Keep Calm and Jazz It Up: On Creative Linguistic Variation

Word Jazz

ImageIf you’ve been to the UK in the last few years, you won’t have been able to avoid the latest craze sweeping the nation. It’s a craze which seems to manifest itself everywhere: in shop windows, on T-shirts, in adverts – even in language blogs. And it’s one that has at its heart one very simple phrase.

On the eve of World War II, the UK Government displayed posters across the country carrying the very simple plea to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. The message – simply stated and boldly written – was clear: to get through the war, the nation couldn’t afford to panic.

After the war was over, the poster had surely had its day. But then, in 2001, some enterprising soul came up with the  idea of printing new copies of it for sale. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, the poster…

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Do Robots Love Language? Bias and Google Translate

Loving Language

Translate Tongan? You'll have to ask him--Google Translate can't help. Translate Tongan? You’ll have to ask him–Google Translate can’t help.

I tend not to follow the mainstream. I study languages that others don’t, and I’ll often gravitate towards marginal dialects when I can. When I speak Arabic, I try to throw in a little Moroccan when I can. Speaking Russian, I might add a little bit of a Ukrainian accent. Right now, I’m learning Swiss German, which I’m afraid will irritate my standard German-speaking friends.

Google Translate follows the mainstream. It is a tool developed by a savvy business filling a commercial need. People who have and spend money need an application to conduct their business more easily. I addressed the relative value of languages in an earlier post.

Unfortunately, Google Translate reflects the mainstream. It offers the languages of the powerful, and translates using the language of the status quo without respect for what is good…

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TED scientists get the LEGO treatment

TED Blog

diversity-in-stem-lego-minifigures-maia-weinstock-1000

LEGOs are for building spaceships, crafting castles and getting lost in your couch. But what if they could be used not just to dream of lands long ago and times far away, but to inspire future scientists? That’s what writer Maia Weinstock had in mind when she made these STEM scientist action figures.

Weinstock has turned TED Fellows Jedidah Isler (an astrophysicist), Danielle N. Lee (a biologist) and David Sengeh (a bio-engineer), as well as TED speaker Mae Jemison (an astronaut) into miniature figurines using LEGOs. In the Scientific American article “It’s time for more diversity in STEM toys,” she explains why: increased racial diversity in STEM toys can help kids imagine (and then create) a world where Hispanic programmers and African-American chemists are the norm instead of notable exceptions.

STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — is a place where students in the United States are

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