Instruments of the orchestra

Recently I had a lovely page bought to my attention - The Names of Instruments and Voices in English, French, German, Italian, Russian1, and Spanish. Hosted by Yale (presumably giving it a longevity), it’s not 100% complete – computer (under electronic instruments) only comes in French (ordinateur) and German (Computerklänge), cowbells is only in French (cloches à vache), but Tubular bells comes in a number of languages: French (cloches tubulaires), German (Rohrenglocke), Italian (campane tubolari) and Spanish (campanas tubulares).

Not being native to any of those languages, I’m not completely sure on the translations – the page looks old, pre Google Translate at least, and may not be as correct as we’d all like.

None the less, it’s great to see someone has put in the effort for the international orchestral scene!

Sometimes, they write themselves (Ibland skriver de själva)

It’s good to know that websites in non English speaking countries have a propensity to being ridiculously laid out to maximise advertising revenue as much as their English contemporaries.

Having got that off my chest, the English language Swedish online news service The Local is reporting that Sweden have had to withdraw a new word due to a complaint by Google.

There are so many WTF‘s right here that I barely know where to start. Let’s start with the obvious, the story:

In December, the Language Council unveiled its annual list of new Swedish words. Among the words added to the Swedish language in 2012 was “ogooglebar” (‘ungoogleable’). But the California-based multinational objected.

“It’s not just about our definition of the word; we also tried to describe how users define the word and Google had opinions about that,” Language Council head Ann Cederberg told Sveriges Radio (SR).

The word was to be used to describe something “that you can’t find on the web with the use of a search engine”, according to the Language Council.

However, Google was less than thrilled that a word based on its name had been highlighted by Sweden’s “official language cultivation body”.

(For those that are interested, here’s more on the Swedish Language Council, Wikipedia. Fascinatingly, the Swedish term for the Swedish Language Council, Språkvård,

is a loan translation of the German word “Sprachpflege”. Literally, språkvård means ‘language care’, but is often translated as language cultivation or language planning.)

Of course, even the most obviously odd part of this story, is quickly derailed:

According to SR, Google wanted the council to specify that the word’s definition only covered searches performed using Google, and not searches involving other search engines.
After a protracted exchange with lawyers at the US internet company in which Google lawyers “tried to influence our way of defining the word”, the Language Council finally opted to remove “ogooglebar” from the 2012 list of new Swedish words.

Google wanted to…they…redefine…not just Google…wat?

Thankfully, common sense prevailed – there’s a reason why the rest of the world is jealous of the Scandinavians – they are so reasonable, rational and socially democratic:

Cederberg explained that taking on the US search giant took “too much time and resources” and that the word already exists in Swedish.

“It’s the users of the language who decide if it will remain,” she said.

“So if the word exists, use it if you want. That’s something Google can’t decide.”

Speaking with the TT news agency, Cederberg disputed allegations that the Language Council had allowed itself to be censured by Google.

“Google hasn’t won anything with this,” she said.

According to Cederberg, the Language Council could have ignored Google’s requests, but decided to remove the word in order to spark a debate.

“We thought it would be useful to start talking about this; we have have nothing to lose,” she told TT.

Google now have enabled the Streisand effect - their complaint has bought more publicity to the word. And as the Language Council have noted, it wont stop people using the word – in fact, this act will almost certainly enshrine the word within the lexicon.

Since we are here – not only do the Language Council “announce” new words, which always seems so…arse end round really, but there’s a top ten - and there are some really winners here:

5. Nomofob (Nomophobe)

A person who feels anxious at the mere thought of being separated from their mobile phone. An abbreviation of the English “no mobile phone phobia”.

4. Köttrymd (Flesh space)

The non-digital world and the opposite to cyber space. For example: “I’m going to log off Facebook for a while and see what’s going on in flesh space.”

But nothing can really beat the best new Swedish word of 2012:

1. Tårtgate (Cakegate)

The political fallout when Sweden’s Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth cut into a cake shaped as a stereotype of a black woman, invoking images of female mutilation. For example: “She should resign over Cakegate!”

