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Text Messaging: A New Tool in the Struggle for Language Diversity?

Text messaging is quickly becoming one of the most common methods of communication worldwide. In fact, last year in the US, text messages surpassed voice calls in popularity.

However, the Wall Street Journal notes that texting can pose problems for some non-English speakers. Most of the time, when people send text messages, they use software called predictive text to make typing the messages easier.

Predictive text “predicts” what you are trying to type, so you don’t have to press as many buttons. Without predictive text, you have to press numbers multiple times to get to the right letter. This is frustrating enough in English, but it’s even more time-consuming if you’re trying to use a language with a longer alphabet, like Hindi.

As language advocates see it, the problem with text messaging is that influences people to communicate via text message using languages that predictive text software is written for. This is fine for native English speakers, but could be detrimental in other cultures that are struggling to preserve their languages and pass them on to the next generation.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, so far only 80 of the world’s 6,912 languages are supported by predictive text software. Linguistic experts hope that expanding the number of languages available will make it easier for people to communicate in their native languages.

For example, predictive text software is now available for Gaelic. According to Breandan Mac Craith, marketing director for Dublin-based Foras na Gaeilge, an organization that promotes the use of Irish, “They’re fabulous tools for us. It facilitates the Irish language as a communications tool for every day — not just in the classroom.”

However, as mobile phones become increasingly vital parts of doing business around the world, the availability of predictive text is vital for more that just language preservation. According to the Wall Street Journal, “text capability on mobile phones can be vital to economic development and helping people who don’t speak or read English buy and sell goods.”

Old England

Oldest English Words

According to the BBC Reading University researchers have identified some of the oldest English words in the languages history.

‘I’, ‘We’, ‘Two’ and ‘Three’ are among the oldest known words, which could be thousands of years old.

The Researchers have created a computer model, which can analyse the rate of change of words. It can also predict which words will become extinct.

They believe “squeeze”, “guts”, “stick” and “bad” could become obsolete first.

The computer programme is designed to log a timeline showing how modern Indo-European words have changed over time. Students can use the software to look up any date and they can see which words were used at that time.
The researchers using the computer programme found that common words or words with precise meanings were more inclined to be the oldest and most long standing.

Basically, if you were able to go back in time (if you can that’s amazing you should tell someone about that!) Reading University could provide you with a pocket guide to the language of that time. This would enable you to communicate with English speakers throughout the ages.

This amazing piece of software can also travel forward in time and predict how words are likely to change in the future.

Does the T.A.R.D.I.S have this facility the Doctor might find this tool very useful.
Basically these guys have too much time on their hands; if they invented a tool to actually travel in time then I’d be impressed.

Words will change over time, it is inevitable. Kids make up words all the time, some stick, some don’t. New words are added to our dictionary now and again, but I don’t think old ones really disappear or become extinct. They will always be remembered somehow in books or multimedia programmes.

I guess words go out of fashion. It’s all swings and roundabouts really.

Ebay Offer Translation Services to Japanese Vendors

Ebay have announced that they will be offering a translation service to Japanese sellers who want to list products on its English-language service which they hope will encourage cross border trade.

The service will cause a slight delay in adding an item to the site but is relatively simple. Sellers will be able to type a product description in Japanese and it will be translated within 24 hours into English.

This is an excellent tool for Ebay. Ebay is unique in that it has a global appeal. Breaking down the language barrier can only improve its service and I am sure more languages will be added in the future.

International sales on Ebay more than doubled last year to $4.6 billion and now accounts for 54% of their total revenue.

A Chinese interface is already available for Ebay. Global Link Software allows sellers to list and manage products across 21 Ebay sites.

The Japanese service can also be used to translate buyer’s questions from English into Japanese and then translate the reply back again.

Explanations on how to list a product will be available in Japanese on a new website.

Ebay’s Japanese site is http://www.sekaimon.com/

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.

Bremen, Germany Hosts World's First Festival of Languages

Bremen, Germany is holding a “Festival of Languages” which started on the 18th September. The festival celebrates all of the world’s 6,500 languages. According to this article it is the first of its kind in the world and will last 21 days.

So, what does one do at a “Festival of Languages?” The events scheduled include music, theater and art exhibits, as well as chances to learn important phrases in a variety of languages.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the festival is the construction of a “Pyramid of Language” out of 6,500 cubes of wood. Each cube represents one of the world’s languages, and will be decorated with a word or phrase from that language before being placed onto the pyramid.

The finished product will be 6 meters high, and festival organizers say it will take a week to complete. Pretty impressive…but why go through all the trouble?  According to Professor Thomas Stolz of the University of Bremen:

“The idea behind the pyramid of languages is to give the spectators something more concrete and tangible to watch, which helps to convey the enormous linguistic wealth of our world.”

