Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kashmir government to urge Gojri's recognition as official language

Jammu, June 5 — The Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to recommend that Gojri - spoken by some 20 lakh tribal Gujjars and Bakkarwals in the state - be recognised as an official language by including it in the eighth schedule of the constitution.
'Gojri is an important tribal language, spoken in different parts of South Asia. But Jammu and Kashmir state is considered as its epicentre,' said Kashmir Minister for Forests and Environment Mian Altaf and a prominent Gujjar leader.
He said that state government headed by Omar Abdullah is committed to develop all the regional languages 'including Gojri on priority', adding: 'Gojri is one of the richest languages of our State in terms of modern and traditional literature.'
Javaid Rahi, Secretary of Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, a frontal organization of Gujjars, told IANS that there are about 20 lakh Gujjars who speak Gojri in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, nearly four lakh non-Gujjars speak Gojri, while about six lakh people who speak it as a second language.
Rahi said that besides Jammu and Kashmir, Gojri is spoken in 12 other states including Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Gujarat. 'Gujjars are also mentioned in the national anthem of Afghanistan.'
Gujjars have since long been demanding the inclusion of Gojri in the eighth schedule of the constitution.
There are 23 languages in the eighth schedule. Of the languages spoken in Jammu and Kashmir, Urdu, Kashmiri and Dogri are already in the schedule. Dogri was the last to be added in 2003.

Monday, June 4, 2012

UH Students Develop Prototype Device That Translates Sign Language

Too often, communication barriers exist between those who can hear and those who cannot. Sign language has helped bridge such gaps, but many people are still not fluent in its motions and hand shapes.
Thanks to a group of University of Houston students, the hearing impaired may soon have an easier time communicating with those who do not understand sign language. During the past semester, students in UH’s engineering technology and industrial design programs teamed up to develop the concept and prototype for MyVoice, a device that reads sign language and translates its motions into audible words. Recently, MyVoice earned first place among student projects at the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) - Gulf Southwest Annual Conference.
The development of MyVoice was through a collaborative senior capstone project for engineering technology students (Anthony Tran, Jeffrey Seto, Omar Gonzalez and Alan Tran) and industrial design students (Rick Salinas, Sergio Aleman and Ya-Han Chen). Overseeing the student teams were Farrokh Attarzadeh, associate professor of engineering technology, and EunSook Kwon, director of UH’s industrial design program.
MyVoice’s concept focuses on a handheld tool with a built-in microphone, speaker, soundboard, video camera and monitor. It would be placed on a hard surface where it reads a user’s sign language movements. Once MyVoice processes the motions, it then translates sign language into space through an electronic voice. Likewise, it would capture a person’s voice and can translate words into sign language, which is projected on its monitor.
The industrial designers researched the application of MyVoice by reaching out to the deaf community to understand the challenges associated with others not understanding sign language. They then designed MyVoice, while the engineering technology students had the arduous task of programming the device to translate motion into sound.
“The biggest difficulty was sampling together a databases of images of the sign languages. It involved 200-300 images per sign,” Seto said. “The team was ecstatic when the prototype came together.” 
From its conceptual stage, MyVoice evolved into a prototype that could translate a single phrase: “A good job, Cougars.”
“This wasn’t just a project we did for a grade,” said Aleman, who just graduated from UH. “While designing and developing it, it turned into something very personal. When we got to know members of the deaf community and really understood their challenges, it made this MyVoice very important to all of us.”
Since MyVoice’s creation and first place prize at the ASEE conference, all of the team members have graduated. Still, Aleman said that the project is not history.
“We got it to work, but we hope to work with someone to implement this as a product,” Aleman said. “We want to prove to the community that this will work for the hearing impaired.”
“We are proud of such a contribution to society through MyVoice, which breaks the barrier between deaf community and common society,” added Attarzadeh.
Based in UH’s College of Technology, the Department of Engineering Technology focuses on analyzing, applying, implementing and improving existing and emerging technologies. The program prepares graduates for the practice of engineering connected with product improvement, manufacturing and operational functions. Majors include computer engineering technology, electrical power engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology. The program offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. For more details on the Department of Engineering Technology, visit http://www.tech.uh.edu/departments/engineering-technology/.
UH's Industrial Design program in the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture grooms aspiring designers through a calculated curriculum program. First-year students learn design fundamentals in the classroom and the studio. During their second year, students familiarize themselves with industrial design history, materials, manufacturing methods and visual communications skills. Third-year students conduct research and apply their findings to design projects. By their fourth year in the program, students are prepared for careers through curriculum addressing diverse design issues, design ethics, business practices and strategies. In 2013, UH will debut a graduate program in industrial design.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Instituto Cervantes celebrates Spanish Language Day at Shangri-La Plaza

