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TOPIC: denmark

In The News

China Eases COVID Restrictions, Ramaphosa In Turmoil, RIP Christine McVie

👋 Halito!*

Welcome to Thursday, where China eases COVID restrictions in several major cities, South Africa’s president faces impeachment, and Fleetwood Mac bids adieu to its songbird Christine McVie. Meanwhile, in Denmark, we look at a controversy surrounding a blackface scene featured in a beloved Christmas TV special.

[*Choctaw, Native American]

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This Happened—November 20: A Royal Wedding

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip tied the knot in a royal wedding that sealed the couple together for more than 70 years, including Queen Elizabeth's record-setting reign.

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Kyiv Warns That Russia Is Manipulating IAEA At Zaporizhzhia

The state-owned Ukrainian energy operator and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have cast doubt on the visit of IAEA international inspectors assessing the risks near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant occupied by Russia.

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Energy provider Energoatom said Friday that Russian officials at Zaporizhzhia are distorting the information they’re sharing with the team of IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog agency, which arrived at the plant on Thursday and plans to set up a semi-permanent presence to help guard against a nuclear accident from military clashes in the area.

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Total Shutdown Of U.S.-Russia Contact

Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov confirmed the complete absence of high-level communication between Moscow and Washington, as tensions continue to rise over the U.S. delivery of long-range rocket launchers to Ukraine.

There are currently no contacts between Russia and the United States. This stark fact was confirmed by Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov. “You can say no, not at the moment,” Peskov said Thursday morning in response to a question from Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on the state of communication between the two countries. “Now all contact is virtually non-existent."

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A similar lack of communication was confirmed in early April, shortly after the Russian invasion began. On May 20, the U.S. State Department announced that the time had not yet come to resume contacts with Russia at the Foreign Ministry level. On May 13, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke on the phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu for the first time since the start of the military operation in Ukraine.

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Geopolitics
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Does NATO Deter Or Provoke Russia? Look To Finland And Sweden For The Answer

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has rekindled the Nordic debate over the possibility of joining NATO, prompting Russian threats. It's a microcosm for the conflict itself.

Like elsewhere, Sweden and Finland have taken historic decisions in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine last month — each breaking their respective policy of not providing arms to countries at war, by sending military aid to Kyiv.

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Indeed, for Sweden, the last time it happened was during the Winter War of 1939, when it gave assistance to Finland to counter an invasion by the Soviet Union.

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Geopolitics
Carl-Johan Karlsson

From Snowden To Pegasus: What Is Espionage In The Digital Age?

It was Jane Austen, back in 1816, who wrote that "every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies." That neighborhood is getting quite a bit bigger these days as our digitized lives and economies extract ever-deepening rivers of private data from the daily lives of citizens.

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Ideas
Rainer Haubrich

Not All Immigrant Politicians Think Alike — About Immigration

Migrant associations and activists are saying there are not enough politicians of migrant origin in the new German Bundestag. But are such politicians guaranteed to support policies that benefit migrants? There are prominent examples that suggest otherwise.

BERLIN — No sooner than the twentieth German Bundestag had been elected in September, activists were examining how diverse its members were. The result: compared to wider German society, women and people of migrant origin — either those who immigrated themselves or who have at least one parent not born in Germany — are underrepresented. For the third time in a row, the number of members of parliament of migrant origin has risen, but it still stands at only 11%, whereas in Germany as a whole, 25% of people come from a migrant background.

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Society
Carl Karlsson

Copyright Row Over Copenhagen's Little Mermaid Sculpture

Maybe that's just what a mermaid looks like...

Since its unveiling in 1913, the Little Mermaid sculpture has become one of Copenhagen's main tourist attractions. But Edvard Eriksen's five-foot unassumingly perched homage to Christian Andersen's fairy tale has also had its fair share of drama.

The first came in 1964, when the bronze sculpture became the victim of an abandoned lover's rage and was beheaded with a hacksaw. Then, in 1998, it happened again; this time by an extremist feminist group. The list of survival events also includes a severed and stolen (but then returned) arm, being launched off her rock and into the water (explosives), stabbed in the neck and in 2015 — perhaps most brutal of all — getting banned from Facebook for breaching nudity guidelines.

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THE CONVERSATION
Morten H. Christiansen

In Denmark, A Hard Language For Kids To Learn Shapes Society

The process machinery to master vowel-heavy Danish explains that way adults tend to interact.

Denmark is a rich country with an extensive welfare system and strong education. Yet surprisingly, Danish children have trouble learning their mother tongue. Compared to Norwegian children, who are learning a very similar language, Danish kids on average know 30% fewer words at 15 months and take nearly two years longer to learn the past tense. In "Hamlet," William Shakespeare famously wrote that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark," but he might as well have been talking about the Danish language.

We are a cognitive scientist and language scientist from the Puzzle of Danish group at Aarhus University and Cornell. Through our research, we have found that the uniquely peculiar way that Danes speak seems to make it difficult for Danish children to learn their native language – and this challenges some central tenets of the science of language.

Why is Danish so hard?

There are three main reasons why Danish is so complicated. First, with about 40 different vowel sounds – compared to between 13 and 15 vowels in English depending on dialect – Danish has one of the largest vowel inventories in the world. On top of that, Danes often turn consonants into vowel-like sounds when they speak. And finally, Danes also like to "swallow" the ends of words and omit, on average, about a quarter of all syllables. They do this not only in casual speech but also when reading aloud from written text.

The difficulty of Danish is no secret in Scandinavia, as seen in this clip from a Norwegian comedy TV show.

