Please see below selected recent language-related change.
- People seem to get worse at languages as they age. Children often learn their first without any instruction, and can become multilingual with the right exposure. But the older people get, the harder it seems to be. Witness the rough edges on the grammar of many immigrants even after many years in their new countries. Scientists mostly agree that children are better language learners, but do not know why. Some posit biological factors. Is it because young brains have an extreme kind of plasticity? Or, as Steven Pinker argues, an instinct for language-learning specifically, which fades as the brain ages and (in evolutionary terms) is no longer needed?
- An estimated 7,000 languages are currently spoken across the globe, but 87% of people know just one or two of them. Even the most popular language - English - is only spoken by 18% of the world, meaning there is still a language barrier between the vast majority of people. In response, Meta unveiled an AI that can translate up to 100 languages, putting the company a step closer to its goal of creating a universal translator.
- According to a 2023 British Council study, 26% of UK adults regret never learning another language fluently. The Economist broke down how long it takes to learn various languages based on a US State Department categorisation. Some take 24-30 weeks, others 36 weeks – and the most difficult languages are estimated to take 88 weeks.
- Bilingual speakers appear to remember things more accurately in their second language. The brain appears more alert to misinformation when set on non-native tongue mode.
- In his 1975 book,The Language of Thought, Jerry Fodor proposed a new universal language: Mentalese, a language of symbolic thought. He proposed that all humans use a symbolic language in our conscious thinking that is separate from verbal language. He further proposed that we are all born fluent in this language of thought. While you may think that you are thinking in whatever your native language is, Fodor proposed that we map Mentalese onto our mother tongue and thus are unaware that we are thinking symbolically.
- Facebook-parent Meta taught machines to recognise and produce speech for more than 1000 languages. Existing speech recognition models only cover about 100 of the roughly 7000 known languages spoken around the world, so this is a tenfold increase. Meta, which competes with Google and Microsoft on AI, is open sourcing the code so others can use it in their own apps and websites. The firm claims the new AI models will lead to speech apps for many more languages than exist now, and help to preserve languages that are at risk of disappearing.
- A major study tested music perception ability in a global sample covering 54 languages around the world. Tonal language speakers discriminated melodies better than other participants. but tonal language speakers had a disadvantage in beat perception ability. Language experience may therefore shape how people perceive music.
- Oxfam argued - for some, controversially - that it is important that the language they use reflects their values and work, believing that language has the power to reinforce or deconstruct systems of power that maintain poverty, inequality and suffering. Oxfam believes that choices in language can empower us to reframe issues, rewrite tired stories, challenge problematic ideas and build a radically better future based on a survivor-centred, intersectional, anti-racist and feminist vision of equality.
- Large and diverse with distinct regional cultures, India has over 120 major languages. Of those, 22 are officially recognised by the country's constitution. In 2023, Axis Bank asked the government to add a 23rd tongue: Indian Sign Language. Axis - one of India's largest private sector banks - worked with Grey to develop a campaign that positions Indian Sign Language as a language that Indians speak across regional borders. According to Adobo Magazine, it's the first time an Indian brand has offered signed translations of advertising messages.
- Further reading:
- 7 lost idioms of the English language - Big Think
- Ancient DNA reveals history of civilisation and language - Big Think
- Bilingual people who know a second alphabet have unique brains - Big Think
- Using AI to Translate Speech For a Primarily Oral Language - Meta
- What Spotify data show about the decline of English - The Economist
- One of the oldest sentences known to humankind was reportedly written about head lice. A Canaanite comb from 17,000 BC reads: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”
- Psyche noted that languages are dynamic creatures. They change over time, sometimes in ways that appear inscrutable. Yet work on language evolution has revealed that these changes are often systematic. Communication systems are shaped in fundamental ways by competing forces that we observe in everyday conversation, including a speaker’s desire to say something simply and a comprehender’s desire to avoid ambiguity. As such, languages reflect a long history of trade-offs and compromises.
- “Parentese” is reportedly a global language. No matter where you go, people googoo and gaagaa at babies in similar ways.
- Further reading:
- Linguistic cartography refers to the idea that one of the essential functions of language is to map our world, allowing us to understand and navigate it. Just like geographical maps, languages draw boundaries around regions of the world, and give the resulting circumscribed region a label, thereby creating concepts. This prompts the question of what exactly we mean by ‘the world’.
