Saturday, April 28, 2007

What gender do you write in?

(English only, sorry)

Dale Carpenter at the Volokh Conspiracy points the way to the Gender Genie, a computer test that tries to guess the gender of the author of passages of more than 500 words. He reports that the Volokh conspirators and friends tend to be a pretty male bunch, including Maggie Gallagher!

So I thought I'd give it a try...

Uh oh.

I write in a variety of styles, both for the web and in life. I tried some out and the picture is definitely mixed. Below is the scoring:

The TurkeyBlog is male:
Test 1: Words: 600, Female Score: 665, Male Score: 1358... Male
Test 2: Words: 853, Female Score: 956, Male Score: 1823... Male

Wittgenstein's Bastard is male:
Test 1: Words: 1064, Female Score: 1759, Male Score: 1883... Male
Test 2: Words: 1740, Female Score: 2494, Male Score: 2831... Male

Confessions of a Language Addict is mixed gender:
Test 1: Words: 629, Female Score: 998, Male Score: 872... Female
Test 2: Words: 763, Female Score: 1136, Male Score: 1203... Male

At the office, I'm... female. I scored 1) a note to a senior exec and 2) a note to my boss:
Test 1: Words: 1019, Female Score: 1695, Male Score: 1429... Female
Test 2: Words: 626, Female Score: 915, Male Score: 566... Female

And when I write short fiction, I'm... female again:
Test 1: Words: 618, Female Score: 1102, Male Score: 1078... Female
Test 2: Words: 912, Female Score: 1867, Male Score: 735... Female

What does it all mean? Either I've got some pretty variable communication strategies, computer algorithms aren't all they're cracked up to be, or both.

Find out what gender you are by putting in a writing sample at the Gender Genie.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Starting to get Korean... thanks to Azerbaijani!

I'm revising the sentence list for Korean and trying to figure out if there's a way to make it display on a computer not specially set up for East Asian languages. So that project's going to languish from an online point of view.

However, illustrating the value of not having too much focus, I have started to understand Korean, thanks to Azerbaijani. This weekend, at Barnes and Noble, I stumbled upon Elementary Azerbaijani, by the same author who wrote Colloquial Uzbek. Elementary Armenian looks like a much better book. Anyway, in reading the Azerbaijani dialogues, I couldn't help but smile. Had these dialogues been in either Uzbek or Turkish, I would have fussed to get full understanding, of which I'm not yet capable. But here, I just enjoyed how much it seemed like someone trying to speak both languages at once and took what meaning I could. I was especially struck by seeing Turkish endings on Uzbek words (i.e. modified Arabic stems) and vice-versa. And all of a sudden, it didn't make much difference what endings were being stuck on what stems, just that by taking all the pieces and putting them together, you could build up solid meaning from fragments of meaning joined.

When I got home and started glancing through the Mastering Korean book, I could see endings of sentence-final verbs. It didn't matter how the endings were formed, whether they were irregular, etc. It just mattered that I could see how the words went together, and where they would come apart. From there, I turned to my previously tedious copy of Teach Yourself Korean, and the explanations ceased to be information for memorization and became guides for picking through the dialogues to figure out what was going on grammar-wise.

I'm feeling much better about Korean now. Not that I'll be fluent tomorrow, or even at the end of the six-week challenge, but Korean is now a Turkic language with a funny alphabet (and no vowel harmony!), and that gives me someplace to start. So, the latest update on Korean is mixed. I've set no records for speed in language learning, but I've learned more about language and languages for my participation in this exercise, and that's something. And when I go by a Korean restaurant, I can pronounce the sign aloud instead of wondering how anybody could read that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Korean List 19-36

19. 이거 야.
20. 그거 야.
21. 저거 야.
22. 학교 가.
23. 가?
24. 학교 가요.
25. 어떻게 지냈어?
26. 잘 있었어.
27. 뭐?

28. 우ㅐ? 우ㅐ아니야?
29. 농담 이지!
30. 농담 아니지?
31. 별일 엾지요?
32. 그저 그래요.
33. 즘 힘들어요.
34. 즘 바빠요.
35. 줗아!
36. 응 vs. 아니.

Korean List 1-18

1. 안녕 하세요?
2. 네, 안녕 하세요?
3. 요즘 어떻게 지내요?
4. 잘 지내요.
5. 제발.
6. 감사함니다.
7. 이거 얼마예요?
8. 그거 얼머예요?
9. 저거 얼머예요?

