AI to decipher old languages?

Interesting article from the MIT Technology Review:

Machine learning has been used to automatically translate long-lost languages

But speaking about new research into AI translation of lost languages, the article notes, “In this paper, Linear A is conspicuous by its absence.” Indeed, the two languages the AI decoded are Linear B and Ugaritic. We already know both these languages, if not well. And the AI used what was known about languages like Ancient Greek and Classical Hebrew, to construct models to test Linear B and Ugaritic against. With languages like Linear A or, God help us, whatever the Voynich Manuscript is written in, we don’t have the needed information to guess that language Y will be close enough to language X to decide they’re worth doing brute force comparisons with. Indeed, the decipherment of Linear B owes much to Ventris’ guess that it was a form of Greek. Had it not been, Ventris’ work would have wound up like what we have for Linear A now: Some idea how the elements go together but no idea what they actually are.

One bit of food for thought, though: How similar are these AI processes to what a Spanish speaker does to learn Italian? And could it turn out, as with Linear B, that computers can do a better and faster job investigating a human hunch, but still require that human hunch to know where to begin?

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Ijo li awen lon tenpo suli…

I recently had surgery and, as always happens when I’ll have some time to do nothing, I set great goals for working on, say, Sanskrit or Tibetan. That happened…

Actually, I stumbled again upon Toki Pona and Esperanto and really liked the idea of languages designed for ease of use. After a quick trip to Memrise, I learned the vocabulary of Toki Pona and started working through 1) the original book, in Kindle Unlimited, and 2) somebody else’s lessons, found on Scribd. And then, a challenge appeared in my mind: Toki Pona is the language of good and I wondered how it would do for translating Lovecraft. I’ve got a ways to go but will add this to the list of long-term projects I’ll likely never get to. That said, I have this, from The Nameless City. Critiques welcomed:

ijo li awen lon tenpo suli la: ni li moli ala.

tenpo suli la, moli kin li ken moli.

And of course:

ijo Kutulu moli li awen li lape li sona.

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Romagnolo Dictionary

In the past few months, I’ve been working on a dictionary of Romagnolo. If you look in the header for the site, you’ll notice there’s an article for it. The dictionary should come some time this summer. In the mean time, you can see sources and the preliminary indexes (posted on Github) linked on the Romagnolo page for this site.

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Another year without resolutions

Way back in January 2009, I shifted from New Year’s Resolutions to directional intentions. In January 2015, I gave up ascribing any importance to the changing of the years for my language learning. I’ve found that I’m learning more, though about rather odd and disparate things, and am more happy for the change. The problem is that language is a thing for a few weeks of inspiration and something for a lifetime. A year is too long to keep momentum and too short to truly evolve. So consider this my latest update. That it comes in January is solely because I didn’t get to it the month or two before but didn’t delay it till a month or two after.

Minority languages and cultures

Not that long ago, I wrote about what’s happening to Europe and her nation states. In the latest update, the separatist Catalans won a majority in the parliament but the situation on the ground really hasn’t changed. Nobody is too happy with Spain, but nobody is quite ready to find out and pay the price of true independence. And who can blame them? In America’s Declaration of Independence, it was noted:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 

The Catalonians may feel that they have endured a long train of abuses and usurpations, but they’ve not yet come under the kind of Despotism that they’ll take up arms over.  Which may well be for the best. Nonetheless, it is important to try to hang onto those local languages and cultures which have been tolerated at best and deliberately stamped out at worst. I’m thinking especially of the treatment of the Bretons in France here. But the minority language I’ve studied most of late is…

