Archive for August, 2009

Scots ATMs?

Posted on August 31st, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, English, Scots, Slang, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Following the somewhat mixed reaction to the introduction of Cockney cash machines in London, the company behind the idea is now thinking of expanding.

Bank Machine is apparently thinking of putting 250 cash machines in Glasgow and Edinburgh, with Scots as a language option. Instead of money, users would be offered “bawbees” and a mini statement would become a “wee statement”.

Dr Christine Robinson, director of the Scottish Language Dictionaries in Edinburgh, said: “We’d be delighted to see it happen and would be happy to help with the translations. Scots is, at present, completely invisible in the public space.

“Furthermore, there are still a large number of Scots who, because they were criticised for their speech at school, think they are speaking slang or bad English when they are actually speaking perfectly good Scots.” (Source: Deadline)

It would be brilliant if this reinvigorated languages around the UK – as I’ve noted previously, there are many more languages in the country than English.

Cogito, ergo sum

Posted on August 28th, 2009by Michelle
In English, French, German, Latin, Translation | 3 Comments »

EU languagesProbably the most famous of Latin phrases, Descartes philosophical musing (I think, therefore I am or I am thinking, therefore I exist), could perhaps be applied to the European Union.

These interesting articles consider the idea that Latin could be adopted as the official language of the European Union (EU). Comprising of 27 member countries, and working in 23 official languages, the EU currently spends an incredible €1,123 million a year (statistic from 2005) on translating and interpretation. This represents about 1% of the EU’s entire budget. Adding to the complexity is that different EU institutions conduct business in different languages – the European Commission in English, French and German, for example. (Source)

As one translator says:

“It’s not practical if you have to translate the name of an EU program into 23 languages, so if you have a Latin word that can be pronounced in all 23 and means something at the same time, it’s practical,” said Wolfgang Jenniges, a European Commission translator and classical linguist.

Jenniges is referencing is the use of Latin words for some projects and web domain names run by the EU, also mentioned in the article:

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has the domain name “curia” – Latin for “court.” The council of EU member states uses the domain name “consilium,” Latin for “council.”

Both those names are sub-addresses of the EU’s web domain, “europa” – the Latin name for Europe.

EU projects are also being given Latin names. A recent translation contest was called “juvenes translatores” (“young translators”), while the EU has a “Tempus” (“time”) project for upgrading universities outside the bloc.

Classical names are even coming back into fashion for EU military missions. In recent years, the bloc has run operations named Althea, Artemis, Themis and Concordia – the goddesses of healing, hunting, justice and reconciliation.

The Finnish showed their support of Latin during their EU presidency, with sections of the EU website being published in Latin.

So, will we one day see our MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) communicating in Latin? Well, probably not. As their website states, a single official language would cut off most EU citizens from their right to an understanding of what the EU is doing. Plus, the EU is committed to multilingualism, which a single official language would go against.

The Rosetta Foundation

Posted on August 27th, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

I recently took a look at the Rosetta Stone and the Rosetta Project, and now there is the Rosetta Foundation.

Based in Ireland, the Foundation aims

to make information accessible to people independent of their social status, their linguistic and cultural background and their geographical location through the development and the deployment of an intelligent translation and localisation environment. (Source: The Rosetta Foundation)

More specifically, the Foundation wants to make ‘life critical’ information available in native languages. As the chief executive of the service provider Welocalize said:

“This initiative could help extend the benefits of the translation industry to the people that most need it. Individuals all over the world are deprived of critical information in their native language that could potentially save their lives. We believe that in order to grow and meet global content demands, we must collaborate to innovate.” (Source: IWR)

The project is being jointly run by The University of Limerick (Ireland), the Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL) as well as the service provider, and backed by the Irish government.

Hopefully it will be as successful as a smaller-scale service run in the UK, which offers translations to questions and answers for medical staff. SignTranslate provides short video clips of questions, and also links to live interpreters for more complex translations. This means that there is no lengthy wait for an interpreter, helping to save lives and lessen distress for patients.

