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The Sideways Dictionary uses analogies and metaphors to explain tricky technology jargon. Try it out with something like “2 Factor Authentication”:
Some tech terms are supported by multiple analogies and metaphors. You can scroll to read them all and get the general idea of what the whole thingamajig is all about. For instance, in the case of “2 Factor Authentication,” I like the second analogy more than the first. Go further and try something like “phishing” or “doxing”.
The Sideways Dictionary is meant to be a crowdsourced project. Google Jigsaw and Washington Post started out with 75 words but are now inviting contributors to add more analogies.
Log in with your Facebook, Google, or Twitter credentials and see if you have the clarity to explain complicated technobabble in simple words. You can share analogies and upvote or downvote the analogies you like. All submissions are moderated by editors.
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The Icelandic language, seen by many as a source of identity and pride, is being undermined by the widespread use of English, both for mass tourism and in the voice-controlled artificial intelligence devices coming into vogue.
Linguistics experts, studying the future of a language spoken by fewer than 400,000 people in an increasingly globalized world, wonder if this is the beginning of the end for the Icelandic tongue.
Teachers are already sensing a change among students in the scope of their Icelandic vocabulary and reading comprehension.
Anna Jonsdottir, a teaching consultant, said she often hears teenagers speak English among themselves when she visits schools in Reykjavik, the capital.
She said 15-year-old students are no longer assigned a volume from the Sagas of Icelanders, the medieval literature chronicling the early settlers of Iceland. Icelanders have long prided themselves of being able to fluently read the epic tales originally penned on calfskin.
Most high schools are also waiting until senior year to read author Halldor Laxness, the 1955 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, who rests in a small cemetery near his farm in West Iceland.
A number of factors combine to make the future of the Icelandic language uncertain. Tourism has exploded in recent years, becoming the country’s single biggest employer, and analysts at Arion Bank say one in two new jobs is being filled by foreign labor.
That is increasing the use of English as a universal communicator and diminishing the role of Icelandic, experts say.
The problem is compounded because many new computer devices are designed to recognize English but they do not understand Icelandic.
Icelandic ranks among the weakest and least-supported language in terms of digital technology — along with Irish Gaelic, Latvian, Maltese and Lithuanian — according to a report by the Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance assessing 30 European languages.
Iceland’s Ministry of Education estimates about 1 billion Icelandic krona, or $8.8 million, is needed for seed funding for an open-access database to help tech developers adapt Icelandic as a language option.
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The folks over at SDL, along with some well-known experts in translation and the translation business, have put together a set of free resources for language professionals. Check out the collection of webinars and articles at http://www.translationzone.com/landing/translator/grow-your-freelance-translation-business.html
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Decades ago, when David Costa first started to unravel the mystery of Myaamia, the language of the Miami tribe, it felt like hunting for an invisible iceberg. There are no sound recordings, no speakers of the language, no fellow linguists engaged in the same search—in short, nothing that could attract his attention in an obvious way, like a tall tower of ice poking out of the water. But with some hunting, he discovered astonishing remnants hidden below the surface: written documents spanning thousands of pages and hundreds of years.
For Daryl Baldwin, a member of the tribe that lost all native speakers, the language wasn’t an elusive iceberg; it was a gaping void. Baldwin grew up with knowledge of his cultural heritage and some ancestral names, but nothing more linguistically substantial. “I felt that knowing my language would deepen my experience and knowledge of this heritage that I claim, Myaamia,” Baldwin says. So in the early 1990s Baldwin went back to school for linguistics so he could better understand the challenge facing him. His search was fortuitously timed—Costa’s PhD dissertation on the language was published in 1994.
United by their work on the disappearing language, Costa and Baldwin are now well into the task of resurrecting it. So far Costa, a linguist and the program director for the Language Research Office at the Myaamia Center, has spent 30 years of his life on it. He anticipates it’ll be another 30 or 40 before the puzzle is complete and all the historical records of the language are translated, digitally assembled, and made available to members of the tribe.
Costa and Baldwin’s work is itself one part of a much larger puzzle: 90 percent of the 175 Native American languages that managed to survive the European invasion have no child speakers. Globally, linguists estimate that up to 90 percent of the planet’s 6,000 languages will go extinct or become severely endangered within a century.
