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Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news
Results for "January, 2008"

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  • Is the internet killing literacy, or pumping new life into it?

    Every year there’s a sky-is-falling warning about the death of literacy in America. A 2007 poll found that 27% of American adults hadn’t read a book in a year. More recently, Caleb Crain, writing in the New Yorker, cites a worldwide drop-off in reading on the order of the shrinking of the polar ice caps. Crain documents a 50% decline in American newspaper readership since 1970 and flat book sales, all of which foreshadow a world where fewer readers means fewer thinkers, fewer voters, and far less objectivity.

    One computer visionary thinks this growing illiteracy is actually good for business: Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs rejected a suggestion that Amazon’s hot new e-book reader, the oddly-named Kindle, which sold out the day it went on sale, might eat into the iPod’s market, because – according to Jobs – 40% of Americans don’t read books, and for him fewer readers apparently equals more listeners and viewers.

  • A language kept alive on life support, literally

    82 year old Soma Devi Dura is the last speaker of Dura, the traditional language of the Dura people living in the Western Region of Nepal. Soma Devi is mostly deaf and blind. She doesn’t feel like talking much, and according to Nepali actuarial tables, she may not last long. So one linguist wants to put Dura and its last surviving speaker on life support.

    As a boy, Kedar Bilash Nagila played with Dura children who had already lost their language. Now he’s a graduate student studying Dura, and he’s trying to take the last Dura speaker, who like many of the Dura is also named Dura, to the capital, Kathmandu, for medical treatment and a couple of hearing aids. Drugs should allow Soma Devi to hang on for a while. And with special audiological equipment she may be able to hear Nagila, who hopes she will add to the database of 1,500 Dura words and 250 sentences that he has already compiled in his effort to make sure that Dura survives after she’s gone.

  • Estonia contest will determine world's most beautiful language. Will it be Estonian?

    The Estonian Minister of Education, Tonis Lukas, has announced a contest to determine the world’s most beautiful language.

    Lukas is asking children from around the world to send in recordings of no more than seven words in their local language, to be compared with recordings of Estonian. The winner will be crowned the world's most beautiful language. It’s all part of Estonia’s 90th anniversary jubilee, commemorating the nation’s first independence from Russia after the overthrow of the tsars. Estonia’s second independence came after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  • Yo! A new gender-neutral pronoun from, of all places, Baltimore

    Yo, a new gender-neutral pronoun, has been popping up in an unlikely spot, the hallways of a few Baltimore schools. Or maybe Maryland middle schools arent such unlikely incubators of new words after all, since theyre full of teen-agers whose linguistic inventiveness hasnt yet been beaten out of them by grammar lessons and standardized tests, teenagers who love to play with language and coin ever-newer words just to prove to adults that were never going to get it, never in a million years will be as cool as they are now. (What they dont know is that we invented cool, or our parents did, but hey, whatever.)

  • Malay Government tells non-Muslims they can't say "Allah"

    See the UPDATE appended to this post, originally published on 1.1.08