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Web Monitor

15:39 UK time, Monday, 11 January 2010

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Today in Web Monitor: the case against professionalism, the most difficult language to learn and when the likelihood of getting a girlfriend seems alien.

Ed Smith• In More Intelligent Life ex-professional cricketer Ed Smith is waging war on the concept of professionalism. He has seen the number of coaches and analysts mushroom and wonders if all this has actually helped anyone play cricket any better:

"Professionalism was continually invoked as the primary means of improvement, whereas amateurishness was mocked as a laughable relic. But it was often unclear to me what the word professionalism meant. 'What we really need,' people would say, is 'a good, solid professional win.' How does that differ, I always wanted to ask, from a normal kind of win? In fact, professionalism wasn't so much a real process as a form of self-definition. We had to become ever-more professional, because that was the lens through which we interpreted progress and success."

• Meanwhile, sister publication the Economist warns half of today's languages may be gone in a century. So the race is on for linguists to learn them. The Economist helps by trying to work out what the most difficult language to learn would be. It chooses Tuyuca from the eastern Amazon, because of the change in mind-set needed:

"Most fascinating is a feature that would make any journalist tremble. Tuyuca requires verb-endings on statements to show how the speaker knows something. Diga ape-wi means that 'the boy played soccer (I know because I saw him)', while diga ape-hiyi means 'the boy played soccer (I assume)'. English can provide such information, but for Tuyuca that is an obligatory ending on the verb. Evidential languages force speakers to think hard about how they learned what they say they know."

Warwick University economist Peter Backus's study (122 KB PDF) Why I Don't Have a Girlfriend:
An Application of the Drake Equation to Love in the UK makes for poignant reading. Astonomer Frank Drake developed the equation to estimate the number of highly-evolved civilizations. Pete Backus explains why he saw this method as suitable:

"While extraterrestrial civilizations may be rare, there is something that is
seemingly rarer still: A girlfriend. For me. What might the approach employed in
the estimation of the number of alien civilizations tell us about the number of
potential girlfriends for me? A somewhat less scientific question, I admit, but one
of substantial personal importance."

Cutting out the actual equation, his conclusion is bleak:

"There are 26 women in London with whom I might have a wonderful relationship. So, on a given night out in London there is a 0.0000034% chance of meeting one of these special people, about 100 times better than finding an alien civilization we can communicate with. That's a 1 in 285,000 chance. Not great."

Links in full

Intelligent LifeEd Smith | More Intelligent Life | Are we too professional?
EconomistEconomist | Tongue twisters
Warwick UniversityPeter Backus | Warwick University | Why I don't have a girlfriend: An application of the Drake Equation to love in the UK

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