No Blog Post Is an Island [en]

[fr] Une des grandes difficultés dans l'art de bloguer: intégrer des liens à son texte. D'une part parce que les liens rajoutent une dimension au texte, perçant en quelque sorte des trous dans celui-ci par lesquels le lecteur est libre de s'échapper, à la façon des "livres dont vous êtes le héros" de notre adolescence, et d'autre part parce que la nature hypertexte du web donne à l'intertextualité une place capitale. Un article de blog n'est pas une île isolée, mais un fragment textuel nageant au milieu d'un océan d'autres fragments similaires, avec lequel il a des liens plus ou moins proches, que la bonne maîtrise de l'hyperlien permet d'expliciter. Ceci nécessite, outre une habileté avec les mots (pour pouvoir retourner sa phrase dans le sens qui permet un bon ancrage du lien), une certaine culture des autres textes entourant le sien. Sinon, comment faire des liens qui feront sens?

Fellow blogger Adam Tinworth points to a leaked memo from The Guardian encouraging internal linking. He shares his astonishment on Facebook “that this still isn’t standard practice at most places”. I am not that astonished, I have to say.

During my many years as blog editor-in-chief and teaching blogging to students, I have seen again and again that from a technical point of view, aside from managing to write in your own personal voice, the most difficult aspect of blogging to master is integrating hyperlinks into your writing.

Autour du chalet, colliers de perles

I think this is because writing well with hyperlinks requires one to write differently. It is not just about “writing and then adding links”.

Adding meaningful hyperlinks to your sentences is going to have an impact on the way you construct them. You need to be comfortable shuffling the words around, or looking for others, so that you end up with a phrase that provides you with adequate anchor text for the link you want to insert.

Most people’s training in writing is probably in standalone texts. Offline writing, the type that worked well on paper. Your reader starts at the top, and finishes at the bottom. You may have footnotes and references, but nothing as dramatic as a hyperlink, which literally pokes a hole in your text.

I like to think of hyperlinks as adding an extra dimension to a text. Normal text is 1D. Just follow it through. Hypertext is 2D at least — remember those books we must all have read as teenagers? If you go right, head to page 16, but if turn left, run off to page 67?

So, the first challenge in writing with links is finding a gracious way to anchor all those links into your words.

The second challenge is less obvious, but even more important: intertextuality.

Intertextuality” is a rather vast topic, but it generally has to do with the fact that how you understand or read one text can be shaped by your knowledge of another. References or allusions, explicit or not, that connect different texts.

On the web, everything we write is swimming in a sea of other interconnected texts. It’s not called the World Wide Web for nothing, dammit. Everything that is published on the web is stitched together. The blog post you are writing now is not an island, it is swimming alongside all sorts of other pieces of writing. How you position your piece of writing amongst the others may be just as important as the writing itself.

Intertextuality in the world of hypertext is a crucial thing to be aware of.

What are you going to link to? What is there out there that complements your writing, or takes your reader further, or down a parallel path? What are the associations between parts of your writing and preexisting writing?

This requires, in addition to the will to connect one’s writing into this existing web, some degree of knowledge of what is out there. Culture. Or dexterity in the use of the search engine. Or both.

I agree with Adam: internal linking should be a no-brainer. I do it a lot on Climb to the Stars: whenever I’m writing a blog post, I’m wondering what else I have written in the past which is related to it. Am I building upon a previous post? Am I writing on a topic I’ve already touched upon? How can I work a link to this or that post into what I’m writing now?

I do it on Open Ears too. As editor-in-chief, I have read all the articles we publish. The difficulty is I often receive articles which are written as standalone pieces, so I have to either work with the blogger to incorporate a reference to another article, or do it myself as part of the editing process. But as I mentioned above, adding links changes the way you write and construct your text, so “adding a link” is rarely as straightforward as “just adding a link” — and in some cases can only difficultly be done if it wasn’t planned for from the start.

When I was discovering the web, one of the first sites I spent a lot of time reading was The Psychology of Cyberspace. It’s still online, and I encourage you to visit it: as the author explains, it is an online book, that is, written with hypertext in mind.

There is a table of contents, but in addition to that, inside the chapters, there are links to other chapters whenever there is a mention or a passing reference to something covered elsewhere. This frees the reader to wander around in the order they wish, and avoids redundancy — if you need to explain X again, just link to it. I think this was a very good learning example for me of how to build text online.

