New Year Celebrations Around The World
People celebrate the New Year in many different ways, and at slightly different times due to the time differences around the world; some even celebrate it on a completely different day by using a different calendar altogether. Let’s have a look at some of the wonderful ways we humans celebrate the beginning of a new year.
Fireworks are the most common way the western world marks the new year; from New York to London and Sydney to Paris, these colourful lights in the sky reflect the jubilant mood of the huge audiences found in these cities. There are subtle differences though – New York features its iconic dropping orb, whereas London enjoys headline music acts perform by the Thames River.
‘Rosh Hashanah’ in Hebrew literally means ‘head/first of the year’, and marks the beginning of the Jewish Days of Awe, perhaps the most important ten days in the Jewish calendar. Most synagogues are filled to the brim during these days as this is a time for repentance, and many important religious traditions are performed throughout this period. Rosh Hashanah usually occurs in the early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere.
Chinese New Year
The ‘Spring Celebrations’ are centuries old and have many customs due to the legend and myths that have accumulated around it over the years. Traditions vary from region to region, but some customs stay the same; the ‘reunion dinner’ is a staple throughout the country, where families meet up and enjoy a meal together. Cleaning the house, which symbolises getting rid of bad luck and making room for good fortune is common, as is giving money in red envelopes to friends and family members. The first day of the Chinese New Year can fall between the 21th of January to the 20st of February.Read more
Chanukah (or Hanukkah) begins on the 12th of December this year, and though it’s a somewhat minor Jewish holiday, its importance has been magnified by that other December based holiday, Christmas. Nonetheless, Chanukah is now certainly one of the more famous Jewish holidays and is a welcome alternative to dive into compared to our well-known Christianity-based holiday.
The ‘Festival of lights’ lasts up to eight days and falls on the 25th of Kislev, of the Hebrew calendar. The word is pronounced with that stereotypical, slightly guttural ‘kh’ sound, ‘kha-nu-ka’. According to Hebrew scripture, at a time when the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) whom were keen on forcing their views and beliefs upon all under their domain, A small band of faithful Jews’ led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated the mighty Seleucid army and reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated to the service of their God. When these Jews went to light the Temple’s seven branched candelabrum, the Menorah, they found a single container of oil that would only last the day, however the container lasted 8 days and was considered a miracle.
The most important aspect of the festival is the Menorah lighting. Each day an additional candle is lit, with blessings recited beforehand and traditional songs performed afterwards. Since oil is such an important part of this festival, many foods are fried in the substance such as latke, a potato pancake and sufganya, a type of doughnut. All of these aspects underline the beliefs behind Chanukah, standing up for what you believe is right as those faithful Jews did, that they believed that God can light the way (represented by the flames of the Menorah), and that you should be proud of what you believe in.Read more
The history of written language
A few weeks ago, we did a blog on the history of the English language and this got us thinking… how did written language come about? You may know about Egyptian hieroglyphics or your Greek alphabet, but the history of written language goes much deeper than that.
It’s worth noting that recording numbers came long before recording any different sort of information. This began in 4000 BC, at a time when there were between 7 and 14 million humans on Earth, and they had only just begun domesticating horses; the earliest known form of recorded numbers where marked clay tokens used for counting sheep. Around a 500 years later, the first forms of written language begin to appear, in the form of images and markings on stone tablets. It’s generally accepted that the Sumerians were the first civilization to use written language, but there have been other places that have independently conceived and developed their own forms of written language such as the Mesoamericans in 300 BC, and many believe the Chinese joined these writing pioneers around 1200 BC.
But what did these written languages look like? And why where they made in the first place? The Sumerians were the first civilization to build cities, and it is thought that the need for long distance trade gave rise to basic pictures and symbols so that tradesmen could communicate, or remember items needed from different places (the world’s first shopping lists?) or in the case of the Chinese, markings were made in small bones that were then heated ‘diviners’ would then read these markings and see the future; these markings would eventually morph into Chinese script.
Eventually these pictures and symbols would go on to be more specific, providing a precision tool for humans to communicate through the ages. Enheduanna, (2285-2250 BCE) is the first known example of an author and wrote ancient versions of poems, hymns, prayers and psalms. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the first known written recording of literature. These writings would eventually prompt an influx of written recordings to preserve culture, information and history, to be put in the Sumerian libraries.
