Jose Carillo's Forum


Professors claim English descended from Scandinavia, not Anglo-Saxon

November 30, 2012—Two leading Professors have rejected the idea that English descends from Anglo-Saxon, and instead claim they have proof that its origin derives from Scandinavia.

Professor of linguistics Jan Terje Faarlund from the University of Oslo and his colleague Professor Joseph Emmonds, from Palacký University in the Czech Republic, believe that English comes from the Northern Germanic language group, just like Norwegian. This breaks with other language researchers and the rest of the world, who believe that English descends directly from Old English.

Professor Faarlund says, “Modern English is a direct descendant of the language of Scandinavians who settled in the British Isles in the course of many centuries, before the French-speaking Normans conquered the country in 1066.”

He points out that Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, is a West Germanic language, which the Angles and Saxons brought with them from northern Germany and southern Jylland when they settled in the British Isles in the fifth century.

The Professor continues, “Old English and Modern English are two very different languages. Why? We believe it is because Old English quite simply died out while Scandinavian survived, albeit strongly influenced of course by Old English.”

While many native English-speakers struggle to learn Norwegian, Professor Faarlund believes it’s no coincidence that Scandinavians, especially Norwegians, learn English relatively easily. He says: “It’s true that many of the English words resemble our own (in Norwegian, for example). But there is more behind it. Even the fundamental structure of the language is amazingly similar to Norwegian. We often avoid mistakes that others (speaking other languages) make in English, because the grammar is much the same.”

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English test creates workplace risks, says Australian nursing federation

November 30, 2012—Patients are at risk because some foreign nurses have poor English skills, the nurses’ union warns.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation claims a flawed English language test is responsible for unnecessary workplace risks and has called for it to be scrapped and replaced by one focused on testing language used in the workplace.

“It is not beneficial for the patients, colleagues, or that person to be floundering in an environment that is fast-paced because they are struggling with their English communication,” the federation's state secretary Elizabeth Dabars said.

 “There could be particularly unfortunate consequences and people who make mistakes have to live with that for the rest of their lives.”

The International English Language Testing System was adopted by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia in July 2010.

It requires a seven out of 10 pass mark in each of the listening, reading, writing and speaking tests.

The system is used as a test for “entry into an academic institution,” according to its website.

Examples of the tests include answering questions about an essay on introducing dung beetles into a pasture and answering questions after listening to a verbal description of how to send a package by ship.

New research by the Adelaide University Nursing School into the language test found foreign nurses whose secondary schooling was in English  such as in the Philippines  had a lower pass mark (17.7 per cent) than those who didn't, such as China (18.5 per cent).

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How trench talk from WW1 entrenched the English language

LONDON, November 26 (ANI)—In a new study, researchers have revealed the impact the First World War had on the English language and the words it introduced.

The new research has shown how the conflict meant that hundreds of words and phrases came into common parlance thanks to the trenches.

Among the list of everyday terms found to have originated or spread from the conflict are cushy, snapshot, bloke, wash out, conk out, blind spot, binge drink and pushing up daisies.

The research has been conducted by Peter Doyle, a military historian, and Julian Walker, an etymologist, who have analysed thousands of documents from the period - including letters from the front, trench newspapers, diaries, books and official military records - to trace how language changed during the four years of the war.

They found that the war brought military slang into the mainstream, imported French and even German words to English and saw words from local dialects become part of national conversation.

“The war was a melting plot of classes and nationalities, with people thrown together under conditions of stress,” the Telegraph quoted Walker, who works at the British Library, as saying.
“It was a very creative time for language. Soldiers have always had a genius for slang and coming up with terms.

“This was a citizen army—and also the first really literate army—and at the end of the war, those that survived took their new terms back to the general population,” he said.

The results of the research are included in a new book Trench Talk: Words of the First World War, which documents how new words and phrases originated, while others were spread from an earlier, narrow context, to gain new, wider meanings.

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Most European languages unlikely to survive online, says report

A new study warns that less-common languages are in danger of disappearing from the Internet.

Tongues including Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian and Maltese simply have too few speakers to gain a foothold, and too few examples online to power translation engines. While they are among those with the highest risk for digital extinction, no language — other than English — is safe.

Even Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish were shown to have no better than “moderate support,” when it came to resources to fuel increasingly sophisticated technology such as speech-to-text and voice-controlled devices.

The study, “Europe’s Languages in the Digital Age,” was carried out by META-NET, a European nonprofit that aims to future-proof at least 30 of the 80 languages spoken in Europe. META-NET has designated Sept. 26 as The European Day of Languages.

The researchers assessed language technology software, including spell and grammar checkers, virtual personal assistants such as Siri on the iPhone, online translators such as Google Translate and car navigation systems to see how well languages are represented digitally.

Languages are often automatically translated by comparing each new sentence against thousands of sentences previously translated by people and stored in a database. The better the match, the more accurate the result. But statistical methods are doomed to fail in the case of languages with smaller pools of sample data, the study said.

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Language teaching on the rise, English still dominates

September 25, 2012—An increasing number of students are taught foreign languages in European schools, according to a new report.

From 2005 to 2010, the percentage of students enrolled in primary education in a European school and learning a foreign language rose from 67.5% to 79.2%.

This is one of the conclusions in the newly released report Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe 2012 by Eurydice and Eurostat, produced in cooperation with the European Commission.