You really should follow the link above to see the image. It’s hard to know if it is that quirky ultra libertarian left Swedish Art humour, or if it’s an actual honest to his-noodly-greatness act of political suicide. I guess either reason just adds to the list of reasons why we would like to be Swedish – it’s very funny if it’s meant to be humorous, and it’s very funny if it’s political suicide. Either way, we all win.

For those that want to go right down the rabbit hole, there’s also the ubiquitous ten X words you wont find in Y (X = Swedish, Y = English).

Update:

Well, this was always going to blow up I guess. And it’s blowing up in a way that justifies my posting – a couple of mentions here and there, but fffffat have taken the cake (lololololololololo): http://www.ogooglebar.se/

fffffat were also good enough to point me somewhere that I really should have gone last night: the Swedish Language Council’s press release in this regard – a magnificent slap down. To complete the loop of creepy, I present it here, as translated by Google Translate (evil laugh!):

Google does not own the language!

26/03/2013

The company Google has wooed Language Council to amend the definition of the word ogooglebar the new order list. Today we instead delete the word and marks while our displeasure with Google’s attempt to control the language.

We have removed ogooglebar from the new order list. Why? One of the things that Språkrådet is known is the annual new order list. It is published at the end of the year and usually lead to discussions of word to be or not to be, their fitness and longevity.One purpose of neologisms list is to show how society and language development, interacting with each other. On the 2012 list was the word ogooglebar with, in the sense ‘that can not be found on the web using a search engine’. But since the new order list was presented in December 2012, the company Google has worked to influence the Language Council of Management of the word. Google refers to the laws that protect brands and want the Language Council amends the definition version of the name Google in the definition and add a ‘disclaimer’ where we emphasize that Google is a trademark.

Språkrådet have tried to explain the new order list in proposing solutions that do that we do not deviate from our basic approach to language. No one can define words which must be in the language or languages ​​of the users’ definition of a word. The definition Language Council states have been formulated based on how the word is used in Swedish., we have neither the time nor the inclination to pursue the lengthy process that Google is trying to launch. Nor do we compromise and change the definition of ogooglebar to it that the company wants. It would go against our principles – and language principles. Google has namely forgot one thing: language development do not care about brand protection. No individual can decide about the language. Whoever in the future googling on ogooglebar will not only find the wording that Google wanted to change, and that will remain online despite Language Council amended the list. Anyone looking will also find all the possible comments that follow after the news spread that word removed. That is how the internet world works.

 

Who decides the language? We do language users. We decide together which words should be and how they are defined, used and spelled. The language is the result of an ongoing democratic process. Everyone is in deciding which words are established in the language by choosing the words we use. Do we want ogooglebar the language we will use the word and it is our use determines meaning – no multinational company with leverage.

Words, Poetry, Translation and Boredom

For at least a decade my favourite website has been Ubuweb. Not in the visit-it-twice-a-day category like BoingBoing – more like a hot cross bun or a mango – it’s made more special because it’s visited infrequently.

UbuWeb’s main trade is in the otherwise unfindable, the undesirable, the unlistenable, the unreadable – a treasure trove of avant garde artists and their art. And more over. As a long time fan of the avant garde and outsider art, I am constantly shocked at how little I know from within the archive.

There’s the obvious points of reference – Yoko Ono, Dali, Foucault, Kinski, and Cage. Then there’s the less obvious – almost contemporary provocatuer Stewart Home‘s films and music, Ergo Phizmiz, Delia Derbyshire, Hoffman and Rubin, and Guy Debord. Then there’s those that are just plain…well, obscure. Like

If you are feeling overwhelmed I recommend the strategy of finding your birthday within one or both of the 365 Days projects and listening to what you find.