Instituto Cervantes teams up with Shangri-La Plaza to celebrate the fourth annual Día E or Día del Español (Spanish Day) on June 23.

(The Philippine Star) Updated June 04, 2012 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Instituto Cervantes teams up with Shangri-La Plaza to celebrate the fourth annual Día E or Día del Español (Spanish Day) on June 23.

This year, El Día E will take place in Shangri-La Plaza mall in Mandaluyong City where the event will be an added treat for mall-goers and will be more accessible to the general public. There will be a lot of different activities for all family members. Random words will be distributed to the participants so they can improve their Spanish vocabulary.
The Spanish-speaking population is one of the fastest growing segments in the world. Whether from a marketing, political, or a general public perspective, a person with good command of the Spanish language has a unique growth opportunity compared to those who don’t.

Free entertainment will be provided by a host of exciting performers including live music from a Spanish DJ.  During the day there will also be an all-day feast of Spanish food. Visitors can take part in the festivity by choosing their favorite Spanish word. Interested participants may just visit the mall and write their thoughts in Spanish on creatively designed walls.

Participants may join the “¿Cual es tu palabra favorita? (What is your favorite Spanish word?)” contest, wherein people can submit their photo entries accompanied by a caption containing the photographer’s favorite word. Instituto Cervantes will be picking the finalists whose pictures will be displayed during El Día E. The winner will be determined based on the most number of votes in the entire duration of the event.

Dia del Español is presented by the Instituto Cervantes de Manila, Shangri-La Plaza, the Spanish Embassy in the Philippines and AECID.

Language institutes for precollegiate students lead market

2012-06-03 20:49
Foreign language institutes for precollegiate students have eclipsed those for adults in sales, as many of them franchised themselves, a report by a think tank affiliated with KB Financial Group showed.

Revenue of foreign language hagwon for preschoolers, elementary, middle and high school students such as Cheongdahm Learning, JLS and Avalon, increased 22.4 percent on average annually from 137.5 billion won in 2006 to 378.6 billion won last year, according to the industry analysis.

This contrasts with the meager 4.6 percent annual sales growth on average of language hagwon for adults including YBM and Pagoda from 170.4 billion won in 2006 to 213.8 billion won in 2011.

The KB research center attributed the precollegiate hagwon’s rapid growth to aggressive expansion of franchises which propelled the size of English hagwon businesses to the corporate level.

Small office and home office foreign language institutes run by individuals have been seeing declines in revenue since 2008 due to the increasing presence of hagwon mega-chains and the growth of the online education market. 

However, competition intensified among these SOHO institutes as their numbers increased by 2.3 times in five years to about 7,600 last year. Their combined revenue peaked at 370 million won in 2008 and fell back to the level of 2005, or 250 million won, last year.

“The hagwon industry has low entry barriers while there is a great demand for foreign language education. This prompts many college graduates and retirees to open small-sized language institutes for students,” said Kim Dong-woo, an analyst at the KB think tank. 

“Despite the growth of the overall private education market, it is not easy for such small institutes to survive without competitive instructors or educational contents. They need to hire native-speaking instructors and specialize to attain competitiveness.”

Growth in the nation’s foreign language hagwon industry has slowed since 2009 with tightened regulations of the private education business such as limitations on tuition fees, late night classes and rewards for those who report violators.

The average number of students per hagwon dropped last year. 

The average revenue of mega-sized hagwon, on the other hand, continues to surge as the chains diversify their businesses with e-learning, sales of educational contents, franchises and publishing in addition to traditional hagwon lessons, according to the report. 