The survey, which covers 15 educational systems in Europe, also found that while the age of students starting to learn a foreign language has decreased, the amount of time taught has not significantly increased.

“Taught time dedicated to foreign languages is rather low compared to other subjects,” the report stated.

In Europe, students are generally between 6 and 9 years old when they have to start learning a foreign language. In Belgium, children in the German-speaking community are even younger and start their first foreign language in pre-primary education from the age of 3.

Many other countries have in recent years introduced reforms which begin foreign language classes at an earlier age.

In the majority of European countries, learning two foreign languages for at least one year during compulsory education is an obligation for all students.

On average, 60.8% of students enrolled in lower secondary education in Europe were learning two or more foreign languages in the school year 2009/10 compared to 46.7% in the year 2004/05.

English is still by far the most taught foreign language in nearly all countries from primary level and onwards. Overall, English is a mandatory language in 14 countries or regions within countries.

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Chinese Internet users to overtake English language users by 2015
By Conrad Quilty-Harper,

The number of internet users accessing the web in Chinese is set to overtake English language users by 2015, according to a report by the UN Broadband Commission.

In May 2011, there were 565 million English internet users, compared to 510 million Chinese users, representing 27 per cent and 24 per cent of total global internet users, respectively.

The report predicts that if current growth rates continue, Chinese will overtake English as the main language used by internet users in 2015.

This switch is largely due to China’s massive population, now over 1.3 billion people.
Just under 40 per cent of people in China use the internet, compared to 82 per cent in the United Kingdom, and 78 in the United States.

Internet adoption in China is happening with a stronger emphasis on mobile phones. Nearly half of all smartphones are now sold in China, but only 12 out of every 100 individuals have a fixed broadband subscription.

The report ranks every country on various different measures of connectivity, including households with internet access, the number of individuals who use the internet, and the number of mobile and fixed broadband lines.

Nearly 2.26 billion people, a third of the world’s population, were using the internet by the end of 2011. By 2016 this number is expected to rise to 40 per cent, or 3 billion people, thanks in large part to the widespread adoption of mobile internet usage.

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Hong Kong loves weird English names
By Joyce Man,

HONG KONG, October 1, 2012—Devil. Whale. Chlorophyll, Violante, Treacle—you name it, Hong Kong probably has someone who goes by it. The former British colony is obsessed with weird English names.

Unusual appellations have been found on people of all kinds. The secretary for justice is Rimsky Yuen and the previous secretary for food and health was York Chow. Among celebrities, there is a Fanny Sit, Moses Chan, and Dodo Cheng. Models? We have a Vibeke, Bambi, Dada, and Vonnie. But lawyers take the prize. There is a Magnum, John Baptist, Ludwig, Ignatius, Bunny and four -- yes, four -- Benedicts.

Odd names make for odder situations. Last July, police arrested a woman named Ice Wong with 460 grams of ice—the drug, not frozen water. Months earlier, the law caught up with Devil Law when he was brought before a judge for drug possession and crashing his car into a bus. In 2010, a woman called Cash Leung was jailed for paying cabbies with fake cash.

There are so many examples that one blogger keeps a list titled “HKSAR Name of the Day.” HKSAR Blog, which is in its third year running, has almost 2,000 entries in the list.

Linguistics experts say English names, including unusual ones that would not be found in Western English-speaking countries, are becoming more prevalent, though they cannot pinpoint when the trend began.

“There are no signs of abating,” said David Li, a professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education's department of linguistics and modern language studies. “There are more and more exotic or unusual names if one cares to collect and document them.”

The immigration department, the government body overseeing identification registration, does not compile statistics on categories of names, but a cursory inspection suggests the experts may be right…

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Scholars upset with Modern Chinese Dictionary for including English phrases

August 30, 2012 (VoANews)—A group of scholars in China is calling for the removal of English words from a respected Chinese dictionary, saying their presence is harming the purity of the Chinese language.

China’s Xinhua news agency says the scholars have signed a petition arguing that the latest edition of the Modern Chinese Dictionary violates Chinese law by including 239 English words and acronyms.

Fu Zhenguo, a journalist who signed the petition, told Xinhua that if Chinese people continue to use English abbreviations such as “ATM” or “GDP,” they will eventually be speaking “a bizarre mixture of Chinese and English,” known by some as “Chinglish.”

The editor of the dictionary, Jiang Lansheng, tells the Shanghai Daily she does not want to replace Chinese words, but is only trying to make it easier for people to understand English phrases that are already commonly used in China.

It is not the first time that the dictionary has included English phrases. In its previous edition, the Modern Chinese Dictionary defined more than 120 English words. An earlier edition published in 1996 reportedly contained just 39 such terms.

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English standards in UK universities being set below recommended levels
By David Matthews,

LONDON, August 23, 2012—Nearly two in three UK universities are setting English language requirements below the recommended level for undergraduate students from outside the European Union, according to aTimes Higher Education survey.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which is one of the most commonly used tests and is partly owned by the British Council, recommends that a score of at least 6.5 is needed for any degree course.

Yet 58 of the 88 universities that responded to a THE Freedom of Information request say that their “standard minimum” requirement for undergraduates is 6.0, which IELTS says is “probably acceptable” for students on “linguistically demanding” training courses such as air traffic control, but not academic programmes.