Kenneth Goldsmith is the founder of UbuWeb and MoMA‘s first Poet Laureate, amongst other things, and this interview in The Awl is a must read. Expounding on patchwriting (“post editing” in translation) and plagiarism, poetry, the internet and the new spaces for art he is absolutely mesmerising. In keeping with the theme of the piece, and because you should be reading the whole thing yourself, I’ll only reproduce the juiciest segments.

On his latest book Seven American Deaths and Disasters, a transcription of radio and news reports of national disasters and the peeling back of the media’s façade:

These DJs woke up thinking they were going to the station for a regular day and then they were in the position of having to narrate, say, 9-11 or the Kennedy assassination, to the world. They were completely unprepared and in their speech, you can hear this. It’s stunning. The slick curtain of media is torn, revealing acrobatic linguistic improvisations. There was a sense of things spinning out of control: facts blurred with speculation as the broadcasters attempted to furiously weave convincing narratives from shards of half-truths. Usually confident DJs were now riding by the seat of their pants, splaying raw emotion across the airwaves: smooth speech turned to stutter, laced with doubt and fear. Unhinged from their media personalities, these DJs became ordinary citizens, more like guys in a bar than representatives of purported rationality and truth. Opinions—some of them terribly misinformed—inflected and infected their supposedly objective reportage. Racism and xenophobia were rampant— somehow the DJs couldn’t help themselves.

His latest books were:

(interviewer) Your 2000 book Fidget transcribes every single movement your body made during thirteen hours. In your 2003 book, Day, you chronologically re-typed every single word from every page of a copy of The New York Times. Your later trilogy, Weather, Traffic and Sports, transcribe random radio reports. Now with Seven American Deaths and Disasters you’re transcribing reports of specific events.

On teaching students to copy and steal – plagiarize – to use it as a creative tool:

The students that take my class know how to write. I can hone their skills further but instead I choose to challenge them to think in new and different ways. Many of them know how to plagiarize but they always do it on the sly, hoping not to get caught. In my class, they must plagiarize or they will be penalized. They are not allowed to be original or creative. So it becomes a very different game, one in which they’re forced to defend choices that they are making about what they’re plagiarizing and why. And when you start to dig down, you’ll find that those choices are as original and as unique as when they express themselves in more traditional types of writing, but they’ve never been trained to think about it in this way.

You see, we are faced with a situation in which the managing of information has become more important than creating new and original information. Take Boing Boing, for instance. They’re one of the most powerful blogs on the web, but they don’t create anything, rather they filter the morass of information and pull up the best stuff. The fact of Boing Boing linking to something far outweighs the thing that they’re linking to. The new creativity is pointing, not making. Likewise, in the future, the best writers will be the best information managers.

On words and writing and the change that they have gone through with new technologies:

This is a great challenge to traditional notions of writing. In the digital age, language (aka code) has become materialized, taking on a whole new dimension (although one that had been proposed throughout various avant-garde movements during the twentieth-century: futurisms, concrete poetry, and language poetry, and so forth—which is why the 20th c. avant-garde is more relevant than ever).

Words are no longer just for telling stories. Now language is digital and physical. It can be poured into any conceivable container: text typed into a Microsoft Word document can be parsed into a database, visually morphed in Photoshop, animated in Flash, pumped into online text-mangling engines, spammed to thousands of email addresses and imported into a sound editing program and spit out as music; the possibilities are endless.

On boredom and inspiration:

John Cage said, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” So what is boring? I find narrative boring. I find truth boring. I once wrote an essay called Being Boring where I claim to be the most boring writer who has ever lived. I can’t even read my own books—I keep falling asleep. But they’re great to talk about and think about. So I think we need to redefine our relationship to boring. Reality TV is boring with all the boring parts taken out of it. Instead, go watch An American Family from the early 70s, at this weird moment where mainstream TV fell under the spell of Andy Warhol. You’ll never be bored in the same way again.

I don’t think that journalists can be boring because to do so would be to shed too much truth on what they do. They’re mostly writing boring stuff, they’re bored, their editors are bored, and their readers are also bored, but nobody will admit it. Again, it’s here that Warhol is prescient. When asked if he reads reviews of his works, he replied, that he doesn’t—he only adds up the column inches.

