You know, I don’t think much of Babbel

Con questa app creata da più di 100 esperti linguistici riuscirete a parlare una lingua straniera in 3 settimane

Negli uffici di Babbel c’è un team di esperti linguistici che lavora per voi per creare la migliore esperienza di apprendimento possibile. Siete curiosi di sapere perché funziona?

That’s an ad which Salon has shown me. For those without Italian, a very rough translation.

100 experts have created this app which will teach you a foreign language in 3 months. The official Babbel team of linguistic experts have worked for you to create the best experience possible. And so on and blah blah.

OK, fair enough. But then, well, a reasonable assumption is that they’re looking at where I am and then showing me the ad in my local language. There’s not much point in showing an ad in Italian to someone who doesn’t speak that language (and no, recent surfing hasn’t taken me anywhere that might indicate I do speak Italian).

The local language where I am is Portuguese, Italy is 1,000 miles away.

And how much weight should we put on the value of a language app that cannot even show ads in the right language?

Punctuation matters

Pompous Stupidity

Oliver Kamm…….

Not the best opening for a piece complaining about word redundancy there T Newman. However:

Now the article he links to is a bit crap, but so is Kamm’s dismissal of it. The biggest error the columnist makes is equating stylistic preferences with grammar, which despite Kamm’s complaints about people doing this has nonetheless gifted him a regular column with which to share them.

Regardless of the other points the columnist makes, he is right to advise against using the term “very unique”. If I saw such a pairing I’d think the author ought to have found a better description, or – if it was unique – to drop the “very”. Kamm’s argument seems to be that if a famous writer has used it, then everybody else can too. This is idiotic. In Charlotte Brontë’s case, the overall quality of her output allows her to use pretty much any term she likes. But not everyone is Charlotte Brontë and if their work does not match her standard, they have less leeway.

Well, yes, but:

“That’s very unique”

and

“That’s very, unique

Have rather different meanings. Punctuation matters….

The Germans do indeed have a problem here

One of Germany’s most prominent politcians has launched an oustpoken attack on the increasing use of the English language in every day life, and called for a crackdown.

“Co-existence can only work in Germany if we all speak German,” Jens Spahn, seen by many as a potential successor to Angela Merkel, said. “We can and should expect this from every immigrant.”

Mr Spahn, currently junior finance minister, reserved his greatest anger for the growing number of people who work in the German capital despite speaking no German.

“It drives me up the wall the way waiters in Berlin restaurants only speak English,” he told Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper.

Comparing Germans’ often relaxed attitude to the fierce French protectiveness of their language, he added: “You would never find this kind of lunacy in Paris.”

The thing being that the very idea of “Germany” is based on language. Hitler took it all a little far with that talk of “Volk” but there really was a strong 19th century movement that people of the same language were the natural national unit. As with Czechs, Slovaks, Poles and so on. Germany rather became Germany, with a lot of help from Prussian designs, as a result of that underlying idea.

To find that language isn’t quite working as the binding force must hurt to some extent therefore.

That Indian English

At least five ministers from Karnataka have announced plans to tour the state to gather opinion about separate religion status from community leaders and mutt pontiffs.

Eh? Mongrel Popes?

Il Papa in Rome probably would think that any plural would have to include some dodgy breeds, yes.

Turns out that a mutt is a religious community, akin to a monastery, a pontiff the leader of one such. That is, we’re talking about abbots here.

Might I learn something new here?

Petroleum Minister Pradhan felicitates Kashmiri students

Felicitates……is this some interesting sexual practice special to Kashmir? Or Kashmiris? Possibly a threesome involving a Hindu, a Moslem and A Han? Sex while wearing cashmere? While listening to Led Zep (in which case it’s neither very new nor interesting, is it).

Yes, yes, I know, congratulates. But it does sound more interesting, felicitates, doesn’t it?

Interesting word usage

Kashmir separatist leader Asiya Andrabi arrested from her residence in Soura

English English would have “arrested at” as that’s the place where the arrest took place. Indian English “arrested from” presumably as that’s where she was carried away from, kicking and shouting all the while maybe. Which is right is obviously just a matter of local usage. But at a deeper level, which should be right?

