How to identify any language at a glance

languages
Professional word taster James Harbeck shows you how to identify different languages by identifying the unique characters they use.

Read the rest

Learn Japanese Quick!

japan

There are so many ploys and scams out there that promise to teach you just enough Japanese to enjoy your big once-in-a-lifetime trip that even contemplating which one to choose is impossible.

My trips to Japan generally involve a trip to The Tokyo Disney Resort (surprise! … not) and I’m always scouring websites for the latest little titbit of new information. One of the few accessible ones (since most are in Japanese) is TDR Explorer. All the latest news, free, with good photography.

I like that the webmaster is actually thinking about things which would be of real practical value for a traveler not just to the Disney Resort, but often anywhere in Japan. And thus we come to his list of 17 basic phrases that you might find helpful.

The problem is that if you look at the center column of the list, you won’t have any idea how to pronounce these Japanese words. They are written in what is called “romaji,” or the Romanization of Japanese characters into western characters. This makes them extremely simple to say if they are broken down phonetically.

For example, “Yes” is pronounced “hi,” even though the romaji spelling is “hai.” If you didn’t know better you might say “hi-ee,” or “ha-i” or whatever.

So here is a simple tip: every syllable in Japanese is given the same emphasis. My friend Satoshi’s name is not pronounced “Sa-TOE-shi,” but “Sa-tō-she.” Equal emphasis on all syllables.

Here, then is my own version of a list of Japanese words, all spelled out phonetically so you can pronounce them properly (or at least closely) with some ease. Read the rest

Japanese in Mangaland – Study the language with manga

tumblr_o17yxkUwwj1t3i99fo1_1280

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

If you’re like me when it comes to speaking Japanese – extremely clunky with with a limited conversational vocabulary but can read the two syllabaries (katakana and hiragana), this book is a fantastic supplement to further study. Besides the high fun factor of studying with manga (which teaches you to speak like a Japanese person rather than a formal text-book-taught foreigner), it’s the first book I’ve read that clearly explains the grammar (such as when and where to use particles like wa, ga and o), the complicated number systems, conjugating verbs, telling time, etc. I’m also learning some basic kanji as well as silly things you find in manga like exclamations and swear words. Each chapter gives you exercises to do on separate paper with answers in the back of the book. This lesson book is packed with great info on how the Japanese language works, and it’s presented in an interesting way that makes me look forward to picking up the book. I'm really loving it.

However, I have to say that the title of this book is a bit misleading. Yes, we are studying Japanese using manga, but Learning the Basics is a bit of a stretch. The book does touch on the basics but it moves quickly, and if you’re brand new to Japanese, I would hold off on reading this book until you actually have learned the basics.

Japanese in Mangaland: Learning the Basics by Marc Bernabe Japan Publications Trading 2004, 269 pages, 6.8 x 10.3 x 0.9 inches (softcover) $17 Buy a copy on Amazon Read the rest

Most popular programming languages shift at Github

languages

Driven by the web and Android, Javascript and Java reign. Ruby and C lose ground. PHP lumbers on, impervious. Somewhere in the distance, a Perl script barks mournfully.

Between 2008 and 2015 GitHub gained the most traction in the Java community, which changed in rank from 7th to 2nd. Possible contributing factors to this growth could be the growing popularity of Android and the increasing demand for version control platforms at businesses and enterprises.
Read the rest

Who put the "X" in "Xmas"

Turns out, it was the Greeks. Χριστος is how you write "Christ" in Greek and writers (including people who transcribed the Bible) have been using "X" as a convenient abbreviation of that since at least the 3rd and 4th centuries. Read the rest

How To: Pronounce Nelson Mandela's middle name

The BBC's in-house linguists have an interesting piece about pronouncing words in Xhosa — a major language spoken in the region of South Africa where Nelson Mandela grew up. (Helpfully included in the story: How to pronounce "Xhosa".) Read the rest

Saving dying languages with the help of math

Languages come and go and blend. It's likely been that way forever and the process only accelerates under the influence of mega-languages (like English) that represent a sort of global means of communication. But, increasingly, people who are at risk of losing their native language entirely are fighting back—trying to encourage more people to be bilingual and save the native language from extinction.

At Discover Magazine, Veronique Greenwood has a really interesting story about a mathematician who is helping to preserve Scottish Gaelic. How? The researcher, Anne Kandler, has put together some equations that can help native language supporters target their programs and plan their goals.

Some of the numbers are obvious—you must know how many people in the population you’re working with speak just Gaelic, how many speak just English, and how many are bilingual, as well as the rate of loss of Gaelic speakers. But also in the model are numbers that stand for the prestige of each language—the cultural value people place on speaking it—and numbers that describe a language’s economic value.

Put them all together into a system of equations that describe the growth of the three different groups—English speakers, Gaelic speakers, and bilinguals—and you can calculate what inputs are required for a stable bilingual population to emerge. In 2010, Kandler found that using the most current numbers, a total of 860 English speakers will have to learn Gaelic each year for the number of speakers to stay the same. To her, this sounded like a lot, but the national Gaelic Development Agency was pleased: it’s about the number of bilingual speakers they were already aiming to produce through classes and programs.

Read the rest

Unicode's "Pile of Poo" character

For many years, most of the Internet ran on ASCII, a character set that had a limited number of accents and diacriticals, and which didn't support non-Roman script at all. Unicode, a massive, sprawling replacement, has room for all sorts of characters and alphabets, and can be extended with "private use areas" that include support for Klingon.

But for all that, I never dreamt that Unicode was so vast as to contain a special character for a "pile of poo."

Name: PILE OF POO Block: Miscellaneous Symbols And Pictographs Category: Symbol, Other [So] Index entries: POO, PILE OF Comments: dog dirt Version: Unicode 6.0.0 (October 2010) HTML Entity: 💩

Here is "Pile of Poo" in whatever font your browser renders this page in: 💩

Unicode Character 'PILE OF POO' (U+1F4A9) Read the rest