Where Germans live longest on average: in the south

Saturday, April 30, 2011

An article here in Welt today has two maps that are easy to understand even if you don't know German, showing the average lifespan in parts of the country for both men and women. For the actual names of places where lifespans are the longest and shortest:

Men: live longest in München (80.9), Kreis Starnberg (80.7), Hochtaunuskreis (80.5), live shortest in Pirmasens (72.4), Suhl (73), and Lüchow-Dannenberg (73.4). Average in the east is 74.4, in the west is 76.7.

Women: live longest in Kenzkreis (85, I think Kenzkreis is how you spell it), and Würzburg, Tübingen, Böblingen (84.5 each), live shortest in Heidenheim (75.3), Suhl (77.8), Pirmasens (78.5). Average in the east 82.4, west 82.7.


What Portuguese sounds like to Spanish speakers (and vice versa)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Something like this:

Credit for that goes to a commenter here.

English has no real close cousins as most other languages do, among major national languages that is. But Scots seems to be just about right, about the same as Portuguese vs. Spanish, Turkish vs. Uzbek, and so on.


Lowering speed limits in Spain to save 1.15 billion euros annually

From an article today in El País on the reduction of speed limits on highways in Spain to save gas:

Lowering the maximum speed on highways to 110 kph has had a large impact since the change was approved on the 4th of March. Almost two months later, the government claims to have achieved its fixed goal, while also reducing carbon emissions.

Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism Miguel Sebastian said today that combustibles have been reduced by 8.4% annually over the three seasons and a half in March when it first came into effect. This means a savings of 94.2 million euros. Over an entire year, this would mean a savings of 1.15 billion euros. This is, however, half of the expected 2.3 billion in annual savings.

As always, the article itself has much more information on top of this, but these are the main points.


Brazil aims to emulate the Instituto Cervantes in promoting Portuguese

Thursday, April 28, 2011

One more article on Portuguese in Portuguese on the promotion of the language, after yesterday's article on the Portuguese language test known as Celpe-bras taken by fewer than 3,000 last year. Here's some information from the article.


Brazil considers the Instituto Cervantes to be a model for the promotion of a foreign language, and could base its plans for the promotion of Portuguese on the experience the Spanish institute has acquired, according to the Director of International Relations and Minister of Culture Marcelo Dantas. He believes that cooperation between all the countries that use Portuguese could form a strong bloc to help reinforce this.

At the same table was Sonia Izquierdo Merinero from the Instituto Cervantes de Brasília, who went over the activities of the institute in Brazil where there is a growing interest in the Spanish language. The institute now has eight centres in Brazil, which is now the country with the largest number of students learning Spanish in the world (note: many students in Brazil like choosing Spanish because it's exceptionally easy for them compared to other languages). She said that there were 18,902 students at the Institutos Cervantes in Brazil, almost 4,000 more than the previous year's number, 14,992.

Spain is now the third-largest investor in Brazil, with accumulated capital of $60 billion. This represents 28% of the country's total investment in Latin America.


Certificate of proficiency in the Portuguese language (Celpe-bras) taken by 2,964 people worldwide

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yep, 2,964 people worldwide. Either this is a really recently created or not the main test taken by Portuguese students, or Portuguese is even more underrated as a language than I thought...or the seeming Brazilian focus makes the test undesirable to those learning Portuguese in other parts of the world.


Page F30 reader poll results on Quebec's role and future in Canada

The most recent poll has ended, and the results are...not quite as interesting as I had hoped, but perhaps it was an impossible question to get a good answer too as one can't get a representative sample from Quebec with an English poll.

But first the results:

I'm from Canada outside Quebec and I want Quebec to separate. 1 (1%)
I'm from Canada outside Quebec and I want Quebec to be semi-autonomous within Canada. 5 (7%)
I'm from Canada outside Quebec and I want Quebec to remain in Canada as a province. 10 (14%)

I'm from Quebec and I want Quebec to separate. 2 (2%)
I'm from Quebec and I want Quebec to be semi-autonomous within Canada. 0 (0%)
I'm from Quebec and I want Quebec to remain in Canada as a province. 3 (4%)

I'm not Canadian and I want Quebec to separate. 16 (23%)
I'm not Canadian and I want Quebec to be semi-autonomous within Canada. 18 (26%)
I'm not Canadian and I want Quebec to remain in Canada as a province. 12 (17%)

Votes so far: 67
Poll closed

The first and third categories are interesting though. The first is not exactly a surprise: Canadians outside Quebec by and large want it to remain in the country, though maybe more autonomously. The third category is my favourite though: people outside Canada naturally don't view the issue as emotionally or have as deep a knowledge of the subject as Canadians do, and the idea of a new country within North America (as Matt commented) is kind of an exciting and neat idea. I also often feel the same way about countries I know little about: Montenegro is independent, neat! East Timor is a country, super neat! No emotional baggage whatsoever.

There is an exception to that, however: countries with regions declaring independence in the midst of a great deal of geopolitical tension, and/or through military conflict. Independence movements and de facto independent republics such as in Georgia (Abkhazia, South Ossetia), Moldova (Transdniestria) or Chechnya aren't exactly neat, and any declarations of independence are always accompanied by sadness over the conflict that preceded it, or the next one that one can feel coming.


Hostelling International website now in Portuguese too

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An article here today informs us that Hostelling International has now added Portuguese to its interface languages. The article itself has one other bit of information to note: Brazil has the largest number of hostel visitors in South America, and in Mexico it's in fourth place, after Mexico, Canada, and the United States. I doubt that this is in perfect order though as I can't imagine Canada having more hostel visitors in Mexico than the US, with 9 times the population and a shared border.

The Hostelling International site itself is here, with flags on the top right showing English (UK), German (Germany), Spanish (Spain), French (France), Japanese (Japan), and Portuguese (Brazil). Personally I think a two-letter code is better than a flag as it helps one avoid having to make a choice of one country over another, as is the case with most major languages (Japan is the one exception here).


Random links for 24 April 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm currently in the midst of something cat related so no time to write anything of note today. In its place here are a few links.

A German article here about why we shouldn't be cynical about the idea of utopia.

Dawn is now just 1.5 million km from Vesta, a distance just four times that to the moon. Arrival still isn't until July as the approach is very slow. Compare this to a theoretical manned mission to a destination that far away, which would only take about a week and a half.

An article here in Bulgarian that I think is about how Bulgaria should become an agricultural superpower of a sort, with its 111,000 square kilometres and just 7 million people.

The Chinese city of Qingdao (I was there for about three weeks) is having its first German language week (Woche der deutschen Sprache). Qingdao was German territory for a short while and the beer brewed there was also inherited from Germans, I believe. You can also see quite a bit of German-inspired architecture there too. Here's an example of a former colonial building that has been retained.

...and that's it for today.