I wonder, I wonder

The problem is compounded because many new computer devices are designed to recognize English but they do not understand Icelandic.
‘Not being able to speak Icelandic to voice-activated fridges, interactive robots and similar devices would be yet another lost field,’ Jonsson said.
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.

This is all done by machine learning. Feed great vast gobs of stuff to the machines until they start to recognise it.

Languages which don’t have vast great gobs of stuff aren’t going to get recognised…..

I’ve heard that we’re seeing the same in machine translation. There needs to be a critical; mass of stuff in the language pair to be able to teach the machines.

Eh?

Van Heusen to enter men’s inner wear, athletic leisure market

Inner wear? Are Indians in the grip of some terrible new fashion? Wear clothes on the inside of your skin?

Ah, no, all is revealed. Inner wear is Indian English for underwear.

There’s a reason for this you silly cow

It is hard not to connect British linguistic reluctance with our endemic national weakness: island arrogance and a half-conscious memory of the days when we were an imperial force. It creates a pleasing but dangerous conviction that our islands are the natural centre of the world, and that we speak a uniquely rich and wonderful tongue which absorbed the best of all others to make something special (there’s a scintilla of truth in that, but no call to be smug). The result is a vague feeling that English is the natural default language, the “normal” one. So if the world wants to speak with us, it will do so in English. We gloss over the fact that the practical truth of this is due to the global dominance of America.

I caricature: but that attitude hangs around like a Channel fog. It’s in tourists assuming that the locals will parlano inglese or habla inglés because they need to sell us stuff, in gap-year interrailers relying trustfully on smartphone translation apps, and in businesspeople who attempt a few halting words of German (possibly in Oslo or Amsterdam, but what the hell) and then relax when their client replies in smoothly excellent English.

Because largely, they do.

And forgive me for this but I am a reasonable case in point. My French is that traditional schoolboy French. I’ve deployed it twice in the past three years. Once to order a sandwich, once to buy a map. And I got it right both times – I think getting the French for “Have you a map?” right at 6 am in some rural French town deserves a medal in fact, given that I really don’t speak the language. My Portuguese takes me shopping as that’s what I need it for. My Czech similarly. My Italian is atrocious but I once found myself with the Czech Radio correspondent to Italy, who had no English, and we chatted amiably for 20 minutes in that Florentine.

In terms of lessons I have none except for that O Level French. And then there’s the biggie – when in Russia it was necvessary to learn Russian well enough to be able to conduct business in that language. So, I did.

But always this has been just by listening to people and repeating – the way we naturally learn languages. Yes, it’s entirely true that with one Romance language the next beomes easier – some words change, lavoro in Italian becomes trabalho in Portugee but a lot of it is just accent. Same with slavic ones, pajalista becomes prosim, some others change properly, krasne becomes chervenyi.

But the real point here is that there’s no point to doing the intense mental work to learn another language unless you need to. Not if your native language is English that is. Even that’s not quite exactly true – most of us have two Englishes, the local and something akin to BBC, we can certainly all understand BBC and near all speakers move closer to it when addressing someone outside that local accent group. (One party trick is to introduce foreigners to a proper Bath accent, well weighted towards the Twerton end of it, at which point even the most fluent English speakers go rather quiet.)

At which point the actual advice that I would give a native English speaker about foreign languages. Learn the damn grammar of your own language first. I don’t – I struggle mightily with the difference between a noun and an adverb let alone anything more complex. I write just from experience, hmm, yes, that looks about right. I know the language, obviously, but I don’t know the structure of it. And it’s that structure which is going to aid you in learning other languages much more than anything else.

To begin with, passing through a place, you can just pick up 20 or 50 or 100 words, that’s just not tough. And if you decide that you’re going to stay in a place then yes, obviously, you’ll want to learn that one language better. But the first thing all and any books are going to do is start with the grammar. This bit of the sentence will change as this bit does and this ending means this tense and that that and so on. And if you don’t already have that mental stucture in place in your own language then you’ll just never, never, get it.

