Monthly Archives: February 2016

From “Noo Yoik” Speak to Nu-speak

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Technology has developed at a rate where the gadgets of Star Trek seem near. Mobile phones are not too far off the original series’ communicators, and indeed can even be voice activated. Why press a few buttons when you can just ask Siri to perform a task for you? This technology has also been used for translation, with online applications – such as Google Translate – now able to translate your words as you speak them.

However, it also has problems. Firstly there’s the problem with translation programs in general, and secondly the issue of voice recognition software not always recognising people’s voices.  If you think about it, that’s pretty important!  In particular, accents and colloqualisms are not always recognised, so if you’re not from the USA then it helps to be something of an impressionist. It now remains to be seen whether voice recognition software will develop faster than users are adapting their accents.

We all have a phone voice, and adapt depending on who we’re speaking with, but ultimately these programs could result in significant changes to the way people speak. We also apparently have a “machine voice” which we use to speak to automated services. These are becoming more prevalent and in the near-future young adults won’t have known anything different, and this is part of the process that moves all regional accents towards standard English.

TV, social media, and a more cosmopolitan world in general lead to “accent levelling”, whereby people are speaking in their phone voices in everyday life, only returning to regional dialects when surrounded by close friends or family.

Voice recognition software will advance, however, to the point where it becomes more familiar with its user’s patterns. This won’t halt the advance of accent levelling, though, due to the involvement of other factors. It’s a shame, because while the standardisation of accents will make it easier to understand one another, we will also lose a variety of phrases, idioms and colloquialisms from the world.

Rosetta Stone

Backwards to a better future The common origin of all languages?

There was an article published fairly recently in The National (the United Arab Emirates publication), offering an explanation for a common origin of languages. Often when we comes across these stories they involve pioneering research into ancient languages, or missing links suggested by investigating primates’ brain processes. This piece, by Jonathan Gornell, added another ingredient to the mix: fairy tales.

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Jamshid Tehrani, son of an Iranian father and British mother, noticed a similarity between a Middle Eastern folktale and Little Red Riding Hood. His curiosity piqued by this connection, he now works in the Anthropology department at the University of Durham. Working from this link, he established that the story originated somewhere between Europe and the Middle East, rather than East Asia as previously thought.

Dr Tehrani has, therefore, done some more investigating and discovered that many of our most famous fairy tales might be even older than previously suspected. Beauty and the Beast, for example, is thought to be around four thousand years old. The story of The Smith and the Devil (where a smith sells his soul to Satan in return for the ability to weld any two objects together, as echoed throughout history in the stories of Paganini and Robert Johnston) may date from the Bronze Age, six thousand years ago. The time, in fact, where the Indo-European language group came into being.

This may not seem to be earth-shaking news. After all, the Brothers Grimm were mainly transcribing folk tales brought to them by years of oral tradition. Indeed, Wilhelm Grimm speculated that the similarities between folk tales from geographically distant areas might be due to an original source. Tehrani now has the tools to investigate this theory, confirming the origins of Indo-European languages and helping identify their migration.

There’s something apt about being able to reach back into six thousand years of history through these stories. While oral tradition may not be as widespread today, we still flock to cinemas to see new versions of Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk. Dr Tehrani points out that Star Wars is a series that spins new tales out of old, familiar narratives to great effect. Reflecting our hopes, fears, morality and mortality, these stories are retold for each new generation that looks forward while, at the same time, also looking back, following breadcrumb trails into a forest..

Rosetta Stone, Global Connects