Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Monday, March 26, 2007


(eo) imiti: agi tiel same, kiel alia persono.
(no) imitere: etterligne eller kopiere (et bestemt mønster), herme.
(sp) imitar: ejecutar algo a ejemplo o semejanza de otra cosa. Hacer o esforzarse por hacer algo lo mismo que otro o según el estilo de otro.
(en) imitate: reproduce someone's behavior or looks
(fr) imiter: faire ou s'efforcer de faire (ce que fait une personne ou un animal) dans le seul but de reproduire dans sa particularité (une attitude, un comportement, une façon de s'exprimer).
(ms) meniru: mengikuti perbuatan (perkataan, gaya, cara, dll) orang dll, mencontoh, meneladan.

Some learning tips

I just have to quote this. Mainly... to keep it in mind. It was written by Susan Scherer from Indonesia Australia Language Foundation (IALF).

Why do some people learn easily and others have so much more difficulty?

Whether you succeed or not really depends on what kind of a commitment you make to the learning process.

Age is not the issue! Adults not only have better habits for memorizing data, but they also are better at organizing and at studying in general. In the case of adults learning Bahasa Indonesia, the motivation factor is often very high: the difference between being able to communicate and not is obvious in one's daily life. Witness the average newcomer's frustration at not being able to tell a driver where to go or the same person's discomfort at being unable to understand what's happening in the office. Being at the mercy of a so-called 'interpreter' is not a condition most of us independent westerners feel comfortable with. Learning to communicate effectively is, then, something we feel will improve our ability to cope successfully with life in our new surroundings.

The disadvantage of being an adult learner is our reluctance to make mistakes, an area where children are much more comfortable. Adult learners need to tell themselves often that making mistakes is the way we learn and that without mistakes, little learning takes place. One teacher decided to substitute 'learning step' for the word 'mistake', thus putting his students much more at ease with normal errors.

Some people seem to have a talent for languages; for others, it seems that only effort is what makes the difference. Hearing is one area where there is a big difference: those who have a good ear, for music and tone for example, will have an easier time learning to speak since they can 'hear' and thus imitate more accurately. Another factor in successful learning is your attitude: are you open to the new culture and language? Looking forward to learning or dreading it? It can make an enormous difference in the kind of progress you make.

What kind of a person you are also influences language learning: people who are outgoing, extroverted and like talking to others will easily be able to harness their natural instincts in communicating in the target language. Chances are an extroverted person will also be less likely to be upset at making errors. Laughing along with the guys who laugh at your mistakes makes everyone feel better. Within one month of arrival I had ordered two kilos of traditional bras (kutang) instead of the potatoesI wanted (kentang). The entire household had a good laugh over that one!

When learning a language, a high tolerance for ambiguity also helps. As westerners, we tend to want to make everything black and white and very organized: a neat little list of what the language is. Often it isn't exactly that black and white; an acceptance of some gray will help in making your progress faster. Some things can be worried about later.

When you start out from zero, having a plan helps. Give yourself a schedule and some targets or objectives. Whether you choose to take a class, hire a private teacher or study on your own, some type of framework will make meeting your targets an easier task. So now, for the real hints:

1. Set aside a certain time for study each day: after morning coffee, on the way to work, during lunch - whatever you can maintain without too much 'stretching'.
2. Spend time with words: make flash cards and use them until you remember easily, then exchange them for others.
3. Listen a lot: keep the radio on, watch TV. Even without being aware of it, you will be absorbing the sounds of the language.
4. Ask others to correct you when you make mistakes. Most Asians don't feel completely comfortable with this, but at least try.
5. Experiment with new words or new patterns. Even if you make mistakes, you need to use it before it really becomes a part of you.
6. Be active: talk to everyone you meet. Taxi drivers are almost always ready for a conversation; people in shops and restaurants as well. Don't lose these remarkable opportunities for free practice.
7. Make a 'hat rack' of words and build on it. See how words are related and how they fit together in certain ways. Keep a list or book of your new words and expressions and always have it with you.
8. Look at where you make your mistakes. Are you making the same mistake over and over again? Why? Carelessness or real lack of understanding? Check it out and try again.

And that is the final point: try and try again, especially with a sense of humor. Enjoy the joke, even if it's at your expense!

Sunday, March 25, 2007


At last! I thought Lernu was not going to keep on posting new words.
(eo) universo: tutaĵo de ĉio, kio ekzistas
(no) et univers: verden, verdensaltet, kosmos
(sp) el universo: mundo. Conjunto de todas las cosas creadas
(en) universe: everything that exists anywhere. the whole collection of existing things.
(fr) l'univers: l'ensemble de tout ce qui existe, la totalité des êtres et des choses.
(de) das Universum: Gesamtheit aller in Raum und Zeit existierenden und zugleich allumfassenden materiellen Systeme, Weltall, Kosmos.
(ms) alam: segala yg ada di langit dan di bumi.

Danish language is falling apart

This is a funny video Ulven posted at PB.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


A proto-language, sometimes also called Ursprache (German word, derived from the prefix Ur- "primordial" and Sprache "language"), is a hypothetically reconstructed language based on the comparison of attested vocabularies and grammars.
In most cases, the ancestral proto-language is not known directly and it has to be reconstructed by comparing different members of the language family via a technique called the comparative method. Through this process only a part of the proto-language's structure and vocabulary can be reconstructed; the reconstruction remains the more fragmentary the more ancient the proto-language in question is.

Sometimes, however, the proto-language is a language which is known from inscriptions, an example being the Proto-Norse language attested in the Elder Futhark runic inscriptions.
Other proto-languages are Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Uralic and Proto-Bantu.

