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Language of the Day: Lushootseed

Skagit_ViHilbert03Let’s take a journey…

To a place where two boarders meet and where mountains ranges run high into sky covered in the dark lush green of pine and fir trees until the mountains reach the heights where white snows cap their tops like white toques.

Here on the western boarder of the United States and Canada where Washington State meets British Columbia is where we used to find the people who speak Lushootseed. The Lushootseed language and its brother Twana are a part of the Southern Coastal Salish subgroup of the Salishan family of languages. While the language used to be spoken by Puget region Sound peoples the language has entered the later stages of its life cycle.

The last time the language was researched was back in the 1990s and at that time the language had less than 60 speakers, most of whom were elders. But even though it is more than likely that the language has lost the last of its native speakers there was a major effort in the perseveration of the language. Today there are revitalization efforts in place to bring back the language, with many classes being offered to teach the language and an annual conference on the language held at Seattle University. There is also a website where you can download Lushootseed lesson books.

With so many groups coming together to make sure that the light never fades from the Lushootseed language it can safely be assumed that it will not be lost.

Thanks for joining us on this journey in language.

Language of the Day: Marangis

heroLet’s take a journey…

We find ourselves in a place whose shores are lapped by the waters of the Bismarck Sea and whose mountains stretch up into the clouds some of which have the potential to erupt shooting fire and ash into the sky. These volcanoes have created many interesting geologic features such as black sand beaches and crater lakes. The region also has a great many islands of various sizes freckling the waters of the Bismarck and rain forests.

This is the Madang Province of Papua New Guinea and it is where we find the speakers of the Marangis language. Marangis is a part of the Ramu family which has 30 members all of which are found in Papua New Guinea. While it is commonly known as Marangis it is sometimes called Watam. It is a language closely related to Bosmun because of its unusual plural markers.

While the language only boasts a population of speakers in the 600s it is doing quite well because of the devotion of its speakers to passing it on to their youth. The people themselves can be found in the mainland area of the Madang Province and also in a number of islands along the coast.

While there are many stories of languages dying out this is a joyful story of a people who are proud of their language and who have built a stable home for themselves and their language.

Thanks for joining us on this journey in language.

Language of the Day: El Molo

tumblr_mxccfn4up51qdjbb7o1_1280Let’s take a journey into Africa and through the Eastern Province of Kenya.

In the arid air of the region we find the Chalbi Desert nestled next to Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world. Located in the province is also the river Ewaso Ng’iro and Mount Kenya, whose heights stretch 5200 meters in the sky, making it taller than any other geographic feature in Kenya and granting it the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hidden within the northern portion of the Eastern Province’s Lake Turkana is what remains of the speakers of the El Molo language. The language itself is routed in the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. Today, However, there is little documentation and data currently available on the number of speakers remaining. What is known is that the language is on the verge of extinction if it has not already become extinct.

As the years progressed the El Molo tribes within the area have moved around eventually joining other tribes such as the Nilotic who speak one of the Nilo-Saharan languages and also have different customs. These amalgamations have caused not only the loss of much of the El Molo language but also of the cultural customs as the El Molo people have adopted the customs of the Nilotic people or whatever other tribe they join with rather than maintain their own.

While this has painted a bleak picture for the El Molo people and there way of life there is still many historical sites which have been preserved to remember a way of life that may soon no longer exist. It may not be the same as the real thing but it is far better than the alternative which is the fate that many other languages have found. And for the optimistic out there, with little documentation on the current standing of the language comes hope that out there may be tribes of speakers of the language still thriving and on their own. There is always hope even if it is only a sliver.

Thank you for joining us on this journey in languages.

How Many Words Do You Know?

wordsThere is an old adage that says, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. The saying means that the older you get the less you are able to learn and yet it could not be further from the truth.

From the moment we are born we are learning and taking in information. Right now, in this very second while you are reading these words you are taking in new information and (hopefully) learning something new. This does not depend on your age or any other factor, the only determinant is that you are reading and using your mental lexicon which is like your personal dictionary to put meaning to each word and sentence.

Sometimes when reading you may come across words such as anathema (a cursed, detested person) or harangue (a ranting speech) which you have never come across before. These words are meaningless until you look them up and save the word’s meaning, what it sounds like and how it is spelled. This is the information that is stored in your mental lexicon.

But how many words do we actually have situated within our mental lexicon ready for use in talking with someone or when writing?

According to the Economist, who took aggregate data from a vocabulary testing website, most adult native English speakers have a mental vocabulary of twenty to thirty-five thousand words. At the age of eight it is estimated that we have a vocabulary of ten thousand words while at age four we already know four thousand words. For non-native speakers the average vocabulary is around four thousand five hundred words unless they live abroad in an English speaking country then that number increases to ten thousand.

Although these numbers pale In comparison to Shakespeare as he used more than thirty thousand different words in his written works and is estimated to have had a working knowledge of around sixty-six thousand words. More than two times that of the average native English speaker.

With those averages in mind it is astounding that there are more than five hundred thousand words in a standard English dictionary with a further one million words floating around the English language that are undocumented but in use. It would require nineteen people with vocabularies that have no overlap to complete an English dictionary and you would have to add another thirty-eight people to complete the entire language. Simply put there are a lot of English words.

