Here’s a video of a native Khoekhoe speaker demonstrating some basic Khoekhoe vocabulary. Khoekhoe, also known as Nàmá, is a language natively spoken by around 200,000 people in the southern African nation of Namibia.
As well as being a tonal language, Khoekhoe is also characterized by its use of ‘clicks’, or doubly articulated consonants, a familiar property of languages in the Khoisan language family. There are several other African languages that share this ‘click’ quality, foremost among them the Zulu language, which is spoken by around 10 million people.
Sometimes while casually browsing the internet, you’ll click a link to a Wikipedia article and somehow become stuck in the trap of clicking related links to learn more, until you find yourself at 4 in the morning, reading about something completely unrelated to the original topic. Wikipedia should come with a warning.
So it was that I discovered Texasdeutsch, or “Texas German”, a dialect of German still spoken by descendants of mid-19th century German immigrants to the Texas Hill Country region. The fact that Texas has a German immigrant population comes as no surprise; that they have an (albeit barely) extant dialect of modified German might.
According to Dr Hans Boas at the University of Texas, Texas German is mainly spoken by a few elderly German Texans, mainly in Gillespie County. He estimates there are around 1,000 speakers of Texas German remaining.
As for the dialect itself, it is mutually intelligible with European German, but with key differences that may cause confusion between native speakers of each dialect. The reason for this is that Texas German had to be adapted to the US, so many English words were “Germanicized”. Also, technological inventions and the cultural advancement of the 19th and 20th centuries required new words to be coined in Texas German, which differ from those coined by speakers of standard European German. For example, the Texas German word for airplane is Luftschiff, which means “airship” in standard German. The standard German word for airplane is Flugzeug, literally “flying thing”.
Google recently launched endangeredlanguages.com, an online collaborative effort to preserve linguistic diversity around the world, giving the chance to threatened languages and those on the cusp of extinction to survive and thrive once more.
From the site:
Experts estimate that only 50% of the languages that are alive today will be spoken by the year 2100.
The disappearance of a language means the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information, comparable to the loss of a species.
Tools for collaboration between the world communities, scholars, organizations and concerned individuals can make a difference.
The Endangered Languages Project, is an online resource to record, access, and share samples of and research on endangered languages, as well as to share advice and best practices for those working to document or strengthen languages under threat.
The site shows a map displaying different endangered languages, color-coded by how threatened they are. There are literally hundreds of endangered languages all over the world – some with only a handful of speakers remaining – and it’s great that projects like this exist, not only to raise awareness about language diversity but also to help preserve the threatened tongues.
While the continued growth of English as the world’s lingua franca does mean easier communication between different cultures, more languages than ever before find themselves threatened by ever-increasing globalization.
Any learner of Greek or Russian will tell you that learning a new alphabet is no great task. However, there are certain false friends to look out for – for example, Greek’s letter rho (Ρ), looks exactly like the Latin letter P, but is pronounced like an “R” rather than a P. Similarly, the Cyrillic letter У looks like a Latin Y, but in Russian is pronounced “oo”.
While the actual pronunciation or exactly what each letter represents in each language can differ, there are 11 letters that exist in all three alphabets. This Venn diagram shows the common letters – the Greek alphabet is on the left, Latin on the right, and Cyrillic on the bottom (note that only capital letters are shown).
The Latin and Cyrillic alphabets all stemmed from the Greek alphabet, so it is not wholly surprising that there are still common forms, despite the fact that plenty of new letters and variations have appeared in the last 2500 years.
One of the toughest parts of learning Chinese is learning to read and write Chinese script, or 汉字 (hànzì). Characters have to be learned apart from their pronunciation and meaning – some characters offer clues (for example, 木 (mù), means “tree” or “wood”, and the character looks like a little tree), but the vast majority simply have to be learned. Once you start to learn the component parts of characters (known as radicals) you can start to piece it together, but how to actually say each character is simply a rote learning task.
Chinese characters are measured in strokes – that is, how many strokes of a pen or brush it takes to write them. Knowing the number of strokes in a given character is essential for being able to look it up in a dictionary.
When I first saw this character (biáng, referring to a type of noodles from China’s Shaanxi province), I thought it was a joke, but as it turns out it’s a legitimate character.
The character is so complex that there are several mnemonics in Shaanxi for remembering how to write it. Since biáng is a combination of many different radicals that all have separate meanings, there’s a traditional poem people use to remember how to write it. At 58 strokes in total, it’s not a bad idea to have an aide-memoire!
One of the most boring parts of learning a new language is expanding your vocabulary beyond the standard, basic words that you use daily. However, without having a good, all-rounded vocabulary, improving your general fluency is next to impossible, and you’ll always be limited in your range of conversational topics.
Language resource site transparent.com aims to help people improve their vocabulary by giving you a new word in your target language every day, along with a pronunciation guide, its meaning, and an example of its usage.
The site supports a wide variety of foreign languages, and while one word per day doesn’t seem like much, it all adds up. You’re not going to learn a language overnight, so it pays to have something like this helping you to slowly increase your overall vocabulary.
Rose Ramraj languagetrainers.com
Rose is a Blogger of all things fascinating. Her educational background is in writing and business studies. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and two mischievous toy poodles.