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Languages still major barrier to global science: study

LONDON, December 21, 2016 (Press Trust of India)—A third of new scientific findings are published in languages other than English, contributing to biases in our understanding and hindrances to the advance of science and research, a new study has found.

English is now considered the common language of global science. All major scientific journals seemingly publish in English, despite the fact that their pages contain research from across the globe

Language hinders new findings getting through to practitioners in the field and causes the international community missing important science, said researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK.

They argue that whenever science is only published in one language, barriers to the transfer of knowledge are created.

The researchers call on scientific journals to publish basic summaries of a study's key findings in multiple languages and universities to encourage translations as part of their 'outreach' evaluation criteria.

The researchers point out an imbalance in knowledge transfer in countries where English is not the mother tongue - much scientific knowledge that has originated there is available only in English and not in their local languages.

Researchers surveyed the web platform Google Scholar in a total of 16 languages for studies on biodiversity conservation published during a single year, 2014.

Of the over 75,000 documents, including journal articles, books and theses, some 35.6 per cent were not in English.

Of these, the majority was in Spanish (12.6 per cent) or Portuguese (10.3 per cent). Simplified Chinese made up six per cent and three per cent were in French.

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How Google wants to make the Internet speak everyone’s language
By Sheera Frenkel, BuzzFeed News

JAKARTA, December 31, 2016—When Nurhaida Sirait-Go curses, she curses in her mother tongue.

The 60-year-old grandmother does everything emphatically, and Bahasa, the official language of Indonesia, just doesn’t allow for the same fury of swearing as Batak, the language that Sirait-Go grew up speaking on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

“On Facebook, on Whatsapp, they speak only Bahasa. So I can’t speak the way I want,” said Sirait-Go, who giggles uncontrollably and covers her mouth with both hands when asked to repeat one of her favorite curse words in Bakat. “I can’t, I can’t! People don’t use these words anymore. … They aren’t on the internet so they don’t exist.”

Batak is one of over 700 languages spoken in Indonesia. But only one language, Bahasa, is currently taught by public schools and widely-used online. For language preservationists, it’s just one more example of how the internet’s growing global influence is leaving some languages in the dust. Linguists warn that 90% of the world’s approximately 7,000 languages will become extinct in the next 100 years. Or, as one prominent group of linguists ominously put it, every 14 days another language goes extinct.

The trend started hundreds of years ago, as the idea of a “nation state” took hold globally, with governments realizing that a standardized language would help them stand out as a nation state and solidify an identity inside their borders. That process, which sped up as languages like French and English became dominant languages among traders and then diplomats, went into overdrive as the internet’s sweeping reach has encouraged users to engage in the language with the highest common denominator.

Linne Ha, a program manager at Google who focuses on low resource languages, estimates that there are at least thirty languages with one million speakers each that are currently not supported online — and there are many many more with less than a million speakers. If you were to imagine all those people as one group, it would be a country roughly the size of the United States which couldn’t type online, let alone use the text-to-speech function that make things like Google Maps reading you your directions as you drive possible.

“We are biased because all of the equipment is designed for us,” Ha told BuzzFeed News. “The first thing, the default, is an English language keyboard, but what if your language doesn’t use those characters, or what if your language is only spoken, but not written?”

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Study explores deafening silence in Japan’s classrooms
By William Hollingworth

LONDON, December 30, 2016—English language teachers in Japan often complain about being met by a wall of silence when they ask students to talk in classes.

But, until now, there has been little, if any, academic research into the reasons why Japanese pupils are particularly afflicted by a reluctance to speak in a second language.

Jim King, an expert in linguistics at Leicester University, has been looking into this phenomenon and recently presented his findings in London to an audience of Japan experts and educationalists.

King, who has himself taught in Japan, argues Japanese students are often unresponsive due to a multitude of factors which include psychology, culture and teaching methods.

The academic, who studied the behavior of 924 students at nine different universities, discovered many had a “neurotic dread” their English was not up to scratch and felt that if they tried to use it they would “lose face” among friends.