Other languages might incorporate one of these factors, but it seems that Danish may be unique in combining all three. The result is that Danish ends up with an abundance of sound sequences with few consonants. Because consonants play an important role in helping listeners figure out where words begin and end, the preponderance of vowel-like sounds in Danish appears to make it difficult to understand and learn. It isn't clear why or how Danish ended up with these strange quirks, but the upshot seems to be, as the German author Kurt Tucholsky quipped, that "the Danish language is not suitable for speaking … everything sounds like a single word."

Kids learn later, adults process differently

Before we could study the way Danish children learn their native language, we needed to figure out whether the peculiarities of Danish speech affected their ability to understand it.

To do this, our team sat Danish two-year-olds in front of a screen showing two objects, such as a car and a monkey. We then used an eye tracker to trace where the kids were looking while listening to Danish sentences.

Children playing in front of a wall — Photo: Teresa Grau Ros/Flickr

When the children heard the consonant-rich "Find bilen!" – which sounds like "Fin beelen!" when spoken and means "Find the car!" – the toddlers would look at the car quite quickly.

However, when they heard the vowel-rich "Her er aben!" – which sounds like "heer-ahben!" and means "Here's the monkey!" – it took the kids nearly half a second longer to look at the monkey. In this vowel-laden sentence, the boundaries between words become blurry and make it harder for the toddlers to understand what is being said. Half a second may not seem like much, but in the world of speech it is a very long time.

But does the abundance of vowels in Danish also make it more difficult for children to learn their native language? It turns out that it does. In another study, we found that toddlers struggle to learn new words when these words are sandwiched between a lot of vowels.

Danish children do, of course, eventually learn their native tongue. However, our group has found that the effects of the opaque Danish sound structure don't go away when children grow up: Instead, they seem to shape the way adult Danes process their language. Denmark and Norway are closely related historically, culturally, economically and educationally. The two languages also have similar grammars, past tense systems and vocabulary. Unlike Danes, though, Norwegians actually pronounce their consonants.

In several experiments, we asked Danes and Norwegians to listen to sentences in which either a word was deliberately created to sound ambiguous (like a word halfway between "tent" and "dent") or the meaning of the whole sentence was unusual (such as "The goldfish bought a boy for his sister"). We found that because Danish speech is so ambiguous, Danes rely much more on context – including what was said in the conversation before, what people know about each other and general background knowledge – to figure out what somebody is saying compared to adult Norwegians.

Together, these results indicate that the way people interpret language is not static, but dynamically adapts to the challenges posed by the specific language or languages they speak.

Not all languages are the same

There has been a longstanding debate within the language sciences about whether all languages are similarly complex and whether this might affect how people's brains learn and process language. Our discovery about Danish challenges the idea that all native languages are equally easy to learn and use. Indeed, learning different languages from birth may lead to distinct and separate ways of processing those languages.

Our results also have important practical implications for people who are struggling with language – whether because of a single traumatic event like a stroke or due to genetic and other long-term factors. Many current interventions meant to support language recovery are based on studies in one language, usually English. Researchers assume that these interventions would apply in the same way to individuals speaking other languages. However, if languages vary substantially in the way they're learned and processed, an intervention that might work for one language might not work as well for another.

Linguists have looked at differences between languages before, but few have been concerned with the possible impact that such differences may have on the kind of processing machinery that develops during language learning. Instead, much of the focus has been on searching for universal linguistic patterns that hold across all or most languages. However, our research suggest that linguistic diversity may result in variation in the way we learn and process language. And if a garden-variety language like Danish has such hidden depths, who knows what we'll find when we look more closely at the rest of the world's approximately 7,000 languages?

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INDIA TODAY
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Women Imams Around The World Challenge Male-Dominated Islam

From France to China, these female worship leaders not only provide spiritual guidance but also encourage diversity and dispel stereotypes, from both within and outside of their community.

PARIS — Like most modern religions, Islam is dominated by men. Virtually every mosque in the world today is led by a male imam. And yet a quiet trend of more women imams — a practice that dates back centuries — is not only providing a different kind of spiritual guidance but also encouraging diversity and dispelling stereotypes, from both within and outside of the global Muslim community.

Examples include Dr. Amina Wadud, the first American woman imam and an early figure in modern Islamic feminism, and Sherin Khankan, the first woman to lead Muslim services in Denmark. Women have also made inroads within France's Islamic communities, to the point that in 2020, "there is nothing exceptional about being a woman imam," write imams Eva Janadin and Anne-Sophie Monsinay in a recent opinion piece for the French daily Le Monde.

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Green Or Gone
Pedro Viveros

Greta's Right, Our World Leaders Still Don't Get It

From climate change and migration, to tobacco deaths and exploitative business practices, governments and multilateral bodies are systematically failing to act.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Every day more people go vegetarian. The carnivores among us look around to see if anyone else is ordering meat. Car drivers feel guilty as bicycles ride past. A family draws curious glances for having more than two kids. And smoking is now something that's better done behind closed doors.

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Future
Leila Yacoubi

Free Your Mindstorms: How Lego Stays On Cutting Edge Of Coding Education

PARIS — Block construction, robotics and basic coding — all in one package, and especially designed for a non-tech-savvy public. That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind Mindstorms, which toymaker Lego first introduced two decades ago to teach people (children primarily) about programming, but in a fun way — by creating educational robots that walk, talk, etc.

For the first versions of Mindstorms, the two Lego engineers who came up with the toy — Gaute Munch and and Erik Hansen — worked closely with researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Munch is now director of advanced technology at Lego System. Hansen is director of innovation. Both are "industry" category finalists for the European Inventor Award, given out by the European Patent Office.

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