The University of West London, Queen Margaret University and Glyndwr University have minimum entry requirements of 5.5, which IELTS says is “probably acceptable” for “less linguistically demanding training courses” in subjects such as animal husbandry and fire services.

Standards are higher for postgraduates, with no university accepting a score of 5.5, but 39 respondents say their minimum is 6.0.

However, many institutions point out that for some linguistically demanding subjects such as law or journalism, the entry requirements are higher at the undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Geoffrey Alderman, professor of history and politics at the University of Buckingham and a critic of standards in UK universities, said he thought that some institutions were setting English requirements “deliberately low in order not to discourage students.”

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Evolution of the English language slowed down in the 20th Century
By Dan Vergano, USA Today

July 27, 2012—The English language is evolving more slowly than it did centuries ago, with more popular words and phrases remaining current for decades now instead of quickly passing out of fashion, suggests a comprehensive look at books old and new.

“The availability of vast amounts of digitized data, also referred to as ‘metaknowledge’ or ‘big data’, along with the recent advances in the theory and modelling of social systems in the broadest possible sense, enables quantitative explorations of the human culture that were unimaginable even a decade ago,” says the current Journal of the Royal Society Interface study by Matjaz Perc of Slovenia’s University of Maribor.

In the study, Perc looks at Google Books Team data, first reported in a Science journal study last year, that totals up the words in English books over the last five centuries. (The Science report found that the vocabulary of the English language had expanded 33% since the 1600’s.) No surprise, “the” is still the champion most-often-used word from 1520 to 2008. But other things have changed.

Here’s a list from the study of the most common five-word phrases from 1575:

“I have the honour to”
“Long Service and Good Conduct”
“Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty”
“officers and men of the”
“on the morning of the”
“has been graciously pleased to”
“the Lords Commissioners of the”
“in the form of a”
“of the East India Company”
“of the Order of the”

Here’s the same list from 2008:

“at the end of the”
“on the part of the”
“in the middle of the”
“in the form of a”
“the other side of the”
“and at the same time”
“on the other side of”
“is one of the most”
“in the case of the”
“at the time of the”

Well, English certainly has gotten a lot more boring, hasn’t it? But that’s not all.

The study finds that words and phrases, the author call these “n-grams”, went in and out of favor much more rapidly, often changing in the space of a few years time, in the 16th Century, whereas today’s clichés can stick it out for decades.

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Study opens book on evolution of English

July 26, 2012—A study of 500 years of the English language has confirmed “the,” “of,” and “and” are the most frequently printed words in the modern era.

The study, by Slovenian physicist Matjaz Perc, also found the top dozen phrases most printed in books include “at the end of the,” “as a result of the,” or “on the part of the”.

His study, which is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, is based on a digital analysis of 5.2 million books dating from 1520 to 2008.

It shows the language going through an erratic period heavily influenced by religion in the 16th and 17th centuries—a time when William Shakespeare is also claimed to have coined many words and phrases.

The printing press was invented in about 1440, spreading rapidly throughout Europe and then beyond.

“During the 16th and 17th centuries, the popularity (of words) was very fleeting,” Professor Perc said.

“Top words in the year 1600, for example, are no longer top words in the year 1610.”

From the 18th and 19th centuries, word rankings became increasingly stable.

“The words that are most common during the year 1950, for example, are also the most common even today,” Professor Perc, who claimed his computer analysis covered about 4 per cent of all books published up to 2008, said.

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Law against gobbledygook in government agencies off to a spotty start in the US
By Calvin Woodward, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP)—An effort to make the government write so people can understand what they’re reading is off to a spotty start.

A year after an anti-gobbledygook law took effect, federal agencies are still churning out plenty of incomprehensible English, according to the Center for Plain Language, which released a “report card” Thursday grading agencies on their progress — or lack of it.

The Agriculture Department got top marks among the dozen agencies checked: an A for meeting the law's basic requirements and a B for taking supporting actions such as training staff to write clearly. Faring the worst, Veterans Affairs flunked on both counts.

The Plain Writing Act required agencies to start using clear language in October in documents that provide information to the public. But there's no penalty for noncompliance. By now, all agencies are supposed to have a senior officer responsible for plain language, a section of their websites devoted to the subject and a broader process in motion to ensure they begin communicating more clearly with citizens and businesses.

The mixed results of the center's analysis “show that we still have a long way to go to make government forms and documents simpler and easier for taxpayers to understand,” said Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa, sponsor of the legislation. The center's chairwoman, Annetta Cheek, agreed. “You do see more documents coming out that are in relatively good, plain language,” she said. But “it’s very spotty.”

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Invitation to write dictionary puts language nerds on alert

UNITED KINGDOM—Considering the rage a split infinitive can incite among language pedants, they are really asking for trouble. But – in an attempt to make the creation of dictionaries more “democratic” – the editors at Collins have decided to open up their word selection process.

Collins is currently considering submissions from the public for words they would like to see included in the online version of the dictionary. Suggestions from avid language-watchers have begun in earnest, with topical, useful, obscure and just plain ugly words among them. SabihaS suggested “howlerious”, defined as “something so funny, silly, or amusing that it makes you howl with laughter”, while LostTheRemote put forward “crapalicious”, used ironically “to suggest something is not as attractive or tasty as it at first seems.”

European leaders will be hoping that Michael R Stannard’s suggestion will be rejected for lack of staying power. “Euronate” he suggests as a “modern equivalent of ‘spend a penny’.”