This hypersensitivity and constant feeling of being monitored inhibits their willingness to contribute, concluded King from his hours of classroom observations and interviews.

He also found many teachers spoke too much and gave the students little opportunity to practice their English with one another. Considerable time was spent translating English text into Japanese.

King believes Japanese students may be more at ease with silence in classes due to cultural practices which emphasize the importance of being indirect, deferring to authority and not wanting to stand out from the crowd, for example.

But he cautions against relying solely on stereotypes and previous studies which indicate a greater tolerance toward silence in East Asian cultures.

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Volkswagen ditches German as official language, angers linguists
By Samuel Morgan, EurActiv.com 

December 23, 2016—Carmaker Volkswagen has taken the surprise decision to ditch German as its official working language and switch to English, in a move intended to attract high-level management but which has already been denounced by German language advocates.

One of the most interesting issues to immediately emerge from the United Kingdom’s June Brexit vote was whether English would retain its coveted status as the EU’s main lingua franca. But one of Europe’s biggest companies, the Volkswagen Group, has officially switched to it.

The change is intended to streamline recruitment and attract international talent to high-level management positions by removing the challenging linguistic barrier posed by the German language.

Dr. Karlheinz Blessing, the carmaker’s management guru, said in a statement that “in future [sic], English is to be the Group language”, adding that “we need the best people in the world”.

English will indeed stay an official language of the European Union when the UK leaves the bloc, according to the Commission’s Representation in Ireland, refuting the claims of a senior MEP.

Although the car builder is primarily known for building ‘Das Auto’, the VW Group also controls foreign brands like Bugatti, Bentley, Lamborghini and SEAT, which are originally French, English, Italian and Spanish, respectively.

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Facebook multilingual composer to translate posts into 44 languages

NEW YORK, July 1, 2016—More than 1.5 billion people use Facebook. And only half speak English. The rest speak so many dozens of other languages, effectively silo’d off from the English speakers and, in many cases, from each other. It’s a case of social media being rather asocial.

But that’s changing. If you stumble onto a Facebook post in a foreign language, Facebook lets you instantly translate it—in a semi-effective way. And beginning today, millions of people will have the option of instantly translating their own posts into any one of 44 other languages, so that they will automatically show up in your News Feed in your native tongue. For the first time across the social network’s general population, Facebook is testing its “multilingual composer,” and though the initial test is limited, the aim is reach that far off point where everyone in the world can readily talk to everyone else. “That’s why I came to Facebook,” says Necip Fazil Ayan, who oversees the company’s translation efforts and grew up in Turkey. “That’s my personal agenda.”

Businesses and celebrity types could already use this multilingual composer through Facebook’s Pages service. Each day, about 5,000 businesses and celebs publish nearly 10,000 posts in multiple languages. These are viewed about 70 million times a day, and more than a third of the time, they’re viewed in a foreign language. Ayan follows international footballers like Ronaldinho, a Brazilian star who uses composer to post not only in Portuguese, but Spanish and English. “I only see the English,” Ayan says. Now, millions of others can post in the same way.

Ayan and team designed the composer specifically for people with a multilingual audience. It also lets them edit the machine’s translation or even provide their own. But the ultimate goal is to automate the entire process, for everyone.

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After Brexit, English language could be dropped from European Union

LONDON, June 28, 2016—English could be banned as an official language of the EU after Brexit despite being the most spoken in Europe, an official has admitted.

Although it is the main working tongue of European Union institutions, it might be dropped when Britain leaves the bloc—further reducing the UK's influence on the continent.

Each member state has the right to nominate a primary language in Brussels, but no state other than Britain has registered English.

This means that its legal status would be removed when Britain leaves the EU, despite it being in everyday use in both Ireland and Malta—which chose Gaelic and Maltese, respectively, as their official languages.

"English is our official language because it has been notified by the UK. If we don't have the UK, we don't have English," Danuta Hübner, chairwoman of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee said—in English—at a Press conference on the legal consequences of the British referendum to leave the EU.

The Polish MEP said that English might remain a "working language," adding that keeping it an official language would require agreement by all member states.

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