His radio show on WFMU:

(interviewer) I did radio with you at WFMU in the mid-00s. Your radio show, which ran from 1995-2010, seemed to push the format as far as possible. By 2010 you were broadcasting three hours of silence, which you would break every thirty minutes with a station ID. The station staff was often angry with you and the listeners always complained it was the most unlistenable radio imaginable. 

On poetry and writing as a living in an age of advanc(ed/ing) technology – and what “being a writer” means:

…the emerging poet Steven Zultanski just put out what I feel to be perhaps the most important book of his generation called Agony. In the old days, this one book alone would’ve made his career. Now it’s just another in a sea of Lulu publications and Facebook likes.

….

Literary works—and careers—might function the same way that memes do today on the web, spreading like wildfire for a short period, often unsigned and un-authored, only to be supplanted by the next ripple. While the author won’t die, we might begin to view authorship in a more conceptual way: perhaps the best authors of the future will be ones who can write the best programs with which to manipulate, parse and distribute language-based practices. Even if, as Christian Bök claims, poetry in the future will be written by machines for other machines to read, there will be, for the foreseeable future, someone behind the curtain inventing those drones; so that even if literature is reducible to mere code—an intriguing idea—the smartest minds behind them will be considered our greatest authors.

Read through to the end for the easter egg, the master stroke…

Warhol claimed that, “Art is what you can get away with,” something I am inspired by. Artists ask questions, and they don’t give answers. Artists make messes and leave it for others to clean up. I’ve left a long trail of appropriated texts, dishonest statements, and brutal pranks. I’ve stolen things that weren’t mine and have made a career out of forgery and dishonesty. I’m proudly fraudulent. And it’s served me well—I highly recommend it as an artistic strategy.

Poetic Translation

I’ve just discovered the blog bLogicarian and am looking forward to being able to read further – see the length of Esperanto: An International Auxiliary Clusterfuck for an example of why I need a weekend to absorb. From A Brief Note on Translating Poetry:

A good translator doesn’t just translate “into” something already existing in the target tradition, but brings something new to the target language from the original. And that requires using one’s target tradition in a foreign way at some level. Though if one pulls a Nabokov, the result may be useless in many ways. For all their flaws and chinoiserie, Ezra Pound’s translations from Old English, Classical Chinese and Provençal do succeed at that at some level. So do Edward Fitzgerald’s translations from Omar Khayyām and Vikram Seth’s versions of Medieval Chinese poetry. They offer the reader something new that they can’t get anywhere else. The original must, after all, usually be something new if it justifies the reader’s attention or the translator’s effort.

Walter Arndt, in his hilariously written Picaro in Hitler’s Europe once said that to desire to do verse-translation requires one to be a either a person with more than one country or a person with no country. Perhaps he was not entirely wrong.

And then there are the valid critiques of Firefly in Sinorrhea: Why Joss Whedon’s Firefly Annoys Me - problems that I’d noticed during my recent watching of the show:

Even those cultural aspects of the show’s universe that aren’t mere occidentalisms telescoped into the distant future do not actually employ non-western cultural phenomena, but rather American re-imaginings thereof. And Whedon didn’t put the least amount of thought into any of this, of how even a slightly clued-in non-expert such as yours truly might respond to what he’s doing. He’d never dare do something like this with gender.

It’s shallow. Joss was either going for the lowest common American denominator here, or just didn’t know any better.

 

It’s not updated frequently, but there’s a lot there when he does.

Mostly about language

I don’t like blogging like this, but it’s hard to find the time with an intermittent Internet. I find titbits, but I rarely follow links – I’ve not watched an online video in almost a year and my inbox has an email thread containing 276 emails with over 400 links to “revisit” once I return to the land of faster bandwidth. As though anyone on the Internet has time for 400+ old links.

However as someone that is interested in language, it behooves me to relay this content that I’ve found.

