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2019 Year of the Periodic Table in Indigenous Languages January 29, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.

The UN is celebrating 2019 as both the International year of Indigenous languages and the International year of the Periodic Table (and if that wasn’t enough it is also apparently the International year of Moderation).

I wondered if anyone has thought of combining the celebrations and marking “the year of the Periodic Table in Indigenous Languages”. I just googled and apparently I’m the first. I’m not sure it will catch on but it illustrates a challenge which I’ll get to after the song…

Published by AsapScience Feb 6 2018,
8,658,369 views by Jan 29, 2019

Tom Lehrer was the first to write and perform the elements song a mere 60 years ago but he messed with the order and sang Aluminum instead of Aluminium. This new version of the song gets it right (to British ears) and adds elements that hadn’t been discovered in Harvard in 1959.

(The last line of Lehrer’s version rhymes “Harvard” and “discovered”.

…And here’s where we get to the language bit.

Even between British English and American English there are differences in what we call one of the elements. Should it be called “aluminum” or “aluminium”?

The French and Germans agree that it is called aluminium but in Spanish and Italian it is apparently called “alluminio”. In other words, there are other words to describe the elements just as there are other words to describe the names of countries and languages.

If you are so inclined you can check out the Periodic table in English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese and Klingon at https://sciencenotes.org/periodic-tables-different-languages/

The Bible mentions gold, silver, iron, lead and sulphur in the Old and New Testaments and tin on the Old Testament. So at least five elements can be found written in over 2000 languages and ‘tin’ in nearly 700. I haven’t checked how much the names vary or whether words used referred to elements or alloys. (also note I learned Chemistry before 1992 and didn’t know until today that many people now spell sulphur as sulfur in English).

You can check out the names and various classifications of 7,097 known living languages at ethnologue.com (Update coming in February in time for the annual International Mother Language Day).

The Ethnologue includes a lot of alternate names for each language but still can’t quite manage to list all the possible names, and ways of writing them.

A similar problem exists when it comes to people trying to find Bibles in other languages. It can be hard to find what you are looking for in an alphabetical list of 1,278 languages at YouVersion’s Bible.com especially when that list includes names written in over 20 different alphabets. For people like me who compare various lists the inclusion of standard three letter ISO codes function a bit like the unique atomic weights in the Periodic table allowing us to know when we are talking about the same thing even if they have different names.

Faith Comes By Hearing also has a list of over 1,200 languages. I’ve been able to compare lists and see that while there is a large overlap, between them they have have text and/or recordings of Scripture in over 1600 languages.

In addition to these two huge distributors of online scriptures there are at least 1-200 available through other sites, apps and sources. Many (but still not all) are linked to from find.bible which exists to help people do just that. By the end of the list of scriptures available digitally will be even longer.

Now that’s something to sing about!


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