The Linguist

The Linguist 56,6 – December 2017/January 2018

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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Star letter This issue's Star Letter writer wins the new bluffing game Flummoxed, where players take it in turns to invent definitions for foreign-language words and identify the correct definitions. For your chance to win, share your views via Visit for details. DECEMBER 2017/JANUARY 2018 The Linguist 29 OPINION & COMMENT Moving away from insularity I read with great interest an article in The Guardian about the importance of language learning in schools ('Just Speaking English Won't get us Very Far in the World', 28/8/17). I was delighted to read so many positive views about language learning and its numerous benefits, expressed by a long list of eminent experts. I have been learning languages since the age of 10; I was fortunate to start French at junior school, which gave me a headstart and a psychological advantage when I got to grammar school. This had a beneficial knock-on effect on my overall achievement at secondary level, and the way in which I was regarded by my peers and my teachers. In my school, at least, being good at languages was every bit as cool as being in the rugby team, and to some extent I have been dining out on it ever since. Learning French led to learning Latin, then German, Spanish and even some Italian, and it gave me wonderful friends, a first-class university education, a successful career in business and academia, a knowledge of other countries and cultures and their history, Continue the discussion online @Linguist_CIOL #TheLinguist a love of wine and food, and indirectly of classical music, art and heritage, a general widening of my horizons, an ability to communicate with and influence people at all levels, and much more besides. Now, I am told, my language skills are even helping to stave off the onset of dementia! In a lot of northern European countries, the idea of an educated, cultured person includes the ability to speak at least one foreign language to a high standard. We are perfectly capable of being just as good, if we make the effort. Yet if the regrettable downward trend in the take-up of languages in British schools and universities continues, we could soon be returning to the bad old days when our principal language strategy was to speak loudly in English. At a time when we should be speaking other languages more in order to counteract the risks of increasing insularity in the aftermath of Brexit, we seem to be moving in the wrong direction. We must give languages the status they deserve and get ourselves back on track! Jonathan Smith FCIL Formed from the initials (or initial syllables) of a phrase or word, acronyms have always had their rightful place in language. 'Shazam' was a particularly successful 1940s invention. Standing for Solomon's wisdom, Hercules's strength, Atlas's stamina, Zeus's power, Achilles's courage and Mercury's speed, it conveyed the desired sense of magic. Technological developments have created a particular need to keep it short – first with telegrams and now with text messages – opening up a whole new lexicon for us to embrace. Wartime communication required the briefest of messages, so love-letter acronyms became fashionable, such as 'MALAYA' (my ardent lips await your arrival) and 'BURMA' (be undressed ready my angel). Mobile phones have thrown up some interesting usages. In the first wave of the language of texting came the shortened versions of much-used phrases or 'netspeak': 'IDC' (I don't care), 'AFAIK' (as far as I know) and 'KIT' (keep in touch), none of which really took off. More recent manifestations have been so successful that they have spilled from the technological world into the realm of everyday speech: 'YOLO' (you only live once), 'FOMO' (fear of missing out) and 'lol' (laugh out loud) being the most notable examples. A societal desire to label people has brought countless acronyms, including the Yuppies (young upward professionals) of the Thatcher era, and more recent Henrys (high earners not rich yet) and Woopies (well-off older people). However, the Kippers (kids in parental property eroding retirement savings) have been sent to oblivion thanks to Ukip, and the Mamil (middle-aged man in Lycra) is thankfully on the wane. Adam Jacot de Boinod is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World. ADAM JACOT DE BOINOD Keeping it short TL © SHUTTERSTOCK

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