Things That Matter

Scientists Finally Confirmed The Authenticity Of The Oldest Book Mayan Book Ever Discovered

CREDIT: RT AMERICA / YOUTUBE

For years, scientists weren’t sure whether the Grolier Codex, a 600-year-old book supposedly written by the Mayans, was real or a very detailed fake. When the Spanish came to America, they thoroughly destroyed the Mayans’ written works, making it easier for Europeans to spread their religion and culture in the New World. As a result, pre-Columbian Mayan writings are exceedingly rare. So when this particular codex was discovered in the 1960s, researchers had several reasons to doubt its authenticity.

If real, the Grolier Codex would be the oldest surviving book in the new world, and only the fourth surviving pre-Columbian Mayan work ever discovered.

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CREDIT: NEW YORK TIMES / ACADEMIA

The book surfaced when “pothunters,” looters who sold antiquities for profit, sold it to Dr. Josué Sáenz in 1965. Because it was “discovered” by looters, researchers were doubtful that the book was legitimate, but they kept it safe so they could do the proper research. After many years of scrutiny and doubt, advancements in dating technology made it possible for researchers to prove the validity of the book. In late 2015, scientists were finally able to put their money where their mouth was.

Researchers put the book’s creation at 1230, C.E., meaning the Grolier Codex is well over 700 years old.

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CREDIT: ELECTRIC SCIENCE NEWS / YOUTUBE

Before modern radiocarbon dating techniques, researchers only had a few clues pointing in the direction of the Grolier Codex’s authenticity. The materials and pigment used to create the prints suggested it was real, but a good forger could easily replicate these things. And when you consider the Grolier Codex’s dubious discovery (looters found it in a cave near Tortuguero), anything less than a rigorous scientific confirmation would lead researchers to doubt. Though some debate still exists around the document’s validity, historical heavyweight Smithsonian has endorsed the document after the latest round of testing.

So what is the Grolier Codex?

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CREDIT: ELECTRIC SCIENCE NEWS / YOUTUBE

The document was named after the venue where it was first displayed: the Grolier Club in New York. The 11-page artifact offered a glimpse into how much astrology affected Maya religion. As Dr. Michael D. Coe told the New York Times in 1971, “The Codex shows us for the first time that the Mayas considered all four phases of the Venus cycle to be equally malevolent and threatening to human welfare.” Thanks to the efforts of the scientific community, scientists have finally given back some of the history that was so violently taken from Mayan culture.


READ: Scientists Just Discovered 500-Year-Old Mexican Manuscript

Language Learning App Duolingo Has Been Teaching Phrases Like ‘He has to be detained right now’ In Spanish

Things That Matter

Language Learning App Duolingo Has Been Teaching Phrases Like ‘He has to be detained right now’ In Spanish

Mitú / Unsplash

It seems like everyday we uncover stories of discrimination and racism towards communities of color. This week the story stems from the most unthinkable source. One of the world’s most popular language-learning apps, Duolingo, served up two very problematic sentences to a user. His girlfriend took to Twitter to let everyone know.

Needless to say that Twitter was not having it.

Two xenophobic statements popped up on a user’s language-learning app and this is why they’re hurtful.

The fact that sentences like: “Are they legal?” and “He has to be detained right now.” can appear on Duolingo has us floored. They may not be explicitly referring to immigration issues, but the choice of words used is loaded with anti-immigration rhetoric. The word “illegal” carries major stigma in a time of pervasive and systematic civil rights violations against immigrants in the United States. Not to mention the weight that a phrase like “He has to be detained right now” carries in a country where at least 2,654 migrant children – and perhaps thousands more – were taken from their parents and held in government custody while their parents were criminally prosecuted for crossing the border unlawfully.

Duolingo was quick to respond to the backlash on Twitter, arguing that the sentence “Are they legal?” did not refer to people but rather questioned the legality of objects namely “firearms.”

In Spanish, “ellos” refers to people, the sentence is clearly about humans.

However, as several Spanish-speaking users noted on the social platform, the structure of the sentence in Spanish, “¿Son ellos legales?”, leaves no room for doubt on whether or not it’s referring to things as opposed to people. If we go back to Spanish grammar 101, Duolingo should know that the use of the plural personal pronoun “ellos” (they) instead of the demonstratives: “eso/esas” or “aquello” (those or that), to point to things, like guns or drugs, make it clear that this sentence is questioning the legality of a human subject. In simpler words, in Spanish “ellos”: refers to people, “esos” to things.

As one twitter user pointed out, “the exercise is not only grammatically incorrect, it leaves it open to a dangerous interpretation.”

Duolingo crowdsources its content from volunteers, and no scarcely anybody moderates what makes it onto the app.

What’s more, it looks like Duolingo’s been slipping on their content for a while now. According to an article published last year on the apps crowdsourcing’s strategy; “The startup has built one of the world’s most popular language-learning apps while only hiring a handful of translators.” Each day the platform serves up millions of sentences, “almost all of them created by its 300 or so volunteers.”

