February 5, 2007


Posted in: Language

This term just occurred to me and I didn't see it in wide usage already so here goes...

I'm working on an application that needs to present a graph of stock prices over a given time for a list of securities. The data is missing in some cases, for example weekends, and the graph should not be discontinuous. If however the start date is Saturday there is no previous day's data in the dataset so it has to use the day (or two, or three, ...) ahead's. From the point where data appears we baxtrapolate the data to the start point.

Related: baxtrapolation (n.)

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 18:28 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 15, 2005

BBC English grammar test

Posted in: Language

The BBC Magazine has this grammar test on intermediate grammar and spelling. I scored 20/20 in about a minute... but then I'm a grammar and spelling nerd.

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 16:04 | Comments (23)

July 22, 2005


Posted in: Language

I often forget.
Haikus should be seasonal.
I spring this on you:

English is tricky;
Which words to use, I wonder.
Hmm, stomach autumn?

(Please complete the other two :-))

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 10:13 | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 6, 2005

Double trouble

Posted in: Humor, Injury Time, Language

Came up with this just now in an email conversation... What do you call it when you are invited to several things across town but can't make all of them 'cos you're in a wheelchair? You're "cripple-booked".

*keels over*

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 12:16 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 18, 2005

Gender neutral pronouns

Posted in: Language

A café conversation prompted me to re-look up a page I'd found years ago but mentally filed to read properly some time later. One of those times you read just enough of a page to sound clever in a conversation but yet be left with a secret nagging sensation you might've missed something...

English is cursed with the inability to refer to a third person without giving away their gender, or talk about a general third person without specifying a gender they mightn't have: you've got just 'she' or 'he'. And the raft of possible alternatives mostly all have severe disadvantages: 's/he' is pronounced 'she'; 'he/she' is awkward; 'one' is archaic; 'they/them' only works in certain grammatical situations. And on.

What to do?

The Gender Neutral Pronoun FAQ examines the subject in detail with what I think is a convincing side-by-side set of five examples. The set includes the FAQ's proposed use of 'ey', 'em', 'eir', etc whose only real downside seems to be initial awkwardness becoming familiar with them. The 'comments' section (3.7) of the FAQ is fascinating, documenting about every objection to GNPs and rebuttals to those objections, not to mention intriguing ideas like the possibility of gender-neutral erotica.

The only omission I spotted was not noting that none of the other pronouns specify gender (I, we, you, they). So why should the third person singular do so?

Incidentally, Esperanto has an unofficial but widely used word 'ri' to denote a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun. Ri is part of a movement known as riismo to remove the less agreeable, to some, aspects of Esperanto's gender-related linguistic oddities. Riismo has an in-depth treatment in Esperanto here on rano.org which makes similar points to the GNP FAQ plus that Esperanto has a he/she distinction is an historical accident. The same is probably true of other natural languages relative to their ancestors.

Esperanto kicks ass. On the riismo page, there's a word 'disdialektiĝo': 'something that causes dialects to proliferate'.

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 03:16 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 30, 2004

Learning languages

Posted in: Language

I've been (re)learning French ahead of a trip to Val Thorens (for which I've discovered French will be even more important since the other skiiers there won't speak English!), and Paris Santarchie right after it.

This last week I was in Vienna which meant exposure to German.

I learnt French in school for five years and had a three-week exchange trip to Bordeaux (during which time I seem to recall saying almost nothing). Since then I've been to France once or twice and earlier this year had a French speaker stay at my house and spoke a tiny bit. If I pay attention I can follow a non-idiomatic French conversation, slightly more than getting the gist.

I learnt German to theoretically the same level in three years. My exposure to a German-speaking country was about 10mins on an autobahn, and the only reason for that was being driven to see a sign saying "Ausfahrt" (which sounds amusing to English speakers with a sense of toilet humor).

I got As in both languages. I paid a lot more attention to French than German. At some point in my German education I took a dislike to the teaching style and lost interest. Yeah, I still got an A but at the risk of sounding like a dick right now getting an A at GCSE language level shouldn't be difficult. I'll expand on this below.