Given that, how many words do we use day-to-day?

There are two answers to this question. First, how many total words are spoken and second, how many unique words are spoken.

To answer the first part of the question (how many total words are spoken) we look to the results of a recent study which found that on average people speak just over sixteen thousand words in any given day. That is just shy of seven hundred words per hour and just over eleven words a minute. But that is based on being awake for twenty-four hours. If we were to take off eight hours for sleep those numbers jump to a thousand words per hour and seventeen words per minute.

Now onto the second part of the question (how many unique words are spoken).  We now turn to a book entitled ‘The Reading Teachers Book of Lists’ which stated that around three thousand is the number of unique words we use on the average day. If we do some math what we find is that we only use eleven percent of our active vocabulary in each day. Most of the words that we know lay unused just awaiting their moment to shine.

Despite the fact that we are fast talkers, given that we use seventeen words per minute while awake, in a lot of our days we do not actually use that many different words. Only nineteen percent of the words we speak are previously unused words from that day while the other eighty-one percent are a repetition of previously used words.

What then is the purpose of all those other words filling up your mental dictionary?

While you may not personally say them or write them down you may need them to read an article or a book or understand something that someone else is saying. Or maybe this is just a sign that we all need to be more colourful in our language and try to spice up our conversations with words like anathema or harangue. With a plethora of delightful words to select from the question shouldn’t be why but why not.

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post and visit us every Wednesday for a new post.

Want to test the vastness of your mental lexicon? Check out this site http://testyourvocab.com/ and then let us know your score in the comment section below.

Language of the Day: Yupik, Naukan

Archangel_reindeer3If you were to go to the most northeastern point of Asia you would have to venture up into northern Russia where the Chukchi Sea lays to the north, the Bearing Sea to the south and the Bearing Straight would lay in the east. You would find yourself in the Chukchi Peninsula and it is here that we find the speakers of the Yupik, Naukan language.

Spoken by nearly 500 people this language finds itself on the verge of extinction. Currently the language is spoken by people above the age of 40 and is not spoken by the youth of the people.

The language itself is one of four languages that are part of the Yupik language grouping with the others being Central Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Alutiiq, and Sirenik. The people who speak the language are indigenous people of Siberia who have resided in the Chukchi Peninsula for nearly 2000 years.

Language of the Day: Pitjantjatjara

Carclew group shot_MEDPitjantjatjara is a dialect of the Western Desert Language found in the Central Desert region of Australia. The Western Desert Language itself is comprised of a variety of distinct dialects many of which are viewed as separate languages because of the vast differences that exist between the many dialects. The closest dialects to Pitjantjatjara are either the Yankunytjatjara dialect or the Ngaanyatjarra dialect.

The Western Desert language grouping became so diverse because of the large expanse of desert which the people populate. The groups who speak one of the many dialects would have done so without much of any contact with other tribes allowing the many dialects to grow and flourish. This lack of influence from one dialect to the next resulted in what can be seen in the area now; many unique dialects that are unintelligible from one another.

Today Pitjantjatjara is spoken by nearly 4000 people spread across the north-western area of the Central Desert. These people are broken into small groups most of whom are monolingual. While the people have given up their nomadic hunter and gather lifestyle they have retained their language and their culture.

A Pill to Learn a Language

Person Taking a Pill

How do you learn new things?

If you were to try and learn something new, let’s say a language how would you go about doing so? You could read a book or listen to people speak the language or you could formulate any number of other learning strategies. But at the end of the day you may not learn that language unless you are learning it in a style that best suits you.

People learn things differently and these different learning styles can be broken into 7 different groupings which describe your individual optimal learning situation. Listed below are the seven styles.

The Seven Learning Styles:

  1. Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  2. Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  3. Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  4. Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  5. Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  6. Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  7. Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

Try and think about which one you are and maybe it will help you to create a strategy that fits your learning style the next time you want to learn something new.

But will learning always require the use of these seven groupings or will there be a new way to learn things?

In a recent Ted Talk, the founder of the MIT Media Lab Nicholas Negroponte discussed his personal journey in science and technology and how over the years he has made predictions as to what the future may hold in store for us in terms of technological advances. Almost all of which have come to fruition. During the talk he came to the thought provoking realization that he has lived in the future. He has seen things advance to new points that were unheard of a decade earlier and only a dream in the minds of many.

Unlike one of those raving people on the street with a billboard yelling at people passing by with the prediction of the coming end of days, Negroponte has used his extensive understanding of human development and technology to accurately predict technological breakthroughs. From the boom of touch screens and e-commerce to Google Maps and many others, he foresaw these things taking shape before they became a reality.

But at the end of his speech when asked what his current prediction for the future is, Nicholas Negroponte had this to say:

“My prediction is that we’ll be able to ingest information. You’re going to swallow a pill and know English. You’re going to swallow a pill and know Shakespeare.” He then continued on to describe how it would work, “And the way to do it is through the bloodstream. So once it’s in your bloodstream, it basically goes through and gets into the brain…and the different pieces get deposited in the right places.”

