Blogs by the Veritas team about language and linguistics, across many languages in and outside of Europe.
Have you heard of Wôpanâôt8âôk? Probably not, since it hasn’t been a ‘living’ language for over 150 years. But that’s about to change…
What is Wôpanâôt8âôk?
Wôpanâôt8âôk is the native language of the Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) tribe of Native Americans who live in the area of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was once a very important language:
It was the first Native American language to develop and use an alphabetic writing system.
The first complete bible printed in the ‘New World’ was published in the Wampanoag language in 1663
The language enjoys the largest corpus of Native written documents in North America
Why did it ‘die’?
Wôpanâôt8âôk ceased to be spoken around the mid-19th century. As with so many indigenous languages, this happened through the processes of religious conversion, laws against the use of the language, mainstream education, and commerce.
How is it being ‘re-born’?
Although there haven’t been any fluent speakers of the Wôpanâôt8âôk language for over 150 years, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (http://wlrp.org) is aiming to return fluency in Wôpanâôt8âôk to the Wampanoag Nation as a principal means of expression, bringing back to life their ancestral language after over six generations of dormancy. This includes developing a Wôpanâôt8âôk dictionary (that currently holds over 11,000 words), a curriculum for second language acquisition for adult learners, and the first Wôpanâôt8ây Pâhshaneekamuq (Wôpanâôt8âôk-medium School) opening in 2015.
Their efforts are already showing great signs of success and promise. In addition to a number of adults now using the language, a few very young children are being raised with Wampanoag as their first language – the first native speakers of the language since the mid-19th century!
Why is the re-birth of the Wôpanâôt8âôk language important for the rest of the language world?
It is [...]
I love working in an office that not only deals with people around the world, but includes people from around the world. Mainly because the chats we have over a coffee are always interesting and lively, and can sprout from a simple phrase or word used.
Case in point, the other day a couple staff were querying the use of “12:07 AM” in an American translation that involved translating time. An American myself, who has lived here for over 13 years, this made perfect sense to me. But a debate over its correctness ensued. Surely, they said, it should be 00:07, and leave it at that. At which point I said, “But Americans do not use a 24 hour clock.” Everyone just looked at me with a weird look on their faces.
I looked back with a look that said, I thought everyone knew that. Clearly they did not. I then explained that in America, it is either 12:07 AM or 12:07 PM; 3:15 AM or 3:15 PM. Everything is AM or PM. The only time a 24 hour clock is used is if you specify that you are using “Military Time”, which isn’t often. A 24 hour clock is just too hard and confusing. (How can seven-teen mean five? You said seven.) It took me years to learn how to tell time past 12:59 in the UK. I still have to calculate in my head to figure out how to say 3:00pm (3 plus 2 is 5 = 15:00), or to know what 17:00 means (7 – 2 = 5 = 5 o’clock pm)
So, the next time you are communicating with an American about time, use a 12 hour clock and be sure to clarify [...]
I was reading an article on BBC news the other day, about this very interesting research on the way moving to a steady beat is closely linked to better language skills. We already suspected that music and language are somehow linked, but it seems that researchers are determined to further investigate the issue, now extending it to rhythmic motor activity.
According to a report published in the Journal of Neuroscience, practising music could improve other skills, particularly reading, as rhythm is an integral part of language. Indeed, a team of researchers tested the hypothesis by means of experimenting with more than 100 teenagers. Participants were tested on the basis of their ability to tap their fingers to a steady beat, and the electrical activity in their brain in response to sound was measured with electrodes. What was found is that those who had better musical training also had enhanced neural responses to speech sounds.
Nina Kraus, of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois, argues that “kids who are poor readers have a lot of difficulty doing this motor task and following the beat”.
“It seems that the same ingredients that are important for reading are strengthened with musical experience. It may be that musical training – with its emphasis on rhythmic skills – can exercise the auditory-system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential for learning to read”, added professor Kraus.
This study adds to the emerging (and fascinating!) correlation between musical-rhythmic skills and performance in other areas related to language, highlighting the importance of alternative methods of teaching which also embrace non-verbal elements, such as kinaesthetic learning.
For more information, to find out why [...]
In my previous blog I discussed how local languages have been perceived in recent history and their relationship with national politics. With the development of the European Union, however, the political approach tended to bend towards a recognition of the role and the importance of local languages.
Globalisation, making habits and social behaviours more uniform among different societies, has provoked as a reaction a sense of alienation from people’s local identities. Postmodern sociologists and philosophers like Jean Baudrillard and Frederic Jameson assumed that in the era of late-capitalism people would seek in their past scraps of history that could be used as pillars of their cultural identity. These historical traditions, though, are no longer part of their context and create a strange anacronism with the everyday life of the present.
This could be an interesting perspective from which to look at the recovery and rehabilitation of local languages that were going to be lost. On one hand, this recovery presents ambivalent issues. Most of these languages never had a codified grammar, though some of them might have had important literary traditions in the past. Languages are live things, and even the codified ones include differences between different areas or social classes. Codifying a local language can be very tricky as you are certainly going to disappoint someone.
The European Union has 24 official and working languages, which are official languages in the 28 countries of the Union. They are: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.
Apart from these official languages, the European Union has more than 60 indigenous regional or minority languages, that are regularly spoken by as many [...]
The 21st century has seen an ambivalent approach towards languages, particularly concerning local languages. On one hand, globalisation forces people from different countries to find the most widespread common language to communicate, exchange products and information in the simplest way possible. Former colonial languages have been chosen for this task, or have rather imposed themselves thanks to the economic power they embodied. English, above all, has spread its seeds in most languages, as all the vocabulary related to internet and computers is usually adopted in their English original version into the other countries.
On the other hand, though, there is a growing cultural interest concerning minority and local languages. The issue here is a tangled one.
Sociolinguistic research showed that in the second half of the 20th century, along with the television, official national languages reached every house of Europe. At the same time, local dialects started losing their role as local languages and becoming linguistic social indicators for farmers and lower working classes. Lots of parents decided to speak their national official language at home so that their children could have better social chances. This tendency was even more marked in countries where local languages and dialects were or had been hindered by authoritarian regimes, like in Italy and in Spain, as in the dictators’ eyes the unity of the language symbolised the unity of the nation.
A couple of generations later, though, people have started to realise that losing their local languages would mean the loss of centuries of local tradition and culture, so a lot of cultural associations have been created in recent years with the aim of recovering and promoting local languages that were going to dissolve in the sea of globalisation.
Multilinguism seems [...]