Archive for April, 2011

Urban dictionaries

Posted on April 30th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, English, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

An interesting piece in the Guardian looks at urban dictionaries (well, mainly at the Urban Dictionary). Whilst well-known print dictionaries like the OED can take years to update, urban dictionaries are on the web and can be updated as and when new words and phrases appear.

But, as the article suggests, there are issues with this:

“..slang expert Green’s problem with Urban Dictionary isn’t that it contains offensive words. “It’s amateur hour. They set themselves up as an authority and I don’t believe they are. There aren’t 2,000 new slang words a day – they don’t exist. It undermines the whole point of a dictionary. If you want to have something called The Book Of Amusing Words That Young People Come Up With, then fine, let’s have that. I’ll stick with [Viz comic's] Roger’s Profanisaurus.”

Over 3,500 volunteers edit submissions to Urban Dictionary – but there are masses of them. According to the article, “in the past 30 days 67,000 people wrote 76,000 new definitions”. As Jonathon Green points out, there can’t be that many new words created constantly.

One thing urban dictionaries do better than traditional dictionaries though, is to publish slang words and definitions, and keep them up to date. When the new OED is published (around 2037), many of the slang words we use today will likely have fallen out of favour. In the meantime, we can use Google or the Urban Dictionary to satisfy our curiosity.

What’s in a (royal) name?

Posted on April 29th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, English | Leave a Comment »

You may not have heard, but a small wedding happened in London today. A small wedding where William and Kate became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

But why are they the Duke and Duchess and not Prince William and Princess Catherine?

According to a BBC News article, “[Kate] will automatically become Her Royal Highness, Princess William of Wales” but will not be Princess Catherine as she is not “of royal blood”. Similarly, whilst many thought of Diana as ‘Princess Diana’, she was in fact Princess of Wales and, after her divorce, her official title was “Diana, Princess of Wales”.

So, instead of making new princes and princesses, ‘ducal titles’ are used. These give a rather grand (if old-fashioned title) to the new member of the royal family. Hence the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The BBC have also talked about this issue during the wedding coverage today, with a member of the royal household saying that it was fine for the public to call Kate ‘Princess Catherine’ as that is how they think of her.

Any less confused? I’m not.

Goveret cuts reove letters ‘m’ and ‘n’ from alphabet

Posted on April 25th, 2011by Michelle
In Alphabet, English, Words | Leave a Comment »

.Another day, another amusing language-related story from NewsBiscuit. This one is about the government removing the letters ‘m’ and ‘n’ from the alphabet due to cuts.

The real cleverness is in the writing of the article though – it contains no ‘m’s or ‘n’s:

David Caero ade the shock aouceet i the house of coos today that the alphabet would shrik to just twety four letters with iediate effect, sayig that “Labour left us owig billios ad billios of pouds ad tough decisios have to be ade”.

Ed Illibad was the first of the Labour P’s to code the ove as cyical ad uecesary, sayig that agai the goveret had got it wrog cuttig too quickly ad to deeply affectig the poorest ad ost vulerable i society. Ick Clegg supported the coalitio lie o this issue sayig, “I kow i proised ot to reduce the uber of letters before the electio but I had y figers crossed” leadig to shouts of Resig! Resig! from the labour beches.

Surprisingly it’s still fairly easy to read these paragraphs. It reminds me of the internet meme saying a researcher at Cambridge University had found that you can still read words where the letters are jumbled up, as long as the first and last letters are correct. More on the science (and truth) behind that here

Language at risk because last two speakers aren’t talking

Posted on April 24th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

The old Mexican language of Ayapaneco is in danger of dying out as its last two speakers aren’t talking to each other.

Despite living close to each other in the village of Ayapa, southern Mexico, Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, don’t speak. It is not known whether they have a long-running feud or simply don’t like each other.

There is hope for the language however – a project is being run to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco, which both speakers are assisting with. Interestingly, both Segovia and Velazquez call their language Nuumte Oote, which means True Voice. They tend to disagree on details of the language, which means that both versions will be included in the dictionary.

Whilst it’s a shame that Segovia and Velazquez don’t speak, hopefully they will be able to assist the project to complete the Ayapaenco dictionary and get others speaking the language before it’s lost forever.

(Source: The Guardian)

Schoolgirl interpreter

Posted on April 20th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, French, Mandarin, Spanish, Translation | Leave a Comment »

A girl aged just 10 has become an interpreter for the European Parliament… although just for a day.

Alexia Sloane has been blind since the age of two, and is fluent in four languages – English, French, Spanish and Mandarin. She is currently also learning German. Her mother is half French and half Spanish whilst her father is English, and Alexia has been trilingual since birth. By the age of four, she was reading and writing in Braille.

After winning a young achiever of the year award, Alexia chose to visit the European Parliament as her prize. East of England MEP Robert Sturdy invited her as his guest and Alexia worked with the head of interpreting to get hands-on experience of life as an interpreter.

She continues to harbour ambitions of becoming a full-time interpreter, revealing: “The trip was more than a dream come true. Unfortunately, I have to wake up to reality now.

“I am now more determined than ever to become an interpreter in the future and to return to Brussels in the not too distant future – to see all the wonderful people I met.” (Source: Digital Spy)

What incredible ambition from someone so young!

Silent gestures lead to consensus

Posted on April 16th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture | Leave a Comment »

An interesting new way of communicating and making decisions in groups was used at the recent protests in London.

Consensus-based decision-making involves using a range of silent gestures to communicate. Some common gestures are:

1. Raised hands waggling: ‘I agree’
2. Lowered hands waggling: ‘I disagree’
3. One fist raised: ‘I’d like to speak’
3. Fists raised: ‘I need to speak urgently’
4. T-sign: ‘I’d like to raise a technical point’
5. Rolling arms: ‘I’m bored’

Participants are supposed to be honest, and it’s an inclusive form of decision-making. The only drawback is that because everyone has to agree, making a decision can take a long time! You can seen a picture of the gestures at this Guardian article.

Have you tried consensus-based decision making?

Can a pencil improve your speaking skills?

Posted on April 15th, 2011by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Pronunciation | Leave a Comment »

In my last Spanish class before the Easter break, my teacher made us do something rather odd. We were practicing saying new words and sentences aloud, and she was not happy with our pronunciation. So we were told to put our pens or pencils in our mouths.

Our teacher explained that having a pen in our mouths would make us focus on what we were saying and enable improved pronunciation. She seemed to think it was a well-established technique for improving speech, but I’ve done a quick search and can’t find any research to back this up.

Personally, I found this unhelpful as I was more focussed on the pen not falling out of my mouth than what I was saying! Has anyone else heard of this technique or had success using it?

Scandinavians – the best at English?

Posted on April 10th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, English, Research | Leave a Comment »

A new study has found that Scandinavians have the best command of English among countries where it is not the native language.

The research also found that there are large gaps in English skills around the world, with Russia, Turkey and South American countries coming near the bottom of the list. With English seen as the lingua franca for business, this could put developing countries at a disadvantage.

Interesting, the study also found that China ranked 29th out of the 44 countries surveyed. This is despite the large investment Chinese people are making in private English language tuition. The research compared the test results of more than 2.3 million adults in the 44 countries.

From my own experience, a number of Scandinavians I have met have excellent, almost native English skills. This seems to be more true among the younger generations. Perhaps their proximity to the UK and being part of the European Union is some incentive to learn English?

(Source: Reuters)