Google


I read in this morning’s Herald that a school in Victoria has been trialing the use of iPods for facilitating school work. iTouches1 are being used to research and submit assignments, to download music and for students to communicate with their teachers over email. The results so far suggest that students are much more likely to interact with school work over the medium of an iPod than more traditional methods, and are more likely to use the iPods than laptops.

This story ties in with James and my work over the past year, which will continue throughout this year, into the use of mobile phones for the maintenance of endangered languages. It also overlaps with the government’s ‘education revolution’ promise of the last election, in which each student receives a laptop.

So far the government’s plan has been marred by cost blowouts – although I’m almost certain this is due to the ‘Government letterhead’ effect2 – and concerns about the long-term technical support of the computers. The iTouch wins hands down on both counts, as they’re much cheaper – about 300 bucks as opposed to a grand at least – and they can be easily supported by Apple’s existing technical support infrastructure, especially if the iTouches come with the extended warranty.

Another issue raised here is the future of personal technology – though this is getting considerably geeky of me. I’ve long thought that there was too much increasing overlap between personal portable computers and mobile phones. More and more, mobile phones are internet enabled (although costly, as you have to go through your telco), support more data, can run programs, and generally operate like mini-computers. My prediction has been that mobile phones will get bigger and more functional, and laptops will get smaller and more portable, until they meet in the middle with personal PDA-style touchscreen computers with phones in them. Obviously such things have already been created, like Blackberries, iPods and, until recently, palm pilots, but the market is only beginning to catch on.

In addition to mobile phone applications for dictionaries of endangered languages, we think we can probably make downloadable programs for other devices, like iPods, and mobile phones that run Android (Google’s open-source and free answer to Apple’s iPhone). And we dont just mean dictionary viewing programs, but dictionary creation tools as well.

Imagine, for instance, if students of outback schools were equipped with iTouches pre-loaded with bilingual Kriol-English learning programs, and were pre-configured with a Kriol language pack, so that the iTouch’s menus and options started out in Kriol, until such a time as their English literacy reaches the point where they can switch it over to operate it in English.


  1. I’ve written right to the end of this post and realised that I’ve said ‘iTouch’ way too many times. I should point out right from the start that the device may as well be any of this new breed of mobile phone – though preferably something developed by the Open Handset Alliance and running Android. But for ease, I’m just going to refer to ‘iPod’ and ‘iTouch’ all the way through.
  2. The Government letterhead effect is when a private contractor increases their prices exponentially when they receive a quote request with a government letterhead. Remember the guys that wrote ‘No War’ on the Sydney Opera House in red paint? It cost $100,000 to clean.

    As if.

I occasionally find myself amused to see in my blog stats that someone has translated my blog into another language. Being so inquisitive, I often follow their lead.

Yesterday morning, I noticed that one of the referring pages was a Google translation of this post into Korean. Naturally, I had a look to see what my blog would look like written in Hangul. As you might expect, it looks really cool, except that I kept noticing a telephone number, the same telephone number, all the way through. Here’s what it looks like:

케빈 Rudd 전화 +852 2907 2112, 자신의 게시물 – 사과 연설에서 거듭 사과를하는 이유는 원상 회복 과정에 필요한는 그들을 처음으로보고 이후에 화해와 일반적으로합니다.

Strangely, each and every time this telephone number appears, it is preceded by the characters 전화, which, according to a Korean-reading friend of mine, means phone, and the whole thing is immediately preceded by Rudd. Looking at the corresponding English of each line (it pops up when you scroll over a line of Hangul), it appears that the phone number is purely being inserted and has no corresponding constituent in the English.

To put this another way, the string of letters Rudd in English, becomes Rudd 전화 +852 2907 2112 in Hangul.

In an attempt to track this a little further to its source, I typed “Rudd” into Google’s translation page, and sure enough, the phone number emerges. This tells me that it’s an artefact of Google translator, and not some mysterious subliminal message that I’ve subconsciously coded into my blog for the sole benefit of Korean readers.

I’m a little discombobulated1 by this, so if you know anything more about this oddity, or could even posit an explanation, I’d love to hear it.

