Wednesday, December 28, 2011

January 1st New Year’s Day – Is it for Everyone?

Yes, it is for everyone who uses the Gregorian calendar. However, some nations use a different calendar even if the Gregorian calendar is widely used. It is not uncommon for certain countries and religious groups to either follow a different calendar totally or to use two calendars to track significant dates. In the case of the New Year’s Day, many celebrate it on two different dates. One date, January 1, is based on the Gregorian calendar. The other date for New Year’s Day is based on a calendar important to the culture or prevalent religion of the country.

Buddhist New Year

The dates for Buddhist New Year fall on different days of the year depending on the principles and values of the countries where Buddhism is practiced. Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka are just some of the countries that practice Buddhism. The dates are based on the Buddhist calendar, which is luni-solar. For the above-mentioned countries, New Year starts on the first day of the full moon in the month of April. In countries where Mahayana Buddhism is practiced (Vietnam, Korea and China, for example), the New Year begins on the first full moon in the month of January, sometimes even in the earlier part of February. In Tibet, the Buddhist New Year starts in March according to the Tibetan calendar.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day – It Has Nothing to Do With Muhammad Ali

A lot of you have probably heard the term “Boxing Day” at least once in your life just like millions of people across the globe. But since you don’t celebrate Boxing Day, it is likely that you never bothered to find out what it was all about. Now you can find out what Boxing Day is and what happens during this holiday.

At the heels of December 25’s Christmas celebration is Boxing Day. It’s a holiday celebrated in countries like Britain and Canada. Boxing Day has evolved into an extra day for families and friends to spend more quality time together. For retailers in countries where it is observed, it’s like Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Day, in the United States. Almost everything goes on sale much to the shoppers’ delight.

Countries that recognize Boxing Day

The United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales), Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, Fiji, Cook Islands, Greenland, Denmark, British Virgin Islands, Finland, Greece, and Hungary are some of the countries that observe Boxing Day. Apart from these countries, several Commonwealth countries and protectorates also celebrate Boxing Day. 

In Ireland, instead of Boxing Day, they celebrate St. Stephen’s Day, which is a religious holiday. Since 1994, in South Africa, the term Day of Goodwill has replaced Boxing Day.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas! ¡Feliz Navidad!

Christmas is probably the most well known religious holiday in the world. Christians and non-Christians alike celebrate Christmas in traditional and non-traditional ways. Part of the reason why Christmas is so popular is because it has become the biggest commercial holiday in the world. Business-savvy companies usually make a big profit during this season by tapping into the gift-giving tradition of this yuletide holiday.

But Christmas is not solely a holiday of glitz, glamor, endless parties and exchanging of presents. This Christian holiday centers on the birth of the child Jesus, who, according to Christian beliefs, is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Christmas is the story of the Nativity where Joseph led Mary around Bethlehem to look for a place where Mary could give birth to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Joseph and Mary were turned away by all the innkeepers and had to settle for a barn. Thus, the child Jesus was born in the lowliest of places. And instead of a crib, the baby Jesus was placed on a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. Shepherds, upon the call of an angel, came to pay homage to the newborn, as did Three Wise Men, who were guided by a star. The Three Wise Men or Magis, offered gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights

What Jewish holiday falls between late November and late December? Hanukkah, of course!

It falls between late November and late December of each year. Years ago, Hanukkah was just a minor celebration. Towards the end of the 19th century it has become almost popular as the celebration of the Passover. The popularity is credited to its nearness to Christmas, which other Christians all over the world observe.

Why is it then called the Festival of Lights? It is because Hanukkah begins four days before the new moon appears in the sky, hence that period is considered the darkest time of the month. Therefore it is very fitting that the most symbolic item to use for the celebration is light, to illuminate the darkness. The Hanukkah ritual involves the lighting of the candles, one at a time. The candles are added from right to left, while the lighting starts from the left to the right, one candle for each night of the celebration. The candle is allowed to burn until morning. So on the first night, a candle is lit; on the second night, two candles will be lit and the pattern goes on until the eighth day. The middle candle is the shammash, the source of the light used for the others.

Blessings are recited when the candle is lit or after lighting a candle. The prayer gives thanks to God who continues to bring light into this world and to everyone’s life.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Santa’s Not the Only Star of the Christmas Season

What?! There’s someone else aside from Santa? The most popular character during the holidays is Santa Claus. The jolly man in the red suit is known all over the globe as the man who knows when you have been naughty or nice. But apart from Santa, there are other popular characters that pop up during this festive time. Jolly St. Nick (the basis for the man in red, white and black, Santa Claus) shares the limelight with a few good and not so good characters this season. It’s time to find out who’s out during the Yuletide season.

The Devil

Yes, the devil is a popular character during Christmas. Surprising, huh? Not for the people of Guatemala. The most popular Christmas tradition involves toasting the devil into smithereens. After spending years hiding under beds or in piled up junk and casting all sorts of bad luck and misfortune on unsuspecting mortals, the devil finally gets what’s coming to him. Guatemalans have a date with the devil each year at exactly 6 p.m. of December 7. Effigies or images of the devil are thrown out of dwellings together with the trash. The effigies are set afire in the tradition known as Quema del Diablo or Burning of the Devil. This seemingly un-Christmassy custom is actually how the Guatemalans start their Christmas season. The burning of the devil and the trash serves as a form of purification, a depiction of good’s triumph over evil. Children are delighted with the tradition and participate by lighting the bonfire or setting off a firecracker or two. Quema del Diablo is a celebration like no other.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spreading the Christmas Spirit Through the Five Languages of Love

It’s Christmas time once again. Although Christmas is rooted on a Christian event, the birth of Jesus Christ, Christians and many non-Christians get into the spirit of the holidays in more ways than one. Christmas is a time to be with loved ones whether they be family or friends. It’s a time for endless Christmas get-togethers, from big blown out parties and family reunions to small intimate meals or drinks with close friends that have not seen each other for a long time.

