Language – perhaps your students speak several different languages. What is it like to learn a new one? And how does language influence what you do each day? Books and stories help develop proficiency in any language. These books, fiction and nonfiction, all take a closer look at different aspects of language.
Dee and the Apostrofee by Judith Henderson, illustrated by Ohara Hale. A fun book for kids who are not quite sure about Apostrofee’s powers. Which letters does he make lost? Does he really devour them? And are the letters right – is aphostrofee eating all the O’s? Is he stealing letters and does he make you the owner of things? A laugh-aloud language picture book to share in the classroom to teach grammar without the students even noticing. Kids Can Press, ISBN 978-1-5253-0326-5
! (Exclamation Mark) is a hilarious picture book by Amy Rouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. ! feels different from everyone else. Period. Until someone shows up who has lots of questions – ? – and shows him his potential. ! is so excited he can’t wait to show his powers and make his mark! ISBN 978-0-545-4379-3, Scholastic
How To Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, with gorgeous art by Melissa Sweet, celebrates all things book. From curling up in just the right spot, to turning page by rustling page, with ‘words and sounds in leaps and bounds’… Comparing books to juicy clementines, art and text work together to create a book to sing and dance and chant along as you celebrate reading with kids. ISBN 978-0-06-230781-1, Harper Collins Children
The Word For Friend not only is the story of a child (a pengolin actually…) moving to a new country and having to learn a whole new language while going to school and wanting to make new friends. It is also the story of Esperanto, including real words in this global language. This story works on many different levels, including art (the two new friends make paper cuttings for each other). ISBN 978-0-374-31046-2, Farrar, Strauss, Giroux.
Sugar Comes Arabic by Barbara Whitesides is a unique, user friendly beginner’s guide to letters and words in Arabic. The book is well designed and starts off gently to guide you through changing letters and words from English to Arabic, showing how each letter is formed. It makes me hopefully that I can learn a difficult new language. ISBN 978-1-56656-757-2
And a field which requires its very own lingo is that of advertisements. Mad For Ads by Erica Fyvie, illustrated by Ian Turner, is a book all students in Grades 4 and up should be made to read to ensure they are aware of how ads influence their daily life and the effects is has on their wants and needs. Language is important in this field, as are images and repetition. Touching on commercials but also on election campaigns, among others, the book includes a closer look at social media advertising. The book shows how brand names and logos work and how they effect your brain, your emotions, at whom TV ads are aimed, how your shopping habits are tracked and much more. An eye opener for both kids and adults! ISBN 978-1-5253-0131-5, Kids Can Press
Margriet Ruurs is the author of many books for children. She conducts author presentations and writing workshops at international schools and shares her love of travels and books here:
“Never odd or even.” Why not start a blog post celebrating the beauty and oddities of language with an intriguingly perplexing phrase that is also a palindrome – a word or a sentence that reads the same backwards? First, my apologies in advance to anyone who suffers from a fear of palindromes, or what the Germans refer to as “Eibohphobie”, which is, in a deeply ironic twist, a palindrome itself! Okay, now on to what is already looking to be a higgledy-piggledy blog post originally designed to commemorate the September 26th European Day of Languages.
A day to celebrate language represents a fabulous or, borrowing from Mary Poppins, a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious opportunity. There are currently between 6,000 and 7,000 languages spoken among approximately 7 billion people. There are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe, representing about only 3% of the world’s total. Most of the world’s languages are spoken in Asia and Africa and at least half of the world’s population are bilingual or plurilingual.
The evolution of so many languages over the centuries has resulted in words that are especially descriptive and specific. For example, the Slovak word, prezvoniť, means to call someone’s mobile from your own without the other person picking up with the intention of leaving your number in their phone’s memory. The Albanian word, vetullhen, refers to an eyebrow arched like the crescent moon. The Dutch word, broodje-aap, refers to an awful, often invented story that is told as being true, thus becoming a myth. The Irish use the verb plubairnigh to describe the distinctive thick, bubbling sound that porridge makes when boiling. The Germans use the word, Zechpreller to describe the person who leaves without paying the bill. And, perhaps my favourite, the Finnish use the word poronkusema to describe the distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without a comfort break (about 5 kilometres if you were wondering).
With the risk you may think this is all poppycock or, worse still, tarradiddle, let’s take a look at some tongue twisters that challenge our language skills.
English speakers may recall reciting this children’s song: She sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure. So, if she sells seashells on the seashore, then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
How about this French tongue twister? Combien de sous sont ces saucissons-ci? Ces saucissons-ci sont six sous (How much are these sausages here? These sausages here are six cents).
