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Steven Bird demonstrates the use of a smartphone for recording oral literature. Steven Bird

Emerging writers of the Amazon: putting vanishing voices in print

My team and I recently ventured into the Brazilian Amazon to record the Tembé language and preserve some of its stories for future generations. This built on earlier work with our mobile phone app that…
Linguistic controversy: could ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia? Sharon Mollerus

Thinking the unthinkable: tracing language back 15,000 years

Just about everyone has a personal stake in language, and many people — expert and amateur — feel entitled to an opinion. But linguists care more than most people, and when linguistics hit the media, linguists…
The long-lost British World War II slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has been revived in recent years, leading to it being successfully trademarked by a British businessman. Nima Badley

Keep calm and trademark it: privatising the English language

In the heart of Northumberland, England, is the pretty town of Alnwick. For bibliophiles, a stop at its second-hand bookshop is a must. Barter Books is housed in the town’s old railway station and, on…
Augustine, one of the few remaining speakers of Tembé, recording a story using an Android phone. Steven Bird

Androids in Amazonia: recording an endangered language

The village of Akazu’yw lies in the rainforest, a day’s drive from the state capital of Belém, deep in the Brazilian Amazon. Last week I went to Akazu’yw, carrying a dozen Android phones with a specialised…
There are other ways to improve undergraduate writing that don’t involve teaching grammar explicitly. Writing image from www.shutterstock.com

Grammar lessons not the solution to undergrad writing woes

University students across the nation will be handing in their first assignments of the academic year over the next few weeks. Academic staff will sigh, as they do every semester: “my students can’t write…
Many students are confused about grammar and sentence structure – so should universities teach it explicitly? Words image from www.shutterstock.com

Back to basics: should universities teach grammar?

Imagine a student turning up at university and not knowing basic multiplication. He or she could be hard-working, bright, enthusiastic but completely unable to answer a basic question like: what’s six…
Endangered languages are being preserved using cheap mobile phones. Steven Bird

Cyberlinguistics: recording the world’s vanishing voices

Of the 7,000 languages spoken on the planet, Tembé is at the small end with just 150 speakers left. In a few days, I will head into the Brazilian Amazon to record Tembé – via specially-designed technology…
Maybe we’re not as different as we’d like to think. pcgn7

Talk it over: language, uniquely, makes us human

We humans tend to consider ourselves apart from other species. But we’re not really so different. So what makes us unique? I’d say it’s language, though not everyone would agree. Some people insist it’s…
There’s plenty of excitement around Duolingo – a new idea to learn languages while translating the web. But does it work? Words image from www.shutterstock.com

Learning a language and translating the web: does Duolingo work?

Duolingo, a new free language-learning site, says it can help you learn a language for free while simultaneously using your learning exercises to translate the web. A pretty big claim, but at the heart…
Asian languages are important, but they should be one part of a greater focus on Asia in the curriculum. Asian image from www.shutterstock.com

Across the curriculum: access to Asian languages isn’t everything

Despite the breadth of issues in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper released this week, so far the debate has focused largely on language learning in schools. With fewer and fewer students…
We don’t know where we’re going, but we know where we’ve bean.

Lentil as anything: the pulse of the past is in food words

No matter where in the world you live, chances are you’ve eaten “pulses” some time in the last week. These foods, otherwise known as “food legumes” or “grain legumes,” have been a part of the human diet…
Plagiarism is happening at universities, but technology is not the way to solve the problem. Computer image from www.shutterstock.com

Delusions of candour: why technology won’t stop plagiarism

Plagiarism at university is a time-old scourge. Some would have us believe it can be sought out with ever-improving technology, and with more consistent vetting of student essays with the latest detection…
It’s easy for uninhibited humans to elicit vocal responses from gibbons by imitating their song. Jerome Ludmann

Gibbon song may be music to the ears of human language students

Gibbons and humans have more in common than might immediately seem apparent. Among many behavioural traits shared by our two species is singing. Not just that – the songs of gibbons have the potential…
For the first time Mandarin has become the most widely spoken non-English language, as the number of Australians born overseas continues to rise. AAP/Sergio Dionisio

Ethnic diversity continues to rise as Christianity wanes

One in four Australians was born overseas, almost half have at least one parent who migrated here, and more are speaking…
Students learn Korean, one of four principal Asian languages being promoted in Australian schools. The others are Mandarin, Japanese and Indonesian. EPA/STR

$2bn needed to achieve Abbott’s language vision

Language experts have applauded Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s pledge to dramatically boost foreign language education, but warn that a financial investment of about $2 billion and a long-term commitment…
A British sense of superiority: Australia shows little interest in the Asia, despite its rapid rise. EPA/Made Nagi

Australia must overcome superiority complex to learn from rising Asia

There will be no more important piece of policy making this year than the White Paper on “Australia in the Asian Century” led by Ken Henry. It is a rare case of long-term thinking in government, of policy…
Analysing Anzac speech, slang and reading material gives us a better understanding of their experience. EPA/Tolga Bozoglu

From ‘Aussies’ to ‘Whizz-bangs’: the language of Anzac

Many place the Anzac legend at the heart of the Australian national identity. But some have rightly challenged this idea, opening up debate about why the Anzac story is so central to our national mythology…

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