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insight by wfx

Welcome to Wordwide FX's new enterprise!

Insight by WFX is a synthesis of our passion for languages and the financial markets. Here you will find technical and fundamental analyses from our clients, media partners and contributors in different languages, as well as discussions on languages and translation. And of course we will keep you updated on what is happening inside Wordwide FX Financial Translations. Hope you enjoy it! Greetings from the Wordwide FX team!

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06/06/2019

Language of the Week: Hebrew, the Revived Language of the Ibri

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Many people think that we linguists speak lots of languages. While this is not usually true, it is a fact that we are curious about all of them - that is certainly my case.

I took up Hebrew a while ago when I was a student at the University of Barcelona. This was my fisrt contact with a Semitic language, and I can say I really enjoyed it. My instructor, professor Jaime Vándor, who repretably passed away in 2014, fled from the Nazis in 1939 and seeked refuge in Hungary. In 1947, he was reunited with his father in Barcelona, together with his brother and their mother.

Hebrew, a West Semitic language, is the only living Canaanite language left. The name Ibri, from which the word Hebrew derives, was one of the name of the Israelite people. The script is derived from Paleo-Hebrew, the writing system used by Israelites in the historic kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 10th century BCE, and the script as we know it today was already used in the 5th century BC. Hebrew is the only successful example of a revived dead language. By 200-400 AD is was almost extint, replaced by Aramaic and Greek, both lingua franca at that time, but it survived into the Middle Ages in Jewish liturgy, rabbinic literature, Jewish commerce and poetry. In the 19th century it was revived as a spoken and literary language. 

The responsible for the revival of Hebrew was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922). Born in Belarus, his first language was Russian, so his Hebrew was highly influenced by this language in grammar, lexicon, and style. This special circumstance was reflected in his work on the revival of Hebrew, which now has a "Slavic flavor", like professor Vandor used to say. 

Today, Hebrew is spoken by around 9 million people, 5 of which are native speakers, and it is the oficial language of Israel.

Photo below: Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in his desk in Jerusalem, 1912.

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23/05/2019

Language of the Week: Icelandic, Viking Speech Preserved

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

As a lover of Germanic languages and having had the chance to learn some German and Swedish, I've always been curious about Icelandic, the language of the North Atlandic island discovered and populated in the 7th century by Norsemen from different points of Scandinavia, most notably Flóki Vilgerðarson, one of the main characters of the TV show Vikings.  

With roughly 560.000 native speakers, Icelandinc (islenska) stands out among Scandinavian languages for being the closest to Old Norse, the speech of the Vikings. True, also Danish, Faroese, Norwegian, and Swedish, derive from Old Norse, but due to geogrgaphical isolation Icelandic has retained lots of features of their ancestor's speech, to the extent that Old Norse is also known among the linguistics community as "Old Icelandic" (even though, technically, Old Icelandic should be synonym with Old West Norse). The conservation of the language means that modern Icelanders are able to read the Eddas, the Sagas, and other classic Old Norse literary works created in the Viking period between the 10th and the 13th centuries. 

It is funny to think that modern Icelandic could be mutually intelligible with a language spoken so many centuries ago (at least partially, because although the written language remains quite close, the pronunciation is not the same), but it is no longer so with the other contemporary Scandinavian languages, not even with it's closest relative, Faroese.

The main difference between Icelandic and the other Scandinavian languages is that Icelandic keeps many grammatical features of other ancient Germanic languages, most notably the inflection system. While Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish have lost their inflections, Icelandic retains four cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitice. Also, like Old English (or modern German), nouns have 3 grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. 

Icelandic has also retained with old letters that used to be used to write Old English and Old Norse, but that the other Germanic languages have dropped: Þ, þ (þorn, modern English "thorn") and Ð, ð (, anglicised as "eth" or "edh"), representing the voiceless and voiced "th" sounds (as in English thin and this), respectively. 