Well that would make life a very different place now wouldn’t it? Whenever you want to learn something new or have the need for new knowledge you just pop a pill and the information is there in your brain ready for you to talk about. No more trivia night or Trivial Pursuit.

But is this possible? As accurate as Nicholas Negroponte’s predictions have been in the past is this one a little too farfetched?

It actually may not be as farfetched as you may initially think.

In the journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience a study was published by a team of researchers that hinted at the early possibilities of such a pill. While this pill did not allow for people to learn a specific skill it did allow for people who took the pill to learn more effectively by reverting parts of the brain back to when it a more elastic state such as when we were children.

As children we all could learn things rapidly and could pick up new languages and other massive undertakings without much consideration or effort because our brains were like sponges. We could take in information and process it and our brain would digest it all and organize it so it could be used. This is one of the reasons why many parents try to teach toddlers how to speak a second language.

The pill effectively allowed the brain to take on this sponge like nature which allows for better learning. But do not get too excited yet as these pills as of now are used for the treatment of behavioural issues and have just recently been discovered to have this side effect. It could be a while before a pill that safety increases learning capabilities is on the market and available to the public.

But even after such a pill is on the market it is still not what Negroponte has suggested will take shape in terms of pills allowing for a transference of a specific set of knowledge or skill. So how would it actually work then?

The answer is nanobots.

Nanorobitcs is a technology field that has emerged over the past dozen years with the emergence of new technologies that allow us to operate with smaller and more powerful computers. The field revolves are around the usage of tiny robots that are about the size of a nanometer, hence the name. But these robots are not the only scientific advancement that would be necessary in order for this to work because not only would we need to have the nanobots enter our brain through the blood stream they also need to know where to go and how to input the information that you ingested in order for it to be usable.

That is where psychology and neuroscience will come into play. What these fields will do is allow us to better understand the brain and human consciousness. We are already learning amazing things about the brain each day. With scientists dedicated to better understanding our brains and what makes us tick it is just a matter of time before we know the things necessary to reverse engineer the brain or in this case, learn a new language by taking a pill.

What we will need to see in order for this to become a reality is these two fields blending together and using the understandings of one and the advancements of the other to create little robots that go into our brains and have the wherewithal to go into the right places in our brains and deposit the information that we had ingested.

As you may guess, this is no simple task, but with all that Negroponte has gotten right in the past how much should we doubt his prediction?

What do you think about Nicholas Negroponte’s prediction? And what would you learn first if such a pill was on the market today? Please let us know in box below.

And once again, thanks for reading.

The Future of the English Language

future-city_1819612b-460x288It is a bright and sunny day as you ride the hover train to the space elevator which shoots up into the sky like something out of Jack and the Giant Beanstalk. Resting at the top is a space station which funnels the space ships that are constantly arriving and departing. The ships can come from any number of human colonize that have been set up on other planets or they could be returning from an exploration mission some from far off galaxy. As you take the space elevator up into the sky you see the massive super cities that cover earth’s surface, their giant buildings loom into the sky and make the cities seem closer than they actually are. But, you quickly lose sight of the cities as you pass through a layer of clouds and start to enter space. Normally there would be a loss of gravity at this point but with the artificial gravity machines almost anywhere can simulate the gravity of earth. The elevator slows to a halt and the artificial intelligence beams up from a side dock  and tells you that you have arrived and that you are to head to hanger 8 for your deep space mission.

It is the year 2114.  And you are on your way to an adventure.

Like the little story above and the tons of other science fiction stories that populate book stores there have been a great many ideas as to what the world will look like in 100 years. We could very well be living on other planets or have come into contact with alien life. Something that seems impossible today may be taken for granted in future days in the same way we take the technological inventions like the internet for granted.

Back in the year 1870 a novel was released by a French author named Jules Verne, the title “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. The book was about people aboard a craft which could go underwater for extended periods of time allowing for deep sea adventures.  “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” was known as a Science Fiction novel when it first was released but now it looks more like an adventure story because engine driven submarines have been around for over a 100 years and are no longer a thing of the imagination.

When the Jules Verne classic was first translated over to English it was wrought with mistakes and errors. But, this version stood as the standard English edition for almost 100 years before it was finally fixed in the 1960s to better represent the original and to also update the English language.

While the original English edition did need fixing because of the translation errors (one reason why getting a certified translator is important) it was essential to update the English language that was used because the language had changed so much in a 100 years. So this begs the question, what will the English language look like in 100 years?

In 100 years from now when we are driving our hover cars or having them drive themselves (thank you Google) will be speaking the same English we speak today or will it sound like gibberish in the way that old English sounds to us today? The obvious answer is that it will not be the same language we know today, but let’s go further.

The American author Mark Twain had his own answer to our question In “A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling”

“For example, in Year 1 that useless letter “c” would be dropped to be replased either by “k” or “s”, and likewise “x” would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which “c” would be retained would be the “ch” formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform “w” spelling, so that “which” and “one” would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish “y” replasing it with “i” and Iear 4 might fiks the “g/j” anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez “c”, “y” and “x” — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu riplais “ch”, “sh”, and “th” rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.”

