Tag Archives | Language
Teabonics is a Flickr set exploring the vibrant and exciting new brand of English language emerging from the Tea Party protests. Don’t worry, it’s easy to get started on a sign of your own written in Teabonics.
Truly fascinating article from John Noble Wilford in the New York Times. Is this the place where social classes — the rich and the poor — as we know them today first emerged? Reports the New York Times:
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Archaeologists have embarked on excavations in northern Syria expected to widen and deepen understanding of a prehistoric culture in Mesopotamia that set the stage for the rise of the world’s first cities and states and the invention of writing.
In two seasons of preliminary surveying and digging at the site known as Tell Zeidan, American and Syrian investigators have already uncovered a tantalizing sampling of artifacts from what had been a robust pre-urban settlement on the upper Euphrates River. People occupied the site for two millenniums, until 4000 BC — a little-known but fateful period of human cultural evolution.
Scholars of antiquity say that Zeidan should reveal insights into life in a time called the Ubaid period, 5500 to 4000 BC.
In science fiction, characters often turn to a portable universal translator to help bridge the linguistic divide, either among humans or with aliens. But the concept doesn't just exist in the imagination of "Star Trek" writers or the pages of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Researchers are actually closing in on the technology and foresee its application in the coming years in a very familiar device: the smart phone. Imagine walking into a restaurant in Beijing and ordering off the menu and talking with waiters in Chinese. It's a future that is on the way to becoming a reality.
The Globe and Mail reports on the discovery of what might be the earliest written language, comprised of lines and geometric shapes:
A graphic code uncovered by researchers at the University of Victoria suggests that written communication may have started 30,000 years ago.
Compiling the cave signs of nearly 150 sites across Ice Age France, researchers found striking similarities that suggest human beings may have used a graphic language made up of simple lines and geometric shapes to communicate shortly after the first African civilizations arrived in Europe…suggesting that the “creative explosion” occurred tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought.
26 signs illustrated in a consistent style were found across the sites using images from a digital archive. While the illustrations may be rudimentary – composed of circles, straight lines and triangles – she said they suggest the seeds of a prehistoric mode of communication.
EIGHT YEARS after 9/11, we're used to changes in our routines. We show ID to get into office buildings, and take off our shoes at airports. But should a college student flying back to school be handcuffed and held for five hours because he has Arabic flash cards in his backpack? That's the way Nick George, a senior at Pomona College, in California, sees what happened to him at the Philadelphia airport two Saturdays ago. George, of Wyncote, Montgomery County, was about to catch a Southwest flight back to school when stereo speakers in his backpack caught the eye of screeners at the metal detector.
Technology Review’s physics arXiv blog:
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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.
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?
Alasdair Wilkins writes on io9.com:
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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.
Tom Simonite writes in New Scientist:
Imagine 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.
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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….