Posts tagged language

IAU Approves 86 New Star Names From Around the World

IAU, Astronomy, star-names, language, culture, 2017

The International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Star Names formally approved 86 new names for stars, which are now in the IAU stellar name catalogue. The catalogue now contains the approved names of 313 stars. Traditionally, most star names used by astronomers have come from Arabic, Greek, or Latin origins. Now, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Division C Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) has formally approved 86 new names for stars drawn from those used by other cultures, namely Australian Aboriginal, Chinese, Coptic, Hindu, Mayan, Polynesian, and South African.


I Can Text You A Pile of Poo, But I Can’t Write My Name - Aditya Mukerjee

culture, unicode, text, writing, language, emoji

The evolution of emoji is impressive and fascinating, but it makes for an uncomfortable contrast when other pictorial writing systems – the most commonly-used writing systems on the planet – are on the chopping block. We have an unambiguous, cross-platform way to represent “PILE OF POO” (💩), while we’re still debating which of the 1.2 billion native Chinese speakers deserve to spell their own names correctly.


We went in search of the world’s hardest language

Medium, language, linguistics, !Xóõ, Ubykh, Tuyuca

For sound complexity, one language stands out. !Xóõ, spoken by just a few thousand, mostly in Botswana, has a blistering array of unusual sounds. Its vowels include plain, pharyngealised, strident and breathy, and they carry four tones. It has five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones. The leading expert on the !Xóõ, Tony Traill, developed a lump on his larynx from learning to make their sounds. Further research showed that adult !Xóõ-speakers had the same lump (children had not developed it yet).

Tuyuca, of the eastern Amazon has a sound system with simple consonants and a few nasal vowels, so is not as hard to speak as Ubykh or !Xóõ. Like Turkish, it is heavily agglutinating, so that one word, hóabãsiriga means “I do not know how to write.” Like Kwaio, it has two words for “we”, inclusive and exclusive. The noun classes (genders) in Tuyuca’s language family (including close relatives) have been estimated at between 50 and 140. Some are rare, such as “bark that does not cling closely to a tree”, which can be extended to things such as baggy trousers, or wet plywood that has begun to peel apart.

Most fascinating is a feature that would make any journalist tremble. Tuyuca requires verb-endings on statements to show how the speaker knows something. Diga ape-wi means that “the boy played soccer (I know because I saw him)”, while diga ape-hiyi means “the boy played soccer (I assume)”. English can provide such information, but for Tuyuca that is an obligatory ending on the verb. Evidential languages force speakers to think hard about how they learned what they say they know.


How alien can language be?

language, visual-language, Ted-Chiang, Arrival, linguistics, aliens, evolution, culture

The film turns on the visual language of the heptapods, the name given to the aliens because of their seven tentacular feet. In Chiang’s short story, the spoken language looks pretty familiar to Dr Banks; nouns have special markers, similar to the grammatical cases of Latin or German, that signify meaning; there are words, and they seem to come in particular orders depending on what their function is in the grammar of the sentence. But it is the visual language that is at the heart of the story. This language, as presented in the film, is just beautiful; the aliens squirt some kind of squid-like ink into the air which resolves holistically into a presentation of the thought they want to express. It looks like a circular whorl drawn with complex curlicues twisting off of the main circumference. The form of the language is not linear in any sense. The whorls emerge simultaneously as wholes. The orientation, shape, modulation, and direction of the tendrils that build the whorls serve to convey the meaningful connections of the parts to the whole. Multiple sentences can all be combined into more and more complex forms that, in the film, require GPS style computer analysis. The atemporality and multidimensionality of the heptapods’ written language is a core part of the plot. So, could a human language work like this, or is that just too alien?


There are at least 7,102 known languages alive in the world today. Twenty-three of these languages are a mother tongue for more…

language, infographic, rosetta, Alberto Lucas López

There are at least 7,102 known languages alive in the world today. Twenty-three of these languages are a mother tongue for more than 50 million people. The 23 languages make up the native tongue of 4.1 billion people. We represent each language within black borders and then provide the numbers of native speakers (in millions) by country. The colour of these countries shows how languages have taken root in many different regions

Over the years, the European institutions have developed a vocabulary that differs from that of any recognised form of English….

