No Numbers or Worries

Deep in the Amazon Rainforest lives an indigenous tribe called the Hi’aiti’ihi, who speak the Pirahã language. This language is unique in several ways, but primarily world-renowned in linguistic communities because it contains no numbers. Not a single one. Not even one.

Can you imagine such a world? I look at the clock, and see digits. I do my taxes, and write numbers. I use an iPad, cell phone, desktop, laptop–essentially any device–and know that somehow, “01010101” and an enormous amount of coding lets me communicate with nearly anyone in the world. A world without numbers? What about synesthetes? What about birthdays? What about money? Or addresses? What about time? Does no time means no past or future? How many jobs would not exist if there weren’t numbers? I am speechless, wordless, number-less…

To clarify, these hunter-gatherers** do have smaller or larger amounts (the concept of more or less), but no numbers. I have read before that in order to barter, one might turn a palm skyward to indicate more, and downward for less–but there are no numbers, either to quantify what is being bartered or to exchange currencies.

If people without numbers are not enough for you today, the Moken Tribe–living near Thailand and Burma–will fix that. They do not have a word for “want” in their language (details on page two of link). Likewise, “worry” is not a concept in their language. This is the same tribe that knew a deadly tsunami was coming in 2004 and saved themselves. Aren’t languages fascinating? What we understand as reality is not always the case for the rest of the world. No numbers, no wants, no worries…

**Some have suggested in recent years that our cyber habits closely parallel hunter-gatherer societies and thought, in the sense that we skim information quickly, only searching for what we want to catch, or gather. Hmmm.

FEATURED IMAGE: Myanmar sea-gypsies, the nomadic hunter-gatherers of South East Asia harpooning in the traditional way, leaping off a boat. Image taken 2007.

Despacito and Dr. Seuss

Nowadays, the song Despacito is probably as well known as Dr. Seuss. What you might not think about are the translation jobs that allow this information to circulate worldwide. People dedicate their lives to adapting and translating books, songs, and more into other languages, which takes time. For example, they say that Red Fish, Blue Fish took over a year to translate into Mandarin Chinese, mostly because Dr. Seuss had a habit of making up words: how do you transfer fictitious phonemes into another language? How do you make lines rhyme, when two words–directly translated–do not rhyme in another language?

Continue reading “Despacito and Dr. Seuss”

Translations Gone Wrong

Students have been talking about translation (written) and interpretation (spoken) in Spanish class recently. This week, they focused more on translation, after taking a moment to differentiate the two. You see, translation and interpretation are often confused and used interchangeably. However, they are two very different professions. In a nutshell… Translation is written. You translate documents from one language into your native tongue, and have time to write multiple drafts of a document. Interpretation, on the other hand, is spoken. You interpret on the spot, and there is no going back. Precision in the moment is key. Interpreters often work in politics, and thus must be informed about current events, slang terms and new expressions. Today, we will focus on the job of a translator and the unanticipated ramifications of poorly translated signs and documents.

Continue reading “Translations Gone Wrong”

Aymara & Quechua

I love that learning about other languages and cultures always gives us new perspectives. It is like when you stand on a chair: the room is still the same room, but you notice different things about it. As we deepen our language study, we will begin to notice new perspectives embedded in other languages and cultures. The Aymara and Quechua languages (spoken in South America) introduce us to a new perspective this week. What? Keep reading!

In other words, everything we can see is considered the past, and therefore in front of us; everything we cannot see and is therefore unknown, is the future and behind us. This is actually very logical when you think about.

Until next time, remember that, “We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly” (-Kató Lomb, hyperpolyglot).

Photo credit HERE; featured image at top of page of Quechua woman and child.


There is an endangered language in the US called Wukchumni, that only has one living speaker remaining. Intent on preserving her language for future generations and documenting it for linguists, Marie Wilcox is working on writing a dictionary to compile all of the words in her language. Can you imagine such a task? Our challenge is ‘merely’ to download all of the words in a language into our brains; her job is upload them, eek! For more information, see the video below and this Ethnologue link.

Endangered Languages

“An endangered language, or moribund language, is a language that is at risk of falling out of use as its speakers die out or shift to speaking another language. Language loss occurs when the language has no more native speakers and becomes a ‘dead language’ ” (Wikipedia).

Please see below for links to articles about endangered languages. For a more academic source than Wikipedia, Ethnologue is a great place to start (e.g. see chart for numbers of living languages, by continent).