A few observations:
* Everyone I encountered in Vienna spoke high-grade English, and I encountered quite a few people that week
* Going to a foreign country I've during that time become really interested in learning their language
* Coming back my interest is by default back to baseline, i.e. not much, after about a week (I'm still interested as an idea but not as an action)
* Talking to people with different native tongues I find absolutely fascinating. I was up 'til 05:30 in a nightclub talking to Robert (a Viennese) about German-speaking culture, for example
* despite considering myself "OK" at French and having had much more experience of it if I switch my attention off I will pick up next to nothing of the conversation. Like if I was asked "so, what were we talking about?" I would get almost nothing
* despite having literally done nothing with the German I learnt at school, listened to no German beyond school, or in any way furthered my education there (that's 15yrs, folks) I could somehow understand chunks of the language spoken in Vienna. To me this is quite bizarre
* Even if I wasn't really listening to a conversation in German I somehow ended up with a sense of what was being spoken about. This is to me even more bizarre
* When I listen to French it feels like there's lag understanding it. Like, whichever bit of my brain it's going through either there's more of it or the bits are processing slower, or something
* When I listen to German, the bits that I understand I understand like *bam* immediately
* Again, all this is despite having had a lot more experience with French
* I've always found German easier to pronounce
* I've met probably two French speakers with even remotely good English accents
* I've met probably two English speakers with even remotely good French accents (yes, it's possible to tell, I think, even being lame at the foreign language)
* Conversely, the number of decent English accents from German speakers seems remarkably and embarrassing(to English world)ly high

So putting it summarily, German is easier for me than French.

Learning French

I'm currently thoroughly enjoying the Champs-Elysées French subscription. It's a nearly-monthly "audio magazine" that is sixty minutes of French with a booklet containing transcription and English commentary on not only language terms but aspects of French life and culture. The range of material (politics, finance, music, literature, current events, etc) is pretty diverse so there's plenty of range of vocab and interesting topics.

The BBC has a ton of good stuff too. When I see this kind of quality content online paying my TV license feels fine.

Effectiveness of modes of learning

I learnt French for five years in school with five hour-long lessons per week. (Conservatively, that's 500 hours of French instruction!) And yet my French sucks; my spoken ability for example is "Get By in French" standard. What's up with that? That's an absurd amount of time for that kind of result. Three weeks in Bordeaux did more for my French than possibly a whole year at school.

Here I am self-teaching via a CD/mag subscription and poking about online about an hour a day and my French has progressed (I think) dramatically in maybe a week. I'm hoping, realistically, that after this next couple of week's French learning, a week's skiing, and a day or so in Paris I'll be getting quite decent at it.

A week in Vienna listening to and occasionally asking speakers about German (not reading or speaking at all) and I could sense my German improving.

So, what the fuck? How is learning at school so apparently unbelievably inefficient? I hesitate, but only just, to say "useless".

A few factors: I'm motivated right now (altho' I did enjoy the educational bit of school, for the most part so this difference might be less than some people who, say, hated school); I spend most of my day learning stuff i.e. a decade and a half of post-school practice; I have studied in-depth the specific process of learning; I am, I consider, unusually in touch with how my brain works and how to influence it (many thanks to even more talented friends and mentors) so now have some bad-ass learning strategies.

All that aside, the benefit of going to a foreign country to learn a language seems to be so dramatically beyond what I experienced in a classroom that what immediately springs to mind is that kids simply need to be packed off to a foreign country for some time, as soon as possible, and that the current classroom teaching strongly deprecated.

The other depressing conclusion is that a huge chunk of my life wasn't used efficiently, and I didn't have a choice about it (to say my life is efficient now would be a gross misrepresentation, but at least if I stay in bed 'til 13:00 it's more often than not out of choice...).

And finally... check out Friends Abroad, a site to help meet other language students for mutual assistance. You've got to love a site that has "Relationship (status)" and "Starsign" as profile parameters... FWIW, I've never been contacted out of the blue on any site by so many cute folks in my life, let alone in the three weeks I've been a sweet FA subscriber...