“Most linguistic work is still field work with speakers,” Costa says. “When I first started, projects like mine [that draw exclusively on written materials] were pretty rare. Sadly, they’re going to become more and more common as the languages start losing their speakers.”
Despite the threat of language extinction, despite the brutal history of genocide and forced removals, this is a story of hope. It’s about reversing time and making that which has sunk below the surface visible once more. This is the story of how a disappearing language came back to life—and how it’s bringing other lost languages with it.
The Miami people traditionally lived in parts of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. The language they spoke when French Jesuit missionaries first came to the region and documented it in the mid-1600s was one of several dialects that belong to the Miami-Illinois language (called Myaamia in the language itself, which is also the name for the Miami tribe—the plural form is Myaamiaki). Miami-Illinois belongs to a larger group of indigenous languages spoken across North America called Algonquian. Algonquian languages include everything from Ojibwe to Cheyenne to Narragansett.
Think of languages as the spoken equivalent of the taxonomic hierarchy. Just as all living things have common ancestors, moving from domain down to species, languages evolve in relation to one another. Algonquian is the genus, Miami-Illinois is the species, and it was once spoken by members of multiple tribes, who had their own dialects—something like a sub-species of Miami-Illinois. Today only one dialect of the language is studied, and it is generally referred to as Miami, or Myaamia.
Like cognates between English and Spanish (which are due in part to their common descent from the Indo-European language family), there are similarities between Miami and other Algonquian languages. These likenesses would prove invaluable to Baldwin and Costa’s reconstruction efforts.
But before we get to that, a quick recap of how the Miami people ended up unable to speak their own language. It’s a familiar narrative, but its commonness shouldn’t diminish the pain felt by those who lived through it.
The Miami tribe signed 13 treaties with the U.S. government, which led to the loss of the majority of their homelands. In 1840, the Treaty of the Forks of the Wabash required they give up 500,000 acres (almost 800 square miles) in north-central Indiana in exchange for a reservation of equal size in the Unorganized Indian Territory—what was soon to become Kansas. The last members of the tribe were forcibly removed in 1846, just eight years before the Kansas-Nebraska Act sent white settlers running for the territory. By 1867 the Miami people were sent on another forced migration, this time to Oklahoma where a number of other small tribes had been relocated, whose members spoke different languages. As the tribe shifted to English with each new migration, their language withered into disuse. By the 1960s there were no more speakers among the 10,000 individuals who can claim Miami heritage (members are spread across the country, but the main population centers are Oklahoma, Kansas and Indiana). When Costa first visited the tribe in Oklahoma in 1989, that discovery was a shock.
“Most languages of tribes that got removed to Oklahoma did still have some speakers in the late 80s,” Costa says. “Now it’s an epidemic. Native languages of Oklahoma are severely endangered everywhere, but at that time, Miami was worse than most.”
When Baldwin came to the decision to learn more of the Miami language in order to share it with his children, there was little to draw on. Most of it was word lists that he’d found through the tribe in Oklahoma and in his family’s personal collection. Baldwin’s interest coincided with a growing interest in the language among members of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, which produced its first unpublished Myaamia phrase book in 1997. Baldwin had lists of words taped around the home to help his kids engage with the language, teaching them animal names and basic greetings, but he struggled with pronunciation and grammar. That’s where Costa’s work came in.
“David can really be credited with discovering the vast amount of materials that we work with,” Baldwin says. “I began to realize that there were other community members who also wanted to learn [from them].”
Together, the men assembled resources for other Miami people to learn their language, with the assistance of tribal leadership in Oklahoma and Miami University in southern Ohio. In 2001 the university (which owes its name to the tribe) collaborated with the tribe to start the Myaamia Project, which took on a larger staff and a new title (the Myaamia Center) in 2013.
When Baldwin first started as director of the Myaamia Center in 2001, following completion of his Master’s degree in linguistics, he had an office just big enough for a desk and two chairs. “I found myself on campus thinking, ok, now what?” But it didn’t take him long to get his bearings. Soon he organized a summer youth program with a specific curriculum that could be taught in Oklahoma and Indiana, and he implemented a program at Miami University for tribal students to take classes together that focus on the language, cultural history and issues for Native Americans in the modern world. Baldwin’s children all speak the language and teach it at summer camps. He’s even heard them talk in their sleep using Myaamia.
