language | KUOW News and Information

language

Two minutes into Present Tense, a short film made by three high school students in a fishing village in the East African island of Zanzibar, a set of subtitles lay out their mission:

Voices of Youth Keep Lushootseed Language Alive

Jun 24, 2015
Maria Martin teaches Lushootseed to preschoolers at the Tulalip Montessori School.
KUOW Photo/Ben Gauld

In Maria Martin's preschool classroom at the Tulalip Montessori School, the children were learning to count to 10. 

"Two!" they shouted.

But this lesson wasn't in English. "In Lushootseed!" Martin instructed her class.

"Saliʔ!" their tiny voices rang out.

In his Tucson, Ariz., backyard, 10-year-old Linken Kay throws a ball for his dog, Harley.

The dog speaks only English. But Linken was raised speaking another language.

"Li ŝatas salti en la naĝejo por preni la pilkon," Linken says.

What's that, now?

First-graders Daniel, left, and Josiah, are first-grade language buddies at White Center Heights Elementary in West Seattle. Their classroom instruction is in Spanish and English.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

Americans get a bad rap for speaking only English.

But increasingly, public schools are immersing students in a second language, usually Spanish or Chinese. The Highline school district, south of Seattle, has even set an ambitious goal for the class of 2026 to graduate fully bilingual and biliterate.

In American English, some slang words come and go. And some stay and stay.

"Yep. Nope. Very definitely."

Kathryn Schulz, a writer for The New Yorker, heard that seemingly-contradictory response to a question recently. And once she started listening for it, she heard it everywhere: people agreeing by saying "No, totally," or "No, definitely," or "No, for sure."

In a recent article, Schulz digs into what's behind this linguistic quirk. She found out that the English language used to have more options than just "yes" and "no."

Many East Asian cultures use zodiac animals to symbolize each New Year and predict a person's fortunes. But which animal represents 2015 is up for debate.

You may have seen goat, sheep or ram as the English translation for this year's animal according to the Chinese zodiac — yang, in Mandarin. All of them are correct, says Lala Zuo, a Chinese language and culture professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.

"I don't think there's a wrong translation," she says. "I think there are various ways of translation. It really depends on the context."

Seahawks Legion of Boom members Jeremy Lane, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman show off the trophy at the Super Bowl parade last January. The organization wans to trademark "boom" and the number 12.
Flickr Photo/Bernie Zimmermann (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks with linguist Ben Zimmer about the Seattle Seahawks'  bid to trademark the number 12 and the word "boom."

A protester of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, holds up a sign reading "No justice, no peace" -- a popular slogan.
Flickr Photo/Shawn Semmler (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman speaks with language journalist Ben Zimmer about the varied interpretations of the popular protest slogan, "No justice, no peace."

What was the top word of 2014?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it was "culture," based on increased frequency of use. "Of the top 10 words in the running for the honor, culture had a 15% year-over-year increase in look-ups on the dictionary company's website and in its app."

Sports. TV shows. Daily news. All grist for online arguments. (Not to mention culture, politics, race and feminism.)

Now, everyday people can communicate directly with people in news stories, celebrities and activists on social media. But not every conversation works on every platform. We're getting more sophisticated about choosing where we say things online.

Our blog was born in 2014, and I'll let you in on a little secret: We had a really hard time coming up with our name. (See: "Why Goats? Why Soda?")

But that naming struggle was nothing compared with figuring out what to call the parts of the world we cover. Third World? Developing world? Global south? Low- and middle-income countries?

We asked for nominations for "most misused word or phrase," and they came pouring in. Weekend Edition listeners and NPR.org readers have many gripes about the grammar gaffes they see and hear every day.

From nearly 450 story comments, 500 emails and more than 900 Facebook posts we received in December, we identified 275 separate nominees. Here's a top 10 countdown of the most frequently mentioned:

Flickr Photo/Forest History Society

Duff. Fish wheel. Skid Road.

Long butt.

Few of us here know the Northwest words listed in the Dictionary of American Regional English because they harken to a time when fishing and logging reigned in Washington state – when skookum described a tough, hardworking guy and Skid Road was a street in downtown Seattle where logs were sledded down to the waterfront.

KUOW reporter Deborah Wang asked native Washingtonians if they believe they have an accent. They said no. But they also pronounced "caught" and "cot" the same way -- one of the subtle distinctions of this region's accent.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

Do Pacific Northwesterners have an accent and what does it sound like? Listener Molly in Tacoma asked that question as part of KUOW's Local Wonder series. 