I don’t know why I have a low opinion of Will Self, but I do. As a self important anarchist I think that I rub up against other self important *ists. Despite this I found his latest piece for the BBC, In defence of obscure words, a rollicking good skewering of the stupid, the vapid, the empty. Be it expressing a love of words and language and using them:

I’d point out that my texts were as full of resolutely Anglo-Saxon slang as they were the flowery and the Latinate. I’d observe that English, being a mishmash of several different languages, had a large and exciting vocabulary, and that it seemed a shame not to use it – especially given that it went on growing all the time, spawning argot and specialist terminology as freely as an oyster does its milt.

or the end result of a culture built by the risk adverse:

But now that all formerly difficult subject matter is, if not exactly permitted, readily accessible, cultural artificers have no need to aim high. The displacement of aesthetically and intellectually difficult art as the zenith has resulted in all sorts of sad and interrelated phenomena.

In the literary world, books intended for child readers are repackaged and sold to kidult ones, while even notionally highbrow arbiters – such as Booker judges – are obsessed by that nauseous confection “a jolly good read”. That Shakespeare remains our national writer is, frankly, bizarre, given that with his recondite vocabulary, myriad historical references, and convoluted metaphorical language, were he to be seeking publication in the current milieu, his sonnets and plays would undoubtedly also be branded as ‘too difficult’.

As for visual arts, the current Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern is a perfect opportunity to see what becomes of an artificer whose impulse towards difficult subject matter was unsupported by any capacity for hard cogitation or challenging artistry. The early works – the stuffed animals and fly-bedizened carcasses – retain a certain – albeit recherché – shock value, while the subsequent ones degenerate steadily to the condition of knocked-off merchandise, making the barrier between the gift shop and the exhibition space evaporate in a puff of consumerism.

But the most disturbing result of this retreat from the difficult is to be found in arts and humanities education, where the traditional set texts are now chopped up into boneless nuggets of McKnowledge, and students are encouraged to do their research – such as it is – on the web.

I quite enjoyed the brief moment of intellectual challenge that he poses.

Which is why I now turn to more a phenomena that really only exists because of the Internet but grew from the old style newsprint tropes “Word of the day”, maybe combined with “What in the world” – the longer form list of obscure, obtuse, unused, hard to translate or extinct words. Usually in groups of five, eight or ten. I’m not immune to posting links these lists here on Pineapple Donut, but it’s not often that it’s done anew – as an infographic and without the pronunciation of the words. And to stick it up to Mr Self, I found it though the most internet of ways – in RSS from a tumblr called this isn’t happiness, via mentalfloss, and then PopSci, to the original artist’s site, 21 Emotions with No English Word Equivalents.

At first I was put off by the filter of emotive words, but I came around as I thought about it – not only was Pei-Ying’s choice considered in that it provided a focus that’s easy to explain, empathise with and understand, but it gave her the opportunity to explore feelings that don’t have words in English, or any other language presumably, but are unique and identifiable to the (ahem, current) internet age. Unfortunately the artist’s site was so popular after the various postings that their broadband limit has been blown, or 509′d in tech speak.

I didn’t know that the Talkly awards even existed, but the Crikey language blog, FullySic, noted that last year it given to Ingrid Piller. Awarded for an individual who has done the most to increase public knowledge about language, she sounds like the person we would most like to be sitting next to on the 6am flight from Nadi to Tarawa.

Cory Doctorow fires up more passion in people than I’d expect – I find him interesting, intelligent and sometimes even enthralling, but the argy bargy that follows him is hard for me to comprehend. He writes for the Guardian on the difference between value and price in the internet era, largely focusing on positive externalities and their exploitation. Most interesting to me is his use of Google and it’s approach to translating.

A positive externality arises when you do something you want to do that also makes life better for someone else. For example, if you drive your car slowly and carefully to avoid a wreck, a positive externality is that other users of the road have a safer time of it, too. If you keep up your front garden because it pleases you, your neighbours get the positive externality of slightly buoyed-up property values from living on a nicely kept street.