To emphasize the importance of indigenous languages, Baldwin and others researched the health impact of speaking a native language. They found that for indigenous bands in British Columbia, those who had at least 50 percent of the population fluent in the language saw 1/6 the rate of youth suicides compared to those with lower rates of spoken language. In the Southwestern U.S., tribes where the native language was spoken widely only had around 14 percent of the population that smoked, while that rate was 50 percent in the Northern Plains tribes, which have much lower language usage. Then there are the results they saw at Miami University: while graduation rates for tribal students were 44 percent in the 1990s, since the implementation of the language study program that rate has jumped to 77 percent.
“When we speak Myaamia we’re connecting to each other in a really unique way that strengthens our identity. At the very core of our educational philosophy is the fact that we as Myaamia people are kin,” Baldwin says.
While Baldwin worked on sharing the language with members of his generation, and the younger generation, Costa focused on the technical side of the language: dissecting the grammar, syntax and pronunciation. While the grammar is fairly alien to English speakers—word order is unimportant to give a sentence meaning, and subjects and objects are reflected by changes to the verbs—the pronunciation was really the more complicated problem. How do you speak a language when no one knows what it should sound like? All the people who recorded the language in writing, from French missionaries to an amateur linguist from Indiana, had varying levels of skill and knowledge about linguistics. Some of their notes reflect pronunciation accurately, but the majority of what’s written is haphazard and inconsistent.
This is where knowledge of other Algonquian languages comes into play, Costa says. Knowing the rules Algonquian languages have about long versus short vowels and aspiration (making an h-sound) means they can apply some of that knowledge to Miami. But it would be an overstatement to say all the languages are the same; just because Spanish and Italian share similarities, doesn’t mean they’re the same language.
“One of the slight hazards of extensively using comparative data is you run the risk of overstating how similar that language is,” Costa says. “You have to be especially careful to detect what the real differences are.”
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Localization editor Connor Krammer has released a website that analyzes localization errors in the English version of the popular role playing video game Persona 5. You can check out the site here: http://www.personaproblems.com/ (you can toggle the theme to save your eyes a bit).
Can you think of other translations that deserve their own website reviews like this?
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Omniscien Technologies (formerly Asia Online) has announced the release of its new version of Language Studio™ with next-generation hybrid Neural Machine Translation (NMT) technology.
With this latest release of Language Studio™, Omniscien Technologies has combined both Statistical Machine Translation (SMT) and next-generation, machine learning based Neural Machine Translation technology in a single platform for all 548 Language Pairs supported.
“By offering a choice of technologies at the same price point in our secure Cloud, customers are free to choose the solution that best fits their specific use cases and requirements, guided by Omniscien Technologies’ experts where needed. We don’t believe in merely releasing the latest technology in support of the most recent development trends. We prefer to focus on quality, choice, compatibility, value and expert advice to ensure that our customers can achieve their goals”, says Andrew Rufener, CEO of Omniscien Technologies.
Prof. Philipp Koehn, Omniscien Technologies’ Chief Scientist, adds: “Neural Machine Translation is an evolving technology. In many cases NMT does very well. However, there are still a number of limitations with a pure NMT-only solution. With that in mind, during the development of the new version of Language Studio, our R&D teams focused on the inherent weaknesses in the existing NMT technologies that had not yet been solved by academia or commercial NMT solutions. While we will continue to make significant progress in the future, we have now solved the most significant challenges. In doing so, we have developed a unique hybrid NMT, SMT, Syntax and Rules based solution that provides unprecedented translation quality and control, and the new system is ready for production grade deployment now.”
See full press release >>
From the Microsoft Dynamics site:
The purpose of the forum is to give our partners and users the opportunity to give feedback on our existing terminology and translations for future products.
Our professional translators have defined the list you will see in the forum.
Participation is completely voluntary. You may participate as much or as little as you wish, and you may stop participating at any time.
- Follow the easy registration steps, then review the glossary and vote for the suggestions listed, or give your own suggestions.
- Don’t forget to come back and vote more! Before the program closes why not come back and vote for the suggestions that came later.