Editors have already submitted a selection of words, including “omnishambles”, originally used in Armando Ianucci's The Thick Of It and recently used by Ed Miliband; “tash-on,” a word for kissing popularised by reality TV show Geordie Shore, and “twitlit.”

With the reservations of a man about to enter a particularly well-packed minefield, Alex Brown, head of digital at Collins, said the company was acknowledging the passion the English language inspires.

“We know people are passionate about the preservation and evolution of the English language, and we want to tap into that as new words continue to capture the public imagination. For Collins online dictionary, it was essential that we keep our ear close to the ground listening out for new words emerging from pop culture, science and technology,” he said.

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England mulls international baccalaureate to improve its language education
By Thomas Cookson,
July 9, 2012—The European Survey of Language Competences found last week that English pupils are among the worst in Europe at foreign languages. “For England, an international trading nation, to lie at the bottom of a league of language competence is economically and socially dangerous,” said the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb.

Reports that Education Secretary Michael Gove is considering a return to an O-level-type exam in an attempt to raise standards, the establishment of single boards to avoid grade inflation in core subjects, and the setting up of a review of A-level syllabuses in English, science and maths by leading universities reinforce the sense of unease at the present state of English education. The Telegraph’s Make Britain Count campaign (see Weekend’s front pages) has already called attention to the deficiencies in maths and science teaching in this country.

Yesterday, students of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, offered by more than 200 schools in England as an alternative to A-level, got their results, along with thousands of other students across the northern hemisphere. The pass mark, and the number of those reaching it, is likely to be the same, within one to two percentage points, as it has been since the exam began in 1970. Run by an organisation based in Geneva, the exam is subject to no political pressure and exists for the convenience of the large numbers of people working abroad whose children need a qualification accepted by universities worldwide.

The Diploma Programme’s syllabus might have been invented with Mr Gove’s ideas in mind. As with A-level, all candidates can choose three subjects in six compulsory domains to study at “higher” level; but they must also choose three more subjects from the other three domains to study at “standard” level…

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Lack of interest spells the end for the Queen’s English Society
LONDON, June 4, 2012—The Queen’s English Society, which has railed against the misuse and deterioration of the English language, is to fold.

For 40 years the society has championed good English – and hasn’t been above the occasional criticism of the Monarch’s own standards of speech – but has finally conceded it cannot survive in the era of text speak and Twitter.

Having attempted to identify a role for the society and its magazine Quest “for the next 40 years”, chairman Rhea Williams decided it was time to close down.

She announced the demise of the organisation in a terse message to members after the annual meeting, which just 22 people attended.

“Despite the sending out of a request for nominations for chairman, vice-chairman, administrator, web master, and membership secretary no one came forward to fill any role,” she said.

“So I have to inform you that QES will no longer exist. There will be one more Quest then all activity will cease and the society will be wound up. The effective date will be 30 June 2012.”

She said it was sad the society was to close but added that the difficulty in getting people to take on roles was a problem also experienced by other groups across the UK.

“Things change, people change,” she said. “People care about different things. If you look at lots of societies, lots of them are having problems. Lives have changed dramatically over the last 40 years. People don’t want to join societies like they used to.”

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French irked by European Union use of English

May 30, 2012 (AFP)—The Brussels-based French-language press corps reacted with fury Wednesday to the release in English of the EU’s annual report cards on the bloc’s 27 economies.
In an angry open e-mail to the European Commission, the correspondent for the daily Liberation newspaper Jean Quatremer said—in French: “Once again, all the documents published today are available only in English. This is unacceptable.”

The Commission released 1,500 pages of hotly-awaited reports on the state of the bloc’s economies along with proposals to redress public finances as Europe fights the debt crisis threatening some of its biggest economies.

“I can’t see why the Anglo-Saxon media should benefit from such an unbelievable competitive edge on the remainder of the other media and I can’t see any practical reason for the Commission’s incapacity to do this work.”

“The right to be informed in one’s own language about the social and budgetary sacrifices demanded by the EU executive is a minimum right,” he added.

His protest was backed by most of his French colleagues.

A spokesperson for the Commission told AFP that “the translations are coming.”

The correspondent for English-language magazine The Economist agreed with French colleagues.

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English is the preferred language for world business, new Ipsos poll shows
By Chris Michaud, Reuters

NEW YORK, May 16, 2012—Workers whose jobs require them to interact with people in foreign countries say that English is the dominant language of business, according to a new poll.

More than one quarter of employees in 26 countries around the world told an Ipsos poll that their jobs involve dealing with people in other countries. And of those, two-thirds said that English is the language they use most often.

Workers in India, Singapore and Saudi Arabia were the most likely to say their jobs involved interacting with people in other countries, with 59 percent, 55 percent and 50 percent saying so, respectively.

But only nine percent in Japan and 13 percent in Russia said their work required communication outside the country.

“The most revealing aspect of this survey is how English has emerged as the default language for business around the world,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs which conducted the poll for Reuters.

The survey of 16,344 employed adults in 26 countries showed that 67 percent, or just over two-thirds, of workers who deal with people beyond their borders said English was the language used most often, with Spanish a very distant second at five percent.

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Ditch local languages for English, workers of international companies told
By Rose Hoare, CNN

BOSTON, Massachusetts, May 18, 2012—While English has long been the de facto language of international business, more multinational companies are now mandating that employees communicate only in English.