Endangered and Indigenous Languages

Aymara: Past/Future (Bolivia, Peru, Chile)
Sea Gypsies See Signs in the Waves (Moken Language)
Protection for Turkey’s ‘Bird Language’
Greece’s Disappearing Whistled Language
Meet the Huli Wigmen of Tari Highlands, Papua New Guinea
7 Languages on the Verge of Extinction
The People Saving ‘Lost’ Words
Endangered Languages (Interactive Map)
Why We Must Save Dying Tongues
The Achuar: Ancient People of Ecuador
Plant Spirit Shamanism: Hearing the Call of the Plants
People and Trees: Intimately Connected Through the Ages
They Hunt. They Gather. They’re Very Good at Talking About Smells.
From Amazon to Garden State (Yanomami Territory, Venezuela)
Arunachal Pradesh, India, Hidden Koro Language (Enduring Voices)
Ethnologue: Languages of the World (Endangered Languages)

Why Last Two Speakers Of Ayapaneco Don’t Talk To Each Other (Mexico)
Language Revitalization, Alaska (Juneau Empire)
Revive an Endangered Language (Alaska)
Vanishing Languages (Maptia)
Girl is Making Quechua Cool in Peru
How Miami Tribe Got Its Language Back
Isolated Dialect in Alaska (Russian)
Saving the Arapaho Language
She’s The Last Person Left Who Can Speak This (Wukchumni)
Who Speaks Wukchumni? Marie Wilcox’s Dictionary
Inuit Snow Terms: How Many and What Does It Mean?
K. David Harrison – Enduring Voices Project, National Geographic

Voynich Manuscript, Book No Living Person Can Understand
Tarahumara (Rarámuri) People
Recently Extinct Languages (Decolonial Atlas)
Hai Kur Mamashu Shis (Yaghan language)
Beautiful Song (Yaghan/English)
Preserving Indigenous Languages (Magati Ke)
Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan language)
12 Palabras de Lenguas Indigenas
Indigenous Language Links
Aboriginal Language, Wikipedia Faces Cultural Hurdles (Nyungar)
Australia Developing School Curriculum For Indigenous Languages
Where Do Languages Go to Die? (John McWhorter)
Guardians of a Vast Lake (Canada)


Tech Gets A Time-Out
Silicon Valley Parents Are Raising Their Kids Tech Free
This Panda is Dancing – Time Well Spent
The Digital Language Divide
I Used to Be a Human Being (Andrew Sullivan)
The ‘Busy’ Trap (Tim Kreider)
The Disease of Being Busy (Omid Safi)
Thinking About a Lack of Thinking (Grant Wiggins)
Thoughtlessness, Part 3 (Grant Wiggins)
Thoughtlessness, Part 2 (Grant Wiggins)
Can We Auto-Correct Humanity? (Prince Ea)
The Shallowness of Google Translate
How Google Translate Works…

What is the Teacher’s Role in the Classroom? (NAIS)
All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (Mitchel Resnick)
What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? (Dominic Randolph)
Learner Performance – Immersion (ACTFL)
143 English Words That Are Spanish
To Learn a New Language…
9 Great Resources to Learn Spanish (FluentU)
8 Ways to Get Daily Language Practice (FluentU)
Theory of Second Language Acquisition (Stephen Krashen)
Rethinking Cinco de Mayo
Children’s Language Learning (Finland, Finnish BBC)
Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?
Kindness Film Festival (Edutopia)
What Makes a Prodigy?
Where Creativity Goes to Hide (Patrick Bassett, NAIS)
On Cosmopolitanism (Patrick Bassett, NAIS)

Heaven on Earth: A Guide to See Bolivia’s Salt Flats

Things to Do in Peru: Exploring the Wonders of Machu Picchu

Chile, Finland, Mexico and More (Fulbright Blogs)

Dancing – World Cultures

Multiple Languages

“The hyperpolyglot is someone who is both a gifted and massive language accumulator. They possess a particular neurology that’s well-suited for learning languages very quickly and being able to use them” (Michael Erard*).