Christmas is a time to dust up different holiday traditions, of which there are many. The traditions during this holiday season vary according to a particular race, their locations, their Christian religious affiliation and their overall beliefs. For example, some have a white Christmas because of the presence of snow while others have a more tropics inspired celebration. Some put up decorations a day before Christmas while other start Christmas in September. Yes, September. As soon as the “ber” months (months whose names end with the letter “b-e-r”) start, Christmas carols are played on radio stations across the Philippines signaling the start of preparations for the holidays.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thank You O’ Canada

The United States of America and Canada share the continent of North America. These two countries are divided by a land border to the northwest and to the south of the continent. Referred to as the International Boundary, this is the longest border in the whole world. Alaska, which belongs to the US, lies alone on the northwest corner of the continent. Thirteen US states share the International Boundary with 8 Canadian provinces/territories. Of the two countries, Canada is bigger than the US. In fact, it is the 2nd largest country in the world while the US ranks 3rd.

A federal state, Canada is under a parliamentary democracy. It is also under a constitutional monarchy with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as the current head of state. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Although the US is still the most admired country among all countries across the globe (this according to the annual GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications report), there is much to be admired about Canada, which incidentally also made it to the top 10 list of admired nations. One of the things Americans probably wished they had in the US Canadian citizens enjoy is universal healthcare. President Barack Obama’s health care bill is yet to materialize in a concrete way.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Laughter – A Universal Language

Ha-ha-ha, hi-hi-hi, tee-hee-hee, bwah-hah-hah, yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk, mu-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha….these are just some of the different sounds people make when they laugh. Of course the last one sounds more like malevolent laughter that comes out of an evil character’s mouth; but it is still laughter just the same. Some believe that laughter is the universal language of man. Regardless of race or creed, everyone enjoys a good laugh.

Laughter is the sound one makes as a reaction to a particular stimulus. Usually, it comes about due to amusement and during merriment. It is also common for people to laugh as a result of stress, fear or nervousness. Laughter is one faculty that some human’s use to regain balance when there is anxiety, tension, or pressure around them. Hyenas use laughter this way, too.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Switzerland’s Romansh, Struggling to Survive

Apart from German, French and Italian, Switzerland has another national language that many people across the globe have never heard of. This language, which originated from Latin, is called Romansh. Romansh is also known by these names: Romansch, Rumantsch, Romanche and Rhaeto-Romansch. In Switzerland, speakers of this unfamiliar language account for about less than 1% of the whole population of the country.

Accounts on how many actually speak Romansh vary. Some statistics indicate there are around 50,000 – 70,000 speakers while others peg the number of speakers to 30,000 plus. Another source says that in Switzerland, the language is understood by more than 100,000 people and that 75,000 speak it regularly while 40,000 refer to it as their main language. Majority of Romansh speakers live in eastern Switzerland, specifically in the canton of Graubünden/Grisons. Graubünden is a trilingual canton. German and Italian are the two other languages in use in the canton.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

KOREA: Hangul and the Great Man Who Created It

Hangul or Hangeul is the name of the alphabet used by both North and South Koreans today. Many language experts consider Hangul as a highly efficient writing system. Easy to master, when it was first put to use, Hangul was made up of 28 letters. Today’s Hangul only uses 24 letters. Even with the diminished amount of letters, this Korean script is able to communicate anything and everything that Koreans want to express on paper.

The history surrounding this Korean script is quite interesting. Hangul was invented in the royal court of the Choson Dynasty by one of its royals. The creator/promulgator was not just any royalty; he was known as “a great” royal. Koreans owe their native alphabet to King Sejong the Great.

Hangul and its history

Hunmin chong-um, sometimes spelled as Hunminjeongeum, was the original name of Hangul, Korea’s native script. It was created between the years 1443 to 1444 and then proclaimed by the court as the first Korean alphabet in 1446. Other monikers for Hunmin chong-um were Eonmeun or vulgar script and Gukmeun or national writing. Eonmeun was a name given by the intelligentsia because the alphabet was created more for the common people than the educated and the elite. The literal meaning of Hunmin chong-um is “the correct sounds for the instruction of the people” or “right sound to teach people of the nation.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

La Cumparsita (Tango’s Most Popular Music) – Is it Uruguay’s or Argentina’s?

Unbeknownst to many, tango is not just a form of dance. Tango is also a type of music, music that accompanies the soulful dance. The most popular among all tango songs is La Cumparsita, written by Uruguayan Gerardo Hernan Matos Rodriquez.

Who was Rodriquez?

Rodríguez was born in Uruguay on March 28, 1897, in the city of Montevideo. To people close to him, Rodríguez went by the nickname Becho. He was not only an Uruguayan musician and composer, Rodriquez was also a journalist.

Rodríguez’ father, Emilio Matos, was the owner of the local cabaret, the popular Moulin Rouge. In college, he took up architecture but was not able to finish his course. At a young age, some sources said he was 17 while others said he was 20, he began composing music. His exposure to the music in his father’s cabaret must have had an influence in the young Becho. Rodríguez’ first recognized work is said to have been his best, a piece he called La Cumparsita. He wrote this piano piece while at Uruguay’s Federación de Estudiantes.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Of Pilgrims, Turkeys, Parades, Football and Black Friday – Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Tradition dictates that Thanksgiving Day in America be celebrated every fourth Thursday of November. This is why this year Thanksgiving Day falls on November 24. This holiday is a perfect time to be with family and friends, to share a meal, watch some football and participate in all kinds of family traditions associated with the Thanksgiving. Each family has their own Thanksgiving customs and traditions. There is really no wrong way or right way to celebrate this holiday for as long as everyone remembers the original intent of Thanksgiving Day.

What do people give thanks for? Many non-Americans are not aware why there is such a holiday in the U.S. They probably have greeted their American friends, co-workers and acquaintances a “Happy Thanksgiving” without really knowing what the holiday is all about. If you yourself have no idea about Thanksgiving and the brouhaha surrounding it, here is what you should know.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Have You Heard of the New 7 Wonders of Nature?

11-11-11 was a significant day for those who have been eagerly awaiting the initial results of the voting for the New 7 Wonders campaign: The New 7 Wonders of Nature. The founder and president of the New7Wonders Foundation Bernard Weber announced the provisional list of winners on this day. At the organization’s headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, Weber, read the list in alphabetical order. Although the list if not yet final, much jubilation and pride has passed since Weber’s announcement. Before you find out who made the cut, it is important find out more about this campaign and about other 7 wonders lists.

Weber, the man behind the campaign

An author, aviator, explorer, filmmaker and museum curator all rolled into one, that’s Bernard Weber, founding president of the New7Wonders Foundation. Weber, a Swiss-born Canadian who speaks 5 languages, has had his share of adventures all over the world. He has seen what many men and women can only dream of. And, he has met and interacted with peoples of different cultures from across the globe.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Touring North Korea – an experience you will never forget

North Korea’s official name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK. Given that North Korea is under the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il, the official name may be misleading. The country is a mystery to the outside world and its people are reclusive.