While his prediction is interesting it is more on the humorous side then on the possible forecast side. This is because the way the English language will change is not necessarily related to the way it is currently structured but rather who will speak it.

Since 2010 the number of native English speakers has been the minority of English speakers in the world with the majority of people speaking English know it as a second language. This trend of people learning English as a second language will continue as countries start implementing English classes at a younger and young age which they are already doing in many countries. This will have such a profound impact that experts estimate that by 2020 roughly 15% of the people who speak English will call it their native tongue.

With the emergence of English as the world’s second language what we will start to see is new English dialects popping up that reflect the native language of the speakers. The language will then diverge from having one set of grammatical rules to having a number of different rules and as this continues the language will start to separate into multiple different languages, which are incomprehensible from one another.

So when we reach the future of space elevators and flying cars the question should not be what will the English language look like but rather how many different languages will it become and what will they all look and sound like. But that is something that is almost impossible to answer because of the crowed sourced nature of the language. Every 98 minutes a new English word is invented and with it adapting to its new surroundings it is almost a certainty that if  we were to talk to someone from the future we would have a hard time understanding one another.

But in that lays the beauty of human language. It grows and adapts as the people who speak it change. It takes on a history of its own and represents not only just symbols or words but a people and their cultural journey.

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post and visit us every Wednesday for a new post.

Do We Think in Words?

Molecular ThoughtsIn the known universe it is estimated that there are around a septillion stars which in numerical form looks like this: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 and if we cut that number in half then we get the number of connections in our brain. Yes that is a lot of connections. The Human Brain is a mighty almost magic like piece of equipment that weighs in at around 3 pounds and is lit up with around 100 billion neurons. It takes a measly 12 watts to run the brain, a fifth of the power that is needed in order to run a standard lightbulb.

It is incredible efficient and incredible complex.

The brain is the source of our thoughts and it operates our whole body safety from within the confines of our skull. It is pulsing with activity because of the massive amount of processes that it undertakes on a second by second basis such as creating emotional responses to things we encounter while also allowing us to think about what we are going to make our family for dinner.

Although there is so much the brain is doing much of what it does is done under the radar and without our having to actively think about it, for example keeping our heart beating and our eyes blinking. We do not think about doing those things they are just done for us.

But there are still lots of things that we do actively think about and conceptualize throughout the day as we interact with the world around us. On average we have about 60,000 thoughts per day. Some thoughts are large while others are dismissed almost immediately.  But for all of these thoughts entering our mind are we thinking them in words and language?

Take a second to think about something. It can be any kind of thought. Now when you are thinking what do the thoughts seem to be within your mind? Are they words and language or something else? You probably would think words because that is how they appear to be within our minds, but when it comes to our thoughts we are actually thinking in ideas and meanings also called semantics. Semantics are the relationship between symbols and their intended meaning, in this case the words and their meaning.

But how do we know we don’t think in words?

If you think about a baby or another non-language creature like animals they both have higher thought and can perform tasks but neither has language at its disposal so they cannot be thinking in words. Their thoughts would be ideas which are not represented by words like ours because they do not have that faculty.

This can also go further by looking at the origins of language. Language itself has not always been in existence but was rather made and designed in order to facilitate communicate and interaction. Therefore, our long lost brethren would have needed thought processing separate from language in order to create and build a language from the ground up like they did.

From the moment we wake to the moment we sleep and everywhere in between our brains are putting on a light show with all the neurons and synapses firing away in the different parts of our brains. We are always thinking but not in words or in language but in ideas and semantics. These ideas help us do incredible things like imagine and then build what we imagine into reality. The brain is a magic and somewhat mysterious place but now we know a little more about it.

Thanks for reading this week’s post! What do you think is the most amazing fact about the brain? If you have any other comments or ideas for future topics please comment in the box below.

The Origin of Language: One or Many?

Visionary-Origin-of-LanguagTokyo, Japan is the largest city in the world boasting a population of 37 million. Just taking a look at pictures of the mega city is overwhelming. With its massive sky scrapers, intertwined highways and all the city lights that make it visible from space it’s a wonder in human growth and invention. It really shows you how far we have come.

If you walk through the streets of one of these mega cities or any city for that matter you will see and hear many different things. But one thing remains constant among all the world’s cities no matter which culture you are a part of or place you reside.

Language.

You can hear it in the mouths of the citizens or blaring out of radio on a passing car. You can see it on billboards, t-shirts and pieces of newspaper which have been taken on a ride via the wind. It is everywhere and it comes in so many different forms.

There are so many different languages that are spread throughout the world and all of them have their own unique attributes that make them different. Some languages are verbal, others are written and some are just gestures made with the hands and arms.

Where did all these languages come from?

Is the origin of languages similar to a lone tree where they all started from a single source and moved up towards the sky where they branched off in multitude, forming branches off of branches with some branches dying off from not enough nutrients while others flourished? More commonly called monogenesis.

Or was it more like multiple trees that sprouted up close to one another and as they grew, branches on one tree would affect another while others remained distant and distinct? Or called polygenesis.

