Archive for February, 2013

Are Girls Better Language Learners?

Posted on February 20th, 2013 by Jake in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It has been well documented when studying language learning in children that boys and girls learn language differently. It has been found that on average girls speak earlier than boys and with greater complexity. A new study aims to understand why.

Scientists have discovered a protein in the brain called Foxp2 which has been found to play ‘a key role in the development of speech and language in children and also in vocal communications in animals and birds.’ This ‘language protein’ has been found in greater quantities in the brains of male rat pups but in humans it is girls that have more than boys.

A team from the University of Maryland School of Medicine conducted a study on rat pups.

They analyzed levels of the protein in the brains of four-day-old rat pups and related them to the levels of the ultrasonic distress calls they make when they are separated from their mothers or brothers and sisters.

They found significant differences in the female and male pups. The males had more Foxp2 in their brains, in regions linked to emotion, vocalization, and cognition.

And the males were also more vociferous than the females: they called neary twice as frequently as the females during the five minutes they were separated.

The researchers also observed that the mothers always retrieved the noisier male pups and took them back to the nest first, in preference to the less vociferous females.

The team then reduced the amount of Foxp2 in the male pups and increased its presence in the female pups. Amazingly this did in fact reverse the results with the female pups calling more frequently, essentially displaying the language skills of a male pup. Although the study can only empirically be applied to rats it does raise questions about Foxp2 and it’s effect on humans. The team reported:

“We extended these observations to humans, a species reported to have gender differences in language acquisition, and found the amount of FOXP2 protein in the left hemisphere cortex of 4-year-old boys was significantly lower than in age-matched girls,” write the authors.

As studies have already proven that on average girls speak earlier than boys and with greater complexity, does this mean that girls are better language learners than boys?

via: Medical News Today

English In Zambia

Posted on February 14th, 2013 by Jake in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Deutsche Welle has written an article about a language struggle taking place in Zambia. The country gained independence from Britain about 50 years ago but English is still Zambia’s official language. ‘”The world is English” is a common saying in Zambia’, a belief that means many parents teach their children English as soon as they possibly can. Unfortunately this emphasis on teaching children English means Zambia’s own rich linguistic history is being forgotten. In Zambia ‘seven out of an estimated 70 local languages have official status: Bemba, Nyanja, Lozi, Tonga, Kaonde, Luvale and Lunda.’ With lesser importance being placed on local languages comes an inevitable loss of culture as teachings, sayings and stories cannot be passed down when different generations use different languages.

Many people will find it truly alarming that Zambia now has a generation of young people who haven’t mastered any language properly. They can’t speak their mother tongue and their command of English is faulty.

Nine-year-old Natasha Banda from northern Zambia can’t speak any of her country’s local languages. “My mum never taught me my traditional language,” she told DW. “I am just sitting at the table and they are speaking this certain language, I am not sure (which). All I know is English,” she said.

Not everyone is keen to blame the English language for the decline in local languages however. Friday Mulenga, a historian at the University of Zambia, told DW ‘”If parents don’t teach their children their mother tongue, it is not the fault of English. English is a global language, we need it whether you like it or not!”‘


via: DW

British Dialects

Posted on February 7th, 2013 by Jake in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Nikki Gittins, a graphic designer from Ludlow, England has begun The Local Language Project to compile a record of the dialects of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. So far Gittins has gathered 400 words in a study that is thought to be the first of it’s kind in over a century. Local dialects in Britain often stem from the trade the area is historically rooted in. The counties involved are steeped in agriculture and Gittins has found that many of the areas unique words and phrases indeed stem from farming. Gittins is quoted as saying:

The aim of the project was to originally get the younger generation interested in the dialect of the Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire area, but as research progressed so did the aims.

Gittins found that there was a popularly held belief in the area that the younger generation were using their local dialect less frequently. The reason she gave for this was:

With advancements in technology, language could now be learnt nationally and internationally rather than from the local community. The youth of the area were learning words from their peers rather than their elders.

Gittins noticed that the areas she was focusing on not only had unique words used within the local community but also different spellings.

“There are three accepted ways to spell yogurt – with the others being yoghurt and yoghourt,” she said. “But through a variety of tests over the counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire, through different demographics, I have found 100 per cent of Herefordians tested spelt it ‘yoghurt’ and 99 per cent of Salopians tested spelt it ‘yogurt’. ”

via: Shropshire Star


Does Translation Distort Chinese History?

Posted on February 1st, 2013 by Jake in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Thorsten Pattberg, a research fellow of Peking University has written an interesting article about the lack of Chinese words in Western languages. China has contributed many concepts and ideas to the world yet when these are exported to western countries, the original Chinese word for the idea or concept is often changed by translation. Pattberg argues that this distorts reality as translating the idea into ones own language erases China’s involvement in its creation thereby making it seem as if the concept did not originate in China. Pattberg does state that some concepts have retained their original names.

Although some Chinese concepts like yin and yang or kung fu have been adopted by Western writers; there still seems to be no policy on behalf of Chinese that actively promotes the use of Chinese terms abroad, certainly not in the sciences.

France for instance has a very proactive policy for policing the French language at home as well as promoting it abroad. French language schools are oversubscribed in London with more opening soon to meet demand. Perhaps China does need to invest more money in ensuring Chinese concepts stay Chinese. Pattberg explains that many other Eastern cultures do not seem to have the same problem as China.

The Islamic world with its ayatollahs and imams, its bazaars and kebabs; and the Hindu world with its dharma and karma, its yoga and avatars and so on, are far ahead of the Chinese world when it comes to enriching English as the international language.

There are however moments in the article where I believe Pattberg is misguided in wishing Chinese words stayed Chinese.

I am often perplexed by the readiness of many Chinese colleagues who give away literally all Chinese originality to foreign translators: What is this, a qilin? Well, let’s call it a unicorn shall we? And what is that, a long? Well, let’s just call it a dragon then! The xiongmao only breeds in China, yet for people in the West it’s a panda.

Dragons for instance are not unique to Chinese or even East Asian culture. There is a long history of dragons in European folklore. I grew up in Wales. The Welsh flag features a red dragon, one of the most important symbols of Welsh culture. Why should Welsh people call dragons ‘long’ when they call them ‘draig’ and have done for centuries. Similarly every language coins it’s own words for other counties animals. Every language even coins it’s own word for other languages. Languages need to create their own words, but Pattberg does raise the interesting point that Chinese does feature minimally in the English language. With China’s rising economy and therefore rising power on the global stage, will Chinese become a more prominent contributor to the English language?

via: China Daily