Positive externalities — virtuous cycles — are all around us. Your kid learns to speak because of all the people around her who carry on conversations and because of the TV shows and radio programmes where speaking occurs (as do immigrants like my grandmother, whose English fluency owes much to daytime TV after she came to Canada from Russia).

Google is a case-study in harvesting positive externalities. It offered a free, voice-based directory assistance number, and used the interactions users had with its software to build a corpus of common phrases, expressed in multiple accents and under a wide range of field conditions. Then it used this to train the voice-recognition software that powers its Android-based phone-search. Likewise, it mined all the publicly available translations on the web – EU documents that appeared in multiple languages, fan-based translations for subtitles on cult cartoons, and everything else it could find – and used this to train its automated translation engine, providing it with the context that it needed to figure out the nuance and sense of ambiguous phrases.

He contends that the defining mania of the internet era is

resentment over positive externalities. Many people and companies have concluded that if someone, somewhere, is getting value from their labour, that they should get a cut of that value… Many people have accused Google of “ripping off” the public by indexing content, or analysing it, or both. Jaron Lanier recently accused Google of misappropriating translators’ labour by using online translated documents as a training set for its machine-translation engine – an extreme version of many labour-oriented critiques of online business.

leading to

the infectious idea of internalising externalities turns its victims into grasping, would-be rentiers. You translate a document because you need it in two languages. I come along and use those translations to teach a computer something about context. You tell me I owe you a slice of all the revenue my software generates. That’s just crazy. It’s like saying that someone who figures out how to recycle the rubbish you set out at the kerb should give you a piece of their earnings. Harvesting positive externalities involves collecting billions of minute shreds of residual value – snippets of discarded string –and balling them up into something big and useful.

While I enjoy his take, either he or Lanier has missed the mark. If Lanier’s critique was purely about the Google Translation Toolkit it would be understandable, but as is pointed out in the comments – the EU have made the translations available for exactly that purpose. Similarly, all the Free and Open Source software translation files have been there in the public domain waiting to be harvested since the movement started in the early 1990s – it was just a matter of someone thinking to harvest the files, and having the hardware and technical expertise to do so. And indeed, those files remain open source – someone else is welcome to harvest the same files. Google hasn’t locked them up. The Translation service on the other hand, asking for Translator’s Translation Memories and storing them – that is taking other people’s work. I guess the question then becomes can Google guarantee that they haven’t used those TMs in their translation service.

Finally, for the real language nerds, Matt Might’s The language of languages is a healthy, if slight, refresher on context free grammars:

Languages form the terrain of computing.

Programming languages, protocol specifications, query languages, file formats, pattern languages, memory layouts, formal languages, config files, mark-up languages, formatting languages and meta-languages shape the way we compute.

So, what shapes languages?

Grammars do.

Grammars are the language of languages.

Behind every language, there is a grammar that determines its structure.

This article explains grammars and common notations for grammars, such as Backus-Naur Form (BNF), Extended Backus-Naur Form (EBNF) and regular extensions to BNF.

The discussion on context sensitive grammars and parsing is poorly explained to my mind, in need of more explanation  and the article in general could be more interesting to the non computer scientist with a little more work. A primer only really.

Google Translate: the written word

Over at Google, the New Years present for 2012 is titled Sometimes it’s just easier to write. An update to the Google Translate app for Android in which one can enter characters via the touch screen:

Our goal is to break down the language barrier, all the time, everywhere. By adding handwriting input directly into our Android app we hope to help you get translation done even more quickly and easily. Sometimes you don’t know how to say what you want translated, sometimes you can’t type it, and sometimes it’s easier just to write it. We think of handwriting on the touchscreen as another natural input…

This is still an experimental feature. It’s available in Chinese and Japanese, and you can enable it for English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish if you like. (We currently only support single-character input for Chinese and Japanese.) Just as with speech recognition and our translations themselves, our handwriting recognition happens in the cloud, allowing us to continually improve accuracy without requiring you to download new versions of the app.