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Desperately Seeking Glaswegian Interpreters

An advert has appeared in the Herald newspaper recruiting Glaswegian interpreters and translators. The successful candidates needed to understand general vocabulary, accent and nuances.

The firm told the BBC that so far 30 people had applied for the positions – some of them applied in Glaswegian.

The translation company who placed the advert recently had a number of requests for Glaswegian translators and interpreters and decided to recruit to meet demand.

Glaswegian English can be difficult for tourists and business professionals visiting the area to understand.

Here are a few examples of Glaswegian patter
Baltic (very cold)
Boost (head off)
Buckie (tonic wine favoured by youngsters)
Cludgie (toilet)
Eejit (idiot)
Hampden roar (score)
Hee haw (nothing)
Hen (term used to address a woman or girl)
Laldy (enthusiastic participation)
Maw (mother)
Midden (rubbish tip)
Pure (very)
Moroculous (drunk)
Messages (shopping)
Scooby (clue, rhyming slang – Scooby Doo)
Shoot the craw (leave in a hurry)
Stooky (plaster cast)
Swatch (look)
Toaty (small)
Ya dancer (fantastic)
Yersel (yourself)

Understanding Metaphors

People in every culture use metaphors and other figurative language to express themselves.  For example, in English we say “he is a pig” to indicate someone who is gluttonous or slovenly. What does it mean that we say “pig” instead of, say, “dog?” What does our use of that particular metaphor say about us as a culture?  Does it say anything at all?

The US government believes that it does. According to The Atlantic, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity is giving out grants as part of a program to “understand how speakers of Farsi, Russian, English, and Spanish see the world by building software that automatically evaluates their use of metaphors.”

The grants could total in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The idea behind the investment is that if you can understand the metaphors people use and how those metaphors affect the way they perceive the world, you can alter the way you present your ideas and proposals so that they are more likely to be accepted. Building a database of metaphors and their meanings also makes it easier to use computers to accurately parse written texts, which is important since the US has a perennial shortage of human translators in certain languages. Read more

Archive of English Accents

English is the third most commonly spoken native language in the world, and if you count people who speak it as a second language, it’s probably the language with the most speakers overall. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone speaks it in the same way – far from it! Even among native English speakers, there are too many local dialects and accents to name. When you throw in people who speak English as a second language, the variation becomes even more extreme.

To help document and catalogue the many different ways in which English is spoken, Steven Weinberger, a linguistics professor George Mason University in the United States, has created the Speech Accent Archive.

According to Voice of America, the archive consists of recordings of people reading the following paragraph, written to include most of the sounds in the English language: Read more

A Bounty on Engrish

Visitors to South Korea, take note. The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has set a bounty on the awkward, low-quality translations known as “Engrish.” These malapropisms are a prime source of amusement for tourists abroad in Asian countries (see The Top 10 Asian English Translation Failures for examples), but locals are generally somewhat embarrassed by their existence. Plus, when you’re a tourist trying to navigate a foreign country, mistranslations don’t help.

It’s understandable, then, that the KTO would make it a priority to improve the quality of translations available to tourists. What’s interesting is the way in which they are going about it. As CNNGo reports, from now until December 14th, you can go to the Visit Korea website and submit pictures of translation mistakes from any tourist site in South Korea. When you do, you’ll be entered to win the Korean equivalent of a $45 gift card, accepted anywhere credit cards are taken. Read more

difference between a language and a dialect

What’s the Difference Between a Language and a Dialect?

What’s the difference between a language and a dialect?

The answer is not as clear-cut as you might think.  Let’s look at the different ways to determine the difference between a dialect and a language, and how they stack up in the real world.

Mutual Intelligibility

The most obvious way to distinguish a language from a dialect is by looking at mutual intelligibility. Sure, Americans and Brits have their linguistic differences, but we can usually understand each other. We speak the same language, after all.

Seems like it should be cut and dry, right? Dialects are regional variations of a single language that are still close enough that speakers can understand each other.

But not so fast!

Yiddish scholar Max Weinreich was known to say “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” And in fact, there are plenty of examples of “languages” that are mutually intelligible being classified as separate languages for political reasons  (and vice versa).  Read more

820 languages in one country

Which country has the highest number of different languages within its borders? Surprisingly, the answer is not China, India or any other large country.

Tiny Papua New Guinea is all of 462,840 square kilometres in size, about as big as the state of California. Despite its small size, it is the most linguistically diverse country on the planet. According to the Ethnologue website, there are approximately 6,912 known living languages in the world today.

The exact number is subject to change as new languages are discovered and other languages become extinct. Of those 6,912 languages, 820 of them are spoken in Papua New Guinea. Can you imagine 820 languages being spoken in one country?

Why so Many?

There are a couple of reasons that New Guinea has so many different languages. For one thing, the island has been occupied by human beings for a long time-at least 40,000 years!

