Banning Hungarian, swearing for pain relief, and dog barks translated

clarklostFor this month’s language news podcast, I roped in The World’s Online Editor Clark Boyd. In a former life, Clark taught English in Hungary — yes that’s a barely younger version of him posing beneath the signpost. He, of course, has some choice stories about that time. (I wish I could offer up a hyperlink here…) He and I chose the following stories:

5. Slovakia passes a law banning Hungarian in official communications in some of its Hungarian-speaking regions. The is just the latest in a long-running series of bureaucratic battles between this small country’s Slovak-speaking majority and its Hungarian minority. Hungarians are getting used to this. Because they found themselves on the losing side in World War One, their country contracted. That left millions of Hungarian speakers living in surrounding nations, primarily Slovakia, Romania and Serbia. And aside from –in some cases — sharing the same script, the Hungarian language bears no similiarities to the languages spoken in these countries. Cue suspicion, fear and loathing.

bilingual4. New research out of Italy seeks to show why babies and young children are so adept at learning two languages simultaneously. It’s more evidence of the possible advantages — social and neurological — that bilingual speakers have over monolinguals. Above is a picture I took inside a Phoenix-area elementary school that has had to change its curriculum because it was deemed to be teaching “too bilingually.”bowlingual
3. Stereotyped Japanese toy story alert: toy maker Takara Tomy has come up with a device that claims to translate dog noises into human language. . That language, for the time being, is Japanese, so it might not work for you. This may or may not be entirely a gimmick. But even if there is something to the translation “algorithm,” do you ready want to know what pooch is saying? $220 will buy you a Bowlingual.

2. Six years ago, the Malaysian government ordered its public schools to start teaching math and science in English. After several protests, mainly from ethnic Malays, the government has lifted the requirement, so that schools can choose which language to use. The main languages of instruction there are Bahasa Malay, Chinese and Tamil. This will please rural schools where finding a English-speaking math or science teacher was vitually impossible. But the fear now is that Malaysia may fall further behind the the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong in producing a tech-smart, English-speaking younger generation.

swear1. Good news for people who occasionally swear: results from a new study show that the trangressive nature of cursing helps when it comes to tolerating pain. You can keep your hand submerged in a jar of ice for longer if you put filthy words to your feelings. Try it at home! However, this methodology won’t work if you are a over-sweary person, you swear constantly even in your most painless moments: the curses will have lost their meaning.

A bonus this week: our favorite hated words. This is inspired by the Ledbury Poetry Festival in England which asked poets to come up with their least favorite words. The winner: pulchritude — not a bad word till you know what it means: beauty. Clearly, it needs a meaning reset. How about the lingering smell of garbage? Other words Clark and I discuss: benign, dadrock, homeland and alien.

Listen in iTunes and here.

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4 responses to “Banning Hungarian, swearing for pain relief, and dog barks translated

  1. Kevin Lash

    Hi Patrick,
    I got a little behind in my podcasts (too many soccer pods to listen to last month) but I had a few comments on the July new stories program.
    At the start of the podcast you said, “Here they [the stories] are, in DESCENDING order.” My first response was, why would you start with the best story, then go progressively down to the fifth best story? My assumption was that “descending” meant descending in importance or “place” as in first place, then second place, etc. You of course were referring to their numerical order, descending from the number five down to number one. Then I realized that if you had said that you were going to do the stories in ASCENDING order, someone else would comment on your page that you had gotten it wrong. I don’t see any way out of this conundrum! “Conundrum”, by the way, would never make my list of worst words. It’s an excellent word, fun to say.
    Secondly, for a great example of the use of the word “pulchritude”, I recommend the song “Popsicle Toes” by Michael Frank. It’s a great song anyway, and was the first time I ever heard the word pulchritude.
    Well, writing you has pulled me a little bit out of my bad mood over my team, Real Salt Lake, tying Houston 0-0 last night, thanks to the crossbar (twice) and a very grumpy referee who loves yellow and doesn’t mind red, either. Hmmmm.

  2. Melissa Fernandez

    My name is Melissa Fernandez and I am a student in an Intercultural Communication class at the Northern Virginia Community College. I found story# 4 the topic of learning different languages at a young age to be interesting. Patrick says research in the past says, “If a child was learning languages bilingually, their language skills would be slower than being raised learning one”. He says how new research from Italy is saying that as young children can learn 2 different languages from scratch at the same time and is easier because of the sound. He also says how it’s difficult if you learn them at different times because you won’t be able to really learn the second language sounds. Another factor is age, as we get older we can’t hold so much information like we use to at a young age. As a young person learning two different languages, when I was younger my first language was Spanish. Then at school I learned English. It was difficult for me because I was learning both at the same time and I only knew the basics, I wasn’t old enough to understand the conjugation. I do agree that it made my language skills slower because I struggled in both. As I got older, I stuck to the language that most speak in this country and then went back to learn Spanish in high school and college. Now I can read, write and speak English and Spanish well.

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