President Obama

President Obama in Controversy over Healthcare Translation Policy

Accoring to various news reports there is controversy in the USA this week over ‘ObamaCare’ policies which state proposed healthcare reform plans which include providing on site interpreters for patients who have limited English. The healthcare reform legislation is currently pending in Congress.

English language advocates are up in arms as this could add a significant increase to the cost of healthcare in the USA and they believe it will discourage foreign immigrants from learning English. Surely, in today’s multicultural society the provision of translation services to medical institutions is essential.

America needs to look at itself and its history to see that America was made what it is today by foreign settlers who didn’t all speak English and certainly not American English!

Have some respect for your history and accept the fact that not everyone speaks English. The Spanish for example were one of the first European settlers in the US in 1513. Surely they have a right to speak Spanish if they wish to do so. America is meant to be the ‘Land of the Free’ after all.

Yes it seems logical that if you move to an English speaking country you should learn the lingo but even if you do, when your child is dying in A&E (sorry America suppose that’s ER to you) you may not be able to express what is wrong in your second language. To be sure the patient or their guardian fully understands what is happening it is essential that adequate language translation services are provided.

Confusion over Nazi Slogan Translations

The federal court of justice has overturned the conviction of a man who was fined 4,200 euros for possessing and transporting 100 t-shirts which were to be sold with the words ‘Blood and Honour’ printed on the front.

‘Blood and Honour’ is a translation of the German ‘Blut und Ehre’ which was a Hitler Youth slogan.

The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary organisation of the Nazi party, which existed from 1922 until 1945. Young boys were recruited both voluntarily and under duress and trained to be soldiers and ‘true believers’. By the Second World War the Hitler Youth had over eight million members.

In the latter years of the Second World War the Hitler Youth held a large recruitment drive calling up boys as young as ten years old which meant that most young males in Germany became members. As part of their uniform the young boys aged 10 – 18 wore daggers which had the swastika symbol on the handle and early examples had the words ‘Blut und Ehre’ inscribed on the blade. ‘Blut und Ehre’ or in English ‘Blood and Honour had become their motto.

Today the display of Nazi symbols or slogans is forbidden in Germany, but the court ruled that the ban only applied to slogans or text written in German. The court said the context of the original phrase had been sufficiently distorted to render its usage legal. It also said, “By translating it into another language, the Nazi slogan, which is characterized not just by its meaning but also by the German language, is fundamentally transformed.”

The defendant however has not been released. He may now be charged with supplying goods with Nazi imagery on and there is a possibility he could still be convicted of using the English phrase “Blood & Honour” because it was also the name of a far-right organization that is banned in Germany, the original verdict had not taken this into account. The man has not been named at this time.

Surely that is the slogan no matter what language it is in. It has been printed for maximum effect, to offend and upset others.

Facial Expressions Don't Always Translate

Facial expressions and body language are often thought of as a universal language. However, researchers from The University of Glasgow have now discovered that the way people perceive facial expressions varies across different cultures. The research focused on the ways that natives of East Asia and Europe read emotion from facial expressions and found some surprising differences.

In the study, 13 European subjects and 13 East Asian subjects were shown slides of people displaying different emotions. They were asked to place the faces into different categories based on the emotion depicted in each slide. While the test subjects classified the pictures, researchers observed their eye movements to see what parts of the face they spent the most time looking at.

The European group did significantly better at choosing the correct emotion for each facial expression because they observed both the eyes and the mouths of the people in the pictures. The East Asian group looked primarily at the eyes. According to the researchers, this is because Asian cultures tend to use the eyes to express emotion more than the mouth.

In a press release, here’s how the researchers summed up their findings:

“In sum,” the researchers wrote:

“our data demonstrates genuine perceptual differences between Western Caucasian and East Asian observers and show that FACS-coded facial expressions are not universal signals of human emotion. From here on, examining how the different facets of cultural ideologies and concepts have diversified these basic social skills will elevate knowledge of human emotion processing from a reductionist to a more authentic representation. Otherwise, when it comes to communicating emotions across cultures, Easterners and Westerners will find themselves lost in translation.”

As an interesting footnote, the press release also notes that Asian emoticons focus on the eyes. For example, Westerners indicate happiness by typing :). Asians type ^.^.

This study underscores the importance of learning at least a little bit of the local language when you travel. You can’t expect people to understand English everywhere. Depending on where you travel, you might have some difficulties communicating without words, as well.

Google adds Hawaiian Language

Web giant Google have added a Hawaiian language version of its search engine.

It was done by Keola Donaghy of the Ka Haka Ula Oke’elikolani college of Hawaiian Language. Keola Donaghy campaigned for 3 years to get Google to produce a Hawaiian version of its search engine. He estimates that it took him 100 hours to complete the translation…. Perhaps he should have used a professional translation company.

The Hawaiian version provides instructions in Hawaiian on Google’s search engine, although you will still find that the results still come back in English.

In order to complete the translation Keola Donaghy provided translations of 2,500 strings, words, sentences and paragraphs used by the search engine.