This means that there has been plenty of time for the language or languages spoken by the original settlers to change and mutate. In fact, even though the same group of people populated New Guinea and Australia, after 40,000 years there are very few similarities between native Australian languages and native New Guinea languages. Over the millennia, they have grown so far apart that they are not even considered part of the same language family.

The territory of New Guinea is also extremely fragmented. New Guinea villages are cut off from their neighbours by a variety of obstacles, including steep mountains, dense forests, rivers and treacherous swamps. Because of this fragmentation, New Guinea has many small indigenous groups with vastly different lifestyles, all having lived in relative isolation from each other for thousands and thousands of years.

Small tribes of people live by fishing on the coasts, by farming at higher elevations, and by gathering sago palms for food in the lowland swamps. Over many centuries, each of these tiny groups has developed its own culture and in many cases its own language.

In New Guinea, most languages have a relatively small number of native speakers. The native New Guinea language with the highest number of speakers is Enga, spoken by approximately 165,000 members of a nomadic tribe called the Maramuni. In so many cases, countries are only held together by a common language. In New Guinea, shared land and a shared history as an Australian colony create a tenuous bond between the citizens.

Still, how do they communicate?

New Guinea has 3 official languages: Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, and English.

Tok Pisin is an English-based Creole, a language that started out as a combination of two different languages and evolved into a distinct language of its own. In New Guinea, around 121,000 people grew up speaking Tok Pisin as a first language, but 4 million of the country’s residents are fluent in it.

If you need to be able to communicate in New Guinea, Tok Pisin is probably the best language to learn. Hiri Motu is a pidgin, a combination of the Motu language with English, Tok Pisin and various other regional languages. Very few people grow up speaking Hiri Motu, but approximately 120,000 New Guineans understand it as a second language. Because it is not spoken as a first language, it cannot be considered a Creole language at this time.

According to the New York Times, one of the world’s languages is lost forever every two weeks. New Guinea’s linguistic diversity has so far been protected by the inaccessibility of much of the country, as well as the fact that many people in New Guinea think of themselves as members of their tribe first and their nation second.

Hopefully, as New Guinea becomes more and more modern in the years to come, its rich linguistic heritage will remain intact.

Free Translations of Happy Birthday

Whether it’s a colleague’s birthday or you just want to impress one of your friends, you can use the free translation of Happy Birthday below to give them your best wishes in their own language.

Happy Birthday in Afrikaans: Gelukkige Verjaarsdag

Happy Birthday in Albanian: Gëzuar ditëlindjen

Happy Birthday in Aleut: Raazdinyaam Ugutaa

Happy Birthday in Arabic: عيد ميلاد سعيد

Happy Birthday in Armenian: Ծնունդդ շնորհավոր

Happy Birthday in Azerbaijani: Ad günün mübarək

Read more

Speaking With Cars

Language is more than just a set of vocabulary words. For example, think of how two different people can say the same thing two different ways. This complexity is what makes it so hard to create adequate machine translation programs, or even to teach machines to recognize spoken commands.

In an attempt to build cars that people can more easily control with their voices, Ford is teaming up with a company called Nuance Communications to address this issue using a technique called “statistical language modeling,” or SLM.

Ford’s SYNC system is one of the car company’s major selling points, allowing drivers to call people, control the stereo and more, without having to take their eyes off the road. However, at the moment, it’s pretty finicky when it comes to the commands it will accept. Ford programs the car to recognize specific recorded commands. If you try to give the car a command in a different format, it won’t respond. Read more

Teaching Deaf Children

There is a long-standing debate in the deaf community over the best way to educate deaf children. Should they be taught with other deaf children, in classes that emphasize sign language? Or should they be “main-streamed” into classrooms with hearing children, taught spoken language as much as possible and encouraged to take advantage of new technologies like cochlear implants?

Now, some sign language advocates in Indiana fear that budget shortfalls will determine the answer to that question. For example, Naomi S. Horton, executive director of Hear Indiana, which supports educating deaf children in mainstream classrooms, told the New York Times that:

“Kids in the mainstream save society, taxpayers, a significant amount of money in the short-term and in the long-term when it comes to being integrated into the hearing world,” though she added “There is a financial benefit, but at the end of the day it has to be a parent’s choice.”

Read more

Recovering Aboriginal Languages

In Australia, English is by far the most commonly spoken language. Of course, that wasn’t always so.  According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, before Europeans set foot there, about 250 languages were spoken, divided into at least 500 different dialects.

Many of those languages are completely extinct. As it stands now, only about 15 of them are still taught to children, which is necessary for any language to survive long-term.

However, indigenous activists like Diane McNaboe are leading an effort to recover some of these lost languages. McNaboe is a member of the Wiradjuri people, an indigenous group living in New South Wales. Although their language was once effectively dead, Ms. McNaboe is one of a group of activists trying to piece it back together. In an interview with ABC.net, she explained her efforts to recover the lost words her ancestors spoke by asking for help from local communities: Read more