Visiting North Korea is nowhere like visiting other Asian countries like its sister South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Tokyo. It’s a place not for the typical tourist who expects first class amenities, lots of places to explore on their own and freedom to just click or snap away with their digital cameras. To become a tourist in North Korea means to give up one’s notion of a grand vacation and all around good time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

APEC: Bring Back the Silly Shirts!

People who follow the yearly Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting of leaders were in for a rude awakening last weekend. President Barrack Obama, host of the 2012 APEC Summit, did away with the traditional silly shirts for the “APEC leaders family photo.” Yes, people call it the silly shirts. Instead, the world leaders donned suits in Honolulu, Hawaii and stood beneath towering coconut trees for the photograph last November 13, 2011. Many were shocked, others were surprised and probably some were relieved. A number of journalists, commentators and followers of this annual tradition are clamoring for the return of the silly shirts.


21 countries from the Pacific Rim make up the member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or APEC. Each year, they meet to discuss economic cooperation, free trade, and other matters along that line. The location for the yearly meeting rotates among the different member economies. The very first APEC Leader’s Meeting was held in 1993 in Seattle when leadership of the U.S. belonged to President Bill Clinton. APEC chic was born the same year as President Clinton gifted each APEC leader with a leather bomber (bombardier) jacket to be worn for the photo call. Previous to 1993, only foreign trade ministers held meetings.

Today, the 21 member nations are:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Two Eids of Islam

Different countries commemorate different types of holidays. One type of holiday is the religious holiday. In countries where different religions are practiced, it is not uncommon for the governments of these countries to declare as a holiday celebrations or festivities specific to a particular religion.

Just recently, in the predominantly Catholic country of the Philippines, many of its citizens were wondering why November 7, 2011 was declared a regular holiday by the Philippine government. Schools were closed and offices (both public and private) had no work. Those who were required by their companies or business to work received double pay.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why Paella is not Spain's National Dish

Contrary to what many people believe, Paella is not the national dish of Spain. Some say it is the Cocido. Others argue that there is no one overwhelming national dish to speak of. Who’s to say which is the true national dish of Spain? And does it really matter if there is none?

The Spanish people are very proud of the particular region they belong to not only in terms of their language but also in their food. In Spain, their cuisine, much like their dialects, change along with the climate and the geography. As expected, in colder areas of Spain where you have mountain ranges, the dishes tend to be heartier. In areas of Spain that lie where the temperatures are hotter the dishes tend to be lighter. You will know where you are in Spain by the cuisine that is laid in front of you at the dining table. Dining in Spain is serious business so if you are travelling there anytime soon, it is best for you to get to know a little about the Spanish regional cuisine.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hallyu – the Korean Wave

The term, “Korean wave” was coined by journalists in Beijing just before the millennium. Actually the more common term used is “Hallyu.” It was meant to describe how quickly entertainment and culture influences from Korea built a niche in the hearts and minds of the Chinese. The Chinese felt they were hit by a wave, specifically, a Korean wave. Through its entertainment and cultural exports, South Korea made (and are continuing to make) billions of dollars each year.

From South Korean dramas, South Korean pop music, actors and actresses of Korean heritage, Korean food and even the Korean martial art of Taekwondo, South Korea is letting the world know that they are a force to reckon with when it comes to entertainment and culture.

South Korean Drama
Basically, South Korean dramas are like soap operas or Mexican telenovelas. They are mini-series that are 16 to over a hundred episodes long, with Korean themes acted out by native South Korean actors and actresses and filmed not only in South Korea but also abroad. Some dramas deal with every day life, romance, comedy, tragedy while some are based or partially based on historical annals. These historical dramas are called “sageuk” in Korean. Best examples of this genre include Jumong, Dae Jang Geum or Jewel in the Palace, Damo, Chuno, Painter in the Wind or the more current King Gwanggaeto The Great and Tree with Deep Roots, which is about King Sejong, who invented the Korean alphabet, Hangul. Since the late 90’s, South Korean dramas have been occupying the boob tubes across China, Japan, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, and have made its stars popular outside South Korea. This genre of South Korean shows has also been showing up in North America and Europe. Although Mexican telenovelas still reign supreme, the South Korean dramas are not far behind. These South Korean dramas are dubbed in the local language of the country they are shown.

Some of the most popular South Korean dramas that were shown and are continuing to be shown in countries around the world are:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Boo! It’s Hallow’s Eve!

Halloween is known by many names some of which are Samhain, Summer’s End, Lamswool, All Hallow’s Eve, Witches Night, and Snap-Apple night. It is believed to be one of the oldest holidays in the world. Halloween, as it is known today, started as an ancient pagan tradition before it was adopted and reinvented by Christians. Halloween traditions and customs have evolved into different forms. It is a blend of tradition and modern acts of public exhibitionism.

Halloween in some places is highly commercialized and strongly connected to the Halloween tradition of the United States. With the help of traditional and social media, movies, television shows, and the Internet, American Halloween is increasing in popularity year after year. It has become one celebration enjoyed by kids, teens, and adults alike. Knowing the origins of this spooky celebration is a way to understand the different Halloween customs and traditions of today.

Celtic tradition

Summer’s End or Samhain is believed to be the origin of Halloween. This is an ancient Celtic festival that signaled the end or death of summer. It also celebrated the start of the New Year for the Celts (people from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Britanny and northern France). The Celts saw Samhain as a sacred festival because it marked the border between summer (life) and winter (death). Samhain was a moment of change; a night filled with magic and power for these ancient people.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Famous Polyglots in History and Today

This is the second part of It’s a Polyglot World Out There

Cleopatra VII (late 69 BC – 12 August, 30 BC)

The Queen of the Nile and Ancient Egypt’s last pharaoh was of Greek descent. A member of Greece’s Ptolemaic dynasty, she ruled the country after Alexander the Great’s demise. Just like the other Ptolemies before her, Cleopatra chose not to speak Egyptian although she knew the language. Some say Cleopatra knew Aramaic, Ethiopic, Hebrew and Latin on top of Greek and Coptic/Egyptian. She was also believed to have spoken Syriac, Median, Parthian and Trogodyte and actually used her facility for languages to her advantage.