10. 싼게 아니예요.
11. 너무 비싸요.
12. 이거 안 살 가예요.
13. 그거 안 살 가예요.
14. 저거 안 살 가예요.
15. 네 vs. 아니오.
16. 이거, 그거, 조거.
17. 여기, 거기, 저기.
18. 누구? 어디? 언제? 어 떻게?

Korean Reading Lists

Last night, I wrote about making reading lists for Korean where I was forced to face the language head-on, in characters, and how discovering that I could read the things I'd written down and decipher them was helping me get past some hurdles with the language.

I've been tracking my new phrases on cards in groups of nine. But in order to a) track what I know and b) have it conveniently accessible, I thought I'd toss up a few of the lists. Typing in Korean is, well, a struggle. I'm sure there are errors, and I haven't typed in everything I've learned. But the next few posts will make a start. I'm putting a Table of Contents here:

1. Korean 1-18
2. Korean 19-36
3. Korean 37-54
4. Korean 55-72
5. Korean 73-90

Once I've reached 90, I'll decide how this is going and whether to keep adding. Links will become active as I learn and input new items.

(Note: if the characters don't display correctly, I believe selecting the UTF-8 character set from the Unicode options in the View - Encoding menu will fix it.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Progress with Korean

As my last post indicated, the efforts with Korean for the Learn a Language in Six Weeks are a struggle. But thanks to the wonderful world of blogs, things are going much better. For the first three days, all I could learn was annyeong haseyo. Everything else dropped as fast as it was learned. There were two problems:

My attitude.

My approach.

First, attitude. I came across this post from The Linguist about boatbuilding and motivation, which quoted one of my favorite authors, Saint-Exupéry:
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
It was time to stop buying books and looking at them and start getting motivated. I made up a little story in my head. Two spies were leaving the airport in Seoul. One was there to facilitate secret negotiations between the US and an opposition faction. The other was there to stop her. They left the airport and got into cabs, him trying to figure out where she was going and her how to give the slip. Both communicating with cabbies in Korean. Both of them had to settle for speaking a broken Korean to which I can still only aspire, but with a phrasebook and plotpoints I had a vision of what to do with the language that kept me looking at Korean, instead of my watch. Though it would be better if Grisham would just write a novel about someone in Korea, like he did with Italy and The Broker.

Second, approach. Korean is unlike any language I've learned, or at least as far as I can tell. The same has been true of Latin, German, Turkish and Mandarin at different times, so that's fine. But the resources for Korean, let's be candid, aren't very good. So I was delighted when I got to Aspiring Polyglot and found this link to 10,000 sentences (at I needed a better sense of how Korean works, and everything I find wants to tell me enough verb forms to illustrate the politeness thing, but not enough to get a comprehensive picture. Or to give enough vocabulary that you can't keep track of it, but not enough to make those creative sentences that stick with you. So instead I've been making my own sentence guide. I'm up to twenty-five sentences that I can read aloud from Korean script (all copied from Making out in Korean), and while I'm no closer to suddenly speaking fluently, I've got that all important content floating around in my mind. Hopefully, by the end of the weekend, I'll be closer to 100 sentences and a real basis for starting to do something with this language. I'm much more optimistic about the learnability of Korean, then, than I was the last time I posted.

One important point: While I'm glad for the entries at The Linguist, Aspiring Polyglot and AllJapaneseAlltheTime, I didn't exactly follow the advice or recommendations of any of them. Instead, I modified it a bit to fit my current goals and circumstances. Remember that the best method for learning languages is the one that works for you. So follow the advice of the systems and the pros and your fellow language buffs - there's good advice out there - but remember that you're not trying to test a language system, you're trying to learn a language. If something isn't working for you, it isn't you, it's a clash between you and the system that means it's time to try something new or at least a new variation.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Annyong haseyo!

It's always great starting a new language. There are those strange discoveries about how the language works. There's the thrill of a new alphabet, or at least a new phonetic system. There's the realization that there's yet another way you'd never thought of to order expression.

And then there's Korean.

I mean no malice to speakers of Korean, nor to those who love the language and the culture. It's just that the magical moment when having taken up a new language - however briefly - makes it a part of you... that moment has definitely not come.