So now. How would you teach people the skills to do this, when it doesn’t seem to come naturally to them?

Basic Bilingual 1.0 Plugin for WordPress: Blog in More Than One Language! [en]

[fr] Le plugin WordPress Basic Bilingual que j'utilise depuis un nombre incalculable d'années pour fournir des résumés "dans l'autre langue" à mes articles a enfin été mis à jour. Grâce à Claude Vedovini, il passe à la version 1.0, que je vous conseille d'essayer tout de suite!

A huge huge thanks to Claude Vedovini who spent the last few days working on my really old plugin (but still used daily!) Basic Bilingual in order to release version 1.0. Download it now!

The plugin has been around since early 2005, and honestly, what it does hasn’t really changed: it allows you to specify a summary of your post in another language and label it as such, as you can see here on Climb to the Stars. If you want more complex handling of languages in WordPress, head over to WPML, the likes of which weren’t around when I first threw a few functions together to try and make my bilingual blogging life easier.

So, what’s new?

  • unlike me, Claude actually knows how to write code, so instead of being some horribly outdated collection of clumsy functions, the plugin’s code is now upto 2013 standards (hadn’t seen an update in 4 years, can you imagine?)
  • it’s now possible to have more than two languages in your blog, with two “different language” excerpts accompanying your main post
  • you can now choose the markup for your excerpts without having to wade through plugin code: there is a lovely settings page for that and other things you can configure
  • the language widget in the page editing screen is a drop-down now, and not an ugly text field where you need to type your language’s code
  • you can also filter excerpts based on your readers’ browser settings
  • …and the plugin has been tested with the latest version of WordPress! (not that it broke too much before…)

So thanks so much Claude, it feels good to have Basic Bilingual off life support and alive again!

If you use Basic Bilingual I’d really love if you could take a few minutes to write a review over on Thanks! Oh, and if you have a crazy plugin idea that needs bringing to life, ping Claude about it 😉

Occupy et les Indignés [fr]

[en] A rant about the "translation" of the Occupy Movement by "les Indignés" in francophonia. Not the same movement. Occupy is a verb. "Indigné" is a state, an emotion, with moral undertones.

Ça date, Occupy, je sais. Vous qui connaissez plus d’une langue, vous avez déjà remarqué comment on perd parfois tout dans une traduction? Lost in translation. Etonnamment, le français n’a pas d’expression équivalente. En tant que bilingue français-anglais, je vois régulièrement ce phénomène à l’oeuvre dans les traductions de titres de livres ou de films, qui passent très bien en anglais et plus du tout en français. (Je ne parle même pas du doublage, qui a le don de transformer une chouette bande-annonce anglo-saxonne en un truc qui ne donne absolument pas envie de se pointer au multiplex.)

On a donc “Occupy”, aux Etats-Unis, et ici en Europe, en tous cas en français, on parle des “Indignés“. Quelle horreur! Je me fiche personnellement de savoir si les deux mouvements ont une origine commune ou non, toujours est-il qu’on les trouve “assimilés” ou “équivalents” dans les médias et donc, par extension, chez l’homme de la rue. La traduction française de “Occupy”, c’est “Indignés”.

Personnellement je n’ai jamais pu avaler ça. Les connotations sont si différentes! Comment les mouvements qui se rallient derrière ces deux noms peuvent-ils identiques? (Et qu’on n’aille même pas essayer de jeter là-dedans les émeutes de Londres, qui n’ont franchement rien à voir.)

“Occupy”, c’est un verbe. Occuper. Une action. Un impératif. “Occupy Wall Street”, c’est un slogan quasi militaire. L’Occupation, ça vous dit quelque chose? On va occuper les lieux. Il y a une prise de pouvoir, ou du moins une volonté de possession. On est là et on réclame notre place.

Etre “Indigné”, au contraire, c’est tout au plus un participe passé (par nature passif). Ou même, un adjectif. C’est émotionnel. C’est un état. Ça parle de ce qui se passe à l’intérieur de nous, et non de ce qu’on fait. On s’indigne, c’est super, et après? Aucune chance que je me retrouve là-dedans. Il y a une couleur morale, jugeante et passive dans ce mot.

Les mots qu’on utilise changent la façon qu’on pense. On sait qu’il y a un lien entre langue et culture. On peine à penser des choses qu’on ne peut mettre en mot.

