Welsh Language Activist Denied US Visa

Arfon Gwilym, a Welsh folk singer, author and the director of Gwynn Music Publishers, has been denied a visa to visit the United States, according to Celtic News.

Mr. Gwilym had been invited to perform at the Smithsonian Institute’s cultural festival, which takes place next week. However, the US Embassy denied him a visa based on “moral turpitude” for acts he engaged in many years ago as a Welsh language activist with Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society.

What does it take to get denied a visa on grounds of “moral turpitude?” Not that much, apparently. According to Wales Online, although Mr. Gwilym was sent to jail three times, his crimes consisted of non-violent activities like taking down road signs as part of a campaign for bilingual road signs and occupying a house to protest against English speakers occupying second homes in Wales.

In the UK, Mr. Gwilym is even considered to have a clean record, because the crimes all took place in the late 60s and early 70s. Under UK law, after a certain period of time, convictions become “spent” and fall off your record. In the United States, however, there is no such thing as a “spent conviction:” once something is on your record, it stays there.

Mr. Gwilym has appealed to US President Barack Obama for assistance via email. From the Celtic News article referenced above, here’s an excerpt of the email he sent:

“After September 11 I can understand the concern for safety in your country, and I can understand also why you do not wish to see murderers and rapists enter your country. May I respectfully suggest that you would not be in your present position were it not for the great battle for civil rights in your country when it was necessary to break the law in order to succeed. Can you imagine Martin Luther King and other civil rights campaigners being refused entry into Britain for ‘moral turpitude’?”

You know, the man has a point…

To Tweet or Not To Tweet-That Is the Question

Well, its official. “Twitter” has officially joined the English language as a verb, at least according to the Associated Press.

The latest addition of the AP’s Stylebook (the style Bible for most of the press) includes the verb “to Twitter” as acceptable usage. Of course, if you use Twitter, you may be aware that some people say “to tweet” instead of “to twitter.”

Snotty grammar geeks on both sides of the divide often step up to ostentatiously correct each other in blog comments and forums.

Currently, it’s almost impossible to talk about Twitter without sounding foolish to somebody. Nobody disputes that an update posted on Twitter is a tweet, but saying “I just posted a tweet” sounds awkward, so you really do have to take sides.

Has the AP settled the debate? Actually, no… They have also approved the use of “tweet” as a verb, leaving the word choice up to individual writers.

So which is it, to twitter or to tweet? The AP may not be taking sides, but Twitter co-founder Biz Stone did, in an interview with TV show The View, last month. According to Mr. Stone, “to Twitter” is the preferred nomenclature.

In addition to approving the use of “twitter” and “tweet,” the AP Stylebook also has its very own Twitter account. You can keep in touch with them by following @ AP Stylebook. However, they don’t take grammar questions through the Twitter account. If you have additional questions about how to write about Twitter’s products and services, you can use the “Ask the Editor” feature on the AP website.

By the way, a couple of weeks ago, we reported that the English language was about to acquire its one-millionth word, at least according to the publicity-hungry folks at the Global Language Monitor. Oddly enough, the one-millionth word was recently declared to be “Web 2.0.”

Google Analytics gets Spanish Blog

Web giant Google have just launched a Spanish version of their analytics blog.

The blog covers a range of Google measurement tools including Google Analytics, Website Optimizer, Insights for Search, AdPlanner and others.

Both Googlers and Google Analytics Authorized Consultants (GAAC’s) who speak Spanish will use the blog to share basic tips and advanced web analytics techniques which will hopefully help the decision makers integrate data from these tools into their business strategies.

The blog has been named ‘Central de Conversiones’. Important posts from the English Google Analytics blog will be translated into Spanish and uploaded onto the new blog. There will also be original content created and share studies which will be specific to the Spanish speaking markets.

The English blog is very useful so this new blog should open Google Analytics to a much wider audiences.

If It's All Greek to Us, What's It To Them?

Almost everyone is familiar with the saying “it’s all Greek to me”. We use it to mean that something is utterly incomprehensible, whether it is a foreign language film without subtitles, the incoherent speech of a lunatic, or calculus.

According to World Wide Words, the phrase probably comes from the Latin phrase “Graecum est; non potest legi,” which means “it is Greek; it cannot be read.”