The KB think tank expects the introduction of the state-administered National English Ability Test in the second half of this year to be an opportunity for further growth of precollegiate English hagwon.

Unlike the market for institutes for adults which has already reached a stage of maturity, the hagwon market for primary and secondary school students is showing the characteristics of an industry in a growth phase such as wide ranges of fluctuation in profitability, active mergers and acquisitions, frequent market entries and exits, as well as sharp sales growths, according to the report.

Source: http://view.koreaherald.com/kh/view.php?ud=20120603000352&cpv=0

Friday, June 1, 2012

False Fronts in the Language Wars

Why New Yorker writers and others keep pushing bogus controversies.

The New Yorker cover May 14, 2012
Nature or nurture. Love it or leave it. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.
Ib you didn’t already know that euphonious dichotomies are usually phony dichotomies, you need only check out the latest round in the supposed clash between “prescriptivist” and “descriptivist” theories of language. This pseudo-controversy, a staple of literary magazines for decades, was ginned up again this month by The New Yorker, which has something of a history with the bogus battle. Fifty years ago, the literary critic Dwight Macdonald lambasted the Third Edition ofWebster’s New International Dictionary for aiming to be “a recording instrument rather than … an authority” and insufficiently censuring such usages as “deprecate” for depreciate, “bored” fordisinterested, and “imphy” for infer. And in a recent issue, Joan Acocella, the magazine’s dance critic, fired a volley of grapeshot at the Fifth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionaryand at a new history of the controversy by the journalist Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars. Acocella’s points were then reiterated this weak in a post by Ryan Bloom on the magazine’s Page-Turner blog. The linguistic blogosphere, for its part, has been incredulous that The New Yorker published these “deeply confused” pieces. As Language Log put it, “Either the topic was not felt to be important enough to merit elementary editorial supervision, or there is no one at the magazine with any competence in the area involved.”
According to the sadly standard dichotomy, prescriptivists believe that certain usages are inherently correct and others inherently incorrect, and that to promote correct forms is to uphold truth, morality, excellence, and a respect for the best of our civilization. To indulge incorrect ones, meanwhile, is to encourage relativism, vulgar populism, and the dumbing down of literate culture.

