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Unknown Language Discovered in Malaysia (smithsonianmag.com) 55

Researchers have cataloged close to 7,000 distinct human languages on Earth, per Linguistic Society of America's latest count. That may seem like a pretty exhaustive list, but it hasn't stopped anthropologists and linguists from continuing to encounter new languages, like one recently discovered in a village in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula. From a report: According to a press release, researchers from Lund University in Sweden discovered the language during a project called Tongues of the Semang. The documentation effort in villages of the ethnic Semang people was intended to collect data on their languages, which belong to an Austoasiatic language family called Aslian. While researchers were studying a language called Jahai in one village, they came to understand that not everyone there was speaking it. "We realized that a large part of the village spoke a different language. They used words, phonemes and grammatical structures that are not used in Jahai," says Joanne Yager, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Linguist Typology. "Some of these words suggested a link with other Aslian languages spoken far away in other parts of the Malay Peninsula."
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Unknown Language Discovered in Malaysia

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  • If it doesn't help up translate the Voynich Manuscript there's no need to put energy in trying to preserve one more unique language.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:51PM (#56110649)

    Is it dynamically typed ? Does it have continuations ? JIT compiling ?

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @05:01PM (#56110753)

    Stories like this always make me think of the following clip [youtube.com] from Futurama A Clone of My Own [wikipedia.org]:

    Professor Hubert Farnsworth: And this is my Universal Translator. Unfortunately, so far it only translates into an incomprehensible dead language.
    Cubert J. Farnsworth: [into the translator's microphone] Hello.
    Translator Machine: Bonjour!
    Professor Hubert Farnsworth: Crazy gibberish!

  • Reminds me of The Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things. They discovered that different groups of people sometimes spoke different languages.
  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @05:15PM (#56110881)

    PNG has over 700 languages (plus many undiscovered tribes and languages).
    The rugged terrain led to isolated groups each developing their own language.
    The common language of the country is a pidgin (Tok Pisin) plus English.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So how many languages does GIF have???

  • One village. I mean it'a just one village, and they cannot all speak the same language? I'm all for cultural diversity and all that crap, but, surely 7001 languages are a bit too much? There is a need to have 7000 plus different ways of asking somebody to pass you the salt?

    640 languages should be enough for everybody.

  • It's so tempting to throw that number around because it sounds impressive or what? The distinction between a language and a dialect is flexible and I'm guessing that if you shift that boundary suddenly your number of languages changes drastically.
    Still, I'd like to see that on a map

    • I've heard similar figures before[1], so I assume they know what they're talking about.

      But even if 9/10 are really dialects, and there are 200-odd countries, it's still around 3:1. Intuitively, I'd expect the ratio to be the other way round, even with abominations like Belgium and Switzerland.

      [1] I have somewhere a TTC course, not that old, that says 6,000.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Belgium? Switzerland both veritable mono-cultures. Come to India. We have millions of speakers across tens of languages. Total about 700+ languages with numerous dialects between them. And these are full blown languages from multiple distinct families, with their own script, literature and cultures.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_India.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers_in_India

        • Belgium and Switzerland (mainly) use borrowed languages, though. Hence, overall you get more than one country per language. So out of the EU, two share French, three share German and so on.

          India is a bit of a special case, since in a way it's a lot of countrylets joined together.

  • ... will soon support this new language.
  • It seems that at least a few people know it.

    Reminds me of that unknown continent that Christopher Columbus sort of ran into. You know, the one that the Vikings had already visited hundreds of years earlier, and which a bunch of Asians had walked and/or floated over to thousands of years earlier. "Unknown" is a silly adjective in cases like this.
    • by epine ( 68316 )

      Reminds me of that unknown continent that Christopher Columbus sort of ran into. You know, the one that the Vikings had already visited hundreds of years earlier, and which a bunch of Asians had walked and/or floated over to thousands of years earlier. "Unknown" is a silly adjective in cases like this.

      Any competent dictionary list these additional, commonly accepted meanings of "unknown":
      – unplundered
      – won't be missed

  • "New language on an existing branch within a fairly well-studied family" seems fairly niche for a /. article. I'm sure the Austro-asiatic linguistics blogs are all over this, but new languages get discovered all the time. I'd only expect to see it on non-linguistics news sites if there was something special about it - if it was an isolate, or contained an unusual feature, for instance.

    (Also: the article summary misspelled "Austro-asiatic", omitting the "R".)

  • Unknown to whom? It was perfectly well known to its speakers. For them, the news is 7000 unknown languages discovered.

    • Did you know about it? Neither did I. So the answer is probably "readers of this site" or "the vast majority of the world's population".

      Are you an aspie or just being wilfully obtuse 4 teh lolz?

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