- April 20 – 27th: Suggestions & voting accepted anytime during these dates.
The site works as a discussion forum where you can vote for the suggestions submitted, submit your own suggestion, or comment on other participants’ suggestions.
We have included a proposed translation for each of the source term. [sic]
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On March 22-24 (2017), fifty people came together in a former clandestine church in Amsterdam to break their heads on the question how the translation industry will have changed in 2022. The story that came out can be read as an ordinary battle between man and machine, with a victory for the latter. But at a deeper layer, there is a fascinating intrigue with many threads about game-changing technologies and trends and an outcome that is perplexing even for all of us who think that they are behind the wheel today. Be careful what you wish for.
The translation companies of today will not be the same in 2022. We’ll see a split in translation tech and the creative networks, the data factories and the storytelling, the platforms and the boutiques, perhaps sometimes still operating under the same umbrella, but clearly separated in functions. Sounds familiar, this story? Perhaps you are thinking about the paradigm shift in the advertising and marketing industry. Once thought to be so creative, it had its own unique place in an environment of factory and office automation. But now, after a few decades of data storms, the business of the prestigious advertising agencies has changed, fundamentally.
Marketing is automated and driven by data and clicks. The incredibly rapid rise of online ads, razor-sharp marketing, and pay-per-view through companies like Google and Facebook has turned the landscape upside down. Legendary names like Saatchi and Saatchi, McCann Erickson, J. Walter Thompson give us sweet memories of the days of Mad Men, but the creative directors now all report to giant holding companies acting under dull names like Omnicon, WPP, Interpublic and Publicis.
Similar mergers and acquisitions are likely to happen in the relative small translation industry in the coming five years and a convergence with that other creative sector that has fallen victim to data storms – the advertising and marketing industry – would make a lot of sense.
But before we get there, let’s look at the story that developed in Amsterdam just a few weeks ago. The story is broken down into ten chapters, all interconnected, like in every good novel.
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Stepes has announced it will present Mobile Translation for the Digital Economy at the TAUS Executive Forum in Tokyo Japan on April 25-26, 2017.
The digital era has led to the rapid spread of information, fundamentally altering basic customer expectations about translation speed. Fast delivery no longer refers to a few weeks or days, it now means minutes and seconds. In addition to speed, two of the biggest trends impacting the translation and localization industry are the continued development of mobile technology and artificial intelligence (AI).
“In today’s mobile-connected world, everyone is creating and accessing information, including translated content, on mobile devices. This is why mobile will play an increasingly important role in the translation ecosystem,” commented Carl Yao, Stepes Visionary. “Today’s digital content is becoming smaller, more fragmented, distributed on multiple channels, and in need of on-deand, around the clock translation.”
The TAUS forum will feature Macduff Hughes (News – Alert), Director of Google Translate, and Chris Wendt, Program Manager of Machine Translation at Microsoft, to talk about neural machine translation (NMT) and the other translation technology innovations that are impacting the localization industry. Stepes mobile translation solutions, powered by professional human translators, provide a perfect complement to today’s NMT in terms of both quality and scale.
“Legacy localization services are no longer sufficient in meeting the always-on, agile, and fast translation requirements of the digital age,” noted Marisa Bowers, Director of Worldwide Business Development at CSOFT International. “Mobile translation services like Stepes deliver unrivaled speed and scalability and are perfectly suited for the digital economy.”
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Cloudwords, a software provider for global content localization, announced on April 18th that it has partnered with Lilt, an AI-infused translation platform, to deliver an end-to-end localization solution that incorporates the best of both Cloudwords’ and Lilt’s technology solutions: Cloudwords software speeds global marketing workflows and Lilt’s interactive Machine Translation (MT) and CAT software boosts translator productivity. Together, Cloudwords and Lilt will offer multinational organizations with high volume, complex localization demands the ability to shorten localization turnaround times, reduce cost and increase quality for multilingual content. The joint solution further enables global marketers to more quickly and efficiently create and deliver localized marketing campaigns and content at scale.
“With Lilt’s technology as part of our solution offering, Cloudwords is further positioned as the preferred technology choice for global enterprise marketing teams who want to get an edge on the competition. Cloudwords offers customers a complete solution to both speed the localization workflow and shorten translation turnaround times, enabling marketers to significantly accelerate go-to-market launch timelines,” said Richard Harpham, CEO at Cloudwords.