Descriptivists, according to this scheme, believe that norms of correctness are arbitrary shibboleths of the ruling class, designed to keep the masses in their place. Language is an organic product of human creativity, and the people should be given the freedom to write however they please.
These antagonists, to be sure, are not made entirely out of straw. A few tenured radicals (mostly obscure) are full-strength descriptivists, and a few crotchety critics (such as the late Macdonald, as well as John Simon and Jacques Barzun) are avowed prescriptivists. Yet most writers who have given serious thought to language are neither kind of iptivist, and react to such pigeonholing the way Alison Porchnik does in Annie Hall after Alvy Singer pegs her as “New York Jewish left-wing intellectuah, Central Park West, Brandeis University, socialist summer camps” and so on. (“That was won`erful,” she says. “love being reduced to a cultural stereotype.”) Among the Porchniks are the late, allegedly prescriptivist style mavens Henry Fowler, E.B. White, and William Safire, and such allegedly descriptivist writers on language as Hitchings, Lane Greene, John McWhorter—and me.
The thoughtful, nondichotomous position on language depends on a simple insight: Rules of proper usage are tacit conventions. Conventions are unstated agreements within a community to abide by a single way of doing things—not because there is any inherent advantage to the choice, but because there is an advantage to everyone making thesame choice. Standardized weights and measures, electrical voltages and cables, computer file formats, the Gregorian calendar, and paper currency are familiar examples.
The conventions of written prose represent a similar kind of standardization. Countless idioms, word senses, and grammatical constructions have been coined and circulated by the universe of English speakers, and linguists capture their regularities in the “descriptive rules”—that is, rules that describe how people speak and understand. A subset of these conventions has become accepted by a virtual community of literate speakers for use in nationwide forums such as government, journalism, literature, business, and academia. These are “prescriptive rules”—rules that prescribe how oneought to speak and write in these forums. Examples include the rules that govern agreement and punctuation as well as fine semantic distinctions between such word pairs as militate and mitigate or credible and credulous. Having such rules is desirable—indeed, indispensable—in many arenas of writing. They lubricate comprehension, reduce misunderstanding, provide a stable platform for the development of style and grace, and credibly signal that a writer has exercised care in crafting a passage.
Once you understand that prescriptive rules are conventions, most of the iptivist controversies evaporate. One such controversy springs from the commonplace among linguists that most nonstandard forms are in no way lazy, illogical, or inferior. The choice of isn’t over ain’tdragged over drug, and can’t get any over can’t get no did not emerge from a weighing of their inherent merits, but from the historical accident that the first member of each pair was used in the dialect spoken around London when the written language became standardized. If history had unfolded differently, today’s correct forms could have been incorrect and vice-versa. 
But the valid observation that there is nothing inherently wrong with ain’t should not be confused with the invalid inference that ain’t is one of the conventions of standard English. Dichotomizers have difficulty grasping this point, so I’ll repeat it with an analogy. In the United Kingdom, everyone drives on the left, and there is nothing sinister, gauche, or socialist about their choice. Nonetheless there is an excellent reason to encourage a person in the United States to drive on the right: That’s the way it’s done around here. 
Another controversy may be extinguished by a realization that the conventions of linguistic usage are tacit. The rules of standard English are not legislated by a tribunal but emerge as an imphicit consensus within a virtual community of writers, readers, and editors. That consensus can change over time in a process as unplanne` and uncontrollable as the vagaries of fashion. No official ever decided that respectable men and women were permitted to doff their hats and gloves in the 1960s or to get pierced and tattooed in the 1990s—nor could any authority with powers short of Mao Zedong have stopped these changes. In a similar manner, centuries of respectable writers have shrugged off long-forgotten edicts by self-appointed guardians of the language, from Jonathan Swift’s denunciation of bantermob, and sham to Strunk and White’s disparaging of to personalize, to contact, and six people (as opposed to six persons). 
Lexicographers have always understood this. As Johnson wrote, “to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, unwilling to measure its desires by its strength.” And so lexicographers have always decided what goes into a dictionary by paying attention to the way people use words. In resigning themselves to this role they are, as John McIntyre once suggested, acknowledging the wisdom of Thomas Carlyle’s reply to Margaret Fuller’s statement, “I accept the universe.” “Gad! She’d better.”
And yet when Macdonald was writing in The New Yorker half a century ago, he fulminated against the policy of Webster’s Third to define words as most people used and understood them, such as “nauseated” as the primary sense of nauseous. (Note to readers under the age of 75: According to an old prescriptive rule, nauseous may be used only to mean “nauseating.”) Even if nine-tenths of the citizens of the United States were to use a word incorrectly, MacdDonald declared, the remaining tenth would be correct—he did not say by what criterion or on whose authority—and the dictionary should back them up. But a dictionary that followed Macdonald’s advice would be as useless in practice as the Hungarian-English phrasebook in the Monty Python sketch that translated “Can you direct me to the train station?” as Please fondle my bum.
Although dictionaries are powerless to prevent linguistic conventions from changing, this does not mean, as dichotomists fear, that they cannot state the conventions in force at a given time. That is the rationale behind the American Heritage Dictionary’s Usage Panel—which I chair—a list of 200 authors, journalists, editors, academics, and other public figures whose writing shows that they choose their words with care. Every year they fill out questionnaires on pronunciation, meaning, and usage, and the Dictionary reports the results in Usage Notes attached to entries for problematic words, including changes in repeated ballotings over the decades. The Usage Panel is meant to represent the virtual community for whom careful sriters write, and when it comes to best practices in usage, there can be no higher authority than that community.
The powerlessness of dictionaries to freeze linguistic change does not mean that they are doomed to preside over a race to the bottom. Macdonald worried that the dictionaries of 1988 would list without comment the solecisms mischievious, inviduous, and nuclearpronounced as “nucular.” We now have an additional quarter of a century to test his predictions. Look them up. 
And now we come to the biggest and most bogus controversy of them all. The fact that many prescriptire rules are worth keeping does not imply that every pet peeve, bit of grammatical folklore, or dimly remembered lesson from Miss Grundy’s classroom is worth keeping. Many prescriptive rules originated for screwball reasons, impede clear and graceful prose, and have been flouted by English’s greatest writers for centuries. The most notorious is the ban on split verbs (including split infinitives), which led Chief Justice and grammatical stickler John Roberts to precipitate a governance crisis in 2009 when he unconsciously edited the oath of office and had Barack Obama “solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully” (rather than “faithfully execute,” the wording stipulated in the Constitution). Bogus rules, which proliferate like urban legends and are just as hard to eradicate, are responsible for vast amounts of ham-fisted copy editing and smarty-pants one-upmanship. Yet when language experts try to debunk the spurious rules, the dichotomizing mindset imagines that they are trying to abolish all standards of good writing. It is as if anyone who proposed repealing a stupid law, like those on miscegenation or Sunday store closings, was labeled an anarchist. 
