If you’re a word geek, you probably already know all about the World Palindrome Championships, whose inaugural event was held a couple of weeks ago in Brooklyn.
Held as part of the larger American Crossword Tournament, the Championships featured six expert palindromists facing off against each other to see who would be crowned the best. It turned out to be Mark Saltveit, a freelance writer who had spent weeks preparing for the challenge. His winning palindrome?
“Devil Kay fixes trapeze part; sex if yak lived.”
Saltveit’s prize was $500, and after the competition he joked ”I’ll probably quit my day job and go full-time on the professional palindrome money-winning circuit.”
(Source: Oregon Live)
A fascinating article in the New York Times takes a look at Guaraní, an indigenous language of Paraguay that is spoken by an estimated 90% of the population.
We often hear of indigenous languages dying out because of lack of speakers, but Guaraní is different. It’s been supported by governments throughout history, including dictators who have used speakers as informants. Under General Stroessner, who ruled from 1954 to 1989, the language thrived – the General made it an official language and rewarded rural speakers with land for their loyalty.
It’s not just dictators who have supported the language though. When democratic rule was established in Paraguay, the language was furthered strengthened when it was made equal to Spanish. Now there is debate in the country about its future.
You can learn more about Guaraní over at Omniglot.
Students trying to learn Chinese might be surprised to read this, but one man helped simplify the language by creating Pinyin.
Pinyin is the writing system that turns Chinese characters into words using the Roman alphabet; it’s been credited with improving the literacy rate in China as well as making it easier for people across the world to learn the language.
Zhou Youguang helped invent the system, but the 106 year old Beijing resident is not well known in his home country. After the second world war he became an economics professor in Shanghai before being invited to join a project looking at simplifying the Chinese language. He initially turned down this invitation but was persuaded and spent three years developing pinyin along with colleagues.
To read more about Mr Youguang, read the full article at BBC News. What an incredible man.
Mad Men returns for its fifth season this weekend; whilst we all wait to see what Don will do next, take a look at this article from The Atlantic on the historical accuracy of the language used.
The show is lauded for its attention to period detail, particularly the costumes, but Benjamin Schmidt argues that the language used is just a tad too modern:
The clearest signs that the Mad Men writers can’t really escape the present is not the complete, howling mistake, but the steady slip; a drumbeat of language that’s just slightly too modern. There are another dozen phrases in Mad Men that are at least 100 times more common today than in the early ’60s, and the bulk of the show lies in language characteristic of today, not of the past.
What are these mistakes? Many seem relatively harmless, but betray the modern writers. When Lane Pryce tells Draper that no one asked him to “euthanize” Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in season four, for example, his lines are clearly penned by a writer from the post-Kevorkian era. Had Pryce wanted to take the rare step of making “euthanasia” a verb, he would have been far more likely to say “euthanatize;” but most likely of all, he wouldn’t have said anything of the sort. (Source: The Atlantic)
The rest of the article (and comments) are fascinating – take a look.
Thought all dictionaries were hand crafted by old men in dusty basements working late into the night? Not this one.
Wordnik, an online dictionary, uses automatic programmes to trawl the web and come up with definitions. It looks at
“…the texts of news feeds, archived broadcasts, the blogosphere, Twitter posts and dozens of other sources for the raw material of Wordnik citations, says Erin McKean, a founder of the company.
Then, when you search for a word, Wordnik shows the information it has found, with no editorial tinkering. Instead, readers get the full linguistic Monty.
“We don’t pre-select and pre-prune,” she said. “We show you what’s out there now. Then we let people decide whether to use a word or not.” (Source: New York Times)
So instead of the word having a static definition which may have been written many years ago, users of Wordnik can see the word’s current meaning or meanings from looking at the example sentences provided.
Take a look at the full article for more information.
The aim of many language learners is to hear themselves speaking in another language. New technology could provide this – without having to actually learn the language!
New software from Microsoft can ‘learn’ the sound of your voice, then use it to speak your target language. Apparently the software needs around an hour of training to be able to use your voice. Currently it can convert between 26 languages, including Spanish, Italian and Mandarin Chinese.
Research scientist Frank Soong says the software could help language learners too. It may be easier to imitate and learn words and phrases when they’re said in your own voice, as well as providing extra encouragement.
What do you think? Will this replace your language learning, or enhance it?
Source: Technology Review
In strange new research news, apparently the layout of your keyboard may have an affect on how we perceive meaning in the words we type.
According to researchers from University College London, we may be “connecting the meanings of the words with the physical way they’re typed on the keyboard”, in what they’ve termed the QWERTY effect. Letter combinations of the right side of the keyboard are easier to type; this leads to positive meaning. For the left side of the keyboard, the reverse is true.
Jasmin cautioned that words’ literal meanings almost certainly outweigh their QWERTY-inflected associations, and said the study only shows a correlation rather than clear cause-and-effect. Also, while a typist’s left- or right-handedness didn’t seem to matter, Jasmin said there’s not yet enough data to be certain.
“But as far as I know, this is the first demonstration that even hints how a word is typed can shape what it means over time,” he said.
In the future, the researchers plan to scrutinize other kinds of keyboards.
“In different languages, there are other variations with more and different punctuation keys in different places and more letters on the right than the left,” he said. “Technology changes words, and by association languages. It’s an important thing to look at.” (Source: Wired)
The full article can be read at the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.
Image: Just2shutter / FreeDigitalPhotos.net