The Sinitic Languages of China

The Sinitic Languages of China

When someone says they want to learn to speak Chinese, this is often followed by the question of "which language or version?" Since China is such a large country in both population and size, Chinese is not a single language but rather a number of dialect groups, which are united by a common written language. While these are technically dialects of the same language, they are so different from one another that they can be thought of as separate tonal languages. With more than 1.3 billion native speakers of some version of Chinese, the differences in pronunciation and tone can vary dramatically from region to region. Most people learning Chinese as a second language focus on the Mandarin dialect as it is the official language of the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, and one of the four official languages spoken in Singapore. Depending on how you classify and group them, it can be said that today there are 13 dialect groups used throughout China containing over 200 distinc...

February 24, 2017

The Forgotten Romance Language

The Forgotten Romance Language

When we think of the Romance languages, Western Europe immediately comes to mind. However did you know that there are actually five (not four) Romance languages natively spoken today? We're speaking, of course, about Romanian. The Romanian language is named as it is because it developed from the language of Rome, Latin. It is a member of the Romance language family, alongside four others stemming from Latin. While French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian are better known and more widely spoken, we'd be remiss not to discuss Romanian. Part of the reason the Romanian language is often overlooked is because of its geographic isolation from the other countries, namely France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Though overlooked, it is spoken by over 24 million native speakers and about 4 million second language speakers. Romanian is the official language of both Romania and Moldova. When it comes to the history of the language it is difficult to determine exactly how Romanian developed as th...

February 10, 2017

A Father's Experiment in Constructed Language

A Father's Experiment in Constructed Language

Although it can be said that "all languages are made up," for spoken sounds to be a language, they generally have to follow specific rules. While English, Spanish, Russian and many others are commonly known languages, there is an entire other group of sounds known as constructed languages. In short, a constructed language is an artificial or planned human language, where one is not naturally occurring as a result of geography or culture. Also known as a conlang, a constructed language typically only varies from a natural one in that it has been consciously designed by the speakers of other languages. One of the best known, and most popular, constructed languages in the world comes from the science fiction world of Star Trek. We are of course speaking of Klingon. There are an estimated thirty to forty people worldwide who are fluent in the Klingon language with another few thousand being able to pick out some of the words, like "bat'leth" a double-sided battle sw...

January 17, 2017

The Interesting History of the Celtic Languages

The Interesting History of the Celtic Languages

The popularity of several historical fiction television shows, such as Outlander (STARZ), has revived a fascination with the Celtic languages. When hearing about Celtic, most people instantly think of Scottish Gaelic, the Celtic language spoken in Scotland. What many don’t realize is that the Celtic languages actually originated on the mainland in what is central and southern Europe today. During the first millennium BCE, Celtic languages were spoken across much of Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to the Black Sea and even in part of Asia Minor. Most of these native speakers were either assimilated into the Roman Empire or naturally died off. These versions of the Celtic languages are known as the Continental Celtic languages, a geographic distinction before a migration to the British Isles. Today, all the Continental Celtic languages are extinct. The Celtic languages that developed in the British Isles are known as the Insular Celtic Languages. Since these Celtic language...

January 13, 2017

Arrival Hits Theaters with Interesting Take on Alien Language

Arrival Hits Theaters with Interesting Take on Alien Language

Science fiction fans everywhere have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new movie which takes the alien encounter storyline in an entirely new direction. We're speaking of course of Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. In the trailers for the film, ships from a distant planet arrive on Earth and one of the world's top linguists, played by Adams, is recruited to communicate with them. While large-scale Hollywood films have employed a wide array of consultants over the years, this is one of the first times a professional linguist has been retained. Jessica Coon, a McGill University associate professor in syntax and indigenous languages, is an expert in syntax, morphology, ergativity, and nominalization. Each of these key components went into the main plotline of the film. Coon has spent several years in the field studying various Mayan languages as well as the First Nations language of Mi'gmaq in Quebec. “There was a lot in the script that has to...

