Friday, 05 February 2016 14:10

Good Reads – From the Language of Physics to the Language of Hate

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Photo: Marvin (PA)(Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0 

In the first Good Reads of 2016, former editor Frances Jackson shares a few articles that have got her thinking about Europe over the last few days.  Read about contrasting efforts to integrate asylum seekers in Germany and Finland, the publication of a new annotated edition of Mein Kampf, and why the AZERTY keyboard could soon become a thing of the past.

Frances, former Diaphragm / Baby editor


IN search of a common ground

I suppose it’s inevitable that, in the face such a torrent of depressing news stories and seemingly insurmountable hurdles as is the case with the ongoing refugee crisis, we are drawn to examples of journalism that give us hope for the future. Certainly, I think that is what made Herbi Dreiner’s recent guest post for the Guardian stand out for me.  He is part of a team at the University of Bonn that has started putting on physics shows with Arabic explanations to help engage young asylum seekers who are still finding their feet in Germany.  I love the simplicity of the idea, its optimism and the way it encourages us to find a shared understanding, rather seeking to emphasise differences and deficiencies.

On a similar, if slightly more ambivalent note, I was also struck by Emma Jane Kirby’s piece about voluntary manners and culture classes on offer to refugees in Finland.  It was originally broadcast as part of BBC Radio Four’s incomparable From Our Own Correspondent and deals with day-to-day aspects of integration.  Kirby writes with great humour and humanity, and there is undoubtedly hope here too, but equally, by the end of the article, one can see where possible fault lines and the potential for future societal conflict may lie.


Long before the discovery of a terrorist plot to attack Munich on New Year’s Eve, 1 January 2016 was already likely to be the source of many a headache for members of the Bavarian state administration as it marked the date that Adolf Hitler’s infamous Mein Kampf was to pass into the public domain.  As of this year, the Free State of Bavaria no longer holds the copyright to the text, meaning that – in theory, and to the alarm of many – it can now be published and sold freely once again.

As Martin Doerry and Klaus Wiegrefe explain in an absorbing article on the English-language pages of Spiegel Online, however, that is unlikely to happen any time soon and the one edition that has been released since the copyright expired is in fact an unflinching attempt to unmask the lies upon which the Hitler myth was built.  Doerry and Wiegrefe trace the origins of this annotated version of Mein Kampf, highlighting some of its key insights and the controversy that its publisher, the Munich-based Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Institute for Contemporary History), has become subject to since embarking on the project. 


Finally, I was rather tickled by a piece on the BBC website about the AZERTY keyboard, France’s 100-year-old answer to the Anglophone QWERTY layout.  The keyboard, which features special characters like é and è, but requires users to hold down shift in order to type numbers and lacks a straight-forward method for producing accented capitals, has come under fire from the French government.  The new official line is that AZERTY positively encourages users to ignore tenants of French grammar such as accents on upper case letters or the use of double chevrons as opposed to inverted commas to denote direct speech, and should therefore be overhauled.

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Photo: Alexander Duret-Lutz (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Speaking as someone who has made the successful transition from QWERTY to the Germanic QWERTZ layout, though, I’m not sure I agree with author Hugh Schofield that AZERTY could never be binned entirely because "writing habits are by now too deeply ingrained".  In my experience, it really only takes a couple of weeks for your hands to adjust to a different layout and once you’ve worked out how to create the elusive @, you might even find that an alternative keyboard has much to recommend itself.  I mean, in the case of the kezboard, as it’s known to aficionados, you have a whole world of umlauted letters at your fingertips – just imagine all the heavy metal band names you could come up with…

Last modified on Sunday, 07 February 2016 10:56
Frances Jackson

Frances Jackson is a former E&M editor and occasional contributor. Originally from the UK, she now lives in Munich, where she is pursuing a PhD in Czech poetry. Given the chance, Frances would probably spend all of her time in kitchen and is currently cooking her way around the world. She has also been known to dabble in literary translation.

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