Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Learning Tetum?

In advance of our move to Timor this December I've been subscribing to a few mailing lists to try and get a better understanding of some of the issues. I've got to say that, while I've got a decent understanding of many of the issues from the Indonesian side, I haven't the faintest idea what the Timorese people really think about all of the same issues. One issue which particularly interests me is language - how it works, the political considerations in using it, its adequacy as a modern language.

I posted the below to the TimLang mailing list in response to a blog post posted there by the Blob Na'in from the excellent Living Timorously:
Please excuse the intrusion, I'm new to the list and won't actually arrive in TL until December so I'm still very much a novice when it comes to many of the finer points of the many political sensitivities that surround East Timorese language policy, but I'm looking to gain a better understanding (hence joining this list) and I had a few questions.

Without doubt, JRH could have made his announcement a little more tactfully and sounded out the idea at home before diving into it in an overseas press conference, but is the idea itself such a bad thing?

From my blissfully ignorant vantage point overseas, it seems like Portuguese should have been something of a disaster as a national language. Has it stratified society and excluded anyone but the elite from political discourse like it sounds like it should have? Is anyone happy with this solution?

The Blog Na'in makes some excellent points in his argument against the increased use of Indonesian in Timorese government and broader society, but is Tetum really ready to be a fully fledged modern language capable of all of the functions that are required of it? (Further disclaimer: I speak absolutely no Tetum whatsoever, I only know 3 words, two of which are 'kose' and 'kose')

A modern language needs to be a language of education. Can you discuss sub-derivations and discharge rules of formal logic in Tetum? I'm sure you could work it out, but having to invent much of the jargon rather than learning the meaning of the very specific terms would take a while. You could just work out regular rules for Tetum-ising English words or just pronounce English words differently as Indonesian has done (reformasi, administrasi, festival, toilet, publik, film) but what about more abstract philosophy? 'Empiricism', 'deontology', 'utilitarianism', 'hermeutic', 'proposition', and 'metaphysics' are all words that an English speaking first year philosophy student needs to learn to use properly, this is not so hard for an English speaker because many of the words have derivations that we are familiar with. Loan words are not as easy to remember as words from the original language. For me 'schadenfreude' is harder to remember than 'constructivist' though both may be equally new. And this is just one field of education, what about engineering, economics, computer science, etc.?

A modern language needs to be a language of government administration. Can you really discuss economic policy in Tetum to the level that is required? Can national government draft sufficiently unambiguous laws and policies such that sub-national governments know how to use their budgets, and insurance agencies know what they're allowed to insure, and investors know what they are allowed to invest in, and citizens can understand their tax obligations?

A modern language also needs to be a language of law. How do you say 'American Style Option' in Tetum? My experience with dual language legal documents in Indonesian has led me to think that Indonesian is barely able to cope with all of the requirements of a language of law (there was a lot of 'Put Option's and 'Conflict of Interest's on the Indonesian side of the page). Also, don't underestimate the added costs and complications that having legal documents in two or even three (god forbid) languages adds to a negotiation process.

Assuming all of the above are possible in Tetum, or can be made possible with a larger investment of resources in Timor's language planning institutions, you still have the issue of isolation from the rest of the world. Is national pride worth excluding the Timorese people from the international discourse in the above fields (or at least giving them another barrier to cross)?

Is the idea of Tetum as an analogue of the Indonesian concept of a regional language really so distasteful? Indonesia is such a huge complicated country, that they can't afford to spend time on the developing a custom solution for each regional language, hence the blunt instrument of the current regional language policy. Many of Indonesia's regional languages are alive and well, perhaps the Timorese government could find a similar happy medium...

I can never hope to see things from the same point of view as the Timorese resistance fighters who may now be faced with having to read their daily news and see their friends and family use domestically produced products labeled in Indonesian, and I can't really gain a visceral understanding of how distasteful this may be for them, but to me it really seems like this might be just another detour that TL doesn't need on their journey to prosperity.

It's not my decision to make though. Good luck with it...

I'm beginning to suspect I may be the only member of this mailing list, my opus was met with deafening silence... Oh well, I suppose I'll find out all of the latest juicy details on East Timorese language policy soon enough...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Competitive Emailing?

Over the last little while I've been noticing a strange signature on the bottom of emails I've received from people who have Yahoo! accounts.

New Yahoo! Mail is the ultimate force in competitive emailing. Find out more at the Yahoo! Mail Championships. Plus: play games and win prizes.

What? The abstract of a paper published last year titled “Competitive Emailing” by Martin-Herran, Guiomar; Rubel, Olivier, Zaccour Georges is as follows:

We consider an infinite-horizon differential game played by two direct marketers. Each player controls the number of emails sent to potential customers at each moment in time. There is a cost associated to the messages sent, as well as a potential reward. The latter is assumed to depend on the state variable defined as the level of the representative consumer's attention. Two features are included in the model, namely, marginal decreasing returns and bounded rationality. By the latter, we mean that the representative consumer has a limited capacity for processing the information received. The evolution of this capacity depends on its level, as well as on the emails sent by both players. This provides environmental flavour where, usually, one player's pollution emissions (here emails) also affect the payoff of the other player by damaging the common environment (here, the stock of consumer attention).

We characterize competitive equilibria for different scenarios based on each player's type, i.e., whether the player is a spammer or not. We define a spammer as a myopic player, that is, a player who cares only about short-term payoff and ignores the impact of her action on the state dynamics. In all scenarios, the game turns out to be of the linear-quadratic variety. Feedback Nash equilibria for the different scenarios are characterized and the equilibrium strategies and outcomes are compared. Finally, we analyze the game in normal form, where each player has the option of choosing between being a spammer or not, and we characterize Nash equilibria.

It turns out that competitive emailing is a model that "direct marketers" (read: spammers) can use to work out how to get as much advertising into you as possible before you get pissed off at them. That's even more confusing... What on earth does that have to do with playing games and winning prizes? And what are the Yahoo! Mail Championships? Is this a ploy to disguise the ad as something innocuous so that consumers don't realise Yahoo! is advertising to the world that it wants to sell their email addresses to spammers?

Oh Game Theory, you are such a double edged sword...

Back from the wilds?

There hasn't really been a reason for my absence over the last few months. I've had time, just had things I'd rather spend it on. I do like blogging though, so with a slight reallocation of time resources, I reckon I can start it up again. We'll see how long I last this time.

Just as a bit of an update for those who may wonder, life is good. My favourite girlfriend has finally moved to Indonesia and we're living with a friend in a wonderful (and rare) green leafy neighbourhood right in the centre of Jakarta; 10 minutes from my office and a 5 minute ojek ride for the girlfriend to her university.

My contract with the Cause of All the Sadness and Violence in the World ended in April so I headed over to Australia's Agency for International Development help them out on a mission to Papua and just generally be helpful on infrastructure/finance issues for a couple of months. Very fun, and interesting to get a look at another side of development, but I'm going to be working on a pretty important project with some pretty important people when I'm back at the Bank in a couple of weeks, so I'm looking forward to it.

Fun as everything is over here right now however, it is coming up on our time to leave. Come December, the girlfriend and I will pack our bags where I will be a diplomatic trailing spouse in East Timor for 2 years. Exciting times.

Anyway, must be off. Hopefully I should be posting more regularly now. I've got ideas for posts backing up into my brain all over the place... We'll see how long it takes to clear them.


PS - We just bought a motorbike (don't tell our parents)...