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Posts Tagged ‘Languages

“The conquest of learning is achieved through the knowledge of languages”*…

 

“When humanity loses a language, we also lose the potential for greater diversity in art, music, literature, and oral traditions,” says Bogre Udell. “Would Cervantes have written the same stories had he been forced to write in a language other than Spanish? Would the music of Beyoncé be the same in a language other than English?”

Between 1950 and 2010, 230 languages went extinct, according to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Today, a third of the world’s languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers left. Every two weeks a language dies with its last speaker, 50 to 90 percent of them are predicted to disappear by the next century…

Every two weeks a language dies: Wikitongues wants to save them: “The Race to Save the World’s Disappearing Languages.”

And for a more in depth– and fascinating– discussion of the subject, listen to Mary Kay Magistad‘s conversation with Laura Welcher, the director of the Rosetta Project at The Long Now Foundation: “Why half the world’s languages may disappear in this century.”

* Roger Bacon

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As we contemplate conserving the capacity to converse, we might spare a thought for Archibald MacLeish; he died on this date in 1982.  A poet, dramatist, writer, and lawyer, he is probably best remembered for his poem  “Ars Poetica” and his play JB.  But MacLeish also served, from 1939 to 1944 as Librarian of Congress, where he oversaw the modernization of the institution and helped promote The Library– and libraries, the arts, and culture more generally– in public opinion.  Over his career, he won three Pulitzer Prizes, a Bollingen Prize, a National Book Award, a Tony Award (for JB), was named a Commandeur de la Legion d’honneur, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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“Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts”*…

 

Bare-handed speech synthesis: “Pink Trombone.”

[image above: source]

* Talleyrand

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As we hold our tongues, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to John Wesley “Wes” Powell; he was born on this date in 1834.  A geologist and ethnologist, he published the first classification of American Indian languages and was the first director of the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology (1879-1902).  In 1869, despite having lost his right arm in the Civil War, Powell outfitted a small party of men in wooden boats in Wyoming, and descended down into the then unknown Colorado River. Daring that mighty river for a thousand miles of huge, often horrifying rapids, unsuspected dangers, and endless hardship, he and his men were the first (white explorers) to challenge the Grand Canyon.

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“‘Meow’ means ‘woof’ in cat”*…

 

In cliff-side houses like these, some Malian villagers speak an enigmatic anti-language originally designed to fool slave-traders

Criminals, conspirators, fugitives, outcasts– throughout history, they’ve all often spoken “The secret ‘anti-languages’ you’re not supposed to know.

[Update:  further to “I use a whole lot of half-assed semicolons; there was one of them just now; that was a semicolon after ‘semicolons,’ and another one after ‘now’*…,” this wonderful variation, via @PhelimKine]

* George Carlin

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As we watch our tongues, we might send breath-taking birthday greetings to the man who spoke the secret language of the environment, Ansel Easton Adams; he was born on this date in 1902.  A co-founder of Group f/64 (with other masters like Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke, and Imogen Cunningham), his black-and-white landscape photographs of the American West, especially Yosemite National Park, helped define landscape photography and establish photography as a fine art.

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Written by LW

February 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are”*…

Lars Yenken‘s “The Great Language Game” is an interactive game, being played worldwide, that challenges users to distinguish among (currently) 87 languages based on their sound alone.  As Lars explains,

There are perhaps six or seven thousand languages in the world. Even so-called hyperpolyglots, people who learn to speak six or more fluently, barely scratch the surface. You and I will never be able to communicate in all these languages without machine aids, but learning to identify what’s being spoken near us, that’s within our reach…

Besides, it’s fun!

[TotH to reddit]

* Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As we prick up our ears, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Alfred North Whitehead; he was born on this date in 1861.  Whitehead began his career as a mathematician and logician, perhaps most famously co-authoring (with his former student, Bertrand Russell), the three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910–13), one of the twentieth century’s most important works in mathematical logic.

But in the late teens and early 20s, Whitehead shifted his focus to philosophy, the central result of which was a new field called process philosophy, which has found application in a wide variety of disciplines (e.g., ecology, theology, education, physics, biology, economics, and psychology).

“There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us.”

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The mother of all tongues…

 

The spread of Indo-European, the product of Proto-Indo-European, 4,000-1,000 BCE

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By the 19th century, linguists knew that all modern Indo-European languages descended from a single tongue. Called Proto-Indo-European, or PIE, it was spoken by a people who lived from roughly 4500 to 2500 B.C., and left no written texts. The question became, what did PIE sound like? In 1868, German linguist August Schleicher used reconstructed Proto-Indo-European vocabulary to create a fable in order to hear some approximation of PIE. Called “The Sheep and the Horses,” and also known today as Schleicher’s Fable, the short parable tells the story of a shorn sheep who encounters a group of unpleasant horses. As linguists have continued to discover more about PIE, this sonic experiment continues and the fable is periodically updated to reflect the most current understanding of how this extinct language would have sounded when it was spoken some six thousand years ago. Since there is considerable disagreement among scholars about PIE, no one version can be considered definitive.

Here, University of Kentucky linguist Andrew Byrd recites his version of the fable using pronunciation informed by the latest insights into reconstructed PIE.

More of the story– and another cool fable in PIE– at “Telling Tales in Proto-Indo-European” in Archaeology.

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As we practice pronunciation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that London suffered “The Great Beer Flood Disaster” when the metal bands on an immense vat at Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery snapped, releasing a tidal wave of 3,555 barrels of Porter (571 tons– more than 1 million pints), which swept away the brewery walls, flooded nearby basements, and collapsed several adjacent tenements. While there were reports of over twenty fatalities resulting from poisoning by the porter fumes or alcohol coma, it appears that the death toll was 8, and those from the destruction caused by the huge wave of beer in the structures surrounding the brewery.

(The U.S. had its own vat mishap in 1919, when a Boston molasses plant suffered similarly-burst bands, creating a heavy wave of molasses moving at a speed of an estimated 35 mph; it killed 21 and injured 150.)

Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery

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Written by LW

October 17, 2013 at 1:01 am

Where’s the Beef?…

Photographer Dominic Episcopo is a man of ecumenical enthusiasms– fashion, reportage and editorial, portraiture… and food.  Not content with simple still life, “The United Steaks of America” makes his meat do double duty…

As we proclaim “well done,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 that the first test program in FORTRAN ran.  FORTRAN (The IBM Mathematical Formula Translating System) was the first successful general purpose programming language, the first real alternative to assembly language.  It reduced the number of programming statements necessary to operate a machine by a factor of 20, so quickly gained acceptance.  It’s still in use, especially in high-performance computing.

FORTRAN coded on a punch card

Your correspondent is headed to parts distant, where connectivity is likely to be an issue.  So these missives won’t resume, at least at anything like their normal rhythm, for a week or so

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