- The nuances of our language influence, at least to some extent, how we experience and understand the world (known as the linguistic relativity hypothesis). The precise label we affix to elements of our emotional flux - whether we name a feeling as euphoria or ecstasy, for instance, and the subtle meanings these terms hold for us - shapes how we interpret, judge, process, articulate, share and remember such experiences.
- Economists from the University of Geneva estimated that one-tenth of Switzerland’s GDP is due to its multilingualism. Meanwhile. research by the RAND Corporation thinktank argued that increasing language acquisition in UK schoolchildren could boost the economy from between £9 billion (for Spanish) to £12 billion (for Mandarin).
- According to a huge meta-analysis of all the various studies on the links between language and cognitive functions, learning and speaking multiple language helps in two ways. First, it reduces the chances of getting dementia. Second, if someone were to get dementia, it slows its onset and lessens the symptoms.
- Swahili has evolved into Africa’s most internationally recognised language, one of the few languages of the world with over 200 million speaker. Africa’s Swahili-speaking zone now extends across a full third of the continent from south to north and coast to coast, touching the heart of Africa.
- Despite the fact that adult brains are far more developed than children's, adults have a much harder time learning new languages. Research suggests that children's immature prefrontal cortex actually helps them acquire new languages with little efforts; the process is more deliberate, and inefficient, in adults. However, adults can adopt strategies that have been shown to boost the acquisition of new skills and knowledge, including language learning.
- International auxiliary languages, also called IALs or “interlangs”, are constructed languages designed to facilitate intercultural communication, The most famous is Esperanto, but there are a range of others with small but passionate communities, including Interlingua and toki ma. The goals of those participating in interlang communities varies from advocacy of their language as a single worldwide language, to a hobby that is simply undertaken for fun.
- Foreign films can be subtitled, but what happens when customers and businesses don't speak the same language? To fill that gap, translation tech startup Waverly Labs created Subtitles — a counter-top screen that provides real-time translation for in-person interactions. After a user selects their language, everything they and the person on the other side of the screen say is captured and translated within a few seconds, appearing as text on the opposite person's screen. The tool combines speech recognition and machine translation in 20 languages and 42 dialects, and claimed to be fast enough to facilitate fluid conversations. Besides handling bilingual communication, Subtitles can also be used to connect with those who are hearing impaired.
- Psyche believes that we all have it in us to find ways of revelling in languages we do not understand. It can happen in humble ways, such as enjoying the unfamiliar speech of the radio station playing in a taxi. Or in those moments of being overwhelmed and awestruck at the incomprehensible street in a foreign land. It can happen when we linger on the Chinese characters in a restaurant, rather than on their English translation. All that is required is releasing oneself from the pressure to achieve literal understanding, and letting oneself embrace a much deeper understanding.
- Linguists have known for quite some time that certain “laws” seem to govern human speech. For instance, across languages, shorter words tend to be more frequently used than longer words. Biologists have taken notice, and have wondered whether these “linguistic laws” also apply to biological phenomena. It seems they do, noted Big Think, pointing to a review published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution elaborating on their discoveries.
- living-language-land is a journey through endangered and minority languages that reveal different ways of relating to land and nature.
- Working with Professor Wilmar D'Angelis of Unicamp University in Brazil, Motorola added two endangered indigenous languages to its devices: Kaingang and Nheengatu. Kaingang is spoken by communities in southern Brazil, and is classified by Unesco as 'definitely endangered', which means children no longer learn it as a mother tongue. Nheengatu is spoken by an estimated six thousand people in the Amazon region and is listed as 'severely endangered', spoken by grandparents and older generations, with the adult generation not using it with children or among themselves. Motorola will be open-sourcing the language data they've collected.
- Thousands of languages are spoken worldwide, but only a fraction are used widely. In fact, the speakers of 23 languages account for more than half of the total global population. Papua New Guinea is the most linguistically diverse country in the world, with approximately 840 different languages spoken across the islands. In second place, Indonesia has around 711 different languages. Only 20% of the population speaks the national language of Bahasa Indonesian at home.
