The Week in Review: July 7, 2023

Kiswahili is spoken by more than 200 million people worldwide. 

Today, we celebrate those speakers and their language: Since 2021, UNESCO has recognized July 7 as World Kiswahili Day. If you’re looking to learn a bit more about the history of the language and how it became the most widely spoken language native to the African continent, read The Conversation’s recent article by East African historian Morgan J. Robinson.

And when you’re done with that, brush up on the latest news from language companies like Localazy, TransPerfect, and Duolingo.

Got news you’d like to share in next week’s Week in Review? Send it over to our editorial team here

Seibu Railway to use simultaneous translation to help foreign tourists (via NHK World Japan)

Railway travel just got a little bit easier for tourists and other foreign travelers visiting Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Seibu Railway is currently testing out a simultaneous translation tool at its station there for three months before officially integrating it.

According to the company, the number of foreign travelers using the railway has risen up nearly to pre-pandemic levels, so demand for language services has gone up significantly. Currently, the tool uses a transparent screen that allows railway staff to communicate with customers seamlessly in 12 different languages.

“With the transparent screen, we can talk to passengers while looking at their expressions,” a Seibu Railway official told the Asahi Shimbun. “We aim to become a railway that inbound tourists choose to use.”

Baidu says Ernie can take on GPT-4. Can it? (via Tech in Asia)

Before OpenAI launched ChatGPT, a different generative AI tool was widely considered the pinnacle of large language models: Baidu’s Ernie. But when ChatGPT burst onto the scene in Nov. 2022, Baidu was reportedly caught off-guard.

About a week ago, the company launched a new-and-improved version of Ernie, claiming that it outperforms ChatGPT on all measures. And when it comes to producing content in Chinese languages, it does. But Tech in Asia’s Lokesh Choudhary takes a closer look at Baidu’s claims and assesses whether or not those claims are true.

British Sign Language GCSE ‘a step towards equality’ says teen campaigner (via BBC News)

It wasn’t until 2003 that the government of the United Kingdom formally recognized British Sign Language as a language in its own right. Now, nearly 20 years later, the Department for Education is looking into offering a GCSE in BSL, which would be a big step forward for the language, says one deaf teenage activist.

“Deaf students can feel proud of their deaf identity as BSL, and its rich heritage is taught to deaf children and hearing peers,” Daniel Jillings, just 17-years-old, told the BBC. “Hearing students can learn BSL and its history and culture, meaning that the language would be respected and embraced.”

Kiswahili: how a standard version of the east African language was formed – and spread across the world (via The Conversation)

According to Robinson, there are a lot of different factors that led to Kiswahili’s prominence on throughout East Africa. One of the biggest? A rigorous effort to standardize the language in the 19th Century.

Read her piece in The Conversation to learn more about developing a standardized dialect of the language and what the language’s prominence might mean for the future of East Africa’s linguistic diversity.

“Its history is a long one that did not follow a single, straight path,” Robinson writes.

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