According to Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School, companies that don’t adopt English as a standard for their entire organization will, at some point, “experience some form of bottleneck.”

“It depends on what the company does, but if you’ll have members in different countries needing to collaborate—whether it’s to integrate technology platforms or cater to customers worldwide—it will become more important that even middle managers and employees with international assignments will need a common language in order to interface with others.”

Airbus, Daimler-Chrysler, Nokia, Renault, Samsung and Microsoft Beijing have all mandated English as their corporate language, writes Neeley in the May 2012 edition of Harvard Business Review—and she says more than 70 Danish companies have now migrated to English.

In 2010, Japanese internet services company Rakuten made headlines when it announced it would become an English-only organization, with all communication, verbal and e-mail, in English.

“English is the only global language,” CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told CNN at the time. “We’re doing a global business. I think this is the only way a Japanese service organization can become a global organization.”

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Saudi Arabia bans English language and Western calendar

May 19, 2012 (Reuters)—Saudi Arabian receptionists won’t answer your call in English anymore and reading timeframes and dates in business deals will require a calendar converter.

Arabic is now the exclusive language to be used in government and private agencies, while the Islamic Hijri calendar is the sole datebook in Saudi Arabia, reports the Gulf News. The country’s Interior Ministry explained the move saying it’s an attempt “to preserve” both the calendar and the language.

Previously, Saudi entities were allowed to “occasionally” use Gregorian, or Western, dates providing there was a corresponding Hijri timeline.  But the Interior Ministry has apparently lost its patience with the so-called “unnecessary” practice, which violated higher orders, says the Arabic daily, Al Watan.

Hijri is a lunar cycle calendar, commemorating the year of 622 CE, when Muhammad and his followers migrated from Mecca to the city of Medina. According to this calendar, March 19, 2012 is Jumada Al-Akhir 28, 1433.

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Sweden believes children can be raised in a gender-neutral society  
By Charlene Prince Birkeland, Team Mom

April 12, 2012—Can we really have gender-neutral sports?

Imagine if a girl were the only female on a co-ed basketball team and nobody tried to force her to stop playing, or even cared. What if a teenage boy tried out for an all-female cheerleading squad and it went unnoticed? Could gender truly be removed from the equation? It's unlikely. In the U.S., a girl being kicked off a baseball team because of her gender—or a boy being allowed on a girls’ swim team despite his gender—makes national headlines. And in Sweden, attempts to create a more gender-equal—or even gender-neutral—country are causing a stir.

In an effort to support gender neutrality, Sweden recently added a gender-neutral pronoun, “hen,” to the country’s National Encyclopedia. Slate reports that several preschools in Sweden have stopped making references to the gender of their students. Instead of calling children
“boys and girls,” teachers are referring to students as “buddies.” One school even stopped allowing free playtime during the day because “stereotypical gender patterns are born and cemented. In free play there is hierarchy, exclusion, and the seed to bullying.” And the country just published its first gender-neutral children’s book, “Kivi och Monsterhund.”

The objective of creating a society that focuses on “hens,” of course, is to allow children to grow up without being limited by gender stereotypes. “It’s a laudible goal,” Stuart Lustig, M.D., a child psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Shine. “But the notion of gender is deeply ingrained,” he says, and depends on how children are socialized.

Elise Claeson, a columnist and a former equality expert at the Swedish Confederation of Professions, has been quoted as saying that the term “hen” could even confuse children because it introduces an “in between-gender.”

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The commonest noun in English is “time,” according to Oxford Dictionaries

OXFORD, United Kingdom, March 31, 2012 (—Oxford Dictionaries editors have found that “time” is the commonest noun in the English language, according to evidence from their English language database, the Oxford English Corpus. Runners up include “person” and “year,” followed by “way” and “day.”

The majority of the top 25 nouns are from Old English, and of the remainder, most came into medieval English from Old French, and before that from Latin. While “time” is the commonest noun in English, the commonest word overall is the humble “the,” which accounts for almost 100 million of all the words in the Oxford English Corpus.

“You may be surprised at the popularity of the word ‘time’ in the Oxford English Corpus,” said Head of Marketing Daniel Stewart, “but it’s important to remember that this word has many different definitions and also forms part of common phrases in English usage, such as ‘about time’ and ‘time after time’. If you search for the definition of ‘time’ on our free online English dictionary site, Oxford Dictionaries Online, you will see how just how many different senses are included in the dictionary entry.”

“The Oxford English Corpus is at the heart of dictionary-making at Oxford University Press,” said Head of Marketing Dan Stewart. “By analysing the corpus, we can find out how new words and senses are emerging in both written English and spoken English, as well as spotting other trends in English usage, spelling, and so on. We currently update our free online dictionary four times a year, with new words and senses, so it’s important that we keep track of how the English language is developing. We use the information we collect from the Oxford English Corpus to ensure that our online dictionary is always up to date, so whether you use our dictionary to check the spelling of a word, or to look up a word’s meaning, you can be confident that Oxford Dictionaries Online is up to date and accurate.”

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Language tests to become mandatory in Canada for some immigrants

April 11, 2012—Some people immigrating to Canada will soon be required to undergo language tests to prove basic proficiency in English or French, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says.

Starting this July, a number of people immigrating under the provincial nominee program will face the language testing, Immigration Kenney announced Wednesday in Saskatoon.

