Category Archives: language

“Dangling this” drip torture, or the “poor man’s clickbait”

It may not rise to the level of “torture,” but it sure is annoying – the constant resort to a “dangling this” in hyperlinks intended to entice readers to click on them. What comes to mind, especially after observing its use, is the water drip torture – often referred to as “Chinese water torture” or “Spanish water torture” – which consists of a steady drip of water on the forehead.

This . . . , This . . . , This . . . ,

Clickbait can be a little more low-key, or it can be more raw – “weird trick” “jaws dropped” “you won’t believe what happened next” …. If you’ve surfed the web even a little, you’ve probably seen it all. A lot of clickbait just assaults your curiosity.

The “dangling this,” on the other hand, is a kind of shortcut – a crutch word in the web content world, perhaps, or maybe the poor man’s clickbait. But once you notice it, dangling-this clickbait becomes quite irksome, and arguably more insidious in its approach to enticement than the frontal attack of most other clickbait.

“Some clickbait headlines leave out a key element to lure in the reader.”¹

Poor man’s clickbait gives you just part of what might be some legitimately useful information. Rather than try to lead you on through choice of wording (clickbait has a lingo of its own), the tactic is to deliberately omit a central piece of information, which is most easily replaced with a “this…”

Devolution of headline writing under clickocracy

Attention as measured by views, and views as generated by clicks, mean money. So a lot of talent, resources, and effort are put in to getting and keeping people “engaged” in web content. And that has given rise to a whole new set of ways of inciting curiosity.

In a way, clickbait is a descendant of old-fashioned newspaper headline writing. but with some some variations. The headings for articles are composed with a particular style due to space limitations (especially in print) and a desire to catch the reader’s interest. But they invariably give the reader a whole idea of what the story is about. Or at least it used to be that way.

“Headlines need to be accurate, first, and to fairly reflect the theme of the story.”²

Dangling-this clickbait deliberately departs from that practice, and sometimes it’s as simple as a swapping out:

  • Headline: “Vermont will pay you $10,000 to move there and work from home” (CNBC)
  • Clickbait: “This state will pay you $10K to move there and work from home” (WAAY)

Worth noting that (re)writing the heading this way is not done to economize space. It’s just a cheap way of getting the reader to open the link to fill in the blank (“which state is that?”).

One newsletter’s many “dangling this’s”

I’ve been subscribed to Ladders‘ newsletter mailings for quite some time – they sometimes have some interesting content – but late last year I began noticing an increasingly clickbaity tone of the newsletter headlines featured in its emails, many of which used the dangling this. Rather than unsubscribing, I left all their emails on my server beginning in January to see if there were a pattern. I’ve extracted all the clickbaitesque uses of “this” in titles over the 5+ ensuing months in the following list (which is sorted alphabetically).³ There are over 40 instances, not counting repeat use, making approximately 2 dangling-this headings per week (drip, drip, …). The list illustrates the extent to which one organization – certainly not the only one⁴ – is relying on poor man’s clickbait to present its content via email and on its website.

  • A 75-year Harvard study says this is the key to life
  • Abusive bosses do this weird thing after being mean
  • Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says this phrase will destroy your career
  • Doing this in the first five minutes of networking is a game changer
  • Learning this language could make you some serious cash
  • New science says this can fix sleep deprivation
  • No one’s naming kids this anymore because of Amazon
  • Richard Branson says this is the most important thing he looks for in an employee
  • Science says this weekend sleep trick can save your life
  • Sending a job application at this time of day will murder your chances
  • Stop doing this at work immediately if you want to succeed
  • Stop making this huge mistake on your resume
  • Studies say drinking coffee can be good unless you’re doing this
  • This age is the latest you can start a new career
  • This algorithm can figure out when you will die
  • This behavior by Millennial bosses drives some employees crazy
  • This behavior by your spouse may be sabotaging your career
  • This city has the most burned out workers in America
  • This common employment practice may be shutting out older workers
  • This high-paying job has the worst divorce rate
  • This is the loneliest profession in America
  • This is the most stressed state in America
  • This is the No. 1 reason your interviewer won’t like you
  • This is the one email mistake that’s unforgivable
  • This is the profession most likely to cheat on their spouse
  • This is the quote Jeff Bezos has taped to his refrigerator door
  • This is the single dirtiest place in the airport — and it’s not the bathroom
  • This is the surprising thing that has people most stressed at work
  • This is the top reason employers expect more people to quit this year
  • This is the unhealthiest job in America
  • This is what your pre-bed routine says about you
  • This is why ‘very unattractive’ people earn more money
  • This job is seeing its salary shrink the fastest
  • This job listing may make you very angry
  • This morning routine can save you 20 hours a week
  • This profession attracts the highest number of psychopaths
  • This simple life hack will make you much happier
  • This sleep trick can add years to your life
  • This state will pay you $10K to move there
  • This surprising thing about your appearance may be killing your career
  • This surprising thing is a sign that you have high intelligence
  • This weird office phrase can reveal more about you than you may realize

The solution to dangling-this clickbait?

