Rescuing ancient languages

first_imgIn fluent English with a soft accent, Pedro Mateo, a Harvard postdoctoral fellow in linguistics, recalled the restrictive signs plastered on the walls of Guatemalan schools in the past.They read “no native languages,” said Mateo, whose mother tongue is the increasingly rare Mayan language Q’anjob’al.Then, as now, Mayan languages were often sadly associated with impoverished communities. School officials wanted students to speak the dominant Spanish instead, because it was considered the language of progress and prosperity.“You didn’t want to be discriminated against,” said Mateo, adding that even for its native speakers, the Mayan language can carry a “negative connotation.”Now with Harvard Linguistics Professor Maria Polinsky and several colleagues in her lab, Mateo is helping to preserve, promote, and better understand the ancient Mayan languages.In May and again in June, Mateo and other members of the linguistics lab will visit Mexico and Guatemala to gather data on the grammar and the architecture of the languages Ch’ol, Chuj, and Q’anjob’al.Expert linguists like Polinsky and her team explore language design and structure in an effort in part to understand how and why certain languages vary greatly but also resemble each other. Such work, they say, helps provide understanding about how the human brain works.“What’s really unique to humans as a species is our language abilities,” said Jessica Coon, also a post-doctoral fellow in Polinsky’s lab, who will travel to Mexico in May. “By studying a wide range of diverse languages we can get a glimpse at the common threads that tie all language together and explore further what that tells us about cognition.”In Central America, the Harvard crew will work with local communities to observe and record both child language and the ways that parents speak to children, which can differ significantly from how they speak with other adults.“People often think that little kids just talk funny. But the mistakes they make are consistent and can tell us about the structure of the language they are acquiring, as well as about human language more generally,” said Coon.A second component of their work involves “ergativity.” It’s a universal feature in Mayan languages, one that sets the standard English sentence on its head.“Ergativity is a way of encoding who is doing what to whom in a sentence that is different than English,” said Polinsky. She offered the example of a Mayan language that might use the sentence “Me went, I bought coffee.”“They have different ways of saying ‘I,’ ” said Polinsky, “depending on whether you use the verb ‘to go’ or ‘to buy.’ ”In addition, most Mayan languages put the verb first in a sentence, a feature found in about a tenth of the world’s languages.To study Mayan ergativity, Polinsky and her team developed a series of pictures created with the help of a Mayan artist that show various scenes.In one double image, a snake bites a chicken. Next to it, a chicken bites a snake. Researchers show the images to a test subject, then play a single ambiguous recorded sentence. Next they note the subject’s preference and how long it took her to chose one image over another.“You are asking them to identify which thing the sentence represents,” said Polinsky. “Their preferences tell us a great deal about the structure of the language.”The Harvard team realizes there is urgency in their work.There are 30 Mayan languages currently spoken, but experts fear those numbers are on the decline. In 1976 there were an estimated 50,000 speakers of Chuj. Now there are about 40,000.Aside from gaining knowledge about Mayan languages and linguistics in general, the researchers also hope to give something back to their Mexican and Guatemalan host communities.By training native Mayan language speakers who will then help them both to acquire and translate the data they collect, the Harvard team aims to inspire in the locals a sense of pride and empowerment.“You don’t want to treat your native language consultant as a vending machine, where you put your quarter in, the sentence comes out, and you are done,” said Polinsky. “The idea is that you want to get people involved in the work you do.”“In our experience, you can never force people’s pride in their language from the outside,” she said. “What we can do is provide this perception that their language is valuable, and if the impression is strong enough, hopefully that will help people keep it alive.”last_img read more

Fourth botulism case linked to carrot juice

first_imgOct 3, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned consumers not to drink some carrot juice products from a Bakersfield, Calif., company after a fourth case of botulism was linked to the company’s juice.In a Sep 29 statement, the FDA advised consumers to throw out any Bolthouse Farms Carrot Juice in 450-ml and 1-liter plastic bottles with a “best if used by” date of Nov. 11, 2006, or earlier. The agency also advised that all carrot juice, whether pasteurized or not, must be properly refrigerated.The most recent botulism case involves a Florida woman, who is now suffering from paralysis, the FDA stated. Three people in Georgia also became ill in early September after drinking the carrot juice.The FDA has attributed at least one of the earlier cases to improper refrigeration of the juice at home. Other consumers who purchased the juice within the same period did not get sick, Georgia health officials said, suggesting that the botulinum toxin developed in the juice after it was sold. After the earlier cases, the FDA warned consumers to keep carrot juice refrigerated but did not warn against drinking Bolthouse Farms carrot juice.The Clostridium botulinum bacterium, which is commonly found in soil, produces the nerve poison. Pasteurization may not kill all C botulinum spores, and inadequate refrigeration of juices can allow the bacteria to grow and produce the toxin, which can cause paralysis or death.Droopy eyelids, double vision, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing or speaking are some of the symptoms of botulism poisoning, as well as difficulty breathing and paralysis on both sides of the body, starting in the neck, according to the FDA.To prevent bacterial growth in general, refrigerator temperatures should not exceed 40ºF and freezer temperatures should be 0ºF or less, the FDA stated.See also: Sept 29 FDA news releaseSep 18 CIDRAP News story “Three botulism cases tied to carrot juice”CIDRAP overview of botulismlast_img read more

Jan De Nul Installs All Formosa 1 Phase 2 Foundations

first_imgJan De Nul has completed the installation of all 20 turbine foundations at the Formosa 1 Phase 2 offshore wind farm in Taiwan.Seaway Yudin began installing the foundations at the beginning of June at the project site some 6km off the west coast of the Miaoli district in the Taiwan Strait.Germany’s EEW SPC produced the monopiles and Thailand’s CUEL Limited manufactured the transition pieces.According to Jan De Nul, the monopiles range from 752t to 1230t, with a maximum diameter of 8.4m and a length ranging from 60.1 to 79.5m, while the transition pieces weigh 465t and consist of five internal platforms, an external platform and boat landing.To remind, the company won a contract for the design, procurement and installation of the turbine foundations, as well as scour protection and cables, in May last year.The 120MW Formosa 1 Phase 2 will comprise 20 Siemens Gamesa 6MW turbines scheduled to be operational in 2020.last_img read more

Germany go to WC atop FIFA rankings

first_imgPARIS, June 7: Defending champions Germany will have the psychological advantage of going to the Russian World Cup finals sitting atop the FIFA rankings.The Germans are in good shape heading to Russia after their talismanic goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, a key player in their 2014 victory, returned to action after a long absence through injury.Neymar’s on-form five-time World Cup winners Brazil are second, multi-talented Belgium are third, Cristiano Ronaldo’s European champions Portugal fourth and Lionel Messi’s Argentina are fifth.British bookmakers would agree with the top two as they make Germany and Brazil joint World Cup favourites at odds of five to one followed by Spain, France and Argentina.World Cup host nation Russia meanwhile slide to 70th position after a seven-game winless streak. They kick off the tournament against Saudi Arabia on June 14. IANSlast_img read more