1. Education
Richard Nordquist

A Language Time-Machine, a Universal Alphabet, and More Language in the News

By February 27, 2013

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It's time for our end-of-month roundup of language-related items in the news--from the linguistically profound to the lexically ridiculous.

  • Ancient Languages Reconstructed by Computer Program
    Ancient languages hold a treasure trove of information about the culture, politics and commerce of millennia past. Yet reconstructing them to reveal clues into human history can require decades of painstaking work. Now, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have created an automated "time machine," of sorts, that will greatly accelerate and improve the process of reconstructing hundreds of ancestral languages. . . . Read more
    ("Time Machine to Reconstruct Ancient Languages." California Science & Technology News, February 13, 2013)

  • Is It Time to Make English the Language of the European Union?
    Germany's president has called for English to be made the language of the European Union as he appealed to the UK to stay in the EU. . . . Read more
    (Kate Connolly, "German President: Make English the Language of EU." The Guardian [UK], February 22, 2013)

  • Why Tongue Twisters Are So Tricky
    Say the word "rutabaga," and you have just performed a complex dance with many body parts--lips, tongue, jaw and larynx--in a flash of time. Yet little is known about how the brain coordinates these vocal-tract movements to keep even the clumsiest of us from constantly tripping over our own tongues. A study of unprecedented detail now provides a glimpse into the neural codes that control the production of smooth speech. . . . Read more
    (Regina Nuzzo, "Why Tongue Twisters Are Hard to Say." Nature, February 20, 2013)

  • The Cost of English Language Deficiencies in Pakistan
    Pakistan is one of the least accomplished countries amongst those who proclaim to be "English-speaking" countries. Among those in Pakistan who claim to be proficient in English, only one in 10 is actually good in written and spoken English, the remaining 90% cannot speak more than a sentence or two of correct English. . . . Read more
    (Humayon Dar, "The Importance of Education: Economics of the English Language in Pakistan." The Express Tribune [Pakistan], February 11, 2013)

  • Economist Says Speaking English Can Make You Poor
    Could the language we speak skew our financial decision-making, and does the fact that you're reading this in English make you less likely than a Mandarin speaker to save for your old age? It is a controversial theory which has been given some weight by new findings from a Yale University behavioural economist, Keith Chen. . . . Read more
    (Tim Bowler, "Why Speaking English Can Make You Poor When You Retire." BBC News, February 22, 2013)

  • The Vicious Circle of Monolingualism in England
    Teenagers in 14 different European countries were tested on their ability to speak the first foreign language taught in schools, which for England was French. In reading, writing and listening tests, English pupils were ranked bottom. The study suggests youngsters are lagging far behind their European peers, with many unable to understand more than basic words or phrases. . . . Read more
    (Andrew Marzal, "English Teenagers 'Worst in Europe' at Languages." The Telegraph [UK], February 15, 2013)

  • Bridging Cultural Divides With a Universal Alphabet and Simplified Spelling
    Backers of a universal alphabet say it will make pronunciation easy and foster international understanding. But can phonetic spelling systems really smooth the path to world peace? . . . Today the cause has been taken up by Jaber George Jabbour, a Syrian banker living in the UK. He has set up SaypU, an alphabet with none of the indecipherable squiggles of traditional phonetic alphabets. . . . Read more
    (Tom de Castella, "Could a New Phonetic Alphabet Promote World Peace?" BBC News, February 19, 2013)

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