Why you should care
Because it turns out your high school French teacher really was au courant.
Our past is embedded in the words we speak, and in the stories we tell and sometimes write down. Yet UNESCO estimates that, if nothing changes, half of the 6,000 tongues spoken on the planet today will be gone by the end of this century. While extinction is a natural phenomenon, one expert says today’s rate of language loss is unprecedented. Preservationists are fighting back in some places. Read the story here.
China is as rich in language as it is in engineers. Many modern, everyday Chinese idioms have their roots in ancient poetry. These idioms, each of which is composed of four Chinese characters, are unique to the language. Chinese has 20,000 such idioms in total; only one or two thousand are commonly used. But Chinese schoolkids often spend their days reciting them in class. So if you’re trying to understand the Asian giant, boning up on your Chinese idioms might help. Read the story here.
The French are a proud bunch, especially when it comes to their mother tongue. So it must have been hard for them to take a backseat and watch English become the lingua franca of the 21st century. But revenge could be on the horizon: The language beloved by Russian aristocrats and pretentious grad students is set to reclaim its title when it becomes the world’s most commonly spoken language by the year 2050, according to a study by investment bank Natixis. But some skeptics think the predictions are overstated. Read the story here.
Even if you’ve never tried to learn German as a second language, you’ve heard the horror stories. Mark Twain, one of the most accomplished exercisers of the English language, not only engaged in his own struggle to learn German but also decided to turn his rapier wit on the source of his discomfort. And thanks to Twain’s marvelous linguistic feats, you need not be acquainted with German to enjoy his uproarious tour through “The Awful German Language.” Read the story here.