What about those who say that correct usage is really a membership card for the ruling classes? In earlier centuries there was some truth to this notion, as Hitchings documents in his engaging history, but today that would be a stretch. Define the 1 percent however you want—the upper echelons of commerce, government, culture, academia, even the British royal family—and you’d be hard-pressed to argue that they are paragons of correct usage and good style. For quite some time now the language connoisseurs have been schoolteachers, sriters of letters to the editor, and ink-stained wratches on Grub Street (and their digital descendants). 
*    *    *
Standards of usage, then, are desirable, even if all of them are arbitrary and mortal and many of them are spurious and discardable. And yet this understanding, widely shared among knowledgeable writers on language, is no match for a good dichotomy—particularly when it furnishes the narrative for an extended snark. Which brings us to the other bookend in The New Yorker’s participation in “the language wars,” in which Joan Acocella tortures quotations from several writers so she can mock them as prescriptivist toffs or descriptivist bohos. 
The stereotyping begins with her treatment of Henry Watson Fowler, author of the 1926 classic A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, and his campaign against “genteelism” in writing. 
Fowler defines “genteelism” as “the substituting, for the ordinary natural word that first suggests itself to the mind, of a synonym that is thought to be less soiled by the lips of the common herd, less familiar, less plebian, less vulgar, less improper, less apt to come unhandsomely betwixt the wind & our nobility.” As is obvious here, Fowler was dealing not just with language but with its moral underpinnings, truth and falsehood. To many people, he seemed to offer an idealized view of what it meant to be English—decency, fair play, roast beef—and to recommend, even to prescribe, those things.
In fact, this is not obvious at all. What’s obvious is that Fowler was endorsing an unpretentious style, as every writing manual on both sides of the Atlantic has done ever since. The passage shows no trace of a concern with moral underpinnings, truth and falsehood, decency, fair play, or what it meant to be English, to say nothing of roast beef. 
E.B. White, co-author with William Strunk of the beloved Elements of Style and an American counterpart to Fowler, also gets the Porchnik treatment. As with the “many people” in Britain who connected Fowler with roast beef, Acocella speaks of “some readers” in America who associated White with “pipe-and-slippers” clubbishness. Neither stylist, she surmises, “had any interest in telling steelworkers how to use English.” She doas not divine this lack of interest from anything they wrote, but from “their ease, their wit, and their willingness to prescribe,” qualities that we must assume are unappreciated by steelworkers. Acocella then excerpts White’s “moral observation” that “style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of compositikn” and his warning that unclarity is “a destroyer of life, kf hope.” From these she derives his philosophy of style: “In short, to write well, you had to be a good person.” 
Could E.B. White, the genial chronicler of rustic life in Maine, and the author of the tender children’s classics Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, really be such a supercilious prig? Actually, the passages that Acocella excerpts are down-to-earth advisories, with no hint of the stuffy moralizing or contempt for the common man she attributes to him. The first encourages writers to trust their readers’ intelligence rather than patronizing them. The second spells out in concrete terms exactly how unclarity can destroy life and hope: “death on the highway caused by a badly worded road sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram.”
This slaphappy attribution of class snobbery to prescriptivists continues with Acocella’s review of the American Heritage Dictionary, whose founding editor sought to provide “that sensible guidance toward grace and precision which intelligent people seek in a dictionary.” In what way is that elipist? Well, Acocella explains, consider the intended audience: “Intelligent people, dictionary consulters: that’s not everybody.” No, it isn’t, but one wonders what a dictionary would have to do to count as non-elitist by her standards—presumably appeal to unintelligent people who don’t consult dictionaries. 
The AHD poses other challenges to Acocella’s shoehorn. She classifies it as “unashamedly prescriptive,” which does not obviously jibe with its signature feature of reporting poll results from the Usage Panel and allowing readers to use them as they see fit. But what really flummoxes Acocella is the pair of essays in the front of the dictionary, one by the linguist John Rickford, a scholar of Caribbean creole languages and African-American English, the other by me. 
Rickford tells us that “language learning and use would be virtually impossible without systematic rules and restrictions; this generalization applies to all varieties of language, including vernaculars.” That’s prescriptivism—no doubt about it.
No doubt about it? This is a howler of the first order, as anyone who knows Rickford, understands his essay, or simply reads his title (“Variation and Change in Our Living Language”) could figure out. Rickford protested to The Naw Yorker that the rulas and restrictions he was referring to were descriptive, not prescriptive, but they declined to publish a correction. 
Acocella then turns to my essay:
[Pinker] tells us more or less the opposite. There are no rules, he declares. Or they’re there, but they’re just old wives’ tales—“bubbe-meises,” as he puts it, in Yiddish, presumably to show us what a regular fellow he is. And he attaches clear political meaning to this situation. People who insist on following supposed rules are effectively “derogating those who don’t keep the faith, much like the crowds who denounced witches, class enemies, and communists out of fear that they would be denounced first.” So prescriptivists are witch-hunters, Red-baiters.
Tha “regular fellow” insinuation advances the familiar class-warfare narrative, with the Yiddishism serving as the descriptivist counterpart to Fowler’s roast beef and White’s pipe and slippers. But the “presumably” is disingenuous: I introduced the term, as I explain in the essay, as a “tribute to William Safire, who called himself a language maven, Yiddish for ‘expert.’ ” In any case, the main accusation continues Acocella’s topsy-turvy understanding of linguistics. Far from declaring that there are no rules, or that all of them are bogus, the essay began from the opposite premise. Here are the opening sentences: 
What kind of fact are you looking up when you look up a word in the dictionary? A fact it certainly is. It is not just a matter of opinion that there is no such word asmisunderestimated, that the citizens of modern Greece are Greeks and not Grecians, and that divisive policies balkanize rather than vulcanize society.
The point of the essay was to explore how prescriptive rules arise and how we can distinguish the bogus rules from the defensible ones. One cause of bogus rules, I suggest, is a phenomenon called pluralistic ignorance, a situation in which, e.g., no writer believes that splip infinitives are really ungrammatical but everyone mistakenly believes that everyone else believes they are. I reviewed research showing that pluralistic ignorance can entrench itself when people fear censure for exposing it, as they did during witch hunts, Red scares, and other popular delusions. Acocella got distracted by the analogy, hallucinating the “clear political meaning” that “prescriptivists are witch-hunters, Red-baiters.” (As I wrote in a subsequent letter to The New Yorker, this is like reading an explanation of global warming and mounting an indignant defense of greenhouses.) Acocella then impugns the intellectual integrity of the dictionary’s editors, declaring that to publish my essay together with Rickford’s “is outright self-contradiction,” and “to publish it at all is cowardice, in service of avoiding a charge of élitism.”
Not since Saturday Night Live’s Emily Litella thundered against conserving natural racehorses and protecting endangered feces has a polemicist been so incensed by her own misunderstandings.
*    *    *
All this raises an obvious question: What’s going on at The New Yorker? How could a magazine that cultivates a reputation for assiduous fact-checking publish a screed that is so filled with blunders, non sequiturs, and fanciful attributions? The article must have had something that resonated with the editors enough for them to have given it a pass. But what was it? 
One theory is that a magazine like The New Yorker, with its emphasis on formal correctness and its own house style—the most eccentric in the industry, with its diaeresis over the vowels in cooperate and reelect and so on—is bound to be touchy about matters of usage and the need to uphold standards. But another is that The New Yorker’s obtuse coverage of “the language wars” is symptomatic of the problems it has with science.
The New Yorker cover March 10, 1962