English, dialect, language, bureaucracy, EU, EC, to precise, translation

“Over the years, the European institutions have developed a vocabulary that differs from that of any recognised form of English. It includes words that do not exist or are relatively unknown to native English speakers outside the EU institutions and often even to standard spellcheckers/grammar checkers (‘planification’, ’to precise’ or ’telematics’ for example) and words that are used with a meaning, often derived from other languages, that is not usually found in English dictionaries (‘coherent ’ being a case in point). Some words are used with more or less the correct meaning, but in contexts where they would not be used by native speakers (‘homogenise’, for example). Finally, there is a group of words, many relating to modern technology, where users (including many native speakers) ‘prefer ’ a local term (often an English word or acronym) to the one normally used in English-speaking countries, which they may not actually know, even passively (’GPS’ or ’navigator’ for ‘satnav ’, ’SMS’ for ’text’, ’to send an SMS to’ for ’to text’, ’GSM’ or even ’Handy’ for ’mobile’ or ’cell phone’, internet ’key’, ’pen’ or ’stick’ for ’dongle’, ’recharge’ for ’top-up/top up’, ’beamer’ for video projector etc).”

Misused English Words and Expressions in EU Publications. European Court of Auditors, Secretariat General Translation Directorate.

Introducing Humdog: Pandora’s Vox Redux (1994)

humdog, 1994, cyberspace, Beaudrilliard, language, mass, gender, utopia, literature, editing, censor

i suspect that cyberspace exists because it is the purest manifestation of the mass (masse) as Jean Beaudrilliard described it. it is a black hole; it absorbs energy and personality and then re-presents it as spectacle. people tend to express their vision of the mass as a kind of imaginary parade of blue-collar workers, their muscle-bound arms raised in defiant salute. sometimes in this vision they are holding wrenches in their hands. anyway, this image has its origins in Marx and it is as Romantic as a dozen long-stemmed red roses. the mass is more like one of those faceless dolls you find in nostalgia-craft shops: limp, cute, and silent. when i say “cute” i am including its macabre and sinister aspects within my definition.


Science is not a method

science, pschology, language, understanding, misunderstanding

Contrary to what most scientists themselves appear to believe, science is not a method; it is an approach to knowledge (Stanovich, 2012). Specifically, it is an approach that strives to better approximate the state of nature by reducing errors in inferences. Alternatively, one can conceptualize science as a toolbox of finely honed tools designed to minimize mistakes, especially confirmation bias - the ubiquitous propensity to seek out and selectively interpret evidence consistent with our hypotheses and to deny, dismiss, and distort evidence that does not (Tavris and Aronson, 2007; Lilienfeld, 2010). Not surprisingly, the specific research methods used by psychologists bear scant surface resemblance to those used by chemists, astrophysicists, or molecular biologists. Nevertheless, all of these methods share an overarching commitment to reducing errors in inference and thereby arriving at a more accurate understanding of reality.

How to design a metaphor

Michael Erard, metaphor, design, metaphor design, language, linguistics, psycholinguistics

Pretty much every metaphor designer is inspired by Metaphors We Live By (1980), by the Berkeley linguist George Lakoff and the philosopher Mark Johnson at the University of Oregon. It’s the classic look at how metaphors structure the way we think and talk, and once you’ve read it, you can’t help but agree that, at a conceptual level, life is a journey, and arguments are wars (you take sides, there can be only one winner, evidence is a weapon). However, for the practical metaphor designer, psycholinguistic research turns out to be much more useful than philosophical commentary, because it studies how people actually encounter and process new metaphors.

“SwiftKey analyzed more than one billion pieces of emoji data across a wide range of categories to learn how speakers of 16…

emoji, chart, unicode, analysis, data, swiftkey, language

“SwiftKey analyzed more than one billion pieces of emoji data across a wide range of categories to learn how speakers of 16 different languages and regions use emoji. The findings in this report came from an analysis of aggregate SwiftKey Cloud data over a four month period between October 2014 and January 2015, and includes both Android and iOS devices”

China bans wordplay in attempt at pun control

language, china, wordplay, idioms, idiomatic, culture, history, cough medicine, puns, control, centr

The casual alteration of idioms risks nothing less than “cultural and linguistic chaos”, it warns. Chinese is perfectly suited to puns because it has so many homophones. Popular sayings and even customs, as well as jokes, rely on wordplay. But the order from the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television says: “Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.” Programmes and adverts should strictly comply with the standard spelling and use of characters, words, phrases and idioms – and avoid changing the characters, phrasing and meanings, the order said. “Idioms are one of the great features of the Chinese language and contain profound cultural heritage and historical resources and great aesthetic, ideological and moral values,” it added.