Lilt’s technology enables a human+machine partnership to accelerate human translation and improve machine translation quality. As users translate on Lilt, the system offers translation suggestions and learns from human feedback. Lilt is the first production MT system that learns from that feedback in real-time, eliminating lag time for system re-training, which typically takes days or weeks. The system increases the productivity of a translator by 2-3 times, and improves overall localization quality and message consistency.
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Edna O’Brien has won the second annual Ireland Francophonie Ambassadors’ Literary Award for Les petites chaises rouges, the French translation of her novel The Little Red Chairs. She will receive her prize of €1,500 at a ceremony in the Swiss embassy in Dublin in May. Her translators Aude de Saint-Loup and Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzat will receive three weeks’ translation training with Literature Ireland, co-sponsors of the prize with Dublin’s 25 Francophone ambassadors. The other shortlisted works were Tanglewood by Dermot Bolger, Ghost Moth by Michèle Forbes, The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray, The Thrill of it All by Joseph O’Connor and Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín. John Banville was the inaugural winner for for his novel La lumière des étoiles mortes (Ancient Lights).
The annual Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize is awarded each spring to honor an outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the USA the previous year. The translator of the winning translation will receive US $10,000. The prize was established in 1996 and was administered by the Goethe-Institut Chicago until 2014. Funded by the German government, the Prize has been administered by the Goethe-Institut New York since 2015.
For her translation of
Robert Seethaler’s Ein ganzes Leben
A Whole Life
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016
For his translation of
Navid Kermani’s Zwischen Koran und Kafka
Between Quran & Kafka
Polity Books, 2016
For his translation of
Jakob Wassermann’s Joseph Kerkhovens dritte Existenz
New York Review Books, 2016
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Deaf and hearing-impaired New Yorkers will soon have an easier time communicating with police officers.
As part of a new pilot program, cops in three precincts will be carrying tablets that can instantly connect them to a live video chat with a sign language interpreter.
The program was designed by the NYPD in collaboration with the Deaf Justice Coalition.
Advocates say there are close to 200,000 people who are deaf or hearing-impaired living in the city.
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The literary translation community in the U.S. has a tradition of being highbrow, a carefully tended yet narrow reflection of the stirrings of global culture beyond the Anglosphere.
Then Amazon.com jumped in, like a whale into a koi pond.
Armed with financial might and an intimate, machine-learned knowledge of reader behavior, the e-commerce giant made a big splash.
That annoyed some literary types, wary of the leviathan that has shaken up almost every aspect of the media world.
But AmazonCrossing, the publishing unit devoted to scouring the world for good tales, has in a short time become the most prominent interpreter of foreign fiction into English, accounting for 10 percent of all translations in 2016, more than any other publishing house in a field populated by small imprints.
It helps that Amazon is rather numbers-driven about its tastes, which tend toward blockbuster genre fiction — crime thrillers and romance novels — although it also picks well-regarded literary jewels its editors feel would do well with an English-speaking audience.
The goal “is to find great stories, and we think you can find them anywhere,” said Gabriella Page-Fort, AmazonCrossing’s editorial director.
Amazon’s rapid rise to prominence in the translation of foreign prose is yet another sign of its growing cultural significance.
In Hollywood, this newfound power has been recognized by critics and industry peers: In February Amazon Studios garnered three Oscars. Series such as “The Man in the High Castle” and “Transparent” have earned Emmy and Golden Globe awards.
In the book world, Amazon has enabled hundreds of thousands to self-publish their works on Kindle, its digital reading platform. Some of these works — such as Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” which became a best-seller and a movie — have made an impact.
It also has several imprints devoted to various genres, including literary fiction.
Yet Amazon’s shine has been tarnished by a contentious relationship with New York publishing houses, bookstores and some authors. Many bookstores — hurt by the online retailer’s dominance in book sales and its pricing power — have boycotted titles published by Amazon. They’re also less likely to get reviewed by the traditional literary outlets, experts say.
But some members of the literary-translation community, long beset by indifference from major publishers and a lack of resources, appreciate Amazon’s foray in their field.