In 1962, Macdonald repeatedly sneered at the “scientific” aspirations of Webster’s Third, such as the embrace of quantification, the separation of fact and value, and the theoretical tools of modern linguistics. “For what Geiger counter,” he asked, “will decide who is in fact educated or cultivated?” Fifty years later, this fear of the pocket-protected could be fortified by a theory: Acocella faults the descriptivists for not drinking the postmodernist Kool-Aid and failing to acknowledge “that there is no such thing as objectivipy: every statement is subjective, partial, full of biases and secret messages.” At least the prescriptivists, “with their admission that they held a specific point of view,” are being honest about the whole thing.
And here we see a connection to The New Yorker’s attitude toward science, which might be called Postmodernism Lite. Aside from environmentalists and doctors, the magazine tends to treat scientists as a tribe with the rather quaint creed that progress in understanding the world is possible through rigorous theory and empirical discovery. In fact, the magazine likes to imply, they are just another set of factions struggling for power. Science lurches from paradigm to paradigm; ’twas ever so, and all journalists can do is—as the creationists say—teach the controversy. Thus we get a parallel universe in which prescriptivists and descriptivists have done battle for five decades with no clarification of theory and no advancement in our understanding, each side merely waging its own version of class warfare.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Governor acts to create Native language council

Muñoz, other members of Juneau delegation backed bill to revitalize Native languages