Nicolaus Copernicus (19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543)

Talented astronomer Copernicus, the one to devise a heliocentric model of the universe was a known polyglot. Born in Germany, he was said to have spoken at least four languages including Polish, Latin and Greek. Aside form being a noted astronomer Copernicus was a mathematician, physician, classical scholar, artist, and translator.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Diwali! It’s Time to Celebrate the Festival of Lights

Diwali, also called Deepavali, is the Festival of Lights. Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists observe this festival. Diwali is celebrated in many countries not only in India. Some of the countries where the Diwali Festival is given importance are Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago and Myanmar.

The date when Diwali is observed is based on the luni-solar Hindu calendar. It falls between the middle of October and the middle of November, which is usually the end of the monsoon season. Last 2010, Diwali was celebrated on November 5. For 2011, the date of the Diwali Festival fell on October 26. In 2012, Diwali will be on November 13.

Traditional Diwali involves lighting of diyas or small clay lamps. These clay lamps are filled with oil then kept lit during the course of the night. The ritual signifies the conquest of good against evil, light versus darkness. The house is cleansed as a result of lighting diyas. To drive evil spirits away, firecrackers are lit during the festival.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It’s a Polyglot World Out There

Isn’t it fantastic to hear a person conduct conversations with different nationalities speaking different languages all at once? You may be thinking that somehow that person is a genius or something. It is an amazing feat, and may require years of hard work but it can be done, as long as you have the time, the dedication and the facility for learning languages. And for some, what’s truly incredible is their ability to pick up the nuances of a language and be able to speak it almost like a native after a few weeks without formal lessons. A majority of the citizens of the world speak at least two languages, while others are able to speak three or more. A person who can speak four or more languages is already called a polyglot.

Becoming a polyglot is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and practice. Polyglots often have an edge in social, business or work situations. Their hard work and ability to speak many languages with ease comes in handy. Did you know that many people in the world are polyglots without them knowing it? It is possible that you may even be one.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Text-Speak, The Language of Mobile Phones

Ever since the mobile phone was invented life has never been the same. Mobile phones, also referred to as cellular phones or cellphones, have been around for many years. The mobile phone has evolved by leaps and bounds. In the beginning, it was only for military purposes. Now, anyone who can afford one, has one. It has become a sort of status symbol within the society.

The main reason for owning a mobile phone is to keep one connected with the people in their lives. Mobile phones are used for personal calls as well as business calls. It becomes a sort of lifeline. Cellphone owners can make voice calls, send short messages or even make video calls (depending on the features of the mobile phone) in order to communicate with another person.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No Room to Be Lost in Translation or Interpretation

Nobody in the world ever wants to be misinterpreted. Misinterpreting someone’s words can lead to hilarity, mortification, or embarrassment. It can also lead to disastrous consequences that can affect one’s personal or professional relationships. In the world of politics, misinterpretation may inadvertently cause animosity, violence or even death.

The Carlos Tevez Incident

Recently, there arose a brouhaha over the mistranslation of a television interview given by Carlos Tevez, player for Manchester City. Tevez, who plays forward for the English club, is a professional Argentine footballer. In the interview with Sky Sports after the Champions League game against Bayern Munich a week ago, Tevez’s comments were apparently mistranslated causing the footballer to be suspended by Manchester City for two weeks while an investigation on the matter was underway.

Tevez was accused of refusing to play during the Champions League tie and refusing to play for the Manchester City again. Kia Joorabchian, adviser to Carlos Tevez, claimed that the Manchester City’s backroom staff who acted as interpreter got both the questions and the answers wrong. However, an independent translation of Tevez’s response seems to indicate that he actually refused to play.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Austria’s Gift of Music and More to the World

The Republic of Austria is a landlocked country in the center of Europe. Italy, Slovenia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Slovakia and Hungry surround the small country. The capital of Austria is Vienna, the most populous city in the country. It is a beautiful country in terms of natural wonders (think: The Alps), architecture (home of grand castles and fortresses), people and culture.

The land of music

With the long list of composers Austrian-born led by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is no wonder that Austria has been, time and again, referred to as “the land of music.” In fact, there was a time when Vienna was considered “the center of music” in Europe. Some of the other famous composers from Austria are:

• Franz Joseph Haydn
• Johann Strauss, Sr.
• Johann Strauss, Jr.
• Franz Schubert
• Arnold Schönberg
• Gustav Mahler

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Translate French to English? Oh là là, Parlez-vous Français?

French is the official language of France. But apart from France, many countries and independent entities list French as an official language. It ranks fourth in the list of commonly spoken languages in the European Union.

French as an official language

Below are just some of the countries that use French as the de facto or official language:

• France
• Belgium
• Benin
• Burkina Faso
• Burundi
• Canada
• Cameroon
• Chad
• Côte d'Ivoire
• Democratic Republic of Congo
• Guinea
• Haiti
• Luxembourg
• Madagascar
• Mali
• Niger
• Rwanda
• Senegal
• Switzerland
• Togo

There are also independent entities like French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Aosta Valley that use French as their official language. In Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Mauritania, French is commonly spoken by one sector of the population although it is not an official language. In Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, it is not surprising to hear the elite and the elderly speak French. After all, these countries once belonged to the territory formerly referred to as French Indochina.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Language of the Māori, A Taonga of New Zealand

Taonga means “treasure” in the language of New Zealand’s indigenous people, the Māori. Their language is also called Māori or Te Reo Māori, which enjoys official language status in New Zealand together with English and New Zealand Sign Language. Commonly referred to as “te reo” or “the language,” Māori is under the Eastern Polynesian language group. As of the 2006 Census, around 157,110 residents of New Zealand claimed that they could speak Māori. The Māori Language Commission currently regulates this language.


Māori was the predominant language of the country until 1800s. With the influx of English speaking missionaries, settlers, traders and gold seekers, Māori soon became New Zealand’s minority language.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

G’day Mate! Learn Some Australian Slang

Australia, officially referred to as The Commonwealth of Australia, has no official language. Its de facto national language is English and it has a number of Aboriginal languages as well. What is interesting when it comes to language from the land down under is their special brand of English.

The Australian slang

You may think that Australians are speaking in codes when you hear them on television, in movies or up close. But they are speaking nothing more than Australian slang. This is often referred to as “Strine.” Generations of Australians have made-up words, phrases and expressions that they incorporated into English. Australian slang is spoken in all levels of society.