Personally, I try never to click on clickbaity headlines – I didn’t open any of the above links for example – so as not to encourage their use. In the rare case the topic seems interesting, one can do a quick websearch to find a link with a more complete and informative title. Treat your clicks as a votes of approval for the approach used.


1. “The Weird World of Clickbait: It’s Today’s Yellow Journalism,” ThePilot.com, 6 Feb. 2018

2. “Writing headlines for print” (Based on a lecture by Ross Collins, professor of communication, North Dakota State University)

3. This list was simple to generate: Searched for The Ladders newsletters in Gmail; copied over the list, screen by screen, to one file in my go-to text editor (EmEditor); then, since items in the text were tab delineated, copied all that and plopped it into Excel; then sorted and manually deleted batches of rows to isolate the group of titles; then copied the list back into EmEditor to manually delete extraneous text; then copied it over here and bulletized.

4. Surprisingly, even the respected Smithsonian Magazine resorted to dangling-this clickbait for an article about the town of Liberal in rural southwest Kansas: “This Town In Kansas Has Its Own Unique Accent.”

Image elements adapted from tcea.org (fish & hook), & 123rf.com (bait).

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Symposium on multilingualism in international organizations & cooperation, 10-11 May 2018

Taking the opportunity again this year to publicize the latest in a series of annual symposia in New York on language issues in international contexts. The last two dealt with language(s) and the Sustainable Development Goals. This year’s edition, to be held on 10-11 May 2018, has as its title, Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Co-operation.” It is sponsored by the Study Group on Language and the United Nations in cooperation with The Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and Birkbeck, University of London.

The organizers’ description of the event, and their preliminary program follow (the content is theirs; although not connected with the event or any of its sponsors, I’ve taken the opportunity to present this information with added links such as I could find – please advise if any should be replaced):


Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Co-operation

Thursday & Friday, May 10-11, 2018, at the Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (First Ave. at 44th St.)

Multilingualism in international co-operation entails both costs and benefits: costs because it requires mechanisms such as the selection of multilingual staff and the mediation of language professionals; benefits because, if properly managed, it includes all parties to decision-making, promotes consensus, supports programme delivery, and aids dissemination of results. Thus it favours social justice and inclusion. Increasingly, multilingualism is seen as a positive force, though it is not always recognized as such by all stakeholders.

Within the United Nations, for example, owing in particular to the scarcity of available data, advocates of multilingual language policies often face ideological, financial and administrative resistance, despite a growing recognition that multilingualism, as a core value of the UN, is a potential source of strength.

This symposium seeks to focus on, and generate interest in, these issues. Contributorscription will address the challenges of supporting multilingualism in organizations and in sites of international co-operation across different sectors (e.g. business, diplomacy, economics) and communities. Included will be theoretical and methodological studies, on the one hand, and studies addressing specific practical challenges, on the other – especially papers that focus directly on the work of the UN system or other international bodies, or research having obvious implications for their work.

Among the themes that we hope to address are the following:

  • evolving perceptions of multilingualism in international settings
  • linguistic inclusiveness in multilingual settings
  • interpretation and translation in international organizations
  • speed of decision-making vs. information loss in monolingual contexts
  • language in international peace-keeping
  • language and human/minority rights
  • the economics of language regimes
  • linguistic equity in organizations
  • inclusive communication in local and international development
  • language policy in international organizations
  • language and sustainability
  • multilingualism and NGOs

PRELIMINARY PROGRAM (as of April 4)
Speakers will include:

Keynote speaker:

Michele Gazzola, Research Fellow, Humboldt University, Berlin
The economic effects of language regimes: The case of the World Intellectual Property Organization and the European Patent Office

Papers and presentations will include:

John Edwards (St Francis Xavier University and Dalhousie University, Canada)
Language claims & language rights

Timothy Reagan (University of Maine, USA)
Sign language multilingualism: The forgotten language diversity in disempowered communities

Emma Asonye (University of Mexico), Ezinne Emma-Asonye (University of Mexico), Queenette Okwaraji (University of Rochester, USA) and Khadijah Asili (Vizionz-Sankofa)
Linguistic diversity and the language rights of the underprivileged population in Africa and America: Towards an inclusive society in 2030

Nirvana Bhatia (Linguistic Rights Specialist)
The paper chase: A review of the UN’s recent language-rights legislation

Phindile Dlamini (University of Swaziland)
Swaziland’s dream of linguistic representation in international organisations: Will the sociolinguistic map of the United Nations ever change?