The goal of the festival is not only to celebrate linguistic diversity, but also to raise awareness about threatened and endangered languages. According to the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, half of the languages spoken today will probably die out within the next century. In fact, endangered languages are disappearing at the rate of one every 14 days!

In the “Pyramid of Language,” all of the wooden cubes are of equal size. As Professor Stolz explained, one of aims of the festival is:

“to show that all languages are equal, no matter how large, politically or economically potent their speech-communities are.”

The English Language Goes Social

2009 was the year the English language officially went social, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

First, in November, the Oxford English Dictionary declared “unfriend” to be the “Word of the Year.” Now, Oxford English Press has released a new list of “Words of the Year,” several of which also come from the world of social networking.

According to the Telegraph, the list was compiled by dictionary expert Susie Dent for the Oxford English Press, and it definitely illustrates how much the rise of social networking sites is changing our language. Here’s a quick breakdown of the words that were drawn from social media and the Internet:

  • Tweetup: A gathering, organized via Twitter, where Twitter users meet in real life.
  • Hashtags: A way to track topics and conversations on Twitter by placing the hash sign (#) before the topic of the  post. Hashtags are often used to organize tweetups.
  • Tag cloud- A way to show readers what topics are the most important or most frequently discussed on a blog by arranging the tags in a loose cloud formation, with most frequently used tags larger than the others.
  • Slashdot effect: What happens when a larger, more popular website links to a smaller site, sending a flood of new traffic that causes the smaller site to slow down or crash.

It’s not just the Oxford English Dictionary, either. The Global Language Monitor’s Word of the Year from 2009 was “Twitter.”

In an article on the PC Monitor, Paul Payack, the President of the Global Language Monitor, explained the decision by saying, “In a year dominated by world-shaking political events, a pandemic, the after effects of a financial tsunami and the death of a revered pop icon, the word Twitter stands above all the other words.”

German Language Can Be Fun!

Learning a language can sometimes become a real struggle:  grammar, conjugation and structure are all that you can think of and you feel that your head is going to explode.  Some languages are harder to learn than others and personally I found German pretty challenging… For all of you guys trying to make German your second language, time to take a break in your studies and discover some fun facts about this unique dialect.

  • German and English are both sister languages: many German words are identical to their English counterparts.
  • Be careful with some meanings: for example “gift” in German means “poison”, “mist” means “bird droppings”, “rat” means “advice”.
  • German has 3 genders for its nouns: masculine (der), feminine (die) and neuter (das).
  • Famous for long words:

Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” has 63 letters and means “beef labelling regulation and delegation of supervision law”

Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften” has 39 letters and means “ legal protection insurance companies” Read more

French: The Language of Love

French is often called “the language of love,” and for one American couple, that’s quite literally true.  According to NewsTimes.com, French was the spark that ignited an enduring romance between Pamela Saltzman, a teacher from New Jersey, and Badreddine Ahtchi, a graduate student from Algeria.

The two met after being dragged out to a bar by their respective groups of friends. Ms. Saltzman had studied French in college and loved the language, which was Mr. Ahtchi’s native tongue. When she heard him speaking French, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to introduce herself and get some practice in. She told NewsTimes.com:

“We had a short conversation in French, and he asked me to dinner.”

One dinner turned into a series of dates. Ms. Saltzman became entranced by both Mr. Ahtchi and by his Algerian culture:

“He introduced me to a whole world I didn’t know. It’s a beautiful, rich, Old World culture.”

Read more

Translating Honeybees

By now, many scientists are willing to accept that intelligent animals like dolphins may have languages of their own. But what about honeybees? They couldn’t possibly have their own language, could they? After all, they’re just bugs!

Not so fast, say scientists from the University of Dundee in Scotland. They believe that honeybees may, in fact, have a language of their own, and have installed sound monitoring systems in 100 Scottish beehives to see if they can decode and translate it. Read more

Universal Translator

“Universal translators” have fuelled science fiction plots for decades, and building such a device

has long been the Holy Grail for tech-oriented linguists. However, the prototypes that have appeared so far have used machine translation. Over the past few years, machine translation has  improved by leaps and bounds, but it’s still not precise enough to be relied upon for complex conversations.

That may soon change. A new start-up called Babelverse  has an incredibly ambitious goal: putting real-time, human-powered translation at the fingertips of everyone with a mobile device like a computer or smart phone.  Basically, the service connects you with an interpreter working remotely, and is supposed to cost about the same as placing a phone call. Babelverse can also set up interpreters for conferences, saving the expense of arranging for on-site interpreters. The conference industry is the main focus of their business at the moment, and the founders expect to leverage it to provide for further expansion. Read more