The good health of the Icelandic language is in charge of Ari Páll Krinstinsson, head of the Ari Magnússon institute for Icelandic studies (in the photo, below). Some people fear that, due to the low demography, Icelandic will die out soon. Jón Gnarr, the comedian who became the mayor of Rejkjavik, was quoted on The WOold in Words in 2015: "I think Icelandic is not going to last. Probably in this century we will adopt English as our language. I think it's unavoidable". Ari Magnússon also has the same fears: "English is everywhere, from the moment we wake up untill we die". The language is also closely linked to the feeling of Iceland as a nation: "If we lost the Icelandic language there will be no Icelandic nation", said poet Krinstinsson, a feelilng shared by speakers of many minority languages.  

 

 

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13/04/2018

The English language is the world’s Achilles heel

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via The Conversation

English has achieved prime status by becoming the most widely spoken language in the world – if one disregards proficiency – ahead of Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. English is spoken in 101 countries, while Arabic is spoken in 60, French in 51, Chinese in 33, and Spanish in 31. From one small island, English has gone on to acquire lingua franca status in international business, worldwide diplomacy, and science.

But the success of English – or indeed any language – as a “universal” language comes with a hefty price, in terms of vulnerability. Problems arise when English is a second language to either speakers, listeners, or both. No matter how proficient they are, their own understanding of English, and their first (or “native”) language can change what they believe is being said.

When someone uses their second language, they seem to operate slightly differently than when they function in their native language. This phenomenon has been referred to as the “foreign language effect”. Research from our group has shown that native speakers of Chinese, for example, tended to take more risks in a gambling game when they received positive feedback in their native language (wins), when compared to negative feedback (losses). But this trend disappeared – that is, they became less impulsive – when the same positive feedback was given to them in English. It was as if they are more rational in their second language. 

While reduced impulsiveness when dealing in a second language can be seen as a positive thing, the picture is potentially much darker when it comes to human interactions. In a second language, research has found that speakers are also likely to be less emotional and show less empathy and consideration for the emotional state of others.

For instance, we showed that Chinese-English bilinguals exposed to negative words in English unconsciously filtered out the mental impact of these words. And Polish-English bilinguals who are normally affected by sad statements in their native Polish appeared to be much less disturbed by the same statements in English.

In another recent study by our group, we found that second language use can even affect one’s inclination to believe the truth. Especially when conversations touch on culture and intimate beliefs.

Since second language speakers of English are a huge majority in the world today, native English speakers will frequently interact with non-native speakers in English, more so than any other language. And in an exchange between a native and a foreign speaker, the research suggests that the foreign speaker is more likely to be emotionally detached and can even show different moral judgements.

And there is more. While English provides a phenomenal opportunity for global communication, its prominence means that native speakers of English have low awareness of language diversity. This is a problem because there is good evidence that differences between languages go hand-in-hand with differences in conceptualisation of the world and even perception of it. 

In 2009, we were able to show that native speakers of Greek, who have two words for dark blue and light blue in their language, see the contrast between light and dark blue as more salient than native speakers of English. This effect was not simply due to the different environment in which people are brought up in either, because the native speakers of English showed similar sensitivity to blue contrasts and green contrasts, the latter being very common in the UK. 

On the one hand, operating in a second language is not the same as operating in a native language. But, on the other, language diversity has a big impact on perception and conceptions. This is bound to have implications on how information is accessed, how it is interpreted, and how it is used by second language speakers when they interact with others.

We can come to the conclusion that a balanced exchange of ideas, as well as consideration for others’ emotional states and beliefs, requires a proficient knowledge of each other’s native language. In other words, we need truly bilingual exchanges, in which all involved know the language of the other. So, it is just as important for English native speakers to be able to converse with others in their languages.

The US and the UK could do much more to engage in rectifying the world’s language balance, and foster mass learning of foreign languages. Unfortunately, the best way to achieve near-native foreign language proficiency is through immersion, by visiting other countries and interacting with local speakers of the language. Doing so might also have the effect of bridging some current political divides.