Or, try this German tongue twister: Zwei schwarze schleimige Schlangen sitzen zwischen zwei spitzen Steinen und zischen (Two black slimy snakes sit between two pointed stones and hiss).
A Polish variation: Król Karol kupił Królowej Karolinie korale koloru koralowego (King Karl bought Queen Caroline coral-coloured bead).
And, finally, a Swedish tongue twister: Far, Får får får? Nej, inte får får får, får får lamm (Father, do sheep have sheep? No, sheep don’t have sheep, sheep have lambs).
Idioms also represent a deeply interesting aspect of language, usually highlighting cultural, historical, and traditional themes. By way of an example of how an idiom can span languages, all of the following idiomatic expressions are similar to “The apple does not fall far from the tree”:
Æblet falder ikke langt fra stammen. (Danish)
Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm. (German)
Nem esik messze az alma a fájától. (Hungarian)
Obuolys nuo obels netoli rieda. (Lithuanian)
Niedaleko pada jabłko od jabłoni. (Polish)
Jabolko ne pade daleč od drevesa. (Slovenian)
Äpplet faller inte långt från trädet. (Swedish)
Did you know that there is a word in the English language that describes the fear some people suffer from when they come across long words? The word for this phobia is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. While it is in no way my intention to diminish the suffering anyone with this phobia experiences, it is hard to ignore the irony here given the length of this word! So, if you are a hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic, please skip this next section as it will highlight some of the longest words found in languages.
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism (English word for the love of long words; 33 letters)
ακτινοχρυσοφαιδροβροντολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος (Greek word meaning to be dressed in golden-shining, thundering and incandescent clothes; 47 letters)
Kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamheden (Dutch word related to the preparation activities for a children’s carnival procession; 48 letters)
Speciallægepraksisplanlægningsstabiliseringsperiode (Danish word for the period when a specialist doctor’s planning of the practice is stabilized; 52 letters)
Lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas (Finnish word for a technical warrant officer trainee specialized in aircraft jet engines; 61 letters)
Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung (German word for a regulation about competences; 67 letters)
Of a particularly impressive note, the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes coined the following 183 lettered word meaning a dish compounded of all kinds of dainties, fish, fowl and sauces:
While these are fascinating and interesting language facts to consider, I should move beyond what some would consider my lollygagging and return to the motivation for this post – the celebration of language. While I am currently living in Europe and the European Day of Languages is certainly of great importance to the region, I would also like to extend the celebration to all languages and areas of the world when highlighting how important language is to our cultural heritage, to our understanding of ourselves and others, and to our ability to see and understand the world in different and new ways.
The International School of Zug and Luzern (ISZL) is fortunate to have Lorna Caputo as a member of its team serving as a language specialist and overseeing, among her other duties, 16 after-school language programs. In her blog, Exploring Multilingualism, Lorna highlights the importance of all languages:
It is the harmonious coexistence of languages that enables people to develop intercultural understanding, appreciate cultural diversity and work together better. Multilingualism is what unites many different regions within countries and is at the core of many national identities. Even in multicultural cities, you can observe local dialects and languages coexisting with other international languages. It is helpful to understand how schools can often be located within this linguistic intersectionality, and how schools prepare their students to navigate their familial, local, national and global linguistic landscapes.
Lorna will also be quick to discuss the research supporting the advantages associated with children learning multiple languages at a young age, which features an important aspect of her work with ISZL’s learning program.
In a note to community members this week, Lorna asked us to build on our recent inclusion work (see Inclusion & Community) and translate the phrase, “We are all ISZL” into their native language. Here are some of the wonderful responses:
We are all ISZL (English)
Мы все ISZL (Russian)
Me ollaan kaikki ISZL (Finnish)
Vi är alla ISZL ( Swedish )
ISZL 我們是一家人 (Mandarin)
Siamo tutti ISZL (Italian)
Hepimiz ISZL’iz (Turkish)
Wir sind alle ISZL (German)
Nous sommes tous ISZL (French)
Todos somos ISZL (Spanish)
Tots som ISZL (Catalan)
Somos todos ISZL (Portuguese)
Wij zijn allemaal ISZL (Dutch)
Mi mind ISZL vagyunk (Hungarian)
Είμαστε όλοι ISZL (Greek)
Mi smo svi ISZL (Serbian)
Vi er alle ISZL (Danish)
In closing, I hope you didn’t find this post to be too higgledy-piggledy, but rather a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious experience! While my hope has been to highlight some of the interesting and unusual aspects of language, there is always the shadow of kakorrhaphiophobia, or the fear of failure, associated with this quixotic endeavour. There is a lurking feeling that perhaps I should have been more pauciloquent and that this text had been less argle-bargle in style, avoided goggledygook, and did not generate any bobsy-die. The last thing I want to do is to leave you bumfuzzled, frustrate you with the confusing “never odd or even” palindrome, or to diminish your status as a deipnosophist. Finally, I hope you don’t see me as a blatherskite, a hoddy-noddy, or a floccinaucinihilipilificator at heart!
