Tag Archives | Language

The Curious Case of the Evolving Apostrophe

Possessive apostrophesTechnology Review’s physics arXiv blog:

Last year, grammatical tragedy struck in the heart of England when Birmingham City Council decreed that apostrophes were to be forever banished from public addresses. To the horror of purists and pedants alike, place names such as St Paul’s Square were banned and unceremoniously replaced with an apostrophe-free version: St Pauls Square.

The council’s reasoning was that nobody understands apostrophes and their misuse was so common in public signs that they were a hindrance to effective navigation. Anecdotes abounded of ambulance drivers puzzling over how to enter St James’s Street into a GPS navigation system while victims of heart attacks, strokes and hit ‘n’ run drivers passed from this world into the (presumably apostrophe-free) next.

Why the confusion? Part of the reason is that apostrophes are not particularly common in the English language: In French they occur at a rate of more than once per sentence on average.

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Do You Speak Alien?

AreciboMessageStephen Battersby writes in New Scientist:
The cosmos is quiet. Eerily quiet. After decades of straining our radio ears for a whisper of civilisations beyond Earth, we have heard nothing. No reassuring message of universal peace. No helpful recipe for building faster-than-light spacecraft or for averting global catastrophes. Not even a stray interstellar advertisement. Perhaps there's nobody out there after all. Or perhaps it's just early days in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), and we're listening to the wrong star systems or at the wrong wavelengths. There is another possibility, says Douglas Vakoch, head of the Interstellar Message Composition programme at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, which ponders the question of how we should communicate with aliens. "Maybe everyone's listening but no one is transmitting. Maybe it takes an audacious young civilisation like ours to do that." So should we start sending messages into the void? And if so, how can we make ourselves understood to beings we know nothing about?
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90 Percent Of Languages Will Be Extinct Next Century

LanguageTreeAlasdair Wilkins writes on io9.com:

Linguist and conservative commentator John McWhorter estimates the 6,000 languages spoken today will dwindle to only 600 next century. He argues that this is part of a process that will confer economic and health benefits to the affected speakers.

His main point is that the vast, vast majority of threatened languages are those spoken by isolated indigenous groups, and that these languages are, in fact, a driving force of their isolation. The language barrier prevents the absorption of such groups into the larger society, and this often leaves those affected in significantly worse economic conditions than their neighbors that speak the majority language.

McWhorter outlines how the pursuit of a better life can often mean leaving one’s ancestral language behind:

As people speaking indigenous languages migrate to cities, inevitably they learn globally dominant languages like English and use them in their interactions with one another.

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Finally A Truly “World” Wide Web: Non-Latin Web Addresses Debut in 2010

Tom Simonite writes in New Scientist:
GlobalInternetImagine what browsing the web would be like if you had to type out addresses in characters you don’t recognise, from a language you don’t speak. It’s a nightmare that will end for hundreds of millions of people in 2010, when the first web addresses written entirely in non-Latin characters come online.

Net regulator ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — conceded in October that more than half of the 1.6 billion people online use languages with scripts not fully compatible with the Latin alphabet. It is now accepting applications for the first non-Latin top level domains (TLDs) – the part of an address after the final “dot”. The first national domains, counterparts of .uk or .au, should go live in early 2010. So far, 12 nations, using six different scripts, have applied and some have proudly revealed their desired TLD and given a preview of what the future web will look like….

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‘Indefinite,’ ‘Hiatus,’ ‘Infidelity’: Tiger Woods Gives America Vocabulary Lesson

TigerWoodsI find this kinda amazing, I guess the media obsession has a bright light. Michael David Smith writes on Fanhouse:
Tiger Woods isn't just America's greatest golfer, and he isn't just America's greatest philanderer. He's also America's greatest vocabulary teacher. Woods hasn't yet spoken publicly in the two weeks since his mysterious car accident led to a media feeding frenzy about his sex life. But he has issued a couple of public statements on TigerWoods.com, and in those statements he showed a grasp of the English language that was apparently too difficult for some.
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Boom! Hok! A Monkey Language Is Deciphered

CampbellMonkeyThis is awesome. Beware monkeys, we humans are now onto your secret code. You won’t be able to take over the planet that easily after we damn it all to hell.

NICHOLAS WADE writes NY Times:

Boom boom! (I’m here, come to me!)

Krak krak! (Watch out, a leopard!)

Hok hok hok! (Hey, crowned eagle!)

Very good — you have already mastered half the basic vocabulary of the Campbell’s monkey, a fellow primate that lives in the forests of the Tai National Park in Ivory Coast. The adult males have six types of call, each with a specific meaning, but they can string two or more calls together into a message with a different meaning.

Having spent months recording the monkeys’ calls in response to both natural and artificial stimuli, a group led by Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland argues that the Campbell’s monkeys have a primitive form of syntax.

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