Traditional historical linguistics state that so far it has been impossible to show that all the world's languages are genetically related. Critics say that from the purely statistical point of view, among any two unrelated languages, there would be more than 40% of words sharing a roughly similar sound and meaning. Therefore, the concept of comparing languages basing only on general comparisons between their vocabularies is considered flawed.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A language is a dialect with an army and navy

That was originally said in Yiddish by Max Weinreich in 1945: ״אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט״.

פֿאַר אַ יאָרן האָבן מיר אין דער ד״ר צמח שאַבאַד־אַספּיראַנטור געהאַט אַ קורס פֿון צוואַנציק לעקציעס אויף דער טעמע׃ „פּראָבלעמען אין דער געשיכטע פֿון דער ייִדישער שפּראַך“. צווישן די צוהערערס איז איין מאָל אױך אַרײַנגעפֿאַלן אַ לערער פֿון אַ בראָנקסער הײַסקול. ער איז געקומען קײן אַמעריקע ווי אַ קינד און האָט פֿאַר דער גאַנצער צײַט קײן מאָל ניט געהערט, אַז ייִדיש האָט אַ געשיכטע און קען דינען פֿאַר העכערע ענינים אויך. ווי אַזוי ער איז פֿון דער אַספּיראַנטור פֿון ייִוואָ געווויר געוואָרן ווייס איך ניט, נאָר פֿון יעמאָלט אָן האָט ער שוין גענומען קומען. איין מאָל נאָך אַ לעקציע גייט ער צו צו מיר און פֿרעגט׃ „וואָס איז דער חילוק פֿון אַ דיאַלעקט ביז אַ שפּראַך?“ איך האָב געמיינט, אַז עס רופֿט זיך אים דער משׂכּילישער ביטול, און איך האָב אים געפּרוּווט אַרויפֿפֿירן אויפֿן ריכטיקן וועג, נאָר ער האָט מיך איבערגעריסן׃ „דאָס ווייס איך, אָבער יך וועל אײַך געבן אַ בעסערע דעפֿיניציע׃ אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט“. איך האָב זיך יעמאָלט באַלד פֿאַרגעדענקט, אַז די דאָזיקע וווּנדערלעכע פֿאָרמולירונג פֿון דער סאָציאַלער מערכה פֿון ייִדיש מוז איך ברענגען צו אַ גרויסן עולם
In English:
Last year we held a course in the Dr. Tsemakh Shabad Jewish Studies Program with twenty lectures on the subject, 'Problems in the History of the Yiddish Language'. A teacher at a Bronx high school once appeared among the auditors. He had come to America as a child and during the entire time had never heard that Yiddish had a history and can also serve for higher matters. I do not know how he came to be among the YIVO scholars, only that he was there from then on. Once after a lecture he came up to me and asked, 'What is the difference between a dialect and language?' I said that it was a matter of intellectual subjectivity, and sensed that he felt this led in the right direction, but he interrupted me and said, 'I know that, but I want to give you a better definition. A language is a dialect with an army and navy.' It then struck me that I had to convey this wonderful expression of the social plight of Yiddish to a large audience.

And I quoted all this because many Mexicans think all languages spoken in Mexico are only dialects and the only real language is Spanish.Mexican Constitution says in its Article 2:
A. Esta Constitución reconoce y garantiza el derecho de los pueblos y las comunidades indígenas a la libre determinación y, en consecuencia, a la autonomía para:
IV. Preservar y enriquecer sus lenguas, conocimientos y todos los elementos que constituyan su cultura e identidad.
Para abatir las carencias y rezagos que afectan a los pueblos y comunidades indígenas, dichas autoridades, tienen la obligación de:
II. Garantizar e incrementar los niveles de escolaridad, favoreciendo la educación bilingüe e intercultural, la alfabetización...

It'd be so great to start informing people that all those are languages and not dialects.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Siguiendo con el tema de ayer, hoy quiero hablar de las Pioneer 10 y 11. Y la pregunta sigue siendo cómo nos comunicaríamos con una sociedad extraterrestre. ¿Cuál sería la manera de hacer que nuestro mensaje sea entendido? Pioneer 10 y Pioneer portan sendas placas con un mensaje de la humanidad. La placa de aluminio es ésta:La idea básica es comunicar quiénes somos y dónde estamos. A la derecha, hay dos figuras desnudas de hombre y mujer. En la esquina superior izquierda hay una representación de la transición hiperfina del hidrógeno. Debajo hay una representación de la posición de nuestro sol con respecto al centro de la galaxia y a catorce pulsares (también se incluyen los periodos de estos pulsares. Y como estos periodos varían con el tiempo, la época de lanzamiento puede ser calculada). En la parte de abajo hay una representación del sisyema solar. Lo que se ve detrás de las figuras humanas es la silueta de la nave (esto ayuda como escala para tener idea del tamaño real de las figuras humanas).

¿Qué tan difícil de comprender sería todo esto para una civilización extraterrestre? Sería interesante saber si alguien tiene una mejor idea. Claro, el mensaje de la Voyager es mucho más completo. Pero si nos limitamos al contenido de una placa, ¿qué más podríamos decir acerca de nosotros?


Segundo día de palabras. Espero poder mantener esto. Mismo orden que ayer: esperanto, noruego, español e inglés. Pero ahora agrego el francés.
(eo) koketa: Penanta plaĉi, precipe al eventualaj seksaj partneroj, per elegantaj vestoj kaj logaj manieroj.
(no) kokett: innsmigrende, flørtende.
(sp) coqueto: dicho de una persona: que coquetea. Dicho de una persona: presumida, esmerada en su arreglo personal y en todo cuanto pueda hacerla parecer atractiva.
(en) coquettish: like a coquette.
(fr) coquet: Qui a le souci de plaire. Par une mine soignée, une toilette recherchée. Par son esprit, ses manières, ses attitudes. Qui est soucieux de plaire à une personne de l'autre sexe. Qui cherche à séduire les hommes sans s'attacher à aucun.