“Occupy” et “les Indignés”, ce n’est pas la même chose.

Bilingual Frustrations, Still in 2013 (With Siri and Dragon Dictate) [en]

[fr] J'adore Siri, mais qu'est-ce que j'aimerais que les logiciels à "intelligence linguistique" puisse fonctionner en mode multilingue. En tant que bilingue, je trouve extrêmement frustrant de devoir (a) m'en tenir à une seule langue (b) me souvenir dans quelle langue j'ai "configuré" le logiciel en question!

Before leaving for India last year, my earbuds died, which I took as a sign to head out and upgrade my iPhone, something I was due for sooner or later (in Switzerland, your mobile phone is tied to your subscription, and you get a discounted phone every one or two years).

This means I got an iPhone 5, and was finally able to play about with Siri. I love Siri and voice commands/dictation in general. But as a bilingual person, I find it really sad that there is no voice command to switch languages. I do it many many times a day! Bilingual mode would be the best. Sure, it would double Siri’s vocabulary, but I’m sure with today’s technology and if Siri knows which two languages I’m speaking it’s doable.

Plus I read in a forum (link lost since then) that changing languages resets all the “learning” aspect of Siri? That really sucks and should qualify as a bug.

When will people making software that has language intelligence understand that there are bilingual people out there who juggle with two (ore more!) languages constantly throughout their day? I have exactly the same grief with Dragon Dictate.

Remember: most people are multilingual. And if you’re interested in bilingualism, you should be reading François Grosjean‘s “Life as a Bilingual” blog.

2nd Back to Blogging Challenge, day 3. Others: Nathalie Hamidi(@nathaliehamidi), Evren Kiefer (@evrenk), Claude Vedovini (@cvedovini), Luca Palli (@lpalli), Fleur Marty (@flaoua), Xavier Borderie (@xibe), Rémy Bigot (@remybigot),Jean-François Genoud (@jfgpro), Sally O’Brien (@swissingaround), Marie-Aude Koiransky (@mezgarne), Anne Pastori Zumbach (@anna_zap), Martin Röll (@martinroell), Gabriela Avram (@gabig58), Manuel Schmalstieg (@16kbit), Jan Van Mol (@janvanmol). Hashtag:#back2blog.

Help Stop Comma Abuse! [en]

Yes, there are some rules for commas. Some are strict, some aren’t. Some are debated (the Oxford comma), some aren’t. And some commas are just a question of style.

I’d like to draw your attention on a comma issue which is not a question of style.

You cannot use a comma to separate the verb from its subject or object. Look:

John, ate some bread.

John ate, some bread.

Doesn’t work.

But you do see commas floating around verbs. That’s because they come in pairs. Look:

John, without hesitation, ate some bread.

John ate, without hesitation, some bread.

See how those commas come in pairs, because we inserted “without hesitation” into the sentence?

I was prompted to write this article after struggling through this article. I struggled because the article content was interesting — but boy, does the author have comma issues. Hopefully they’ll fix them. In the meantime, I’ve used the text to provide you with real-world examples, corrected. You can try your skills at spotting missing paired commas. (And do read the article, though, it is interesting.)

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich used a lot of his free time for playing cards.

Can you spot the missing comma? This is a situation where the first paired comma was used, but not the second. The “inserted” text in the sentence is “the 4th Earl of Sandwich”, which should therefore be surrounded by commas. This one is actually tricky, because it looks like we have avoided placing a comma between the subject and the verb. But we have. Better:

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, used a lot of his free time for playing cards.

Here is another one:

Since recently a good friend of mine, gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, I wanted to learn more.

This one has a comma which shouldn’t be there. No reason for a pair, as the sentence is not “Since John, a good friend of mine, gave me…”. Corrected:

Since recently a good friend of mine gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, I wanted to learn more.

I’ll have to admit that I’m not 100% certain about the next one:

When we are being told a story though, things change dramatically found researchers in Spain.

Don’t you also want a comma in front of “found”? It probably has something to do with the fact that instead of the usual SVO order, we’ve switched to something like OVS. Here, try this one instead:

When we are being told a story though, things change dramatically, found researchers in Spain.

Isn’t it better?

Here’s one which might have more than comma issues, but let’s stick to the commas:

The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it, can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton.