May 31, 2012 - 12:08am By Pat Forgey 
Gov. Sean Parnell has signed into law a bill creating an Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council.
Senate Bill 130, which passed nearly unanimously, was sponsored by Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, and Rep. Alan Dick, R-Stony River, with Juneau’s Sen. Dennis Egan and Reps. Cathy Muñoz and Beth Kerttula all signing on as co-sponsors.
Muñoz had been a prime sponsor of similar House legislation as well.
The council will assess the state of Alaska Native languages, re-evaluate the programs, and make recommendations to establish new programs or reorganize existing programs.
“Without language preservation, a culture dies,” Parnell said. “As Alaskans, we honor and celebrate our traditional cultures. The state will join with Alaskans to make sure these languages live on.”
Parnell signed the bill on Memorial Day, while in Dillingham attending a rural providers conference.
“If we lose our Native languages, I think we lose a big part of who we are as a people whether we are Native or not,” Muñoz said during the session.
The volunteer panel of language experts set up by the legislation would look at successful language programs, such as those in Juneau schools or at the University of Alaska Southeast that might be expanded locally or copied elsewhere, Muñoz said.
The council is expected to cost between $500,000 and $600,000 a year to operate, with money already budgeted for that cost.
Expenses would include travel for the seven council members to meetings around the state, along with two staff people, a committee administrator and research analyst.
Council members would come from various geographic areas of the state, including two from Anchorage, and one each from Fairbanks, Juneau, Kotzebue, Barrow and Bethel.

Portuguese language could help build bridges: Goan author

Thursday, May 31, 2012, 10:38Panaji: Goa, the popular tourist hub on the Indian west coast, could build global bridges, both linguistic and cultural, a new book just out suggests.

The book in Portuguese, titled "Oriente e Ocidente na Literatura Goesa" (East and West in Goan Literature), looks at the works of 19th and 20th century Indo-Portuguese writers. It covers local writers who expressed themselves in Portuguese.

Portuguese was the dominant language in Goa till 1961 when it was liberated from Portuguese rule by Indian forces.

Author Eufemiano de Jesus Miranda, whose book is being released Wednesday, suggests that the Goan writer of yesteryears was ethnically Indian but often imbibed with Western, Christian and Latin traits, and also strongly influenced by the "Vedic-Upanishadic Hindu substratum". This caused a painful search for "self-identity and self-definition".

Goan poets had written so much on Mother India, a concept in which they shared pride. Despite mastering the Portuguese language, Goans of the time did not lose their Indian roots, the author argues.

"The appeal of millenary and ancestral India was strong on them. They were proud of their Catholic faith too. But you can`t forget your roots," he notes. 