“Speaking to Saskatchewan, this is an English-speaking society,” Kenney said. “You can’t succeed in a society if you don’t have the capacity to communicate in it. And it’s unfair, I think, to newcomers to make them believe otherwise.”

The tests will be mandatory for those applying for semi- and low-skilled jobs and will assess listening, speaking, reading and writing abilities. The new requirement is one of a number of changes to the immigration system discussed in last month's federal budget.

In an interview Wednesday with CBC’s Power & Politics host Evan Solomon, Kenney said all the data and research suggests language proficiency is the “single most important factor” for immigrants in achieving economic success.

He said the federal government wants to make sure the provinces avoid the mistakes of some Western European nations struggling with isolated immigrant communities.

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The (monkey) business of recognizing words
By Jon Hamilton,

April 12, 2012—New research shows that first-graders and baboons have at least one thing in common: Both can tell the difference between actual written words and random sequences of letters. This finding challenges some conventional ideas about what goes on in the human brain when we read.

Scientists have assumed that reading relies on the same brain circuits involved in spoken language, but now they are considering a more complicated explanation, thanks to six baboons who took part in an unusual experiment.

The baboons live in the south of France, spending their time in an enclosure that includes nine testing booths. Jonathan Grainger, a researcher at Aix-Marseille University, says that baboons, like first-graders, can be motivated by food and video games. So he put treats and touch-screen computers in the testing booths.

In an experiment in France, baboons were allowed to choose whether a string of four letters was an English word or not. If they chose the right answer, they received a food reward. After six weeks of tests, they chose correctly 75 percent of the time.

“(The baboons) just go up and do an experiment whenever they want, basically,” Grainger says. “There’s no stress to the animal. They’re doing this because they want to.”

Grainger says the baboons had to step into a booth and tap the screen.

“The first thing that comes up is a string of four letters, which at random could be a real English word or what we call a ‘non-word’ — a string of letters that’s not a real English word,” he says.

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Apple may change the English language with the IPad
By Chris Gabbard,

April 9, 2012—Did you know that aspirin was once a brand name? So was heroin, the escalator, thermos, yo-yo, and the zipper. All were new products at one time or another, and all of them became so engrained in American culture and our collective lexicon that they were deemed too generic to be referred to as brands anymore.

Branding experts are saying Apple may be in the same boat with the iPad. The product has come to represent the epitome of the tablet PC. So much so, that people may refer to any similar product as an iPad from here on out.

Brands fight for this kind of recognition all the time, and it comes with both good and bad consequences. Brand recognition is the obvious plus. Most brands would kill to become a household name like Apple, or the iPad. But the drawback is brand deterioration. With the name iPad being used for every tablet computer, customers can develop negative connotations about it, simply by the name being associated with a less quality product.

It’s a Catch-22 (Ironically, most people use that term without thinking of the book by Joseph Heller). Brands want to be a household name, but they don’t want to become so popular that the name loses all association to the company. How often do you ask someone for a Band-Aid and immediately think of Johnson & Johnson? Or ask someone for a Kleenex and think of Kimberly-Clark? Both of these names are trademarked, but rarely do they carry any significance for the company they represent when spoken about in daily life.

And there is really no way of stopping it. Once a term catches on, you cannot control its growth. You can’t make people stop using iPad to describe other tablets.

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Global business English skills declining, 2011 research shows
By Stephanie Overby, CIO US
April 6, 2012—The language barrier has always been a concern for IT leaders sending corporate technology projects and support overseas. And the issue may not be abating, according to the results of an online business English placement test recently given to 108,000 employees around the world.

GlobalEnglish—a Brisbane, Calif.-based provider of on-demand English language instruction to customers including Cisco, Procter & Gamble and GM—analyzed the results of testing done at 216 companies in 76 countries over the course of the last year. The test for non-native English speakers assesses not only knowledge of the language itself, but also language application across different media from email to phone, language use in different contexts such as presentations or sales meetings, and understanding of nuance and complexity in business situations.

Based on a scale of one to ten—with one indicating an ability to read and communicate using only simple questions and statements and ten representing an ability to communicate and collaborate in the workplace like a native English speaker—the average test score was 4.15, down 7 percent from 4.46 the previous year.

That translates to a population of workers who, on average, can understand basic information on the telephone or in person, but cannot comprehend most business presentations or take a leadership role in business discussions or perform relatively complex tasks, according to the scoring system.

Nearly four out of 10 of the global workers were ranked as business English beginners, meaning that they can’t understand or communicate basic information during virtual or in-person meetings, read or write professional emails in English, or deal with complexity and rapid change…

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English: The mongrel language
By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers

April 4, 2012—If a lecture on the history of the English language has a metaphorical antithesis, it is most definitely the ice cream sandwich. (Hard/soft. Lasts too long/never lasts long enough. You get the idea.)

Which only partly explains the positively giddy mood at Merriam Webster associate editor Kory Stamper's recent seminar, “English and How it Got That Way.” As folks filed in one-by-one to hear Stamper speak at the Wyndham Hotel and Executive Meeting Center in Lisle, they were plied with treats more frequently found poolside than lectern-side:

Also, she opened with, “Don’t take notes.”

Stamper’s talk attempted to put our incredibly rich and multilayered and mind-numbingly confusing language into some historical context for audience members whose jobs are among the hardest in the world: teaching English as a second language.