Before we go right to the answer we need to understand language change which can be explained with the children’s game called telephone.

the game works like this: A number of children sit around a circle and one of them decides on a message which is relatively long. The child then whispers their message into the ear of the person on their left who in turn whispers the message to the person on their left, and so on. The message is passed from one person to the next until the message comes back to where it started and is then said out loud followed by the original message. Normally the message has become distorted and holds little resemblance to its original meaning.

Now imagine that each child sitting around the circle is a generation and the message is their language. It is spoken and taught from one generation to the next but with each new generation it changes and evolves. With each passing generation the language becomes more obscure from what originally was.

It’s time to go back, all the way to the start where languages are thought to have been conceived. The theories for where languages started are broken into five different theories with some being more legitimate then others. The Yo-He-Ho Theory states that our first words were created as a result from the sounds we make performing heavy physical labor. From the moo of the cow to the splash of water the Bow-Wow theory suggests that originally language began with people imitating the sounds they heard from beats and birds. If you ever hurt yourself you know the “Ouch!” sound, the Pooh-Pooh theory says that our first words started as the responses to pain and other emotions. You can tell from the name of the La-La theory that is proposes that we were singing creatures and so our words reflected that nature. The Ding-Dong Theory states that all things have a unique natural quality and that is where human words were developed.

But we have a problem, because the previous theories and all theories related to what happened after language was first conceived are undocumented territory with little or no evidence to support any theories. While these theories seem to be good explanations for the origin of languages there is not enough evidence to prove much of anything near the beginning of language so they remain theories and little else.

We are stuck in the unknown.

But not all is lost. In recent years academics from many different disciplines are coming together to answer this question. Maybe we will see an answer in the next couple years or maybe we won’t. But, what is guaranteed is that once we get an answer it will give incredible insight into human development and evolution.

Thanks for reading this week’s post. What do you think about the origin of human language? Do you think it came from one source or many different sources? Let us know in the comments below.

Language and its Effect on Decision Making

morals-and-ethics

Now it’s time to think, well at least a little.

There is a runaway train barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The train is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the train will switch to a different set of tracks. Unfortunately, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You cannot cause the train to derail or stop. You have two options:

(1)   Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.

(2)   Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Now before you start getting too deep into your inner thoughts (whether they are brooding, lackadaisical, or as empty as a desert with only a single tumbleweed floating on by) hold on a second.

We have all heard these weighty moral questions at some point in time. Whether it’s the one above known as the Train Problem or the many others that can be asked they all make you decide which choice is the best, if there is one. Sometimes the questions change in order to make them harder like replacing the single person on the track with a loved one.

Makes it harder to answer doesn’t it?

But now lets say you speak two languages and are asked the same question but in both languages. Would you respond in a different way based off of the language which you are asked?

Our days and lives are filled with decisions. Some are more substantial than others requiring more thought while other decisions are simple and require no thought at all. When we are making decisions that require more thought because of the gravity of the choice we turn to two major factors: intuitive processes and rational processes. Intuitive processes are spontaneous and emotionally based while rational processes are based off of conscious thought of potential outcomes.

So how does language play into this if it plays in it all?

When someone has to make a decision in their own language they can make a more immediate decision and can incorporate both aspects of decision making more evenly into their choice. But when someone is making a decision in their second or third language they have to translate the question in their mind in order to formulate a response. The more time spent processing the question the more the rational part of the decision making process can take hold and shape the response. Therefore if you are asked in your foreign tongue you are going to be more rational in your response then you would be when answering in your native language.

Not only are you going to be more rational if you are asked in your foreign tongue you are going to be more utilitarian (the ends justify the means) in your response as well. With the time your mind spends converting the thought into words and then into the the new language you are changing how you feel about the answer and will think with less emotion and will act in a more utilitarian way rather than deontologically (do what is right, though the world should perish). As you can tell both effects are created through similar means; more thought processing.

But there is an exception. Depending on the age at which you learn your second language will play into how much the rational and utilitarian part will play in the decision. When children learn languages at early ages they incorporate more of the language into their intuitive structure. This means that they will think more evenly with both sides of the decision making forces as both languages take on a similar role as a native language.

Now let’s go back to the Train Problem. You can tell quite easily that language can play a role in decision making. And while very few people have to deal with life and death decision making scenarios in their day to day life there are many other big choices that people have to make throughout their lives. Think about two people trying to make a business deal. If they are discussing in both of their native languages the result could end up being quite different then if one person was speaking in their second language and the other in their native tongue.

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post. If you have any comments or questions you can put them in the comment box below.

The Global Sport

World Cup Logo

When tomorrow comes the biggest sporting event in the world will begin in Brazil. The FIFA World Cup brings the best soccer (football) players in the world together to represent their country and their home. Players that normally play apart will cast aside their club team colours for ones with their home country’s colours and will stand together.

This is one of those times when people wear their country’s colours with pride and are brought together for the love of their country more than ever. People will stand shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm all hoping and praying for their team to come out on top at the end of 90 minutes. The streets will be crowded and so will all the local places with a television. It will be a rush of emotions.

The World cup happens every four years and has been going on since 1930. It brings teams from 31 nations together in a competition for the World Cup and it is watched by a billion people from Botswana to Vanuatu.

But how many languages is it broadcast in?