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02/01/2017

The Diacritics Affair

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via Languages Around the World

By Asya Pereltsvaig

[This is a guest post, written by Roger Fernàndez from Barcelona, Catalonia]

Can a few simple accents become the center of a controversy that occupy headlines? In Catalonia, yes. Catalan is the language of this northeast Spain region, whose capital is Barcelona. The Catalan language, however, is not only spoken in Catalonia; other Spanish regions such as the Balearic Islands, Valencia and some Aragon areas as well as areas of southern France, and the Italian city of Alghero, make this Romance language the 20th most spoken language in Europe (9,4M speakers ).

On 29 September an intention was announced to eliminate the vast majority of diacritical accents. The proposal was made by the IEC, the Institute of Catalan Studies, which is the organization that, since 1911, defines the rules of grammar, spelling and new vocabulary of the Catalan language. And, as if someone had thrown a match into a powder keg, a discussion has exploded and unleashed far beyond the purely academic circles.

But what diacritical accents mean in Catalan and what role do they have? The diacritical accents are marks that are introduced in some words to help distinguish words with different meanings; they do not follow the rules of accentuation,. A few examples illustrate this:

Ma (my) / Mà (hand)

Dona (Woman) / Dóna (gives)

Pel (for the) / Pèl (hair)

Net (clean) / Nét (grandson)

Deu (Ten) /  Déu (God)

And so up to 150 pairs of words were defined by Pompeu Fabra, the philologist who created the prescriptive rules of modern Catalan orthography in the early twentieth century. The new IEC proposal reduces the number of such pairs to just 14!

Initially, the news appeared in the Catalan newspapers, but it was only a small article in the Culture section of each newspaper. But after a few hours, thanks to social networks, the debate was on like an uncontrollable fire. Soon the “Diacriticals affair” was the cover story in the media all around the country.

That day, Empar Moline, one of the most prestigious writers in Catalan, published an article in the newspaper “Ara” denouncing, in his usual humorous style, that the disappearance of diacritic marks would become an oversimplification of a language which, by constant contact with the powerful Spanish language, is already suffering a loss of rigor. Why not, Moline asked ironically, remove Catalan personal pronouns (“pronoms febles” or weak pronouns), the real nemesis for any student of Catalan.

Within a few hours, Quim Monzo, a close friend of Empar Moline and probably the most recognized living writer in Catalan, responded in Tweeter standing at the other side of the controversy:

“Please, we need an immediate crowdfunding campaign to save the diacritics” wrote the eternal candidate for the Literature Nobel Prize, Quim Monzó.

The discussion, however, was not limited only to a philological and literary milieu, and Twitter was starting to warm up. That evening #diacritics hashtag became Trending Topic on Twitter. Catalan TV channels and radio stations buzzed and the controversy grew hour by hour. Right now, platform Change.org has three active campaigns to collect signatures to “save the 136 diacritical accent marks from a death sentence.”

The following day, instead of troubled waters getting calm, tempers were inflamed even more. Even some graffiti appeared:

The sentence, which with stress marks would be written “La dona dóna un os d’ós al nét net” will hardly ever be used, considering its meaning: “The woman gives a bone of bear to the clean grandson”, but it is a symptomatic example of the sudden Catalans’ love for their 136 words with diacritical stress marks. Some online media took advantage to propose tests and surveys to determine how many diacritics readers were able to recognize, as many Catalan speakers are not able to spell all the words with diacritical accents, as required by prescriptive rules. Note that these written accents do not follow any rules and, therefore, the only way to learn them is to do it by memory.

If I had to evaluate a distribution of supporters and opponents of diacritic accents suppression, I think much of the academic world (philologists and linguists) are for this simplification, while writers are divided 50-50. Interestingly, however, a large majority of Catalan speakers, let’s say, ordinary people, are absolutely against simplifying their language. Even songs and flash mobs appeared in YouTube in defense of Diacritic accents.

