Big Cuts for European Languages and Cultures Division

According to the BBC a demonstration has taken place at Edinburgh University’s Old College building in protest at the potential cuts to language department’s budget. It is alleged that the £400,000 in funding is to be cut from the European Languages and Cultures Division. Students, staff and politicians are outraged and have backed the protest against the cuts. Around 400 people attended the event including 20 – 30 staff who had been asked by the university not to attend.

The university did admit that it is dealing with funding issues but says there are no immediate plans to reduce language provisions. It is understandable that cuts need to be made in these bad economic times, but by having the current funding slashed to £200,000 students are worried some language subjects will no longer be available, especially minority subjects such as Russian and Portuguese.

Edinburgh University have said that no funding cuts will be made next year and every effort is being made to avoid funding cuts in the future. Many other higher education institutions are in a similar position and more and more students giving up modern languages it is difficult to see a future for modern language degree studies.

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Gmail Incorporates Automatic Translation

Google just unleashed a new feature to help users break through the language barrier. After you enable the feature, you’ll be able to translate any email you receive with a quick click of the mouse. The new Gmail translation feature can translate 41 different languages, including Thai, Estonian and Maltese.

Automatic translation is available to all Gmail users including those who use the email software as part of the apps collaboration and communication suite for organizations. It will help users to communicate better in today’s multilingual world.

The goal of this feature is to make it easier for people who work for international companies to communicate. Theoretically, using the Gmail translation feature you could hold a conversation via email with employees from around the world, and each employee would be able to communicate using his or her native language.

Chris Dawson of ZDNet Education sees another possibility for the new feature: allowing students to have email pen pals who speak other languages.

However, it should be noted that computerized translation is far from perfect. No computer program has yet been invented that can correctly translate 100% of conversations from one language to another, especially when figurative language or colloquial expressions are being used. So, messages translated using Gmail’s translation service may come out sounding a little off when read by a native speaker.

This new tool is useful however, users should be aware that machine translation is not always reliable, even Google themselves have acknowledged that machine translation technology isn’t perfect.

Google do maintain that even if mistakes creep into the text, the recipient will be able to get the gist of the message.

In an article on eWeek.com, Jeff Chin, the Project Manager of Google Translate, said as much in an email interview:

“It can be quite useful in providing the quick gist of a message, especially if you receive a lot of e-mails that aren’t in your native tongue,” he wrote. “If the translation is awkward or not quite right, you can quickly return to the original message by clicking ‘View original message’ link.”

If clear communication is your goal, it is advisable to use a professional translation company who can assist you with your translation needs

TED Conference Talks Now Available in Multiple Languages

TED (Technology-Entertainment-Design), the annual conference that brings together influential people from the areas of technology, entertainment and design, is now offering translated videos of speeches and performances from its conferences. According to the Huffington Post, “the TED Open Translation Project is one of the most comprehensive attempts by a major media platform to subtitle and index online video content. It’s also a groundbreaking effort in the public, professional use of volunteer translation.”

One of the most distinctive features about this project is that it allows volunteers who visit the site to translate talks into their native languages, with no restrictions as to which languages can be used. To get the project started, a small number of talks were translated by professionals into 20 different languages, but from then on, volunteers took over. Now, the project has over 300 videos translated into 42 different languages and more are being added everyday.

The languages of the translations range from languages as dominant as Mandarin Chinese to languages like Kirghiz, which only has about 4 million speakers. The translations are available in the form of subtitles, shown on the bottom of the video player, and as transcripts. The transcripts are interactive-you can use them to select the part of the video that you’d like to play back.

Other than the sense of satisfaction that comes from doing a good thing, what’s in it for the volunteers? The volunteers who translate these videos get credited for their work, and set up profiles on the TED site. So, if you volunteer to translate, you get the ability to promote yourself on an established website.

All in all, this is a cool project. The videos make the knowledge exchanged at the TED conferences available to everyone, and the translations mean that more people across the world will benefit.

Indian Beggars Become Multilingual

Are you more likely to give money to someone who asks you for it in your native language? According to this article from The Sun, beggars and street performers in New Delhi are becoming multilingual, hoping to increase their haul from foreign tourists during the Commonwealth Games next year. Although most of the tourists expected for the games will probably speak English, beggars are adding languages like French and Spanish to their repertoire as well.

Many of the beggars are children who were born into families of beggars. Although most of these children will never receive formal schooling, the beggars of New Delhi have set up “language schools” of their own.

Classes usually take place at night, and consist of learning helpful phrases in other languages, such as “I am an orphan.” Beggars are also trained to recognize foreign currency and determine its value.

Begging is actually an organized occupation in New Delhi, with an estimated 100,000 beggars in the city. Beggars are assigned specific places and times to beg, and move around so that no one beggar is in the same place for too long.

The entire enterprise of begging is targeted to achieve the maximum amount of profit possible. Why learn to beg in more than one language? According to a beggar quoted in the Sun article, it adds a “personal touch” to begging. As businesses are learning the world over, it pays to speak to your customer in his or her native language!

Outrage over French Eurovision Song

French MP Jacques Myard, of the UMP party,was outraged that the song chosen to represent France in last years Eurovision Song Contest had English lyrics.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest will take place on the 16th of  May in Moscow and the song chosen to represent France will be sung in French (this time). Forty three countries will be taking part; the show is very popular drawing in a television audience of 200 million viewers from Europe and beyond.