Maneeratana Sawasdiwat Na Ayutthaya (ASEAN Center for Multilingualism, Translation & Interpretation, Thailand)
Multilingualism, translation and interpretation in the ASEAN Community

Leigh Swigart (Brandeis University, USA)
English at the International Criminal Court: Working language or default language?

Beatrice Owiti (Kenya Methodist University)
Interpretation and translation in the International Criminal Court

Lisa McEntee-Atalianis (Birkbeck, University of London, UK), Michele Gazzola and Torsten Templin (Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany)
Measuring diversity in multilingual communication

Francis M. Hult (Lund University, Sweden)
Parallel language use: A Nordic solution for multilingual organisations?

Dorte Lønsmann (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark) & Janus Mortensen (University of Copenhagen)
English only? A critical examination of the ‘natural’ status of English as a corporate language

Spencer Hazel (Newcastle University, UK), Katherine Kappa and Kamilla Kraft (University of Copenhagen)
Language policing in international organisations: Explicit and embedded orientations to language repertoires and their impact on professional identity

Pia Decarsin (JPD Systems Translation Services)
Language policy in international organisations: Criteria and recommendations for strategic content selection for translation

Mirna Soares Andrade (Inter-American Defense College, Washington, D.C.)
Multilingualism and language services at the Inter-American Defense College

Shana Pughe Dean (Tone Translate, Utica, NY, USA))
Creating opportunity and understanding in a multicultural world on the move: Refugee resettlement agencies

Carol Benson (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA)
The importance of a multilingual habitus when assessing literacy skills in educational development

Erina Iwasaki (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA)
Reframing multilingualism in terms of opportunity

Ari Sherris (Texas A & M University-Kingsville, Texas, USA) & Joy Kreeft Peyton (Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, D.C.)
The power of multilingualism and multiliteracy for languages and groups

Additional information and registration at http://www.languageandtheun.org


For information, below are links to posts on this blog regarding the 2016 and 2017 events:

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International Mother Language Day 2018 & the Linguapax Prize

The annual observance of International Mother Language Day (IMLD) on February 21 focuses this year on multilingualism and linguistic diversity, with mention of their importance for sustainable development and peace. The theme has been seen in several forms, including:

  • Acting together for Linguistic diversity and Multilingualism (per poster above)
  • Linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development (as seen on the program for the IMLD event at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris)
  • Linguistic diversity and multilingualism: keystones of sustainability and peace (as seen on the UNESCO website)

In her message on the occasion of IMLD, UNESCO director Audrey Azoulay characterized the importance of languages in this way:

A language is far more than a means of communication; it is the very condition of our humanity. Our values, our beliefs and our identity are embedded within it. It is through language that we transmit our experiences, our traditions and our knowledge. The diversity of languages reflects the incontestable wealth of our imaginations and ways of life.

2018 Linguapax Prize to BASAbali

The annual Linguapax Prize, which recognizes contributions to “preservation of linguistic diversity, revitalization and reactivation of linguistic communities, and the promotion of multilingualism,” is traditionally announced on IMLD. This year’s prize was awarded to BASAbali, an organization founded in 2011 to support and develop the Balinese language of Indonesia, and to develop language revitalization methods.

BASAbali’s founder, Alissa Stern, is quoted on the Linguapax site as describing the group as follows:

BASAbali is founded in the belief that all languages, but most importantly a language of a great culture such as Balinese, deserve recognition and use in the modern world — and not be relegated to a language of rural farmers or a language of home, not worthy of activities associated with learning, public affairs and local educational and political practices. The aim, in short, is to develop facilities that will enable Balinese and other local languages to occupy a position of prestige alongside modern national and international languages and to carry forward their rich cultural traditions.

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After digitizing libraries, translating knowledge?

Nine years ago I asked the question “Can we localize entire libraries?” In the wake of the National Library of Norway‘s (Nasjonalbiblioteket) digitization of its holdings and collaboration with Nigeria on materials in the latter’s languages, it seems like time to review what mass digitization could mean for translation of knowledge into diverse languages.

My original question in 2008 came from looking at trends in digitizing books – notably Google Books – and machine translation (MT). It elicited some interesting responses, including Kirtee Vashi’s mention of an Asia Online project planning to link these two trends.

