It is worrying to learn that, according to UNESCO, as many as half of the world's 6,000-plus languages face dying out in the next 30 years. And that doesn't necessarily include dialects and creoles. Or Scots come to that.
The United Nations agency, founded in London in 1945 with the aim of fostering mutual understanding and respect in education, science, culture and information, gives the stark but somehow arbitrary cut-off date as 2050. Furthermore, and this is hard to credit, English is included. Even such a dominant language is not immune from such a mass linguistic culling. Whatever the eventual total lost, it appears that no language is safe.
In Scotland, action is being taken and in no small measure thanks to the internet. It includes employee-owned translation and localisation outfit, Rubric, which enables online searches with a browser written in Scots. Its 'maximise' option is listed as mak muckle
and 'minimise' mak tottie
. The project is attracting more recognition in schools, parliament and on social media, with the aim to preserve our native tongue. Gaelic is also in good hands. The Gaelic Books Council (Comhairle nan Leabhraihean
) is the lead organisation with responsibility for supporting Scottish Gaelic authors and publishers at home and internationally.
Back to English. Although still considered the planet's lingua franca
, this is disputed. Cambridge University describes it as the language of globalisation that became an 'enemy' to other languages, with its current dominance nearing its end. The University of Edinburgh stresses the need for inclusivity in all languages to enable smaller ones to survive. One would think English will stick around, such is its imperialistic-grounded historical claim. The largest segment of the English-speaking population are Chinese, albeit in an Americanised form mostly gained through online learning.
We're fast heading towards an increasingly diverse, multilingual future where technology enables people to communicate efficiently and effectively without having to resort to learning a completely new language. The universality of English usage by information technology (IT) leviathans is likely to keep the language alive longer than otherwise anticipated. But it doesn't have total exclusivity: Amazon Echo is available in eight languages and Google translates in a mighty 109.
Among all the endless acronyms employed by the high-tech sector are examples of age-old words, where their original meanings have taken on a more updated yet often complementary role. Medieval and Shakespearian iterations may have been replaced by a more contemporary version but nothing should be taken for granted. Classical Arabic, Greek, Latin and Sanskrit have practically disappeared except in certain circles. Around 90% of scientific terms emanate from Latin and Greek, and many English legal terms come from French.
is a website run by our Canadian cousins and they come up with a word or term every weekday. A recent example is parcer
, a linguistic-based phrase involving syntax analysis in a natural language checking the underlying structure conforms to rules of formal grammar. It comes from the Latin pars
meaning part of speech. It is certainly not an everyday term and could have fallen by the wayside. However, it has been taken up by computer scientists to represent a string of commands, usually a program, separated into more easily processed components. A computer can then process each program chunk and transform it into machine language, referred to as machine or object code. It is the only language a computer is capable of understanding.
I thought I had lost my dog-eared copy of an invaluable (pre-internet) wee red booklet, A Pocket Dictionary of Publishing Terms
, by Henry Jacob. Along with being a prolific author, Jacob applied his extensive linguistic excellence for many years in charge of publications at the British Museum.
Covering the halcyon days of printing, not to mention newspapers, take an early example: app
short for appendix, representing supplementary material at the end of a book. The term has been appropriated digitally: app being an abbreviated form for a software program application, especially when downloaded by a mobile device user, designed to perform a specific function.
Another is folio
, representing a printed page number or a size obtained by folding a standard sheet of paper in half, thus making four pages. In IT, it's the electronic naming or numbering of pages in an issue. Right next to it is font
, or to be grammatically correct, fount
. Now it's a rule allowing designers to use online fonts to display text on webpages. Hot-metal
, a machine that cast single characters or complete lines, becomes hotspot
(near enough), an online publication that when clicked or moused over performs an action.
Then there's IBM
, a proprietary method of composing type using a carbon film ribbon on an electric machine, on to IBM (International Business Machines), probably the best-known computer company in the world, which revolutionised the tech industry in 1964 by bringing out the first comprehensive family of computers, the System/360. Cursor
, a moving part integral to the slide rule, is now a movable indicator on a computer screen.
Back at Edinburgh's Rubric, fast reaching its 30th anniversary, one of the team's ongoing tasks is to develop content strategies for global businesses to find a balance between an interesting, lively and accessible Scots. The outfit decided to launch the service after discovering there was less drive to incorporate Scots into technological products compared with other minority languages, such as Scots Gaelic. It is also proving instrumental in preserving Scots as a fully functioning and legitimate modern language. Definitely more muckle
Former Reuters, Sunday Times, The Scotsman and Glasgow Herald business and finance correspondent, Bill Magee is a columnist writing tech-based articles for Daily Business, Institute of Directors, Edinburgh Chamber and occasionally The Times' 'Thunderer'