“It’s kind of amazing. They have the resources and the ability,” says Chad Post, an academic at the University of Rochester who publishes Three Percent, a blog about international literature that draws its name from the estimate that only 3 percent of all books published in English are translated from foreign languages.
In the blog, Post keeps a thorough database of literary translations into English — which clearly shows Amazon’s trajectory to the top. In 2010, AmazonCrossing’s first year, the imprint published two of 340 foreign translations, or less than 1 percent — one from German and one from French. In 2016, there were 607 fiction and poetry translations and Amazon was responsible for about 10 percent, in languages as diverse as Finnish, Hebrew, Indonesian and Chinese.
By focusing on genre fiction, Amazon is “filling a huge gap” and helping people in the community get “more experience, become better as translators,” Post said.
Not all have super-warm feelings for the Seattle behemoth, however.
Susan Bernofsky, who teaches literary translation at Columbia University’s master of fine arts writing program, says that because of Amazon’s practice of demanding “advertising fees” from small publishers whose books it sells on its website to subsidize its discounted prices, Amazon is still perceived by many translators as having an exploitative relationship with the literary world. The company “has been financially throwing its weight around,” and is viewed with suspicion by many who perceive it as seeing books as mere products, she said.
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Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s office confirmed the decision to make English the official language used in courts. It has already attracted criticism from AfriForum and the Pan South African Language Board.
In an e-mail to staff revealing the decision, Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe said a resolution adopted last month by the heads of courts declared: “English must be the official language of record in all courts in the Republic of South Africa.”
In his April 5 message, Hlophe added: “Kindly ensure that there is compliance with this resolution in all courts in the Western Cape with immediate effect.”
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s office confirmed the decision, which has already attracted criticism from AfriForum and the Pan South African Language Board.
AfriForum’s Alana Bailey said the pro-Afrikaans group was considering mounting a legal challenge, and Rakwena Monareng, CEO of the language board, said while the board would seek a discussion with the heads of courts, litigation could not be ruled out.
But constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos said the resolution would not make any difference because in most courts the language was already English.
The language issue was raised last week at the Judicial Service Commission when Northern Cape Judge Violet Phatshoane spoke about a colleague who wrote a judgment in Afrikaans and told a judge who was not conversant in the language to “consult the dictionary”.
Meanwhile, North West lawyer and language activist Cornelius Lourens has gone to the UN Human Rights Committee after failing in legal action to compel the government to publish all statutes in all 11 official languages.
In his e-mail, Hlophe said the resolution on the abolition of Afrikaans in courts was passed several years ago and “the chief justice has already notified the minister of justice accordingly”.
Mogoeng’s spokesman, Nathi Mncube, said: “In a heads of court meeting held in October 2014, it was resolved that the language of record should be English. This resolution/position was reaffirmed in the recent heads of court meeting held on March 31 2017.
“This resolution was taken recognising that English has become the general language of usage nationally and internationally and to ensure effective communication.
“It is the expectation of the heads of court that all judges president will implement the resolution.”
But Bailey said the move contravened the Justice Department’s language policy passed last year, which recognises three official languages nationally as well as the languages spoken regionally.
A survey by Legal Aid South Africa last year found that 63.2% of people who applied for legal aid in criminal matters had at least a satisfactory understanding of English.
But Bailey said: “This means 36.8% of applicants have a poor understanding of English.”
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Over 2,000 creditors of Pearl Linguistics, the London-based Language Service Provider (LSP) that declared bankruptcy on March 3, 2017, have filed claims with the company’s liquidator, accounting giant PwC.
A regulatory filing dated April 6, 2017 includes a 25-page list of individuals and companies that need to be paid from the proceeds of the liquidation of Pearl’s assets. The list consists mostly of freelance linguists whose services had not been paid at the time of the bankruptcy filing.
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Language is arguably the single facet of humanity that sets us apart from all other animals (sign language-speaking apes aside). But we aren’t born speaking, so where did language come from? Linguist Dr. Quentin Atikinson believes it was invented in sub-Saharan Africa, and he bases that theory on an innovative technique based on animal genetics.
