Link roundup: 25 May 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

--- Space news is the obvious place to begin today, with SpaceX's Dragon capsule having successfully docked to (or rather, been captured by) the International Space Station. The mission so far has been flawless, aside from a delay of a few hours today when some sensors acted up. While a test mission, Dragon has also brought some useful cargo aboard as well so there is some immediate benefit to the ISS with this. Watching the webcast this morning was also quite entertaining, especially watching day turn to night and back to day again within a space of about 30 minutes each time.

And a video taken from the ISS. Imagine the thrill of seeing this fly below and then finally approach the next day:


For more on this...see pretty much any site or forum dedicated to space. Discussion abounds at the moment.

--- has a picture gallery here about the European Extremely Large Telescope. Because I often moan about how the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope will not be built this one seems small in comparison, but when you compare it to our existing telescopes it is truly massive. The two most impressive pictures are this one showing the size of the mirror:

And compared to the Very Large Telescope (actually four buildings) and the Giza pyramids:

--- An article here about the large amount of German tourists in Świnoujście, Poland, where "German has almost become a second language" at some hotels. Taking a look at the location this is no surprise:

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--- After a lot of demand, says they will have articles in Afrikaans as well from now on.

--- A recent article here entitled Mandarin? No thanks. The gist of the argument is this:
Simply put, Mandarin is not the language of the future. There are multiple reasons for this, but the main one is its complexity. Mandarin is notoriously hard to learn as a second language, and many may only have a rudimentary grasp over it after years of arduous learning...The writing system for Mandarin is arcane, and it consists of thousands of symbols rather than a simple alphabet...Mandarin, unlike English, is also a tonal language, which may prove baffling for would-be-learners...Thus, relative to other languages, Mandarin is simply hard to master for the average English-speaker...English, in contrast, is mercifully easy for the foreign learner. This is one of the main reasons (along with a British knack for conquering) that it is the current global lingua franca.
So, where to begin? The main problem with this argument is that it is focused on the idea of Mandarin as learned by an English speaker. If Chinese is to expand, however, it will need to become popular or necessary in the closest countries to the PRC. That means countries like Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Thailand, etc. Japan, Korea and Vietnam are three obvious examples of countries that use Chinese characters (Japan), kind of do (Korea) or used to and still learn them in school (Vietnam). Tones: lots of languages use these, so no problem.

Vocabulary is particularly interesting. I was listening to a Chinese Pod lesson a few days ago, and one of the words that came up was 发达 (fādá, develop). No problem there: it's the same as Japanese hattatsu (発達) and Korean baldal (발달). But then they made sure to explain the difference between some other terms that can mean develop, like 发展 (fāzhǎn) and 开发 (kāifā), etc. But since all of these have the exact same equivalents in Japanese and Korean, anyone with those two languages as a mother tongue will simply learn them as is, in the same way that an English speaker learns terms like electricidad for electricity. No need for any extra explanations as there is nothing to explain in the first place except that "this word X is the same as your word Y".

There are often differences, but even then this is sometimes little more than a small point to be aware of: words like 介绍 (Jièshào, introduce) are written backwards in Japanese and Korean but mean the same thing, or meaning may be somewhat different in the same way that actual or ignore in English carries a reminiscent but different meaning in other European languages (actual = current, ignore = not know).

None of this means that Mandarin is guaranteed a place as the world's international language, but considering where China's main interests lie at the moment (the region where it is located), there's little reason to divine its future based on the ease of learning it for those who live much farther away.

Here's a video by Ed Trimnell also responding to the editorial. So far I've listened to half of it and I agree with what I've heard so far.


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