December 14, 2016

Saving a Dying Language in Cyprus

Saving a Dying Language in Cyprus

Cyprus is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey and West of Syria. In a village in the northern part of the country, a community is working to save an ancient language and reunify a divided land. This town, Kromakitis, was once the unofficial "capital" of Cyprus's Maronite minority. These people were descendants of Lebanese and Syrian Christians who spoke a unique dialect of Arabic known as Sanna. This language was influenced by Aramaic and is now severely endangered according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Many Maronites fled Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion and were assimilated into Greek-Cypriot communities where they sought asylum. Recently, leaders of both Greece and Turkey have intensified talks to reunite this population with their homeland. Despite many years of Sanna classes in Cyprus, the language is still on the decline. Maronites hope that by returning home they will be able to ...

December 14, 2016

Website Translation Tips

Website Translation Tips

If you've ever come across a website in a foreign language, chances are you saw an icon appear asking if you would like to translate the page into English. You've probably also experienced the frustration of the translation being generally poor and still feeling lost while reading the page. When it comes to translating the written word, regional dialect must be taken into account. The most easy way to demonstrate this is by visiting a site published in the United Kingdom. While it is still in English, it is most definitely a different English than you are accustomed to. Certain phrases and words can have entirely different meanings which may be lost on the reader. This is important to take into account if you are considering translating all or part of your website into one or more languages. Many businesses based in the United States struggle with this problem when they attempt to have their websites translated into Spanish. Depending on the background of the translator, you may n...

November 11, 2016

Deaf-Blind Americans Have Developed a New Language

Deaf-Blind Americans Have Developed a New Language

While Braille may be a useful tool to the blind and sign language useful to the deaf, have you ever wondered about those who are both deaf and blind? Most alternative methods for communicating involve one of the other non-affected senses. However for those who can only rely on their senses of touch, smell, and taste, communication can be extremely difficult. Pro-tactile ASL is a newer language developed in only the past few years. It is not widely used or well known as of yet, but it is a way for Deaf-Blind people to more easily communicate with others, including one another. The practice typically involves a translator who uses ASL. While signing, the Deaf-Blind individual loosely places their hand on top of the signer's. When they want to respond, they tap out a response on their interpreter's body, anywhere from their knees up to their shoulders. The interpreter then signs the response, again in ASL. This type of conversation can be fascinating to watch and leave those who don'...

November 3, 2016

Coding Language, the New Bilingual

Coding Language, the New Bilingual

Do you speak code? This may sound like an odd question, but many of today's high school and college graduates are being asked that very question on job interviews across the country. HTML, Java, CSS, PHP, and the like have become the new "second language" to many students, even those not focused on a technical field. Computers, software, and apps have become such a large part of our lives that schools are emphasizing coding more and more. Many students graduate with at least a rudimentary understanding of computer coding. Ambitious ones create their own software, games, and apps well before entering high school. So how do you go about learning a coding language? There are countless online tutorials and it all comes down to what you want to learn. Those focused on building websites will usually begin with HTML and CSS, the foundations of most web design applications. People wanting to develop apps for Apple and Android may begin learning the proprietary languages of those...

November 3, 2016

Are Micro-Expressions the Universal Language?

Are Micro-Expressions the Universal Language?

While it's true there is not a universally spoken language, there is a language which transcends borders and cultures. Micro-expressions are facial expressions flashed for a fraction of a second which can reveal how a person is feeling, despite what they're saying. In the hit television series Lie To Me, the main characters specialize in identifying micro-expressions and assist various groups in detecting truthfulness. While yes it is just a television show, the principles are founded on real science. Dr. Paul Ekman is the pre-eminent psychologist and co-discoverer of micro-expressions. He has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine and is ranked fifteenth among the most influential psychologists of the 21st century. His work in nonverbal behavior has been ground breaking, starting in the late 1950's. In the late 1960's, Dr. Ekman traveled to Papua New Guinea for an immersive study involving the Fore people. This isolated Stone Age culture pr...

October 27, 2016

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