I would suggest one of these two alternatives, though my prefer would probably add in an extra word or two:

The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton.

The brains of the person telling a story, and listening to it, can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton.

And a last one which is a classic example of paired commas:

A story, if broken down into the simplest form is a connection of cause and effect.

The “inserted text” here is “if broken down into the simplest form”. Proof? The sentence would be fine without it:

A story is a connection of cause and effect.

Now, let’s add in this if-clause, with commas.

A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect.

There we go. Pay attention to your commas!

Disclaimer: I’ve never really studied English grammar properly, so I’m sure there are fancy terms and maybe rules to come up with here that I don’t know of. And also, following a law which probably needs a nice name, as this is a post about language/grammar, there are bound to be mistakes in it that you can point to and laugh at — and probably, God forbid, a misplaced comma.

Polyglots and other Multilinguals, Rejoice [en]

[fr] A lire de toute urgence pour ceux d'entre nous qui parlent plus d'une langue (même imparfaitement) -- et pour les autres aussi: Life as a Bilingual, blog du Prof. François Grosjean de Neuchâtel.

My friend Corinne shared a link on Facebook the other day. It was a link to an article (I’ve forgotten which one by now, as I’ve pretty much read them all) on a blog titled Life as a Bilingual. It’s written by François Grosjean, professor of psycholinguistics at the University of Neuchâtel (his site is also full of interesting information).

Go and read. Start anywhere. Myths about bilingualism, for example. (My only complaint is the use of the term “bilingualism” to refer to what is actually “multilingualism” — using more than one language.) Or what parents need to know.

More from the blog:

Pick one, and start reading. If you’re interested in languages, or if you speak more than one, you’ll probably spend a few hours reading through the blog.

I have to say I was really happy to see that research about using multiple languages seems to confirm many conclusions I arrived at instinctively (check out my Multilingual Page if you’re not familiar with my various talks and rantings about multiple languages online).

Thanks for your sharing your research with us through your blog, François!

Deb Roy: The Birth of a Word [en]

[fr] Une vidéo fascinante sur l'apprentissage du langage -- et aussi sur le traitement et la visualisation de quantités étourdissantes de données linguistiques. A regarder.

Ah yes, another video. You see, some evenings, instead of sitting in front of the TV (not my usual evening occupation, by the way), I sit in front of my computer and watch videos I’ve queued up on Boxee — or hunted down for the occasion. No surprise, TED Talks are a favourite hang-out of mine.

Here’s one titled The Birth of a Word: researcher Deb Roy recorded the whole three first years of his son’s life to gather data which, once analyzed, would bring insight on how we learn language.

It’s fascinating. Fascinating for the language geek in me, and also fascinating from a data visualisation and analysis point of view. In the second part of his talk, Deb moves on to analysis of publicly available commentary (online) matched to TV shows they’re about. The visualisation is stunning (he’s showing us real data) and the implications left me feeling giddy.

Your turn.

Hat tip: thanks to Loïc for pointing out this video on Facebook.

Traduction suisse romande de [fr]

Il y a quelque temps déjà, on m’a très gentiment donné les clés (merci, !) de la traduction suisse romande de Chacun peut contribuer à la traduction grâce au système GlotPress — il suffit d’être connecté à votre compte

Pourquoi une version romande? Comme vous le savez, le français d’ici et le français d’outre-Atlantique (et même d’outre-Léman) ne sont pas tout à fait les mêmes. Plutôt que de lutter contre “blogues”, “courriels” et autres “plans du domaine” qui apparaissent quand on mélange des francophones trop divers, je vous propose donc de mettre sur pied une petite coalition romande pour qu’on ait à disposition une jolie traduction helvético-compatible.

Si ça se passe bien, il pourrait même être question de procéder de même pour… Donc lancez-vous, même si vous êtes plutôt .org que .com! (On peut — enfin je peux — exporter/importer des traductions…)

Pour vous y mettre:

– allez hop, une petite traduction ou deux le matin avant de démarrer

– partez à la chasse au courriel ou au blogue grâce au filtre

– dans votre blog, allez sous Réglages > Général et choisissez comme langue “Français de Suisse” (fr-ch)

– quand vous remarquez une erreur de traduction, allez vite proposer une meilleure traduction en la retrouvant grâce au filtre

Qui s’y lance avec moi?