That is, the best preparation for learning any other language is to know English grammar. Because, believe me, the first thing all the books do is assume that you do know grammar as they then try to teach you Portugee, Czech or Russian grammar.

The gay son of a whore

The Philippine President about the US Ambassador.

The Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, has sparked a fresh diplomatic row after making a homophobic slur against the US ambassador in comments that prompted Washington to summon Manila’s envoy to complain.

In the latest of a series of tirades, Duterte used a local Tagalog language homophobic slur to express his displeasure with the US ambassador, Philip Goldberg, in televised comments made on Friday.

“As you know, I’m fighting with (US Secretary of State John Kerry’s) ambassador. His gay ambassador, the son of a whore. He pissed me off,” Duterte said.

Now what we need is a proper translation of this. Because I’d bet dollars to donuts that he didn’t say “gay”.

My bet would be that a proper translation would be “faggot” or some such.

So, where is Dongguan John’s wife then?

It does amuse….no, not the insult, the translation. They’ve gone all maiden aunt about someone using strong language while addressing soldiers. That’s their original complaint. But then our own (err, their perhaps) constraints on “homophobic slurs” have meant that they’ve not actually told us what the insult was.

Philip and Phillip

I’ve long been under the possible misapprehension that Philip and Phillip are different spellings of the same name. Along perhaps the lines of Frances and Francis being the female and male versions of a name, or Ian and John being the same name but coming from different linguistic roots (Gaelic (and also Iain, Euan and so on) and English).

Actually looking it up it appears that just about everyone is a Philip. So, is Phillip my just potentially misspelling a word for these 53 years?

More Indian English

Just realised that one of he Indian stock market indices is called “Nifty”

Well done that man, well done indeed.

The NIFTY 50 index is National Stock Exchange of India’s benchmark stock market index for Indian equity market

Obviously, National and Fifty. But screams of joy when whoever it was realised how to create the acronym don’t you think?

I am enjoying Indian English

The more the rant media drives itself to orchestrated frenzy over Kashmir

“Rant media” describes just so much of that media landscape, doesn’t it?

Dubai-Kozhikode flight makes emergency landing in Mumbai due to ruckus by passenger

“Ruckus”, lovely word.

And here’s a lovely example of that rant media:

It clearly seems that the lobbies at the international level are working to make sure that the opinion in the US becomes so much gripped with the fear of “Radical Islam” that Trump’s arguments of hate and the need to exterminate this hate through “destruction” of the very “roots” of Islamic radicalism start echoing in the heart of every American.

ISIS kills people to get Trump elected.

Yeeeees…..so, how’s your lithium dosage?

What a wonderful word – crorepati

United Spirits has more crorepatis than Wipro, 52 executives earned more than Rs 1 crore last year

South Asian numbering uses lakh and crore. Crore is 10 million, or, in rupees converted to $, call it $150,000.

Pati means “master” or “lord”.

Crorepati. Literally, manager who earns $150 k a year or more.

Our little game for the day – what’s a proper English translation of that?

Corporate fat cat? Don’t know if crorepati really has the derogative implications of that. Anyone?

Umm, no, I don’t think this works really

The government is to ban all Latin abbreviations on all its websites to avoid confusing non-English speakers, it has been announced.

Phrases such as etc, ie, and eg will be phased out from all GOV.UK sites because foreign speakers find them “difficult to read”.

They’re not really Latin abbreviations any more. They’re now “words” in English. Even I don’t know what eg stands for although I know how it is used and what it means.

Further, you don’t need to know “id est” nor what it means to learn what ie means. Just as you don’t need to know Nato, OECD or Ukip in full.

If they’re still useful keep using them, if they’re not, don’t. But edicts “because foreigners” is silly.

Those ravening packs of transient landlords

State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, one of the bill’s sponsors, disagrees, claiming that it targets “people or companies with multiple listings. There are so many units held by commercial operators, not individual tenants. They are bad actors who horde multiple units, driving up the cost of housing around them and across the city.”

Who knew Genghis was involved in New York real estate?

I suppose it makes some sort of sense actually but more would be made with “hoard”.