English minus the non-Germanic words

language, physics, english, geman, germanic, conlang

The firststuffs have their being as motes called *unclefts*. These are mightly small; one seedweight of waterstuff holds a tale of them like unto two followed by twenty-two naughts. Most unclefts link together to make what are called *bulkbits*. Thus, the waterstuff bulkbit bestands of two waterstuff unclefts, the sourstuff bulkbit of two sourstuff unclefts, and so on. (Some kinds, such as sunstuff, keep alone; others, such as iron, cling together in ices when in the fast standing; and there are yet more yokeways.) When unlike clefts link in a bulkbit, they make *bindings*. Thus, water is a binding of two waterstuff unclefts with one sourstuff uncleft, while a bulkbit of one of the forestuffs making up flesh may have a thousand thousand or more unclefts of these two firststuffs together with coalstuff and chokestuff.!msg/alt.language.artificial/ZL4e3fD7eW0/_7p8bKwLJWkJ

On the Empire of the Ants

ants, communication, language, science

Science is an exercise in curiosity about nature. It is a process. It sometimes involves complex and costly apparatus, or the resources of giant institutes. Sometimes it involves looking at ants in an ant farm, and knowing some clever math. Many people are gobsmacked by the technological gizmos used to do science. They think the giant S&M dungeons of tokomaks and synchro-cyclotrons are science. Those aren’t science; they’re tools. The end product; the insights into nature -that is what is important. Professors Ryabko and Reznikova did something a kid could understand the implications of, but no kid could actually do. The fact that they did it at all indicates they have the child-like curiosity and love for nature that is the true spirit of scientific enquiry.

The weirdest languages

language, NLP, weirdness, linguistics

For each value that a language has, we calculate the relative frequency of that value for all the other languages that are coded for it. So if we had included subject-object-verb order then English would’ve gotten a value of 0.355 (we actually normalized these values according to the overal entropy for each feature, so it wasn’t exactly 0.355, but you get the idea). The Weirdness Index is then an average across the 21 unique structural features. But because different features have different numbers of values and we want to reduce skewing, we actually take the harmonic mean (and because we want bigger numbers = more weird, we actually subtract the mean from one). In this blog post, I’ll only report languages that have a value filled in for at least two-thirds of features (239 languages).

Keywords and Co-Occurrence Patterns in the Voynich Manuscript: An Information-Theoretic Analysis

Voynich manuscript, language, information theory, semantics, patern

The Voynich manuscript has remained so far as a mystery for linguists and cryptologists. While the text written on medieval parchment -using an unknown script system- shows basic statistical patterns that bear resemblance to those from real languages, there are features that suggested to some researches that the manuscript was a forgery intended as a hoax. Here we analyse the long-range structure of the manuscript using methods from information theory. We show that the Voynich manuscript presents a complex organization in the distribution of words that is compatible with those found in real language sequences. We are also able to extract some of the most significant semantic word-networks in the text. These results together with some previously known statistical features of the Voynich manuscript, give support to the presence of a genuine message inside the book.

Two sciences separated by a common language

language, jargon, communication, boundaries, interdiscipline

One thing that gets in the way of this communication is jargon. Jargon is shorthand that helps people in a field communicate with each other. Needless to say, it can be a huge problem when communicating with the public. But jargon can also be a problem when you’re talking to other scientists. Not only is some of this niche speak meaningless outside its specific field, but in other fields it can sometimes mean something else entirely.

Language shift

language shift, linguistics, celtic, english, monolingual, bilingual, modeling, drift, language

‘Language shift’ is the process whereby members of a community in which more than one language is spoken abandon their original vernacular language in favour of another. The historical shifts to English by Celtic language speakers of Britain and Ireland are particularly well-studied examples for which good census data exist for the most recent 100–120 years in many areas where Celtic languages were once the prevailing vernaculars. We model the dynamics of language shift as a competition process in which the numbers of speakers of each language (both monolingual and bilingual) vary as a function both of internal recruitment (as the net outcome of birth, death, immigration and emigration rates of native speakers), and of gains and losses owing to language shift.

E.O. Wilson on the origins of the arts

language, writing, literature, E.O. Wilson, evolution, nature, humanities, music, art, science

RICH AND SEEMINGLY BOUNDLESS as the creative arts seem to be, each is filtered through the narrow biological channels of human cognition. Our sensory world, what we can learn unaided about reality external to our bodies, is pitifully small. Our vision is limited to a tiny segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, where wave frequencies in their fullness range from gamma radiation at the upper end, downward to the ultralow frequency used in some specialized forms of communication. We see only a tiny bit in the middle of the whole, which we refer to as the “visual spectrum.” Our optical apparatus divides this accessible piece into the fuzzy divisions we call colors. Just beyond blue in frequency is ultraviolet, which insects can see but we cannot. Of the sound frequencies all around us we hear only a few. Bats orient with the echoes of ultrasound, at a frequency too high for our ears, and elephants communicate with grumbling at frequencies too low.