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The Language of Animals

  • 02/11/2017
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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.

  

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How has English changed?

  • 26/10/2017
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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.

 

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Diwali - The Festival of Lights

  • 13/10/2017
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Diwali, or Deepavali, is a hugely popular Hindu Festival that signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. The festivals date depends on the Hindu lunar calendar but It’s usually in October or November, and is a national It is an official holiday in Fiji, Guyana, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and recently Sindh Province in Pakistan.

Diwali has more than a few similarities to Christmas. Homes are cleaned and then decorated, traditional food is prepared, and gifts of all sorts are given to family and friends – to highlight the point, Diwali is the biggest shopping season in India and Nepal. Though it changes from region to region, the event generally comes from an old Hindu text referring to the story of Rama. In this story Rama has been exiled and battles all manner of demons, eventually culminating in a war with the Demon King Ravana. Upon Ravana’s defeat, Rama celebrates by lighting up the path home; This event is generally celebrated throughout India and there is an overriding sense of goodwill, as it is seen as ill-mannered to be unwelcoming during Diwali. Through the story there is a focus on the ‘inner-light’ within yourself, and the triumph of good over evil.

“Lakshmi Puja” is the third day of Diwali, and is considered to be the most important. On this day friends and family visit those closest to them in recognition of important relationships, and diyas, (religious lights) are lit and placed around the house, and sometimes sent down rivers and streams. Finally, huge fireworks displays are performed, particularly in the big cities, to close out the evening.

Diwali is a family-based holiday, so if you ever get the chance to attend this event its suggested that you find a friend or family in the area to truly experience the culture of the festival. 

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Asmara - Africa's Secret City

  • 21/09/2017
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On the 23rd of September, Vandu will be hosting an event in partnership with DRI considering Eritrea’s induction to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The beautiful architecture of Asmara will be the main topic of the evening, but what do we know about the other aspects of this overlooked city?

According to Eritrean traditional oral history, the area of Asmara, Kebessa Plateau, was fought over by four different tribes; after some time, the women of the tribes gathered and pushed for an alliance which was eventually agreed – it’s said that Asmara was named after the women, as it means “they* (feminine*) are united” in the country’s native language, Tigrinya.  

Asmara was colonised by Italy in 1889, and under Governor Ferdinandi Martini was named as the capital of Eritrea; it is home to just over 800,000 people. The city is broken up into 13 districts: Acria, Abbashaul, Edaga Hamus, Arbaete Asmara, Mai Temenai, Paradizo, Sembel, Godaif, Maekel Ketema or Downtown, Tiravolo, Gejeret, Tsetserat and Gheza Banda. Asmara sits atop the Eritrean highlands (2,350m above sea level) on the eastern edge of the escarpment. In terms of religion, Asmara is pretty diverse, with a healthy mix of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity coupled with Sunni Muslim; there have been no records of tension between the two – in fact, crime in general in Asmara is pretty unheard of, and the city itself is one of the cleanest in Africa.

So, if you didn’t have a little background information on Asmara, you do now! We hope to see you on Saturday at Westgate Chapel in Lewes, click on the link below to reserve your place and for more information.

https://driorg.com/news/asmara-africas-modernist-city/

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Rosh Hashanah

  • 14/09/2017
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On the 20th of September this year, the Jewish community celebrate its religious New Year. ‘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 always starts at the beginning of Autumn, and similarly to Christianity’s Advent, has a month of preparation and build-up. Services tend to be longer, and the shofar - a hollowed out ram’s horn and staple of this time of year - is blown every weekday morning to wake people from their complacency, reflect on the year just gone and prepare for the new one ahead. Much like other versions of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah is a time to set yourself new challenges and targets for the comings months. A longer service is performed in the day, with religious poems recited and a special prayer book is used. The shofar is blown in several different manners (short, staccato, and long blows) many times through the service and during prayers, eventually the congregated will have heard 100 blows by the end of the service.

Honey dipped apple slices are an almost universal tradition on Rosh Hashanah, and are eaten to symbolise a sweet new year. Another popular practice of the holiday is Tashlikh ("casting off"). Jews walk to flowing water on the afternoon of the first day and empty our pockets into the river, symbolically casting off our sins. Small pieces of bread are often put in pockets to cast off. The common greeting for this year is ‘L'shanah tovah’ which means ‘a good year’ so…

L’shanah tovah to all our Jewish friends and colleagues! 

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