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Comment: German is not English (Score 1) 427

by Livius (#46742285) Attached to: Is Germany Raising a Generation of Illiterates?

English has very little in the way of grammatical marking. Counter-intuitively (to English speakers), this makes English harder to learn, because the grammatical structure is just as complex as any other language, but it's not explicit.

In most European languages, children grow up with a good intuition about the grammar of their language, but some amount of formal instruction is very valuable so they can understand how to structure their communication with a minimum of ambiguity. In Canadian schools, for example, English (as a first language) is taught with relatively little formal grammar, but French with a great deal.

Also, although it's not really natural for a language community to have a high degree of uniformity artificially imposed on it, and each generation does speak it is slightly (or perhaps significantly) different from the previous, there is a practical value in having, and learning, an agreed-upon standard variation. In particular, for languages like English and German, which are widely spoken, it is enormously valuable to have access to the large numbers of speakers and the large bodies of fiction and non-fiction writing.

Comment: Question of scale (Score 3, Insightful) 136

by Livius (#46730827) Attached to: Crowd Wisdom Better At Predictions Than Top CIA Analysts

With enough people, there will be someone with insightful information, and probably a balance of opinions. Searching for bugs in open source works a little like that.

But in theory if a professional intelligence service had hard evidence that, for example, a politician is bluffing about something, then a policy can be adopted even if it goes against some conventional wisdom.

For example, the information that Saddam Hussein's WMD programme was a hoax prevented a rash invasion...., um, never mind.

FORTRAN is for pipe stress freaks and crystallography weenies.