The song which was chosen to represent France last year was entitled ‘Divine’,  it combined both English and French lyrics with electro euro pop.

According to the BBC the culture minister in France defended the song saying, the country should fully support his (Sebastien Tellier – Singing ‘Divine’ for France) bid for victory.

Many countries choose to sing in English. Statistically you are more likely to win the competition when singing in English, according to information released by Eurovision.

Rallying Support for Jerriais

Jerriais is the language spoken in Jersey; the language was influenced by many languages from Norse Viking to Frankish. According to the BBC Dr Julia Salabank has set out to compare the language policies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Dr Salabank is a research fellow in endangered languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She will be spending the next two weeks in Jersey researching the language. Jerriais has had official support for some time in the form of L’office du Jerriais. The 2001 census statistics showed that 2,874 people speak Jerriais which is about 3% of the population, around 15% have some kind of understanding of the language.In Jersey around 200 children are currently learning Jerriais, which shows Jersey are working hard to keep the language alive.

GPs Urged to Use More Sign Language Services

Concerns were raised about the lack of sign language services provided by doctor’s surgeries in the UK at the Deaf Day 2009 event in London on the 4th April. People attending the event signed a petition which demands that surgeries use online software called Sign Translate.

SignTranslate is currently a free service for GPs in England, thanks to funding from Sign Health, the health care charity for deaf people.

It is essential that the NHS provide services which mean it can cater for all. Translation services are essential for good communication between the doctor and their patient. Foreign immigrants also often require translation services within the medical environment as the communication must be clear at all times. The patient will feel more comfortable communicating in their preferred or first language.

This free BSL service from SignTranslate was set up in June 2008 and will be free until June 2009. After June 2009 the GPs surgeries will have to pay for this service. Many other companies also provide sign language services at a reasonable cost.

Linguistic Divide in Belgium

Belgium’s European parliament election, which is due to take place on 7th June, has been riddled with feuds over the rights of Dutch and French speakers.

The BBC reports that francophone political parties have been denied billboard space for their election posters in two mainly Dutch speaking municipalities close to Brussels.

Belgian politics closely mirrors the countries deep linguistic divide. Around 60% of Belgium’s population speak Dutch, while 40% speak French. Approximately 100,000 French speakers live in the mainly Dutch speaking suburbs of the capital.

Political paralysis hit Belgium after last year’s general election. With its long running tensions over language rights effecting all parties, it took months for the political parties to form a new coalition.

This is a difficult and very complicated issue for any country to bear.  Can the Belgian politicians work together and learn to communicate despite the language barriers?

Language and Genetic Analysis Sheds Light on the Origins of Humanity

In Africa, a team of researchers has combined linguistic and DNA analysis of African tribes to shed light on the migrations of early humans more than 50,000 years ago.

The study, which has been going on for the past 10 years, is a continuation of an earlier study by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, a geneticist from Standford. During the study, researchers took DNA samples from many remote African tribes, looking at more than 3000 people in 121 population groups. They also compared the results to Europeans and African Americans living in the United States.

By looking at the DNA of the study participants and looking at languages they speak and how they have changed over time, researchers were able to map out the origins of different tribes, showing where their ancestors came from originally. DNA analysis is a great way to discover genetic connections among people, but linguistic analysis often provides a necessary tool to fill in the gaps. The distinctive characteristics of specific language groups can link people across a continent, revealing a common ancestry.

Also, when people migrate, their language is influenced by the language of the areas in which they settle. Borrowed words included in a language can help create a map of the different places the people that speak that language have been, as well as the different groups of people they encountered along the way.

For example, languages with distinctive “clicking” sounds are spoken by tribes spread across the African continent. Researchers think that this language group may be the original language spoken by humans, and DNA analysis confirms that the tribes that speak languages in this group have common ancestors. Based on these migratory patterns, the researchers theorize that modern humans first emerged in southern Africa, near modern-day Namibia, and then began to migrate up to populate the rest of Africa and eventually, the world.

Word Poverty Hits the UK

The BBC has reported that children in England are to be offered lessons to improve their formal English skills amid fears that British children are suffering from “word poverty”. The question is, just because we don’t use a word frequently does that mean we don’t know it or do we have it in mind but choose to use an alternative? Children often use modern or fashionable words which, for example, their grandmother hasn’t heard of. Just because Grandma doesn’t know it doesn’t mean it’s not a word.

A word exists as long as another person understands what you mean. For example the word bling meaning jewellery, Grandma might not know what it means but the child who sits next to you at school knows what you are talking about.

Global Language Monitor (GLM) a US based company have stated that they believe that the one millionth word will be added to the English language sometime in June 09. New words the GLM have been tracking include Obamamania, bankster and bloggerati.

Children’s vocabulary can vary depending on parental guidance/teaching, geographical location, education and life experiences. For example, a child who excels at reading is likely to have a wide vocabulary as they have had more exposure to words, plus their standard education.

English is one of the main core subjects in schools in the UK; do we really need to give children extra lessons? Also should we not encourage children to develop the English language as our ancestors would have done?