Software Releases

In the past couple of months I have released new versions of NeuroLab and IronMeta.

NeuroLab version 1.2.3 is a maintenance release containing numerous fixes:

  • Fixed grid generation after resize.
  • Fixed grid viewer not always reflecting latest grid status.
  • Fixed grid saving and loading losing grid network.
  • Fixed activation gradient rendering for links of length greater than 1.
  • Fixed inhibition for links of length greater than 1.
  • Source code fixes and refactoring.

IronMeta version 2.3 contains the following:

  • Made generated code more general so it is now possible to combine parsers by inheritance or encapsulation.
  • Added the ability to use anonymous object literals in rules. They match by comparing their public properties with the input object’s properties.
  • Fixed a bug where string and char literals were not correctly handled in parsers whose input was not of type char.
  • Fixed an off-by-one error in input enumerables.
  • Generated code now compiles with Mono.

NeuroLab 1.2.1 Released

Released NeuroLab 1.2.1:

Neurocognitive Linguistics is an approach to linguistics developed by Sydney Lamb ( which uses relational networks to model what the brain actually does when it handles language. You can read more about it at the LangBrain site ( and Glottopedia (

Neurocognitive Linguistics Lab (“NeuroLab” for short) is a program for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux that allows you to experiment with relational networks using a convenient GUI, and record the results of your experiments in tabular form.

Word-for-Word Translation

Eddie at Kouya provides a handy glossary of Bible translation terms:

  • Meaning Based: “a translation which prioritizes the meaning rather than the form of the original language.”
  • Form Based: “a translation which prioritizes the form of the original language rather than the meaning.”
  • Literal Translation: “a form based translation”
  • Word for Word: “a form-based translation and I don’t know much about languages.”
  • Free Translation: “I don’t like this meaning based translation.”
  • Paraphrase: “I really don’t like this meaning based translation.”
  • Accurate: I like it.
  • The Most Accurate: means either
    • as an opinion (I believe this is the most accurate translation) “I really like it.”
    • as a statement of fact (this is the most accurate translation) “I know nothing about translation theory or languages.”
  • Dynamic Equivalence: “I read a blog post about translation once.”

I’ve demonstrated before that what you think is “word-for-word”, or even one that conforms to the grammatical structure of the source text (“formal”) is actually nothing like it, but let’s have another example.

From Anabasis by Xenophon we have this scene in a battle:

τὰ δ᾽ ἅρματα ἐφέροντο τὰ μὲν δι᾽ αὐτῶν τῶν πολεμίων, τὰ δὲ καὶ διὰ τῶν Ἑλλήνων κενὰ ἡνιόχων. οἱ δ᾽ ἐπεὶ προΐδοιεν, διίσταντο: ἔστι δ᾽ ὅστις καὶ κατελήφθη ὥσπερ ἐν ἱπποδρόμῳ ἐκπλαγείς: καὶ οὐδὲν μέντοι οὐδὲ τοῦτον παθεῖν ἔφασαν, οὐδ᾽ ἄλλος δὲ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἐν ταύτῃ τῇ μάχῃ ἔπαθεν οὐδεὶς οὐδέν, πλὴν ἐπὶ τῷ εὐωνύμῳ τοξευθῆναί τις ἐλέγετο.

Word for word, this is:

The and/but chariots they-went/were-driven the on-the-one-hand through of-their-own of-the of-enemies, the on-the-other-hand also through of-the of-Greeks without of-drivers. Those and/but when they-might-see, they-stood-apart: he-is and/but who also was-seized like in in-hippodrome panicked: and/but nothing indeed but-not/neither this-one to-suffer they-said, but-not/neither another and/but of-the of-Greeks in in-this in-the in-battle suffered no-one nothing, except on on-the on-right-wing was-shot someone it-was-said.

To make this even minimally comprehensible in English you need to make a lot of changes:

And the chariots drove some through the enemies’ own lines and some through the Greeks’ without drivers. And whenever they saw, they stood aside, but there was one who indeed was caught like someone panicked in a hippodrome, but indeed they said that he suffered nothing, nor did anyone else among the Greeks in this battle suffer anything, except on the right wing one was shot, it was said.

We had to re-order words, add words, change tenses, get rid of double negatives, and otherwise munge things to get even this clumsy text. And yet there’s a lot we still don’t have: who is the “they” in the second sentence? It becomes clearer with the context, but it’s not good English to have a pronoun refer to a referent in a possessive construction. What’s a hippodrome? I didn’t know they had guns in the 4th century BC…

Here’s Carleton L. Brownson’s translation:

As for the enemy’s chariots, some of them plunged through the lines of their own troops, others, however, through the Greek lines, but without charioteers. And whenever the Greeks saw them coming, they would open a gap for their passage; one fellow, to be sure, was caught, like a befuddled man on a race-course, yet it was said that even he was not hurt in the least, nor, for that matter, did any other single man among the Greeks get any hurt whatever in this battle, save that some one on the left wing was reported to have been hit by an arrow.

My favourite Bible translation in English is the Revised English Bible.

Linguistic Prescriptivism as Class Warfare

The grammar of a language consists of rules that govern how you arrange the morphemes, words, sentences, paragraphs, etc. that make up your utterances.

That said, why would I be hostile (and I am, if you’ve ever talked about it with me) to the idea that some utterances are “better” or more “correct” than others?

The problem is that “language” is a fuzzy concept. Language varies enormously between different communities, social groups, and all the gallimaufrey of human interaction.

Why do people persist in attributing value to one particular variety of language over another? As a tool of social dominance and status signalling. As Geoff Pullum notes in his excellent talk on the subject, the written expression of a particular form of English spoken in London a couple hundred years ago has become associated with, not to put too fine a point on it, being successful in business and politics. Therefore, using this one dialect, which is called Standard Formal English, merely out of a myriad of others in the continuum that is mutually-intelligible English, signals that you are a member of the upper class, that you had the priviledge and leisure in your childhood to become fluent in it.

Note that this post is written in pure SFE. I don’t wish to discourage the use of Standard Formal English, as it serves a useful purpose in facilitating communication around the world.

What I do intend to discourage is the notion that using other varieties of English is “wrong”, “bad” or “broken”. This is as ludicrous as the idea that wearing jeans and t-shirts is “wrong”. There are situations in which wearing jeans would be inappropriate (a funeral), just as there are times when wearing a formal suit would be inappropriate (the beach). Likewise, there are times when Standard English is appropriate (a job interview), and times when it doesn’t matter one bit (a text message to a friend).

To think otherwise is, in a nutshell, a morally reprehensible prejudice. I had a conversation the other day with someone who had believed all their life that “Low” German was a “funny”, primitive pidgin, thus consigning millions of people to the status of subhumans. I had some trouble convicing them that the “Low” and “High” in varieties of German referse to geography, not any qualitative judgement, and that the only reason that the “High” variety has the higher prestige is that it happened to be the variety that Luther spoke when he translated the Bible.

I will teach my daughter that Formal Standard English is a useful life skill, but I would never dream of telling her that she is a lesser sort of person if she uses abbreviations in a text message, any more than I would insist that she wear a formal business suit to the beach.