Okay, this is probably enough tomfoolery, twaddle, and balderdash for today!
In the celebration and appreciation of all languages!
Argle-bargle: copious but meaningless talk or writing
Balderdash: senseless talk or writing
Blatherskite: a person who talks at great length without making much sense
Bobsy-die: a great deal of fuss or trouble
Bumfuzzled: to be confused
Deipnosophist: a person skilled in table talk
Floccinaucinihilipilificator: the action or habit of estimating something as worthless
Goggledygook: language that is meaningless
Higgledy-piggledy: in confusion or disorder
Hoddy-noddy: a foolish person
Kakorrhaphiophobia: an irrational fear of failure
Lollygagging: to spend time aimlessly
Pauciloquent: using few words in speech or conversation
Quixotic: extremely idealistic; unrealistic and impractical
Tarradiddle: pretentious nonsense
Tomfoolery: foolish or silly behaviour
Reference: The majority of the sources for this article are from the following website: https://edl.ecml.at/(Take their language challenge: QUIZ)
International educators may be particularly aware of the importance of language, seeing as so many of us toggle between multiple languages in our everyday lives, and teach children who do the same. We’re privy to the delight of discovering a useful word with no translation to our first language/s. I still use yella (Arabic for let’s go/come on/hurry up!), though I left Kuwait years ago. Or, we’ve experienced the profound feeling that language, when mastered, can shape even the way that we think, such as when the grammatical gender of nouns, according to different languages, changes how people personify them. Language can also lend validity to our experiences; I remember the unexpected sensation of relief when I acquired the term TCK (Third Culture Kid or Trans-Cultural Kid), and could then put words to an identity I strongly related to, but hadn’t previously been able to articulate. Language, and the ability to use it to reflect our lived experience, matters.
How do words get past the gatekeepers of our cultural lexicon? In a 2017 interview, Merriam-Webster editor, Kory Stamper, explained that, in order to enter the dictionary, new words must meet three criteria:
This post is a supplement to my submission to Merriam-Webster: I’d like to get the word ‘cisnormative’ added to the dictionary. My definition of cisnormative, based upon Merriam-Webster’s definition of heteronormative is:
Cisnormative (adjective): of, relating to, or based on the attitude that a cisgender identity is the only normal and natural experience of gender
The word cisnormative meets all three of Merriam-Webster’s criteria for entry. It is…
Widespread – Below you’ll see the word used in peer-reviewed, academic texts published across fields as varied as health, parenting, education, religion, law, business, public recreation, and architecture.
Sustained – At least one detailed explanation of the term (with visual diagram, below) dates back to a peer-reviewed journal article from 2009, almost a decade ago.
Meaningful – Discrimination based upon gender identity is deadly and serious; recognizing it by name is meaningful.
From the same interview, Stamper provides an example of a word she chose to add to the dictionary: bodice ripper (it’s a type of romance novel, for those unfamiliar). Other words you can find in Merriam-Webster’s tome: dumpster fire, f-bomb, ginormous, weak sauce, glamping, anyways, and literally (when used in exaggerated emphasis, not actually meaning, well… literally). I’d argue any day that cisnormative is at least as credible a word as these.
A quick search turns up long lists of peer-reviewed academic references to cisnormativity. Here’s a sample:
“Cisnormative assumptions are so prevalent that they are difficult at first to even recognize.”
From the same text, a diagram:
“Cisnormative assumptions can have the effect of rendering the transgender population invisible.”
“‘Cisnormativity’ is the assumption that it is ‘normal’ to be cisgender”
“As with heteronormativity, what is in place with cisnormativity is the powerful categorization of people in opposition to an assumed norm, and the discrimination that is enacted through that power.”
“Systemic discrimination can be challenged by reviewing policies, procedures, protocols and processes to remove conventions and assumptions of cisnormativity.”