Take “rough,” “though,” and “through,” for starters.

“They’re all spelled the same,” Stamper said, channeling countless English-language learners. “Why don’t they have the same sound?”

“That’s when you face-palm,” she continued, as a sketch of a frustrated sap with face buried in both palms popped onto her PowerPoint screen. Knowing laughs took over the room.

“Drink, drank, drunk. Sink, sank, sunk … so think, thank, thunk?”


“When you know the basic history of English,” she explained, “you know there are reasons for all of this. English is living and changing and always has been.”

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Parliament struggles to recruit English-language interpreters [fr]

April 6, 2012—Thirty years on, Margaret Thatcher's education policies have created a shortage of skills in the EU institutions, which are struggling to recruit English-language interpreters and translators. The UK’s House of Lords has called on the government to address Britain’s “monoglot culture” by re-instating compulsory language classes in schools.

“For years, we’ve been having great difficulty recruiting English people,” said Miguel Angel Martinez, a Spanish deputy in charge of the European Parliament’s multilingualism policy.

The EU Assembly was struggling to recruit native English speakers for its interpretation and translation services, he told EurActiv in an interview.

The issue has also been raised by the European Commission, which warned in 2009 that EU institutions were likely to face an acute shortage of English-language interpreters by 2015, when the current generation of officials retire.

Martinez said the skills shortage was “due to the fact that language teaching has been removed [from school curricula] during the days of Ms Thatcher because the British thought they would no longer need it.”

As a result, most young people of 25-30 years of age speak English only, Martinez said, which creates problems for the Parliament's interpretation and translation services.

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Apple’s iPad on the verge of changing the English language

NEW YORK, April 7, 2012 (AP)—Apple is on the verge of doing what few others have: change the English language.

When you have a boo-boo, you reach for a Band-Aid, not a bandage. When you need to blow your nose, you ask for Kleenex, not tissue. If you decide to look up something online, you Google instead of search for it. And if you want to buy a tablet computer, there’s a good chance there’s only one name you’ll remember.

“For the vast majority, the idea of a tablet is really captured by the idea of an iPad,” says Josh Davis, a manager at Abt Electronics in Chicago. “They gave birth to the whole category and brought it to life.”

Companies trip over themselves to make their brands household names. But only a few brands become so engrained in the lexicon that they’re synonymous with the products themselves. This so-called “genericization” can be both good and bad for companies like Apple, which must balance their desire for brand recognition with their disdain for brand deterioration.

It’s one of the biggest contradictions in business. Companies spend millions to create a brand. Then, they spend millions more on marketing that can have the unintended consequence of making those names so popular that they become shorthand for similar products. It’s like if people start calling station wagons Bentleys. It can diminish a brand’s reputation.

“There’s tension between legal departments concerned about ‘genericide’ and marketing departments concerned about sales,” says Michael Atkins, a Seattle trademark attorney. “Marketing people want the brand name as widespread as possible and trademark lawyers worry ... the brand will lose all trademark significance.”

It doesn’t happen often. In fact, it’s estimated that fewer than 5 percent of U.S. brand names become generic…

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Which of the foreign languages is the most difficult to learn?
By Yana Filimonova, Pravda

RUSSIA, March 27, 2012—Many of those who study foreign languages wonder which language is the most difficult one in the world. Linguists say that there is no precise answer to this question because everything depends on which language you speak. Neurophysiologists believe, though, that the Chinese or the Arabic could be described as world’s most difficult languages. The brain of native Chinese or Arab speakers may find it difficult to perceive those languages.

Specialists of linguistics say that complications in learning a foreign language depend on the language carried by the person who studies a foreign language. For example, the Russian language, which is generally considered to be one of the hardest in the world, will not be very hard to learn for Ukrainians or the Czechs. However, a Turkish or a Japanese student may never be able to study Russian—they may find it incredibly hard to learn.

From the point of view of affinity, the Basque language—Euskara—can be considered one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. This language is not connected with any other language group, whether live or dead.

The Guinness Book of World Records gives another example—the Chippewa. This is a dialect of Ojibwe, an Indian tribe in Canada and the USA. There is also the Haida, an Indian tribal language in the north-west of North America. The Tabasaran, a native language for an ethnic group in Dagestan is also extremely difficult, along with the Eskimo and Chinese languages.

The Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages are considered the world’s most difficult languages from the point of view of written language. In Japan, for example, children study for 12 years. A half of this time is devoted to only two subjects: the Japanese language and mathematics. To leave school, Japanese students have to pass the exams that test their knowledge of 1,850 hieroglyphs. To read a newspaper article, a Japanese person needs to know at least 3,000 hieroglyphs.

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Boy, 14, speaks seven languages

March 31, 2012 (UKPA)—A schoolboy who speaks seven languages has been named the most multilingual child in the UK.

Bruce Baillie-Hamilton, 14, can speak Russian, Mandarin, Arabic, French, German, Spanish and English.

He started learning French at the age of seven but fancied trying something more difficult and chose a language with a different alphabet.

He started Russian at the age of nine or 10 and then moved on to Mandarin and Arabic.
Bruce, from Callander near Stirling, has now been named the “Most Multilingual Child in Britain” after entering a competition run by publisher HarperCollins. He conversed with six language experts via Skype to convince them of his ability.

