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Richard Nordquist

Language in the News: Text Expansion, Twitter Scolds, Strange Signs, and Goddess English

By May 31, 2010

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Our monthly round-up of language-related items in the news--from the linguistically profound to the lexically ridiculous.

  • Are Writers Becoming Obsolete?
    Narrative Science, a five-month-old company in Evanston, Ill. that specializes in '"machine-generated content," can make some writing by humans obsolete. "There's no human author and no human editing," says Stuart Frankel, 44, the company's CEO and a former executive at DoubleClick. "But the stories sound really good." . . . Read more
    (Justin Bachman, "Are Sportswriters Really Necessary?" Bloomberg Businessweek, May 3-May 9, 2010)

  • "Sorry--We're Open": Strange Signs
    A recent slide show, "A Sampling of Chinglish," which accompanied a story by Andrew Jacobs, showed signs in Chinese paired with unusual and often funny English translations. We asked readers to share photos of amusingly translated or otherwise quirky signs that they've found during their travels. . . . View the collection
    ("Strange Signs From Abroad." The New York Times, May 11, 2010)

  • Twitter Scolds
    A small but vocal subculture has emerged on Twitter of grammar and taste vigilantes who spend their time policing other people's tweets--celebrities and nobodies alike. These are people who build their own algorithms to sniff out Twitter messages that are distasteful to them--tweets with typos or flawed grammar, or written in ALLCAPS--and then send scolding notes to the offenders. They see themselves as the guardians of an emerging behavior code: Twetiquette. . . . Read more
    (John Metcalfe, "The Self-Appointed Twitter Scolds." The New York Times, April 28, 2010)

  • Point-and-Shoot Translations
    Google's newest app provides near perfect translation of foreign text after you snap a photo of it with your smart phone. . . . Goggles Translate, which is available for Android phones but will ultimately be platform neutral, can "read" or visually scan words in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish and translate them into any other of those languages plus about 10 more, including Afrikaans and Albanian--with additional languages coming soon. . . . Read more
    (Peter Ha, "Sprechen Sie Google? A New Web Translator." Time, May 6, 2010)

  • A Temple to "Goddess English"
    Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit intellectual, activist and a bit of a maverick, has for several years been trying to promote fluency in English as the key to the liberation of the people at the bottom of India's caste system from what he sees as the caste prejudice inherent in Indian languages like Hindi. . . . Today he is presiding over the laying of a foundation stone for a temple dedicated to "Goddess English" in a village in Uttar Pradesh state, about 350 kilometers east of New Delhi. . . . Read more
    (Tripti Lahiri, "A Dalit Temple to 'Goddess English.'" India Real Time, April 30, 2010)

  • Belgium's Language Divide
    Language is the fundamental flaw at the core of Belgium's existential crisis, taking on the role that race, religion, or ethnicity play in other conflict-riven societies. The country operates on the basis of linguistic apartheid, which infects everything from public libraries to local and regional government, the education system, the political parties, national television, the newspapers, even football teams. There is no national narrative in Belgium, rather two opposing stories told in Dutch or French. The result is a dialogue of the deaf. . . . Read more
    (Ian Traynor, "The Language Divide at the Heart of a Split That Is Tearing Belgium Apart." The Observer (UK), May 9, 2010)

  • So So
    "So" may be the new "well," new "um," new "oh" and new "like." No longer content to lurk in the middle of sentences, it has jumped to the beginning, where it can portend many things: transition, certitude, logic, attentiveness, a major insight. . . . Read More
    (Anand Giridharadas, "'So' Pushes to the Head of the Line." The New York Times, May 21, 2010)

  • Text Expansion
    So what exactly does a text expansion application do? In short, it's an extended clipboard where you can store and access lines, paragraphs, and even pages of frequently used text. TextExpander automates dull or repetitive typing tasks so that you have more time to think about and write new things. . . . Read more
    (Ryan Cordell, "Smarter Typing Through Text Expansion." The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 6, 2010)

If you run across a provocative (or comical) article on language, please tell us about it by clicking on "comments" below.

Back Issues of Language in the News:

Image: Sign outside a shop in Istanbul, from "Strange Signs From Abroad." The New York Times, May 11, 2010.

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