Interesting article by Michael Erard in today’s New York Times (reg. req’d), on the book and the database The Ethnologue, which are published by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (S.I.L.).

This is an absolutely amazing source of information for everyone who is interested in the languages of the world.

Erard does not avoid to touch upon the curious origins of the project as a help for Christian missionaries and a guide to languages that lack a bible translation. They give rise to valid arguments against…

Denny Moore, a linguist with the Goeldi Museum in Belém, Brazil, said via e-mail: “It is absurd to think of S.I.L. as an agency of preservation, when they do just the opposite. Note that along with the extermination of native religion, all the ceremonial speech forms, songs, music and art associated with the religion disappear too.”

… and for the project as a whole:

Most linguists are unfazed at S.I.L.’s affiliations. “If you took away all the literature done by the S.I.L. people done in the last 60 years,” said Dr. Ruhlen of Stanford, “you’d be taking away a lot of language documentation for a lot of languages for which there’s nothing at all.”

Via Language Hat, a Cajun French-English glossary for the students at Louisiana State University.

I only regret that they don’t use IPA for the phonetic transcription. The system they do use is, frankly, unusable (except maybe for speakers of a particular variety of American English, which they don’t further specify).

Nice crop of downloadable online media. The political first: Ifilm has Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s film Submission as an Apple Quicktime (.mov) file. Via Viewropa.

Still on Viewropa, I found this collection of mp3 Rock/Pop songs that are available for download. As a fan of Beth Gibbons, I was particularly taken with Masha Qrella, who I’d never heard of before.

Edit: This has become a weekly feature by dodgygeezer at Viewropa, under the title Sunday Choir

And this I should have found much earlier. It was a fruit of what I’m calling lateral browsing, ie using the Firefox “SearchStatus” plugin’s “related links” menu. (You can get the same result by typing “related:” plus an URL into Google and a number of other search engines). ARTE Radio has 477 audio clips, which range between one and about 25 minutes and cover a large variety of styles and topics. ARTE Radio is a web-based radio-on-demand project that belongs to the French “pole” of the French/German public TV network ARTE. ARTE has long been my favourite TV station by far, and not only because they do bilingual broadcasting. I just wish they would show even more films with subtitles instead of dubbed versions (they usually repeat dubbed foreign films late at night in a version with subtitles, though), and systematically use closed captioning instead of voice-overs in the (many, and often excellent) documentaries they commission. (Given how hopeless all the other French TV stations are about multilingualism, ARTE is the postive exception, though.)

ARTE Radio is a French site. This is because German law doesn’t allow ARTE Germany to compete with the other German public radio networks. (Grr.) Still, there are German and English introductory pages, and quite a few clips in these two language, plus a lot mulitlingual or experimental/artistic ones that are fit for those who don’t speak French. The Flash interface is quite pretty, but every clip can be accessed through the HTML side of the site as well, and is available as both high- and low-quality mp3, plus Real Media.

Now for the icing on the cake: The clips are provided under a “attribution, non-commercial, share-alike” Creative Commons license! That’s the way to go for a public broadcaster. Hello, BBC, ARD, ZDF, France 2/3/5, are you listening? [Deafening silence…]

So I can legally offer you a few samples:

  • The funny: Assimix, or How to learn any European language in four minutes. Avoid if cultural stereotyes make you physically ill. (Credits: Christophe Rault, David Christoffel)
  • The sensual: Molly Bloom’s monologue in French + a few other languages. Not the only, er, interesting clip either. Search for masturbation, zizi or Ile coquine. (Credits: Christophe Rault)
  • The funny plus political: Allo US, poking fun at one particularly weird (as viewed from over here) feature of the US electoral process; and a rather uncommon Marseillaise (background: disrespecting the French flag and anthem has been outlawed last year. A fine or even a prison sentence could be the consequence. “Ça tombe bien, on a besoin de vacances,” says ARTE Radio.)

I didn’t like the banners and logos they offer for download, so I made my button. Now what is the singlar of “Steal These Buttons” (used as a noun phrase, of course, as in “I made a number of Steal These Buttons”). A “Steal This Button”? Anyway, here is it: ARTE Radio.

Creative Commons licensed, too, or rather made to promote Creative Commons licenses in the first place, is the Wired CD. All the tracks are now available in a lossless format as well. Via le Creative Commons Blog.

Transcribing another unknown language

Un autre quiz sur Language Log. On les adore.

Mark Liberman at Language Log has posted a second transcribe-and-guess-the-language quiz. I believe most readers of this blog interested in this sort of question, so you probably know this already. As one of those who got the first one right, I couldn’t resist of course. (More seriously, though, it’s an excellent exercise.) I have followed my […]

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More on dealing with unknown languages

Une autre livraison concernant le mystère des langues mystères.

First of all, I was right, and so was caelestis at (or le?) sauvage noble: the mystery language is Romansh. It is interesting to look at the differences between our approaches. Caelestis writes in his comment section: For the record, I should state that all I went on was the MP3, the exercise having […]

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Transcribing an unknown language

Ma réponse à un défi de déviner une langue à partir d’un enregistrement, et de le transcrire en phonétique.

This is a reply to Mark Liberman’s challenge to a) guess the language on a recording and b) transcribe it. I’ve never transcribed anything but English, and this more often into phonemes than phonetically (ie, writing down actual heard sounds, which is much more difficult). Even though I’m not a card-carrying linguist (but seriously thinking […]

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