Molly never thought she had an accent until she moved to Virginia and was told she had one.

Some regional accents are obvious. But many in the Pacific Northwest describe themselves as speaking “standard,” “normal,” or “plain” English. But is that really the case? What do the experts say?

Black Friday in downtown Seattle at Westlake in 2010.
Flickr Photo/John Henderson (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds speaks with linguistics journalist Ben Zimmer about the origins of the shopping phrases "Black Friday,"  "Cyber Monday," and "Super Saturday."

The growing popularity of electronic cigarettes has now sparked the notice of the estimable Oxford Dictionaries, which has chosen "vape" as the word of the year for 2014. The word can be a noun or a verb; it beat out contenders such as "bae" and "normcore."

Noting that e-cigarettes have come a long way since the early 1980s, when the "vape" was first breathed into life, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries say it took awhile for the new market, and the new word, to mature.

In an emergency, the last thing you want to hear is, "I can't understand you." The reality is emergency dispatchers in the Northwest generally speak one language, English. But in our increasingly polyglot society, some people in distress inevitably can't communicate in English.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

When we're searching for the right word to say, or we don't know what to say or how to say something, this happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Um - uh...

In Seattle, Scoffing At The Word 'Scofflaw'

Aug 5, 2014
The Boston Globe archives

Sometimes the words we use cause offense we never intended. That’s what happened on Monday at a Seattle City Council meeting, when one word derailed a bill officials say could bring in $21 million in unpaid fines.   

The word: scofflaw.

How Do You Save A Dying Language?

Jul 31, 2014

Ross Reynolds speaks with Devin Naar, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, about his attempts to save Ladino, a dying language spoken by Sephardic Jews. Naar discusses the language's fascinating history, uncertain future and how Ladino helped him uncover secrets about his own family.

Is Latin Making A Comeback In Schools? Caveat Lector

Jun 30, 2014

Look no further than Hollywood this summer to know that new ideas are often just old ones that have been dragged out of the past and dressed up to look fresh.

It happens in journalism too, and education journalism is no exception. Having covered this stuff for a long time now, I'm regularly coming across old stories that simply refuse to die.

As you might have gathered from our blog's title, the Code Switch team is kind of obsessed with the ways we speak to each other. Each week in "Word Watch," we'll dig into language that tells us something about the way race is lived in America today. (Interested in contributing? Holler at this form.)

The Strange Language Of Baseball

Apr 2, 2014
Flickr Photo/Keith-Allison (CC BY-NC-ND)

From 'cup of coffee' to 'Bronx cheer,' Ross Reynolds runs the language bases of baseball with linguist Ben Zimmer.

5 Football Terms Every Seahawks Fan Should Know

Jan 27, 2014
Flickr Photo/Dena Rosko (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Just like learning acronyms at a new workplace, catching on to the Seahawks’ lexicon can be daunting for the uninitiated. Ben Zimmer, linguist and self-described “word nerd,” helps us break down the terms that are flying around as often as a 12th Man flag.

The Shakespearean Lineage Of 'Where The Magic Happens'

Jan 14, 2014

MTV Cribs was the guiltiest of pop-culture pleasures in the early 2000s. The premise was simple. Stars showed off their houses, and the masses got a peek at life behind the mansion gates. Viewers saw "where the magic happened"*, to borrow a recurring phrase used by celebrities as they displayed their bedrooms. And no episode was more magical than when Mariah Carey provided a tour of her penthouse apartment and hopped on her stationary step climber in heels.

Emily Johnson Dickerson died at her home in Ada, Okla., last week. She was the last person alive who spoke only the Chickasaw language.

"This is a sad day for all Chickasaw people because we have lost a cherished member of our Chickasaw family and an unequaled source of knowledge about our language and culture," Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a news release. The Chickasaw Nation has about 55,000 members and is based in the southern part of central Oklahoma.

Flickr Photo/etringita (Cc-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman interviews Patricia Kuhl about her new study on the benefits of “parent-ese," or baby talk. Kuhl is a professor and co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington.

What Will Be The Word Of The Year?

Dec 12, 2013
Flickr Photo/Chris Blakeley

Ross Reynolds talks with language guru Ben Zimmer about the language trends of 2013.

Pages