Listening to Australians speak their slang will leave you both perplexed and mesmerized at the same time. Their vocabulary is quite colorful and their accent can make you smile. It’s both funny and.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Brazil, The World’s Ultimate Host

Brazil, the largest Latin American country, is playing the ultimate host this decade. Just recently, this South American country hosted the 60th Annual Miss Universe Competition. As a follow up to this show of mesmerizing beauties, the 2014 FIFA World Cup will also be held in Brazil. Two years after the biggest football event in the world, Brazil will be the host country for two other major sporting events: the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2016 Summer Paralympics. With a spectacular line up of world-class events, Brazilians are eagerly preparing for the influx of participants and visitors alike.

About Brazil

Brazil’s motto is “Ordem e Progresso” (Order and Progress). In the world stage, Brazil is the fifth largest country in terms of total land area and one of the fastest growing economies. It borders a number of South American countries including Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Suriname and French Guiana. The Atlantic Ocean lies on the eastern side of Brazil. Brasilia is the country’s capital.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Argentine Tango – a Language of Movement and Passion

No other dance evokes so much passion than Argentine Tango. It is not merely a series of movements but a language all on its own. In fact, during the 8th Tango Dance World Championship held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the winners of the 2010 Mundial de Tango were dance partners who spoke little of each other’s mother tongue. However, they did speak a fluent language, the language of Tango.

Dancers, 21 year-old Diego Ortega and 42-year old Chizuko Kuwamoto, barely understood each other verbally. But when it came to the dance, they completely understood what each other was saying based on their movements. They share their feelings and emotions through each touch, step, sway, look, and breath on the dance floor.

The Argentine Tango history

Argentine Tango is a very exacting dance with precise movements and steps. A dance believed to have been born in Rio de la Plata some 100 years ago, it has since become a symbol of the Argentinian soul and part of the country’s national character. In 2009, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO, declared Argentine Tango as part of the cultural heritage of the world.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

English – the Other Language in India

India is one of the top five English speaking countries in the world. The official language of the country is Hindi. They don’t have a national language owing to the fact that India is comprised of many states with different cultures that use languages other than Hindi.

For example, in Punjab there’s Punjabi and in Andhra Pradesh there’s Telugu. Urdu, Kashmiri, Dogri, Tamil, Kannada are some of the other regional languages spoken in India.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Norway – from Explorers and Raiders to Peace Prize Givers

Norway is a peace loving country. In both World War I and World War II, Norway chose to be neutral. Norway, since the 1990s, has played a significant role in the world stage as a facilitator in various peace and reconciliation efforts. This small country invests its time and effort in resolving conflicts to bring about peace. It is a country that stands for peace. Each year, the Nobel Peace Prize Awarding Ceremony is held in its capital city of Oslo.

However, there was a time in Norway’s history when peace was not their main concern. Several hundreds of years ago, the men from Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden and Denmark) boarded long ships as traders, explorers, and settlers and often feared raiders. From 800 AD to 1066 AD, the Vikings ruled the seas and conquered the lands of Europe and beyond.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Egypt – Hieroglyphs Was Not the Only Language of the Pharaohs

Modern day Egypt’s official language is Egyptian Arabic. But there was a time when pictures or drawings were used as a means of written communication. Many are familiar with Hieroglyphics, which is essentially Egypt’s ancient language of drawings seen to this day on pyramids and Ancient Egyptian artifacts. But what many do not know is that Hieroglyphics is just one of the ancient languages of Egypt. Egyptian language has undergone a number of forms much like English and other languages.


The word Hieroglyphics comes from hieroglyphika, the Greek word for “sacred writings.” It was believed to have been used as far back as 3300 B.C. Hieroglyphics was an easy method of communicating ideas. With no written language to speak of at that time, the Egyptians used drawings to convey their thoughts and ideas to one another.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Romania, Where Count Dracula Still Lives

In Romania, Count Dracula, the Master of the Dark, is alive and well. Part of Romanian tourism thrives on this popular vampire. Although not an original character of Romanian folklore, Bram Stoker’s character has been forever linked to Romania. And, by the looks of it, the link between Romania and Dracula may never be broken.

The Count Dracula-Vlad III Connection

In 1897, Bram Stoker wrote a novel about Count Dracula, a resident of Transylvania. Many believe that Stoker based his blood sucking, nocturnal character on Vlad III who ruled Wallachia and fought the Ottoman Turks sometime in the middle of the 15th century. Vlad III was also known as Vlad Tepes, Prince Vlad, Vlad Dracula and more notoriously, Vlad the Impaler. Tepes actually means “impaler.” This adjective was used to describe Vlad’s propensity to display his victims while impaled on stakes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Want to Learn Italian? Have Some Pasta, Gelato and Caffe

Italian is a language that is not within the top most studied languages in the world. In fact, people mostly study Italian for specific reasons. One would be because of family, another would be long term travel to the country usually for work or education, and third because one just wants to learn Italian, period. English, French and Spanish are more popularly studied across the globe.

If you are into the arts and a lover of food, Italian is a must learn language. It is the language of gastronomy. If you want some exposure to Italian, learn it through food. Italian food is so readily available and accessible. Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen. Italian cooking shows, cookbooks and recipes are at your finger tips.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Colombia, The Land of Beautiful Women, Coffee and Bullet Proof Underwear

A negative cloud hovers over Colombia even to this day. There was a time when Pablo Escobar ‘ruled’ the country with his drugs, guns and goons. Even today, Colombia is still in a state of conflict. The drug lords are still around and the guerillas are still trying to gain control of the country. The government continues its unrelenting drive to keep peace and order in Colombia. But apart from the violence, as a country, Colombia has so much more to offer.

Beautiful Women
Colombia is the land of beautiful, Spanish speaking women. Here are some facts related to the Ms. Universe Pageant which proves this point. In 1958, Ms. Colombia Luz Marina Zuluaga was crowned Ms. Universe. Between 1992 to 1994 Colombia’s beauties placed first runner-up in the annual beauty pageant. Best National Costume Award was given to Colombia six times. In the evening gown competition, the highest score ever given to this day was to Carolina Gomez, Ms. Colombia 1994. Her score was 9.897. Colombia, together with Brazil and Sweden, share the third most successful nations in the history of Ms. Universe in terms of placements of its candidates in the semi-finals. They each have 26 candidates. In 2006, Ms. Germany’s entry Natalie Ackermann was in fact born in Colombia. Today, one of the most beautiful faces to grace the television screen belongs to Sofia Vergara who stars in the hit comedy series Modern Family. Sofia, like many women in Colombia, is not only beautiful and talented, she is strong and feisty, too.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Dominican Republic, the Land of Dominicanese and Fast Talkers

The Dominican Republic, one of two countries on the island of Hispaniola located in the Caribbean, was discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. The country was under Spanish rule for three centuries. Although the official language is Spanish, the form of Spanish spoken in Dominican Republic is not exactly the same Spanish spoken in Spain.