It’s great to see Google expanding its language options and it’s important they don’t ignore other important languages (such as Welsh).

The Hawaiian version of Google’s search engine is now available on Apples safari browser; it can be accessed by selecting Olelo Hawaii or Hawaiian language inside the system preferences on Apple.

It should be available on all other browsers next week.

Rosetta Stone

Unlocking the Meaning of an Ancient Hieroglyphic Script

Translating ancient scripts is difficult, especially when the civilization they belonged to is long gone.

We lucked out with the ancient Egyptians when we found the Rosetta Stone, which had the same passage translated into three different scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic Egyptian and classical Greek. Since linguists could read classical Greek, they were able to use this knowledge to understand the hieroglyphic script on the stone.

However, there is no similar artefact available for ancient scripts such as the hieroglyphics used by the Indus Valley civilization. These people lived approximately 4,000 years ago, along what it now the Indian-Pakistani border. They were very technologically advanced for that time, living in cities equipped with the first known urban sanitation systems in the world.

They were also excellent traders who developed an extremely accurate, standardized system of weights and measures. But could they write? Many of their artefacts are decorated with symbols, but nobody knows what these symbols mean. In fact, some researchers doubt that they even represent a written language at all.

So, researchers at the University of Washington have teamed up with researchers from India to try to translate the script using computers. The computer program looks at existing examples of the script and tries to perceive patterns in the order of the symbols.

Using a statistical method called the Markov model; the program has been able to demonstrate that the placement of symbols follows a logical pattern, supporting the theory that they represent a language. As one of the researchers noted in the article referenced above, “The finding that the Indus script may have been versatile enough to represent different subject matter in West Asia is provocative. This finding is hard to reconcile with the claim that the script merely represents religious or political symbols.”

5,000 New German Words

According to the BBC around 5,000 new words have been added to the German language in the latest edition of the well respected German dictionary, Duden. Most of the new words have come from the English speaking world.

New terms have been added such as ‘After show party’, ‘No-go area’, ‘It girl’ and ‘Babyblues’.

Twitter fans also gained a new word ‘Twittern’, which means to Twitter (or to Tweet, which ever you prefer).

New words have also come from the current global financial Crisis. ‘Kreditklemme’, meaning credit crunch has appeared for the first time. Other new words include ‘Konjunkturpaket’ which means ‘stimulus package’ and ‘Abwrackpraemie’ this translates as ‘car scrappage bonus’.

The German language is well known for its use and creation of extremely long compound nouns, for example the new edition of the dictionary includes a fantastic 23 letter example ‘vorratsdatenspeicherung’ which translates as ‘telecommunications data retention’.

The Duden was first published in 1880 by Konrad Duden. New editions of the dictionary are released every four or five years.

Recording Dying Languages

Being a field linguist is a hard, if rewarding, job. You have to travel to far-off places, often isolated villages with few luxuries. Then, you spend a lot of time recording the sounds and words of endangered languages that few people still speak.
In the past, most of the recording was done on tape recorders, with transcriptions being laboriously transcribed on paper. Now, according to this article in the New York Times, digital recording is making this important work both a little bit easier and a little bit more accessible. The Times article follows linguist Dr. Tucker Childs as he tries to record the Kim language in the Sierra Leone.
By using a solid-state recorder and a variety of computer applications, he is able to record and analyze words, as well as record the GPS coordinates of the last few villages were Kim is spoken, which are so remote that they do not appear on any standard maps of the country. Once he has finished his work, this data will be stored at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, where other scholars can access it.
Of course, digital equipment has its pitfalls, too-traveling to remote areas is hard on even the toughest electronic devices. But, once data about an endangered or dying data is collected, it’s much easier to do something constructive with it if it’s already in digital form. For example, according to the article, the University of Sydney has developed software for cell phones that helps Aboriginal children and teenagers from the Dharug tribe learn the Dharug language. The program is basically a mobile dictionary that allows users to look up the meanings and definitions of words in Dharug, a dead language that would otherwise not be in use.

Being a field linguist is a hard, if rewarding, job. You have to travel to far-off places, often isolated villages with few luxuries. Then, you spend a lot of time recording the sounds and words of endangered languages that few people still speak.

In the past, most of the recording was done on tape recorders, with transcriptions being laboriously transcribed on paper. Now, according to this article in the New York Times, digital recording is making this important work both a little bit easier and a little bit more accessible. The Times article follows linguist Dr. Tucker Childs as he tries to record the Kim language in the Sierra Leone.

By using a solid-state recorder and a variety of computer applications, he is able to record and analyse words, as well as record the GPS coordinates of the last few villages were Kim is spoken, which are so remote that they do not appear on any standard maps of the country. Once he has finished his work, this data will be stored at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, where other scholars can access it.

Of course, digital equipment has its pitfalls too-travelling to remote areas is hard on even the toughest electronic devices. But, once data about an endangered or dying data is collected, it’s much easier to do something constructive with it if it’s already in digital form.