Where international aid from Brazil is concentrated

Sunday, April 24, 2011

For anyone that can read Spanish or doesn't mind reading a Google-translated article, this one goes over the increasing international aid Brazil has been giving out, as it continues to get used to its role as a donor country and not a receiver of aid, giving $1.9 billion in aid for projects (technical, humanitarian aid, etc.) and $3.2 billion in debt cancellation from 2005 to 2010. Brazil also participates in 11 UN missions with 2500 people involved in those, and most of those people are in Haiti.

As for where Brazilian aid goes, unsurprisingly most of it is concentrated nearby:

76% of international aid from Brazil is concentrated in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean: Haiti, Paraguay, Guatemala, Cuba, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. 16.4% goes to Asia (East Timor, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan) and 7.2% to African countries (Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cabo Verde, Sao Tome e Principe, and Angola).


Portugal shows improvement in school dropout rate, science and mathematics

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Not all the news out of Portugal is bad:

A European Commission report concludes that Portugal was one of two EU countries that showed the most progress against the school dropout rate, and for higher education. According to Isabel Alçada at the conference given regarding this: "Over the past six years, Portugal has improved the dropout rate by 11 percentage points; never have we seen such a rapid improvement as this. It means that in Portugal there are 90,000 more youth that have completed secondary education or are on the road to doing so." There was also an improvement of 10% of those from ages 20 to 24 that had completed high school.

As for science: the Secretary of State for Science Manuel Heitor said that Portugal surpasses the European average in mathematics, science and education in higher education. "In 2009, 15 youths between 20 and 29 out of every 1000 graduated in mathematics, science and technology. In 2005 this number was just 10 per 1000 inhabitants." The European average is 12.


Livros para Timor - sending Portuguese books to East Timor

Friday, April 22, 2011

Here's a somewhat lengthy (eight screens or so) article in Portuguese on a project to send books to East Timor, where Portuguese is one of the official languages and continues to ever so slightly increase as a spoken language there since independence. I often speculate here that choosing Portuguese as an official language (though not the only one) was a particularly good idea for the country, given that Portuguese is uniquely positioned in that it is both a widely spoken language, yet still small enough that choosing it as an official language is bound to bring a great deal of attention from other countries (notably Portugal and Brazil) that support the idea and are willing to back this up financially as well. Languages like English and Spanish are generally too widespread for this, as choosing one of these as an official language is nothing special and few would notice.

As for the article on Livros para Timor: according to that, 13,000 books have been sent through the project so far (over a year and a half) of which 3,000 have arrived in the country, which are then registered and sent to locations all over East Timor. The initiative began with a teacher named Joana Alves dos Santos from Portugal, who in 2009 taught at the National University of East Timor and found that it was difficult for people there to find books in Portuguese - either difficult to find or far too expensive. Fast forward a year and a half and there's a flood of books coming in...and the rest of the article is too long to summarize here. Google Translate will do a fairly good job but remember that it almost always gets units and place names wrong - Português becomes English, quilo becomes pound, and so on, so be sure to compare with the original text if something seems amiss.


Number of universities in China teaching Spanish up 140% over six years

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Zapatero was in China a few days ago, and gave a speech on the status of the Spanish language in China and the world. According to this article, the number of universities in China teaching Spanish is now 60, compared to 25 in 2005.

Other facts:

- Total number of students studying Spanish in university: 20,000

- The first Centro Cervantes in the country was opened in July 2006 in Beijing. There are now a total of 77 Institutos Cervantes in the world.

- There are more than 160 written accords between Chinese and Spanish universities. No idea what the implications of that number are.


Three more notes on using dictation to learn languages

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I wrote a post one month ago on the most effective method for learning a language on your own - simple dictation using a program like Audacity where you can listen to a sound file one bit at a time, over and over again until you either have written the entire passage down or have to give up and check the source text to see just what it is you're hearing. The effectiveness in this lies in doing a lot of it - hundreds and hundreds of pages, and writing it down with a pencil is much better than typing since it forces you to slow down, and every mistake you make that needs to be corrected is also done slowly, by first erasing the offending part and then rewriting it as it should be.

Since then I've had the following three thoughts on dictation while doing it myself:

1) Try to avoid punctuation when doing this, as you can't always guess by the voice alone where the commas, periods, parentheses and everything else are supposed to go. At first you should just write it out like this without commas or periods or anything as it is much easier to add them in later than to redo something that you've already written and erase it first the only downside is that you will end up erasing a lot of lowercase letters and replacing them with capital letters afterwards but there really isn't any way to avoid this.

2) One interesting occurrence that you should take as a good sign: sometimes in the middle of dictation you will find that you have written down a word that you haven't heard but one that is the same or almost the same as the one you have heard. Just a few minutes ago I found that I had written "und hatte Furcht vor ihm" when I actually heard "und hatte Angst for ihm". That's a good sign, and means that your brain is listening to the meaning of the words, and not just the sound. Be happy when you find you've made such a "mistake".

3) Something I should have known all this time but didn't: when using Audacity, remember that you can use the space bar to start and stop a selection of sound. I didn't find out about this until about 50 pages in to the work I'm doing and this has saved me a lot of time.


Connecting the two islands of Helgoland into one

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

North of the German mainland is a tiny group of two islands known as Helgoland, and looks like this from above:

View Larger Map

Well, it seems that the two islands just might be joined into one if a referendum on the island(s) results in a positive vote. Welt has an article here from two days ago about this, according to which there will be a referendum on the 26th of June where the 1200 residents will vote on two main plans. The two plans are as follows:

Plan 1: this is the larger plan, which would join the two islands. A new area of 295,000 square metres would be created and would have room for new houses, beaches and recreational opportunities.

Plan 2: the smaller plan, under which a 94,000 square metre area on the northeast harbour would be dredged.

Much of the initiative for these plans comes from a man named Arne Weber, who is an investor in Hamburg and whose family comes from the islands.

The population of the island is now only 1200 but used to be 3000, and apparently a minimum of 2000 are needed to stabilize the population by giving at least some opportunities to those who live there.

For an image showing the islands now compared with after unification, see here.


New poll on the status of Quebec within Canada

Monday, April 18, 2011

There's a new poll on the right that is a good one to have at this time, as Canada is having an election campaign and the question of Quebec's role within the country has again come to the fore. The number of answers is nine, where the first three possibilities are where you are from (Canada outside Quebec, Quebec, outside of Canada) and the second three are what you want to see happen - full separation, semi-autonomy within Canada, remain as a Canadian province.

The options are a little vague because what exactly semi-autonomy means and how autonomous Quebec already is is a matter of debate, but for the sake of simplicity let's say that remaining within Canada as a province means about the same level of autonomy or less than now, semi-autonomy means most everything but foreign affairs and national defence. Separation doesn't need to be more clearly defined - it's separation and the establishment of a new country.


Quebec's plan for immigration from 2012 to 2015: 50 000 immigrants per year

An article here in French details Quebec's plans for immigration over the next few years. In spite of being completely surrounded by English-speaking regions (besides New Brunswick, maybe the north of Maine too) Quebec has one advantage in that there are a great many French-speaking countries throughout the world with populations that wouldn't mind the opportunity to move to Quebec and work there, so the ratio of French speakers can easily be maintained with a good immigration policy.