Dominican Spanish is a language influenced by other cultures. When the Spanish arrived in the Dominican Republic, it was populated by the Tainos. During the Spanish rule, the Taino language was used less and less. However, the Tainos language still left its mark on both the language and culture of the country. The African language also influenced Dominican Spanish. African slaves that were transported to the Caribbean islands provided another layer to the language of the country.

Friday, August 5, 2011

In Japan, What is Unspoken is Often More Meaningful

If you think that merely knowing how to speak Japanese means you are turning Japanese then you are sadly mistaken. In Japan, facial expressions, body language and unspoken words often hold more meaning than actual Japanese words themselves. It is said that oral language is only a small part of communication. Nonverbal communication is what delivers the message.

Kinesics is body language. It is about wordless messages. Sending and receiving is done through gestures, postures, facial expressions and other forms of body language. In the movie Rising Sun, Sean Connery plays an ex policeman and an expert on Japanese culture and affairs while his co-star Wesley Snipes plays a detective. They investigate a murder wherein a son of a wealthy businessman from Japan is implicated in the crime. At one point in the investigation, Connery’s character explains to the character of Snipes that it is not what the Japanese say but what they do not say that’s important.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bahrain, An Excellent Introduction to the Persian Gulf

If you want to visit one of the countries in the Persian Gulf, start with Bahrain. It is a kingdom known for its oil as well as its pearls. Its neighbors are Saudi Arabia in the west and Qatar in the southeast. Many tourists visit Bahrain each year. Although Arabic is its official language, English is widely spoken within the kingdom. This makes it easy for tourists to communicate with locals.

Bahrain is the center of Dilmum, one of the ancient civilizations that dominated trade in the region. Tourists will find archeological sites and castles in the island. One popular fort is the Bahrain Fort, also called the Portuguese Fort. This fort is among the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The Arad Fort is also a popular tourist destination. Built by Arabs, it was captured in 1559 by the Portuguese. The Omanis eventually laid claim to the Arad Fort in 1635.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The King and I: Meet the Real Anna and the King

The King & I is one of my most beloved musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It is a popular musical that has been staged by different theater companies across the globe. This Tony Award winning musical ran for many years on Broadway and in London. It spawned a feature film that up to now people remember with fondness.

The movie adaptation of the play starred none other than Yul Brynner as King Mongkut, ruler of Siam in the 1860s. Opposite Brynner was Deborah Kerr in the role of Anna Leonowens. The story is based on the novel written by Margaret Landon entitled Anna and the King of Siam (published in 1944). It is about a British schoolteacher hired by the King of Siam to teach his children and his wives the English language, among other subjects.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Listening to Ethiopia through Ejigayehu Shibabaw (Gigi)

Many people have never heard of Gigi, much less of Ejigayehu Shibabaw. If you enjoy music that’s different from what you constantly hear on the airwaves or are simply looking for something new, then you should look for Gigi’s music online or in your local record bar.

Gigi, whose birthname is Ejigayehu Shibabaw, was born in Chagni, located in the northwestern portion of Ethiopia, some 36+ years ago. In 1998, after living in Kenya for a few years, Gigi moved to the United States. San Francisco is her home away from home.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Singlish – Transcends Singapore’s Cultures, Races and Social Classes

In Singapore, there are four official languages. At the top of the list is English serving as the lingua franca, followed by Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Singapore is not only multiracial and multicultural it is also a multilingual country. So apart from the four official languages above, there are quite a few more languages and dialects spoken in Singapore today.

Probably the most interesting language is not actually a language in the truest sense. It is more a hodgepodge of words and phrases from different languages all rolled into one. What is this “language” called? Singlish! It’s no different from Spanglish (Spanish-English), Chinglish (Chinese-English) and Taglish (Tagalog-English spoken in the Philippines).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lebanon, Truly the Paris of the Middle East

The Republic of Lebanon is located in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Syria and Israel. It is a small country of approximately 10,400 sq km with a Mediterranean climate characterized by wet winters and hot dry summers. Mostly remembered by its geo-political issues with its Syrian neighbors and tensions with Iraq, Palestine and Libya, Lebanon is a cultural and linguistically rich country with an important tourism industry and vast economic enterprises.

The official language of the country is Arabic, however due to France’s mandate of the country after World War I, close to half of the population speaks French. A dialect called Lebanese-Arabic is spoken by most of its people and other languages such as Greek, Armenian and Assyrian are used mainly by immigrants of these nationalities.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Language and Dialect - The Differences

What is the difference between a language and a dialect? That’s not an easy question to answer as there is no consensus in the linguistic community. However, we can say that a language as defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary is the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community. For example we all know of languages such as English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, etc. Dialect on the other hand is a subset of a defined language, a variety created by a group and affected by social class, contact with other languages, and geography.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Belgium, a Country Divided by Different Languages

The Kingdom of Belgium, located in Western Europe, is a federal state. There are two main regions in Belgium – Flanders which is located in the north and Wallonia in the south. The capital is the city of Brussels. Belgium has three official languages representing the three linguistic communities. One is Dutch, which is colloquially called by the Belgians as Flemish, and the other two are French and German. Then there are three principal regions in Belgium. One is the northern region of Flanders which is known as the Flemish Region. Next is the Walloon Region in the south. Then there is the Brussels-Capital Region.

The Flemish Region’s official language is Dutch. Roughly 59% of the Belgian population speaks Flemish. The Walloon Region is the French-speaking region of the country. French-speakers account for approximately 40% of the total population. The German-speakers, which only account for about 1% of the total population, are mostly in the eastern part of the Walloon Region. The only bilingual region is the Brussels-Capital Region.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

VCAT Afghanistan and the Pashto App

Afghanistan is a country that comprises many ethnic groups. There are roughly 200 different dialects and over 40 languages spoken in Afghanistan. Pashto and Persian Dari are the country’s two official languages. Soldiers from the U.S. and NATO stationed in Afghanistan as well as in neighboring areas of Pakistan often find themselves at a disadvantage because they are not well versed with the language. The United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) has a solution: The Virtual Cultural Awareness Trainer (VCAT) Afghanistan.

