“Attention, London residents: If your Malay is feeling rusty and in need of conversational oil, try heading to the neighborhood just north of Kensington Gardens. That’s where Austronesians are chatting up a storm, according to this fascinating map of London’s languages.
The clamorous cartography is the result of nifty computer analysis by Ed Manley and James Cheshire, both students at the University College London. (You might recall Cheshire from his map of London last names.) They used a tweaked Google Chrome algorithm to examine more than 3 million tweets sent by London inhabitants this summer. By the end of their dogged data-sifting, they had detected more than 60 languages including Tamil, Maltese, Tibetan, Urdu and Afrikaans.
With the help of geolocation, they then plotted the 10 most frequently spoken languages to create the colorful and informative metropolis you see below (interactive version here):
AN : an interesting application …. how do we see cities ? Depending on what overlay of criteria , you might be quite surprised what you find.
via London’s Raucous Babble of Languages – Neighborhoods – The Atlantic Cities.
“Languages as diverse as English, Russian and Hindi can trace their roots back more than 8,000 years to Anatolia — now in modern-day Turkey. That’s the conclusion of a study1 that assessed 103 ancient and contemporary languages using a technique normally used to study the evolution and spread of disease. The researchers hope that their findings can settle a long-running debate about the origins of the Indo-European language group.”
AN : an innovative approach to determining liguistic roots….
via A Turkish origin for Indo-European languages : Nature News & Comment.
The big news in Quebec universities is not just about tuition fees. It’s also about top-notch research.
This month, ACFAS – l’Association francophone pour le savoir – held its 80th annual scientific congress in Montreal. One of the highlights was a symposium on bilingualism and multilingualism, which asked: ”What determines the capacity of humans to learn more than one language, and how does this affect brain development?
There was plenty of discussion and debate, especially between two eminent McGill University colleagues. Psychology professor Fred Genesee has spearheaded decades of research on language acquisition, and along the way has challenged several myths. He’s found that a child’s brain is not unilingual but rather bilingual, and thus fully wired to learn two languages at once, coherently and effectively, without confusion. Meanwhile, Karsten Steinhauer, the Canada Research Chair in Neurocognition of Language, has discovered lent his expertise in new technologies such as electroencephalography (yes, it’s a word!) to bust a few myths as well: namely, that only children have the capacity to learn a new language. It turns out that adult brains have similar capacities, but it’s the method of training – specifically, immersion – that determines success. Like riding a bike or playing tennis, practice makes perfect.
Beyond this, scientists have already figured out that bilingualism is actually good for the “little grey cells,” as the famously smart and bilingual Hercule Poirot would say. People who learn two languages tend to have “thicker” brains, which leads to more positive outcomes in healthy aging and cognitive functions. More recently, Canadian neurologists found groundbreaking evidence that bilingualism may even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
If bilingualism can improve our brains and keep us lucid longer, why haven’t we been able to harness that opportunity in an officially bilingual country? As English becomes the global language of the 21st century, people all over the world are rapidly becoming bilingual and, presumably, smarter and healthier, boosting their global comparative advantage. Why can’t Canadians do the same, learning both English and French as a matter of course and, at the same time, strengthening our national character?
This is not as much of a pipe dream as it sounds. The real reasons for our blockade against bilingualism in Canada have to do with institutional structures, cultural effects and political choices.
The institutional structures are obvious: Language education remains the purview of the provinces. The Constitution may set out guarantees for linguistic minorities, but the provinces call the tune in decisions about curriculum and funding. Even though second-language learning varies across and within provinces, the historical record is far from stellar. Still, even in the officially French province of Quebec, English is required as of the first grade in public schools, and many schools have opted to teach the sixth grade in English only. French immersion is one of the most popular alternatives for English-speaking parents. The most competitive public schools are the écoles internationales, where multilingual training is part of the curriculum.
But most Canadians live in a cultural space that remains resolutely unilingual, shaped by an Anglo-American view of language. The dominance of English in the United States has had a continental effect in Canada, leaving little room for the inclusion of other languages into mainstream learning.
And then there is the fear factor, reinforced by the way many politicians have made a bogeyman out of official bilingualism. We tend to treat language as a zero-sum game in Canada, as if encouraging French in Red Deer or English in Rimouski somehow diminishes the other. But what if we envision second-language acquisition for the benefits it provides rather than the fear it evokes? Science is now confirming that bilingualism can be good for us – so why not encourage a national strategy for language education? And while we’re at it, we may end up not just as healthier Canadians but with a healthier sense of Canada as well.”
via Learn French, Canada, it’s good for you – The Globe and Mail.
Thinking about thinking in another language….
“So how does French or Japanese or Spanish help? One would think that having to puzzle out a question in a foreign language would make people more likely to foul up the answer. Not so, say Keysar and his co-authors. Cognitive biases such as loss aversion are deeply emotional responses, and understanding a second language requires conscious thought in a way that processing our native tongue doesn’t. Because we have to think more to make sense of the question when it’s in a foreign language, we automatically think carefully about the answer—we don’t just answer based on our cognitive biases. “A foreign language is like a distancing mechanism,” says Keysar. “It’s almost like you’re a slightly different person. You’re removed from yourself.” Interestingly, other researchers have found that you can get a similar effect by writing a question not in a different language but just in a difficult-to-read font.”
via To Avoid Stupid Mistakes, Think in French – Businessweek.
“The potential for learning languages online is already vast: Wikiversity, a multilingual hub project of the Wikimedia Foundation, is building encyclopedic information in a variety of languages. Livemocha.com offers Gaelic (Irish or Scottish), among dozens of other languages. Babbel.com boasts more than a million users learning several languages, and has mobile apps to build vocabulary. And the ambitious Rosetta Project by the Long Now Foundation aims to document what it estimates as 7,000 languages currently in use, starting with 500.
But the opportunities are fewer for indigenous languages. While technology has the potential to help preserve indigenous languages and maintain indigenous communities, the National Science Foundation notes that globalization threatens to diminish the native languages and change the way indigenous people live and communicate.”
via LiveAndTell, A Crowdsourced Quest To Save Native American Languages | Fast Company.
“The dictionary was put together by studying texts written on clay and stone tablets uncovered in ancient Mesopotamia, which sat between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers – the heartland of which was in modern-day Iraq, and also included parts of Syria and Turkey.
And there were rich pickings for them to pore over, with 2,500 years worth of texts ranging from scientific, medical and legal documents, to love letters, epic literature and messages to the gods.
“It is a miraculous thing,” enthuses Dr Finkel.
“We can read the ancient words of poets, philosophers, magicians and astronomers as if they were writing to us in English.
“When they first started excavating Iraq in 1850, they found lots of inscriptions in the ground and on palace walls, but no-one could read a word of it because it was extinct,” he said.
But what is so striking according to the editor of the dictionary, Prof Martha Roth, is not the differences, but the similarities between then and now.”
via BBC News – Dictionary of dead language complete after 90 years.
History still has so much to tell us about humanity. Read in full….