What makes Catalan speakers so zealous about an alleged complexity of the language? Before trying to answer, I would like to clarify that Catalan is as simple or complex as any other language of the Romance branch of Indo-European may be. Well, back to the question: With the end of sovereignty of Catalonia (in the eighteenth century), political and cultural decline began, the Catalan language was banned from public administration and education. The language was restricted to the private sphere and suffered a clear recession, reaching an almost jeopardized state during the fascist dictatorship of General Franco (1939-1975). With the arrival of democracy in Spain and the recognition of a certain autonomy for Catalonia, the language became the center of the Catalan cultural identity. Catalonia is currently undergoing a process of independence that has made people feel more proud than ever of their culture and, therefore, of their language. Catalan language now has a strong presence in all areas of society, government, education and the media, despite being a region where two languages (Catalan and Spanish) live quite harmoniously. And maybe diacritical accents have become a symbol of Catalans’ pride for their language.

After this controversy, I don’t want even to think what will happen with the spelling reform announced for 2017! If this point was reached with diacritics reform, I hope not to see barricades in the streets in defense of the only exclusively Catalan letter “L geminada “(l·l)!

 

 

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21/11/2016

Old Norse (Dǫnsk tunga)

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via Omniglot.com

Old Norse was a North Germanic language once spoken in Scandinavia, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and in parts of Russia, France and the British Isles and Ireland. It was the language of the Vikings or Norsemen. The modern language most closely related to Old Norse is Icelandic, the written form of which has changed little over the years, while the spoken form has undergone significant changes.

The earliest known inscriptions in Scandinavia date from the the 2nd century AD and were written in Runes mainly on stone, or on personal artifacts such as brooches and swords. The majority of these inscription have been found in Denmark and Sweden, and they are written in a dialect much more archaic than Old Norse itself.

Most Old Norse literature was written in Iceland and includes the Eddas, poems about gods and mythic origins, or the heroes of an earlier age; Scaldic poetry, which was concerned with extolling the virtues and telling tales of the notable exploits of kings and other patrons; and the Sagas, stories of historical figures or groups intended as entertainment.

Between 800 and 1050 AD a division began to appear between East Norse, which developed into Swedish and Danish, and West Norse, which developed into NorwegianFaroeseIcelandic and Norn, an extinct language once spoken in Shetland, Orkney, and northern parts of Scotland.

 

 

Sample texts in Old Norse

Allir menn eru bornir frjálsir ok jafnir at virðingu ok réttum. Þeir eru allir viti gœddir ok samvizku, ok skulu gøra hvárr til annars bróðurliga.

Translation provided by a Carmenta Old Norse Tutor

Translation

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Þórr heitir áss, ok er sterkr mjök ok oft reiðr. Hann á hamar góðan. Þórr ferr oft til Jötunheima ok vegr þar marga jötna með hamrinum. Þórr á ok vagn er flýgr. Hann ekr vagninum um himininn. Þar er Þórr ekr, er stormr.

Translation

A god is named Thor. He is very strong and often angry. He has a good hammer. Thor often goes to Gianthome and slays many giants there with the hammer. Thor also has a carriage that flies. He drives the carriage through the sky. Where Thor drives there is storm.

Transliteration of the image below (The Lord's Prayer)

Faðer uor som ast i himlüm, halgað warðe þit nama. Tilkomme þit rikie. Skie þin uilie so som i himmalan so oh bo iordanne. Wort dahliha broð gif os i dah. Oh forlat os uora skuldar so som oh ui forlate þem os skuüldihi are. Oh inleð os ikkie i frestalsan utan frels os ifra ondo. Tü rikiað ar þit oh mahtan oh harlihheten i ewihhet. Aman.

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13/06/2016

Is Russian a hard language to learn?

