Posts Tagged ‘language’

Why Arabic is Terrific

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

I really enjoyed reading Maciej CegÅ‚owski’s post Why Arabic is Terrific. It’s a brief run-down of a lot of the interesting grammatical constructions in the language, from an outsider’s perspective. Arabic isn’t on my short list of things to learn, but this caught my eye.

One thing that I hadn’t thought about:

Muslims believe that Arabic as written in the 7th century A.D. is the language of divine revalation. This has served as a tremendously conservative force on written Arabic, with two important consequences.

The first is that texts from over a thousand years ago remain accessible to modern readers. If you’re an English speaker, where even texts from 200 years ago can be rough going, this is quite a treat.

The Awful German Language

Friday, December 31st, 2010

I stumbled upon The Awful German Language by Mark Twain yesterday. If you know anything about German (I only know a bit), you’ll likely find it entertaining. I particularly liked this passage on gender:

Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution; so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart. There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book. In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous disrespect for the girl. See how it looks in print — I translate this from a conversation in one of the best of the German Sunday-school books:

“Gretchen: Wilhelm, where is the turnip?
Wilhelm: She has gone to the kitchen.
Gretchen: Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?
Wilhelm: It has gone to the opera.”

Also, among his suggestions to improve the language:

I would do away with those great long compounded words; or require the speaker to deliver them in sections, with intermissions for refreshments. To wholly do away with them would be best, for ideas are more easily received and digested when they come one at a time than when they come in bulk. Intellectual food is like any other; it is pleasanter and more beneficial to take it with a spoon than with a shovel.


Monday, January 4th, 2010

I’m trying to learn some Italian, in hopes of visiting Italy this year or soon after. I’m well aware that I could visit Italy without knowing much of any, but I’ve found travel to be far more enjoyable when I can at least attempt the language. Italian is rather close to Spanish, so I’m hoping it won’t be as difficult as learning most other languages would be, However, I stumbled upon this sentence in a phrasebook:

If you speak Spanish or even Portuguese, be careful as there are a lot of words that look and sound almost the same in these languages, but convey very different meanings. I.E: Spanish guardar (“to store, shelve”) vs It. guardare (“to see, watch”) and salir (“to get out”) vs salire (“to go up”); Spanish caldo (“soup”) vs It. caldo (“warm”)

I’ve heard this from others, too. I still think Spanish will help more than it hurts, especially since it gives me a better chance at guessing the meaning of an unknown word.


Translation Integration

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Google Translate has been on a roll this year, integrating with a ton of different properties. I’m not sure why this recent one struck me the most, but I think it’s awesome:
Now on Picasa photos, like this one, it translates comments in other languages into your native language. There’s something about people all over the world looking at the same picture, reacting to it, and talking about it in their native languages that amazes me.


Saturday, July 25th, 2009

A quick post while I’m waiting for Peyton to arrive…

I’m at a university in Barcelona. There are some summer students here, some staff, some people from random parts of the world here for the conference. This creates an interesting problem: I can’t really tell what language to address people in. I could divide them into three groups:
– Students and staff who speak Catalan and Spanish.
– Students and staff who speak Catalan, Spanish and English.
– Conference attendees who speak English and often some other language (typically not Spanish)

So, I’m generally addressing people in Spanish, but I can’t help but wonder if I’ll end up talking to an English-speaker in Spanish because we both know enough to get by and won’t bother to ask.

Actually, I know slightly less than what is needed to get by, leading to a rather hilarious exchange at the airport.. will post about that later.