Some of the article:

Quebec's Minister of Immigration Kathleen Weil said that she believes Quebec could be able to take in 200 000 immigrants by 2015. In 2010 Quebec welcomed 54 000 immigrants, and the Charest government has considerably increased the volume of immigration since 2007. In comparison with this, 35 500 new immigrants were admitted to Quebec in 2001, and by 2015 the number should be around 50 000.

The seven points for Quebec's immigration plans until 2015 are:

1: Bring skilled labourers to 50%
2: Maintain a majority of immigrants that know French
3: Increase the level of French among qualified labour candidates
4: Keep the rate of workers under 35 years at 65% to 75%
5. I'm not 100% sure about this one but I think it means it doesn't want more than 30% of the total immigrants in any one area - in other words it doesn't want them all settling in Montreal. Correction: this refers to countries of origin, not where immigrants would settle in Quebec, so no more than 30% from one defined region of the world. Thanks to a poster for the correction.
6. Maintain a rate of 65% economic immigration
7. Have a stabilization in the rate of immigration, working out to 50 000 per year


Page F30 is now 4000 posts big

Sunday, April 17, 2011

This is Page F30's 4000th post. I began writing it in March 2008 so it has also been a bit over three years, and I thought I would show the top 30 posts by traffic I've written here. Top 30 by traffic doesn't necessarily represent the 30 posts I consider to be the most interesting, since some are more serious than others and many posts that I write that I would like to see gain traction don't, while others I quickly write off and forget about end up attracting a lot of attention. And sometimes a few posts that I would like to see gain traction actually do, and that's the best feeling of all.

A quick introduction to the site if you're new: Page F30 is a kind of an amalgamation of the new, the old, and the small and large. By that I mean:

new: the name itself comes from this. Apparently the first use of the word internet on the Washington Post was on Page F30, about as far back as you can get before you reach the classifieds. Most of the time the biggest stories start somewhere way in the back, and I like to try to find these before they happen. You'll notice a lot of predictions from me about what the presence of extrasolar Earths and brown dwarfs nearby (if they exist) will do to completely change our view of the universe, for example.

old: looking into the past also helps predict the future. Combing through sites like this to see what the world thought of Hitler before WWII, predictions of what flying machines would be like and if they were possible at all, etc., is both fascinating and educational.

small: sometimes small and unknown parts of the world end up influencing great events. Israel and Palestine are about as small as countries get politically but are very much entwined in world politics, Armenia and Azerbaijan are two tiny countries that are much the same: their relationship has to do with Turkey's possible entry into the EU (Turkey's frozen border with Armenia is something that needs to be resolved), pipelines such as the BTC Pipeline from Azerbaijan to Europe, Russia's and Iran's roles in the region, and more.

large: large, long-term trends are also interesting to write about. Whether English will continue as the predominant second language of diplomacy and commerce, be replaced by another language, or become a "first among equals" among other regionally powerful languages but never manage to make the sale as the world's second language, for example.

Plus lots of posts about space, cats, and of course languages and how to learn them.

Now for the top 30 posts.

1. Iran in the 1970s before the Islamic Revolution - pictures of Iranians in the 1970s. Not a piece of pro-Shah propaganda as many of the commenters seem to think, simply a post showing that Iranians themselves are not starkly fundamentalist crazies as they are often made to seem, and nor does their current government reflect how most of them would like to be governed.

2. Why Norwegian is the easiest language for English speakers to learn - most comments below agree with the premise. Some believe that Norwegian is hard because it has dialects, which is false. Most languages have a great many dialects and Norwegian is not a special case here. Nor is it hard because I haven't learned it to fluency yet. I have a great many others on my plate to work on first. In the meantime partial proficiency is good enough.

3. Neil deGrasse Tyson on science - why it's silly to demand immediate benefits from scientific research, among other things.

4. Harvard students demonstrate how not to learn a language - just something funny I found where a group of Harvard students went to Spain to practice the language, but went in a big group of English speakers and also went to Barcelona where you hear a lot of Catalan on the street. I wrote about why going abroad to study like this is a bad idea.

5. Five myths about languages and learning them - five myths about learning languages, especially the one that you can only learn a language well up until the age of fourteen, fifteen or so, after which one's brain becomes hard as a rock. No.

6. Korean wisdom - cats fuck over mice. Just something funny I found in a Korean dictionary once.

7. Why Persian is easier to learn than most European languages - Persian is a remarkably friendly language to learn for an English speaker, much less complex and irregular than most European languages people learn.

8. The same post on Persian, but in Spanish.

9. Why Ceres might be a better location for colonization than Mars. More frequent launch windows and no atmosphere are a big part of this.

10. Kalmykia - too weird and unique to remain unknown. Why Kalmykia is interesting. Note that the president has changed since then.

11. Seoul in 1951 vs. Seoul now - pictures of destroyed Seoul vs. rebuilt Seoul.

12. How Latino sine Flexione was created - a post explaining the concept of the auxiliary language Latino sine Flexione.

13. More men would date an unemployed woman than vice versa. Found that article in Spanish.

14. What English might look like with all the non-Germanic words removed - inspired by Uncleftish Beholding, I tried my own version of a purely Germanic English.

15. Union of Nordic countries - a Swedish politician believes they should all unify by 2030.

16. Yellow dust in Seoul - see what it looks like in March in Seoul sometimes. Everything becomes eerie and dystopian.

17. YouTube needs to change their ratings system - this post received a lot of traffic after the Huffington Post linked to it. After the elections in Iran in 2009 there were a lot of videos showing the protests, and giving a video a high rating is a way of trying to show it to a larger audience. Sometimes you give a video a good rating (now a thumbs up instead of stars) just because you want other people to see it though, not because you think it's awesome! as the 5-star rating used to say. Government officials driving a truck through a crowd is not awesome, but you had to pick that to give it a 5-star rating. The current system is no better: a thumbs up is also a sign of approval.

18. Final Fantasy for NES now available in Latin.

19. Worst children's book illustrator ever. Joachim Ringelnatz, oh God.

20. We need a third season of Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles. Unfortunately my post didn't help and it was canceled. What replaced it? A comedy show called Brothers that made it about six months. What a waste.

21. Korean guidebook from the 1980s on how to dodge falling construction girders, comfort women, and stand like you're good at fighting. Oh yeah.

22. Textbooks for Germanic languages should be in Anglish, not English - a proposal for a controlled language that would be used in learning Germanic languages. Basically a more germanified English that would aid the students in noticing cognates.

23. No to Nynorsk - many Norwegians refuse to use it. Others absolutely love it, though.

24. How to help now that Google Translate is available in Persian - another post made after the election in Iran that was also linked to by the Huffington Post, that showed how to quickly get news through Twitter only written in Persian as it came in.

25. Understanding countries through maps - how to make educated guesses about countries simply by looking at their borders and other features.

