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earth ball

‘Muzyka’ around the ‘terre’: Earth Day and the Oxford Language Web

If you didn’t already know, this Friday is Earth Day, an environmental awareness day celebrated around the world each year on 22 April since 1970. The Earth Day Network is looking for a billion separate ‘acts of green’ to be pledged and carried out by individuals aiming to reduce their carbon footprint and to promote awareness of green issues around the globe. And in a change from the usual TV talent shows, Music for the Earth is a talent competition supported by the network, giving musicians everywhere the ‘chance to inspire millions of listeners worldwide with their brand of environmentally-themed music’.

The environment is clearly a global issue affecting us all, no matter where we live or what language we speak, so what better way to acknowledge Earth Day than by taking a look at the Oxford Language Web. This is an innovative way of allowing simple translation between some of the most widely-spoken languages on earth.

The Oxford Language Web is available to subscribers of Oxford Language Dictionaries Online (OLDO), and covers over 7,000 everyday words across 13 languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, and Russian.

The Web consists of a central English word, with simple single-word translations of the word in other languages arranged around in a circle:

Oxford Language Web: music

Exploring language families

In the Oxford Language Web, languages are grouped together very approximately – for example, Romance languages such as Italian, French, Portuguese, and Spanish appear together, while Russian and Polish neighbour each other. For this reason, the Oxford Language Web is a good starting point for exploring the similarities and differences between languages.  Words describing objects or concepts that have existed for a very long time, such as music or earth, tend to show more variance across language groups. More recent inventions in the English-language dominated worlds of technology and business, such as blog or globalization, tend to be either adapted as they are or modified to match the spelling and phonetic systems of other languages.

Browsing for fun

As any translator knows, accurate translation requires careful consideration of the context of each word and most professional translators use bespoke software, along with monolingual dictionaries and bilingual dictionaries of the quality found on Oxford Language Dictionaries Online. The Oxford Language Web is an excellent starting point for translating between languages, is perfect for travellers and business people needing some useful vocabulary, and is a fun way of learning more about relationships between different languages.

In honour of Music for the Earth, can you work out what the missing English translation is?

Oxford Language Web: quiz

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