If we take a look at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Media Rights Licensees we can see that there are 220 countries which have broadcasting rights and of those countries there is 53 in Africa, 57 in the Americas, 44 in Asia, 57 in Europe and 18 in Oceania. Throughout these countries there are many that share the same language and others which have multiple languages. All in all there are an estimated 150 languages represented when the World Cup hits the TV screens of the world.

With “he scores”, “goal”, these or some other variation being called in so many languages it cannot be questioned that soccer, sorry, football is the sport of the world.

What do you think about the World Cup? And do you have any other great goal calls? Let us know in the comments below.

The Loss of World Languages

tumblr_m66enubXzC1rqyge3A couple of weeks ago we posted an article about two men who were reunited after a long time apart and in the process they saved their native language, Ayapaneco. Cue the Peaches and Herb song “Reunited and It Feels so Good“. These two men refused to speak to one another for many years over a disagreement over the language and because of that their beloved language almost died out. But now it’s saved, being recorded and documented.

It’s a beautiful story where friendship prevails and it saves a dying language. But did you know that on average every 14 days a language becomes extinct?

Languages vanish for many reasons. There is language shift, which is when the speakers of a language switch over to a new language and stop teaching their original language. And then there is language death. This is when all the speakers of a language die out without the language being recorded or ever taught to the younger generations.

Because of these 231 known languages have become extinct and 2400 languages are in danger of becoming extinct. And that’s a lot. Remember that there are only an estimated 7000 languages in the world. So, if we do some math, 34% of the world’s languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

To better understand what that 34% looks like let’s look at it relative to the world population.

If we take the current world’s population and how it’s distributed throughout the world (http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/world_population.htm) the languages that are on the verge of extinction would cover all of Africa, the Americas, and half of Europe. That covers most of the populated landmass on earth.

Language extinction isn’t slowing down either. It is estimated that by the year 2100 half of the currently spoken world languages will no longer exist while remaining undocumented (http://mises.org/daily/5846/why-do-languages-die).

Now you’re probably at the stage where you are wondering what is being done to prevent this. For one there are groups like the Rosetta Project and Endangered Languages Project which are trying to do their part to record these languages before they cease to exist. But there are also the many people looking to save languages by themselves and the language speakers themselves.

The definition of a language is “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.” But it does little justice to describe what a language means to the people who speak it. A language is the very soul of the people who speak it today and all of those who have gone before, it represents the life of the people just as much as the music they make or the art they leave behind.

Languages are the very essence of a people and they should be saved.

The Language of Colours

LargeColourEyeAs you walk out into a sunny summer day and take a look around at your surroundings you notice only a couple white puffy clouds plodding along the deep blue sky up above. The bright yellow sun warms your skin and lights up all the life that is around you. From the green of leaves on the trees and the grasses to the many polka dots of colours that fill up the gardens up ahead it seems that there are all the colours of the rainbow in your sights. There are the red roses and many coloured tulips, the blue forget-me-nots and the purple of the lavender. So many colours flooding in through your eyes there are even irises that match yours in colour.

The eye is a magnificent thing.

The eye itself is comprised of a many different parts that all work in conjunction to allow us to see the world. It is the most complex part of the human body and many would argue the most beautiful. And poets have described the eyes as a gateway to the soul. The different parts of the eye allow light in and allow us to perceive objects in our environment. With that perception we can determine the objects colour, distance, size and other differentiating details. After light has entered the eye and it has been processed into an image the mind uses that information to base actions and thoughts.

But did you know that the language you speak effects how you see colours?

In a journal titled; “Language, Learning, and Color Perception” by Emre Özgen the argument is made that language plays a role in colour perception and differentiation.

Colours themselves are processed categorically when they make their way through the mind and these categories are partially determined by the languages we speak. Some languages for example Russian and Greek have two colours for blue. They differentiate between light and dark blue and therefore perceive them as different. While on the other hand the Maldivian language has only one word for both green and blue meaning that they perceive the two colours as different forms of the same thing.

These colour names not only occur in the words in the language itself but also in the mental categories themselves. These categories effect our perceptions of colours. So when you step out into a sunny summer day like the one described think about all the colours that you see and try to imagine what someone else may see if they saw the same thing.

If you want to check out colour names in other languages click here: http://www.omniglot.com/language/colours/multilingual.htm

Vying for the Language Throne

If you are planning on doing business in some other country or just planning on some travelling and you can speak English you can be confident that there will be someone who understands the language. This is because English is the global language.

But will it always remain this way or will some other language take hold of the throne?

Before we look ahead at the potential new world language let’s first look back at how English got to occupy the throne.

There are a couple reasons why English became the world leader and most have to do with being in the right place at the right time. But the main reason has to do with the empires that spoke the language throughout history. Up until the 1920’s the British Empire was the largest empire in history and they pushed the English language as a way of assimilating their colonies into the British Commonwealth. As they took over more and more territory they taught people how to speak the language and this was later snowballed with the emergence of the United States as a world power. Over the next many years the United States grew to become the world’s financial powerhouse. This happened at a time when the world’s economies were becoming intertwined and globalization was starting to take the world by storm. Hence, right place right time.

