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5 Songs from the Eurovision for Endangered Languages, Liet International

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English has taken over pop music to the point where many bands from other countries will write their songs in English in order to appeal to a wider audience. The Eurovision Song Contest provides one place where other languages can get a chance at a bigger stage, but there are smaller, more fragile languages that are threatened not only by English, but also by the robust European national languages that surround them. For them, there is the Liet International song contest, established in 2002. This is a Eurovision for minority languages, which include Frisian, Manx, Vepsian, and Romansh. This year's Liet International was held December 1 in the Spanish city of Gijón (otherwise known as Xixón in Asturian, the language of the region). Here are a few of the standouts from the competition.

1. "Ar Gouloù Bev"

The winner was Lleuwen Steffan, a singer who was born and raised in Wales and has recorded well-received albums in Welsh. Her winning song was sung in Breton, which she learned after moving to the northern French region of Brittany. Breton, like Welsh, is a Celtic language. It has about 200,000 speakers and is classified by UNESCO as "severely endangered." Above is Steffan singing her lovely, soulful entry "Ar Gouloù Bev" ("The Living Light").

2. "Tau Tynyd"

According to this article, Ivan Belosludtsev & 4CP had never been outside of Udmurtia, a Russian republic just west of the Ural Mountains, before traveling 5200km and crossing three time zones to perform their song "Tau Tynyd" ("Thank You") at the competition. It is in Udmurt, a language from the Permic branch of the Uralic family with about half a million speakers. This song might be the most adorable thing ever, and it also includes what looks like Russian sign language!

3. "Oainnat go?"

Seventeen-year-old Inger Karoline Gaup sings in Sami, a Uralic language spoken in northern Norway as well as other parts of Scandinavia. It is distantly related to Hungarian and Finnish and not at all related to Norwegian. It is classified as "endangered." Her entry, "Oainnat go?" ("Do you see?") was the winner of the Sami Grand Prix, a local contest held in Norway.

4. "Trasmetta"

Dopu Cena sings in Corsican, a Romance language spoken on the French island of Corsica and the Italian island of Sardinia. It is classified as "potentially endangered." Corsican culture has a polyphonic musical tradition, where multiple voices carry multiple melodies simultaneously, on beautiful display here in "Trasmetta" ("To Pass On").

5. "Muxurik Muxu"

Enkore is a band from the Spanish city of Bilbao that has released 2 albums and a single. In their entry "Muxurik Muxu" ("Kiss by Kiss"), they rock out in Basque, a language with no known relatives and undetermined origin that has somehow managed to survive centuries of being surrounded by bigger languages. While the song is about sex, you can sort of hear in its defiant chords another type of survival instinct: the will to speak and sing a language, in order to make it live.

You can see lyrics and translations for these songs, as well as those of the other finalists, here.

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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

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Using Words Like 'Really' A Lot Could Mean You're Really Stressed
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Are you feeling really exhausted? Or have you noticed that it's incredibly hot out today?

If you recognize the adverbs above as appearing frequently in your own speech, it could be a sign that you're stressed. At least, those are the findings in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Nature reports, researchers found that peppering our speech with "function words" is a pretty accurate indicator of our anxiety levels.

Function words differ from verbs and nouns in that they don't mean much on their own and mostly serve to clarify the words around them. Included in this group are pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. A team of American researchers suspected that people use these words more frequently when they're stressed, so to test their hypothesis, they hooked up recording devices to 143 volunteers.

After transcribing and analyzing audio clips recorded periodically over the course of two days, the researchers compared subjects' speech patterns to the gene expressions of certain white blood cells in their bodies that are susceptible to stress. They found that people exhibiting the biological symptoms of stress talked less overall, but when they did speak up they were more likely to use words like really and incredibly.

They also preferred the pronouns me and mine over them and their, possibly indicating their self-absorbed world view when under pressure. The appearance of these trends predicted stress in the volunteers' genes more accurately than their own self-assessments. As study co-author Matthias Mehl told Nature, this could be a reason for doctors to "listen beyond the content" of the symptoms their patients report and pay greater attention "to the way it is expressed" in the future.

One reason function words are such a great indicator of stress is that we often insert them into our sentences unconsciously, while our choice of words like nouns and verbs is more deliberate. Anxiety isn't the only thing that influences our speech without us realizing it. Hearing ideas we agree with also has a way of shaping our syntax.

[h/t Nature]


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