Austria’s fights to preserve its own form of German

Vienna-Schönbrunn Palace

Pulling a page from French efforts to keep their language “pure,” Austria is undertaking a major new endeavor to preserve its own unique tongue.

The difference is that while the French seek curtail the use of phrases imported from English, Austrians aren’t fighting against a foreign language, but against German, the same tongue spoken in Austrian.

While both Austrians and Germans speak German there are many words and phrases that mark Austrian German as different from standard German.

Austrian German traces its beginning to the mid-18th century, when Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II introduced compulsory schooling and several administrative reforms. They chose to adopt the already standardized language of Saxony, which was based on the standard language used for administrative purposes in cities such as Dresden.

Austrian German is spoken by approximately 8.5 million people and is recognized as an official language not only in Austria, but also in nearby Italy.

Austria’s education minister this week announced plans to preserve the unique Austrian form of German, amid increased intrusion from words and expressions from neighboring Germany, according to The Telegraph.

“What is heard in movies, on TV or the internet, is often produced or dubbed in our neighboring country Germany,” the education minister, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, wrote in a 64-page booklet distributed to schools. “One consequence is that specifically Austrian peculiarities and expressions of our language slowly but surely fall into the background.”

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Ancient tablet shows undiscovered language

Amid the ruins of a Middle Eastern palace dating back nearly 1,000 years before the birth of Christ, archaeologists believe they have discovered a previously unknown ancient language.

Working in southeast Turkey, a team excavating an Assyrian imperial governors’ palace in the ancient city of Tushan recently unearthed a 2,800-year-old clay writing tablet.

Cambridge University archaeologist John MacGinnis discovered the unknown language – which was likely spoken by a hitherto unknown people from the Zagros Mountains of western Iran – while deciphering the tablet, according to The Independent.

“The discovery is important because it may help reveal the ethnic and cultural origins of some of history’s first ‘barbarians’ – mountain tribes which had, in previous millennia, preyed on the world’s first great civilizations,  the cultures of early Mesopotamia in what is now Iraq,” according to the British newspaper.

The clay tablet revealed the names of 60 women – probably prisoners of war or victims of an Assyrian forced-population transfer program.

But when MacGinnis began to examine the names in detail, he realized that 45, or three of every four, bore no resemblance to any of the thousands of ancient Middle Eastern names already known to scholars.

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New Guinea’s linguistic reservoir endangered

New Guinea is regarded as the world’s greatest linguistic reservoir, being home to more than one-sixth of the world’s languages, at least 1,000 in all.

However, that status may change within the next century as many of the native tongues are in danger of dying out, many now having fewer than 1,000 speakers.

“It’s Indonesian more and more,” said Yoseph Wally, an anthropologist at Cendrawasih University in Jayapura, Indonesia. “Only the oldest people still speak in the local dialect,” he said.

In some villages Wally visits, not a single person can understand a word of the traditional language, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Certain languages disappeared very quickly, like Muris, which was spoken in an area near here until about 15 years ago,” he said.

It’s a problem not unlike those facing speakers of Native American languages, many of which have become extinct or on the verge of extinction in recent decades as village elders die off and younger members turn exclusively to English.

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An endangered language commits suicide

Living in a nation whose dominant language seems to be encroaching daily upon the rest of the globe, we sometimes forget there are literally hundreds of spoken tongues on the brink of extinction.

Nearly 500 languages are currently close to oblivion, according to the website In the Americas alone, some 182 are on the cusp of extinction, including approximately 75 in the United States.

It is said that every 14 days a language dies somewhere in the world and that by 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth – many not yet recorded – may disappear.

Cornell University researchers found that when two languages compete, only one survives while the other declines exponentially. Policies, education and advertising can slow this process, according to the 2003 study.

Perhaps one of the more curious examples of an endangered language is that of Ayapaneco, which has been spoken in what is now Mexico for centuries. Today, there are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other.

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A glance back at America’s first bible

Ask most folks what language the first bible in North America was printed in and you’ll likely get a myriad of answers, ranging from English, French or Spanish to Dutch, Latin or Greek.

All would be wrong.

The first bible printed in North America was a translation of the Good Book published in Massachusett, a Native American language, by John Eliot in 1663.

Massachusett is a member of the Algonquian language family and was spoken by the Wampanoag nation, which lived in present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Eliot, an English clergyman who emigrated to the Colonies in 1631, settled initially at Boston but a short time later moved to the nearby town of Roxbury, where he became pastor.

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DC museum recognizes Gullah linguist

The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum is staging the first major exhibit on the work of Lorenzo Dow Turner, the 20th century black linguist whose work was the first to identify Gullah as a distinct language.

“He was the first person that went to listen to Gullah and realized this is not bad English – this is actually a language,” curator Alcione Amos said.

During breaks in his teaching at Howard University in Washington and Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., Turner pursued his linguistics research, hauling heavy recording equipment to the isolated Sea Islands off the South Carolina and Georgia coasts that were populated primarily by descendants of African slaves.

His studies were first to show that people of African heritage retained and passed on their cultural identity and language, despite slavery, according to The Associated Press.

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Pictish language mystery expands

A linguistic mystery centered on a long-extinct language continues to baffle researches studying symbol-inscribed stones in Scotland.

The stones are believed to have been carved by members of an ancient people known as the Picts, who lived in what is now Scotland from the 4th to the 9th centuries, according to the BBC.

But these symbols are probably “words” rather than images, researchers say, which has raised criticism from some linguists.

Pictish is a term used for the extinct language or languages thought to have been spoken by the Picts, the people of northern and central Scotland in the Early Middle Ages.

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