Emojis and #Hashtags Should Be Part of Language Learning

By Lotherington, Heather | Winnipeg Free Press, February 27, 2020 | Go to article overview

Emojis and #Hashtags Should Be Part of Language Learning


Lotherington, Heather, Winnipeg Free Press


LEARNING a language after one’s early childhood home language is often referred to as second-language learning (despite the fact people may in fact be learning their third or fourth languages). In Canada, an officially bilingual country, both English and French are widely taught in superdiverse urban centres.

Increasingly, a popular avenue for adult language learners is mobile language learning via free or cheap downloaded apps. A number of apps for mobile language learning claim top-market share: Duolingo claims to teach 200 million language learners worldwide; Busuu, 90 million learners; Babbel and Memrise are also major players.

None of these four top-selling apps is capitalizing on how language is changing in online communication, where features such as emojis or hashtags — conventions used in texting and tweeting — are fundamentally altering how people communicate.

Rather, these apps tend to teach by testing, drilling vocabulary and simple phrases. Thus, “I read a book” is presented for memorization and contrasted with “She reads a book,” with little if any grammatical explanation.

Grammar is the backbone of a language; it’s the structure that words fit into so they make sense for users of the language. Online grammars have diverged from standard “sentence” grammars, which typified printed texts, in myriad ways.

Grammatical study involves chiefly two levels of language structure: elements added to a word (morphology), and the organization of words in a sentence (syntax).

Languages that are organized predominantly according to the order of words in a sentence, such as English, are described as analytic. Languages that put more information on word formation, such as Russian, are described as synthetic.

Some languages are extremely synthetic or polysynthetic, using what’s called “agglutination” to create long, long sentence-type words that would in an analytic language require many words in a sentence. Agglutination builds meaning by gluing word parts together. An excellent example is the Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) language (Anishinaabemowin).

For example, in The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, spiritual leader and teacher Edward Benton-Banai breaks down the word Anishinaabe rooted in the people’s creation story: ani (from whence) nishina (lowered) abe (the male of the species).

Ojibwe scholar and historian Alan Corbiere, who developed the Anishinaabemowin Revival Program, explains that adding the final morpheme “-mo” to the word Anishinaabe refers to vocalization and speaking the language.

Adding “-win” to Anishinaabemo, Corbiere explains, renders the verb back to a noun meaning Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) language. Saying the single word Anishinaabemo in English requires an entire phrase (“speaking the Ojibwe language”).

This grammatical lesson is particularly interesting because digital word-like conventions, such as #OscarsSoWhite, follow the rules of agglutination. …

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