Español en internet

Ayer, mientras leía el bitácora de mi amiguita (muy recomendable, por cierto), me topé con una liga, que me llevó a otra y luego a otra. En una de esas páginas ví este logo. Y llamó mi atención. Entré a ver y llegué a esta página. Claro que me dejó pensando. No es que vaya a empezar a ecribir todo en español aquí. Desde que empecé en esto del internet lo hice en inglés y la mayoría de las personas con las que interactuo aquí hablan inglés (normalmente el inglés no es su idioma natal). Así que para mí, utilizar el inglés se volvió en algo cotidiano. Si un sitio está disponible en ambos idiomas, prefiero ir al de inglés. Si los programas que descargo me dan la opción de elegir idioma, escojo inglés. No es que tenga algo en contra del español. Siplemente que me siento más cómodo utilizando un idioma en ciertas situaciones.
Pero por el día de hoy, escribiré en español. No es que a alguien le importe. La verdad es que me expreso mejor (no acepto dudas al respecto :p ) utilizando el español en mi vida diaria. Tal vez en un futuro no podré hacerlo. Tal vez mi alguien más tendrá que hacerlo. No lo sé.
Lo que sí sé es que, hasta el momento, ésta es la entrada más aleatoria (e intrascendente) que hay en esta bitácora.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I am kind of worried about my vocabulary. It is my main problem regarding language learning, I think. So, I'll start using Lernu's words. I'll start with Esperanto, Norwegian, Spanish and English.
insisti: Firme kaj daŭre esprimi sian opinion, altirante la atenton de aliaj. Firme kaj daŭre postuli, ke alia agu laŭ nia opinio aŭ deziro.
insistere: holde fast ved, ikke gi seg.
insistir: instar reiteradamente. Persistir o mantenerse firme en algo. Repetir o hacer incapié en algo.
insist: be insistent and refuse to budge. Beg persistently and urgently.


Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan wrote:
In the annals of exploration, the achievements of the two Voyager spacecraft are unprecedented. The piddling journeys of Columbus and Magellan spanned a few tens of thousands of miles on the watery surface of one small world. Voyagers 1 and 2 have traveled billions of miles through the ocean of space, exploring dozens of new worlds along the way and revolutionizing our knowledge of the solar system in which we live. And as a gift of the brilliant mission design, these robot ships are no longer bound by the Sun's gravity. They have passed the outermost planets and are on their way to the cold, dark near-vacuum that constitutes interstellar space. Nothing can stop them. Their radio transmitters are unlikely to work beyond the year 2020. Thereafter, they will wander silently and forever in the realm of the stars.

Who knows who's out there? Perhaps the rest of the Milky Way Galaxy is populated by desolate, wasteland worlds circling a hundred billion stars. Or maybe the Galaxy is rich in life forms and intelligence and technology much further beyond our reach than the Voyagers are beyond the reach of Columbus and Magellan. Someday - maybe millions of years in the future - one of these ghostly, derelict ships may be detected and captured by the representatives of some devastatingly advanced interstellar culture. They will wonder about the shipbuilders.

If you could send a long message to such extraterrestrial beings - words, pictures, sounds, music - what would you say? How would you describe us? What would you leave out? Could you communicate intelligibly to very different beings with a wholly independent evolution? In 1977, at NASA's behest, a few of us had a remarkable opportunity to attempt such a (one-way) communication.

You can see what was recorded in that golden disc here. This is the golden disc cover:
This is the information on the cover:
You can find a detaild explanation of it here. You can read about its content here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I am able to recognize some easy Chinese characters. 马, 人, 女 and 水 are easy to remember. But... 57 strokes! If I were studying Chinese, I'd try to learn this one just to show off. This is the most complex character in use. As it is a problem to type it, there are two phonetical equivalents to it: 棒棒麵 and 梆梆麵. But what does it mean? Biáng biáng noodles are a a type of noodle popular in China's Shaanxi province.

But there's someone who says the pronunciation is not biang. Read the mnemonics for writing it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Toki pona

Among weird conlangs I've found, I think Toki pona is an interesting one. It is a minimal language. Like a pidgin, it focuses on simple concepts and elements that are relatively universal among cultures. Toki pona aims to express maximal meaning with minimal complexity. The language has 14 phonemes and only 118 words. It is not designed as an international auxiliary language but is instead inspired by Taoist philosophy.

The 118 offical Toki pona words are: a, akesi, ala, ale (ali), anpa, ante, anu, awen, e, en ijo, ike, ilo, insa, jaki, jan, jelo, jo, kala, kalama, kama, kasi, ken, kepeken, kili, kin, kiwen, ko, kon, kule, kute, kulupu, la, lape, laso, lawa, len, lete, li, lili, linja, lipu, loje, lon, luka, lukin, lupa, ma, mama, mani, meli, mi, mije, moku, moli, monsi, mu, mun, musi, mute, nanpa, nasa, nasin, nena, ni, nimi, noka, o, oko, olin, ona, open, pakala, pali, palisa, pana, pi, pilin, pimeja, pini, pipi, poka, poki, pona, sama, seli, selo, seme, sewi, sijelo, sike, sin, sina, sinpin, sitelen, sona, soweli, suli, suno, supa, suwi, tan, taso, tawa, telo, tenpo, toki, tomo, tu, unpa, uta, utala, walo, wan, waso, wawa, weka, wile.
These words were based on words from English, Tok Pisin, Finnish, Georgian, Dutch, Acadian French, Esperanto, Croatian, Mandarin Chinese, and Cantonese. To see the origines, read here.
You'd be surprised to see how many things can be said with only those words. If you see the official list, each word has several meanings. For example, moli can mean death, to die, to be dead, to kill or even fatal. The precise meaning has to be taken from the context. But even with this polysemy, it is hard to have much things to say. Toki pona solves this with the use of "compund" words. For example, jan means person, and lili means small, little, young. If you combine them, you have jan lili, meaning child.

