Category Archives: Trends
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.
Bradley Hall writes, “I am trying to get funding via Indiegogo so that I can spend more time translating old public domain German sci-fi books. So far I have translated Robert Heymann’s ‘Der Rote Komet’ (The Red Comet) and am currently working on Bernhard Kellerman’s ‘Der Tunnel’ (The Tunnel). Neither of these books have been translated to English before.”
We just added this fine “Blog About Learning The English Language to our blogroll.
“The word crowdsourcing may be new, but the idea behind it is not, at least not in lexicography,” writes the Oxford Dictionary Blog. “In fact, the entry for crowdsourcing in Wikipedia (itself a stellar example of an effective crowdsourcing model), gives the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as one of the earliest predecessors of today’s largely Internet-based crowdsourcing projects.
Much of the historical and lexical information contained in the OED is based on the evidence of millions of quotations collected from English texts through the dictionary’s Reading Programme. Through this programme, the OED recruits voluntary and paid readers to gather quotations that illustrate the usage of words.
The OED Reading Programme started in 1857, when volunteer readers began to collect quotations for the British Philological Society’s planned New English Dictionary. Two decades later, the dictionary’s new editor, James A. H. Murray, launched a broader Reading Programme by publishing an appeal for volunteer readers, not only in Britain, but also in America and the British Colonies. “Anyone can help,” Murray wrote in his 1879 appeal, and soon after, he began receiving thousands of quotations from hundreds of volunteers, most of whom were interested laypeople instead of language specialists.”
The Great Language Game challenges you to distinguish between some eighty or so languages based on their sound alone. In each game you’re allowed three mistakes, which are kept for you to study at the end. If you’re feeling competitive, share your score with some friends and compete for some serious bragging rights.
Initial samples were sourced from SBS Australia, reflecting Australia’s rich migrant culture. Since then they’ve been supplemented from Voice of America, and linguistic samples collected to preserve languages. Many are common to international cities throughout the world – they might even be spoken in a neighbourhood near you. Others remind us how vast and varied the world truly is.
The Global Language Monitor has announced that ‘404’ is the Top Word, ‘Toxic Politics’ the Top Phrase and Pope Francis the Top Name of 2013 in its 14th annual global survey of the English language. 404 was followed by fail, hashtag, @pontifex, and the Optic. Rounding out the top ten were surveillance, drones, deficit, sequestration, and emancipate. 404 is the near-universal numeric code for failure on the global Internet, augmenting its original use as ‘page not found’. The single word fail is often used together with 404 to signify complete failure of an effort, project, or endeavor.
“404 has gained enormous attention the world over this year as systems in place since World War II, which many see as the beginning of the contemporary era, are in distress or even failure.” said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of the Global Language Monitor. ”The recent ObamaCare launch debacle in the US is only a representative example of a much wider system fail, from the political deadlock in the US Government, to the decline of the dollar, to the global web of intrigue and surveillance by the NSA, to the uncertainty regarding the European Union, and the on-going integration of China and other rising powers, such as India and Brazil into the global economic system.”
Our top words, phrases and names this year represent some five continents, which continues to confirm the ever-expanding nature of the English language.”
The Guardian reports: “The Queen may be celebrating her jubilee, but the Queen’s English Society, which has railed against the misuse and deterioration of the English language, is to fold.
For 40 years the society has championed good English – and hasn’t been above the occasional criticism of the Queen’s own pronouncements – but it has finally conceded that it cannot survive in the era of textspeak and Twitter.
Having attempted to identify a role for the society and its magazine, Quest, “for the next 40 years”, the society chairman, Rhea Williams, decided it was time to close. She announced the group’s demise in a terse message to members following the annual meeting, which just 22 people attended. “Despite the sending out of a request for nominations for chairman, vice-chairman, administrator, webmaster and membership secretary, no one came forward to fill any role,” she said. “So I have to inform you that QES will no longer exist. There will be one more Quest, then all activity will cease and the society will be wound up. The effective date will be 30 June 2012.”
She said it was sad that the society was to close but added that the difficulty in getting people to take on roles in the society was a problem being experienced by other groups across the UK.
“Things change, people change,” she said. “People care about different things. If you look at lots of societies, lots of them are having problems. Lives have changed dramatically over the last 40 years. People don’t want to join societies like they used to.”
Former Tory MP Gyles Brandreth, the society’s patron, was nevertheless optimistic: “The Queen’s English isn’t under threat. Her Majesty can sleep easy. The language is still in the good hands of all the people who speak good English.”
He described the members and organisers of the society as “a group of enthusiasts celebrating the richness and diversity of the English language”, and is convinced that whether or not enough volunteers can be found to keep the society going, their enthusiasm and love for good English will live on.