For example the University of Sydney has developed software for cell phones that helps Aboriginal children and teenagers from the Dharug tribe learn the Dharug language. The program is basically a mobile dictionary that allows users to look up the meanings and definitions of words in Dharug, a dead language that would otherwise not be in use.

Slovakia and Hungary in Language Law Row

On the last day of June, Slovakia passed a law governing language use in their country. According to this article, posted on Euractiv.com, the law makes it illegal to use “incorrect” Slovak in Slovakia. The punishment is harsh with fines as high as 5,000 euros (£4,315).

Basically, the law makes it very difficult for speakers of minority languages to publicly communicate in their native language in Slovakia. For example, at public events, speeches and such must be given in Slovak first and the other language second-even if the only people present at the event speak the minority language.

Michael Gahler, the vice-chair for the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, has condemned the new language law as a violation of EU standards regarding minority languages. In the article referenced above, he is quoted as saying:

“Slovakia is violating commonly respected standards in the EU and is disregarding respective recommendations of the Council of Europe, which foresee the extended use of minority languages,” Gahler said, going as far as declaring that the country “risks discrediting itself as an EU member and becoming a totalitarian state again if the new provisions are consistently applied”.

The main minority language in Slovakia is Hungarian, which means that Hungary is not pleased, either.  The Hungarian government has asked the Slovakian government to stop the law from being implemented, but they have this far declined, with Slovakian leaders saying that it is not discriminatory.

However, Laszlo Öllős, a political analyst, was quoted as saying that the law is very ambiguous, increasing the potential for abuse.  According to Mr. Öllős, it could even be interpreted to apply to conversations between doctors and patients who speak the same (minority) language.

Debates over “official languages” and how much support to give minority language speakers have raged in many different countries. All too often, the debates become more about hostilities between two different groups than about protecting a specific language or culture. Fining doctors and patients for conversing in a language that they both share seems to be somewhat mean-spirited, and possibly dangerous if it keeps the patient from getting the best possible care.

Online Role-Playing Game Teaches English to Chinese Students

According to the New York Times, the video game developer behind the popular Age of Empires game has just released a new video game in China aimed at teaching children a second language.

The fantasy role-playing game is called Wiz World Online, and it incorporates many of the elements that make role-playing games so exciting for children. For example, they get to choose their own avatars and solve challenges in a fantasy world. However, instead of testing how well they can combine spells or how fast they can press buttons, these challenges test their English skills.

The important thing about Wiz World Online is that it allows kids to practice everyday words and phrases in the language they are learning. Also, it allows them to pick up new skills as needed, by sending their character to a “wizard’s library” for English lessons.

By giving kids an incentive to practice, Wiz World Online helps them overcome the shortcomings of traditional, school-based language learning programs.

Alex Wang, the chief executive and co-founder of 8D world, the company responsible for the game, says that the seeds for the idea that later became Wiz World Online were planted during his first visit to America from China. Although he had studied English, he found that he had a hard time communicating in day-to-day conversations with English speakers. His classes simply hadn’t adequately prepared him to be alone in an English-speaking country.

Honestly, no matter how much you study a language in a classroom, visiting a country full of native speakers is likely to be a trial by fire. People use languages differently in real life than they are taught in class, and the only way to truly prepare for that would be to spend a lot of time talking to native speakers from the country and region that you are visiting before you go. Still, games like Wiz World Online have a place in language learning classrooms, especially if children like them enough to play them on their own time. Knowing the fundamentals makes it easier to catch on when you do travel to a foreign country, and too many language classes don’t even leave children with a fundamental grasp of the language.

How Does Learning Another Language Affect Your Brain?

How does a learning a new language shape your brain? Are the brains of bilingual people different from those of people who only speak one language? Despite our advanced medical technology and  fancy brain-imaging machines, our understanding of how the human brain works is still in its infancy.  This is true where learning a new language is concerned, as well.

However, an interesting case study recorded in detail by Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim at the University of Haifa may shed a little bit of light on the subject.  Dr. Ibrahim observed a brain-injury patient who had been fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic before he was injured. As he recovered, it became apparent that he had a speech disability called aphasia as a result of the injury. Even after undergoing rehabilitative therapy, some disability remained.

The interesting thing is that the man in the study showed a much greater improvement in being able to speak and write Arabic after rehabilitation than he did in Hebrew. Although Arabic was his first language, he was fluent in both before the injury. So, to Dr. Ibrahim, the patient’s experience seems to indicate that language skills for a second language are stored in a different part of the brain than language skills for your first language are.

In an article posted on the Science Daily website, Dr. Ibrahim explained why this one case study was significant:

“The examination of such cases carries much significance, since it is rare that we can find people who fluently speak two languages and who have sustained brain damage that has selectively affected one of the languages. Moreover, most of the evidence in this field is derived from clinical observations of brain damage in English- and Indo-European-speaking patients, and few studies have been carried out on individuals who speak other languages, especially Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Arabic, until the present study,” he added.