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Language Archive

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Taming the Task of Checking for Terrorists' Names: ""Qaddafi," for example, can be spelled at least 60 ways in the Latin alphabet. To match a name on a watch list, the Basis system takes a Latinized name and compares it to the company's own transcription scheme, so that it will match with the one Arabic version of the name. The future of name-searching, according to the companies working on it, is not in watch lists, but in sifting through huge quantities of digital documents, like those that might be found on terrorists' computers or intercepted online. "

Monday, December 16, 2002

In Simple Pronouns, Clues to Shifting Latino Identity: "a team of linguists is studying the consequences of the collision of Spanish dialects in New York, looking not only at how that contact is affecting the Spanish spoken but also at what the outcome might suggest about the evolution of Latino identity in the city and beyond...
  The use of subject pronouns in Spanish has long been of interest to linguists... In English, the subject of a sentence is always expressed; in Spanish it can be, and often is, left out.
  For example, where an English speaker would say "We sing," a Spanish speaker could say either "Nosotros cantamos" or simply "Cantamos." Linguists say Spanish speakers from the Caribbean tend to use a lot of pronouns; people from Central and South American countries use them less."

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Web site keeps tabs on emerging vocabulary | "Possibly the most single-minded website ever reviewed in this space, the Word Spy exists almost exclusively to record changes in our collective vocabulary -"

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Nelson Mandela: The United States of America is a Threat to World Peace: "The United States has made serious mistakes in the conduct of its foreign affairs, which have had unfortunate repercussions long after the decisions were taken. Unqualified support of the Shah of Iran led directly to the Islamic revolution of 1979. Then the United States chose to arm and finance the [Islamic] mujahedin in Afghanistan instead of supporting and encouraging the moderate wing of the government of Afghanistan. That is what led to the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the most catastrophic action of the United States was to sabotage the decision that was painstakingly stitched together by the United Nations regarding the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. If you look at those matters, you will come to the conclusion that the attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace. "

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Open Directory - Language and Linguistics:Natural Languages

Ethnologue Languages of theworld

Saturday, June 01, 2002

Lost in Translation at the F.B.I.: "The F.B.I.'s Arabic translation test simply does not measure all the language skills needed for intelligence gathering focused on Arabic speakers. The Arabic-language test copyrighted in 1994 by the Defense Language Institute, according to the back of my exam booklet was solely in Modern Standard Arabic, the Arabic most frequently studied at American universities. This is the form used for official speeches and in the news media in Arab countries but almost never in conversation. It differs substantially from the spoken varieties of Arabic in vocabulary, syntax and idioms enough so that a non-native speaker who learned only Modern Standard Arabic would not be able to understand Arabic speakers talking to one another. ...Yet no colloquial Arabic, in any dialect, appeared anywhere on the F.B.I.'s Arabic translation test, which included a listening-comprehension section. During my post-exam interview, I tried to offer some feedback about the test's failure to measure skills in everyday spoken Arabic, but the interviewer brusquely moved on to his next question. Nor was there a chance for me to name the two Arabic dialects in which I am proficient. The interview is scripted; there is no room for unscripted interaction. All the other Middle East studies applicants with whom I spoke said they, too, noticed the test's shortcoming but couldn't find an opening to comment on it."

Monday, May 06, 2002

Yiddish: For a Dying Literature, a Digital Savior: "As a result of a four-year digitization project and print-on-demand technology, a literature that thrived from 1864 to 1939 will suddenly become proportionally the most in-print literature on the planet. Readers will be able to go to a Web site ( and order any of 12,000 titles in Yiddish. The contents of the book will be retrieved from an electronic database, printed, bound in paperback and shipped within a few days. Members will pay $21.75 per book, nonmembers $29. Aaron Lansky, the president of the National Yiddish Book Center, which initiated the digitization project, said that between 18,000 and 20,000 titles, not including pamphlets and other ephemera, have been published in Yiddish. With two-thirds of those books now becoming effectively in print, a much greater portion of Yiddish literature will be available than is the case with the literature of any other language, he said."

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Beware of Cross-Cultural Faux Pas in China. Evan as globalization continues to narrow the cultural divide, the worst gaffes still leave a bad impression and the right gestures still earn respect.

Fun With Your Zip Program. "Using little more than the zipping programs found on most personal computers, [Italian scientists] can easily distinguish between texts written in 10 different languages and almost unfailingly tell which of a large group of texts were written by the same author.... The researchers used their method to measure the linguistic "distance" between more than 50 translations of this document. From these distances, they constructed a family tree of languages that is virtually identical to the one constructed by linguists. " 

Monday, April 29, 2002

Russia Resists Plans to Tweak the Mother Tongue. Russia's tradition-minded press and much of academia has greeted with unremitting scorn a plan to revise the rules of Russian spelling.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

In Times of Terror, Teens Talk the Talk: "Their bedrooms are "ground zero." Translation? A total mess. A mean teacher? He's "such a terrorist." A student is disciplined? "It was total jihad." Petty concerns? "That's so Sept. 10." And out-of-style clothes? "Is that a burqa?""

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Color-Coded System Created to Rate Threat of Terrorism: ""This is a good, simplistic method to get the message through,""

Sunday, March 03, 2002

The New Yorker The Riddler : "Hook has come to be known as the Marquis de Sade of the puzzle world: a brilliant and oddly beloved misanthrope, administering exquisite torture through dozens of puzzle books and syndicated crosswords."

Saturday, March 02, 2002

Radical New Views of Islam and the Origins of the Koran: "a handful of experts have been quietly investigating the origins of the Koran, offering radically new theories about the text's meaning and the rise of Islam. Christoph Luxenberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages in Germany, argues that the Koran has been misread and mistranslated for centuries. His work, based on the earliest copies of the Koran, maintains that parts of Islam's holy book are derived from pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts that were misinterpreted by later Islamic scholars who prepared the editions of the Koran commonly read today. So, for example, the virgins who are supposedly awaiting good Islamic martyrs as their reward in paradise are in reality "white raisins" of crystal clarity rather than fair maidens. "

Collected by Jonathan March with Radio Userland software