26. Which countries can Turkish citizens go to without a visa? This search query comes up a lot.

27. The quickest way to learn a language for a forum / Reddit addict - taking your forum addiction and transferring it to another language you want to learn.

28. Heliostats - a Zeit article on using them to bring sunlight to places that otherwise spend a great deal of the year in shadow.

29. Seven people that might have changed history - seven people that almost succeeded in what they tried to do, but didn't.

30. Why Papiamentu might make a good second language for the world - why the Romance creole Papiamentu might make a good auxlang.

And those are the top 30. This barely scratches the surface of many of the topics here, so perhaps another post later on with the top 100 or maybe even more would be worth writing. In the meantime thanks for all the visits and here's to another few thousand posts.


No moons orbiting Ceres, at least none greater than 1-2 km in diameter

A recent paper here has concluded based on data from Hubble and Palomar that Ceres does not have any asteroids, at least no asteroids of a size 1-2 km in diameter or greater. It isn't that surprising to have not found any moons yet, as many bodies do not have them, and the tendency towards small asteroids to have moons is generally due to the rotation of asteroids themselves: their gravity is so low that a fairly rapid rate of spin will cause the outer edges of an irregular asteroid to eventually break off, sending it into orbit around its parent body. Our moon was almost certainly formed from a massive impact, which is a bit similar to the forming of a moon around a tiny asteroid in the sense that the moon formed is one that its parent body couldn't hope to gravitationally capture, and so some sort of external event is assumed to have happened.

It is easily possible that Ceres could have one or more tiny asteroids orbiting it, however, and so we won't know for sure until Dawn arrives. Very few of the asteroids that fly by us are of a size greater than 1 or 2 km, and so none of them would have shown up on this survey either. One of Jupiter's moons (S/2003 J12) is actually smaller than this too, at a mere 500 m in diameter, so that one would have been overlooked too.


Finding regularity in irregular Spanish verbs

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I found an interesting pdf yesterday that readers who know Spanish may want to take a look at. It's been devised to teach Spanish students how to conjugate both regular and irregular verbs, upon the assumption that even irregular verbs for the most part conjugate regularly, just in a more complicated fashion.

The main chart for people to follow looks like this:

You'll have to open that image in a new window to see it. I'll go through the steps one by one though.

First step is to watch out for these verbs:

The verbs this is talking about are the following:

If that's the case, then go to paragraphs 12 to 15.

Next up is to look for these verbs:

To properly use these verbs you need to learn about their diphthongization. dormir to duermo, etc.

Next step: does the root end in a vowel? If that's so and it's a 2nd or 3rd conjugation verb then go to paragraph 11, and if it's 1st conjugation with a -iar or -uar ending, go to paragraph 9.

and...after that the chart gets a bit more complicated so I'll leave the rest of it to those that actually know or want to perfect their Spanish verbs. What this document reminds me of is this post and this site, which demonstrate techniques to identify grammatical gender in French, which students usually assume to be irregular. French grammatical gender, like many irregular verbs, is fairly irregularly regular. That is, it's regular on a deeper level than simply looking at the final letter as one can usually do with languages like Spanish, Bulgarian, Latvian, and the rest.

It would be interesting to get input from a fluent Portuguese speaker on this too, to find out whether a Portuguese version of this chart and document would be feasible as well.


How Quebec voters reacted to the French-language Canadian election debate

La Presse has an interesting page today here that includes four videos that were shown to 1000 Quebec francophones, who had a number of selections to choose from when watching one of the four party leaders in the debate based on how they felt about them and what they were saying. Quite similar to what CNN does a lot of the time for presidential and other debates except that this one was done after the debates as a poll instead of live while everybody watched. The results are shown either through a line graph on the bottom or these adjectives on the right that fluctuate up and down:

You don't even have to know any French besides what these words mean (confused, irritated, engaged, annoyed, happy, interested, troubled, excited, informed, tuneout) to get an idea of which of the four Quebec francophones like the most, and least. Keep in mind that for everyone but Duceppe French is an L2, so annoyance may often be at their French itself as much as what they are saying.


Farther from Africa = fewer phonetic sounds in a language

Friday, April 15, 2011

That's the result that a most interesting study on the origin of language has produced, that you can read about on the New York Times here. It seems that languages in general have fewer and fewer phonetic sounds the farther one migrates from south and western Africa, which leads to the conclusion that perhaps there was originally but a single seed language, which then spread out and began to lose phonemes and altered in a great many other ways as populations became more and more distant from each other. The study doesn't claim this to be a rock solid conclusion, but it is the most obvious one to be drawn. You can see a graph of the results here.

What would be exceptionally interesting would be if language was invented by but a single person, who decided to invent it in order to increase his power by giving more precise orders than could be given with grunts and motions. Now, if you were this person who came up with the idea to invent a more precise type of sound, and writing clearly hadn't been invented yet, it's very likely that one would come up with as many sounds as possible to try to encompass all the things and actions and thoughts and whatever else there is in the world to communicate with others. This animal is a certain type of click, that one is another, the third one is a kind of muffled hoot, and so on and so forth with increasing length and complexity until you've come up with a corpus that you would then teach to others. After they are taught this, they can then be controlled at a distance, and over long periods of time. You would give an order to someone, specify how it is to be done and what time, and that person would remember it, carry it out, and even pass it on to others. Language invented in that way would be a kind of magic, a tool where the things you say don't fade out of memory after a few moments, but carry on and on as it is passed back and forth.

The first speakers of the language, of course, would get a few phonemes wrong and right away your original phonemic inventory would start to get pruned, and that would be the beginning of this theoretical spread of language as it casts off phoneme after phoneme as people move farther and farther away from this original creator (or group of creators...) that came up with it in the first place.

A single person coming up with something as impressive as this is not so far-fetched, and indeed there are many examples of it to be found in other languages. The Cherokee syllabary was invented by a completely untrained but very motivated man, Armenian's alphabet was invented by a single person, the 3,959 rules of Sanskrit grammar were codified by a single individual, and so on. Language itself being invented by a single person is not only possible, but very easy to imagine.


Looks like there's a Reddit-like site in Romanian too

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Found this yesterday, a site called Proddit that uses the same software that Reddit does but is all in Romanian:

You can see that it's certainly not as active as Reddit (though few sites are), and thus you can contribute to the activity of the site by simply signing up (no email address required) and then upvoting and sometimes downvoting links.

It's easily possible to create a subreddit within Reddit in any language, but what you can't do is have subreddits within that, which limits the appeal. It's not possible to have a /r/Romanian/stiinta subreddit, for example. That's why Reddit itself isn't capable of fully appealing to users in another language unless they are content with having a single subreddit and nothing else.


Discussion on Die Burger: is Afrikaans an African language?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

If you're in the mood to check out a big discussion in Afrikaans on whether the language is a European or African language, see here. The discussion itself is of course rather silly since languages moved about all the time through history but after a few generations acted as if they had been located in their current position since the dawn of time. Take Turkish for example: is it a Central Asian, Middle Eastern or European language, or all of them? The original Indo-European language (as we guess it to be) might have been located in modern Turkey too (Anatolia), Hokkaido has the Ainu but nobody would call Japanese a foreign language to Hokkaido because of that, and so on.