In the end this resulted in what we have today; around a billion people who speak English in over a hundred countries. But even with all that, English is not the world’s largest language.  That honour goes to Chinese and the many dialects that comprise the language. While Chinese is not the global language does this mean that it may take over control as the world’s global language?

Probably not. The Chinese language, unlike the English language is made up of many different dialects that are more often than not referred to as different languages. But if we look strictly at the largest dialect, Mandarin the issue with this language is that it is not as widespread throughout the world as that of English. It is very centralized within its own base. But with the growth of the Chinese economy this could change

So what else is there?

French has some potential. In a study by Natixis it was shown that we may see a resurgence in the French language and that it may even retake the global language throne which it used to sit upon. The argument for this is that since French has found a home in many countries which are the fastest growing economies such as the many counties in sub-Saharan Africa when their economies grow the French language will also grow. Although the language will be growing in terms of total speakers it is unlikely that it will spread as far as the English language because of the strength of the many other languages that already have a large base throughout the world.

So nothing will change then?

While there are many other languages that could become the next global language it still seems that English is in pretty good standing. With many other countries starting to teach English at a younger age and pushing it as a second language it does not seem like it is going anywhere. But with all the factors that go into making a language go global, it is all speculation as to what language will hold the throne in the future. Maybe we will see a new language come into play that does not exist right now or maybe it will be some obscure language.

What do you think the language of the future will be?

The Ever Changing Face of Language

Let me set the scene for you:

Some people are going out on the town for a night and they are all ready to head out when one person says, “Hold on, let me take a selfie for Facebook real quick.” Now in today’s world that statement would not be viewed as odd or out of place at all. But, if we reverse the clock 14 years ago the same friends would respond not with words but a look that expresses utter confusion. This is because 14 years ago neither the word selfie nor Facebook existed.
If we take a quick look at the language we speak today we would quickly realize that the language that we speak has evolved to become something different then its former self. In a way it has become a new language within itself. The question is why?

The first and most obvious answer would be technology. As we have developed new technologies to meet the demands of the ever growing world population we have had to develop new words to express what the technology is. In some situations like the internet a snowball effect exists where one invention creates a landslide of new words that people have to incorporate into their word database which in turn creates other words.

Not only has technology added new words to our language but it has also changed what some words mean as discussed in a short article called, Has technology evolved our language beyond recognition?

Now what else affects our language? If we take a look at some new words that have been added to the dictionary you will see a lot of new words from a couple of distinct areas, technology (Which we have already discussed), modern culture, and social media

Although there are three supposed areas that represent the roots of the change in language they all fit together. Social media is the tie that brings both sides together. While there are names for technology and names for new cultural developments or shifts in colloquialisms, social media is a combination of the two and is the cause of such words as selfie and tweet. Words from social media come from the cultural application of new technologies.

So keep taking your selfies with your Galaxy or iPhone because the languages that we speak will continue to evolve as long as we keep developing new technologies and have cultures which change and adapt to the technologies.

Simultaneous Interpreting takes a Giant Leap Forward

Simultaneous interpreting involves converting your message into a different language in real-time. A team of interpreters, in special sound booths, hear you speak through headphones and immediately deliver your words in another language to audience members with headsets. This allows you to speak freely and at a natural pace.

Essentially, the process works like this. The speaker will get a few words into his sentence and then the interpreter will start interpreting with a small lag. As the speaker orates, the interpreter listens and speaks at the same time, converting one language into the other. After examining the rising costs of simultaneous interpreting equipment, we figured there had to be a better way to provide the service while making it affordable for even the smallest conferences. From these discussions, we realized that we could forgo all of the expensive equipment while maintaining the exact same quality as onsite simultaneous interpreting. From the ground up, we developed simultaneous remote interpreting.

We launched simultaneous remote interpreting over the last quarter with great success. The service uses a proprietary system to send and receive voice data with no delay. Additionally, unlike other internet communication software, our product is full-duplex allowing simultaneous listening and speaking without a reduction in sound fidelity or frequency response. This allows us to conduct simultaneous interpreting over great distances. Simply put, you no longer need to budget for interpreter sound booths, equipment, or pay travel costs to have interpreters at your event. The interpreting is done remotely and relayed back to the event with no loss of quality or accuracy.

The major benefit of the product pertains to accessibility matters. We believe that all stakeholders should be fully-engaged in their first-language. The cost of simultaneous interpreting was a major barrier to open communication, especially for smaller organizations. Now, smaller conference-type events can be open to people of all languages.

Language Extinction in the 21st Century

Believe it or not, we lose languages. I know, I know. It is hard to believe. How could it be possible that there might only be one person left in the entire world that speaks a specific language and they, well, ya know. That language is lost forever. If we are lucky, and we often aren’t, that language has been preserved somehow, either through text or audio recording. But usually, those languages vanish into obscurity, never to be heard again.

If you really think about it, the loss of languages seems like a fairly obvious occurrence. Before mass immigration and emigration, it would be less likely that a language could spread from one region to another. A declining village may not be able to pass on that language quickly enough to maintain it. But what if I told you, we lost a language in the year 2000. Surprised? How about if I told you we lost a language this year (2013)? That’s right. Even with globalization, languages are going extinct.
Since the year 2000, we’ve lost many languages, each with an important history. I want to share three of those histories with you today.