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via lingua.ly

By Meredith Cicerchia

Russian has a reputation as being a difficult language to learn. This may be due to its Cyrillic alphabet, grammar or status as a less commonly taught world language (compared to the likes of French and Spanish). Nonetheless, it isn’t as hard as some English speakers make it out to be. Let’s take a look at the things that make Russian challenging and the less complex aspects that might convince you to give it a try!

A learner’s perspective on Russian

Keep in mind that when you start studying a language like Russian, the difficulty you actually experience is always relative to the language or languages you already speak (more on contrastive analysis). When I first began Russian classes, I had just finished 4 years of learning French and Italian and spoke English as my mother tongue.

Instead of seeing the new alphabet as a negative, I found it a refreshing break from the “similar” but “not quite the same” alphabet issues that plague romance languages for English speakers (think accents on French vowels). While pronunciation could be a mouthful for certain words, it also seemed like everything became a lot easier once I figured out the rules. Russian words were pronounced as they were written — which is more than I can say for my latest language, Danish — and there were almost no exceptions.

Sure, certain things were hard, such as understanding the whole case system, but some things seemed surprisingly easy (past tense for example). I was lucky enough to have a native-speaker teacher who mixed in Russian poetry, songs and children’s books with grammar lessons. She kept us entertained and motivated as we trudged through the more difficult aspects of beginner Russian language study.

Remember that if you learn to love a language like Russian and have fun studying it, what may initially seem hard becomes just another challenge you can be proud of later on. Plus, in the English speaking world Russian is seen as quite an undertaking so my progress was heavily praised and I felt much more confident and motivated talking about my life and hobbies in Russian than when I had tried to enquire about a train schedule in Paris (only to have someone answer me in English).

So, what makes Russian hard to learn?

The Alphabet

The bottom line is, you have to learn it. Yes, it’s different, but there are definitely some shortcuts to help you figure Russian letters out and they aren’t as hard to write as say Arabic. Also, if you’re familiar with the hair-pulling challenge of mastering Chinese characters, you can be thankful that at least there is an alphabet!

For me, the alphabet became somewhat of a secret code. An English P was a Russian R, C was an S, H was an N, a backwards N was an I and a backwards R was a “ya” sound. There were some similar letters with English, A and O for example and then there were some fun new ones like F which was written like a double P ф and P which is essentially the mathematics sign for pi п. Have a look and you’ll see what I mean.

While it does take a little getting used to when you first start reading and writing in a new alphabet, the most challenging part in Russian was differentiating cursive from print. To write a lower-case M in Russian you just use the capital form, only smaller м. That’s because if you write it in the English way an m is actually the cursive lower-case letter for t. Go figure!

Pronunciation

There is no denying that the Russian language can sometimes be a mouthful. Try greeting someone with здравствуйте (ZDRAST-vwee-tye) or apologizing using извиниться (eez-vin-EET-sya). They take some time to get your tongue around and as an English speaker you initially find yourself doing a lot of verbal stumbling as you attempt to put the sounds together.

The good things is, if you listen to a lot of Russian, you can train your ear to hear the way sounds combine. Once you do this, you’ll improve your listening comprehension as you’ll be able to pick out individual words when they’re said, but also get better at producing them. Songs and poetry memorized and recited can also be a helpful technique for learning the pronunciation.

And of course, Russian is said the way it is spelled so you don’t have to guess at how to pronounce things, the way English language learners do. Everything is straightforward and you can sound words out. Russian has a few pronunciation shortcuts too. Consider the letter ч which represents the English sound “ch” (and looks a lot like an upside down chair).

