The Language Wars

“[T]oday, languages are changing more rapidly than ever.  The reality is most lexicographers are likely scrambling to keep up with all the neologisms and newly developed, most prominent meanings. We can point to the networked behavior of digital and social media as one of the driving factors, the ‘how’ of rapid meaning changes. But why are there so many more new connotations for words? If there is such a thing as a linguistic time of peace, is there a linguistic time of war?

rhetoricThe fact is language does not change in steady ebbs and flows. Cultural and social forces can play a major role in the speed at which language changes. Some language scholars claim that language actually behaves differently during times of social upheaval and even war, according to linguist Donna Farina. So as a society becomes increasingly unstable, it turns out this is when linguistic innovation happens more rapidly, possibly as speakers seek to explain, reclaim, dilute or degrade certain terms on the linguistic battlefield.”

SOURCE: Luu, Chi. “The Language Wars.” JStor Daily.


Reading “The Stranger” in Tehran

Excerpt from Robert Zaretsky’s interview with Mohammad Hekmat:

What are the pleasures and difficulties in translating Camus into Farsi? Are these difficulties only linguistic, or are there philosophical and political challenges as well?

the-stranger“Linguistically, the difficulty is in certain terms that he uses. Perhaps the most difficult term, which I have seen other translators struggle with too, is the word absurd. There is no direct translation of the word absurd into Persian. I have seen different approaches by Iranian translators — some even just use the transliteration of the word. His more philosophical works have been much harder to translate. I tried to read The Myth of Sisyphus in Persian, and it’s extremely hard to understand. This has been a general issue with translation of modern and Western philosophy into Persian. There is simply a shortage of terms, and the style had no tradition. There have been numerous efforts to invent new words, many of which have been successfully adopted, but it’s an ongoing process.”

SOURCE: Zaretsky, Robert. “Reading ‘The Stranger’ in Tehran: An Interview with Mohammad Hekmat.” Los Angeles Review of Books.

Foucault -The Power Thinker

“Rather than staying in the world of words, in the 1970s he shifted his philosophical attention to power, an idea that promises to help explain how words, or anything else for that matter, come to give things the order that they have.”


“Foucault sought to unburden philosophy of its icy gaze of capturing essences. He wanted to free philosophy to track the movements of power, the heat and the fury of it working to define the order of things.”

“Discipline, according to Foucault’s historical and philosophical analyses, is a form of power that tells people how to act by coaxing them to adjust themselves to what is ‘normal’. It is power in the form of correct training. Discipline does not strike down the subject at whom it is directed, in the way that sovereignty does. Discipline works more subtly, with an exquisite care even, in order to produce obedient people. Foucault famously called the obedient and normal products of discipline ‘docile subjects’.”

SOURCE: Koopman, Colin. “Why Foucault’s Work on Power Is More Important Than Ever.” Aeon.

Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies

Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies

  1. We lose “The expression of a unique vision of what it means to be human”
  2. We lose memory of the planet’s many histories and cultures.
  3. We lose some of the best local resources for combatting environmental threats.
  4. Some people lose their mother tongue.

mtff-image1-jpg__800x600_q85_crop“What’s happening with today’s language loss is actually quite different from anything that happened before. Languages in the past disappeared and were born anew, she writes, but ‘they did so in a state of what linguists call ‘linguistic equilibrium.” In the last 500 years, however, the equilibrium that characterized much of human history is now gone. And the world’s dominant languages—or what are often called ‘metropolitan’ languages—are all now rapidly expanding at the expense of ‘peripheral’ indigenous languages. Those peripheral languages are not being replaced.”

SOURCE: Eschner, Kat. “Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies.” Smithsonian Magazine.

Saving an Endangered Language

fullsizerender“The Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest have a rich and complex culture, much of which has been preserved orally. Generations of oppression and marginalization have taken a heavy toll and the Tlingit language could have vanished completely.”

“Beginning in the 1980s, decades of work have gone into mapping the Tlingit language and preserving its vast oral literature, with $480,000 in grants from NEH. The program has achieved much: Tlingit is now incorporated into every level of education in Southeast Alaska, where Tlingit words and place names are now reentering the mainstream. In 2009, linguists completed a Tlingit dictionary, which is now available online. For Keri Eggleston, a linguist on the project, ‘it’s really inspiring to see kids introduce themselves in the language, and find meaning in life through studying the language.’”

SOURCE: “Saving an Endangered Language.” National Endowment for the Humanities.