Toki pona only accepts capitalizing if the word is not in that list. Not even at the begining of a sentence.
There are no propper nouns. Toki pona has propper adjectives. This can be something difficult to understand at first. For example, Norway is a propper noun in English. To talk about that country in Toki pona, you need a noun and a propper adjective. The noun is ma, which means country, and the adjective is Nosiki (capitalized, because it is a word not included in the list. It is adapted to the Toki pona sound system). Then Norway is ma Nosiki (the adjective follows the noun).

This isn't an auxiliary language. And you won't find many speakers around. Then... why bother?! I am not sure. It has an interesting idea.
If you are curious, abut Toki pona, check a short course.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

ñ ! !

The ñ is one of the seven letters in Spanish that takes a diacritic. The difference is that the diacritics makes it a completely different letter (not as what happens with the other diacritics). the little swung dash is called virgulilla or tilde (the English word for it is tilde, as well) This letter has the sound /ɲ/, a palatal nasal. Are there more languages with this letter? The Spanish language has influenced many other languages and through loanwords, ñ made its way into those languages. You can find ñ in Aragonese, Asturian, Aymara, Quechua, Guaraní, Mapudungun, Tagalog, Basque, Galician and Tetum. It also exists in Tatar and in Breton, but it represents a different sound.
As many letter that are not part of the English alphabet, it might be a problem when trying to type ñ. You can get Ñ with ALT + 0209 or ALT + 165, and ñ with ALT + 0241 or ALT + 164.
In a Newsweek article, Leland and Chambers labeled Hispanic culture and its influence on the US as “Generation Ñ". Ñ is seen as a mark of Hispanic heritage.
Historically, ñ arose as a representation of “nn”. The tilde was shorthand for the second n, written over the first. For example, the Spanish word año is derived from Latin annus.
¿La eñe también es gente? "La letra es sinónimo de carácter", says the author.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Swadesh list

A Swadesh list is a prescribed list of basic vocabulary (207 words) developed by Morris Swadesh in the 1940-50s, which is used in glottochronology to determine the approximate date of first separation of genetically related languages. The closeness of the relationship of the languages is suggested to be roughly proportional to the number of cognate words present in the list.

The Swadesh list in English is: I, you (singular), he, we, you (plural), they, this, that, here, there, who, what, where, when, how, not, all, many, some, few, other, one, two, three, four, five, big, long, wide, thick, heavy, small, short, narrow, thin, woman, man (adult male), man (human being), child, wife, husband, mother, father, animal, fish, bird, dog, louse, snake, worm, tree, forest, stick, fruit, seed, leaf, root, bark, flower, grass, rope, skin, meat, blood, bone, fat (n.), egg, horn, tail, feather, hair, head, ear, eye, nose, mouth, tooth, tongue, fingernail, foot, leg, knee, hand, wing, belly, guts, neck, back, breast, heart, liver, drink, eat, bite, suck, spit, vomit, blow, breathe, laugh, see, hear, know, think, smell, fear, sleep, live, die, kill, fight, hunt, hit, cut, split, stab, scratch, dig, swim, fly (v.), walk, come, lie, sit, stand, turn, fall, give, hold, squeeze, rub, wash, wipe, pull, push, throw, tie, sew, count, say, sing, play, float, flow, freeze, swell, sun, moon, star, water, rain, river, lake, sea, salt, stone, sand, dust, earth, cloud, fog, sky, wind, snow, ice, smoke, fire, ashes, burn, road, mountain, red, green, yellow, white, black, night, day, year, warm, cold, full, new, old, good, bad, rotten, dirty, straight, , round, sharp, dull, smooth, wet, dry, correct, near, far, right, left, at, in, with, and, if, because, name.

Using this list of "stable" words, glottochronologists believed they could calculate the approximate amount of time that had passed between the split-up of two related languages. Unfortunately, language, unlike C-14, does not seem to change at a constant rate. The word list and the formulas to use it will accurately show that the Romance languages started to split up about 2000 years ago, but I wouldn't be surprised if the formulas were fine-tuned to Romance rates of change in the first place.

Click here for a 100 word Swadesh list with animation.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Freedom of Expression awards

I just thought I had to call atention into this:
Activists honoured at Freedom of Expression awards
Awards for free speech defenders

Index on Censorship
is a magazine founded in 1972 by a group of writers, journalists and artists, who were inspired by the British poet Stephen Spender to take to the page in defence of the basic human right of freedom of expression.

Index Freedom of Expression Awards 2007.

Official language

An official language is a language that is given a unique legal status in the countries, states, and other territories. It is typically the language used in a nation's legislative bodies, though the law in many nations requires that government documents be produced in other languages as well.

A few states have no official language, although in most such cases there is a single de facto main language. The acceptance of de facto national languages is sometimes used as a means of remaining unprejudiced or unbiased. In the United States, the federal government has not declared a national language. English is accepted as the de facto national language. To partially cope with this situation, the federal government has given states the right to declare their official language. This right is exercised, with New Mexico having recognized both English and Spanish for official purposes ever since gaining statehood. Also, Louisiana uses French and English as official languages, and Hawaii uses Hawaiian and English as official languages.
Similarly, in the former Soviet Union, Russian was not legally the official language, but de facto. Likewise in the UK, English is the dominant language but no official language has ever been declared. Sweden is another case of a country with no de jure language.

