Additional Math Pages & Resources

Friday, September 18, 2009

Talk with the Hand

American Sign Language 
(ASL) counting up 1-10

Deaf (hearing-impaired) people have developed alternative ways to communicate that do not depend on oral speech. One of the methods is called sign language. Motions of the fingers and hand are used to express words and sentences.

I learned from the Ethnologue, a fascinating language directory you can browse online, that there are 130 different languages for the deaf. NOT including "Signed Exact English" and similar languages whose users spell out the words!

The thousands of spoken and signed languages can be identified using special codes. Here's the code for French - 639:3:fra. The Ethnologue tracks all these languages and explains their characteristics and relationships to one another. Here are a few language facts:

1. How many "living" languages are there?  6909

2. What are the top 4 languages, by number of speakers?  Chinese, Spanish, English, Arabic

3. What are the most linguistically diverse countries? how many first-languages are spoken there?
  •  Papua New Guinea  830 - 12% of the languages in the world are here!
  •  Indonesia 722 - 10.5%
  •  India 445 - 6.4%
  •  Nigeria 521 - 7.5%
  •  United States 364 -5.3% (most have moved in; many countries have more indigenous languages)
  •  Mexico 297 - 4.3%
    4. In how many countries do people speak French as a first language? 47 countries and about 68 million speakers. The largest is France with 53 million speakers; smallest is the island group Wallis and Futuna, with 120 speakers.


    When translating you can use a Literal approach, with close grammatical and lexical fidelity to the source language, or Idiomatic, where the meaning of the source is conveyed in the grammatical style of the receptor language. The SIL website states some audiences have strong opinions as to the type of translation that is acceptable.

    Yes, that would be Spanish-speaking, Excel-Math-using elementary math teachers!

    I can tell you from personal experience that it is very difficult to translate word problems satisfactorily. It's not just the challenge of finding the right words. Sometimes the problem itself does not transfer to another culture.

    For example: The Girl's Club wants to accept debit cards at their Jog-A-Thon.

    I suspect it would take a lot of words to express those concepts in other cultures, regardless of language. So even if I had a universal translator like they used on Star Trek, it probably wouldn't solve all communications issues.

    Ah well, neither can the hand.