September 25, 2007

shopping dogs

High fashion sells better with a quirky dog.

September 19, 2007

Not normally a fan of puns, but....

Shoutout for a great website, especially if you happen to live in Wisconsin, you know, the state that derives its name from the Anglicized spelling of a French version of the Native American name for a river (according to the Wisconsin Historical Society) with place names like Oconomowoc and Prairie du Chien (don't even attempt to pronounce it in the French way and don't think too much of dogs either).
During the day [Jackie] Johnson is a reporter for Wisconsin Radio Network. After hours she operates, an online audio pronunciation guide for everything Wisconsin-related: towns, cities, politicians, parks and forests. Since she started the site in January 2006, she has recorded hundreds upon hundreds of names, sometimes even getting politicians to record their own.

first permalinks, now free access

The Times now wants to be read rather than paid (for access to online articles). A fine day for bloggers, who can now link to what used to be hidden behind the Times Select wall. From an e-mail sent to NYT subscribers:
Why the change? This decision enhances the free flow of New York Times reporting and analysis around the world. It will enable everyone, everywhere to read our news and opinion - as well as to share it, link to it and comment on it.
Very true. And it would have been just as true 2 years ago. Now, if only Maureen Dowd would write a column on dogs that I would have a reason to link to on this blog...

How many languages are there in the world?

7000... 6999..... 6998..... You can't bring them back, but you can at least document them.
On Language Death

Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say, nearly half are in danger of extinction and likely to disappear in this century. In fact, one falls out of use about every two weeks.

Some languages vanish in an instant, at the death of the sole surviving speaker. Others are lost gradually in bilingual cultures, as indigenous tongues are overwhelmed by the dominant language at school, in the marketplace and on television.

New research, reported yesterday, has found the five regions where languages are disappearing most rapidly: northern Australia, central South America, North America’s upper Pacific coastal zone, eastern Siberia, and Oklahoma and the southwestern United States. All have indigenous people speaking diverse languages, in falling numbers. [...]

Beginning what is expected to be a long-term project to identify and record endangered languages, Dr. Harrison has traveled to many parts of the world with Gregory D. S. Anderson, director of the Living Tongues Institute, in Salem, Ore., and Chris Rainier, a filmmaker with the National Geographic Society.

The researchers, focusing on distinct oral languages, not dialects, interviewed and made recordings of the few remaining speakers of a language and collected basic word lists. The individual projects, some lasting three to four years, involve hundreds of hours of recording speech, developing grammars and preparing children’s readers in the obscure language. The research has concentrated on preserving entire language families.

In Australia, where nearly all the 231 spoken tongues are endangered, the researchers came upon three known speakers of Magati Ke in the Northern Territory, and three Yawuru speakers in Western Australia. In July, Dr. Anderson said, they met the sole speaker of Amurdag, a language in the Northern Territory that had been declared extinct.

“This is probably one language that cannot be brought back, but at least we made a record of it,” Dr. Anderson said, noting that the Aborigine who spoke it strained to recall words he had heard from his father, now dead.

Many of the 113 languages in the region from the Andes Mountains into the Amazon basin are poorly known and are giving way to Spanish or Portuguese, or in a few cases, a more dominant indigenous language. In this area, for example, a group known as the Kallawaya use Spanish or Quechua in daily life, but also have a secret tongue mainly for preserving knowledge of medicinal plants, some previously unknown to science.

“How and why this language has survived for more than 400 years, while being spoken by very few, is a mystery,” Dr. Harrison said in a news release.

The dominance of English threatens the survival of the 54 indigenous languages in the Northwest Pacific plateau, a region including British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Only one person remains who knows Siletz Dee-ni, the last of many languages once spoken on a reservation in Oregon. [...]

Another measure of the threat to many relatively unknown languages, Dr. Harrison said, is that 83 languages with “global” influence are spoken and written by 80 percent of the world population. Most of the others face extinction at a rate, the researchers said, that exceeds that of birds, mammals, fish and plants.

September 06, 2007

nothing marks the end of summer like a shiny chestnut

No, they are not related to chest. For a long time, the word was spelled chesnut in English. We owe the current spelling to the popularity of Samuel Johnson's dictionary.

The origin of the word is the Latin word castanea, chasteine in Middle English. It's still recognizable in the German word for chestnut (Kastanie), the Spanish word (castana), and the Italian word (castagna). Chest, by contrast, is derived from the Latin word for box (cista).

September 05, 2007

wag the bag

All those fantastic words you miss out on if you're not a hiker....
No More Privies, So Hikers Add a Carry-Along

The highest outhouse in the continental United States is no more.

High-altitude sanitation is too hazardous a business. Helicopters must make regular journeys up the steep-walled canyons in tricky winds while rangers in hazmat suits wait below to tie 250-pound bags or barrels of waste onto a long line dangling below the aircraft.

So from the granite immensity of Mount Whitney in California to Mount Rainier in Washington to Zion National Park in Utah, a new wilderness ethic is beginning to take hold: You can take it with you. In fact, you must.