A national language is a language (or language variant, i.e. dialect) which represents the national identity of a nation or country. A national language is used for political and legal discourse and so designated by a country's government. Some countries have more than one national language, such as Canada which uses both French and English. A national language is not to be confused with the predominant language, which is spoken by the majority of people from within a country's borders.

A regional language is a language spoken in a part of a country. It may be a small area, a federal state or province, or a wider area. It is often mistaken for a dialect.
For the purposes of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages:
"regional or minority languages" means languages that are:
  1. traditionally used within a given territory of a State by nationals of that State who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the State's population; and
  2. different from the official language(s) of that State

Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have signed a resolution to recognise sign languages as official languages. And New Zealand schools will offer it.

Will Irish be an official language in Northern Ireland? We are waiting for the 12-week consultation period to end.

How to forget your mother tongue and remember your national language?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Greek phrases and proverbs I

1. Ἀγεωμέτρητος μηδεὶς εἰσίτω
"Let no-one without knowledge of geometry enter". Motto over the entrance to Plato's Academy.

2. Ἀεὶ Λιβύη φέρει τι κακόν / καινόν
Libya always bears something evil / new", Aristotle, in Historia Animalium.

3. Ἀεὶ κολοιὸς παρὰ κολοιῷ ἱζάνει
"A jackdaw is always found near a jackdaw", i.e. "birds of a feather flock together."

4. Ἀεὶ ὁ θεὸς γεωμετρεῖ
"Always god geometrizes", Plato

5. Ἀεὶ ὁ θεὸς ὁ μέγας γεωμετρεῖ τό σύμπαν
"Always the great god applies geometry to everything", A mnemonic for π (pi); Ἀεί =3, ὁ=1, θεός=4, ὁ=1, μέγας=5, γεωμετρεῖ=9,τό=2, σύμπαν=6

6. Ἀετοῦ γῆρας, κορυδοῦ νεότης
"An eagle's old age (is worth) a sparrow's youth".

7. Ἀνάγκᾳ δ’οὐδὲ θεοὶ μάχονται
"Even the Gods do not fight necessity", Simonides.

9. Ἄνθρωπος μέτρον
"Man the measure (of all things)", motto of Protagoras.

10. Ἅπαξ λεγόμενον
"Once said", i.e. a word that only occurs once in a text or body of literature.

11. Ἀπὸ μηχανῆς Θεός
Deus ex machina.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bible translations

Contrary to popular belief, the Gutenberg Bible (or Mazarin Bible) is not the first book printed by Gutenberg's new movable type system. But it is his major work. It is a version of the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. Its printing started on February 23rd, 1455, and it had 1282 pages.
More than five centuries after that first printing, how many languages have a version of the Bible?
Ethnologue has a catalogue of 6912 living languages. According to the 2006 Scripture Language Report (just released in late January), there are 2426 languages in which at least one book of the Bible has been completely translated. Among those, 260 have complete translation. You might think that 4 % of human languages is not much if we are talking about the book that has been the most read through history. But it is deffinetely a big number!
Why don't they just add translation then? It is not an easy task.

Do you know where Ranonga is? Take a look at the map. It is a tiny island in the Western province of the Solomon Islands.
In that little island, there are some 2800 Lungga speakers. One of them, Alpheaus Zobule, went to the United States to study linguistics and theology. With this backgroud, he wanted to translate the Bible into his mother tongue. The main problem was that Lungga was an oral language. He started translating the New Testament in 1981. And it was not until three years ago when the first 2500 copies of this translation were published.
He had to face many desicions. One was to translate the Hebrew word "amen" (אמן) to the Lungga word agua, which means "that's it" or "I agree". He felt it was important to end the prayer with an indigenous word.

According to the world's largest Bible translator Wycliffe International, oral languages make up the majority of the roughly 2000 Bible translation projects underway around the world.

In Zobule's words:
"In school, we'd be punished for speaking our own language. We had to speak English. It builds a thought in us that our languages were not good; it affected our identity. When people got this translation, they said: 'You mean our language is important? You mean we are important?' "
Read more of this story in the articles Found through translation, God’s Word is ‘the most important canoe’ for islanders, and United Bibles Society's Latest news #301.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Personal pronouns

In the place I live, it is common to mock politicians. There is not such a thing as a king, but you can see on TV sketches about the president and presidents of other countries. But be careful to say something like that about King Bhumibol Adulyadej (ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช) if you are visiting Thailand. This could happen to you! [As a side comment, the BBC deleted the original note they had when I decided to write about this! Now they only have the one I am linking to and this other one. Wierd!]
Cultural differences can be seen in the use of personal pronouns.
Personal pronouns are pronouns often used as substitutes for proper or common nouns.
English has seven personal pronouns: I, we , you, he, she, it and they. And each of these can take different forms:
  • a subjective case form (I, we, etc.), used when it's the subject of a finite verb
  • an objective case form (me, us, etc.), used when it's the object of verb or of a preposition
  • two possessive case forms (my, our, etc. and mine, ours, etc.), used when it's the possessor of another noun (one that's used as a determiner, and one that's used as a pronoun or a predicate adjective)
  • a reflexive form (myself, ourselves, etc.), which replaces the objective-case form in referring to the same entity as the subject
You can see the table with all English pronouns here.
But many other languages, Thai among them, are not as simple as that. Not, at least in what it has to do about personal pronouns.
I, in Thai, could be either ฉัน, ผม, ดิฉัน, ข้าพเจ้า or , depending on what you mean and who uses it. ฉัน is used by both males and females when speaking to intimates, servants or children. ผม has the same meaning as ฉัน, but is a more “polite” word and is generally used when talking with equals or superiors but it can only be used by males. ดิฉัน is the feminine counterpart of ผม. ข้าพเจ้า is very formal and may be used by either males or females but is seldom met with except in writing (mostly come across it in official documents). is used to a really intimate friend as a very informal and friendly word, but in any other situation, it is an insulting word. But there are more! ี่ literally means older brother / sister, this is quite a common word that can be used for I when you are speaking to someone younger than you. น้อง is the opposite of พ, younger brother / sister. กระผม is another word used only by men, and it's used to show respect when talking to people perceived to be of 'higher status' than you. เรา, confusingly, is the normal word for we/us but it is also used by both men and women as an informal word for I/me. หนู litterally means mouse, this is used by women when speaking to people much older. อั้ว is used only by Chinese Thais. ใต้เท้า literally meaning under your feet, this is a respectful word similar to กระผม. And ข้าพพระพุทธเจ้า is a Royal Thai word, and is only used by those in conversation with the Thai King or another member of the Royal family (it's not a word you're likely to hear often, except at the cinema where it's the first word of the royal anthem played before every film. Literally translated, it means The servant of the Lord Buddha).

