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Grammar

Google Translate goes AI

Wednesday, 28 September, 2016 0 Comments

From now on, Google Translate will rely more on AI (artificial intelligence) when it translates languages. Alphabet, the parent company, claims that its brand new Google Neural Machine Translation system will reduce errors by 80 percent compared to its current method.

Google Translate Until today, Google has used what is called “phrase-based translation,” which is standard for the industry. With this method, a hand-coded algorithm breaks down a sentence into words or phrases and tries to match them a vast dictionary. The new system will use that same large dictionary to train two neural networks, one of which will deconstruct the original sentence to figure out what it means, while the other generates text in the output language.

Because AI algorithms don’t rely on human logic, they can often find better ways to do the job compared to the hand-coded algorithms, say the engineers. And as the network learns how to translate, no longer spending time dividing sentences into words or phrases, it discards the rules that humans thought were best and concentrates fully on the outcome. Such is the nature of AI. As Alan Turing wrote in 1950: “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.” (Computing machinery and intelligence). We’re getting there.

Google is releasing its new translation system for Mandarin Chinese first, and then adding new languages over coming months.


Working toward a singular society

Tuesday, 3 May, 2016 0 Comments

“The iPad Pro is more than the next generation of iPads.” That was written by a blogger, who does not work with or for Apple. Now, here is the sentence as written by Apple: “iPad Pro is more than the next generation of iPad”. The blurb appears on the Apple iPad Pro webpage, and what’s noticeable is the lack of the definite article at the beginning of the sentence and the use of the singular at the end. In a world beset with enormous problems, this is not a critical issue but it was important enough for Philip Schiller, [the] senior vice president of global marketing at Apple, to engage in a debate on Twitter that resulted in the issuing of the following rule: “It would be proper to say ‘I have three macintosh’ or ‘I have three Macintosh computers.'”

According to the “Schiller Rule,” talking about “iPads” is grammatically incorrect. The correct style is “iPad devices.” As the man said, “One need never pluralize Apple product names.” Thinking of using “the” in relation to Apple products? Don’t. Delivering Apple’s results last week, CEO Tim Cook said the company was seeing very high customer satisfaction “for iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.”


To singularize, or pluralize, that is the question

Monday, 2 May, 2016 0 Comments

The Rainy Day copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the twelfth edition, dates from 2011 and it’s beginning to show its age. Take the word “singularity,” which all nerds know is the approaching era when “our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today.” According to our Concise Oxford English Dictionary, however, the definition goes like this:

singularity n (pl singularities) 1 the state, fact, or quality of being singular. 2 Physics & Mathematics a point at which a function takes an infinite value, especially a point of infinite density at the centre of a black hole.

The entry on “singularity” is followed by the definition of “singularize” or “singularise”, which is a verb, “1 make distinct or conspicuous. 2 give a singular form to (a word).” Its counterpart, “pluralize/pluralise”, is defined as “1 make something more numerous. 2 give a plural form to a word.” And this brings us to GitHub, the largest host of source code in the world, with 12 million users and some 31 million repositories, where Blake Embrey has added a module titled “pluralize” that uses “a pre-defined list of rules, applied in order, to singularize or pluralize a given word. There are many cases where this is useful, such as any automation based on user input,” he says.

Who, apart from lexicographers and coders, care about such wordy matters? Apple does, and tomorrow we’ll find out why Apple is at war with the singular and the plural of its product(s). Example: “It would be proper to say ‘I have 3 Macintosh.'”


Fack ju EU

Monday, 10 February, 2014 0 Comments

The comedy Fack ju Göthe premiered on 29 October in Munich and by the end of 2013 it had become the first film in six years to sell more than five million tickets in German cinemas. It’s about an ex-con forced to take a job teaching at a school located over the spot where money from a robbery is stashed so that he can dig up the cash. What’s made the film such a hit is the language. Ostensibly, it is the language of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but it’s actually American Hip-Hop that’s been remixed with German by immigrants from Turkey, the Maghreb, Russia and the Balkans. The result is a pidgin that allows its speakers communicate by dropping articles, mashing up prepositions and disregarding the genitive, the dative and the conjunctive. And central to it all is the word “fuck”, or “fack” as it’s enunciated by those who find \'fək\ difficult to pronounce.

The word was in the mouths of Germans again at the weekend, but this time the establishment was voicing it, thanks to Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State whose F-bomb was secretly recorded and dropped on YouTube (apparently by the Russians). The impact was felt from Berlin to Brussels.

Fack ju EU

Although Ms Nuland could have been more subtle, her analysis is fundamentally correct. This was proved in another Russian-recorded conversation, this time between Helga Schmid, a representative of EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, and Jan Tombinski, the EU Ambassador in Ukraine. Snippet:

Helga Schmid: “I just wanted to tell you one more thing in confidence. The Americans are going around and saying we’re too soft, while they’re moving more firmly toward sanctions. […] Well, we’re not soft! We’re about to issue a very strongly worded statement about Bulatov!”

When was the last time that Putin lost sleep because of “a very strongly worded statement”? No wonder Nuland is so contemptuous of these people. Putin has no intention of going down in history as the Russian tyrant who lost the Ukraine and he’s not going to let statement typists stop him, either. He knows that the US and the EU have more power than the Russian Federation does, but he also knows that they don’t have a joint approach to Ukraine. Brussels and Berlin prefer to busy themselves drafting “strongly worded statements” and, as with Syria, the Obama administration keeps sending out signals that confirm Putin in his belief that he can bully the Ukraine without paying a price.

Fack ju EU, indeed. But it’s not just Victoria Nuland who’s saying it.

This just in: Switzerland goes there. It’s said Fack ju EU, too.

Denglisch


Kirin knows its apostrophes

Sunday, 21 April, 2013 0 Comments

While its and it’s are surely the most often confused words in English, the people at Kirin Brewery know how to use the apostrophe and there’s no fear that Kirin will be cited by the the Apostrophe Protection Society for abuse of punctuation. By the way, in Japanese, “kirin” can refer to giraffes or to […]

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Fingered speech

Tuesday, 5 March, 2013 0 Comments

One of the specialties of radical thinker and linguist John McWhorter is how the grammar of languages changes as the result of socio-historical phenomena, such as the pervasive use of mobile phones. Texting is a kind of writing like talking, says McWhorter, who calls it “fingered speech”.


We verb / We noun

Sunday, 3 June, 2012
We verb / We noun

move (verb) to change the place or position of something. “Egypt’s prosecutor general ordered President Hosni Mubarak to be moved to a military prison on the outskirts of Cairo.” Reuters sale (noun) the transfer of ownership of something from one person to another for a price. “Romney discloses sale of stocks in dozens of companies […]

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Do Not Use an Apostrophe to Form a Plural

Tuesday, 27 December, 2011
Do Not Use an Apostrophe to Form a Plural

People of Ireland, listen up: when s is added to a word simply to make it a plural, no apostrophe is used (except in expressions where letters or numerals are treated like words, like “mind your p’s and q’s” and “learn your ABC’s”). Got that?

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