Our top five language stories this month:
5. Making Tamil even more official. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Tamil is an official language. It’s widely spoken there. Indeed it was the very first of India’s languages to be recognized as a classical language. But proponents of the language, and of the Tamil people, don’t think that Tamil gets the respect it deserves. So they have enlisted Tamil politicians to issue an order requiring that commercial signs prominently display the language. Most signs are in English. Opponents worry that Tamil Nadu is needlessly cutting itself from the rest of the world, and from possible trade opportunities.
4. The expression that Manute Bol didn’t invent. After Sudanese basketball great Manute Bol died, many eulogies praised him for, among other things, coining the term my bad. Speaking on the Senate floor U.S. Senator Sam Brownback lauded Manute Bol for that (as well as for his basketball skills, and for killing a lion with a spear while working as a cow-herder). The source for the my bad coinage claim was a five-year-old post in the blog Language Log. The belief apparently was that as a non-native English speaker, he thought he was saying my fault. As posters on Language Log have recently pointed out, my bad was almost definitely around before Manute Bol first arrived in the United States in about 1980. So Manute: sorry. Our bad.
3. A translator recalls the Nuremberg Trials. Ingeborg Laurensen, 96, recalls her work as one of 24 interpreters at the international military tribunal after World War Two.
2.Those (alleged) Russian spies and their faux Euro/Canadian accents. One of them claimed a she was Belgian; another that she was Canadian; yet another had “the faintest hint” of “an accent”. OK, so their covers were blown, but it wasn’t because their accents didn’t match (what’s a Belgian accent anyway? ). Let’s face it, most of us are pretty inept when it comes to pinpointing an accent. In the pod, we get a crash course on the difference between the French spoken in France and the French of Quebec.
1. A sign language that doesn’t have signs for some Islamic words. American Sign Language doesn’t have signs for Mecca, Mohammed and other words common to Muslims. In Toronto, an ASL teacher is working with group of students from a diversity of linguistic backgrounds (Pakistani Sign Language, Arabic Sign Language and Turkish Sign Language) to try to come up with signs for a few religious words. In the pod, we also discuss new research into Nicaraguan Sign Language that shows that language may affect how we solve spatial problems.