Someone might even like to put their neck on the line and ring the number…


  1. I’ve always wanted to use that word.

Long term readers of this blog would probably know that I occasionally like to mess around with Google Earth and to try out new things to do with languages and so forth. It began with an exercise in mapping some known and established place names in the Sydney Metropolitan Area, mostly concentrated in and around the Harbour, and then it moved on to a small project of mine to map the region of the Northern Territory with which Wagiman is traditionally associated¹.

Another project I began, and finished, a while ago, was to take the divided segments of the AIATSIS map of Australia’s Indigenous languages, and overlay them as images onto Google’s Earth. When I say ‘finished’, what I mean is, I’d posted it to the Google Earth community as a downloadable file, but I didn’t know that I’d screwed it up and made the images too transparent to see the language boundaries clearly.

Just the other day though, Jungurra expressed some interest in using it for the Australian Languages course that he’ll be teaching from next week, which prompted me to go and fix it up and make all the images fully opaque. So now, the whole thing can be made transparent so that the images don’t necessarily block the satellite images beneath. The new file can be found here.

Preparing this made me realise just how much of a problem the curvature of the Earth actually is. The further south you get, the more the images have to be contorted into place, and therefore the larger the discrepancy in location at some points. Some of the maps are displaced by anything up to about a hundred kilometres.

I don’t know how receptive AIATSIS are to this sort of new-fangled technology, but I think it’s something that they, even in collaboration with Google, could should think about, and eventually produce a Google Maps or Google Earth package of files that show languages and language boundaries. I envisage a situation where the language names and boundaries are treated as place names and borders like any others, and not as images that become blurred the further in you zoom.

At the end of the day, this is a bit of fun, but perhaps there are practical applications to such widespread popular things like Google Earth such that linguists, and others, can put them to (more) good educational use.

~

<update>
Here’s a screenshot, which I wasn’t able to do earlier. This is with the opacity of the AIATSIS map overlayed images turned quite far down, otherwise, you’d just be looking at the overlay, and it wouldn’t be very interesting. You can also see here how imperfect the fitting together of the original segments is, as there’s quite a lot of overlap, and boundaries that don’t quite match. But you know, I did the best I could. Click on the image for the larger size.

screenshot

You can even see Wagiman in the middle there.
</update>


¹As opposed to ‘where Wagiman is spoken’, for clear sociolinguistic reasons.

Earlier on this afternoon, I heard a cricket commentator, having heard about someone whose name he didn’t immediately recall, promise that he’d google him up. This would not be a natural usage for me, although it’s unequivocally clear what he means; it’s completely synonymous with (in my view) the more natural version to google someone, i.e. to search for them on Google.

Anyway, I started wondering how common the construction google up is, so I went and googled it… up, and here’s a breakdown of the returned hits on all permutations:

  google X google X up
him 106,000 7,510
her 92,900 3,490
them 151,000 11,300
it 5,600,000 513,000

Roughly speaking then, the non-phrasal variety google someone is far more common, but the phrasal variety google someone up has some substantial corpus.google.com¹ representation, about a tenth as much as the former.

I didn’t really have anything more to say about it, apart from pointing out that the phrasal verb google up is probably to be expected to occur on the basis of analogy from look up, as in I’ll just go and look them up (in the phonebook). Although curiously, a family member thought it meant to contact via Google rather than to merely find their details, as if on analogy from ring up.

In an age where Google has pretty much usurped phonebooks (of all colours), street directories, atlases, library catalogue cards, encyclopædiae and just about any other source of information, it may as well replace the linguistic idioms associated with them as well.

Holy crap! If someone googled up “Google”, do you think this post would be somewhere near the top?

~

¹No, corpus.google.com doesn’t exist as a URL; it’s just what I use to refer to the act of doing a quick Google search on a phrase using wildcards and quotation marks to back up one’s largely made up postulations about trends in modern English. Think of it as a snowclone, of the x.google.com template.

I just thought I’d point it out, since last time I used the term corpus.google.com, someone (let’s just call him Mr Nash – no wait, that’s too obvious; I’ll call him David N) wondered why they couldn’t find the corpus.google.com homepage.