This Week in Language News, June 7, 2012

Portable Sign Language Translator

Popular Science reported this week on a video device created by students at the University of Houston that is able to translate American sign language into audible English.

The gadget also works the other way around by interpreting spoken words into sign language.

According to the report, students “hope to further development of their prototype and eventually build a functional, marketable device.”

Math to the Rescue

Last week we wrote about the alarming number of languages which researchers are predicting will become extinct by the end of the century.

This week Discovery Magazine tells the story of how math is being used to save a language with a dwindling number of speakers, Scottish Gaelic.

The model put forward by mathematician Anne Kandler of the Santa Fe Institute is a bit … well … mathematical.

The model the mathematicians built blends together numbers from all aspects of Scottish life to sketch a picture of Gaelic’s progress. Some of the numbers are obvious—you must know how many people in the population you’re working with speak just Gaelic, how many speak just English, and how many are bilingual, as well as the rate of loss of Gaelic speakers. But also in the model are numbers that stand for the prestige of each language—the cultural value people place on speaking it—and numbers that describe a language’s economic value.

The Young Polyglot

The universal use of English for communication these days has not stopped a young American student from learning as many foreign languages as he can.

According to a report in the Laramie Boomerang, Kegan Cochrane, a senior high school student from Laramie, Wyoming, is able speak 10 languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Tagalog and Greek.

His passion for languages helped earn Kegan a scholarship next year to Michigan State University.

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