The Joint Knowledge Online of the USJFCOM unveiled a training program that aims to promote improved language as well as cultural understanding between US/NATO and Afghan military troops as well as with the local population. This online training program will enhance the knowledge of both military and government officials and personnel of Dari and Pashto languages and of Afghan culture. The program uses “advanced learning and gaming technologies” to help students develop language familiarity and cultural knowledge via storytelling, intelligent tutoring, simulated missions, and remediation.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mapuche – Struggling to Keep their Culture and Language Alive

The Mapuche is a group of indigenous people living in the southern as well as some central parts of Chile. Considered the biggest ethnic group in the country today, the Mapuche is said to make up around 4% of Chile’s population. The Mapuche can also be found in the southwestern areas of Argentina. The name Mapuche is a combination of two words: “Mapu” meaning land or earth and “che” meaning people. The language of Mapuche is called Mapudungun (also referred to as Mapudungu, Mapuzugun or Araucanian). “Mapu” means land and “dungun,” speech.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Using Technology to Learn Lithuanian

Learning a new language is never easy. Studies have shown that kids have the ability to learn a new language quicker than adults. A child’s brain is able to create a different speech center in their brain for every language that he learns. The adult learner, unfortunately, does not have this linguistic talent. What came naturally once is now a bit of a challenge for the adult learner.

What makes learning a new language for an adult more difficult is if the language he is attempting to learn is not spoken by a majority of the people in the world. Why? Because the resources for learning a language that is spoken only in one small section of the globe is sometimes not at par (or even not as accessible) with the resources for languages that are more ‘popular.’

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dinka of The Republic of South Sudan – The Voice of the New Nation

The memorable day of July 9, 2011 did not just mark the end of a violent fight of the millions who died just to attain South Sudan’s independence. It also loudly echoes to the world the rich culture and languages in this newly-recognized Republic. It did not just end the longest standing civil war in Africa, but it also serves to highlight the cluster of languages that will now be increasingly opened for interpretation and translation to the world.

Situated in East Africa, South Sudan differs starkly in contrast to its Muslim nearby neighbor, North Sudan. They are more inclined to practice their traditional religions with a few converts to Christianity. However, Sudan in its entirety initially had Literary Arabic and English for its official language on paper. But in practice, they have been engaging in speaking their own preferred dialect prior to the peace treaty for their freedom, which was signed in 2005. It was like their lifestyle for the last 22 years before their declared independence – South Sudan had been known for its most autonomous management of affairs and equally autonomous system of culture, society, and language preferences.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Complete Sovereignty or Globalization, a Language Issue

There are many different languages spoken in Malaysia. However, Article 152 of Malaysia’s Constitution states that Malay or Bahasa Malaysia is the country’s official language. This is the general medium of instruction employed by Malaysia’s educational system. Mandarin and Tamil are also taught in national-type schools because of the large population of Chinese and Indians in the country. English, on the other hand, is taught only in international schools.

However, in 2003, the PPSMI policy was implemented. It was initiated by Run Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister at that time. According to this policy, science and math subjects were to be taught in English. This was to ensure that future citizens of Malaysia will not be at a disadvantage compared to citizens of other countries in this era of intense globalization. The internet then was fast becoming an important tool for education, business, politics, etc. Therefore, English proficiency seemed essential.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Nepal, Close to the Heavens and Close to the Stars

Nepal. This South Asian country is landlocked by China in the north and India in the east, south and west. Found in the Himalayas, Nepal boasts of the highest point in the world, the Mount Everest. Eight of the tallest mountains on Earth are located in Nepal. The geography is diverse as it is breathtaking. With such rich geography, one can only expect a rich culture as well. The country is home to different races, tribes and ethnic groups, a veritable melting pot of cultures, traditions and language. Although Nepali is the official language, there are many other languages spoken in the country.

In the past many years, Nepal has been visited by a number of Hollywood stars for a variety of reasons and causes. The most popular visitor to Nepal is Richard Gere, the star of such films as Officer and A Gentleman, American Gigolo and Pretty Woman. When he first visited Nepal in 1978, Gere’s interest in Buddhism started. He has since made several other visits to Nepal raising awareness and lending his voice and popularity to causes close to both Nepal and Tibet. His latest visit was in 2010, the year before the country was set to kick off Nepal Tourism Year 2011. The Prime Minister of Nepal seriously took into consideration Gere’s tips on how to get more tourists into Nepal and even offered Gere to become the tourism ambassador of the country. True to his beliefs, Gere declined and said that he was there “to seek out people and their warmth, since in the west, men had turned into machines.” Today, he continues to practice Buddhism and remains an avid supporter and friend of the Dalai Lama as well as the Nepalese people.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Gift from the Greek Gods, et al

... the far-reaching influence of the myths of ancient Greece

There are many mythologies in the world. Each culture has its own brand of mythology which helped explain the world around them.

Mythologies serve an important purpose. Apart from explaining why there’s rain, snow, thunder, volcanic eruptions and other occurrences, mythologies influenced how the people once lived. Of all the mythologies in the world, it is the Greek mythology that is probably closest to the people today. Why? Because Greek mythology is prominently felt in one of the most used and spoken language in the world – English.

Yes, Greek mythology is present in the English language. When you try to discover the origins of some English words, you might be surprised to find that they originated from the names of gods, goddesses, demi-gods and other characters in Greek mythology.

Friday, June 17, 2011

KORO: India’s Hidden Language

Although hard to believe, researchers are still able to discover new languages that only a few hundreds of people speak. Last year, Gregory Anderson, director and researcher for the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages unveiled a new language called Koro that belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family. Koro was discovered by the team lead by Anderson in a remote northeastern region of India in 2008.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Enrique Iglesias – sticking to his Spanish roots

Spanish superstar Enrique Iglesias has steadily become one of music world’s top-selling artists, and has gained a reputation not just for his extraordinary musical ability, but also for his consistent incorporation of the Spanish language into his lyrics.

Born in Madrid, Spain as the youngest child of well-known Latin singer Julio Iglesias, Enrique was essentially raised in the United States, and educated in English. However, unlike many young immigrants who often unconsciously replace one mother tongue language for another, Enrique maintained a strong link to his Spanish ancestry.

