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Saturday, September 15, 2012

James Geary talks about metaphors and language

Aphorism enthusiast and author James Geary waxes on a fascinating fixture of human language: the metaphor. Friend of scribes from Aristotle to Elvis, metaphor can subtly influence the decisions we make, Geary says.
Lost jobs, wayward lovers, wars and famine -- come to think of it, just about any of life's curveballs -- there's an aphorism for it, and James Geary's got it.

Ethan Zuckerman: Listening to global voices

Sure, the web connects the globe, but most of us end up hearing mainly from people just like ourselves. Blogger and technologist Ethan Zuckerman wants to help share the stories of the whole wide world. He talks about clever strategies to open up your Twitter world and read the news in languages you don't even know.
Ethan Zuckerman studies how the world -- the whole world -- uses new media to share information and moods across cultures, languages and platforms.

Jay Walker on the world's English mania

Jay Walker explains why two billion people around the world are trying to learn English. He shares photos and spine-tingling audio of Chinese students rehearsing English -- "the world's second language" -- by the thousands.
Jay Walker is fascinated by intellectual property in all its forms. His firm, Walker Digital, created Priceline and many other businesses that reframe old problems with new IT. In his private life, he's a bibliophile and collector on an epic scale. 

Susan Savage-Rumbaugh: The gentle genius of bonobos

Savage-Rumbaugh's work with bonobo apes, which can understand spoken language and learn tasks by watching, forces the audience to rethink how much of what a species can do is determined by biology -- and how much by cultural exposure.
Susan Savage-Rumbaugh has made startling breakthroughs in her lifelong work with chimpanzees and bonobos, showing the animals to be adept in picking up language and other "intelligent" behaviors.

Patricia Ryan: Don't insist on English!

In her talk, longtime English teacher Patricia Ryan asks a provocative question: Is the world's focus on English preventing the spread of great ideas in other languages? (For instance: what if Einstein had to pass the TOEFL?) It's a passionate defense of translating and sharing ideas. 
Patricia Ryan has spent the past three-plus decades teaching English in Arabic countries -- where she has seen vast cultural (and linguistic) change.

Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies

Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another -- by listening to the humans around them and "taking statistics" on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world.
Patricia Kuhl studies how we learn language as babies, looking at the ways our brains form around language acquisition.

Rajesh Rao: A Rosetta Stone for the Indus script

Rajesh Rao is fascinated by "the mother of all crossword puzzles": How to decipher the 4000 year old Indus script. At TED 2011 he tells how he is enlisting modern computational techniques to read the Indus language, the key piece to understanding this ancient civilization.
Rajesh Rao seeks to understand the human brain through computational modeling, on two fronts: developing computer models of our minds, and using tech to decipher the 4,000-year-old script of the Indus valley civilization.

Murray Gell-Mann on the ancestor of language

After speaking at TED2007 on elegance in physics, the amazing Murray Gell-Mann gives a quick overview of another passionate interest: finding the common ancestry of our modern languages.
Murray Gell-Mann brings visibility to a crucial aspect of our existence that we can't actually see: elemental particles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics for introducing quarks, one of two fundamental ingredients for all matter in the universe.

Steven Pinker: What our language habits reveal

In an exclusive preview of his book The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker looks at language and how it expresses what goes on in our minds -- and how the words we choose communicate much more than we realize.
Linguist Steven Pinker questions the very nature of our thoughts -- the way we use words, how we learn, and how we relate to others. In his best-selling books, he has brought sophisticated language analysis to bear on topics of wide general interest. 

Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity

Biologist Mark Pagel shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of "social technology" that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.
Using biological evolution as a template, Mark Pagel wonders how languages evolve

Chris Bliss: Comedy is Translation

Every act of communication is, in some way, an act of translation. Onstage at TEDxRainier, writer Chris Bliss thinks hard about the way that great comedy can translate deep truths for a mass audience. 

Translator Jeffrey Yang discusses Liu Xiaobo  ‘June Fourth Elegies’ commemoration of Tiananmen

Liu Xiaobo (Photo: Voice of America)
Liu Xiaobo (Photo: Voice of America)
Not everyone wants to forget Tiananmen Square. Chinese poet Liu Xiaobo wrote a series of poems in the 20 years following the 1989 crackdown.
Liu was a leading activist in 1989 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, but he was not able to claim his prize in person as the Chinese government imprisoned him for “inciting subversion of state power.”
His book, June Fourth Elegies, has been translated into English by Jeffrey Yang. Anchor Marco Werman talks with him about the essence of Liu’s poetry.