Book scanners. Source: TecheBlog.com

In the ensuing years, Google Books’ digitization program – the biggest and most promising book digitization effort – ran into controversy over rights to reproduce copyrighted materials beginning in 2008. This ultimately has put their entire vision of digital access to a vast library of works in doubt. And the unrelated Asia Online project, which used statistical MT to translate 3.5 million pages of the English Wikipedia into Thai, was stopped in mid-2011 in the aftermath of a changed political situation in Thailand and funding issues.  (Asia Online has since become Omniscien Technologies)

So while the technologies for digitization and for MT – the two pieces in localizing libraries of information – are established and improving, each has encountered some combination of legal, political , or funding issues limiting their use individually for mass expansion of access to knowledge, as well as their potential use in tandem.

However, could the Norwegian program, announced in 2013, and the project it has with Nigeria, announced earlier this year, introduce a new dynamic, at least for mass digitization? Could and should large national libraries take the lead in this area?

The idea of digitizing libraries has generally been advocated in terms of access to knowledge, without particular reference to the languages in which publications are written. But languages are critical not only for access to knowledge, but also for facilitating scholarship and the interfacing of ways of knowing. Hence the need to associate mass digitization and MT.

There is at least one proposed project mentioning the potential for translation of books that have been digitized – Internet Archive’s initiative to digitize 4 million books (a semifinalist in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 & Change grant competition).

Any such digital data produced by the Nasjonalbiblioteket, Google Books, Internet Archive, or any other organization could be translated with MT into other languages, with a few caveats (quality of optical character recognition [OCR]; how well resourced a particular language is; and of course the accuracy of the MT). This means that potentially any mass digitization could be mass translated into a large number of languages, given legal cover and sufficient funding.

What about the accuracy of MT, and how useful could mass MT of mass digitization be if there are inaccuracies? These are critical questions for any project to use MT to translate digitizations. Responses could reference, for instance, domain-specific MT, which is generally more accurate than general MT, provided of course that the material matches the domain used. Or perhaps some system for post-editing could be devised.

This is an exciting area that needs more attention and policy support. Books and other production in print can be digitized on a mass scale, making the knowledge in them more widely available. Digitized text can be machine translated into other languages, and the quality of that can be made high enough for use by speakers of the target languages. As much as the printing press revolutionized access to knowledge of that age, so too the potential to digitize and translate what is in print promises another revolution benefiting more people directly.

 

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CFP: Language and Development 2017

The 12th biennial Language and Development Conference (LDC) will be held in Dakar, Senegal, on 27-29 November 2017. The call for participation (CFP) deadline has been extended to 31 May (apologies as I’m just catching up on this).

The theme of this edition of the conference is: Language and the Sustainable Development Goals.

From the concept note for the conference (emphasis in original):
“Sustainable development is increasingly viewed not only from an economic perspective, but also from social and environmental perspectives. All three dimensions are important to ensure that human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality. As language and communication are crucial to how societies grow, work together and become more inclusive, the conference will seek to explore the role of language in a range of interlinking aspects of development. It will do this by focussing on three of the goals:

  • SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning
  • SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
  • SDG 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies”

“The conference programme will also take into consideration other cross cutting goals, notably SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.”

The conference has 3 sub-themes:

  • Multilingualism for Quality, Equitable and Inclusive Education
  • Language, Skills and Sustainable Economic Growth
  • Communication, Peace and Justice

The British Council is hosting this conference (it apparently has been involved in almost all the previous ones), in partnership with le Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche et le Ministère de l’Education Nationale du Sénégal, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), UNESCO, the School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS) and SIL Africa, along with others.

For additional information, see the website of the LDC series, and a posting on this blog about the 2015 LDC.

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International Mother Language Day 2017 & the Linguapax Prize

The 18th annual International Mother Language Day (IMLD), observed today (21 February 2017), has as its theme, “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education,” which seems to carry on the focus on language in education from last year (presumably still with an eye on Sustainable Development Goal #4).

The definition of multilingual education given on UNESCO’s IMLD page is worth copying here…

Multilingual education facilitates access to education while promoting equity for populations speaking minority and/or indigenous languages, especially girls and women:     

  • It emphasizes the quality of teaching and learning with a focus on understanding and creativity;
  • It reinforces the cognitive aspect of learning by ensuring the direct application of learning outcomes to the learner’s life through the mother tongue;
  • It enhances dialogue and interaction between learner and teacher by allowing genuine communication from the beginning;
  • It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, thus ensuring a harmonious interaction between the global and the local.

Linguapax Prize

This year’s Linguapax Prize, announced today (as it is annually, on IMLD), was awarded to Dr. Matthias Brenzinger, a German linguist specializing in African languages (notably non-Bantu click languages) and endangered languages, who is currently at the University of Cape Town and heads the Centre for African Linguistic Diversity (CALDi), which he founded. Dr. Brenzinger has also worked in Japan.

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