Archive for October, 2013

Under Fire from the French!

Posted on October 31st, 2013 by Melanie in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Yet again, it seems the English language has come under fire from the French. Despite the amount of French words and phrases commonly used in the everyday English language, such as ‘café’, ‘entrepreneur’, ‘déjà vu’, ‘carte blanche’, ‘mousse’, ‘cul-de-sac’, ‘RSVP’ and ‘en suite’, to name a few, the French seem to overlook that fact when blaming other languages, particularly English, for having the audacity to encroach on theirs.

Calling For a Boycott

Michel Serres of the Académie française, the renowned organization which aims to regulate and protect the French language, seems to have a bee in his bonnet about the English interference with the purity of his country’s language. He has callously compared the amount of English words in adverts on the walls of Toulouse with the amount of German words used during the occupation, stating that the former far outweighs the latter. Apart from being insensitive, it could be said that Mr Serres is somewhat overreacting, having called for a boycott of all things advertised in English. He has called for the French to go on strike by refusing to buy any products which have English words in their advertising campaigns, or to watch any films at the cinema whose titles have not been translated from English.

While the French are rushing to claw back their identity, the English language is secure enough in itself to be able to appreciate its external influences and its ever evolving state. As the most widely used language in the world, it’s not hard to see why. N’est-ce pas?



Wealth versus Words

Posted on October 27th, 2013 by Melanie in Uncategorized | No Comments »

A follow-up study from a landmark research case carried out nearly two decades ago has highlighted the correlation between wealth and word comprehension for children as young as 18 months old. The original study discovered that children of wealthier professionals heard words millions more times than those from parents of a less affluent background by the time they reached 3 years of age. This naturally gave them a distinct advantage in school over their counterparts and showed a need to increase funding for pre-kindergarten education.

The recent follow-up study by a psychologist from Stanford University, Anne Fernald, has shown that the language gap is actually more pronounced in children of 18 months old. Having shown them pictures of simple objects, such as a ball or a dog, she found that children from wealthier parents could identify the objects much quicker than those from low-income families. By age two, these children had learned 30 per cent more words than the latter group and, by age three, they had heard more than 30 million words than children of the same age from low-income households.

The reason behind this is that wealthier professionals tend to speak more directly to their children and use more varied vocabulary at a greater rate, whereas there appears to be a tendency for less wealthy parents not to communicate as much or as directly with their children. There is a direct link between vocabulary and reading comprehension which means that children from low-income families are already facing a big disadvantage by the time they start school.

These findings have led to proactive measures being taken by the US government in the form of extra funding for preschools for all 4 year olds from low to mid-income families. Help and advice is being given to parents as well as to preschool teachers to help tackle the imbalance of wealth versus word comprehension in young children. The government is also supporting early childhood education by offering state grants through its ‘Race to the Top’ programme.

What other measures do you think could be taken by parents, teachers or educational institutions to bridge the gap so that all young children can be given the same chance to learn vocabulary at the same rate?

Films: Translating the Essence As Well As the Language

Posted on October 25th, 2013 by Melanie in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Do you love watching foreign films but get frustrated at having to concentrate on the subtitles? Well stress no more as directors are taking it upon themselves to shoot films in two languages simultaneously. With the first takes being made in the original language, the scenes are re-enacted in English.

‘Kon-Tiki’ is based on the perilous journey across the Pacific Ocean on just a balsa-wood raft by the Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl. Nominated as the best foreign language film for the Academy Awards, the unusual decision to film each version simultaneously was agreed by the actors and producers. The late Heyerdahl had always requested that any film made about him was to be conducted in English, however, when the directors applied for funding for this expensive film project, they also had to agree to make the film in Norwegian to satisfy some of their sponsors.

A similar project has been undertaken by Angelina Jolie for the film ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ which has been filmed in both Serbo-Croatian/Bosnian and English. It’s set in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War and she believed it was better to film a version in the original language, as well as in English, in order to make it more authentic.

Filming in this way is not actually a new concept. It’s not, as many seem to think, a way to get on board with the increasing fluency of English throughout the world by recreating films in English and removing the need for subtitles in foreign films. Simultaneous language filming was actually a fairly common phenomenon in the 1920s and ’30s after the advent of sound in films. Hollywood film studios created multiple language versions of films to make a bigger impact in the European market. The US and Germany dominated the international film business at the time, however, this way of shooting films proved to be very expensive and the practise was abandoned in favour of subtitles and dubbing. Until now. Is this technique a permanent revival of multiple-language filming or will it prove to be a novelty soon to be forgotten again?