Multiple Languages and Hyperpolyglots
How to Maintain Multiple Languages (Agnieszka Karch)
Hyperpolyglots – Secrets of Language Superlearners*
How Many Languages Can You Juggle?
Man Fluent in 11 Languages (Alex Rawlings)
Adventures of a Teenage Polyglot (Timothy Doner)
Teenage Hyperpolyglot (Timothy Doner)
Teen Speaks Over 20 Languages (Timothy Doner)
How Can I Avoid Confusing Languages? (Olly Richards)
Infographic – Hardest Languages to Learn
4 Blogs Every Language Learner Should Follow
Top 100 Language Lovers (2014)
The World’s Top 20 Languages (Mental Floss)
Speaking Multiple Languages Can Influence Children’s Development
Tips to Become Fluent… Fast
Why Learning Foreign Languages…
Foreign Language Skills Worth Acquiring
Natural Born Linguists

The Bilingual Brain
Language Utilizes Ancient Brain Circuits That Predate Humans
Foreign Languages and Rational Decisions
Do Bilingual Children Learn Differently?
Bilingualism and Poverty
This Is Your Brain On Language
How Bilingualism Boosts Your Brain
Bilingualism and Brain Power
Foreign Languages Trigger Brain Growth
Do We Use Only 10% Of Our Brain?
Bilingualism Fine-Tunes Hearing
The Benefits of Bilingualism
Bilingual Kids Have Multiple Advantages
Bilingual Children
The Bilingual Brain Is Sharper and More Focused
When Labels Don’t Fit Hispanics
For a More Creative Brain, Travel

Infographic – Idioms of the World
10 Spanish Words, No English…
The Cozy Linguistics of Hygge (JSTOR)
The Norwegian Secret
How ‘Hygge’ Helps You (Denmark)
Infographic – Untranslatable Words
Tongue and Tech
A Loss For Words
Arabic Loanwords in European Languages


TEDx- Direct Links
How to Find a Wonderful Idea (OK Go)
Gorgeous Portraits of the World’s Vanishing People (Jimmy Nelson)
How Tech Companies Control Billions of Minds Every Day (Tristan Harris)
What Adults Can Learn From Kids (Adora Svitak)
The Power of Introverts (Susan Cain)
Dreams from Endangered Cultures (Wade Davis)
Txtng Is Killing Language. JK!!! (John McWhorter)
Psychedelic Science (Fabian Oefner)
The Danger of Instant Gratification (Jesse Weinberger)
Your Elusive Creative Genius (Elizabeth Gilbert)
The Art of Choosing (Sheena Iyengar)
No Child Left Monolingual (Kim Potowski)
The Internet is on Fire (Mikko Hypponen)
The Art of Memory (Daniel Kilov)
More Than Words (Translation vs. Interpretation)
The Most Important Language (Poet Ali)
Defining Your Identity (Amy Walker)
Grow Up, Learn Another Language (Gaston Dorren)
Learn A New Language (Benny the Irish Polyglot)
The Benefits of a Bilingual Brain (Mia Nacamulli)

TEDx- Articles
How Language Can Affect… (Keith Chen)
How Cultures Make Decisions
Why I Taught Myself 20 Languages (Timothy Doner)
40 Brilliant Idioms… (TED Blog)


Linguistics is the scientific study of language and its structure, including the study of morphology, syntax, phonetics, and semantics.

The World Atlas of Language Structures
History of the Word “Tea”
Linguistic Bots Explain Why Big Groups Produce Simple Grammar
Speaking Out: Mapping the World’s Dialects
Chart: The World’s Most Spoken Languages And Their Speakers
Languages Don’t All Have the Same Number of Terms for Colors – Scientists Have a New Theory Why

What Colors Mean In Other Cultures

Common Word Origins (Maps)
Queens Has Most Languages in World
How Linguists Are Pulling Apart Bering Strait Theory
Does Language Influence How I Think?
How Many Languages Are There? (Linguistic Society of America)
Languages in Contact (Linguistic Society of America)
Is English Changing? (Linguistic Society of America)
Linguistics in Everyday Life (Linguistic Society of America)
Necklace Contains All World’s Languages (Smithsonian Magazine)

23 Maps and Charts on Language
The Mystery of, Uh, Filled Pauses (Japan)
Theory of Universal Grammar (Noam Chomsky)
Where do they speak that language?
Your Language Shape[s] How You Think?
Emoticons and Symbols…
The Evolution of ‘Like’ (John McWhorter)
The World’s Most Musical Languages (John McWhorter)

Translators (John Oliver)
Invisible Language of Nursery (John McWhorter)
Leaving The Mother Tongue (Mental Floss)
Countries In Their Own Languages (Arika Okrent)
Those Incredible Interpreters
The 10 Oldest Languages Still Spoken
Bringing Up Babel (Robert Lane Greene)
Forgotten Languages: What Ancient Languages Sound Like
Word Magic: How Much Really Gets Lost in Translation?
Against All Odds: Archaic Greek…
What the World Will Speak in 2115 (John McWhorter)