- There are an estimated 7,099 distinct spoken languages in the world, yet 63% of the world’s population speaks natively speaks one of only 12 languages: Arabic, Bengali, all dialects of Chinese, English, French, German, Hindu-Urdu, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish
- The relationship between language and feeling has long created debate in philosophy. Some thinkers have proposed that feelings are independent of words: babies, for example, can feel things long before they know how to pin words to their sensations, while other philosophers have insisted that certain feelings would remain essentially unknown to us if we didn’t have the words to help us recognise them. The truth – for The School of Life – lies somewhere in an intriguing middle zone. Language may not wholly create feelings, but it deepens and clarifies them. The right words help us to know ourselves; through their agency, we can more accurately and securely identify the contents of our inner lives.
- London - a city where a large chunk of the population is foreign born - is home to the world's most internationally diverse student body. More than 300 languages are spoken by London's school students, many of whose families immigrated from South Asia, Africa and Europe, noted GZERO Media.
- A high-tech mask can translate speech into eight languages. It can also amplify your voice or take dictation.
- A glove that translates sign language into speech in real time has been developed by scientists - potentially allowing deaf people to communicate directly with anyone, without the need for a translator. The wearable device contains sensors that run along the four fingers and thumb to identify each word, phrase or letter as it is made in American Sign Language. Those signals are then sent wirelessly to a smartphone, which translates them into spoken words at a rate of one word per second.Scientists at UCLA, where the project was developed, believe the innovation could allow for easier communication for deaf people.
- Over the last two decades, social media has provided scientists with a trove of free information about human behaviour and language. A group of mathematicians from the University of Vermont used Twitter to examine how young people intentionally stretch out words in text for digital communication. They created a method to essentially quantify the semantic nuances in between stretched words, like "right" vs. "riiiiiight," with the aim to teach future AI algorithms human digital colloquialisms. In their study, published in the journal PLOS One, the team analysed the language in roughly 100 billion tweets generated from 2008 to 2016, reported Big Think.
- Language is primarily a tool for communication and in the workplace it can convey extremely important information about whether a company has considered the different needs and experiences of its employees. But it’s not just the content of the speech which says this; it’s also the tone and phrasing. Creating and enforcing an inclusive language policy may seem daunting, with accepted terms appearing to change every day, but it’s essential to avoid using outdated or discriminatory language. Meanwhile, casual interactions between employees are the hardest area in which to enforce an inclusive language policy, but simply making sure the guidelines are comprehensive and reporting procedures are clear may help foster an open, trusting workplace culture.
- Often called “Africa in miniature,” Cameroon touts 1,738 different linguistic groups and more than 200 national languages.
- “OK” is the most spoken word on Earth. It’s only been used for about 180 years, but its linguistic history still retains some mysteries. “OK” is very versatile. It can be used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, a conjunction or an interjection. It’s also competed, over time, with “alright” and “all right” - words and phrases that have identical meanings.
- Language is a tool for communication and in the workplace it can convey extremely important information about whether a company has considered the different needs and experiences of its employees. But it’s not just the content of the speech which says this; it’s also the tone and phrasing. Creating and enforcing an inclusive language policy may seem daunting, with accepted terms appearing to change every day, but it’s essential if to create an environment where everyone is able to contribute their talents to drive organisational performance. Practically, it means avoiding words, phrases or ways of communicating that are harmful or exclusionary, or reflect and propagate stereotypes and prejudices.
- The English language is far from perfect, and sometimes a change is in order as society progresses. Why, for instance, are we forced to use either “he” or “she” as a third-person singular pronoun? The gender indication is unnecessary, argued a New York Times article, claiming that it’s time for the unisex “they” to be widely accepted, even by grammarians.
- Quartz argued that English should be the official language of post-Brexit Europe. It would be a neutral language for European countries with competing mother tongues.
- Learning a language between birth and age 18 is not as effortless as it may seem. An average English-speaking adult will likely have learned about 12.5 million bits of information related to language, a group of researchers reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science. Much of this 12.5 million bits of language information stored in the brain is not related to grammar and syntax, but rather is about word meaning and because word meanings can be very similar across languages, bilingual people likely don't have to store twice as many bits of information.