“As with heteronormativity, families are among the primary contexts in which cisnormativity is enforced and reproduced.”
“This section will highlight how problematization of (trans)gender identity is an effect of cisnormative power and privilege.”
“The participants oriented to a hetero/cisnormative social context by drawing on normalizing discourses to present their families as ‘just like’ other families and to downplay the significance of their parents’ sexuality/gender identity.”
“Although these studies reveal the existence of transgender religious people, they offer little understanding of transgender religious experience or the construction of religious cisnormativity.”
“What is our expectation of architecture when our cities, buildings – their programs, connections and interfaces – reinforce essentialist and cisnormative notions of gender?”
“Research that has been conducted has been done primarily through a heteronormative and cisnormative lens ignoring the transition to adulthood for those who are LGBTQ.”
“Queer theory is applied to the focus of this paper to investigate how heteronormativity and cisnormativity put GSM [gender and sexual minority] youth at a disadvantage to their peers, specifically with regards to accessing relevant sexual health and relationship information at school.”
“Heteronormative and cisnormative assumptions are predominant in the language (including images) in mainstream breastfeeding literature and the language used by providers.”
I also asked around for some professional and familiar usages from my peers, and was supplied with these examples:
“The dearth of unisex restrooms in public spaces is reflective of the cisnormativity of architects and civil engineers, who provide no option for people with gender fluid or ambiguous appearances to meet a very basic human need without potential harassment.”
-Jessica Holland, MA, MLS
“Queer playwright Kate Bornstein uses empathic characters to confront their audience’s cisnormative assumptions of selfhood in ‘Hidden: A Gender.’”
-Brendon Votipka, Playwright, MFA, Assistant Teaching Professor, Rutgers University
I will be asking Merriam Webster dictionary to consider adding to their tome the word cisnormative (and related word, cisnormativity). I don’t want to see the squiggly red line throughout my Word documents anymore, invalidating the lived experience of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming children who are marginalized by widespread, sustained, and meaningful cisnormative social norms.
Readers, I invite you to add a sentence using the word cisnormativity in the comments of this post, to include in my submission to Merriam-Webster.
 Segel, E. & Borodistsky, L. (2011). Grammar in art. Frontiers in Psychology, 1, Article 244.
 Bauer, G. R., Hammond, R., Travers, R., Kaay, M., Hohenadel, K. M., & Boyce, M. (2009). “I don’t think this is theoretical; this is our lives”: How erasure impacts health care for transgender people. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 29(5), 348-361.
 Oakleaf, L. & Richmond, L. P. (2017). Dreaming about access: The experiences of transgender individuals in public recreation. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 35(2), 108-119.
 Worthen, M. G. F. (2016). Hetero-cis-normativity and the gendering of transphobia. International Journal of Transgenderism, 17(1), 31-57.
 Rhodes, C. (2017). Ethical praxis and the business case for LGBT diversity: Political insights from Judith Butler and Emmanuel Levinas. Gender, Work and Organization, 24(5), 533-546.
 Jones, S. M. & Willis, P. (2016). Are you delivering trans positive care? Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, 17(1), 50-59.
 McGuire, J. K., Kuvalanka, K. A., Catalpa, J. M., & Toomey, R. B. (2016). Transfamily theory: How the presence of trans* family members informs gender development in families. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8, 60-73.
 Sharpe, A. The ethicality of the demand for (trans)parency in sexual relations. Australian Feminist Law Journal, 43(2), 161-183.
 Clarke, V. & Demetriou, E. (2016). ‘Not a big deal’?: Exploring the accounts of adult children of lesbian, gay and trans parents. Psychology & Sexuality, 7(2), 131-148.
 Sumerau, J. E., Cragun, R. T., & Mathers, L. A. B. (2016). Contemporary religion and the cisgendering of reality. Social Currents, 3(3), 293-311.
 Castricum, S. (2017). When program is the enemy of function… Gender-nonconforming experiences of architectural space. Architecture and Culture, 3, 371-381.
 Wagaman, M. A., Keller, M. F., & Cavaliere, S. J. (2014). What does it mean to be a successful adult? Exploring perceptions of the transition into adulthood among LGBTQ emerging adults in a community-based service context. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 28(2), 140-158.
 Meadows, E. (2018). Sexual health equity in schools: Inclusive sexuality and relationship education for gender and sexual minority students. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 13(3), 356-370.
 Farrow, A. (2015). Lactation support and the LGBTQI community. Journal of Human Lactation, 31(1), 26-28.
Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world