Archive for Language and science

Creating scientific terminology for African languages

Article in Nature

"African languages to get more bespoke scientific terms:  Many words common to science have never been written in African languages. Now, researchers from across Africa are changing that", Sarah Wild, Nature 596, 469-470 (August 18, 2021)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02218-x

Here are some selected passages:

There’s no original isiZulu word for dinosaur. Germs are called amagciwane, but there are no separate words for viruses or bacteria. A quark is ikhwakhi (pronounced kwa-ki); there is no term for red shift. And researchers and science communicators using the language, which is spoken by more than 14 million people in southern Africa, struggle to agree on words for evolution.

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Tortured phrases

Article by Holly Else in Nature (8/5/21):

"‘Tortured phrases’ give away fabricated research papers

Analysis reveals that strange turns of phrase may indicate foul play in science"

Here are the beginning and a few other selected portions of the article:

In April 2021, a series of strange phrases in journal articles piqued the interest of a group of computer scientists. The researchers could not understand why researchers would use the terms ‘counterfeit consciousness’, ‘profound neural organization’ and ‘colossal information’ in place of the more widely recognized terms ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘deep neural network’ and ‘big data’.

Further investigation revealed that these strange terms — which they dub “tortured phrases” — are probably the result of automated translation or software that attempts to disguise plagiarism. And they seem to be rife in computer-science papers.

Research-integrity sleuths say that Cabanac* and his colleagues have uncovered a new type of fabricated research paper, and that their work, posted in a preprint on arXiv on 12 July1, might expose only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the literature affected.

[*VHM:  Guillaume Cabanac, a computer scientist at the University of Toulouse, France]

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Data vs. information

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

The following was drafted as an Appendix to a project whose working title is "The Emperor's New Information" (after Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind). It's still a work-in-progress, so feedback would be welcome. For example: Are the two examples persuasive? Do they need technical clarification or correction? Have others at LL noticed how certain authors "who should know better" use the term information where data is dictated by the context, or employ the two terms at random, as if they were synonyms?

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Bronze, iron, gold, silver

In our ongoing quest to link up linguistics with archeology, we have had numerous posts involving Iranian-speaking peoples spreading from west to east and bringing culture and language with them.  When I say "culture", I mean technological as well as spiritual, artistic, architectural, and other aspects, plus social customs and political organization.  Because the Iranian-speaking peoples were so active in spreading diverse manifestations of culture, I often refer to them as Kulturvermittlers par excellence.

Among the more prominent features of culture that Iranian-speaking peoples transmitted across Eurasia was metallurgy.  That includes all four of the main metals:  bronze, iron, gold, and silver.  The first two were mainly for weapons and implements, and where they went, they transformed military affairs, agriculture, and daily life.  The changes that bronze and iron brought about amounted to revolutions of civilization.  Gold and silver were primarily for ornament and embellishment, and the Iranian-speaking people created breathtakingly beautiful works of art out of these precious metals

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The dissemination of iron and the spread of languages

This incredibly fine NHK documentary on "The Iron Road" will only be available online until November 8.  Since I do not know whether and in what form it will be available after November 8, I'm including it here only as a link embedded in the title.  If anyone discovers that, after November 8, it might be available on YouTube, Vimeo, or other easily accessible platform, I would be very grateful.  In any event, if you are interested in the history and transmission of ferrous metallurgy across Eurasia, together with its cultural and political impact, as well as Hittite and Scythian art, architecture, and language, and what came before the Silk Road, I strongly urge you to view this video by November 8.  This is one of the best Eurasian archeology documentaries that I have ever seen.

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"Gold" as element and "gold" as substance — as conceived by Mendeleev

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

Your wonderful arabesque on the world of 'kedi'* (and the disappearance of cats for a time — perhaps to a different planet, because they had grown weary of trying to school us humans?) reminded me that you are a connoisseur of languages plural, not just Chinese. In that connection, you might find my 2019 article** on Mendeleev interesting.

 
[**"Mendeleev’s Elemental Ontology and Its Philosophical Renditions in German and English", HYLE – International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, Vol. 25 (2019), No. 1, 49-70.]

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Thought control to detect the misuse of language

[This is a guest post by Mark Metcalf]

Recently read a short story by Chinese sci-fi author Ma Boyong (translated by Ken Liu) entitled "City of Silence" (Jìjìng zhī chéng 寂静之城) — a tale about a highly dystopian future in ("not") China. The story was referenced in an article in Wired.

Haven't been able to find an English translation online, so I got the Kindle version in a compilation – Invisible Planets. A thought-provoking story that describes a State in which the government controls people's thoughts by monitoring all of their communications in order to detect the "misuse" of language. The following excerpts from the book explain how the process evolved. Very disturbing, with echoes from recent history that are even more disturbing.

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Hong Kong: language, art, and resistance

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Singapore circuit breakers

From a colleague in Singapore:

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Chinese coronavirus linguistic war

From a Taiwanese colleague:

In the struggle against Wǔhàn fèiyán 武漢肺炎 ("Wuhan pneumonia"), Taiwan has to fight the war on three fronts: (1) trying to stop the virus at its borders; (2) trying to join the WHO for world-wide collaboration and disease information; and (3) fighting against the Communist Chinese dictatorial linguistic policies.  The linguistic policy on disease terminology is really weird; it smacks of George Orwell's 1984.

He cites this article in Chinese and this facebook page (also in Chinese).  Here's another article in Chinese from Taiwan that sticks to "Wuhan pneumonia" despite the pressure from WHO and the PRC government to adopt a name that is not transparent with regard to the origin of the disease.

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Badge of honor: Language Log is blocked in China

Two days ago, I received this message from a colleague in China:

Not sure if this should be a badge of honor or a disappointment, but a few days ago Language Log got blocked in China.  (Source — GreatFire.org:  Language Log is 100% censored)

This caps off a miserable year where we also lost Wikipedia (all languages), The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Hackernews, Imgur….

[VHM:  Of course, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and many other invaluable websites were already off-limits to Chinese citizens for years  The internet in China is severely decimated by the CCP government.]

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Mycological meandering: vernacular variora

The surname of the mayor of Prague is Hřib (Zdeněk Hřib [b. May 21, 1981]):

"Zdeněk Hřib: the Czech mayor who defied China"

By refusing to expel a Taiwanese diplomat, the Prague mayor has joined the ranks of local politicians confronting contentious national policies

Robert Tait in Prague
The Guardian, Wed 3 Jul 2019 01.00 EDT

The surname Hřib, though unusual, struck me as familiar.  Jichang Lulu observes:

Hřib is the regular Czech reflex of the Proto-Slavic source of, e.g., the Russian and Polish words for "mushroom" (гриб, grzyb). The Czech form, however, has a more specific meaning (certain mushrooms, e.g., Boletus). On the other hand, the further origin of Slavic gribъ has long been a matter of much debate, and I'm not aware of a generally accepted Proto-Indo-European (or other) etymology.

That set me to wondering whether there are cognates in other IE branches.

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First grade science card: Pinyin degraded, part 2

Another science card given out to first grade students in Shenzhen, China (see "Readings" below for the first one):

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