It was commonly used by monks translating books in medieval times. Most of them knew Latin, but not Greek. Hence, whenever they encountered Greek text, they copied it as best they could with the notation “It is Greek; it cannot be read.”

The phrase was also famously used by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar, and he is often believed to have originated it. However, the World Wide Words article points out that it also shows up in the work of Thomas Dekker, in a play written the year before Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar.  So, either Shakespeare borrowed it from Dekker or they were both drawing on a common saying of the time.

Have you ever wondered how “It’s all Greek to me” translates in other languages and cultures? Many languages have similar expressions.

According to Omniglot, Greeks themselves say “It’s all Chinese to me” or “It’s all Arabic to me”.

In Europe, Chinese is commonly used as the archetypical incomprehensible language, and the phrase “It’s all Chinese to me” shows up in Dutch, Portuguese, Lithuanian, Hungarian, French and Catalan, among others.

In many Eastern European languages, including Croatian, Czech, and Serbian, the equivalent phrase is “It’s a Spanish village to me.” In Finland, it’s “Hebrew,” and in Hebrew it’s “Chinese.”  France has three different equivalent phrases: “It’s Chinese to me”, “It’s Javanese to me” or “It’s Hebrew”.

Then there are some truly odd-sounding translations. For example, if a German-speaking person has no earthly idea what you’re talking about, he may say “I only speak railway station.”

In Chinese, something incomprehensible may be described as “heavenly script,” “ghost script” or “chicken intestines.”  Well, I suppose chicken intestines are pretty incomprehensible, now that I think about it.

English is About to Get Its Millionth Word

The English language is about to hit a new milestone next month, according to this article on UPI.com.

Paul JJ Payack is predicting that the millionth new English word will be coined on June 10, 2009 @ 10:22 am Shakespeare’s time. How can Payack, the president of the Global Language Monitor, tell when the millionth word will be added? Is he psychic?

Not quite. The prediction is based on analyzing how fast words are currently being created-about once every 98 minutes, according to this earlier article about the researchers. At that rate, on June 10, 2009, the Global Language Monitor figures that we will officially hit 1 million words.

Here’s the question, though: How do we know when a new word is created? People coin words all the time-who decides when they officially get to join the English language?

Actually, it appears that the Global Language Monitor gets to make that decision-at least as far as their research is concerned.

Currently, they are trying to decide which words have the honour of becoming the millionth word in the English language.

According to the articles referenced above, here are some of the contestants:

•    Defollow
•    Defriend
•    Greenwashing
•    Noob
•    Chiconomics
•    Bangster (a combination of bankster and gangster)
•    Mobama
•    Recessionista
•    Wonderstar (think Susan Boyle)

Which word will be the winner? And how does the Global Language Monitor get the authority to declare that “greenwashing” is just now a word? Or “noob”?

And do these guys actually look up the words they are considering on UrbanDictionary.com? Because if they did, I don’t know why they’d consider assigning “chiconomics” to the historic role of the English language’s millionth word.

WARNING: If you are easily offended, please avoid looking up “chiconomics” at Urban Dictionary’s site.

Since this seems to be an arbitrary decision-making process for an arbitrary milestone, perhaps they should set up a website and let people vote on which of these words will be the “official” millionth word in the English language. Power to the people!

Welsh Language Issue On Par With Saving Our Planet

The BBC have reported that more than half of the Welsh population feel that preserving the Welsh language is as important to them as saving our planet from global warming.

In recent years the Welsh language has dramatically increased in popularity. Today 64% of the people in Wales think it is important that they speak Welsh with their children, and almost 70% think that future generations will be thankful for all the efforts being made to preserve the language.

The study was conducted by Beaufort Research in November 2008, questioning 1,071 people over the age of 16 and living in Wales.

11% of those questioned were fluent in Welsh, 14% could speak it a little with the remaining having no understanding of the Welsh language at all.

It seems there has been a distinct change in attitude regarding the Welsh language in the past 10 years. Young people in Wales can now see the benefits of keeping the language alive.

Will we ever see the day when children in Wales are fluent in Welsh, educated in Welsh and use Welsh in a social context?

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.

Gmail logo

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!