Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

维基百科 (Not a post in Chinese)

(By the way, the post title means "Wikipedia").

As some of you may remember from ancient posts, I am in the process of learning Dutch so I can speak to members of my Hot Belgian Wife's family. Ik kan nu goed Nederlands spreken. I've gotten good enough that I can regularly follow the Astronomy Picture of the Day site in Dutch, and as a result I've been learning lots of new vocabulary. I've gone from learning words like zwart (black) and hebben (to have) to learning words like waterstof (hydrogen)*, geweld (violence), and afstand (distance).

Somewhat obscurely related to this, I was recently searching for the Dutch translation of spiral galaxy. I didn't want to rely on a machine translator like Babelfish, because I was worried that the technical term "spiral galaxy" might have a different translation from "spiral" + "galaxy." So where did I go?


Wikipedia was designed as an online encyclopedia to provide information, and not at all as a translation or language learning tool. But as it has grown, it has gotten popular all over the world, and has attracted users who want to contribute to the free encyclopedia in their own languages. As of now, there are no less than 23 entries for "spiral galaxy," in 23 languages:

Bosnian: Spiralna galaksija
Bulgarian: Спирална галактика
Catalan: Galàxia espiral
Spiralna galaksija
Czech: Spirální galaxie
Spiraalvormig sterrenstelsel
Galaxie spirale
German: Spiralarm
Hungarian: S
Italian: Galassia spirale
Japanese: 渦巻銀河
나선 은하
Spiralinė galaktika
Galaktyka spiralna
Galáxia espiral
Спиральная галактика
Спирална галаксија
Špirálová galaxia
Galaxia espiral
Swedish: Spiralgalax
Спіральна галактика

And, of course, it's not just the term that is translated - an entire article about spiral galaxies is available in each language. And the amazing thing is that each article was not machine-translated, which often produces useless results, but by an actual human who really cared about the subject that he or she was translating.

I used the same strategy to learn the word zwaartekracht** (gravity).

I think this is a wonderful story of a piece of technology that was created for one purpose (a free encyclopedia), but is being used for a different purpose (De taaloefening van Slag).

Wikipedia is free, anyone can use it, and (as I've found out), anyone can use it to learn a new language. Technology has made many tasks much easier. With all the problems that technology occasionally brings us, we shouldn't forget to celebrate its unexpected successes.***

*waterstof literally means water dust, which I think is much more informative and poetic than "hydrogen."

**zwaartekracht literally means heaviness force. Again, a very cool expression of what the thing is, in a word.

***After consulting my Chinese character recognition plug-in for Firefox, I learn that "Wikipedia" in Chinese is pronounced "wei ji bai ke", which "preserving a hundred fields of study." It's common for loanwords into Chinese to receive Chinese pronunciations that echo the word in both sound and meaning. Chinese is a wonderfully beautiful language. I've learned the basic greeting (ni hao), and I plan to properly learn it when I finish with my hot Belgian wife's languages: Dutch, Catalan, and French. Um, yeah... I have a long way to go.

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Blogger TDEC said...

Wikipedia is wonderful, and I am positively devoted to it. Still, the prospect of contributing (which I am getting ready to do) is intimidating. It is such an amazing resource for so many different things.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger SARA said...

ni hao ma

I do believe the "ma" is attached.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 1:05:00 PM  
Blogger SARA said...

sorry, let me correct that...
ni hao is "hello", so yes a greeting...

ni hao ma is "how are you?"...taught to me by my Chinese is a beautiful language.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 1:07:00 PM  
Blogger Slag said...

TDEC: contributing to Wikipedia is not too hard. The technology and community both make it quite friendly and easy. A guide shows up once you create a login. I can show you later on.

Be warned, though, it's extremely addictive. Once you start contributing to Wikipedia, it's hard to stop.

S.S. Stone: Xiexie, ni hao ma? And that's about all the Zhongwen that I know.

Thursday, August 16, 2007 7:09:00 AM  
Blogger SARA said...


Thursday, August 16, 2007 5:21:00 PM  

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