Welcome to Friday, where Tokyo bans Olympic spectators, at least 28 people are thought to be behind Haiti President assassination and a 14-year-old girl makes Spelling Bee history. Worldcrunch also takes you on a world tour of dying languages that are being rescued by the very tech that puts them at risk.
• Tokyo Olympics will have no spectators: With the Summer Games set to begin in two weeks, the Japanese government has reversed its decision to allow spectators, deciding that there will be no live audience in Tokyo-area stadiums and arenas during the Olympic games due to coronavirus concerns. The city of Tokyo has also been placed under ‘State of Emergency" which will last until August 22.
• Colombians, Americans detained for killing Haitian President: A total of 17 suspects are currently being held in connection with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, including two holding dual American-Haitian citizenship and the remainder are Colombian. Officials allege the attack was carried out by "a highly trained and heavily armed group" and that the team was made up of at least 28 people.
• COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer has sought authorization from the U.S. government to develop a booster shot as highly contagious variants continue to spread and undermine the efficacy of the vaccine toward mild, break-through infection. Meanwhile, Cuba reports a 91.2% effectiveness rate for its Soberana 2 vaccine in last-stage clinical trials.
• Biafra separatist leader allegedly kidnapped: The family of British-Nigerian citizen and separatist leader, Nnamdi Kanu, claims he was kidnapped by the Nigerian state while in Kenya. Kanu is the leader of the organization the Indigenous People of Biafra, and had been in hiding since 2017.
• Swedish Prime Minister reappointed after no-confidence vote: Sweden's parliament voted to reappoint Stefan Löfven as prime minister when the parties responsible for ousting him in a historic no-confidence vote failed to form a coalition. Löfven has the backing of the Social Democratic party and the Greens.
• Police officer suspected of killing Sarah Everard pleads guilty: Wayne Couzens, the police officer who was the main suspect in the killing of Sarah Everard, a 33-year old British woman whose disappearance and subsequent death sparked a nationwide debate about women's safety, has pleaded guilty murder.
• UK considers banning boiling lobsters alive: As part of a proposed animal welfare bill, the United Kingdom may officially recognize crustaceans and mollusks as sentient beings capable of feeling pain, making it illegal to boil lobsters alive. Chefs aren't opposed either, because whether the lobster is boiled alive or killed shortly beforehand, the taste remains just as good.
South African weekly Mail & Guardian reports on the surrender of ex-president Jacob Zuma, who had initially refused to hand himself to the authorities to serve a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court.
Digital technology that's killing languages can save them too
As the world gets more homogenized and closely connected, geographic-specific languages risk vanishing — with one-third of languages having fewer than 1,000 speakers left. But tech can help. Examples from Eastern Europe to Peru highlight the potential of digital tools, as well as the continued significance of more rudimental techniques to pass a language down from one generation to the next:
Google recently released the app Woolaroo, which has the goal of revitalizing some of the most threatened languages through artificial intelligence. Take a photo of an object and Woolaroo will tell you what its name is in 10 languages including Louisiana Creole, Nawat (spoken in El Salvador) and Calabrian Greek. The open source app relies on Google's Cloud image recognition software, Vision API, and provides both the word and an audio pronunciation.
In April, the popular language learning app Duolingo began offering Yiddish, the Jewish language combining German, Hebrew, Aramaic as well as some English and some Slavic languages. While Yiddish is now largely limited to some Orthodox communities, a new generation of Central and Eastern European Jewish descendants are hoping to revive the language. It is now the 40th language on the popular app, which has also expanded its offerings to include other less widely used tongues like Hawaiian and Irish.
Not all language preservation projects are so high tech: Language nesting is proving to be one of the most successful strategies for making sure endangered Indigenous languages are passed down — from New Zealand to Hawaii to Peru. Language nesting involves regularly immersing toddlers (who can absorb languages like a sponge) with elders, who teach through play, songs and conversations. Māori elders innovated one of the first programs of this type in the 1980s, describing it as "like a bird looking after its chicks," hence the name language nesting.
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14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde, from New Orleans, Louisiana, correctly spelled the word murraya, which is a type of tropical tree, and became the first Black contestant to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Leonardo da Vinci's silverpoint study, "Head of a Bear," a tiny sketch measuring just under 3X3 inches (about the size of a standard square Post-it note), sold for $12.2 million — a record price for a Leonardo da Vinci's drawing at auction.
For Africa, the worst is yet to come.
— Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization regional director for Africa, said during a news conference, that the continent has just gone through its "worst pandemic week ever," with numbers expected to get worse. More than 251,000 new cases were reported in the first week of July, a 20% increase from the previous week, while several countries are experiencing vaccine shortages.