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Posts tagged with: Language

Endangered Languages & Technology

My TEDxLjubljana talk from last November is finally online and if you like languages and don’t mind spending a few minutes on it, you can watch it below (in Slovenian). I have already written about the topic in a previous blog post here.

Linguistics is a big hobby of mine so it’s always exciting for me when people let me talk about it for a whole 15 minutes :).
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Slides from my TEDx talk

I had the privilege to give a talk at the second TEDxLjubljana, themed language & communication.

My talk touches upon the latest developments in mainstream language technology and how all of this matters to “minor” languages.

In 100 years, language economics indicates that up to 90% of currently spoken languages may go extinct. Some of them are beyond saving, so it is important that we have the tools to preserve as much unique knowledge contained in these languages as possible. For the rest, we are seeing significant improvements in technologies that are making their daily use more viable.

Special mention goes to Google Translator Toolkit, that – provided that it takes off – may mean an unprecedented increase in the quality of the parallel corpora that Google Translate uses to facilitate a real-time multilingual web.

Also speaking at the event were Primož Jakopin, Maja Vardjan, Jaka Železnikar, Daniela Candillari, Igor Bezget, Janko Božič, Vuk Čosić, Pavel Koltaj and Boštjan Napotnik.

Pictures from TEDxLjubljana

Thanks to the organizers for the great time we all had there and I hope to see the next one really soon!

(and don’t forget to post the videos from the event ;))

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Language Learning in 2010

Beispiele deutscher Beschilderungen in Namibia. Collage von Bildern aus Windhuk, Outjo, Swakopmund und Lüderitz. Samples of German signs in Namibia. Collage of photos from Windhoek, Outjo, Swakopmund and Lüderitz.Image via Wikipedia

I’ve just received another newsletter from Transparent Language advertising their Video Immersion Software and it got me thinking.

I’ve always been very interested in language learning and finding new ways of doing it more effectively. What I currently see as the main issues of this increasingly important process are:

  • Time consumption – it takes considerable time to make significant process in learning grammar, scripts, pronunciation and building a solid vocabulary
  • Context switching – learning a new language usually means stopping whatever you are doing, sitting down and starting to think about things largely disconnected from your everyday activities – in my opinion, this is a significant »barrier to entry« for most people

The entire process often consists of the following steps (in this or a slightly modified order):

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Learning A Language With The Bible

Picture from Codex GigasImage via Wikipedia

A while ago, when I was beginning my struggle with Finnish, I found it quite difficult to find translations online, since Finnish is a highly inflected language and word roots are not easy to identify for a beginner.

After having googled enough Finnish words, I was starting to see a possibility – almost every search yielded an excerpt from a specific source.

Meet the Bible

I had never read more than a few pages of it before, but I soon saw that the Bible is the perfect language resource:

  • It’s available in almost all languages
  • Text is highly consistent across most languages
  • It’s very well structured
  • The smallest unit of text in many parts is 1-3 sentences long

The last point is very important as it makes the book ideal for being used as a text corpus.

Let’s take the word kansalle, for example.

Google Search - kansalle

If you google for the search term “kansalle finnish bible”, the first result gives you Kings, Chapter 12.

12:6 Kuningas Rehabeam neuvotteli vanhain kanssa, jotka olivat palvelleet hänen isäänsä Salomoa, kun tämä vielä eli, ja kysyi: “Kuinka te neuvotte vastaamaan tälle kansalle?”

And the English version:

12:6 And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?

So, kansalle clearly means to (the) people, the suffix -lle being an indication of the allative case.

It’s that easy.

I am currently working on a system that would automate this.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Bible phrase in both languages pop up whenever you searched for a word? What do you think?


Biblija.net – a magnificent corpus of Slovenian, English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Catalan and Euskara (Basque) bible versions

A list of Finnish cases – the best explanation of the cases I could find

Finnish Bible

Learning Swedish – The Cheap And Easy Way

Learn Swedish - Lär dig svenska

I’ve always been fascinated with this sleek and elegant language.

Luckily, there is an abundance of resources online to fast-forward a learner’s acquisition process.

As with any other language, I’d promote the following steps:

  1. Start with an introductory course and get to know the basic grammar and pronunciation
  2. Next, get a Swedish children’s book (e.g. this) and read it a couple of times using a dictionary
  3. Get some Swedish friends online and practice your conversation skills
  4. Watch a good Swedish film (e.g. Ondskan) – start slowly, Swedish pronunciation is the tricky part
  5. Spend some time in Sweden
  6. Get free Swedish books online and read them side-by-side with their English counterparts
  7. Listen to Swedish podcasts, watch Swedish news, watch Swedish TV channels

A quick list of resources:

Anyway, låt mig veta hur det går! :)