Finally, using the tools and literature before them, the Phoenicians created the first version of the alphabet – this would heavily influence the Greek alphabet, which would then make written language more accessible to other cultures, and become the bedrock of written language for all of Europe.Read more
The Language of Animals
Have you been watching Blue Planet II? We certainly have at the office, and its inspired us to delve a little deeper into the language of animals, from the clicks and whistles of the dolphins or the howling of wolves to inter-species communication, animals can often offer surprising methods of talking to one another.
Perhaps the most obvious way of communicating for an animal is by using body language. A dog’s bark can only really indicate 3 emotions, the lowest being a means to intimidate and the highest being a sign of excitement; however, a dog’s body language can signify over 20 different messages. Great White Sharks can offer subtle hints as to their mood and whether you can approach them by the way they move, but it takes a trained eye to understand these signs. Body language is present throughout almost all the animal kingdom.
The smarter the animal, the more intelligent and varied the means of communication. Whales and dolphins are among the most intelligent animals on the planet – particularly when it comes to emotion. Killer whales have calls unique to the whale, and each pod has a slightly different way of communicating, suggesting that Killer Whales have a form of dialect. Bottlenose Dolphins have a whistle that they produce to identify themselves – almost like a name. Humpback Whales are the only type of whale that can communicate by singing; these songs can last up to 30 minutes, can be heard for around 100 miles, and can feature refrains that almost sound like lyrics in a chorus… but little else is understood about whale and dolphin communication.
Language in primates, the most intelligent group of animals on earth throws up some interesting debate. Great Apes are capable of a large amount of ‘gestures’ that can be used to communicate, and similarly to whales and dolphins, these gestures can vary from group to group. However, things get interesting when sign language is introduced to the brightest of these monkeys. Washoe was the first non-human to communicate using American Sign Language, and would eventually go on to use 350 different signs and become capable of producing small sentences. The argument is that the chimpanzees perform these ‘behaviours’ to receive rewards, and as the famous linguist Noam Chomsky eloquently put it "Humans can fly about 30 feet - that's what they do in the Olympics. Is that flying?” But, upon learning that a caretaker’s baby had died, Washoe replied with the sign for ‘cry’; is that not a sign of acquired language? The debate seems finely balanced.
There are other means of communication in animals, like scent-marking, chemical cues, bioluminescence and tail slapping in certain fish… perhaps animals speak more languages than we give them credit for.
How has English changed?
At Vandu the emphasis tends to be on foreign communications, and we provide for over 120 languages with over 500 interpreters to help us along the way. But allow us to provide a little more and inform you with the history of our local language, English.
English actually originates from Germanic invaders and settlers, whom are thought to have arrived around the middle of the 5th century. Upon their arrival the Anglo-Saxons almost completely wiped out the widely-used Celtic language, of which only a very small amount of words survive in English today. Anglo-Saxon sounds similar to modern-day German, and gave us literature that still lives with us now, such as the epic poem of Beowulf; the language was widely used for around 700 years, until the invasion of William the Conqueror. William brought with him the language of Old Norman (Northern French at the time) which mixed to create Anglo-Norman; however, this language was predominantly used by the upper-class of the country, and eventually fell out of favour as the English reclaimed their thrones; but not before influencing language associated with the upper echelons of society and the power it brings – words such as “parliament”, “justice” and “jury” come from Anglo-Norman.
By the 1400’s, the two Anglo languages mix into one, peppered with Norse words used by Scandinavian Vikings, whom had regularly attacked the northern parts of England; but there were two more important factors. Firstly, Christianity was beginning to influence the people with the Roman language of Latin. Latin had a huge impact on the English language with examples such as the Latin word “discus” became several words in English including “disk,” “dish,” and the word “quietus” became “quiet.” Secondly, in the 1500’s as English began to morph into something modern day speakers would understand, the first incarnations of a printer were introduced to Britain and helped spread education and the English language.
English and language in general are like living things in that they grow and change over time; it’s likely that in 500 years English may be as unrecognisable as it was 500 years before.