There’s a strange quirk of genetics that makes more sense the more you think about it. It goes something like this: the farther a population strays from where it started, the less diverse its genes. In other words, if a certain type of crane originally evolved in Mongolia, then millions of years later, its descendants that settled in Portugal will have a lot more genes in common with each other than the ones back in the motherland will. That’s because the Mongolian cranes have the same diverse pool of genes that they’ve been working with this entire time, while the Portuguese cranes have only the genes of their ancestors that made the journey.
But what does this have to do with language? According to Dr. Atkinson and his team, the same principle applies to phonemes, the building blocks of language. A phoneme is basically the sound of a vowel, a consonant, or another sound (the word “bowl” has three—”b-”, “oh”, and “-l”). It turns out that languages that originate farther from Africa have consistently fewer phonemes. English has approximately 45 phonemes, while Hawaiian has only 13. The click-using languages of Africa, by contrast, can have well over 100. To many, this is evidence enough that humanity’s ultimate mother tongue arose in the same continent where we first evolved.
However, not everybody is convinced. Michael Cysouw and Dan Dediu point out that if you aim your study not at phonemes but at other aspects of language (such as the construction of subordinate clauses, like “when I read it” in the sentence “I didn’t understand the term ’subordinate clauses’ when I read it”), a very different picture emerges. They also argue that although these methods work well enough when predicting where an animal species evolved, they aren’t used correctly in the field of linguistics. While Atkinson concedes that genes and languages might not be 100 percent comparable, that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing other cross-disciplinary research. One study, which draws links between viral DNA and linguistic cognates (that is, words that come from the same root), has been met more positively, and helps explain the origins of the continent-spanning Indo-European family of languages. So while this subject might be something of an academic minefield, it’s certainly nothing to give up on yet.
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Possibly the only internet users that are able to properly navigate the internet in their own language are English users. From European languages such as French and German to the Cyrillic languages such as Russian and to Arabic and Chinese to name but a few, there are best a few characters that have historically not been able to be used to entire languages that could not be used.
Imagine being a young man or woman whose only language is Arabic or Chinese. They’re confronted with an internet that requires domain names to have been read in an English script. The characters would be as foreign to them as Arabic or Chinese is to the average person who is not of an Arabic background or from China.
The move to a truly accessible internet has been a work in progress for many years, with the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG), a group made up of ICANN community members as well as non-ICANN community experts, undertaking a number of activities to push for this internet that is accessible to all.
The latest of these activities is the publication of a new study from the UASG that reveals a potential $9.8 billion growth opportunity in online revenue through a routine update to internet systems, including those for speakers of languages that do not use the English script.
The report from technology consulting and research firm Analysys Mason was commissioned by the UASG and clearly demonstrates the economic, social and cultural benefits of Universal Acceptance (UA) of domain names.
Universal Acceptance is a foundational requirement for a truly multilingual internet, one in which users around the world can navigate entirely in local languages. It is also the key to unlocking the potential of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to foster competition, consumer choice and innovation in the domain name industry.
The Domain Name System (DNS) has expanded dramatically and now includes more than 1,200 gTLDs. Many of those top level domains are longer than the legacy three-character domain name (e.g. .com, .edu and .org) or are in non-Latin based scripts (such as Chinese, Arabic or Cyrillic).
People can now choose a domain name that best reflects their sense of identity and language, although many online systems do not recognise these domain names as valid. For example, problems may arise when a user enters a domain name or related email address into an online form on a website and it is rejected. When this happens, it not only frustrates the user and reduces the opportunities for the organisation to win a new customer, but it also lessens the cultural, social and economic benefits made possible by the internet.
“To excel in the long run, organisations should seize the opportunity – and responsibility – to ensure that their systems work with the common infrastructure of the internet – the domain name system,” said Ram Mohan, Chair of UASG. “Universal Acceptance unlocks a significant economic opportunity and provides a gateway to the next billion internet users by ensuring a consistent and positive experience for internet users globally. Additionally, governments and NGOs will be better able to serve their citizens and constituencies if they adopt Universal Acceptance.”
The newly released, independent research conservatively estimates that support for Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs, which allow domain names in all of the world’s languages) could bring 17 million new users online. These include users whose lack of local language services was previously a barrier to a complete online experience.