All this might look crazy! But that's the way it is. And, of course, for the second person, there is a similar amount of words. คุณ is a very common one. And you guessed right, there is one used only when adressing the Thai king or queen: ใต้ฝ่าละอองธุลีพระบาท.
No wonder why some say you see the world through the language you speak!

You can read more about all these pronouns in the blog entry And you thought 'thee' and 'thou' was hard, in learningthai.com and the most complete one is into-asia.com. You might want to check all the other words for
you there.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mobile ASL

Who doesn't have a cell phone in this crazy society? But how many Deaf use a phone? I guess the number increased since we now have text messaging. But I am sure signing would be more comfortable for them. There is a project at the University of Washington in order to make wireless cell phone communication through sign language a reality.
The main problem now is the low-bandwith wireless cellphone network, so they are working on a new compresion scheme. The software uses skin detection algorithms to zoom in on those specific areas in the video that contain essential movements used to communicate via ASL, typically, hand, face and arm movements. You can read the BBC article about it.
There is also another project to help people who have lost hearing abilities.

And more about this topic. What to do if your son is born deaf? You should learn how to sign. This family is having problems with it. Read a little more.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Broca's area

This is the approximate location of Broca's area in the inferior frontal gyrus of the frontal lobe of the cortex. It was discovered by Pierre Paul Broca in 1861. One of his patients could understand speech but was unable to speak. Upon the patient's death, it was shown that the area darkened in the diagram above was damaged. The speech defect caused by damage to Broca's area is called expressive aphasia, motor aphasia or Broca's aphasia. A person suffering from this condition is unable to put together sentences that are grammatically complex. In addition, the sentences typically contain very few words related to content.
A study has shown that musical syntax is also processed in Broca's area and another study says Broca's area is involved in processing hierarchically structured behaviors regardless of their temporal organization (these kinds of hierarchical behaviors are necessary for language, since meaning depends on grammatical relations, which are themselves hierarchical rules for encoding relational information in a temporal sequence. So, the authors hypothesized that Broca's area, necessary for grammar, might also be necessary for these kinds of temporal plans).
There are tow parts of Broca's area, which represent different roles during language comprehension and production:
  • Pars triangularis (anterior), which is thought to support the interpretation of various 'modes' of stimuli (plurimodal association) and the programming of verbal conducts
  • Pars opercularis (posterior), which is thought to support the management of only one kind of stimulus (unimodal association) and the coordination of the speech organs for the actual production of language, given its favorable position close to motor-related areas
Maybe you remember Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science, by Carl Sagan. Broca saved hundreds of human brains in jars of formalin; among the collection is his own neural organ. When Sagan finds it in a museum, he asks some questions that challenge some core ideas of human existence like "How much of that man known as Paul Broca can still be found in this jar?".

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Turkish survey

I read some blogs. Some are language related, like Osman's Lingulangu. He has interesting material there. The most recent post at Lingulangu is a request to help answering a survey. It is about computer-assisted Turkish learning. If you are learning Turkish, please help him answering it. The questions are about demographic features, internet usage frequencies as well as questions regarding Turkish language learning.
Take the survey here. Thanks!


Myttin da! That's good morning in Cornish. And I am interested in how this language is in the process of being revived. Nowadays there are about 300 effective speakers with up to 3000 people able to have simple conversations.
There is no concentrated area of Cornish speakers. They live spread through Cornwall. Since Cornish has been revived and the language is not bound to certain concentrated areas, Modern Cornish does not have distinct dialects. Variety in vocabulary and pronunciation does occur, depending on where and with which teacher students have learned the language. But this variety is minimal.

The Cornish language does not have an official status in the United Kingdom. There are no laws referring to the position of the Cornish language. The UK Government signed the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages in March 2000 and ratified it later that year but excluded Cornish. Moreover, the national government has decided that the Cornish are not a national minority for the purposes of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National minorities. The exclusion from both documents has probably occurred because Cornish is considered an artificial language as defined in the UNESCO Redbook of Endangered Languages. This source considers Cornish to be extinct and calls the Cornish language artificial. The absence of government recognition means that the government has made no provisions for the Cornish language.

The Cornish language (Kernowek, Kernewek, Curnoack, in Cornish) is one of the Brythonic group of Celtic languages. It shares about 80 % basic vocabulary with Breton, 75 % with Irish, and 35 % with Scottish Gaelic.

It is being already taught to kids at schools and road signs are now in English and Cornish. Read a report about current situation, some FAQs about the language, a report about Cornish in education in the UK and find places where you can learn Cornish in Cornwall.
You can take a look at 12 Cornish lessons, read the explanation about Cornish sounds, consult a dictionary (here, another one) or a short lexicon or check Wikipedia in Cornish.