The teenager said: “I quite liked French and German at school so I wanted to try and expand my horizons so I started to learn Russian.

“After Russian I thought I may as well start something much harder so I decided to go for something without an alphabet and picked Chinese because it doesn’t really have one.”

He has put his languages to use on his travels and found that local people appreciate it. He said: “I found that when you are in China and you can speak Chinese they are much more friendly and the change is dramatic.”

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When global money talks, it speaks English
By Ken McGuffin,

TORONTO, March 23, 2012—English reigns supreme in international business, and it’s not just because some of the biggest economies speak it.

Countries that have English as at least one of their official languages, or whose main languages are linguistically close to English have higher rates of investment in other countries. Countries with high rates of English proficiency also do well, according to a new study from the University of Toronto.

“The vast majority of the world’s trade and investment is actually among or between or involves English-speaking countries,” says researcher Walid Hejazi, an associate professor of international business at the Rotman School of Management. Hejazi co-wrote the paper with Juan Ma, a PhD student at Harvard Business School.

The two researchers used a “gravity model” framework to conduct their analysis of the 30 countries within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The model allowed them to control for variables such as GDP, population, cultural similarities, colonial histories, and exchange rates.

Once that analysis had been done, the researchers could see whether there was any other residual difference in foreign investment levels and trade that could be explained by language.

The study found that countries with English as one of their official languages accounted for nearly half of all the OECD’s gross domestic product and nearly 47 percent of its foreign investment.

English-speaking countries also had the highest rates of bilateral foreign investment.
In cases where one country had English as a main language but the other did not, the highest rates of foreign investment were between English and German-speaking countries, which have some linguistic proximity to English.

“The closer a country’s language is to English, the bigger a kick they get,” Hejazi says of the study’s results.

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Regional unity in ASEAN Community by 2012 lies in sharing languages
BANGKOK, March 11, 2012—There has been a great deal said about the need to improve English-language skills ahead of the formation of the Asean Economic Community in 2015, but much less emphasis is put on communication between members in their native languages. While English is indispensable as a common international language, a multilingual approach also has clear advantages for building regional understanding and relations.

According to research released in January by Chulalongkorn University, in addition to English, people in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar are interested in studying Thai. Many Thais also express interest in learning regional languages to promote cultural understanding.

Consequently, in 2010 the government initiated a multilingual programme in border area schools at the Mathayom (Grade 6-12) level to teach the Lao, Khmer, Myanmar and Vietnamese languages. But a shortage of teachers skilled in these obstacles is preventing the programme from expanding.

Prayoon Songsil, an expert in Khmer and associate professor at Dhonburi Rajabhat University in Thon Buri, expressed concern over the scarcity of programmes at the college and university level geared toward teaching students and training teachers in regional languages, particularly Burmese and Vietnamese.

Students wishing to learn Khmer should have less difficulty, as there are about 20 universities nationwide offering courses.

“We have taught the Khmer language in universities for some time. Therefore we have the resources to accommodate the expected influx of students,”' she said.

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Dominance of English language marginalizes most EU citizens
January 31, 2012—The European Union has 27 member countries and 23 official languages, but its official business is carried out primarily in one language — English. Yet the striking findings of a new study show that barely a third of the EU's 500 million citizens speak English.

What about the other two-thirds? They are linguistically disenfranchised, say the study’s authors.

For the EU’s non-English speakers, their native languages are of limited use in the EU’s political, legal, communal and business spheres, conclude economists Shlomo Weber, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and Victor Ginsburgh, Free University of Brussels (ULB), the authors who conducted the study. As a result, people who are disenfranchised have limited access to EU laws, rules, regulations and debates in the governing body — all of which may violate the basic principles of EU society, the researchers say.

“Language is the proxy for engagement. People identify strongly with their language, which is integral to culture and traditions,” Weber says. “Language is so explosive; language is so close to how you feel.”

Weber and Ginsburgh base their findings on a methodology they developed to quantitatively evaluate both costs and benefits of government policies to either expand or reduce diversity. The methodology builds on a body of earlier published research by Weber, Ginsburgh and other economists.

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Shakespeare’s grammar may be the real source of his genius

January 31, 2012—Read a line from a William Shakespeare play and notice the cadence with which you speak. All of those breaths and pauses from the commas and semicolons spread seemingly sporadically within the flowery language are not just for theatrical drama; they may be the source of Shakespeare's genius.

Dr. Jonathan Hope, a reader in English in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, dedicates a majority of his research to figuring out what makes Shakespeare’s prose so, well, poetic. In an article titled “English in the World: History, Diversity, Change,” Hope writes about his findings.

Through computer-based linguistic analysis, Hope dissects the language of Early Modern literature, with a focus on the works of Shakespeare. His work has revealed that it is not an advanced vocabulary that makes the heart, and tongue, of literary experts and novices alike pine, and sometimes twist, but the linguistic, grammatical and syntactical aspects of his writing,

Though there is no doubt the writer had a knack for language (according to the Oxford English Dictionary, he coined more than 500 words), it was his liberal use of grammar that set him apart.

The English language was developing and evolving so rapidly during the 16th and 17th centuries that writers of the time period could essentially use the English language like clay; often molding and constructing a new vocabulary.

“He was writing at a time when the English language’s vocabulary was expanding rapidly but, while he had a rich vocabulary himself, it was on a par with other writers from the same time,” Hope wrote.

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