Using the language often within his early musical work, this decision paid off in more ways than one. His debut album, entitled ‘Enrique Iglesias’, performed exceptionally well, and record sales were astronomically high for an album recorded in a language other than English. This success has followed the singer throughout his career, and Enrique Iglesias is now one of the biggest sellers of Spanish language albums in history of music. He has also maintained a fiercely loyal Spanish fan-base that has allowed him to hold the record on Billboard’s ‘Hot Latin Tracks’ for producing the most number one singles (Spanish-language). In addition, he is the recipient of 11 Billboard Latin Music Awards, essentially positioning him as the king of Latin pop music.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

South Africa: Dialects of identity

By: Samantha Cook

In a world where linguistic communities and cultures are part of a constant cycle of evolution, language is never a static concept but rather a constant revision of itself as it travels through different regions, societies and time periods.

As a result, the term ‘dialect’ has become vitally important in the description of the language variants that are a by-product of this evolutionary cycle. Despite their similar connotations, ‘language’ and ‘dialect’ are exceedingly different concepts. ‘Language’ is fundamentally a system of words, their behaviors and their collectively-understood meanings, and is often defined by national and cultural borders (e.g.: Spanish, Chinese and Japanese). ‘Dialect’ rather refers to a state of mutual intelligibility, whereby two speakers are able to understand each other, but are not necessarily adhering to the same language system and grammatical rules. Therefore, whilst understanding is not usually possible between speakers of different languages, it is entirely possible between speakers of the same language, but different dialects.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Difference Between Language and Dialect: The Philippines’ Illustration

In linguistic perspective, there really is no clear-cut distinction between language and dialect. Most experts say the terms “dialect” and “language” are very much influenced politically and socially. Institutions decide on which language is declared national, while society based on regional affiliations also claims dialect variation as languages in their own right.

In the Philippine’s case, Filipino is the national language. However, a lot of people in different regions within the country also think that their “dialects” are different languages as well.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

South Africa, the birthplace of modern human language

An interesting, albeit controversial Science magazine article by Quentin Atkinson, a researcher of the University of Auckland in New Zealand asserted that moderm human languages originated from Southern Africa. And by studying the phonemes (the smallest and barest sound component of languages) of 504 languages throughout the world, and applying statistical method in identifying patterns, Dr. Atkinson concluded that the farther humans move from South Africa, the lesser phonemes there are on the languages.

Dr. Atkinson's surmised, "This result, which is not explained by more recent demographic history, local language diversity, or statistical non-independence within language families, points to parallel mechanisms shaping genetic and linguistic diversity and supports an African origin of modern human languages." Thus, it follows the same pattern as genetic diversity which implies language is at least 50,000 years old, relative to the migration of modern humans from Africa.

The New York Times further states, "The finding fits well with the evidence from fossil skulls and DNA that modern humans originated in Africa" and added, "that languages increases with the number of people who speak it. This gave him the idea that phoneme diversity would increase as a population grew, but would fall again when a small group split off and migrated away from the parent group". So as the modern humans move from Africa, language diversity follow suit.

This study of Dr. Atkinson's instigated another source of debate. Many linguists are doubtful, especially to what it insinuates - that human languages arose only once, though can't be proven because the evolution of languages is so fast, making it considerably difficult to retrace.

Whether or not the claims of Dr. Atkinson is correct, the possible benefit of mathematical methodology in understanding language evolution should not be undermined.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Language prejudices and myths

There is a universal myth related to languages and attached to minority groups, rural communities and the less well educated which implies that some varieties of a language are not as good as others. Higher elites impose their rules and behaviors on the rest of the society while they also claim that their language variety is the standard one.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Don't get it wrong - Cross-cultural awareness in professional translation.

Mistranslations and cross-cultural miscommunication sometimes arise as a result of insufficient knowledge of certain languages and cultures. It is wrong to assume that fluent speakers of a second language are able to produce a high quality translation without any other skills or qualifications. A professional translation is more than just identifying equivalent words in a dictionary or using an online translator; professional translators are able to bring valuable cultural knowledge to the translation work, which machine translation tools cannot produce yet.

Restaurant entrance sign

Monday, February 7, 2011

Looking ourselves in the mirror: how unique is human language?

In our quest to define our own identity as humans, we have continued to stubbornly highlight those features that enable us to stand out from the rest of species; however, that is not an easy task to accomplish. If we just consider that technology is the characteristic quality of human beings, we are inadvertently excluding the native indigenous tribes of the Amazon rainforest due to the abysmal gap between them and the technologically developed nations. Even though the exclusion would satisfy those corporations which are mainly responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon, our curiosity should lead us to find better ways to answer what makes us humans. Obviously, we all would agree that language is a key characteristic, but is it a distinctive human feature?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chinese New Year / Spring Festival is here: The global festival of Chinese culture

2011 is the Year of the Rabbit
If language is the vehicle of a particular culture, the Chinese language is like a bullet train which is carrying the weight of more than four thousand years of cultural baggage at lightning speed towards the future. China is undeniably a country full of contrasts, where tradition and modernity often meet and clash while the country is on its rapid way of development. However, the millenary Chinese culture and language are keeping up well with the accelerated pace of globalization. Taking the internet as the mirror of cultural globalization, we find that Chinese netizens are colonizing the World Wide Web by creating more than 50% of the total internet content. Moreover, millions of people are studying Chinese all over the world and Chinese culture is also spreading thanks to the overseas Chinese communities celebrating their traditional festivals, where everyone is welcomed. Among those festivals, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, is the most important and lively of the traditional Chinese holidays and includes some of the most representative elements and powerful images of the Chinese culture.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Languages and Dialects: A matter of recognition

Being a controversial subject as it is, the distinction between language and dialect often sparks heated debates not only among linguistics experts but also throughout the entire society. What makes a language to be considered a language instead of a dialect? When and under what circumstances can a dialect thrive and become a national language?

In linguistics, a dialect can be defined as a variant of a given language which is spoken by a specific group or in a particular location, but whose distinctive features – e.g. vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation – are “not distinctive enough” to be recognized as a separate language. Experts analyze mutual intelligibility among speakers in order to distinguish languages from dialects. In other words, if two speakers can understand each other although they don´t recognize the use of some words or their pronunciation is different, they must be speaking two different dialects of the same language.