I have acquired Teach Yourself Korean. The authors seem almost apologetic about having written it. The introduction reassures at multiple points that this endeavor is worth it in the long run, and that eventually knowing some Korean will even be fun. You never pick up a book about Italian to read that "Even though Italy is a lovely country with beautiful music and still finer cuisine, and even though Rousseau said it's the finest language to sing in, we encourage you to perservere and one day you'll come to love Italian."

French is ze langwage of luf. Italian is just so Italian you've gotta love it. Spanish and Portuguese call to mind the seafarers of Old Europe and the exoticism of the New World. Even German, whatever its phonetic defects, is thought to be logical and systematizing, perfect for engineers and philosophers. Russian is not, in my view, the finest of languages, but you'd be nekulturny to look down on the language of Dostoyevksy, Tolstoy and the Bolshoi. And on I could go. But I'm just wondering what you'd say for Korean? Hopefully, in a week or two I'll know.

One thing I do know: The How to Learn a Language Forum gives Korean a high chic factor because it's hard to learn and nobody knows it. The more I read, the more I understand this assessment. But the language will come, I'm sure, and in 6 weeks I will be able to say more than Annyong haseyo and Annyong kashipshio... or is it kaeshipshio?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Learn a language in 6 weeks?

Here I've written other posts about realistic expectations, finding motivation to learn, etc. Then I read on the Aspiring Polyglot about a challenge at How To Learn Any Language: Take a language you've never studied and see how far you can get in six weeks.

I mentioned the Aspiring Polyglot entry and my own beloved looked at me, got a wicked look in her eyes, and announced that I would be doing Korean. She knows I made it through the first five minutes of the first Pimsleur lesson, turned it off and went for an aspirin.

Now, I see the Omniglot has a mention too.

I'll be doing Korean here, in spite of myself.

Further updates to come.

In use so far, by the way:
Instant Korean - De Mente
Survival Korean - De Mente
Pimsleur Korean
byki Korean

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Back to Mandarin...

Contrary to any impressions that may have been given, this site was not going to become all-Egyptian all-the-time. Still, because there's so little out there about the language, especially that's useful, I think it was worth diverting that way to think a little bit more about language and language learning and how we actually learn.

I've been reading The Linguist's book, and found it interesting. The central problem it points to, though, is that for all the stuff that's out there for French, or Spanish or even Mandarin, finding quality stuff is a major problem. It's a problem because we all have different motivations for learning. It's a problem because we have different levels of motivation in learning. We have different interest. And then we go to the bookstore and, invariably, everything we find of any size has the same things.

I realize, of course, that Mandarin is Mandarin and French is French. To some extent, things will be the same because the word for "why" is not going to be different depending on which book you get (we hope). At the same time, there is an assumption that we all need to learn how to say the same things. As somebody learning Mandarin for the helluvit, the most useful book I've got is David Starr's tome on the Dao, with every character deciphered and explained. In Spanish and German, I've got the "social" section from the Rick Steve's phrasebooks, but wish they were longer. Because I want to be able to say a few completely off the wall things and a few serious things and, should I run into a German speaker, come across as interesting enough that it's worth talking to me till I start to catch on in the language. "It's certainly cold today" - "It was still colder yesterday" - ain't gonna cut it for that.

What I found with the TravelLinguist's Speak Chinese course was that having 101 specific things to know was helpful. If I were starting a language from scratch, I'd love it, and I may get the Thai version for that reason. But as someone who speaks badly broken Chinese, it seems like the choices out there are to further solidify my knowledge of broken Chinese or take the plunge toward proficiency. Because unless I get one of the big books, I'm just going to learn the next 30 or 40 things I don't really care to say anyway. So then, ni hao, wo hen hao, ni ne, and wo hui shuo yi dian dian... Off to read from the Dao. Maybe next month when I go to Chinatown, I'll be able to have an intense discussion about the concepts of duty and perserverance. I just hope they don't ask about the weather...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A nice Egyptian resource

This isn't about learning Egyptian, but it's got some real interesting stuff about the language that one might want to consider in deciding a) what to learn and b) how seriously to take or get hung up on technical information.

The author notes how confusing Budge's vowel system can be, and is right on target there. However, if one can get it straight, I think it's like going between Wade-Giles and pinyin - worth the trouble of learning if you want access to cheap transliterated texts.

