Language news in the NYT

Two recent items in the New York Times: “Everyone Speaks Text Message” by Tina Rosenberg in the 12/11 Magazine; “Athhilezar? Watch Your Fantasy World Language” by Amy Chozick in the 12/12 paper.

The lead-in for the first:

When Ibrahima Traore takes his sons to a park in Montclair, N.J., he often sits on a bench and reads. He reads English, French and Arabic, but most of the time he reads N’Ko, a language few speakers of those languages would recognize. N’Ko is the standardized writing system for Mande languages, a family of closely related tongues — among them Traore’s language of Mandinka, but also Jula, Bamana, Koyaga, Marka — spoken, for the most part, in eight West African countries, by some 35 million people. N’Ko looks like a cross between Arabic and ancient Norse runes, written from right to left in a blocky script with the letters connected underneath. Traore types e-mail to his family on his laptop in N’Ko, works on his Web site in N’Ko, tweets in N’Ko on his iPhone and iPad and reads books and newspapers written in N’Ko to prepare for the N’Ko classes he teaches in the Bronx and for his appearances on an Internet radio program to discuss cultural issues around the use of N’Ko.

The piece is about the cellphone as a powerful tool for speakers of endangered languages, especially in far-flung communities and rural areas. For that to work, you need a writing system — so N’Ko is an important part of the story.

The lead-in for the second:

At his best friend’s wedding reception on the California coast, David J. Peterson stood to deliver his toast as best man. He held his Champagne glass high and shouted “Hajas!” The 50 guests raised their glasses and chanted “Hajas!” in unison.

The word, which means “be strong” and is pronounced “hah-DZHAS,” has great significance for Mr. Peterson. He invented it, along with 3,250 other words (and counting), in the language he created for the HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” called Dothraki.

Now we are in the world of conlangs (constructed languages). I hear on the jungle telegraph that a Language Log posting on this story is in progress, so here I’ll just give a few references (conlangs seem to be a fashionable topic these days):

Okrent, Arika. 2009. In the land of invented languages. NY: Spiegel & Grau.

Adams, Michael (ed.). 2011. From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring invented languages.  Oxford Univ. Press.

Rogers, Stephen D. 2011. A dictionary of made-up languages. Avon MA: Adams Media.

One Response to “Language news in the NYT”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    Rosenfelder, Mark. 2010. The Language Construction Kit. Chicago: Yonagu Books.

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