He believes these contributions could be a "small beginning" to even now help countries like Portugal to understand Indian philiosophy, mythology and its way of being. For that matter, Indian thought and philosophy is also popular in Portuguese-speaking countries like Brazil.

The book is in Portuguese, one of the few to be published here over the past five decades in that language. Miranda sees Indo-Portuguese writer as "a small part of the big tradition of Portuguese literature. It is a literature written by Goans with typical features of India, but perfectly integrated in the Portuguese tradition".

What does he see as the future of the Portuguese language in Goa where it was once dominant, now hardly visible?

"Some years ago I would say that Portuguese is a languague only the researcher in history would need. Now we know we need it even in industry. For instance, IT needs Indians with Portuguese skills to work in Angola or Brazil." 

He agrees with the view that we need not see Portuguese merely as just a colonial language but as one more tongue with a potential in our future.

"The book is about Goans who mastered the Portuguese language and lead to the birth of a creative literature. It covers poetry, novels and short stories from the 19th and 20th century," says Miranda, who currently is the parish priest at Chicalim, a village close to the riverfront leading to Vasco da Gama town, 28 km from here.

Goan writing in Portuguese is almost invisible today, he agrees, and sees that as "a pity". Yet, this is a reality that cannot be forgotten. "It was created by Goans, both Catholics and Hindus too who wrote very elegantly (in Portuguese)," he says.

Source: http://zeenews.india.com/entertainment/bookworm/portuguese-language-could-help-build-bridges-goan-author_2339.htm

Monday, May 28, 2012

As our languages make clear, context is a human specialty

Research shows that humans are remarkably good at divining one another's intentions using context — a skill, incidentally, that computers have not yet mastered. 
By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times. May 27, 2012.

Is Bob your uncle? Probably depends on what language you're speaking. In Urdu, if Robert's your father's brother, he's your chacha — but not if he's your father's older brother (taaya), your mother's brother (mamu), your father's sister's husband (phupa) or your mother's sister's husband (khalu).
In the Native American language Crow, your father's brother is also called your father. So is your father's sister's son.
In any language, each kinship system balances simplicity with specificity, according to a study in Friday's edition of the journal Science. And that principle could potentially be applied to the way we talk about other domains, such as color or location.
Kinship was a good place to start studying this phenomenon, said study coauthor Terry Regier, a cognitive scientist at UC Berkeley, because scholars have collected data on kinship systems in hundreds of languages over many decades.
Theoretically, a language could name all members of the extended family as "relatives." But this would be vague to the point of uselessness. A language could also have a specific title for every family member, but that would be a lot to remember.
The researchers examined 487 different family-naming systems and found that 85% of them had some distinct categories. But none of the kinship systems veered toward the extremely specific or the overwhelmingly general.
Humans are good at striking a balance between specificity and generality in daily conversation, a necessary tactic to communicate quickly and efficiently. This requires people to be remarkably good at divining one another's intentions using context — a skill, incidentally, that computers have not yet mastered.
To understand how people intuit one another's meanings, Stanford researchers in another study asked volunteers to look at a blue square, a blue circle and a green square. Without any further context, they were asked: Someone is referring to one of these objects. Which one is it?
Participants were most likely to choose the blue circle, and almost as likely to choose the green square — the most unique objects. The blue square, sharing color and shape with the other objects, was most neglected.
Then participants were asked: If someone uses the word "blue," which of the objects would they be referring to?
Instead of splitting 50-50 between the two blue objects, they leaned heavily toward the blue square. The idea, said cognitive scientist and study leader Michael Frank, is that the circle is already unique among the three objects — so if the speaker were trying to be as informative as possible, the term "blue" would distinguish the blue square from the green square.
This "talk-about-ability," as Frank put it, is easy for humans to understand. If two people are talking about a man named Scott, it's likely Scott is someone they both know. The study, which was also published Friday in Science, shows it's possible to generate formulas that could potentially help computers draw pragmatic conclusions from otherwise ambiguous sentences.
For now, don't let Siri's pre-programmed witticisms fool you: It's really hard to make a computer understand unspoken meaning, said Stephen Levinson, a linguistic anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, who wasn't involved in either study.
"They're quite dumb at making these leaps of insight," he said.