Politically though the discussion does matter, since the languages students can choose as a second language in school and the status of official languages in South Africa are affected by it.

On the discussion itself: I don't agree with the original assertion at all that Afrikaans is " 'n verbastering van Nederlands, Khoi, Engels, Maleis, Portugees." Simply having some elements from these languages doesn't change the fact that Afrikaans is and remains an obvious West-Germanic language.

One comment I mostly agree with is this one:

See here... Charlize Theron speaks Afrikaans with a Belgian (Flemish) speaker.

The main points:

"Afrikaans is and was always just a form of Dutch. Not that that's a bad thing. We can get support from the Dutch Language Union, which will mean more than the support that we get from the ANC! ...French, Portuguese and English are also spoken in Africa and they are African languages too. Afrikaans is also an African language but it remains still a form of Dutch...Afrikaans also means "African" in Dutch, because the language was linked to the "African" dialect of Dutch. Same as "Brazilian", which is Portuguese with a Brazilian influence. Why can Afrikaners not understand this?"

One part I'm unsure about (how much support Afrikaans gets from the ANC - I have no idea), while the point I don't exactly agree with is that Afrikaans is a form of Dutch. Germanic languages are more or less just differing forms of a similar underlying language, and so Afrikaans isn't so much a type of Dutch as both Afrikaans, Dutch, Low German and so on are just forms of a West Germanic, non-consonant shifted-type overall dialect continuum.

In other words, if Afrikaans is a type of Dutch then Dutch is a type of Afrikaans, but both are really just types of West Germanic languages. It just so happens that Afrikaans has a number of simplifications that make it an absolute joy for an English speaker learning it, but they do not make it into any more of a creole or type of unofficial Dutch than English's lack of grammatical gender and declined adjectives make it into a creole or bastard language.

That poster for all I know would agree with this though, since his point is that Afrikaans is not an isolated language but a part of a larger family, and that's my point as well, just expanded a bit.


Language roundup for 11 April

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Just a few links worth sharing today.

A blog post here by someone that has come across a Flapper dictionary. Flappers were girls in the 1920s that listened to jazz and smoked and did all sorts of things, including creating their own slang. Some of it is still known today, while about half or more is more or less unrecognizable. I think Berries is my favourite. A small sample:

Bank’s Closed—No petting allowed; no kisses.
Bee’s Knees—See “Cat’s Pajamas”
Bell Polisher—A young man addicted to lingering in vestibules at 1 a.m.
Bean Picker—One who patches up trouble and picks up spilled beans.
Berry Patch—A man’s particular interest in a girl.
One other interesting vestige of flapper culture is Blondie, the comic strip that began with a fairly riveting plot (for a comic strip) - the son of a tycoon falls in love with a flapper but his dad does not approve, and threatens to disinherit him if he insists on marrying her. At the same time the dad intends to marry her off to someone else, telling her at the same time that it would be best for the man she loves since she's clearly not good enough for someone of the Bumstead family and if she wants what's best for him...see the actual strips from back then here.

Modern Indo-European: a post here and here from Dnghu show that they are still active and working hard on the 3rd edition of the grammar. The Assimil-like Indo-European course looks to be interesting as well, though those always end up taking longer than first expected. First up will be the revised grammar, and then we'll see what happens.

There is also a Sambahsa reference document, a quick overview of the grammar of Sambahsa in a single viewing.


Afrikaans Wikipedia would like to grow more

Monday, April 11, 2011

One of my first posts ever here was on how impressive the Afrikaans Wikipedia is in spite of its low article count. The community there has always concentrated on article depth and size, and gives almost no heed to the number of articles. That's a good thing for the Wikipedia itself, though on the surface it does give the impression that it's smaller and less useful than it is, and that's a pity.

A discussion in the community area there a few weeks ago also talks about this. Most of it is in Afrikaans but a bit is in English. Some info from that (not an exact translation, just a rough gleaning of the concept):

"We have 2.6 articles per 1000 mother language speakers. That is comparable with languages such as Spanish (2.1), Portuguese (3.2) and Swahili (3.1) but we are doing badly in comparison with English (10.3), German (10.0) and French (11.0), and very badly compared with Dutch (30.1), Norwegian (58.8) and Finnish (44.2).

How can we improve this? I have a few ideas:

1. How about the large Afrikaans newspapers (Beeld, Die Burger, etc.) try publishing one of our articles every day? ... the newspaper would also ask people to support the project.
2. What is the Afrikaans Wikipedia for? Is it just for linguistic pride, or is it something truly useful? Most people that speak Afrikaans also know English...thus we should have articles that are better than those in the English Wikipedia. We have to be useful. It is naturally impossible to be better than English in all aspects, but we can be more useful in some parts, such as issues relating to South Africa. Animals, rivers, mountains, sport, literature, music, cities, towns, suburbs, roads, schools, churches, universities, buildings, personalities, history, etc., etc.
The second idea is particularly good. People that use Afrikaans will be likely from South Africa, they will be attracted to information on it and will be able to more easily contribute than other subjects, and this could become a positive cycle (the opposite of a Catch-22). More information = more people coming to read it, more people coming to read it = more potential information.

The Norwegian Wikipedia always has a weekly competition, sometimes with prizes involved, and they will sometimes involve a city or town somewhere. A local council might allocate a few thousand dollars for example that would be given to the top contributors in a given week who write the most on their town, and so everybody wins. I highly recommend this approach.


Reminder: we need to send a solar flyer to the cloudtops of Venus

Sunday, April 10, 2011

This article from Space.com in October last year has a paragraph that demonstrates just how little we still know about Venus:

Venus Express' atmospheric dives revealed that the planet's polar atmosphere is about 60 percent thinner than predicted, researchers said. The team is trying to figure out what accounts for this surprising result.
That's right, not 0.6 percent, not 6 percent, 60 percent thinner than previously thought. We know a ridiculously small amount about our nearest planetary neighbor and twin. This area in the top part of Venus's atmosphere where superrotation occurs has hardly been explored at all (just a few hours thanks to Soviet balloon probes), and on top of that a mission to there would be both easy and cheap. Read about it here. Oh, and don't forget that there might be life there. I remain completely baffled that the possibility of life on Mars, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto is cause for billions in spending to investigate (and well-spent money, don't get me wrong), but a few hundred million to check out nearby Venus is somehow given no priority whatsoever.


Change in Latin enrollment in the United States from 1965 to 2009

This will probably be the last post for a while using data from the Modern Language Association, specifically the search function here that lets one check the number of students for a large number of languages in the United States from 1958 to 2009. The numbers it has for Latin go from 1965, and besides the big drop in the beginning are generally fairly positive, showing continued growth. As a chart it looks like this:

The most interesting question about Latin at the moment is whether it will ever succeed in becoming a spoken language again (I believe it will), and to answer this question a comparison of the language with the country's population growth as a whole is largely irrelevant, especially since the mid-1990s when the internet came to the fore. That is, whether a language can be revived or not does not depend on the number of speakers or users compared to the population as a whole, but rather whether it's possible for a new student of the language to find other people to use it with and effective enough resources to use it.