What are your favourite foreign films and do you think that their authenticity will translate accurately across the screen if they’re recreated in English?

A Far Eastern Take on an English Entrance Exam

Posted on October 21st, 2013 by Melanie in Uncategorized | No Comments »

An English test has long been part of the admission process for universities in China. Applicants to the top universities, however, are no longer required to take this linguistic entrance exam. More focus is being placed on mathematics and physics exams for science and engineering applicants whilst mathematics and Chinese are the requirements for arts students. The reason behind the removal of the English test is to allow students who excel in their field to be given the fullest opportunity to study their chosen subjects, as well as to relieve some of the pressure from their workload for the notoriously pressurized entrance examination process.

Japan Considers the TOEFL

Japan, on the other hand, is embracing the English language with plans to replace the existing English language examination system with a TOEFL exam as part of the screening process for universities across Japan. TOEFL is the Test of English as a Foreign Language which was developed by a non-profit organization in the US, ETS (Educational Testing System); it’s widely used throughout the US to test the English proficiency level of non-native English speakers before allowing entrance to many colleges and universities, businesses, government agencies and other institutions. The current examination for university applicants in Japan is heavily based on rote learning and grammar which has been widely criticized. English language tests will also be required for government officials from 2015, and both of these measures are part of the Prime Minister’s improved education initiative.

Two Far Eastern countries with two changing attitudes towards the English language as far as their universities’ admissions are concerned. What changing attitudes have you noticed towards the English language and what effects are they having?

Using Urban Slang to Judge Sentencing

Posted on October 16th, 2013 by Melanie in Uncategorized | No Comments »

As unusual and as unlikely as this may sound, American courts have been referring to an online dictionary to help solve some sentencing complications arising from the use of urban language.

The Urban Dictionary is an online platform which collates slang words gathered by crowdsourcing. With no hard and fast rules, people submit new words to the website and these are either accepted or rejected in the online dictionary by way of votes from the other site users. Whilst many of these words are barely used and indeed may just have been submitted for fun, others have become more commonplace in our language, but the meanings are not necessarily clear cut. For instance, the word ‘emo’ has over 1,100 definitions which have all been submitted by contributors to the website and are ranked in popularity by the number of votes they receive. The Urban Dictionary was created by a college student, Aaron Peckham, in 1999 and grew in size as the popularity of the Internet grew, so that now the website receives 110 million monthly page views.

So How Does the Court Use the Urban Dictionary?

In some court cases, the definitions of slang words used in disputes are unclear, and the online dictionary is consulted to clarify the meaning in order to settle a case. For example, ‘catfishing’ relates to Internet predators and ‘iron’ means a handgun. A recent restitution case in Wisconsin which involved a convicted robber’s plea to overturn his sentence was dismissed when consulting the Urban Dictionary showed the word ‘jack’ (relating to the robber’s group’s reference to themselves as ‘the jack boys’) to mean ‘steal’. As crowdsourcing platforms such as the Urban Dictionary are increasing in popularity, so too is the way that referencing is carried out for important matters such as court cases. Who wouldn’t want to refer to a free online dictionary for an instant answer instead of paying a lot of money to a research company and having to wait for the result?

What slang words have you learned recently and how does their meaning differ to the normal definition?

Are Latinos Losing Their Language?

Posted on October 13th, 2013 by Melanie in Uncategorized | No Comments »

A shift in language trends amongst the Latino population in the United States has occurred. The Hispanic community appear to have changed their habits and are following the news in English, rather than Spanish. Whilst a majority percentage follows some news in English, a third of the population now follows the news solely in English.

Bilingual and Bicultural

With about 52 million Latinos living in the United States, what reasons could there possibly be for them to switch to their second language? One of the main reasons is immigration, or rather the decline in immigration. The majority of the Latino population currently residing in the US were either born or raised there and over half of the adults are fluent in English. It’s not just the adults who have stepped up their speaking skills either. Young Latinos are being reminded of their Spanish roots and encouraged not to lose their cultural identity due to their excellent command of the English language and a lack of necessity for their own. The bilingual and bicultural mix of Hispanics has never been so apparent.

Media Platforms

Media resources such as the Internet and television are widely used for news reports in English, and much more so over radio and printed newspapers reporting Latino news in Spanish. As the rate of US births will increase the Hispanic population, so too will the level of fluency in English increase, and a demand for news resources geared towards the bilingual or English speaking Latino population will follow suit.

Mirroring other immigrant nationalities, this is great news for integration and cohesion of communities within the US. Have you noticed the changing language trends in your area and do you believe it to be beneficial for the local community?