Romagnolo

Emiliano-Romagnolo is a dialect continuum spoken along the eastern coast of Italy. The leading dialect is the Emilian dialect, Bulgnais, spoken around Bologna. Romagnolo variants are found from Ravenna to Rimini and in San Marino. I’ve been studied the Romagnolo of Saludecio, for the simple reason that there’s a Corso Multimediale – really just a grammar and vocabulary, but with sound – at http://marcelpachiot.altervista.org/Dialetto/Indice.htm. In the process, I’ve been creating my own course of sorts. A fellow named Baas has put up a wealth of courses at Memrise including a short one for Romagnolo whose spelling is closer to the Pachiot than to the older resources which deal in all manner of accents and markings to transcribe, as opposed to capturing just enough in writing for speakers to distinguish what is being said. I’ve also started adding my own little Memrise courses. So far, these are drawn from tables in Pachiot’s course. At the same time, I’ve been filling out Romagnolo vocabulary in the Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast, an imperfect but useful tool for documenting from phrasebooks and dictionaries the things you need to learn if there is not a good textbook available. Memrise courses on these lists will come I’m sure. My journey with Romagnolo is, of course, my own, but if you’re learning a language for which good and complete learning solutions are lacking, have a look at the resources I’ve mentioned.

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Whither Europe?

In the past few months, Catalonia has been very much in the news. And it’s got me thinking about the Catalan language. For one thing, as a French speaker, I’m very much aware of what happens to other languages in France, including Catalan’s close relative, Occitan. And if a failed bid for independence leads to loss of autonomy for Catalonia, as seems to be happening, will the Catalan language also suffer in the crackdown?

While Catalonia is widely discussed, it’s not the only place where nation states are fraying. Of course there is Scotland, which hasn’t quite been ready to leave England but hasn’t been enthusiastic about staying, in a manner not entirely dissimilar to England’s attitudes toward Europe and the E.U. At the same time, though, Lombardy and Veneto just declared, in non-binding resolutions, that they’d like more economic and cultural autonomy from Rome. Emiliana-Romagna may be next. And local languages persist, in rural areas, in all three of these. Will there be a bounce-back for reasons of local pride? It may be that the European Union is creating enough of an umbrella for Europe that the umbrella provided by nation states seems less necessary.

As a language learner, then, it’s an interesting and scary time. Will the minority languages of Europe flourish under the EU umbrella, or will the nation states within clamp down on them? At any rate, it’s exactly the kind of time where language addicts start thinking about all their languages again. So, it’s old, but here’s a post someone wrote on learning the major Romance languages:

How to learn all 8 Romance Languages

And do check out the latest developments at Glossika, now at ai.glossika.com. They’re moving from the old model of selling audio programs to a web app with similar audio content but more flexibility in how it’s delivered. And to try it out, they have free access to some minority languages around the world including Catalan, Welsh, Manx and Sorani Kurdish.

 

 

 

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Idahosa Ness of Mimic Method does a lot of cool and sometimes strange stuff with pronunciation. He just posted a nice bit on how to figure out a sound in your target language that doesn’t exist in your native language, even if it’s a rare language with lousy resources available. See it here.

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Be Prepared for the Challenges in Language Learning

Agnieska Murdoch warn’s about The Dark Side of Language Learning.

While learning a language can be an exciting adventure, it’s not just a question of putting in the time and maintaining motivation. You will encounter actual stumbling blocks and a critical language learning skill is dealing with frustration. A lot of language learning programs aren’t very direct about this, which is unfortunate because it can leave the learner feeling that they’re doing something wrong. This is why it’s useful to read the experiences and advice of veteran learners, not just the book jacket or promo blurb for language learning programs.

There’s also a pretty nice take on this in Viktor Dessov’s Everyone Can Learn a Language Efficiently:

[L]earning a new language is not a straight-forward process of getting more and more confidence in one’s speaking abilities. It has its uphills and downhills. On several occasions you may feel quite unhappy with having initiated this endeavour in the first place.

Dessov, Viktor. Everyone Can Learn Languages Efficiently: A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Polyglot (Kindle Locations 75-77). Kindle Edition.

In this passage, Viktor goes on to explain some of the highs and lows you’ll encounter, like moving from triumph at your first real sentences to frustration that you sound like a caveman, and from being able to chat about everything to realizing you’re hopelessly outmatched if you want to argue a point with a native speaker.

We should be more honest about the ups and downs of language learning, though it’s true that most of the Learn Fast with No Effort books and programs only carry you to the first high of making your own sentences. If you’re learning a language for any reason other than because it’s what those around you speak and you won’t survive if you don’t learn, be aware these frustrations are coming and have strategies prepared like switching between programs or taking a break to consolidate with listening because you won’t have a lot of extrinsic motivation to learn.

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