The numbers for Latin from the mid-1990s go from about 25000 to 32000, which is modest but welcome growth. Also keep in mind that techniques for teaching the language have changed quite a bit since Latin was a necessary subject for a classical education. In the 1900s Latin was more necessary than now but was still treated more as a subject of study rather than a living language (see this PDF showing a Harvard exam in 1869 for an example of that), whereas now it's rare to encounter Latin as a necessary subject in university, but those that choose to learn it are able to learn it more as a spoken or living language, with a lot of conversation, drama, translations of modern books, and other such fun things. This account on YouTube is a very good example of that, as it has far, far more spoken material than written.

I believe that the most effective way for Latin advocates to revive it as a spoken language would be to choose one or two locations to concentrate on (maybe one in the United States and one in Europe), which would then effectively become travel destinations for Latin students who want a bit of immersion in the language, and anyone else who is curious about this one part of the world where spoken Latin can actually be heard. I've detailed that plan a bit here, and tentatively think somewhere like Clifton Park in New York (where there are already a lot of Latin students) would be a good place to try it. Imagine a Latin village, a street or two where the street signs and menus have Latin translations, a few universities have decided to participate by teaching classes there, and even regular shop workers are expected to know a few phrases in Latin because they are sometimes spoken to in the language by eager visitors to the neighborhood.


35 German words you never knew you already knew

Saturday, April 09, 2011

(unless you already know German)

In every language there is shared vocabulary, and German is no exception: obvious words like Hotel and Sport and Sandsturm, to slightly less obvious but still pretty easy ones like Welt (world), Blut (blood), and Zickzack (zigzag). There is, however, a third class of English-German (and other Germanic languages) cognates that are even less obvious, those that are so hidden that their commonality remains unknown until actually pointed out. The site Etymonline.com is just fantastic in showing the etymology (word origin) of just about any English word, and I spent a great deal of time there last summer gathering hidden English-German cognates, a few hundred of them. Here are 35 of the most interesting. Once their common origin is pointed out you'll wonder why you never noticed it before.

1. bone - Bein.

Bein is the German word for leg. Interestingly, English is one of the few Germanic languages that doesn't use the terms leg and bone interchangeably.

2. carouse - gar aus, from gar austrinken

gar (quite, much) + austrinken (to go out to drink), thus carouse means to go out and drink up a storm.

3. cheap - kaufen

kaufen = to buy. The Dutch word resembles English even more: kopen. Most Germanic cognates that have a ch in them will have a k in its place (church - Kirche...); Frisian is the only language that shares the ch sound.

4. clean - klein

klein = small, so both words share the concept of small, clean, dainty, delicate.

5. deer - Tier

Tier = animal. The word deer was apparently originally a generic term for a beast.

6. doppelganger

lit. "double-goer". The German word doppel means double, gang means walk or gait, and -er is the same as the English -er suffix.

7. dreary - traurig

traurig = sad. Another good example of German t vs. English/Dutch/Norwegian/etc. d.

8. erstwhile

Erstwhile is a word that some English speakers have trouble with, as it has fallen out of use to a certain extent. It means previously or former, and the word erst is the German word for first.

9. fare - fahren

fahren = to go, but with a vehicle (i.e. walking).

10. fear - Gefahr

Gefahr = danger. The ge- prefix is obselete in English, but you can see some of its remnants in some words like enough (genoug -- ynough -- enough).

11. fee - Vieh

Vieh = cattle. The word fee derives from this, as cattle represented money and power. The German v is pronounced like the English f and an h at the end is not pronounced, so the pronunciation is pretty much the same.

12. flutter/flitter - Fledermaus

It's impossible for a German to not know that bats are rodents, because the word itself tells you that they are. A bat is a "flutter-mouse".

13. fowl - Vogel

Vogel = bird. The word in English has evolved to refer to a certain type of bird, while in German and other Germanic languages it continues to apply to all types.

14. frolic - fröhlich

fröhlich = happy, cheerful. The -lich suffix is like the English -ly.

15. yield - Geld

Geld = money. In Old English a g before an e was pronounced y, so if you were to show the word Geld to one of them they would pronounce it something like "yeld", very similar to the modern yield.

16. sound - Gesund(heit)

Gesund = healthy, Gesundheit = health. The -heit suffix is like the English -hood, so the German word for health is literally like saying "soundhood".

17. godhead, maidenhead

These two words confuse people at times, because -head here is actually just a different form of -hood, and has nothing to do with the actual word head. Thus godhead (godhood) = deity, and maidenhead (maidenhood) = maidinity, maidenness. In German the word is Gottheit.

18. harvest - Herbst

Herbst is the German word for autumn or fall. The Old English word for September was also similar: hærfestmonað (harvestmonth). Certainly beats September, a simple derivation from the Latin word for seven (Latin months are always two months off - September is seven, October is eight...).

19. henchman - Hengst

Hengst is the German word for stallion. Henchmen always ride on horses and go around tormenting honest civilians.

20. laud - Lied

Lied = Song. Don't forget that it's pronounced "leed", not "lied" (you lied!).

21. lift - Luft

Luft = air. History buffs will recognize the word Luftwaffe (air force, Waffe is cognate with weapon), and Lufthansa is also a word most people know.

22. lore - Lehre

Lehre = teaching, science, lesson. A Lehrer is a teacher.

23. nitwit - nichts + Wit

nichts = none, Witz = wit, cleverness, no a nitwit is a person with no wit at all.

24. per - ver

While not an actual word, it's good to know that the per- prefix (perplex, perforate...) is mostly the same as the German ver-, which usually intensifies a word. Verlassen (abandon), verkennen (explore), etc.

25. pray - fragen

fragen = to ask a question. Reminiscent of the English "pray tell, what is this?".

26. room - Raum

Raum = space. Since we learned the word fahren above, now we know that a space explorer is a Raumfahrer, literally a "room-farer", a person that fares through the room (space).

27. scathe - Schade

Schade = damage, but you use it most often to mean "too bad" (Schade!). Scathing! The word Schadenfreude comes to mind here as well.

28. shall - Schuld

This word is very interesting: Schuld means debt, or obligation. The English word shall originally came from this: I owe, I have to, I must, etc.

29. sight - Gesicht

Gesicht = face. "A thing seen".

30. stead - Stadt

Stadt = city. The word is also cognate with stand (to make a stand somewhere), the word homestead is another related word.

31. stout - stolz

stolz = proud, as in being proud of one's work.

32. stream - Strom

Strom means electricity, something that runs on a current.

33. thatch - Dach

Dach = roof. Originally from a verb meaning to cover.