The report’s estimate is based on the examination of just five major languages and language groups that would benefit from IDNs because they use non-Latin scripts (Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese and Indic language groups) and the proportion of non-internet users for whom a lack of local language services is a barrier. The research shows that online spending from these new IDN users could start at $6.2 billion per year.
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Interpreters and the Aboriginal Legal Service have called on the Western Australian government to reinstate funding for the state’s only Indigenous language interpreting service in the wake of the wrongful conviction of an Aboriginal man.
Gene Gibson, a Pintupi-speaking man from Kiwirrkurra on the edge of the Gibson Desert, spent five years in jail for the 2010 manslaughter of Josh Warneke in Broome before being released by the supreme court on Wednesday, after the court of appeal ruled his conviction had been a miscarriage of justice.
The court found that Gibson did not speak English sufficiently or have the cognitive ability to understand the legal process.
The conviction for manslaughter came after the initial police interviews had been thrown out of court because police had failed to provide an interpreter. The charge was then downgraded from murder to manslaughter and Gibson pleaded guilty. He argued on appeal that he did not understand that plea.
Dee Lightfoot, chief executive of Kimberley Interpreting Service (KIS), the only Aboriginal-language interpreting service operating in WA, said she hoped the ruling would spark the McGowan government to renew state funding for the service, which was cut in 2014
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Language is the original network technology. When someone learns a language I speak, I benefit because of expanded possibilities for interaction. The long-distance communications revolutions since the 19th century increase the strength of the network effect. These days an English speaker can travel the globe, either in person or from the comfort of a web browser, and interact with others who speak English, either as their mother tongue (372 million) or as a second language (612 million) (Ethnologue).
The globalised Anglosphere we are all familiar with stands in stark contrast to the tremendous diversity of mother tongues spoken around the world. There are more than 6,500 distinct languages in use today. We measure the size of a language by counting the number of people who speak it as a mother tongue. There is enormous variation in the size of languages. While the sixteen largest account for half of the human population, there are more than three thousand small languages spoken by fewer than 10,000 people.
The network effect, reinforced by modern communications technologies, would seem to favour the consolidation of human beings on to a much smaller set of spoken languages, posing a threat to the continued survival of the vast majority of the 6,500 languages in use. But is that actually what is happening? In work recently published in The Economic Journal, I bring two data sources to bear on the question of whether the world’s languages are consolidating. These sources allow me to address the question from different angles, and both provide the same answer. Language consolidation does appear to be underway, but only for those languages with fewer than 35,000 speakers. That means that around 1,900 languages are large enough to be under no threat at all. I conduct simulations using the relationship between language size and growth that suggest about 1,600 languages will become extinct in the next 100 years.
There are two ways to look at these results. On the one hand, the extinction of a quarter of the world’s extent languages would represent a significant loss of human cultural diversity. From that perspective, language consolidation appears as a significant problem. On the other hand, it is striking just how small the minimum viable size for a language remains in a world with such cheap and easy long-distance communication. A settlement of 35,000 people would be considered small almost anywhere in the modern world. That such a small group could maintain its own language in a globalised world is remarkable.
Given the power of these technologies, why are people not abandoning languages that connect them with only 50,000 or 100,000 other people? The answer to this question is less certain, though there are three likely explanations. The first is that much linguistic communication is face-to-face and thus very localised. Above all else, one must be able to speak with others in one’s family, those one works with, and members of their local community. For the vast majority of human beings, those interactions happen within just a few miles of where they live. Second, many goods that can be produced far away, such as clothing and food, do not require knowledge of another language to consume. Third, bilingualism in a second, more widely spoken language need not lead to displacement of a small-sized mother tongue over time. Indeed, a small cadre of bilinguals can serve many of the external communication needs of a small language community.
The data I use primarily reflects conditions at the end of the 20th century. It therefore does not reflect changes that may have come or will come with the wider diffusion of the internet. Only 178 languages, a mere three per cent of the total, have any content at all on the internet. Only 11 per cent of the world’s internet users come from English-majority countries, more than half of all web pages are in English (W3Techs and WDI). While it is possible that the internet may increase the minimum viable size for a language, my suspicion is that the main result will be to promote more bilingualism. Consider the case of the Netherlands, where knowledge of Dutch is under no threat despite more than 90 per cent of the population being able to speak English.
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