A Linguistic Detour for the Tour de France

Posted on October 10th, 2013 by Melanie in Uncategorized | No Comments »

While the French may have been trying their hardest to claw back their language and get rid of little irritations, such as English, they haven´t quite succeeded in all areas. Having reached its 100th edition this year, the dominant language of the Tour de France has changed as more and more riders are choosing to learn English over French.

Teams with multinational riders are now using English, as opposed to French, as their common language and the race organizers, Amaury Sport Organization, are issuing all statements in both languages.

Whilst some of the riders are fluent in French, the trend to actually speak it when conducting interviews has lessened. Chris Froome, this year’s race winner, for instance, regularly impressed French interviewers with his mastery of their language but has nowadays opted to speak in English in order to conserve his energy each day.

It’s not just French that’s been on the decline, the other Latin languages have been consciously replaced by teams in favour of English. They feel a common language between nationalities makes it easier to converse and combine as a team, and this has become particularly important for media appearances. With 7 of the 15 stages having been won by native English speaking riders and the rest by Italian, German, Belgian and Slovak riders who stated their preference for English during media conferences, it’s not hard to see why.

The language may have changed but the race is still the same. Exciting, challenging and tactical; the French should be proud of their traditional race which combines strength, power, speed and endurance.

Are you a fan of this spectacular sporting event? Do you agree or disagree with the change of its lingua franca?

Beating Aphasia with Bilingualism

Posted on October 6th, 2013 by Melanie in Uncategorized | No Comments »

There were concerns that bilingualism could detrimentally affect recovery from sufferers of aphasia – a language disability resulting from brain damage which renders the person unable to understand or produce speech. The fears were that bilingualism would hinder the recovery process by confusing the brain with two conflicting and disrupted languages.

However, research has shown that stimulating the training of the less dominant language, as opposed to stimulating the strongest language learned, considerably increases the chances for recovery of speech and language recollection of both languages.

The cross-linguistic effects are also more pronounced where similar words with similar meanings in both languages are targeted. For example, concentrating on the word ‘table’ in French will help with the recovery of the word ‘table’ in English. These types of words as known as ‘cognates’. Similar sounding words that do not have the same meaning are called ‘non-cognates’ but stimulating these can actually be confusing for a bilingual person suffering from aphasia.

Stressing the meaning of words also helps to enhance the retrieval ability of the corresponding words from the untreated language. For example, ‘dog’ can be associated with ‘bark’ and ‘pet’. The equivalent word for dog in French, ‘chien’, is then much easier for the person to retrieve from their memory than it would be if they simply repeated the word ‘dog’.

In previous years, aphasia in bilingual people resulted in the patients having to suppress one of their languages and purely focus on one. As this research now highlights the benefits of cross-linguistic effects in language therapy this is good news for bilinguals, particularly as bilingualism is increasing in the population as a whole.

Do you know anyone who has suffered from aphasia? How did they overcome their language impairment?

Facing Up to the Challenge

Posted on October 5th, 2013 by Melanie in Uncategorized | No Comments »

‘Agreeableness, openness, extraversion, conscientiousness and neuroticism’ – do any of these descriptive words fit your personality? They should, according to psychologists and computer science researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. The ‘Big Five’ as the researchers called these personality traits were selected as part of the largest language study involving Facebook.

The Study

75,000 volunteers took part in the linguistic study by completing a personality questionnaire after which the researchers studied their Facebook language and analysed their linguistic patterns. Computer models were then created by drawing on over 700 million words and phrases.

What the Results Showed

These computer models were able to accurately predict each volunteer’s age, gender and response to the personality questionnaire with an accuracy of 92%. An ‘open-vocabulary technique’ allowed researchers to study the linguistic patterns in more depth than if they had used a list of predetermined words, such as ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘contented’, which would have produced more obvious personality predictions.

The language relating to each of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits was grouped into word clouds which allowed the researchers to study the correlation between them. Many were obvious results – extraverts would mention words such as parties, fun and excitement; emotionally stable people would use words relating to sport, families and weekend plans – but there were also a surprising amount of words present in each personality trait that researchers didn’t expect to show up.

How Can the Results be Used?

By using the word clouds to link personality traits with language used, psychological interventions can be made to affect an individual’s behaviour. For instance, if someone suffers from neuroticism, this study shows that participating in sports can bring them more emotional stability.

What are your personality traits and would your own word cloud accurately reflect them? Do you have any negative traits that you could possibly alter by using the results of this study?