Thankfully I’ve never needed to go to hospital in a country where I don’t speak the language, but this project gives me hope that if I do, I will be able to communicate my needs effectively.

Give this a butcher’s

Posted on August 25th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, English, Slang, Technology | 1 Comment »

Cockney signJust a couple of posts ago I was talking about the Rosetta Project, which aims to help preserve and promote languages to maintain diversity.

Well, how about this for diversity? An enterprising ATM operator company is giving people the option to conduct their transactions… in Cockney rhyming slang. Can you Adam and Eve it?

Ron Delnevo, managing director of Bank Machine, said: “We wanted to introduce something fun and of local interest to our London machines.

“Whilst we expect some residents will visit the machine to just have a ‘butcher’s’ (look), most will be genuinely pleased as this is the first time a financial services provider will have recognised the Cockney language in such a manner.”

(Source: Yahoo News)

The option is sadly only available at five ATMs in East London for just three months – we can only hope that it catches on. If you can’t get to London, test your Cockney knowledge here.

Bilinguals can’t ‘turn off’

Posted on August 24th, 2009by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Bilingual kidsI found an interesting article on reporting on research that says bilingual people can’t ‘turn off’ their second language when not using it.

Not being bilingual myself, I have always assumed there is some kind of switch in the brain when you choose to speak in a different language. This appears not to be the case:

According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, it appears humans are not actually capable of “turning off” another language entirely. Psychologists Eva Van Assche, Wouter Duyck, Robert Hartsuiker and Kevin Diependaele from Ghent University found that knowledge of a second language actually has a continuous impact on native-language reading.

The article goes on to say:

According to the psychologists, it is the overlap of the two languages that speeds up the brain’s activation of cognates. So even though participants did not need to use their second language to read in their native-language, they still were unable to simply “turn it off.” It appears, then, that not only is a second language always active, it has a direct impact on reading another language–even when the reader is more proficient in one language than another.

I’d be interested to hear any anecdotes from bilinguals about their experience with this.


Posted on August 23rd, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Greenlandic, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

Aurora - GreenlandWe often hear of languages becoming extinct, with the UN estimating that the world will lose half of its 6,700 languages by the end of the century.

This article, however, highlights one success story. Greenlandic, the native tongue of Greenland, is experiencing a revival, partly due to the country’s ongoing steps towards being independent from Denmark, who have ruled the island since the 18th Century.

With a population of just 55,000, Greenland is the least densely populated country in the world. Being tied to Denmark meant Danish was taking over as the most spoken language, with the associated loss of culture. As the article points out:

Grenoble smiles through the hardships because she believes that language is much more than words — it’s our culture, our history. It’s what connects people to one another, and if it’s lost, a society is truly threatened.

“When the language is in trouble there are all kinds of other things in trouble, so that’s the canary in the coal mine,” she said.

Let’s hope that Greenlandic, or Kalaallisut, can serve as an example to other indigenous and soon to be extinct languages.

The Rosetta Project

Posted on August 20th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Historic, Indigenous languages | 2 Comments »

Rosetta ProjectIn the last post, I looked at what the Rosetta Stone is and its importance to languages.

This importance is highlighted in The Rosetta Project, named after the Stone –

a global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers working to build a publicly accessible digital library of human languages

This incredible project is working to preserve all languages across the globe, and document them before they are lost. This is no mean feat as linguists predict that as much as 90% of linguistic diversity may be lost in the next century. As the project’s website puts it so eloquently:

Language is both an embodiment of human culture, as well as the primary means of its maintenance and transmission. When languages are lost, the transmission of traditional culture is often abruptly severed meaning the loss of cultural diversity is tightly connected to loss of linguistic diversity.

