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Sweden’s genderless pre-school bans ‘he’ and ‘she’

The question of gender and its importance in language and society has recently been raised following the banning of the terms ‘he’ and ‘she’ at a Swedish pre-school.  The school – named ‘Egalia’ – introduced the measure to allow children to develop regardless of their gender.  Teachers at the school in Stockholm refer to the children by their names, as ‘friends’ or by using the term ‘hen’, a unisex pronoun borrowed from the Finnish language, rather than using gender-specific pronouns.

This news has sparked debate worldwide regarding the importance of gender stereotypes, typical roles of men and women, and benefits and disadvantages of the policy in terms of child development.  From a language point of view, it also raises the topic of personal pronouns, gender, and whether the two are always necessary and how commonly they are used. (more…)

Britain under-represented in European Union Institutions

European Union institutions are currently under-represented by British natives, in part due to low-level language skills. Just 5% of positions in the European Parliament and Commission are filled by Britons, despite the United Kingdom comprising 12% of the total population of the European Union.

English is commonly used as a universal language in international situations and, as we commented in a previous post, the number of students of foreign languages in other European countries is high above the figure in the United Kingdom. What’s amazing to me is that some people still argue that there is no need for native English speakers to learn other languages, when in conducting international relationships with other EU countries, understanding another language, culture and country is paramount. As Michael Shackleton, Head of the London European Parliament Office, commented “The balance of the use of language has been in favour of English, but to understand what people are thinking about you also have to get a sense of them and how they see the world.” (more…)

Nothing beats a good pun!

Eating penguin chocolate bars with a couple of Spanish friends the other day got me thinking about jokes, puns and play on words in general. The Spanish translation of the word “pun” is “juego de palabras”, meaning literally “word game”, which sums up just what a pun is. Having always been interested in language and humour, I am a big fan of word jokes, and feel particularly proud of myself when I make what I consider to be an amusing pun (though others might disagree…).

We regularly groan at puns printed on the front pages of tabloid newspapers, and at the jokes printed on penguin wrappers and in Christmas crackers. Last year in fact, The Sun newspaper held a competition to see if its readers could “Out-pun the Sun”, inviting readers to give their best suggestions. Shakespeare used puns in Romeo and Juliet, and puns also appear in Harry Potter and James Bond books, which are internationally popular and have been successfully translated into many languages. Idioms and puns often have similar equivalents in languages with a common root, but there’s always a challenge for the translator to convey the original meaning, and this is why literary translation in particular is such a specialised and highly-prized skill. (more…)

Does the way you speak affect your compatibility with your partner?

Recent research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that couples who speak in a similar way are more suited to each other than those who don’t. (more…)

Endangered language at risk of extinction

A language that has been spoken for centuries in modern-day Mexico is at risk of extinction as only two elderly people can speak it fluently – and they’re not talking to each other! Ayapaneco is the official name of this language, but is known as Nuumte Oote (The True Voice) by the two remaining speakers.

In the 20th century, there were a number of decades during which the use of indigenous languages was prohibited, and Spanish became the language of education. Following urbanisation and migration in the second half of the century, the close-knit group that had used the language gradually dispersed, and as a result, fewer and fewer people spoke the language. (more…)

Does spelling matter?

When contemplating the topic of spelling and its importance, I idly wondered how many spelling mistakes appear in journalism. Surely, as examples of high-quality writing composed by the most talented journalists in the country, newspapers, both in their paper and online form, should be free from errors, particularly orthographic errors?

I decided to have a look at the Daily Mail website, and within minutes of browsing articles, I found an error, unless of course I am mistaken and the flashes of light that go hand in hand with thunder are flashes of “lightening”. Some may argue that the spelling mistake does not detract from the information given, and that a reader would still understand what was meant (in this case, that Kate Hudson’s dress has lightning motifs on it). However, surely that does not excuse the error that appeared in a national newspaper? Readers would only understand the word by recognising it as being similar to the correct word “lightning” and realise that this is the intended meaning.

So just how important is spelling? Even though not a single word in the following paragraph is spelt correctly, we can still read it:
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch by the Lngiusiitc Dptanmeret at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

So if we just need the first and last letters to be correct in order to be able to understand a word, does the order of the letters in the middle matter?

When translating text, spelling is extremely important. Correct spelling is necessary in order to ensure that the translator, who will be translating from a language that is not their own, can understand exactly what the author of the text wants to say. One letter out of place could potentially change the whole meaning of a word and therefore a sentence. In addition, for foreign readers, who are making the effort to learn English, it is important that they learn the correct spelling of words. If there is a word they are unsure of, they would presumably believe the spelling that appears in a newspaper, thus incorrectly learning a piece of English vocabulary.

The question of technology should also be addressed. Are computers partly to blame for spelling mistakes we make? With the ever-increasing use of spellcheckers, not just in Office applications now, but also in various email sites, are we becoming too reliant on them? Do we think that we can get away with not learning how to spell correctly, as we know that the computer will correct any errors we commit? Are spelling mistakes in the press merely typing errors? Should we go back to pen and paper and photocopies? Or is spelling not that important after all? In my humble opinion, it is, it is an inherent part of the English language, that is at risk of being compromised due to laziness and lack of care. I think spelling should be one of the most important parts of any English lesson given to school children, so that our language continues to flourish and be passed from generation to generation correctly.

Apologies, rant over… just don’t get me started on apostrophes…

The relevance of online translation

Love it or hate it, the internet is increasingly becoming an essential tool in everyday life. This rings especially true in the field of translation. (more…)

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