Tag Archives: Hebrew

Praying in Spanish, new Hebrew names for planets, and a Danish hangover

This is the new face of St Patrick’s Church in Lawrence, MA. Until recently, St Pat’s was a bastion of Irish-American culture. But Lawrence is a changed city — it’s now overwhelmingly Hispanic. In 2001, Father Paul O’Brien was dispatched there with orders to extend outreach to Lawrence’s  Dominicans and Puerto Ricans — its native Spanish speakers.  He increased the number of Spanish language masses, started Spanish Bible study groups and raised money for a community center that offered free meals to the city’s poor.  What happened next wasn’t pretty. Some old-time parishioners left the church; others contented themselves with leaving messages of hate on Father Paul’s voicemail. But nine years later, things have improved. Far more Spanish speakers worship at St Pat’s. And among the old-timers who remained, there’s acceptance, if sometimes grudging, that two languages, two cultures and two styles can co-exist in one church. All this — and much more — is documented in Scenes From a Parish, a film by James Rutenbeck that’s currently showing on PBS’s Independent Lens. (Check your local listings for repeats etc.) We play some excerpts, and talk to Rutenbeck and Father Paul.

Also, how do you say Neptune and Uranus in Hebrew? The answer used to be: Neptune and Uranus (yes, it’s Uranus in the picture). Now the two planets have Hebrew names, thanks to the votes of interested Israelis, The Academy of the Hebrew Language and a panel of experts.  We English speakers are still stuck with Uranus but Hebrew speakers can now call that planet Oron. Neptune will now be known as Rahab.

Finally, a New Year’s Day hangover courtesy of the good people of Denmark.

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Israel’s street sign vigilantes, learning Hindi, and your brain on language

sign1This week, a mom-and-pop effort to restore Arabic script to street signs in Israel. Earlier this year, Israel’s new transport minister Israel Katz proposed an overhaul to his country’s road signs. So far they’ve been trilingual: Hebrew, Arabic and English. But Katz wants to remove Arabic and English city names and replace them with transliterations of the Hebrew names. So instead of the English word, “Jerusalem,” and the Arabic name for the city, “Al-Quds,” both languages would spell out “Yerushalayim,” the Hebrew name of the city. The proposal hasn’t been implemented yet. signs2But street signs in Israel have long been ideological battlegrounds: the Arabic has often been defaced or obliterated. That’s where Romy Achituv and Ilana Sichel (pictured right) come in. They are reinstating the Arabic, one sign at a time. So far the police haven’t stopped them. (Photos: Daniel Estrin)

Also in this week’s podcast, I speak with author Katherine Russell Rich on learning Hindi at a language school in Rajasthan. Her book “Dreaming in Hindirich-dreaming1 is also an investigation into what happens to our brains when we learn a learn a language. Rich quizzed several neurolinguists, so she could get a handle on the challenges and all-round weird linguistic moments she encountered in her pursuit of Hindi mastery. So there are answers (not THE answers perhaps) to the following: what’s the difference between learning a language “intuitively” as a child and in a classroom setting later on? Why is it so difficult to have a perfect accent in your second or third language? Why do so many people verbally shut down for weeks or months  when learning a language? How does language effect personality and vice versa? And is there blowback from your learned language that changes how you speak your native tongue?

On the subject of the last question, check out this fascinating conversation on The World’s science podcast on the latest research into what happens to your native tongue when you learn a second one. According to this study, you’ll never read your first language in the same way. Also, that cognates can trip you up.

Finally, we cast a somewhat shameful eye over a tough-to-translate expression in Spanish.

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