Thursday, November 09, 2006

Overloaded terms

In case I haven't mentioned it here on this blog, I am learning Japanese. Why? I guess I figure I'll only be a student for a couple more years, and I wanted to take advantage of that by learning something I probably couldn't learn on my own. Why Japanese? I love learning languages, and there's a remote chance I could move there someday, so I might as well learn it. I also have a huge set of Chinese brushes at home, and it'd be nice to actually understand some of the characters that I script.

Yesterday was our first day of Kanji. Until now, we've been communicating in written form using only the two phonetic alphabets of Japanese, Hiragana and Katakana. Kanji is a pictograph-based alphabet, and it's one reason why Japanese is so hard to learn. Japanese newspapers restrict themselves to using "only" 2000 kanji, but there are many, many more.

The word for Sunday is "Ni-Chi-Yo-U-Bi." The Kanji for "Ni-Chi" and "Bi" is the same, but pronounced differently based on context. This freaked out many of the kids in the class.

I say "kids" because they are all undergrads, and I'm actually older than everyone, including the teacher. It's very humbling, since I'm also one of the dumbest kids in the class. I do fine on the exams, but I can barely talk, and I sound something like Benjy in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.

And yet, finally! I was so happy to learn that something from computer science could be reused in my Japanese class. Consider the following snippet of code in VBA:

if (a = b) then
a = b
end if

That's right, the same symbol is used for testing equality and for variable assignment. The term is "overloaded operator" and it's particular use can only be determined based on context. So yesterday's Japanese class seemed obvious to me (for once) thanks to science.


Zuska said...

Ah, that's beautiful. Don't you just love it when science bleeds into other parts of life like that? There are so many more connections than people think. It really is a way of understanding the world, a way of thinking.

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

I completely agree. The repetition of structure is so amazing and suprising.

charizard said...

We studied alot of this relationship between natural language and computer science when I did HCI in undergrad. Neat stuff. Props on your blog, I've enjoyed your posts. Reminds me of alot of what my wife says on her blog, since she is also in academics on her 3rd year of her PhD. I sent her a some links to your blog, and if you have time, check out her blog @ Keep the posts coming!!

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

Hello charizard. Thanks for the link to your wife's blog. I, too, am obsessed with House MD, so it will be a good read. ;)

anita said...

i just wanted to mention, that's cool that u are studying Japanese. I too am currently in grad school (in EECS), and so i can TOTALLY understand the everyday frustration you discuss. i took 3 years of Japanese during grad school not only cuz it was fun but it was a good way of doing something productive yet that didn't make me want to bang my head against a wall. :) and yeah, in my Japanese classes i was about a decade older than everyone else. i hear ya! stick with it though, it is really rewarding (at least it was for me). :)

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

Thanks for the encouragement Anita. It's good to see someone else enjoying the "perks" of graduate school.