A Children’s Library In Chile

Where The Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, translated at the Chilean children's library, Libro Alegre. (Photo: Alex Gallafent)
In Valparaiso, a city on the coast of Chile, a small library is working to introduce local children to a new universe of books. The library is called Libro Alegre, which means ’Happy Book’ or ‘Cheerful Book.’ It is a happy place, stuffed with dolls, legos, and one of those toy kitchens with plastic food. First and foremost, though, it’s a library that’s stuffed with stories.
Imogen Mark, a volunteer at Libro Alegre, said “It truly, genuinely, is a unique collection of books.” Mark is British but has lived in Chile for years. She explained that people donate books, mostly from Scandinavian countries. The books then get translated into Spanish. Finally those translations are printed out and pasted into the books, right over the original Danish or Swedish or English text.
For complete article, click here

Iranian officials aren't laughing about Funny in Farsi

Funny in Farsi was a smash hit when it became available in Iran in 2005. But recently, the person who translated the book into Farsi, from the English it was written in, was arrested. (Book cover.)
The book Funny in Farsi first went on sale in Iran in 2005, but it wasn't until this month that Iranian officia went after the person who translated the book from English into Persian. Soleimani Nia was arrested two weeks ago after being questioned in November.

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When Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America went on sale inside Iran in 2005, Iranians snapped up more than 100,000 copies.
Written by Firoozeh Dumas, the book had been such a success in America when it was published in 2003 that it was translated into Persian by Iranian poet and scholar Mohammed Soleimani Nia.
Two weeks ago, Iranian authorities arrested Soleimani Nia. According to a petition demanding his release, he was questioned by intelligence officials in late November. Then in January he was called to the Revolutionary Court. Security guards searched his home and seized electronic devices and documents. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
Iranian American writer Dumas worked closed with Soleimani Nia on the translation of the book.

For complete article, click here

Africans often miss out on resources because of lack of translations

In many African countries, dozens of different languages are spoken by different ethnic groups. And while each country often has a European language as its "official" language, most people don't even begin to understand it. That presents a problem for aid groups, trying to share information.

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For Hillary Clinton’s latest trip to Africa, she probably didn’t need to take along many translators or interpreters.
Maybe just a French speaker. Of the nine countries on her itinerary, seven are considered Anglophone and two Francophone.

That, of course, does not tell the whole story — far from it. In one of those Anglophone countries, Nigeria, more than 500 languages are spoken.

It’s mainly the elite who speak these colonial languages. In Uganda, it’s English, in Senegal, French, in Mozambique, Portuguese. But most people — especially outside the big cities — don’t understand those languages.
That’s a huge problem for aid agencies trying to get the word out about disease prevention. The brochures, leaflets and posters they distribute tend to be written in those colonial languages.

For complete article, click here

Language barriers make it tough for Colorado refugees to understand mass shooting

Aurora, Colo., is one of the most diverse cities in that state. It has a vibrant community of refugees, many of whom don't speak English. Recently, a refugee group pulled together an event to try and help people cross the language barrier and get the facts about the violent movie theater shooting there.

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July’s mass shooting at a movie theater in Colorado took place in the state’s most ethnically diverse city.
In recent years, thousands of refugees from around the world have settled in Aurora, Colo., and the massacre has left some of them questioning their safety.

Most of Aurora’s refugee community clusters along the busy lanes of Colfax Avenue, in an older part of town with cheap housing and good public transportation to jobs in Denver. Headscarves and sarongs are familiar sights here, as people from Somalia, Myanmar and Bhutan try to settle into new, American routines.

The man charged with the movie theater shooting lived on the edge of this neighborhood, but barriers of language and culture mean many here are still confused about what actually happened.
On a recent evening, locals speaking seven different languages filled a meeting room at the Aurora Mental Health Center. With plates of vegetarian samosas on their laps and translation headphones on their ears, they listened to city councilwoman Melissa Miller try to explain.

For complete article, click here

In describing disability, language differences challenge even the best intentioned

As media cover the Paralympic Games in London, many are trying hard to use the most inclusive language possible. But when it comes to foreign languages, what's inclusive doesn't always transcend those boundaries. And that can be a problem for journalists.

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The BBC has issued linguistic guidelines for its journalists covering the Paralympic Games.
But the guidelines only include English words — which is a problem for the many programs the BBC puts out in other languages.

According to the new rules, "disabled person" is preferable to "person with disabilities." "Invalid" and "handicapped" are unacceptable. To describe those without a disability, the BBC likes "non-disabled" more than "able-bodied."

The BBC program The Fifth Floor gathered three non-English language journalists to talk about this. Do these reporters translate the approved English terms? Do they use alternative expressions that might be locally acceptable but frowned upon in English? Or do they dream up new terms that make more sense in their languages?

For complete article, click here 

The Inventor of the Klingon Language

Linguist Marc Okrand talks about the process of creating a language for Hollywood.

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The following is not a full transcript; for full story, listen to audio.
The number one movie at the box office this past weekend no surprise -- "Star Trek," a rebooting of the forty-three-year-old franchise with Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew before they were the intrepid explorers of the television series.

The new "Star Trek" film has no Klingons, and therefore no Klingon language.  The long time characters of the "Star Trek" series speak their own language created by Berkeley educated linguist Marc Okrand. 

For complete transcript and audio, click here