Prepositions

Prepositions are hard in Russian but give me an example of a language where they are easy! The problem with prepositions is they don’t translate from language to language and are somewhat arbitrarily assigned to different verbs. Russian adds a whole new layer of complexity by using cases instead of prepositions (more on this later) which means you really just have to buckle down and study this in Russian (and any other language for that matter). Of course there are a few easy ones like в (into, to, it, at) which you’ll need to express where you live and на (onto to) which is good for describing scenes, but sadly you can’t just stick them into a sentence and expect things to work, as the Russian case system necessitates a few adjustments (more on that later).

Conjugations

English speakers may see conjugations as hard but after learning Romance languages, they become somewhat standard fare and a to be expected step in beginners grammar. Russian has two main verb groups to learn and each one has 6 forms in present tense (but there is only one present tense so forget having to learn both ‘I go’ and ‘I’m going’). The endings for ‘I’ -ю and ‘they’ -ют look somewhat similar but you don’t have to worry about memorizing separate forms for ‘he’ and ‘she’ because they use the same one.

The good thing is, you can rehearse conjugations for a handful of verbs and then pretty much know what you’re doing with the rest of them. There are irregular verbs in Russian but usually their stem tells you all you need to know to conjugate them.

The Case System

I’ve saved the hardest for last and that’s because if you haven’t already met a case system in a foreign language (for example, German), then you may go running in the opposite direction when you understand what it’s all about. Please don’t! It’s hard, but it’s possible to get started without it and learn it when you’re a little more advanced.

Think of it this way, Russian has 6 possible labels you can stick on a sentence: nominative (subject case), accusative (object case), genitive (possessive case), dative (using to + noun), instrumental and prepositional. If you know what kind of sentence you’re using, then you can understand which endings you’re going to need. This is a somewhat over-simplified description of cases (if you want more detail, try this article) but just take it from me, they are hard, they require memorization and fine-tuning and Russian speakers will totally forgive you for messing them up in the beginning.

What makes Russian easy?

Articles

They don’t exist in Russian- hurrah! No worrying about feminine and masculine forms like ‘le’ and ‘la’ or whether it’s ‘the day’ or ‘a day’ because the case system does all that specification for you. Would I rather have articles than the Russian case system? Maybe, but that’s no reason to rain on the article-less parade.

Gender

Unlike in French where you can sometimes spend a few minutes pondering the possible gender of a word, Russian has some pretty clear markers for denoting masculine, feminine and neuter words (with the exception of words that end in ь). Consonants or an й at the end point to masculine, а and я are all feminine and o and e are neuter. Easy-peasy.

Forming Questions

All you need is intonation to ask a question in Russian. How beautifully simple is that? Just stick a question mark at the end of “You speak Russian,” make your voice go up and it becomes “Do you speak Russian?” There’s no fussing about with word order like in English, plus there’s no ‘qu’est-ce que’ which all former French students will be immediately grateful for. The rest of the question words are also straightforward to use.

Making Things Negative

Russians have a two letter solution for negatives and it comes before the verb. You just need не. If you want a more complex negative, to express ‘nothing’ for example, you can just go with the double-negative and stick your не before the verb and ничего after.

No Verb ‘to be’

If you’ve studied Italian then you know hard it can be to decide which form of “to be” you need to use for a given sentence (see our post on stare/essere). Well in Russian it’s easy because you can just skip the verb altogether!

Culture

Some languages can take a little work to get excited about, but with Russian you’re learning a language with one of the most amazing literary traditions on the planet. From poetry to short stories and classic novels, everything opens up to you when you learn the language! They’ll be challenges such as figuring out which character is which given the surplus of nicknames that can come wandering into long Russian novels (and cause mass confusion), but there will never be a lack of decent things to read.  Plus, the country is rich in history, has some great films and ballads like Oчи чёрные or “Dark eyes” that will be impossible to get out of your head.

Summing things up…

Is Russian a hard language to learn? Yes and no. All languages are hard to learn and if it’s your first time studying a second language, you are bound to struggle with the requirements of ‘learning a language’ to begin with. That’s why we have this nifty blog full of helpful hints from applied linguists who study this stuff for a living.

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