34. tidings - Zeitung

The English word tide (tidings) originally meant time, a sense that other Germanic languages have retained. English t is often z in German (tongue = Zung), and with English d becoming t here, the word Zeit is now completely unfamiliar until pointed out. The Dutch word tijd is much easier to recognize. The word Zeitung does not exactly mean tidings though, it's newspaper.

35. twilight - Zwielicht

The German word for twilight is Zwielicht, literally two-light. Apparently the "two" here actually means "half", as twilight is the time of day when you are halfway in between light and darkness. Although the German word for two is zwei, you'll sometimes see the e and i reversed in compounds like the word Zwieback, a type of toasted bread that literally means "twice-baked".


El afrikaans es una entrada excelente para aprender las lenguas germánicas

Una traduccción parcial de mi escritura aquí - español no es mi lengua materna, perdona los errores gramaticales per favor!

"Afrikaans es una entrada excelente para una persona que quiere aprender otras lenguas germanicas" - escrito aquí, en un sitio web donde se puede aprender Afrikaans, tal vez el mejor sitio web para lo aprender.

¿Cómo es Afrikaans tan bueno para comprender otras lenguas germanicas, como holandés, alemán, y un poco noruego y islandés? De hecho, Afrikaans un poco como Papiamentu, un idioma con un vocabulario compuesto de portugués, español y un poco holandés y otras lenguas, pero con una grammática mucho más fácil. Una persona que sólo sabe inglés puede, en teoría, aprender Papiamentu más rápido y tal modo adquirir un vocabulario romance, sin gastar tiempo en el aprendizaje de una gramática complicada.

Un buen ejemplo de Papiamentu:

Es múy fácil de entender si se puede hablar español, y una persona que sabe Papiamentu, tiene una buena base de entendimiento de otras lenguas romances también.

Afrikaans es un poco como Papiamentu, pero hay algunas diferencias significativas:

- Afrikaans no es un criollo, y es más similar a holandés que Papiamentu a español. De hecho, es más parecido al holándes que muchas otras dialectos en en los Países Bajos y Bélgica. Y hay videos en YouTube donde una persona habla en afrikaans, una otra en holandés, y se puede entender. Un video con Charlize Theron, que habla Afrikaans, hablando con un reportero de Bélgica:

- Papiamentu es hablado por 300,000 personas, Afrikaans por tal vez 15 - 23 million.

Bueno, ¿por qué es Afrikaans tan fácil? Hay muchas razones, pero las razones más importantes son:

* No hay género gramatical. No die/das/der, no de/het, sólo die. Die man, die land, die hand, die water, die projek. Se puede aprender vocábulario germánico sin género gramatical.

* No hay casos.

* Conjugación del verbos es casí nonexistente. Ek het, jy het, julles het... (yo tengo, usted tiene, ellos tienen...) El pasado es het + ge(verbo), con sólo unas pocas excepciones. El tiempo futuro es sal. Ek kom (vengo), Ek sal kom (vendré).

Vamos a ver el vocabulario. El vocabulario de Afrikaans es muy similar a holandés, por supuesto, pero ¿cuánto similar a alemán? Esta tabla muestra que Afrikaans tiene un vocabulario mucho más similar a alemán que tiene inglés (que es un lengua germánica, pero mucho alejado). Cognados son verdes, "medio cognados" (cognados, sí, pero no tan obvios) un verde más diluyente(?).

verlassenverlaatgive up
(but knorrig means knotted)
davondaarvanabout it
Orangensaftlemoensaporange juice
beeilen (but Hast also exists)haashaste / hurry

Si "Medio cognados" son iguales a 0.5 y cognados 1, de 31 palabras alemanas hay 23.5 cognados con Afrikaans, pero sólo 9.5 cognados con inglés.

Para alguna información sobre la gramática de Afrikaans, Wikipedia lo tiene. Si quiere escuchar un poco de Afrikaans, puede escuchar esta 14 canciones, los que me gusta.

1. Vir My
2. Brief vir Simone
4. Swerwer
5. Ek Bou 'n Huisie
6. Sien Jy Nou
7. Ag, My Kind
8. Ontrafel
9. Vir Ander
10. Pretoria
11. Smoorverlief
12. Maan
13. Om Jammer te Sê
14. Die Onverkrygbare


Can brown dwarfs support life?

There's a lot of disinformation about brown dwarfs and their suitability for life so hopefully this post will help out for those doing a search on the subject. The short answer is that we don't know (since we know about very few brown dwarfs), but the key to whether life can exist on planets around brown dwarfs is mostly to do with the brown dwarf's Roche limit. The Roche limit is basically a line that cannot be crossed by an orbiting body, because if it gets to close to the planet, star, etc. it orbits, it will be torn apart by tidal forces and turn into a ring. Wikipedia shows us an object outside the limit:

then an object closer in as it begins to be deformed by the tidal forces:

and then after it crosses, it is no more:

This is, of course, over long periods of time - objects do not simply explode due to crossing the Roche limit.

Why the Roche limit matters is this: the closer a moon gets to its host planet the more tidal forces exerted upon it, and more tidal forces = more heat. The Galilean moons of Jupiter (Europa for example) are heated with tidal forces, and Io's volcanism is a result of this. Tidal forces make it possible for liquid water to exist in an area that would otherwise be far too cold. Brown dwarfs are very cool stars, so the best bet for a moon orbiting one to stay warm is tidal heating.

So, the question with brown dwarfs is thus: can a moon orbiting a brown dwarf outside its Roche limit receive sufficient tidal heating to sustain liquid water, and maintain this for long enough for life to develop?

The tentative answer to this seems to be: yes, but the more massive the brown dwarf the better. This paper (PDF) shows that a brown dwarf with a mass 2% of the sun would have a habitability zone very close to the Roche radius, but at about 6% mass and above it moves considerably farther away, giving a much larger zone of potential habitability.

There are other possibilities for liquid water on a moon around a brown dwarf. Even rogue planets that careen through space all on their own for example are thought to be possible places for life to exist because there is no solar wind to strip away their atmosphere and any heat generated from within the planet could be retained by a thick enough atmosphere. However, a quick calculation on tidal heating is one of the easiest ways to make a rough guess.


Most studied languages in the United States, 1983 to 2009

Friday, April 08, 2011

So after a bit more searching it seems that the Modern Language Association has stats for the number of students learning a huge number of languages, even Pennsylvanian German, Esperanto and a ton of other minor tongues. A nationwide survey though can't help but be inaccurate for the smallest of languages, which tend to be taught by small organizations, individuals, cultural centres, and many other places that aren't surveyed. For the most studied languages in the country though, their numbers are very helpful.

I looked through a few languages and decided to go with any language that recorded at least 3000 students in any period. The exact numbers can be found on their site, but as the numbers are always approximate it's better to simply compare them on a graph. The first graph shows just how much Spanish is studied in the US compared to the others, and makes the scale for any language but French and German impossible to read. Spanish will be removed in the next graph.

