English is not normal

No, English isn’t uniquely vibrant or mighty or adaptable. But it really is weirder than pretty much every other language.

An essay by John McWhorter, professor of linguistics and American studies at Columbia University (The Language Hoax, 2014):

” In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a ‘spelling bee’ competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.

Spelling is a matter of writing, of course, whereas language is fundamentally about speaking. Speaking came long before writing, we speak much more, and all but a couple of hundred of the world’s thousands of languages are rarely or never written. Yet even in its spoken form, English is weird. It’s weird in ways that are easy to miss, especially since Anglophones in the United States and Britain are not exactly rabid to learn other languages. But our monolingual tendency leaves us like the proverbial fish not knowing that it is wet. Our language feels ‘normal’ only until you get a sense of what normal really is.

There is no other language, for example, that is close enough to English that we can get about half of what people are saying without training and the rest with only modest effort.”

Read on at aeon.co

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The Power of Language

In this video, we explore the incredible power of language—written, spoken and performed. First, meet the creator of Game of Throne’s Dothraki, then discover the curious etymology behind Pokémon and finally, meet a teenager reviving the ancient language of Quechua through pop music.

A video from Great Big Story, a global media company devoted to cinematic storytelling.

Word of the Year: Behind the Scenes

How did the Merriam-Webster Dictionary choose surreal as their Word of the Year for 2016? Peter Sokolowski explains the data behind their decisions, and what that tells us about what people were thinking this year.

Surreal is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year because it was looked up significantly more frequently by users in 2016 than it was in previous years, and because there were multiple occasions on which this word was the one clearly driving people to their dictionary.
Read more over here on Merriam-Webster’s most excellent blog.

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The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Their blog is really worthwhile checking out as well.

Oxford Dictionaries presents the Word of the Year for 2016, as well as the shortlisted words adulting, alt-right, Brexiteer, chatbot, coulrophobia, glass cliff, hygge, Latinx, and woke. Script provided by guest writer and cultural commentator Neil Midgley.

UN Officially Declares September 30 as Translation Day

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The UN Department for General Assembly & Conference Management (UNDGACM) was the first to announce the news on its official Twitter page: “Just happened: #UNGA declared 30 Sept. International Translation Day, recognizing the contribution of language professionals to the #UN.”

“Is this the time for the General Assembly of the United Nations to discuss translation with tens and thousands of people continue to die from war, hunger, and sickness?” Andrei Dapkiunas, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations, asked in his opening presentation. “How appropriate an agenda item is language and translations when the world is seeking a sustainable global paradigm for security, balanced development, and respect for human rights, which is difficult? (…) This resolution is about the underappreciated role of language in the life of our human society,” he said. “We feel that this deserves further discussion, perhaps legal protection of those translators working in conflict zones and in situations of higher risks.”

Eleven countries – Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, Qatar, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam – were behind the push and are the signatories of Draft Resolution A/71/L.68.

Wikipedia: “International Translation Day is celebrated every year on 30 September on the feast of St. Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered the patron saint of translators. The celebrations have been promoted by FIT (the International Federation of Translators) ever since it was set up in 1953. In 1991 FIT launched the idea of an officially recognised International Translation Day to show solidarity of the worldwide translation community in an effort to promote the translation profession in different countries (not necessarily only in Christian ones). This is an opportunity to display pride in a profession that is becoming increasingly essential in the era of progressing globalisation.”

Grammarly – Free grammar and spelling checker

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Grammarly is an online grammar and spelling checker that improves communication by helping users find and correct writing mistakes. It’s easy to use:
Copy and paste any English text into Grammarly’s online text editor, or install Grammarly’s free browser extension for ChromeChrome, Safari, and Firefox.
Grammarly’s algorithms flag potential issues in the text and suggest context-specific corrections for grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. Grammarly explains the reasoning behind each correction so you can make an informed decision about whether, and how, to correct an issue.

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For users who want to supercharge their writing performance and leave no errors unchecked, Grammarly Premium is a paid upgrade that checks for over 250 types of grammatical errors, provides vocabulary enhancement suggestions, detects plagiarism, and provides citation suggestions. Grammarly Premium also includes Grammarly for Microsoft® OfficeGrammarly for Microsoft® Office.

Grammarly is an Inc. 500 company with offices in San Francisco, New York, and Kyiv.

Mashable (May 09, 2017) — “San Francisco startup Grammarly just raised $110 million to take its AI-driven grammar-checking tool to the next level. The funding, led by General Catalyst and Spark Capital, marks the first venture capital round in the company’s eight-year life.

How Bootleg Translations of VHS Tapes Started an Anime Fan War in the 90s

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The little-known story of how a fight over Fushigi Yûgi subtitles built Ottawa’s anime community.

A fascinating story from the bronze age of subtitles over at Vice: “In the nineties, before broadband modems became widely available—and before anime streaming services like Funimation and Crunchyroll—staying up-to-date on anime was an arduous process. North American fans who wanted more than televised runs of Sailor Moon had to buy expensive subtitled VHS tapes from fan groups, who translated anime tapes themselves and then redistributed them after importing them, untranslated, from contacts in Japan.

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Buying anime this way meant sending money to people without distribution licenses, who were technically engaging in international copyright violation, and trusting them to send your tape in the mail. The Wild West mentality of the fansub industry led to members of the Ottawa-based Anime Appreciation Society (AAS) taking matters into their own hands after one of their favourite fansub groups, Tomodachi, refused to release its version of the final 20 episodes of the much-loved show Fushigi Yûgi—all because of its war with another fansub.”

Read on over at Vice Motherboard.

Photo above: AAS members and cosplayers. Image by Katy Watts