Here's the site: The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ancient Egyptian: One approach

I recently proposed in my comments section that Ancient Egyptian should be approached through transliteration the way Westerners approach Japanese with pinyin. The following "lesson" isn't very good, and reminds me disturbingly of the dialog sections from the old FSI courses. That said, it's hopefully better than spending 20 pages on determinatives before you get your first sentence of Ancient Egyptian.

This text is drawn from page 157 of Budge's Book of the Dead in the Barnes and Noble edition. I have more or less trusted Budge's transliteration, but have changed how some unusual sounds are transliterated, adopting the standard for computer transliteration of Egyptian from Alan Miller's Middle Egyptian. Doubtless there are errors, and all due apologies are offered. However, no one really knows what Ancient Egyptian really sounded like; this will hopefully at least afford a less tedious approach to making the language one's own as what language truly is: the production of sounds in the right order to effect communication.

First, I offer the text, so that the reader will have a look at how foreign in might appear at first. Then I break it down to words that combine into phrases that combine into sentences. I have not so far found an Egyptian text containing the phrases, "Hi, how the hell are you?" Consequently, the text won't tell you how to strike up a conversation, should you run into a pharaoh. However, if you've always wanted to proclaim yourself a shining being that dwells in the light (and maybe effect it through mystical incantation!) this is your lucky day.

Here's the text:

nuk pu nuk xu imii xu qemam xeperu em neter heu - nuk ue em ennu en xu imu xu qemam en tem Desef xeperu em unbu maatef...

(sound "x" as in Scottish loch)

Here's the breakdown of the first part:

nuk : I am
pu : this
nuk pu : I am truly (this I am)

xu : a shining being
nuk pu nuk xu : I am truly a shining being

imii : dweller
xu : light (homophone of xu, a shining being)
imii xu : a dweller in light

qemam : created
xeperu : come into existence

em : from
neter : god
heu : limbs
em neter heu : from the god's limbs

qemam xeperu em neter heu: created and come into existence from the god's limbs

Here's that first part again:

nuk pu: nuk xu, imii xu, qemam xeperu em neter heu.
I am this: I am a shining being, a dweller in light, created and come into existence from the god's limbs.

Here's the breakdown of the second part:

ue : one
ennu : those
nuk ue em ennu : I am one from those

en xu : (among) shining beings
imu: (who) dwell
en xu imu xu : among those who dwell in light

tem : Tmu (a god)
Desef : himself (pronounce "D" as "dj")
qemam en tem Desef : created by Tmu himself

unbu : eyelashes
maat : eye
maatef : his eye
xeperu em unbu maatef : come into existence from eyelashes of his eye

Here's that second part again:

nuk ue em ennu en xu imu xu, qemam en tem Desef, xeperu em unbu maatef.
I am one from those shining beings who dwell in light, created by Tmu himself, come into existence from the eyelashes of his eye.

Here's your text again, with a small glossary at the bottom:

nuk pu: nuk xu, imii xu, qemam xeperu em neter heu.
nuk ue em ennu en xu imu xu, qemam en tem Desef, xeperu em unbu maatef.

nuk: I am - pu: this - imii: dweller - imu: who dwell - qemam: created - xeperu: come into existence - em: from - neter: god - heu: limb - ue: one - ennu: those - en: (particle) - tem: Tmu - Desef: himself - unbu: eyelashes - maat: eye

And here's your text, one last time, so you can read and see how much you remember:

nuk pu: nuk xu, imii xu, qemam xeperu em neter heu. nuk ue em ennu en xu imu xu, qemam en tem Desef, xeperu em unbu maatef.

Note to serious Egyptologists: This little presentation is doubtless riddled with errors major and minor. It is not meant as scholarship, but as an example of what non-scholars might like to see. When people find out I did graduate work in French, they always want to know how to say "Hi," "Bye" and "I love you." It's only later, if ever, that they take an interest in how Hugo's approach to grand-scale narrative hindered his ability to effectively practice politics in either literary or political circles. So if this seems trifling, I feel your pain. That said, I'd love to see an Ancient Egyptian primer that offered good guesses at "Hi," "Bye" and "I love you," with a minimum of footnoting and a maximum of encouragement that Egyptian is fun, exciting and worth learning more about, even if it means moving on to mustier tomes down the road.