According to Quartz, “more than half” of Duolingo’s employees work in engineering, while “just three people manage the volunteer community”. The app makes this system work by appointing “volunteer moderators”, who apply through the website to oversee content in each language. The company claims that volunteers “are vetted for language skills, and then trained on subjects from pedagogy to guidance dealing with gender, diversity, and cultural sensitivity issues.”

As recent stories of neglectful treatment of migrants, civil rights violations, discriminatory behavior and racial profiling, have become the norm in the media—result of an anti-immigration administration—it’s troubling that this intolerant rhetoric is now visible in apps that are meant for ‘educational’ purposes and that claim to have ‘guidance on diversity and cultural sensitivity issues’.

It’s no coincidence that ever since Donald Trump became President of the United States, there has been a spike in hate speech and crime—and the numbers only continue to climb. A survey of Mexicans recently deported from the United States found that the number of people who reported experiencing verbal abuse or physical assault during their time in the U.S. increased by 47% between 2016 and 2017.

Founder of Duolingo, Luis von Ahn, a Guatemalan immigrant himself, chimed in to the conversation on Twitter, commenting that the two statements “didn’t appear next to eachother” and “were taken out of context”. He assured users that the statements were removed from the app to “avoid confusion”.

If no one is policing the sentences that go up on Duolingo, are children safe to use the app?

But what context would ever make those two sentences necessary in an educational app? They are grammatically incorrect and hurtful. No human is ever illegal. The very object of hate speech is to deprive people of the assurance that society regards them as people of equal dignity. Why is this instance of ‘indirect’ hate speech so important? Precisely because the public conception of immigrants and communities of color, specifically Latinx communities, is constantly under fire, and further feeds into a climate of fear.

As one twitter user put it, it makes you think twice before letting your 8th grader use the app to learn a new language. If xenophobic statements like these can pop up at any time, with no real policing of incorrect, racist or straight-up inappropriate content, then what’s the point of Duolingo even having a ‘content policy’ at all? As a Guatemalan, von Ahn should do better.

Donald Trump Tried And Failed To Write In Spanish Using Google Translate And This Is Why We Need Spanish Teachers In The U.S.

Things That Matter

Donald Trump Tried And Failed To Write In Spanish Using Google Translate And This Is Why We Need Spanish Teachers In The U.S.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images / Mitú

He has done it again. President Donald Trump’s Twitter is a gift that keeps on giving… us something to talk about. Trump went on a Tweet sesh, expressing his racist rhetoric, yet again.

Only this time, the attack came in the form of a poorly translated meme-like image that has the Internet shook.

Days after campaigning in New Mexico, a 50% Latino state that republicans haven’t been able to secure since George W. Bush’s presidential election, Trump sent his first Spanish-language Tweet ever.

The graphic, which he tweeted out, depicts Trump standing in front of a border wall, and a frown on his face. It reads “NO MÁS” in big bold letters. The usual anti-immigration rhetoric, however, provided some comedy on this occasion. I mean, does the President of the United States really rely on Google Translate to share a message in a different language? We’ll never know for sure. But a first-grade teacher could tell you, that using a robot to translate a human language, will definitely result in an unreliable source.

The auto-translate feature never fails…to fail. So should we even be surprised that not one person in the Trump administration could help to properly translate his insults? Given that it’s a language that the president obviously doesn’t speak and which he knows will make his bigoted white followers uncomfortable, the answer is… yeah, no. As 2020 approaches we can unfortunately expect more of these kind of messages as he prompts his followers into a white panic, relying on the ignorance of his fans. Clearly, the president will be doubling down on the hate that helped him get elected in the first place.

The xenophobic image, in which he was trying to say: “No more fake asylum”, “No more catch and release”, and “No more illegal entry into the United States” stated his usual discourse, and we get what he’s trying to say. But if you’re going to come after people, can’t you at least get someone competent to look over your copy?

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, the president tried his best to appeal to Latinx voters during his rally. And it got weird. At one point, Trump made a comment on how “white” one of his key Latino surrogates looks. “He happens to be Hispanic, but I’ve never quite figured it out because he looks more like a WASP than I do…But I’ll tell you what — there is nobody that loves this country more or Hispanic more than Steve Cortes,” Trump said. Cortes is a Trump supporter and TV commentator, as well as a member of Trump’s Advisory Council.

“Nobody loves the Hispanics more!” Trump continued, before asking Cortes “Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?”

Suggesting that Latinos have dual loyalties.

His answer though was pure gold: “I may have to go for the Hispanics to be honest with you…We love our Hispanics”

After the president tweeted the “NO MÁS” image, Twitter exploded with anger, but more so with mockery. Twitter users dragged the president’s intelligence, pointing out that he doesn’t speak a word of Spanish — and are not even sure that he masters English tbh (remember covfefe-gate?), others simply condemned his flat-out racism. 

Here for your entertainmnent is a roundup of just a few of the internet’s best reactions to the #GoogleTranslateFail.

After a lifetime of watching ‘Inglés sin Barreras’ commercials, it’s about time someone made ‘Español sin Barreras’… and sent a copy to the White House.

Covfefe anyone?

You gotta appreciate the artistry.

https://twitter.com/LuisValLeAnaya/status/1174450976008429570/photo/1

Can we have one sent our way asap?