Bloguer en français ou en anglais? [fr]

[en] I write a weekly column for Les Quotidiennes, which I republish here on CTTS for safekeeping.

Chroniques du monde connecté: cet article a été initialement publié dans Les Quotidiennes (voir l’original).

Les blogueurs qui se lancent se demandent souvent dans quelle langue il vaut mieux bloguer, pour autant qu’il en aient plus d’une à disposition. Dans notre région, le choix à faire est généralement entre le français, langue maternelle, et l’anglais, langue internationale.

On se dit que bloguer en anglais permettra de toucher un plus grand public.

Parce que oui, bloguer, c’est en général pour être lu. On cherche un peu de reconnaissance, ou à établir son expertise dans un domaine qui nous passionne. Alors bien sûr, c’est légitime, on veut mettre toutes les chances de notre côté. Et on se demande à juste titre dans quelle langue écrire.

En fait, écrire en anglais est probablement une fausse bonne idée, surtout si l’on ne cherche pas à tout prix à atteindre un public international: plus la mare est grande, plus il y a de gros poissons dedans. La concurrence sera plus rude dans une langue majoritaire que dans une langue minoritaire. Plus facile, donc, de faire son trou dans une langue qui n’est pas déjà saturée de blogs sur le sujet qui nous tient à coeur, particulièrement si l’on est plus habile avec.

Le blogueur, même populaire, n’atteindra toujours qu’une infime fraction des lecteurs potentiels dans la langue qu’il utilise. Ce n’est pas la taille de la mare qui est le facteur limitant, mais bien le nombre de poissons qui nagent dedans.

Reste qu’on peut toujours décider de rejeter les frontières linguistiques en mélangeant plusieurs langues sur un blog… mais ça c’est une autre histoire

Agenda: La conférence internationale Lift, portant sur des sujets mêlant technologie et société, et qui a lieu chaque année a Genève (5-7 mai 2010) offre jusqu’au 26 décembre son billet d’entrée à moitié prix. Ne manquez pas de vous y inscrire sans tarder si ce thème vous interpelle.

WPML to Make Your WordPress Site Multilingual [en]

[fr] A tester absolument si vous devez mettre en place un site multilingue: le plugin WPML pour WordPress.

I’ve been wanting to play with the WPML WordPress plugin for a while now, and I finally took the plunge today and updated my professional site to the latest version of WordPress, as well as WPML. (Sadly, the content still needs a major overhaul.)

Until now, I had built it using two separate WordPress installations, one in English, one in French, linked together by my quick-and-dirty plugin Bunny’s Language Linker (which, in the light of today’s experiment, I will be retiring from rather inactive development — Basic Bilingual remains, though, and still very much makes sense).

Here’s a summary of what I did:

  • backed up my database
  • upgraded both WordPress blogs to the latest version and exported their content
  • removed the automatic language redirection based on browser language preferences to make sure it wouldn’t interfere (I want to find a way to insert it back in, help appreciated)
  • added and activated the WPML plugin on the English installation
  • went through the settings after activating advanced mode
  • translated widget text and site tagline
  • manually imported content from the French site (import failed due to PHP on my server not being compiled with ctype_digit()), but it was only a dozen pages — it’s easy to specify language and of which English page a new one is a translation of, if any)

Setting up WPML

I did encounter some grief:

  • when selecting the “different languages in directories” I kept getting an error message which didn’t make much sense to me; tip: if that happens, make sure that your site and pages all work fine (in my case, I had to reset permalink structure because it had got lost somewhere on the way — even though the settings didn’t change)
  • I’m using a theme with an existing .mo file for French, so I selected that option (to figure out what the textdomain is, look through a theme file to see what the second argument to the gettext calls is — they look like __("Text here", "text domain here")) but it seems that all the strings for my theme still appear in the “string translation” pane
  • initially the strings for my widgets and site tagline weren’t appearing in the “string translation” pane — you have to click the “Save options and rescan strings” button for that, even if you haven’t changed any settings (that was not exactly obvious to me)

Here’s what I still need to fix:

  • the rewrite rules are set to hide the “language directory” part of the URL when browsing the site in the default language — I want to change this as explained in this forum post
  • reimplement automatic language detection
  • set up a custom language switcher that looks more like “Français | English” somewhere at the top right of the page

And honestly, once that is settle, WPML is as close as it gets to my dream multilingual plugin for WordPress!