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 03:23 | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 7, 2004

The Language Show

Posted in: Language

Spent a pleasant albeit brisk afternoon checking out The Language Show at Olympia. Picked up a French language DVD, met some Esperantists, and got some hints on internationalisation...

The state of language learning tools impressed me. I picked up an interactive DVD of a famous French movie, Au Coeur de la Loi: apart from being subtitled with clickable reviews of phrases, guess-the-word and spelling quizzes, there is a feature where you can play any of the parts, recording your voice and starring in the movie! Hilarious. Looking forward to movie karaoke, en français.

My fantasy foreign language learning experience is a huge pile of graded audio with hyperlinked subtitles tooltipped with translations linking to idiom discussions and grammar lessons. Graded in vocab, speed, and grammar complexity. The closest I've found is the great-looking (sounding?) Linguaphone's Second Stage courses. Problem is they're pretty expensive, and not on ebay right now. They're also in printed + CD form, which is OK, but I'd rather a DVD format for all the modern assistance in learning that can provide.

"Esperanto is catching on!"

(So says the sticker I picked up.)

It was reassuring to see the UK Esperantists (EAB) present. My passion for Esperanto and its ideals just grows despite the almost completely pervasive misunderstandings about the point (la ideo) of the language as an easier-to-learn second language of international communication. Incidental congrats to the EAB on creating a non-hideous looking website. (For some inexplicable reason many Esperanto websites, even the highly trafficked ones, are utterly ghastly affairs. Thank goodness for at least some design sense.)

More on Esperanto: Lernu.net

UK Trade and Investment

One of the relatively few non-language learning exhibits was the UK Trade & Investment governmental org which is all about getting UK companies out of the monolingual tarpit and raising awareness of the issues of international commerce. Apart from the amusing stories of cultural confusions like an early phonetic translation of Coca-Cola into Chinese which came out as "biting the wax tadpole" but with a minor phonemic shift became "happiness in the mouth" - genius, the whole beautifully produced brochure read like an Esperanto manifesto. Fact: nearly 1% of the entire EU budget (40% of the its administrative budget), €800m, is spent on translation services for the EU's 2,500 elite translators. :-(. I really look forward to being able to spend some time using what skills I have to further the Esperanto cause, and save us all a pile of money and provide us with a great time and some amazing experiences.

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 21:43 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 5, 2004


Posted in: Language

Clusterflake, n. or v. Inspired by this evening and a similar sounding word, clusterflake is the social phenomenon characterized by a buttload of people just not showing up, typically so sporadically, in such numbers, and with so little advance warning that the original plan or plans are thrown into disintegrating disarray. (syn: cluster flake)

"Despite a week's notice more than half the movie group clusterflaked, most without even calling."
"We'd arranged a big dinner, followed by a meet with another crew, then all hit a party downtown. Three people showed up in total, the whole night. It was a complete cluster flake."
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 01:08 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 28, 2004

Weaponize this!

Posted in: Language

A rather unpleasant story about Steve Kurtz, an Assoc. Prof in Buffalo, NY being abducted by FBI agents (a friend of Steve's said Steve was a vocal critic of the US govt).

One paragraph sent me off into the linguistic explorosphere...

FBI field and laboratory tests have shown that Kurtz's equipment was not used for any illegal purpose. In fact, it is not even possible to use this equipment for the production or weaponization of dangerous germs. Furthermore, any person in the US may legally obtain and possess such equipment.

That's right, folks, weaponization. What other uses of the word could we have?

"Going mad with the volume controls, the DJ perpetrated tune weaponization."
"Putting bull-bars & a supercharger on his truck totally weaponized it!"
"She'd studied so much kung-fu she'd auto-weaponized."
"With the Coalition forces screwing up about everything it touches we're heading for total terrorist World-Wide Weaponization."
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 19:46 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stirring up ecademy

Posted in: Drivel, Language

Recently sucked into a debate about car usage and petrol prices, I ended what I thought was a reasonably well constructed comment (given the 60-odd seconds I spent on it) with a single flip line referring to women as chicks. This "innocent" remark was blogged by one of the more entertaining provocateuses and generated an enormous amount of traffic...

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 18:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack