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Language and words in the news – 28th May, 2010

This post contains a weekly selection of links related to language and words in the news. These can be items from the latest news, blog posts or interesting websites related to global English and language change.

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Global English

Globish’ (Excerpt)
Our story begins with a human sacrifice. Stranger than this, it starts in a Danish swamp. Perhaps strangest of all, we owe this information about the violent origins of the English-speaking world to the Roman historian Tacitus, the author of Germania, ‘On the Origin and Character of Germany’. […] There are […] seven tribes about whom there is ‘nothing noteworthy’ to say, except that they worship Nerthus, the goddess Mother Earth, ‘a ceremony performed by slaves who are immediately afterwards drowned in the lake’. One of these seven barbarous tribes was ‘the Anglii’, better known to history as the Angles.

Words to live by
A primer on words and phrases you hear in New Orleans and now on HBO’s new series “Treme.”

The news report is written in standard English, the regular language of educated and official discourse in the island. This poses the question: how best can the paper record the words spoken in Jamaican Creole, the words actually uttered by witnesses and bystanders?

What all of these situations have in common is that language differences align with ethnic differences, in a situation with considerable (and perhaps increasing) ethnic diversity in a given geographical area. Given that alignment, the amount of bilingualism or multi-lingualism seems to be secondary in determining whether controversies will arise about the use of minority languages.

Many English learners still struggle with the language
Nearly 60% in California high schools are not proficient despite more than six years of a U.S. education. Flaws in the English-language programs could imperil the state’s economic future, report says.

Give Chinglish a break
The New York Times recently carried an article about Chinglish, which was for some time their most e-mailed article. Indeed, it created such a reader response and so much buzz in the blogosphere that the newspaper called for readers to send in their own pictures of “strange signs from abroad.” Even an academic blog in the field pitched in by offering a series of analyses to illuminate how “unintentional errors of translation from Chinese result in ludicrous or impenetrable English.”
[Thank you to Ingrid Piller for sending the link.]

Language change and slang

On Language – Fraught
Here we have a case of a very old word undergoing a rapid shift in contemporary usage. In Middle English, fraught (an etymological cousin of freight) was a verb meaning “to load (a ship),” and the identical form could serve as a past participle meaning “laden (with).” While the verb dropped out of the language almost entirely, the past participle stuck around, typically followed by “with” and an object — often a burden, whether real or figurative.

War of words
But what really gets the veins in my forehead popping these days is language. There is no accounting for taste, and no better example of this truth exists than word usage. I held back as long as I could, but can no longer stay silent.

Where Do New Words Come From?
We use dozens of new words every year, but we rarely think of their origins. Each has its own unique use, but when did it suddenly appear in our vocabulary?

Concern over accented teachers not original to Arizona
The state of Arizona has gotten a lot of attention lately for its decision to remove teachers who speak with pronounced foreign accents and/or whose speech is ungrammatical from classrooms with students learning to speak English. But the idea wasn’t original to the Arizona Board of Education.

10 tech buzzwords we should stop using
We’re in the second decade of the new millennium, and times have changed a lot since we left the ’90s. Once-elusive gadgets like laptops, media players, and even mobile phones have become so ubiquitous, it’s hard to imagine how we got by before they came along.

Language teaching and resources

50 Coolest Online Tools for Word Nerds
Learning and using new words can be one of the great pleasures of language. While university courses can help you to build your vocabulary, seeking out words, wordplay, and information is essential to becoming a true word nerd. These online tools can help you along, making it simple to learn new words, find out where they came from and just plain play with words.

Video: Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! (16 minutes)
Is there a ‘crisis of human resources’?

Linguist challenges language learning assessment
“The test result is really unexpected, because linguists see language acquisition as just a natural part of being human. We acquire languages because we are biologically endowed with a language faculty,” MacSwan said. “Everybody learns a language effortlessly and without instruction, so why would we find kids who don’t learn a language at all? The consequences are huge for these kids. They very often end up in special education programs because schools don’t know what to do with them.”

Books, words, science and the history of language

Globish For Beginners
McCrum […] explains that Globish is an overwhelmingly economic phenomenon—the language of Singaporean businessmen closing deals with the help of a small arsenal of English words, and of European officials calming financial markets by uttering stock phrases on television. He offers a journalistic account of its worldwide use in tandem with a historical one of the development of English as it made its way around the world

English as a Juggernaut Conquers the World With Glee and an OMG
“Globish” would be a natural e-book, partly because of its subject matter. It’s a meditation on the English language, about where it’s been and where it’s going. And if English words are going anywhere, they’re going online. Like would-be starlets bound for Hollywood, they’re aching to be backlit.

Idioms, Adages and “Black Sheep” Round Out Jack’s Latest
The book is full of strange and cool things. Our language includes hundred of idioms, words and phrases we all use on a daily basis where the words we use actually mean nothing in the context of a conversation we are having, and yet we all instinctively know what they mean and yet haven’t, so far, wondered why we do it.


How to name a volcano

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Kati Sule

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