Category Archives: Languagewatch
“As languages acquire new speakers, spread to new geographic areas, and mingle with other languages, they change. But is that change happening as quickly as it once did?” (IO9)
What might a future version of English look? Perhaps not quite so different from the version we see today — and we owe that to the widespread growth of the written word.
Read the story at IO9 here.
Top image: A 15th century edition of Recuyell of the Histories of Troy from Brandeis University’s Special Collections
Langenscheidt has started a new collection of incredibly bad translations into German from all over the world. Author Titus Arnus has also been a guest on “Tv Total” in case you want to know more.
Photo: Haimo Pölzl
Lost without translation – Accurate scientific translation is vital, say Meredith Root-Bernstein and Richard Ladle.
“A misplaced preposition or poor choice of verb can ruin a convincing narrative, reducing the probability of publication in a top international journal and limiting the impact of the research. Not only is this bad news for scientists struggling to communicate their work, it is also bad for science.
Science needs more trained personnel who can bridge the language gap. The need is particularly urgent in areas such as the environmental and agronomical sciences in which it is increasingly appreciated that regional and local interventions can have global impacts.
In an effort to disseminate their work, many foreign scientists spend precious research funds on private translation services. But standard translators may not understand the science, the structure of scientific papers or the technical language. The only alternative is to rely on bilingual colleagues to provide translation services as a favour.”
Read the article here.
Meredith Root-Bernstein is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford and at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Richard Ladle is senior visiting research associate at Oxford and professor of conservation biogeography at the Federal University of Alagoas, Brazil.
Presented in the format of an elaborate educational video, the series delivers a satirical take on the Australian way of life. An assembly of Indian teachers dissect our national identity, as they perform re-enactments, conduct lectures in linguistics, and attempt impersonations of famous Australians.
Mining the depths of every aspect of the Australian stereotype, the 8-part series presents us with a unique outsider’s perspective, and asks us to visit that most Australian trait: to laugh at ourselves.
Anyone who travels beyond Delhi and Mumbai to India’s provincial cities will notice English words cropping up increasingly in Hindi conversation,” writes BBC. While some of these terms fell out of use in the UK decades ago, others are familiar, but used in bold new ways.
Picture the scene. I’m chatting to a young man named Yuvraj Singh. He’s a college student in the Indian city of Dehra Dun. We’re talking in Hindi. But every so often there’s an English word. It’s Hindi, Hindi, Hindi, and then suddenly an English word or phrase is dropped in: “job”, “love story” or “adjust”.
What should we make of this? It’s not that Hindi lacks equivalent words. He could have said the Hindi “kaam” instead of “job”. Why mention the English words? And what’s Yuvraj speaking? Is it Hindi, English, an amalgam “Hinglish”, or something else?
In 1886 Henry Yule and Arthur Burnell published Hobson-Jobson, a guide to words from Indian languages that had passed into English.
You can search through it for references to the origins of words such as “shampoo” and “bungalow”. But now many Indian citizens are using English words in the course of talking Hindi – or Tamil, or Bengali etcetera.”
Read on at the BBC.
- BBC: Hobson-Jobson – The words English owes to India
On Wikipedia: Hobson-Jobson
– Digital Dictionary – Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive.
- Digital Book at archive.org:
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a compendium of made-up words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language, to give a name to an emotion we all feel but don’t have a word for.
Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.
n. an image that inexplicably leaps back into your mind from the distant past.
Test your American dialect down to your hometown
Based on your responses, the map at right shows the overlap between your speech and the various dialects of American English, as measured by data from the Harvard Dialect Survey, conducted by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder. Try it here.
“Whether the broader meaning of a text – the jokes, philosophies, and cultural peculiarities of its language – is translatable depends almost entirely on the individual with their nose in the dictionary (not to mention the dictionary itself).” (The Oxford Dictionary Blog)
When we say that a word is untranslatable, we tend to mean that it lacks an exact or word-for-word equivalent in our own language. In our desire to make everyone and everything understood, we sometimes forget that languages are living, writhing beasts: they evolve and mutate at such a rate that their genetic make-up is by nature very different, and it is almost impossible to pin them down. Although we can spot many commonalities between languages (just ask a friendly polyglot), there are also countless words that resist comparison. We are attracted to these outliers because they seem to fill the gaps in our own language and – if they originate from lands that are unfamiliar to us – they appear to unlock the secrets of other, distant cultures.”