Almost 2 years ago now, the Eyak language was lost in Alaska with the death of its last remaining speaker, Chief Marie. Around the same time, concerns were being raised about the fate of Wichita, spoken by people in west central Oklahoma. It seems that the Americans have less to be concerned about than the Australians, however – an Ethnologue list reveals a catalogue of indigenous languages that that are nearly extinct.

So, how can you help? Well, perhaps by taking up a language that is close to extinction. Or, you could donate to the Rosetta Project and help them continue to document our diversity.

The Rosetta Stone

Posted on August 18th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Demotic, Greek, Hieroglyphics, Idioms | 2 Comments »

The Rosetta StoneIn London recently, I dropped by to see The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. This slab of granodiorite is so famous that I could barely get near it for all the people craning over each other to take a close look.

So why were all those people so eager to look at a big stone? And why is it so important?

Weighing in at around three-quarters of a ton, the stone is approximately 118cm high, 77cm wide and 30cm deep. Discovered by Napoleon’s army in 1799, the Rosetta Stone is named after the place it was found – near el-Rashid (Rosetta) in present day Egypt. When Napoleon’s army was defeated, the stone became the property of the English, and has been on display in the British Museum since 1802 (although its presence is debated).

The Rosetta Stone is inscribed with three columns of different languages – Greek, Demotic and hieroglyphics, which all have the same message. The inscription on the stone is a decree passed by a council of priests – but it’s not so much what is written that’s important (although it does tell us a lot), it’s what knowledge can be gained from the inscription.

The decree is inscribed on the stone three times, in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration). The importance of this to Egyptology is immense. Soon after the end of the fourth century AD, when hieroglyphs had gone out of use, the knowledge of how to read and write them disappeared. In the early years of the nineteenth century, some 1400 years later, scholars were able to use the Greek inscription on this stone as the key to decipher them. Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, that of Ptolemy. The French scholar Jean-François Champollion then realized that hieroglyphs recorded the sound of the Egyptian language and laid the foundations of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian language and culture.

(Source: British Museum).

As you can see, it is hugely important to language, and the term “Rosetta Stone” has become idiomatic

as something that is a critical key to the process of decryption or translation of a difficult encoding of information. (source)

Its importance is highlighted with the Rosetta Project, which I will be looking at in my next post….

Penny for your thoughts….

Posted on August 14th, 2009by Michelle
In Adages, English, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Penny for your thoughtsSad news reported in the Mirror today – apparently modern technology will be the death of some brilliant English adages.

Researchers from say due to texts and emails, phrases such as “mad as a hatter” and “as right as rain” are falling out of use. Young people are more used to using abbreviated words and shortened sentences to fit in to Twitter updates (140 characters) and Facebook status posts.

A spokesman for the firm said: “It is a shame that these more colloquial, historical and poetic expressions are dying out in favour of shortened, more directed and less ambiguous terms.

“However, it isn’t much of a surprise when you consider that television and the internet has taken the place of family conversations in the evening.

“And now that kids are increasingly using communication technologies that previous generations could not have dreamed about, such as mobile phones, social networking and Twitter; this disappearance of verbal ties to the past can only be expected to increase.”

(Source: The Telegraph)

Language inevitably evolves, so it’s not surprising that three quarters of those polled believe phrases such as “mind your Ps and Qs” are dying out. Some of the richness of the English language may be lost though, so please comment and let me know your favourite adage!

Signs of (mis)spelling

Posted on August 11th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Spelling, Words | Leave a Comment »

ComunicationsThe Epsom Guardian has become the latest illustrious newspaper to highlight the inadequacy of the Great British Public’s spelling abilities.

In the story, some locals are not amused by mistakes made on a sign put up by a contractor.

They’re not alone – this article from The Times pokes fun at poor spellers across the globe, and there is a photo group set up to highlight spelling deficiencies.

Is it possible the recent Spelling Bee is galvanising people into action against misspelling?

(Side note: there’s a joker at the Epsom Guardian web HQ – check out the name of the link to the story…)