Now here is the graph without Spanish. Both French and German collapsed for some reason in the 1990s, and have begun to recover since then.
Now French is gone:
and once we remove German we can clearly see the trends for each of the other languages. Note the following in these languages:

- Italian and Japanese are doing surprisingly well. There is a common refrain that nobody studies Japanese anymore since the 1990s that the graph shows to be false, and the same with Italian.
- Arabic hardly grows at all until 2001, then spikes.
- Russian looks a lot like French and German in its sudden drop in the 1990s and then slow recovery
- Portuguese is way underrepresented compared with its economic strength. Brazil is the 8th-largest economy in the world and there are eight other countries that use Portuguese as an official language, but you'd never be able to tell from this graph. The Portuguese media is filled with stories on how Portuguese never gets any attention thanks to always being compared to Spanish and its greater population and extent.

Finally, the US population in 1983 was 234 million and it's 307 million now, so any comparisons made should keep in mind that the population has increased by about 30%.

Edit: it seems I've forgotten Latin. Here are the numbers for Latin during this time, making it somewhat more popular than Russian. Growth for Latin is almost exactly the same as the population growth in the US during that time too.

1983 24,199
1986 25,038
1990 28,178
1995 25,897
1998 26,145
2002 29,841
2006 32,191
2009 32,606


Italian language students in United States up 60% over eight years (1998 - 2006)

Not the most current numbers, but I noticed here that the number of students learning Italian in the United States has apparently risen by 60% in between 1998 and 2006, going from 49,000 to 78,000. Those numbers are from the Modern Language Association.

Hold on a second....

Okay, the Modern Language Association's site has some more recent numbers too. A search for Italian gives the following number for 2009:


So that's another 3.5% increase over three years. Certainly better than a decrease. With a population growth of 0.98%, that gives us a 2.96% population increase in three years, so Italian has just barely grown at a greater rate than the population itself.


Germany pixelates 240,000 buildings from Google Street View

Just a few days ago I was using Google Street View to take a look at the streets of Frankfurt, and was struck by the number of pixellated buildings. Google Street View took an exceptionally long time to make the streets of Germany available, due to privacy concerns. I don't remember the exact details but I think there was an order given by a judge that a few more months leeway be given for people to request their homes and buildings be pixellated.

As a result, every block or so one runs into a pixellated building, and these pixellated buildings really stand out. Here's one example of two pixellated buildings in the same shot, and even though the buildings themselves are now hidden, the big pixellated buildings in the middle of the rest really do become the centre of attention.

Where does the 240,000 number come from? From an article in Zeit here. It mentions on page 2 that it's particularly interesting that sites like Das Telefonbuch and Sightwalk.de provide just as much if not more private information (not just images but also names and phone numbers), but have not attracted the same controversy that Google has.

Next up in Germany: Microsoft Street Side.


Quote of the day: Washington Irving on civilized life vs. native human character

Here's an interesting quote I found in book today that also happens to have a German translation on the right, by Washington Irving. A bit reminiscent of Fight Club, don't you think? Or rather, the other way around.

In civilized life, where the happiness, and indeed almost the existence, of man depends so much upon the opinion of his fellow-men, he is constantly acting a studied part. The bold and peculiar traits of native character are refined away or softened down by the leveling influence of what is termed good breeding; and he practices so many petty deceptions and effects so many generous sentiments for the purposes of popularity that it is difficult to distinguish his real from his artificial character...society is like a lawn, where every roughness is smoothed, every bramble eradicated, and where the eye is delighted by the smiting verdure of a velvet surface; he, however, who would study nature in its wildness and variety must plunge into the forest, must explore the glen, must stem the torrent, and dare the precipice.

In zivilisierten Leben, wo das Glück, ja geradezu die Existenz des Menschen von dem Ansehen bei den Mitmenschen abhängt, spielt man ständig eine einstudierte Rolle. Die starken, hervortretenden Eigenschaften ursprünglicher Wesenart sind verfeinert oder gemildert durch den zähmenden Einfluss dessen, was man eine gute Herkunft nennt; und man vollführt so viele kleine Täuschungen und versucht so viele edle Gefühle zum Zwecke des Beliebtseins hervorzurufen, dass es schwierig ist, das wahre Wesen von der Maske zu unterscheiden...die Gesellschaft ist wie ein Zierrasen, in dem jede Unebenheit geglättet, jedes Unkraut ausgejätet und angesichts dessen das Auge vom gefälligen Wachstum einer samtenen Fläche erfreut ist; wer jedoch die Natur in ihrer Wildheit und Vielfalt erforschen will, muss in den Wald eintauchen, muss die Schlucht ergründen, muss der Strömung widerstehen und sich der Klippe stellen.
And that Fight Club quote if you don't feel like searching through the others to find it:


Asteroids 2011 GW9 and 2011 GP28 just flew by the Earth at distances closer than the Moon

Earth was just grazed again, this time by two asteroids in the same day. Once again though, both of them are too small to have caused any damage even if they were to have hit us.

2011 GW9 is around 10 metres in diameter, and has an orbit like this:

while 2011 GP28 is a bit smaller at some 6 metres, with a slightly more interesting but similar orbit.

Since 2011 GP28 flew by at just 20% the distance from the Earth to the Moon while 2011 GW9 was 2.5 times farther away at 50%, you're more likely to find a video on Youtube of the flyby for 2011 GP28, if any happen to surface in the next day or two.


New Flemish Alliance: French is insignificant, English should be taught instead

Thursday, April 07, 2011

De Morgen today has an interview with Vic Van Aelst, who is proposing that English be taught instead of French in Flanders (the Dutch/Flemish-speaking part of Belgium). Part of the article:
French has completely lost its status as a world language. It has become a minor language: 1.5 percent of the world population speaks the language, and about as many know some of the language. That still makes just 3 percent. In no civilized country, even in Italy, does anyone understand you when you start talking in French.

He doesn't see why his proposal to have English taught in Flanders instead of French should be a provocation aimed at French speakers. "Have they learned Dutch in the past two centuries? They provoke us, honest Flemings, because they refuse to learn our language...they reap what they have sown. My making this proposal is not the fault of the Flemings, but of the Francophones.
So how correct is this number? 1.5 percent as a mother tongue is about right, which works out to about 90 million. The number of French speakers in the world is currently about 220 million, or approximately 3.7%. That number only takes into account those that can also read and write the language though, so the true number is probably around 4% of the world population.

On using French in Italy: true, one can't just go to Italy and begin talking in French. Italian, however, is the most similar major Romance language to French, with a lexical similarity of 0.89, so a Dutch speaker with only English as a background will have no advantage at all in learning and understanding Italian, while one with a French background will do much better in Italy. Verb conjugation of course is quite different (Italian is pro-drop while French is not), but in terms of vocabulary much of the time Italian just looks like stretched-out and properly pronounced French. Or rather, French looks like what would happen if you took a Germanic people in France and had them replace their language with Italian...which is almost exactly what happened there.

From here:

French is essentially an attempt by the Dutch to speak a Romance language.

--Danny Wier

Now what would a combined French/Dutch auxlang look like, I wonder?


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