Friday, September 30, 2016

Language facts: Tagalog

Tagalog (also known as Filipino or the native Pilipino) is one of the two official languages of the Philippines, the other being English. Tagalog is an Austronesian language and as such related to Malay, Javanese and Hawaiian. Tagalog is the first language of one third of the Philippines with about 21.5 million speakers, and the second language of the remaining two thirds (approximately 70 million speakers) who use other regional languages such as Ilocano, Cebuano, Waray, Bikolano, Bisaya, etc. The language is also spoken by many ethnic minorities (including 1.5 million diaspora in the United States).
El Nindo, Palawan, Philipines

Mysterious language ruled by the Spanish

Very little is known about Tagalog that most likely has its origins in Mindanao (the second largest island in the Philipines). Literally Tagalog means “river dweller”. It was declared the official language by the Philippines’ first constitution in 1897. Today, Tagalog is concentrated to the central and southern parts of Luzon, but is also spoken on many other islands. 
Tagalog's first written record dates back to 900 AD, while the first book known to be written in Tagalog – the Doctrina Christiana – came to light by the end of 16th century (1593) and used also Spanish alongside Tagalog.
The Spanish colonists and the strong Christian culture they brought upon the islands heavily influenced evolution of (not just) the languages of the Phillipines. It was, after all, Spanish monk Pedro de San Buenaverture, who wrote the first dictionary of Tagalog. Interestingly, another and much more substantial dictionary (Vocabulario de la lengua tagala) was written by Czech Jesuit, Paul Klein, who published several other books in Tagalog.


Until 1987, Tagalog was based on a writing system consisting of 20 Latin letters, the so called ABAKADA alphabet. Today it adopts 28 letters under the official name Filipino.

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n ñ ng o p q r s t u v w x y z

Friday, September 16, 2016

Endangered languages: Will your mother tongue survive?

Welcome to the extinction era! You may not be aware of it since it seems the human race is thriving, but Earth is experiencing yet another mass extinction. Scientists have lately suggested defining a new epoch, Anthropocene, as it may be us, humans, who have contributed our bit to the current unfolding of events. Human impact is endangering the animals and plants, but in truth they are not the only ones endangered. 

It's not just dinosarus. Languages become extinct too.

Migration killing unique cultures?

96% of the world's languages are spoken by only 4% of the global population according to the Sorosoro foundation. Globalization and mass migration in the 21st century have caused adoption of a dominant language in many areas to the detriment of original, local languages (what a paradox in terms of multiculturalism). It is now estimated that a substantial part of the world's presently known languages and dialects will cease to exist in written or spoken form and even become extinct in the not-so-distant future. According to UNESCO, unless this trend is reversed, half of today's 7,000+ languages will disappear by the end of this century. Columbia University linguist John McWhorter's predictions are even more gloomy with the outlook that 90% of today's existing languages will be displaced on a global scale by simplified versions of culturally dominant languages. Given that one of the important defining factors of a culture – if not the most important one – is its language, such development would irreversibly deprive us of our world's most important cultural heritage. New languages simply don't come into existence in amounts that would compensate this trend. And by definition, they cannot compensate the loss of languages that have developed through the course of human history.

These languages should begin to worry us

Despite many arguments and disagreement on the definition of a language vs. a dialect, in terms of extinction, both a language and a dialect are equal. Hundreds of languages literally waiting to cease to exist as their last living speakers pass away. In Europe, we see dialects such as Bavarian (Germany, Austria), Gordiol (Italy), Istriot (Croatia) and Cornish (UK) that are likely heading toward their terminal days. Also Walloon, spoken in a good part of Belgium, Yiddish, and Romani – the tongue of Romani (Gypsy) people across Europe – are on the endangered list. 

Panda bear - an example of successful endangered species rescue.

How to preserve a language

Systematic efforts are being made to document as many languages as possible and preserve them at least in artificial form. It is in fact feasible to revive a language suppressed or existing in "lab conditions" only, and history has shown us many an example. One is modern Hebrew, which was revived to a living official language from ancient religious texts. Also Irish and Greenlandic languages were resurrected from near-death thanks to social and political development, and they are now slowly beginning to spread. And in terms of language documentation, preservation and popularization, the translation industry can in fact help a lot :)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Language facts: Croatian

Croatian is a South Slavic language used primarily in Croatia (where it is an official language) by Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in neighboring countries where Croats make up autochthonous communities (e.g. the Serbian province of Vojvodina, Molise in Italy, or Burgenland in Austria), and generally the global Croatian diaspora. 

Old Istrian town of Rovnij.

It is sometimes classified as belonging to the Central South Slavic diasystem (also referred to as "Serbo-Croatian"). Croatian is spoken by 4,800,000 native speakers and approx. 6.5 million people around the world and uses a three-letter code: HRV (= hrvatska/i) for international recognition. It is also one of the official EU languages since Croatia became an EU member in 2013.

Croatian: a language with mixed origin

The modern Croatian standard language is a continuous outgrowth of more than nine hundred years of literature written in a mixture of Croatian Church Slavonic, or worded differently the Serbo-Croatian variant of Church Slavonic (i.e. Old Slavonic that was, for a brief period, also an official recognized language of the liturgy) and the vernacular language. Croatian Church Slavonic was abandoned by the mid-15th century, and Croatian as embodied in a purely vernacular literature (Shtokavian dialect literature) has now existed for more than five centuries.
Nowadays the Croatian language is an important symbol of national identity, but suggesting that Croatian language equals or is fully intelligible with Serbo-Croatian is still a sensitive subject to bring up. In fact, the differences between Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian language are (sometimes much too intensively) highlighted due to political reasons. The fact is that Croatians, Bosnians and Serbians generally understand each other, similarly to or even better than Czechs and Slovaks.


The Croatian alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet with special characters ć, č, đ, š, ž, dž; it does not have q, w, x, y.

A B C Č D Dž Đ E F G H I J K L Lj M N Nj O P R S Š T U V Z Ž a b c č d dž đ e f g h i j k l lj m n nj o p r s š t u v z ž