For the latest podcast, I have five language news stories from the past month:
5. African languages to get their versions of Windows.
Microsoft says by 2011 it will release versions of its new Windows 7 operating system in ten African languages: Sesotho sa Leboa, Setswana, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Afrikaans, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, kiSwahili and Amharic. It’s a big boost for those languages, as well as for the people who prefer to speak and write in them, rather than English or French.
4. The government of Moldova moves to change the name of the country’s official language.
Most people who live in small eastern European nation of Moldova speak a dialect of Romanian. But in Moldova, the language is known officially as Moldovan. This is an act of placation: it placates non-Romanian- speakers in Moldova and, more importantly, in Moscow. Calling the language Romanian is seen by some in the Kremlin as tantamount to a vote for unification with Romania. Russia, of course, doesn’t want that: it views Moldova, a former Soviet republic, as part of its “Near Abroad”. But Moldova recently elected a pro-Western government. One of its first acts was to change the name of the language on its official website from Moldovan to Romanian. What’s more, the President-elect has declared himself a speaker of Romanian. (He also declared himself “a Romanian.”) That’s in sharp constrast to his pro-Moscow predecessors, who insisted on translators when they had meetings with Romanian officials.
3. South Korean birthing centers go multilingual.
South Korea doesn’t have much of a history of immigration; very few foreigners have learned Korean, at least with a view to settling there. Now though, there’s a shortage of women, especially in the countryside. So South Korean men have starting marrying women from other Asian countries. And they’re having children. Most of women speak very little Korean, so doctors and nurses are learning a few words in Chinese, Thai and Tagalog. That’s just the start of what appears to be quite an ordeal. Even with Korean speakers in their families, the women and their children have a hard time integrating, linguistically and otherwise, into Korean society.
2. Unfortunate foreign meanings of baby names and how YOU can protect yourself (should you wish to).
A London-based translation company with an eye for publicity is offering what appears to be a unique service: for about $1,700, it will run a translation check on the name you have chosen for your baby. It will, of course, alert you if that name means say, pickpocket in Japanese (“Suri”) or shut up in Yoruba (“Kai”). Maybe the celebs, with their surfeit cash and zany name choices will be tempted. For the rest of us, there’s Google Translate. Or we could just call our firstborn, I don’t know, Jessica. Or John.
1. Na’vi, invented for the silver screen, hopes to emulate Klingon.
Klingon’s been in the news a lot recently. There was the (recycled) story of the man who tried to raise his son bilingually — in Klingon, and just to be on safe side, English. Then there’s the story of a new Klingon dictionary in the works. Now, there’s another nod to Klingon. James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar is scheduled to annex and occupy the cinematic world on December 18. Much of the movie takes place on a planet whose inhabitants are 10 feet tall, have tails and blue skin, etc etc. And they speak their own language. Tolkein created Elvish . Star Trek came up with Klingon. And now Avatar has midwifed Na’vi. Cameron commissioned University of South California linguist Paul Frommer to dream up a new language. And he did.