- By 2050, up to 85 percent of the world's French speakers will live in Africa, according to estimates from ODSEF, an organisation that monitors language statistics. That's up from about 44% of all French speakers in 2019.
- In Limits of Language, the Institute of Arts and Ideas noted that, while we think that everything can be talked about, in fact, from metaphors to the mystical, there are many things we seem unable to directly express. Should we therefore accept that some things transcend our conceptual grasp and that some of the most important things in life lie beyond language? Or could we eventually find the right words for everything, even if we don't yet know what they are?
- The world is, for now at least, "stuck" with English, claimed Quartz, as it would take an enormous global effort to switch to another lingua franca.
- Researchers have found that “vocal bursts convey at least 24 distinct kinds of emotions”. They plotted those feelings on a colourful interactive map, publicly available online. This could be useful in helping robotic devices better pin down human emotions and could also be handy in clinical settings, helping patients who struggle with emotional processing.
- When did language begin? The question is not an easy one to answer. There are no records of the event. “Languages don’t leave fossils," noted the Linguistic Society of America, "and fossil skulls only tell us the overall shape and size of hominid brains, not what the brains could do.” The scant evidence from evolutionary biology does not tell us when early humans first began to use language, only that they could 100,000 years or so ago.
- Kenya will start teaching Chinese to elementary school students. The move further deepens China’s influence in the country, where it has invested billions in infrastructure and cultural projects, noted Quartz.
- A rare Afrikaans dialect is making an unlikely comeback in Patagonia. It has survived more than a century after 650 South African Boers immigrated to Argentina, reported Quartz.
- Further reading:
- According to Benjamin Lee Whorf, an early C20th linguist, languages shape how their speakers perceive and conceptualise the world. If this is true, major differences between languages should correlate with major differences between the way those language communities perceive and reason about the world, with language exerting a profound influence on perception, thought and culture.
- However, contemporary linguist and cultural commentator John McWhorter argues that this claim is both dangerous and largely wrong. Drawing on case studies from around the world, McWhorter makes the case that linguistic effects on perception are insignificant, many linguistic features are arbitrary and that "Whorfianism" can lead to simplistic and often racist conclusions.
- The Merriam-Webster dictionary released a revised official word list for Scrabble that includes 300 new entries. Among those of international interest, noted GZEROMedia, are “qapik”, an Azerbaijani monetary unit that takes its name from the Russian kopek; “bokeh”, a Japanese term for the out-of-focus parts of a photograph; and “schneid”, a word of German origin meaning a terrible losing streak, particularly in cards or sports.
- Learning a foreign language is a nearly ubiquitous experience for students throughout Europe, driven in part by the fact that most European countries have national-level mandates for formally studying languages in school. No such national standard exists in e.g. the U.S., where requirements are mostly set at the school district or state level.
- In a controversial bid to blunt the appeal of Islamic extremism in his country, French President Emmanuel Macron’s administration pushed a proposal to teach Arabic in public elementary schools. Until then, French citizens of Arab origin who wanted their kids to learn the language had few options beyond local mosques, which teach it in a religious context.
- Meanwhile, reported GZEROMedia, Latvia courted controversy by banning the teaching of Russian in elementary schools. The government sees the move as a necessary step to reinforce a sense of unity and nationhood in a country where only 60 percent of citizens are ethnic Latvians.
- There are more than 7,000 languages. The number of people speaking English, Spanish and Mandarin continues to grow, but every fortnight a language will disappear forever. The Economist's language expert explained why.
- Apropos, language learning app Drops included native Hawaiian in its offerings. The app uses word games to teach words and expressions in more than 30 languages. With the latest update, the Drops team aims to help preserve the Hawaiian language, as there are currently fewer than 300 native speakers.
- Further reading:
- See also words we might want to reclaim:
- Indonesia’s plan to unify its 300-plus ethnic groups with one simplified language only made things more complicated, found recent Quartz research.
- London boasts over 300 different spoken languages — more than any other city in the world, according to The Information Capital. The capital’s lingua franca, of course, remains English: 78% of Londoners cited it as their ‘main’ language in the 2011 Census. The other 22% speak in different tongues, including Urdu, Somali and Tagalog.
- Labelling theory (also known as social reaction theory) was developed by sociologist Howard Becker. It focuses on the linguistic tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from norms.