The privy, which sat about 14,494 feet above sea level, and two other outhouses here in the Inyo National Forest — the last on the trail — have been removed within the last year. The 19,000 or so hikers who pick up Forest Service permits each year to hike the Whitney Trail are given double-sealed sanitation kits and told how to use them — just as they are told how to keep their food from the bears along the way, and how to find shelter when lightning storms rake the ridges.

The kits — the most popular model is known as a Wagbag — are becoming a fixture of camping gear. On high western trails, Wagbag is now as familiar a term as gorp (a high-energy mix of nuts, seeds, dry fruit and chocolate) or switchback (a hairpin turn in the trail).

“It’s one thing to take a risk to fly up there to pick up a sick or injured person,” said Brian Spitek, a forest ranger who works in the Inyo National Forest. “To do it to fly out a bag of poop is another.”

Can't argue with that. Oh, and in case you're wondering: WAG stands for Waste Alleviation and Gelling and it the bags h ave also been adopted by FEMA and the Pentagon.

no more hitler juniors in venezuela

Can you imagine having to choose your child's name from a list of only 100 names? This is exactly what is being suggested in Venezuela. For a reason. From an article in The New York Times:

A Culture of Naming That Even a Law May Not Tame

Goodbye, Tutankamen del Sol. So long, Hengelberth, Maolenin, Kerbert Krishnamerk, Githanjaly, Yornaichel, Nixon and Yurbiladyberth. The prolifically inventive world of Venezuelan baby names may be coming to an end.

If electoral officials here get their way, a bill introduced last week would prohibit Venezuelan parents from bestowing those names — and many, many others — on their children.

The measure would not be retroactive. But it would limit parents of newborns to a list of 100 names established by the government, with exemptions for Indians and foreigners, and it is already facing skepticism in the halls of the National Assembly.

“I need to know how they would define those 100 names,” said Jhonny Owee Milano Rodríguez, a congressman representing Cojedes State. “For example, why not 120? This seems arbitrary to me.” [...]

The bill’s ambition, according to a draft submitted to municipal offices here for review, is to “preserve the equilibrium and integral development of the child” by preventing parents from giving newborns names that expose them to ridicule or are “extravagant or hard to pronounce in the official language,” Spanish. The bill also aims to prevent names that “generate doubts” about the bearer’s gender. [...]

Some parents exercise that right more liberally than others. Software searches of the voter registry find more than 60 people of voting age with the first name Hitler, including Hitler Adonys Rodríguez Crespo; eight Hochiminhs, among them Hochiminh Jesús Delgado Sierra; and six Eisenhowers. [...]

Not everyone denounces the bill. Temutchin del Espíritu Santo Rojas Fernández, 25, a computer programmer, explained that his first name was inspired by the birth name of Genghis Khan, often spelled Temujin in English. He said he frequently had to correct the spelling of his name on official documents.

While I agree that it's a good thing to set a limit for parents' creativity in the interest of the childd (no child should be named Hitler), limiting the choice to 100 names (or only 50, considering that the names have to be gender-specific) seems overly restrictive.

September 03, 2007

word nerds are cool

Spinach-eating action heroes are so yesterday. Meet WordGirl:

There's a new superhero on the block this fall, and she might just have the strength (or as she would most likely say, the “fortitude”) to render a big vocabulary cool among schoolchildren.

The weapon of choice for PBS’s new “WordGirl” is words: the more expressive, the better. When the fifth-grader Becky Botsford dons her red cape and spits out mouthfuls like “preposterous” and “bicker” and “cumbersome,” her enemies — from the often-tongue-tied Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy (whose name is a chance for WordGirl to define “absurd”) to the Butcher, who mangles words while hoarding meat — capitulate. [...]

“WordGirl” draws its writers not from the ranks of children’s television but from places like the satirical newspaper The Onion and Fox’s twisted adult cartoon series “Family Guy.” The voice of the narrator, Chris Parnell, will be better known to adults from “Saturday Night Live.” [...]

The series is underpinned by a serious curriculum, informed by the 2002 academic work “Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction,” by Isabel Beck, Margaret McKeown and Linda Kucan, all of the University of Pittsburgh. In the book they argue that “vocabulary is the linchpin to literacy,” Ms. Gillim said, adding, “If you don’t know the word, you aren’t going to get the meaning when you encounter it when reading.” When exposed to words in a variety of contexts, she said, children “will discern the meaning,” and even a 6-year-old can understand “cumbersome” when told it means “big and heavy and awkward.”

“Kids who enter school with a vocabulary of 20,000 words will have a lot more success than those who enter with a vocabulary of 2,000 words,” said Deborah Forte, the president of Scholastic Media, the show’s producer. “That ability to command language and use words to express what you want is incredibly important,” she said.

Each 11-minute episode in the half-hour includes two featured words, which children are cued to watch for at the start of the program. The words, chosen according to academic guidelines, include enormous, impressive, diversion, doomed, dash, coincidence, guarantee, squint, coupon, glum, clumsy, supreme, appetite, expand, deceive and idolize.