Do Languages ‘Think’ Alike?

SCIENCE Very different languages seem to organize the world in surprisingly similar ways—scientists say the ways humans describe nature transcends culture and geography. (Quartz) How well do you know your own language? Play Word-O-Rama to find out! Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit. Discussion Ideas The Quartz video investigates polysemous words in different languages. What are polysemous … Continue reading Do Languages ‘Think’ Alike?

Wednesday Word of the Week: translate

translate (TRANZ-layt) verb. to turn written or spoken text into a different language. Sometimes, the most difficult words to translate aren’t the most arcane or obscure. Consider this evaluation by the peerless translator William Weaver, perhaps most famous for his translation of Umberto Eco: “Some of the hardest things to translate into English from Italian are not great big words, such as you find in … Continue reading Wednesday Word of the Week: translate

Enduring Voices

Enduring_voices_map
Did you know that the world loses a language every 14 days?
Just think of all the knowledge and cultural beauty that must be slipping away every
two weeks! To combat this devastating trend, the National Geographic Society,
in conjunction with the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, has
developed a project to document and preserve the world’s linguistic diversity.
The project, called Enduring
Voices
, travels to every corner of the globe, creating an enormous
database of endangered languages. They’ve even produced an interactive
map
,
accessible online, that shows global “hotspots” where languages
are most threatened of becoming extinct.

What’s the value of linguistic diversity, you ask? Wouldn’t
it be much more convenient, and perhaps even more peaceful, if everyone on the
planet spoke one, universal language? It turns out language and linguistic
diversity are important for several reasons. Language is used to construct and
create catalogues of knowledge about local history, culture, and environments.
Often times, specific knowledge and concepts cannot meaningfully be dissociated
from the host languages themselves, or simply translated into new languages.
Therefore, a lack of linguistic diversity can actually obstruct conceptual diversity. As a tool for
constructing knowledge, language also helps scientists learn about the
functioning of the human brain (humans, of course, are unique in their capacity
for language). Like many things, though, it is often only after a language is lost and forgotten that its true importance is
realized. Check out the Enduring
Voices
website to learn more about language and for a glossary of
linguistic terms.

Continue reading “Enduring Voices”

Are Languages Critical?

This weekend’s Washington Post had an interesting article about the growing emphasis on learning “critical languages” such as Chinese and Arabic. In it, the reporter writes: “Americans have awakened to a far more global playing field and the need for specialized languages, economists say.” Read the article: “With a Changing World Comes An Urgency to Learn Chinese”. How important do you think it is that … Continue reading Are Languages Critical?