Last week I shared an interesting map to show immigration patterns in Europe. This week, here’s another interesting diagram – this one shows the world’s largest languages. What do you think? Any surprises?
As a language teacher, I find these maps fascinating. Speaking another language opens doors to so many different cultures, and I’ve always loved travelling and visiting different countries and experiencing different ways of life.
Although the time when I could have happily emigrated has long gone, I can think of so many reasons why other people might choose to settle in a country other than where they were born: love, work, different opportunities….
Like Basque and Japanese, Korean is a language isolate. It has about 70 million speakers in North and South Korea, and a further 5 million or so in NE China, parts of Japan, and small communities in Russia and the USA.
Until the 15th century Korean used Chinese characters for writing, and only the elite were able to read and write. In the 15th century the monarch, King Sejong, invented a new writing system which was more alphabetic, and this made writing more accessible to people.
Known as Hangul, the system consists of 24 symbols, representing vowel and consonant sounds which are written in a “box” approximately the same size as a Chinese character. Each “box” has a consonant-vowel-consonant symbol, written roughly left to right, top to bottom.
It has a subject-object-verb sentence structure and includes many basic words from old Chinese as well as an increasing number of borrowings from English.
Kickapoo, also written Kikapú, is not a well-known language – in fact it has only about 250 speakers, making it in danger of extinction – but it has such a great name I simply had to include it in my A-Z!
It belongs to the Algonquin family of languages. It originated in the Great Lakes area in North America, but is now almost extinct in the USA and most of its speakers live in Mexico. The language used to include “whistle speech” where each sound could be represented by whistle, but this aspect of the language has now died out from the lack of use.
Whistle languages were mostly used by hunters and herders, so that they could communicate without frightening the animals. The limitations of whistle sounds meant that many sentences were ambiguous, making this aspect of the language only useful in certain circumstances.
Sadly I can’t point you in the direction of a Kickapoo course, but if you fancy learning some Korean, have a look at FutureLearn.
Related posts: J is for Japanese L is for…….
Believe it or not, in Mexico there is a festival dedicated to radishes!
Known as the Noche de los Rábanos, the festival takes place on the 23rd of December in Oaxaca City. It begins at sunset and lasts for just a few hours, during which time visitors can wander through the streets admiring ornately carved radishes.
Nobody knows why this festival came into being, but it dates back to 1897 and was the idea of the mayor at that time. One suggestion is that it is reminiscent of when the Spanish brought radishes to Mexico in 16th century. Two local monks encouraged the locals to cultivate and sell them. To entice people to their market stalls, the sellers carved some of the radishes into interesting shapes.
Contestants of the modern day festival have to register months in advance to be able to take part. Although they can plan their designs well in advance, they have to be carved on the day itself because the radishes start to wilt after just a few hours.
Usually the carvings are of nativity scenes, but they don’t have to be and it’s not unusual to see dancers, animals and kings amongst other things.
The radishes used can weigh up to 3 Kilograms and are about 50 centimetres in length. Nowadays they are grown especially for this event.
Hanukkah is sometimes also written as Chanukkah, and both spellings are equally acceptable. This is because the word is actually pronounced with a soft ch sound, like in the Scottish word loch which is a sound that doesn’t exist in English.
The festival begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev and last for 8 days. This year that will be from 24th December to 1st January.
It is called the Festival of Dedication (hanukkah means dedication in Hebrew) or the Festival of Light, and is to commemorate the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
About 2500 years ago the land had been taken over by the Syrian-Greeks. The King, Antiochus, wanted the Jewish people to worship the Greek gods. The Jewish temple was desecrated and a statue of Antiochus was placed inside.
Against all the odds, a small group of Jews defeated the Greek army and reclaimed the temple. They cleaned it up and reconsecrated it, but they only found one jar of sacred oil, which was only enough to keep a flame burning for one day. Miraculously the flame remained burning for 8 days, which was long enough to prepare more of the oil to keep it burning.
At Hanukkah now Jews celebrate this miracle by lighting 8 candles on a special menorah, called a hanukkiyah, which has nine branches – one for an attendant flame and eight to represent the eight days during which the one jar of oil continued burning. One candle is lit on the first day, two on the 2nd and so on until all eight candles are lit on the final day.
The celebrations include spending time with family, eating foods which have been fried in oil (such as potato pancakes and doughnuts) and exchanging gifts.
Related posts: Sukkot