(In chronological order)

Sowa (2000)

Sowa was a language spoken by a village on the Pentecost Island in Vanuatu, a small nation in the South Pacific Ocean. During colonization, a mass displacement of people took place. Diverse groups homogenized and by the 1960s, the language was already beginning to disappear and by the year 2000, the language was extinct.

But, there is good news. Stories were compiled in the original Sowa language in hopes of capturing the history of the language. Additionally, researchers that studied the language had written large vocabulary lists that are now being used in an attempt to reconstruct the language.

Eyak (2008)

Eyak is an extinct Na-Dené language historically spoken by the Eyak people, indigenous to south-central Alaska, near the mouth of the Copper River.
Although the extinction itself is an interesting story involving migration and the merging of culture, it is what happened after the extinction that is the real story. You see, the language went extinct…or so we thought.

In 2010, the Anchorage Daily News, an Alaskan publication, ran a story about a French student (France French, not Canadian French) who had learned Eyak through materials he had compiled including print and audio instructional material. He had never visited Alaska nor had he had any contact with native Eyak speakers. Nevertheless, he learned the language and is now considered a fluent speaker, translator, and educator of the Eyak language.

Livonian (2013)

Livonian, a language spoken by a small population in Latvia, became extinct this year. There has been a massive push to resurrect the language but because Livonians are a small minority it Latvia, the opportunities to speak it are extremely limited. That being said, the language is still being advanced, mostly by a young group of Livonians that started the Livonian Cultural Centre. Additionally, the language is still taught to students in universities in Latvia, Estonia, and Finland giving rise to a growing population of second-language speakers.

25 Facts You Didn’t Know About the English Language

1. TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.


2. “Go.” is the shortest complete sentence in the English language.


3. The sentence “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” uses every letter in the English language.


4. The word racecar and kayak are the same whether they are read left to right or right to left.


5. The longest word in the English language is 1909 letters long and it refers to a distinct part of DNA.


6. The longest one-syllable word in the English language is “screeched.”


7. No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver or purple.


8. “Dreamt” is the only English word that ends in the letters “mt”.



9. “Stewardesses” is the longest word that is typed with only the left hand.


10. The “sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick” is said to be the toughest tongue twister in the English language.


11. The plastic things on the end of shoelaces are called aglets.


12. The symbol on the “pound” key (#) is called an octothorpe.


13. The word “set” has more definitions than any other word in the English language.


14. The longest place-name still in use is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwe-nuakit natahu, a New Zealand hill.


15. The only 15 letter word that can be spelled without repeating a letter is uncopyrightable.


16. Facetious and abstemious contain all the vowels in the correct order, as does arsenious, meaning “containing arsenic.”


18. Skepticisms is the longest word that alternates hands when typing.


19. “The” is the most frequently used word in the English language (used three times in this sentence alone).


20. There are six words in the English language with the letter combination “uu.” Muumuu, vacuum, continuum, duumvirate, duumvir and residuum.


21. “Rhythms” is the longest English word without vowels.


22. “Queueing” is the only word with five consecutive vowels.


23. “W” is the only letter in the alphabet that does not have one syllable. It has three!


24. “Deeded” is the only word that is made using only two different letters, each used three times.


25. The only words with three consecutive double letters are “bookkeeping” and “bookkeeper”.

Happy Translation Day!

International Translation Day

Translators perform an amazing feat. Every day, talented individuals are using an immense amount of brain power to craft our messages in a way that lets the world read it. Having worked alongside translators for some time now, I get the privilege of watching this transformation of words take place. It is truly remarkable.

On September 30th, we celebrate International Translation Day. It is one day, and they deserve many, where we can say “Thank You” for helping us overcome communication barriers.

Why September 30th?

International Translation Day is celebrated on September 30th because that is the feast day of St. Jerome. St. Jerome, born in 347, was a religious scholar who provided one of the original translations of the bible. He is the patron Saint of translators so it only makes sense to celebrate translators on this day.

What Makes Translators so Special?

Translators take text written in one language (the source language) and transform it into a second language (the target language). This isn’t a simple matter of knowing two languages. Translators are experts in two or more languages. There is a rule known as the 10 000 rule which states that to master something you need to spend 10 000 hours doing that activity. But for translators, they spend a lifetime perfecting their craft. They are life-long learners.

Beyond knowing two languages, translators are often technology experts. They use sophisticated language tools daily. These “computer-aided translation” tools, known as cat tools, help translators keep terminology consistent and recognize repetitive and previously translated text. In addition, translation project management tools help guide a team of language experts through the translation process. Knowing what to do at each step is critical to the success of the project.

How to Say Thank You to Translators

Well, I suppose you can thank them in their language of choice. But, if you don’t personally know a translator, you can spend some time appreciating the work that they do. If you speak more than one language, read a translated copy of a book you love. Appreciate the amount of work that has gone into the masterpiece that is being revealed to you in a whole new light.

Examples of beautifully translated materials are everywhere, if you look. From signs to Shakespeare, the beauty of translation is all around us.

Thank you to all those who make this possible.