– Wikipedia: Untranslatability
- BBC News: The world’s most difficult word to translate has been identified as “ilunga” from the Tshiluba language spoken in south-eastern DR Congo.
– Blog: Better than English - “We post words and phrases that don’t have direct English translations.”
– 11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures
– Book: Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (Translation/Transnation)
– Book: How to Translate The…Untranslatable from English (from American) Into French and Vice Versa?: Comment Traduire…L’Intraduisible D’Anglais (D’Americ
Jacques Lezra: Dictionary of Untranslatables
Presentation by Jacques Lezra, Professor of Spanish, Portuguese and Comparative Literature at NYU.
This is an encyclopedic dictionary of close to 400 important philosophical, literary, and political terms and concepts that defy easy–or any–translation from one language and culture to another. Drawn from more than a dozen languages, terms such as Dasein (German), pravda (Russian), saudade (Portuguese), and stato (Italian) are thoroughly examined in all their cross-linguistic and cross-cultural complexities. Spanning the classical, medieval, early modern, modern, and contemporary periods, these are terms that influence thinking across the humanities.
Originally published in French, this one-of-a-kind reference work is now available in English for the first time, with new contributions from Judith Butler, Daniel Heller-Roazen, Ben Kafka, Kevin McLaughlin, Kenneth Reinhard, Stella Sandford, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jane Tylus, Anthony Vidler, Susan Wolfson, Robert J. C. Young, and many more.The result is an invaluable reference for students, scholars, and general readers interested in the multilingual lives of some of our most influential words and ideas.
Image from New Zealand-based designer Anjana Iyer’s “Found in Translation” series of images
“Dictionaries are pretty solid authorities about what words mean, but they overextended themselves when reaching a bit in the definition for the word siphon,” writes Mashable. “The Oxford English Dictionary and many others have erroneously claimed that atmospheric pressure makes siphons work for 99 years, so Dr. Stephen Hughes did some research to set them straight.
Dr. Hughes noticed that the OED misidentified atmospheric pressure as the thing that makes siphons work back in 2010. Really, it’s gravity that causes liquid to flow up the short side of a siphon and down the long side, but the original definition for a siphon read,
A pipe or tube of glass, metal or other material, bent so that one leg is longer than the other, and used for drawing off liquids by means of atmospheric pressure, which forces the liquid up the shorter leg and over the bend in the pipe.
So, Hughes set about helpfully correcting the dictionary, but of course, he needed some proof. So, he tested a siphon inside a hypobaric chamber where he could change the level of atmospheric pressure and see if it had any effect on the siphon. As we’ve all (hopefully) learned, if you’re going to correct someone, you should really be sure you’re right first.
In Hughes’s experiments, the varied air pressure had a small effect on how the water flowed, but it didn’t have any effect on how much water traveled through the siphon over time. So Hughes concluded in a paper, published in Scientific Reports (that he somehow managed not to title “Neener Neener”), that he is smarter than the dictionary, and gravity is the real driving force.
The OED has changed its definition to remove the reference to atmospheric pressure, but Hughes isn’t fully satisfied with how ambiguous they’ve left the actual driving force behind a siphon. That’s still better than the rest of the world’s dictionaries, as he said,
But at least the reference to atmospheric pressure has been removed. The vast majority of dictionaries of all languages still incorrectly assert that siphons work through atmospheric pressure and not gravity.
Hopefully, the others will come around and change their ways. Sorry, dictionaries, but no book is safe from being proven wrong by science.”
“Staphylococci,” “esquamulose” and “feuilleton” are perfectly acceptable words to misspell on the first (or fifth) try.
But when it comes down to everyday writing, the most commonly misspelled words are a lot simpler than you might expect.
Guess what? They’re a lot shorter than “antidisestablishmentarianism” — and totally shameful.