Dansk, dag 1:

6 Sep

I’ve decided to make one of my dreams come true, learning Danish. For no particular reason, I’d like to.

Six years ago I met Lars in a chatroom, a Barça fan(boy) from Denmark. My goal is to be able to communicate with him in his language. He is real, btw! Lars, say hi!

The trick is that I’ll have to teach myself the language, I’m un-funded and time-less so a ridiculously old grammar book, the Teach yourself Danish book plus its two CDs and a patient patient native are my weapons against my first non-romanic language!

It doesn’t look good, I know, I know…

Taler du dansk?

Nej, jeg kan ikker taler dansk endnu.

The balloon is red.

31 Aug

Are “a red ballon” and “the balloon is red” the same?


We’d agree that both sentences claim that there’s a red balloon somwhere around.

Thing is, the Cognition, Language and Acquisition Lab of the Univeristy of Stanford proved that there’s a big difference between the two statements. The second helps children learn the colours easily whereas the first slows the process. That actually only happens with languages like English, where the adjectives are positioned before their noun.

Learning the colours seems quite troublesome: every culture has its own colour map, which are the common ones and how many differences of hues are there in  every culture. Some only have a light colour (i.e. White, yellow, pink…) vs a dark colour (i.e. Brown, black, purple…) … and don’t get me started with the bordeaux, turquoise and all the fancy names colours seem to have lately.

And which is the red one anyway? Imagine a big colourful bouquet of balloons. Green, blue, yellow, pink, orange…. how is the kid supposed to know? And I don’t want to release the kraken here, but this colour I’ve always seen green-er than blue-er.turquesa

So imagine child’s confusion. It’s not as easy as telling a fish from a dog! We can see all colours at the same time, all the time!

Well then, for English-speaking kids it’s even more difficult and sometimes even when they are already able to lace their shoes they still have problems with colours, no colour-blindness involved generally.

Their first words are nouns, so they rely on them. When you tell a kid “the balloon is red” he is focused in the balloon thing they know. They know they have to focus on the balloon and this “red” thing must be something about the balloon. On the other hand, when you tell them: “the red balloon”, for the kids is more like… knowing that George is called George doesn’t actually tell me anything of this George dude, and so, the balloon is red helps them realise there is something about the balloon, an atribute (colour) that all objects have.

It’s not about being picky, but choosing a sentence or the other will help your kids learn their colours better. The parents who participated in the study were shocked, some of them believed their kids were colour-blind because they hadn’t detected any problems with the acquisition of colours. And that makes me wonder… maybe we believe that kids understand us far before they actually do, could it be that when we start believing they understand is when they actually start to do so?
This is what I’m talking about, better explained Surprise in the learning of color words

Colourless green ideas recommend…

24 Aug

Today I offer a suggestion:
Colorless Green Linguistics, especially the section “project threesixfive”. The author challenged himself to post a word with no direct translation in English everyday. Pesmenteiro (pt) for instance: someone who shows up to a funeral only for the food; or the verb geragas (malay): to comb your hair in anger. There are plenty of words for all audiences!

The title of the blog, by the way, comes from Chomsky: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, that obviously doesn’t mean anything and he used to prove that languagues are more than a combination of words; the sentence is gramatically correct and so is its syntax. But it still dosn’t make any sense, it’s just a way of showing how sense and syntax are quite different things.


And there are some other examples:

Le silence vertébral indispose la voile licite de Lucien Tèsniere
or what later became a game: le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau

bu then philosophers came in and it all got out of hand:
“Quadriplucity drinks procrastination” by Russell might be a senseless sentence but according to W. V. Quine is simply a lie.
Quine and Chomsky had also a little quarrel about first language acquisition…

Chomsky vs Pirahã

3 Aug

All I do is follow you around picking after you! Don’t run in the house! If you are too full for dinner you are too full for dessert…

It is very difficult that humans repeat the same sentences, with the same words and in the same order. This quite simple thought was reformulated by Chomsky in his “poverty of stimulus” assertion in the early 60s and it dismantled the idea that children were born with an empty brain, like a canvas ready to be painted. Nowadays, the idea of a Universal Grammar is widely spread and is part of different theories related to  fields such as psycholinguistics or human evolution.

Until then it was believed that children learnt a language through trial-error. That’s why English kids might say “I singed a song in school”, because they try generalisations first until somebody tells them about the irregular verbs.

