decision, especially in some underdeveloped countries, in Africa for example, where there are still separate tribes speaking completely different languages.

    Is language a national property?

    Different examples from Europe prove that a language can be treated as a property emblematic of a national identity, regardless of its linguistic features. This is the case with Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, which share a lot of linguistic features but are spoken within national borders of different countries. ‘Appropriating’ language in this way further poses challenges in terms of defining the features that actually constitute a language.

    Even more striking example is the case with the languages of ex-Yugoslavia and disassembling Serbo-Croatian to four ‘new’ national languages. After the huge political transformation when the country got divided into six smaller ones, national language was also divided and turned into: Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin. Clearly, these four languages didn’t just emerge the same day the country disappeared. They have always existed in the form of standardized registers, until they were given a new status once the national territory was reorganized.

    When language is not a language

    To make this discussion even more complex, there are some opposite examples when two significantly different dialectal varieties are treated as the same language, even though they are spoken in two different countries. An example of this is Swiss German and its peculiar status in Switzerland.

    Namely, Swiss German is regarded as an Alemannic dialect widely used across Switzerland and some parts of Italy. The peculiarity is the fact that in Switzerland, Swiss German is used on all levels of communication but it is still treated like a dialectal variety, rather than a language. Instead, the official language is Standard Swiss German, which has only few areas of use. It is used in formal contexts, such as in educational institutions, for official news and broadcasts.

    Even though Swiss German also encompasses a group of different dialects, it is unusual that it has never been standardized in order to get a status of an actual language, especially because it does have political preconditions for this.

    Obviously, defining a language depends on multiple parameters. Due to frequent migrations and redefinitions of national borders within Europe, this region seems to be one of the most challenging areas for defining the notion of a language. The examples given above make it clear that a language is much more than set of linguistic features - it is a cultural property and frequently a political tool.

    Jennifer Collins is an ESL teacher and linguist currently working on Saundz, a new software programme for learning English pronunciation.

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013

    The Lingua File's 1st Birthday

    Happy Birthday to us!
    Today is our first birthday and for a year we've been blogging daily on languages, linguistics, and culture.

    While we do absolutely love doing this, life sometimes gets in the way and, as a result, posts will no longer be daily, but rather on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

    We'll also be beginning to publish our guest contributions, so if you'd like to contribute, send us an email to or check out the info on contributing.

    We'll still continue to post more regular content on our Facebook page, on Twitter, on Google+, and on Pinterest, so don't worry too much about the frequency of our posts.

    Due to these changes we won't have a post for you tomorrow, but we will do on Friday! Thanks for being with us over this last year!

    Sunday, September 1, 2013

    Why ERASMUS Will Be The Best Time Of Your Life

    At this time of year, many students within the European Union will be starting what promises to be the best year of their lives. The ERASMUS programme, an international student exchange within the EU, enables students from Europe to experience other cultures, countries, and best of all, learn another language!

    Le Pont d'Avignon, my old French stomping ground.
    On a personal note, it was five years ago today that I started my ERASMUS year and like many, I was scared, apprehensive, and, above all, excited. I had initially been told that I would be spending my year in France living the typical Parisian lifestyle in the capital. Much to my chagrin, this was later changed to Avignon, a place I had never heard of and much farther away from northern France, where I had spent almost every family holiday.

    Before even leaving the UK, I made a stupid error whereby I booked a flight for a Tuesday, thinking it was Monday. I showed up at the airport with a plane ticket for the following day, meaning I had to spend another £200 on a flight to Paris, and the best part of €100 on a train from Paris to Avignon. Thanks to arriving four hours late to the University, I missed the opening hours of the student accommodation office and was left to find a hotel when I should have been staying in the accommodation.

    Though scared, nervous, and possessing a very poor level of spoken French, I showed up to the orientation meeting with all my belongings in tow. It quickly became apparent that every other ERASMUS student was scared and just as in need of meeting some new people.

    Like anyone, it took some time to adjust, but by Christmas I had already met a wonderful group of people who would remain lifelong friends, learnt an incredible amount about French culture, and improved dramatically in French. The worries and apprehension I felt at the start were just a distant and somewhat ridiculous memory.

    Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience. The remaining months through the spring and into the summer were just as incredible as the first few months, and though it was difficult to leave and many tears were shed, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

    So for those about to embark on this journey, it should be noted that you are not the first people in the world to do this. People do survive and share an experience not just with those who are in the same town, city, or village, but with everyone who has ever spent a year abroad, ERASMUS or otherwise. You are incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and once you're finished with it, you'll do nothing but annoy your friends back home with all the stories that you can't bring yourself to stop telling.

    You should take this time to stop worrying and start enjoying yourself. Just don't forget about the languages you can learn! It can be all too easy to stay within your comfort zone and speak in your mother tongue with others from the same country. Grab the opportunity with both hands!

    Have you been on an ERASMUS year or will you be going soon? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below and please, keep it clean!