He added: “I spoke to the society about six months ago. They were in good heart.”
The closure followed a major setback earlier this year when the society’s plans for an Academy of Contemporary English collapsed.”
Read on at The Guardian.
How new words are created – just one section of a site that charts ‘How English went from an obscure Germanic dialect to a global language’: The History of English should keep our dear readers busy for a while.
From the INTRODUCTION
“There are many books and many websites describing the journey of the English language from its ancient origins to today’s dynamic and powerful communication tool (you can find some of them on the Sources and Links page). Some follow it in minute and excruciating technical detail, some are brief one-page summaries, and you may be wondering: do we really need another?
Well, perhaps not, but I wanted to create one anyway for my own enjoyment and edification. And this one is neither too long and intimidating nor is it too skimpy and “lite”, but, as Goldilocks might have said, just right. Not too much in the way of “fricatives” and “palatizations” and “labialized velars” (this does not pretend to be a work of serious philology), but plenty of rollicking historical detail, action and intrigue.
Whatever your thoughts on the matter, English, with all its vagaries and annoying inconsistencies, remains the single most important and influential language in today’s world. Throughout history, it has repeatedly found itself in the right place at the right time: English-speaking Britain was the leading colonial nation in the 17th and 18th Century, as well as the leader of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 18th Century; in the late 19th and 20th Century, English-speaking America was the leading economic power, and was also at the forefront of the electronic and digital revolution of the late 20th Century.
But, it has also proved itself the most flexible and resilient of languages, remarkable for its ability to adopt and absorb vocabulary from other cultures. It has survived incursions by invading armies, outfaced potential extinction on more than one occasion, and navigated the changing cultural zeitgeist, growing ever stronger in the process. Its continued vitality is evidenced by the number and diversity of its worldwide variations today.”
The History of English in 10 minutes
New Scientist reports: “LUIS VON AHN claims he can translate Wikipedia – all 2 billion words of it – from English into Spanish in just 80 hours. What’s more, he will not have to pay anyone to do the work.
His secret weapon is Duolingo, a free language tutorial website that doubles as a paid-for translation service (see video below). The deal is that users get to learn a language while simultaneously helping to translate website content.
“The crazy thing about this method is that it works,” says von Ahn, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This is not the first time von Ahn has recycled user input in this way. His reCAPTCHA system, which many websites employ when signing up new members, displays snippets of distorted text to confound the automated software used by spammers. Unbeknownst to many users, however, the text that they are deciphering is material that the computers used in book-digitisation projects have tried and failed to understand. The system was bought by Google in 2009 for an undisclosed sum and is now used in the company’s book-scanning project.
On the surface, Duolingo, which opened its doors to testers last month, looks like any other language tutorial system. Users receive lessons in either Spanish or German and then practise on their own. Tasks include translating written sentences and rating the accuracy of translations made by others. The lessons combine standard content with material pulled from web pages written in the language the user is learning. After the web material has been translated it is slotted into an English-language version of the original web page, which is built up sentence by sentence as learners plough through Duolingo worksheets.
Learners inevitably make mistakes, so the system ensures a number of people work on and check each sentence before declaring the translation correct. It also routes complex sentences to more advanced learners and provides tools, such as easy access to language dictionaries, to aid in translation.
But will website owners be prepared to pay for a service performed by students? Pricing has not yet been set but von Ahn insists Duolingo can match professional translators for quality – a claim that has attracted some scepticism.
“Anything that relies solely on learners will limit the number of experts who will participate,” says Mark Chatow, vice-president at Servio, a San Francisco-based company that offers translation and content-generation services. Chatow says that Duolingo will work fine for simple sentences, but notes that some material requires a grasp of nuanced meanings, which learners will struggle with. Nuance is a particularly common problem in Chinese-to-English translations, he adds.
Idiomatic expressions, the bane of automated translation services, may also cause problems. Google, for example, translates the Spanish idiom “nunca llueve a gusto de todos” as “it never rains to everyone’s taste”, whereas a professional translator would provide something like “you can’t please everyone”. It remains to be seen whether Duolingo’s learners can do as good a job.
Also uncertain is the speed at which translations can be completed, which obviously depends on the number of language students using the software. Von Ahn estimates that it would take a million students to translate Wikipedia in 80 hours, while 100,000 learners would take five weeks. However, language tutorials are already popular – more than 5 million people in the US alone have paid for language-learning software – and von Ahn says there are already 200,000 people on the waiting list for Duolingo.
To keep the translations flowing, users will also have to find the learning process “mildly addictive”, says Philip Resnik at the University of Maryland in College Park. In tests, New Scientist found the site easy to use and its reward system of points and stars compelling. Students can also compete against their friends.
“Given von Ahn’s record I imagine he’ll be successful,” says Resnik.