Observing how a new language is developed proves that the process is not quite like that. When slaves from different countries where forced to work together they had to find a way to communicate, and that’s how creole languages were born. I was never told about pidgin. Pidgin languages are the previous step, they barely have grammar until a new generation is born: children bring it in! But pidgin is what they learnt, and pidgin doesn’t have grammar. How do they do it?

There’s another peculiar case, that of Simon, a deaf child born to deaf parents. Simon’s parent learnt the ASL after age 15 and so some aspects of their language are inconsistent. Despite receiving that input, Simon managed to perform better than their parents. He was able to realise that there were items that his parents weren’t producing, and he corrected that in his language.

How awesome is that?

These particular cases strengthen Chomsky’s UG but some linguist have been trying to prove him wrong.

In this video a girl explains some other ideas like that the brain is not specifically prepared to learn a language, and there’s also a linguist/missionary who claims that the  Pirahã language, an indigenous language spoken now by very few people in the Amazon rainforests is so different to any other language that it  proves Chomsky wrong.

Articles about this issue have been among the most downloaded in LingBuzz and several newspapers and magazines from different countries have also discussed it. The war to discredit one of the most important theories in linguistics, it’s on!


Cursive, technology and development

27 Jul


One of the celebrities I follow on Facebook is Anne Rice. She’s an interesting woman, apart from having an album devoted to Prince Oberon the cat, and periodically suggesting  Lestat’s return and of course making everybody go nuts,  she posts very interesting articles. Like this one:
What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain

and it caught my attention because I recently read:
Is the Internet Making our Children Stupid?

And my answer was a fervid YES!, maybe out of habit, the thing is that both articles talk about how cognitive development is affected by being plugged all day. It seems that it’s been proven that handwriting enhances children’s cognitive abilities, helps them focus and

to write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. Students have to pay attention and think about what and how they are doing it (…) Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.

In fact, children that are able write have a neuronal acitivity closer to that of adults, i. e. they develop. On the other hand, children plugged to the Internet since toddlers, those that learn the letters with their parents iphone have shorter attention spans (in the past 10 years the average attention span has shrunk in 6min). It’s also been proven that multitasking is not a good idea for our children, it’s negative effects being less skimming ability, less eficiency, less especialization; and a very bad habit of expecting everything immediately, in other words, higher frustration.

To me, the whole thing sounds like massive diagnose of ADHD, which is, by the way, sort of an invented disorder.

That’s why I like these two articles:
Paying attention to Inattention  (apparently ethnic minorities have the lesser ADHD diagnose)
and Is Technology Making Young People Stupid? where the author reminds us of some good things about the technological way of life.

I can imagine now parents reading all sorts of articles about this new threat, because they probably have already heard: such a little kid with all these telephones, and televisions and computers… and I can see them growing more and more disappointed at not finding an answer.

For some this looks like some kind of apocalypse of the human abilities and there are others that seem to be expecting us to evolve like pokemons. Maybe it’s just like when we argued that kids would grew “better” in a wilder environment rather than being little adults from a very young age.

I’ll be vigilant of new discoveries, in the meanwhile my answer is still a yes.

Begin at the beginning

14 Jun

the King said, and go on till you come to the end: then stop. (Alice in Wonderland)

I just started the English version of the blog and I didn’t have a clue of how to translate the first title. Yikes.

There’s people who start a blog because they have things to say. Others believe they do.

I’m starting this blog for many reasons, all equally bad so they might end up ruining the good intentions with which I begin this little adventure.

1. Because the employability teacher  recommends it.
2. Because all translators have one nowadays, or so it seems.
3. Because everybody insists that it looks soooo professional to have a translation blog.
4. Because you can use it as a personal page to advertise yourself and contact colleagues.

Commercial reasons have always sounded terrible to me and I’m not very good at self-promotion.
The only good reason I have to start a blog is that two people I completely trust recommended it. One of them is a Catalan teacher at the faculty. After he read the first essay I handed in, he said: “Do you know that most translators to Catalan are writers as well? Maybe you should change to Catalan.” Some want to see an attempt to convert me (cause I was taking Spanish instead) but I thought somebody had faith in me.

The other one is a prominent figure with whom I shared a round-table at Optimale. A lady who doesn’t mince words and that was quite straightforward to those in that conference that made it look as if it was the apocalypse of the human-translator. She said: “Don’t let them put you down. There’s a high-quality market out there looking for translators that are able to write”. And that sounded like the Promised Land.

So I started a blog.