Friday, March 9, 2007


An acrostic (from Greek ακσος meaning "extream" and ςτιγος, "verse") is a poem or other writing in an alphabetic script, in which the first letter, syllable or word of each verse, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out another message. A form of constrained writing, an acrostic can be used as a mnemonic device to aide memory retrieval.

lizabeth it is in vain you say
"Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.
Zantippe's talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.
Edgar Allan Poe

Довольно именем известна я своим;
Равно клянётся плут и непорочный им,
Утехой в бедствиях всего бываю боле,
Жизнь сладостней при мне и в самой лучшей доле.
Блаженству чистых душ могу служить одна,
А меж злодеями — не быть я создана.
Юрий Нелединский-

Quand je mets à vos pieds un éternel hommage
Voulez-vous qu'un instant je change de visage?
Vous avez capturé les sentiments d'un cœur
Que pour vous adorer forma le Créateur.
Je vous chéris, amour, et ma plume en délire
Couche sur le papier ce que je n'ose dire.
Avec soin, de mes vers lisez les premiers mots
Vous saurez quel remède apporter à mes maux
Alfred Musset

Sou em você o ser mais completo e mais perfeito
Uma combinação como se nunca estivéssemos separados
Ying e Yang girando até não se ver a distinção
Amantes autofágicos em nós mesmos inebriados
Nascidos a cada instante, a cada pulsar do coração,
Esquecidos do mundo, em nossos corpos entrelaçados.

Insistindo em ser eterno, nosso amor infinito
Não foi por acaso que nos reencontramos, mas
Foi por castigo por termos nos deixado a
Intensidade de tudo que sentimos agora.
Não me lembrava mais o que era a paixão
Inexpressivos estavam meus sentimentos
Também era inexpressiva para mim a solidão
Agora uma algoz me matando de saudades
Mata-me como se fosse uma falta de ar
E só a sua voz me faz de novo respirar
No silêncio da noite, tenho só a memória
Tenho a lembrança de cada detalhe e cada som
Então durmo sonhando com você, num sonho bom.

Muitos foram os caminhos que seguimos até agora
Incontáveis foram os amores que tivemos e esquecemos
Nada do que ficou para trás irá tirar a nossa glória
Hoje começamos uma nova vida, ainda que recomecemos.
Aqui se inicia a melhor parte da nossa história.

Poet tvoj nov Slovencam venec vije,
Ran mojih bo spomin in tvoje hvale,
Iz sŕca svoje so kalí pognale
Mokrócvetéče rož'ce poezije.

Iz krajov niso, ki v njih sonce sije;
Cel čas so blagih sapic pogrešvále,
Obdajale so utrjene jih skale,
Viharjov jeznih mrzle domačije.

Izdíhljeji, solzé so jih redile,
Jim moč so dale rasti neveselo,
Ur temnih so zatirale jih sile.

Lej! torej je bledó njih cvetje velo,
Jim iz oči tí pošlji žarke mile,
In gnale bodo nov cvet bolj veselo.
France Prešeren

Read some acrostics made by children. Or read about some advice to create an acrostic.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

What's in a name?

الله is the Arabic word for God. From the Islamic point of view, Allah is the special name of God and is the most precious name because it is not a descriptive name like the other 99 names of Allah (go here or here to see the Arab calligraphy), but the name of God's own presence. It is impossible to alter the word in Arabic (such as create a plural form or change the gender).

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
That's said by Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2), by William Shakespeare. Here, a little explanation of it.
Is it important how we are named? Should parents be allowed to call their children what ever they want? Check name meanings at Behind the name. Or read suggestions about choosing a name for a baby.
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon, lo! upsprang the aboriginal name!
Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient;
Here, Walt Whitman is saying that the name Mannahatta (or, Manhattan) is the perfect name for such a city, because it is so descriptive of its true essence. Whitman shows the importance and effect of proper naming.
Shakespeare was talking about an anthroponym (the name of a human being). Witman was talking about a toponym (from Greek words τόπος, place, and oνομα, name). But we also have other words like these:
  • hydronym, a proper name of a body of water
  • ethnonym (from Greek έθνος, tribe and όνομα), the name of an ethnic group
  • pseudonym, an artificial, ficticious name, also known as alias
  • pen name, a pseudonym adopted by an author, also the French nom de plume
And finally, we have:
  • exonyms, which are names for places that are not used within that place by the local inhabitants, or a name for a people or language that is not used by the people or language to which it refers
  • endonyms (or autonyms), the names used by the people or locals themselves
Onomastics (or onomatology, from Greek ὄνομα) is the study of proper names of all kinds and the origins of names.

International Women's Day

Reading some facts is just shocking.
The UN gave official sanction to the International Women's Year in 1975 and since then sponsors International Women's Day.
It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women.
But... is this still a men's world?
The day remains an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, and is observed by men giving the women in their lives - mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc., flowers and small gifts.
So, this one goes to an incredible girl. The girl I am in love with! Natalie, thanks for everything! Jeg elsker deg!! :W

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Spoken Chinese

I've heard many say that in the future, learning Chinese will be as common as learning English is today. But most who say that, know nothing about Chinese culture. The Chinese term 方言 litteraly means "regional speach" and in English it is commonly translated into dialect. Although the Chinese share the same writen language (文), the pronunciation of identical characters (the spoken language, 语/語) differs from region to region and variations are such that they are generally mutually unintellegible.
Can we talk about a Chinese language? Read here.
But maybe those saying about Chinese being almost compulsory in the future, are refering only to
普通话 (Pǔtōnghuà), or Standard Mandarin, as we'd called it.
But today, I found this article. China has certainly a huge task ahead.
And for those saying that learning Chinese is the future, there are some who are already there. Read a BBC article.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Grammatical categories

