Celebrating International Mother Language Day on 21 February

Procession march held on 21 February 1952 in Dhaka / Wikimedia Commons

“A language is far more than a means of communication; it is the very condition of our humanity. Our values, our beliefs and our identity are embedded within it. It is through language that we transmit our experiences, our traditions and our knowledge. The diversity of languages reflects the incontestable wealth of our imaginations and ways of life.” So explained UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay three years ago on February 21: International Mother Language Day.

What follows is a brief history of the UNESCO international day that was inaugurated in 1952 to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism.

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You say erb, I say herb: American vs. British pronunciation of loan words

A croissant: KWAH-sonn or kruh-SAHNT?

You say ‘erb (using the silent French ‘h’), I say herb (the way it’s spelt). Here’s a good example of the difference between the American pronunciation (usually referred to as General American, or GA) and the Received Pronunciation (British English, RP) of foreign loan words — ie. words that have been adopted into standard English from other languages, many from centuries ago. Many will argue that RP has tended more to assimilate these words and pronounce them according to English spelling-pronunciation rules rather than to the way the original word sounds. So fillet (or filet), meaning a small boneless cut of meat (derived from the French word filet), is pronounced by the Brits as “FILL-uht”, in the way that its English spelling prescribes. Americans prefer to approximate the French accent with their more exotic rendering, “fi-LAY”. However, there are many exceptions to this rule, as illustrated in some of the examples below.

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Presidents’, Presidents, or President’s Day?

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington / Wikimedia Commons

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington / Wikimedia Commons

Well, which is it? Presidents Day, Presidents Day or Presidents Day? Is the name of the American public holiday, which we’ll be celebrating on Monday, spelled with an apostrophe or not? And assuming it is a possessive day, i.e. belonging to either the first or all of our presidents, where should the punctuation be placed accordingly? Continue reading

Is THAT how you pronounce it?

Today I learned something new, about the way a name is “properly” pronounced. Even though this is a name I hear almost every day in my professional life (and I even used to pass the famous building that bears its name every day when I worked in an office), I never really thought about how it should be pronounced. Take it away, YouTube …

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Hat-tip to Max for bringing it to my attention.

Amanda Gorman recites ‘The Hill We Climb’ at Biden inauguration

Poet Amanda Gorman reads her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

“In my poem, I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal. It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.” – Amanda Gorman

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Some words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday in the US, marking the birthday of the American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement. King is known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience; he is also remembered for his eloquent words of truth and wisdom. Here are some of them.

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