A grammatical category is a set of syntactic features that
  • express meaning from the same conceptual domain
  • occur in contrast to each other
  • are typically expressed in the same fashion
  • are often subject to agreement constrains
Grammatical categories encompass:
  • Grammatical aspect, which is associated with verbs that express a temporal view of the event or state expressed by the verb
  • Grammatical case, which is determined by the syntactic or semantic function of a noun or pronoun
  • Definiteness, which is concerned with the grammaticalization of identifiability and nonidentifiability of referents
  • Grammatical mood, which is one of the distinctive forms thatare used to signal modality, which in turn is a facet of illocutionary force
  • Noun class, which is a grammatical system that some languages use to overtly categorize nouns
  • Grammatical number, which expresses count distinctions
  • Grammatical polarity, which distinguishes affirmative and negative
  • Tense, which typically marked on the verb, that deictically refers to the time of the event or state denoted by the verb in relation to some other temporal reference point
  • Transitivity, which is the number of objects a verb requires or takes in a given instance
  • Grammatical voice, which expresses the semantic functions attributed to the referents of a clause

Monday, March 5, 2007


In his books, J. R. R. Tolkien described a whole world. In this world, Elves played an important role. They had a rich history, culture and, of course, language. The two most known languages are Sindarin and Quenya. Those are written by a script created by Fëanor. The script is Tengwar. And, in Tengwar (in Quenya mode), it is 1Rx#6. 1Rx#6 in Quenya means "letters".
It is written from left to right in horizontal lines, vowels are indicated by diacritics (tehtar), long vowels are always attached to a vowel holder, and consonants are doubled by adding a wavy line below them.
There are 24 primary Tnegwar letters. The letters were organized into four series (known as Témar) and each series was used to represent sounds created by different parts of the mouth. These four series were further broken down into six grades (known as Tyeller), which were used to represent sounds created by different ways that air flows through the mouth and nose.
All of the primary letters were composed of (at least) two elements:
  • a vertical stem or Telco, representing air
  • a curved bow or Lúva, representing voice

You might not recognize that text. but if you read the book, you might remember these words: "The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. speak, friend, and enter".
If you are interested in using Tengwar, you might want a transcriber or download a font.
To read more about it, you can go to Dan Smith's fantasy fonts page, or read a quick guide on how to write your name in Tengwar or read the Tengwar textbook.

To finish, this is the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, transcribed in Tengwar from English. Neat, eh?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

McGurk effect

What would you say if I tell you that squares A and B are exactly the same shade of grey?

I needed a while to be convinced of it. This is an optical illusion. An optical illusion is always characterized by visually perceived images that, at least in common sense terms, are deceptive or misleading. Therefore, the information gathered by the eye is processed by the brain to give, on the face of it, a percept that does not tally with a physical measurement of the stimulus source. A conventional assumption is that there are physiological illusions that occur naturally and cognitive illusions that can be demonstrated by specific visual tricks that say something more basic about how human perceptual systems work.
For more about this, read here.
Probably you are not convinced yet, you can see the proof here or here. Do it yourself and you'll be convinced!
What does all this have to do with language? Have you ever thought about an effect like this... but with voice?
Well... now I want you to turn on your speakers, play this short video and hear and see carefully. What is the syllable he is pronouncing? See video here.
If you don't have Quicktime to see it, you can use this file or go to this site.
Your conclusion? 98 % of adults will say they hear the sound da. Now, please play it again, but close your eyes. Don't keep reading. Just play it again and listen. What is he pronouncing? Remember to close your eyes!
Maybe you want to play it again. Are you sure he is pronouncing ba? Well, he is! And the image is of him pronouncing ga. This is called the McGurk effect (sometimes also called McGurk-MacDonald effect). It is a perceptual phenomenon which demonstrates an interaction between hearing and vision in speech perception. It suggests that speech perception is multimodal, that is, that it involves information from more than one sensory modality. You can read the abstract of the research paper published by Nature magazine in 1976.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Read to them!

I am still thinking about yesterday. More than a governmental effort, it has to be a household effort. According to yesterday's article, Asian kids outperform the rest. I wonder if it has to do more with how parents support them at home. That is, using time as a resource instead of money.

How can I improve my child's reading?
Reading and your child
Reading to babies, toddlers and young children
Top ten ways to improve reading skills
Helping your child become a reader
Put reading first
Enseñar a leer, aprender a leer

Time is so much more important than money...

Friday, March 2, 2007

No child left behind

Do those words sound to something familiar to you? Probably you thought of "Leave no man behind", the motto of the United States Army Rangers. Any relation to it? Maybe, if you consider the military has access to teens data thanks to this Act.
This is a controversial Act from 2001. I found this article about it. Certainly, being able of using your mother tongue is not only important, but absolutely necessary to succeed in the other subjects. No child left behing? How good are we doing it? And here, I am not asking about the U. S. How good are our kids doing? Not about grades, but about knowledge. I am pretty disappointed.
If you have a whole life to read, here you'll find the complete Act. But I assume that's too much reading for someone like me, so I''ll also point at the Wikipedia article about the Act.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


If I have had a house on the net, it definitively has to be PhraseBase. I think it is the biggest language-related website. The kindest people I've met online are members of Phrasebase.
I am proud to say I am part of the team working at this website.
If you are looking for a language partner or someone to help you leant a language via email or Skype, this is your option. You also can participate in the active fora they have there.
My profile at PB, here. PB at Wikipedia.
There are some very interesting plans for PB. It'll become a real phenomenon when those plans are materialized. They even have a blog that is worth giving it a look.