Labiality and feminity

I recently got this note from Bill Labov, following up on a conversation about UM and UH (see "UM / UH update", 12/13/2014, for a summary),

I've been thinking about the female preference for the labial gesture in hesitation forms, and this returned me to the issues raised by Gordon and Heath in their paper on sex and sound symbolism (Matthew Gordon and Geoffrey Heath, "Sex, Sound Symbolism, and Sociolinguistics", Current Anthropology 1998). I think it's an important contribution because it brings in quite a bit of data on general patterns of sex preference and it's well reviewed by the commentators. I've always been interested in G&H's efforts to explain the general principles of chain shifting that I've extracted.

Gordon and Heath develop the notion of sex differentiation by sound symbolism on an acoustic basis. I'm more inclined to look to articulatory factors, associating the female preference for movement to more peripheral vowels with the expressive gestures of lip spreading and lip rounding. These are associated with fronting and backing somewhat more than with raising. So the preference for um might go along with the female orientation to labial gestures.

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Magi, myrrh, and mummies

'Tis the season!

We all know the story of the three Magi bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus.  In this post, I'll write about the two "m" words of the story, "magi" and "myrrh", touching briefly on "magi", but going into a bit more detail on "myrrh".  I'll leave it to others to talk about gold and frankincense, should they so desire, and will turn to the mummies toward the end of the post.

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End of City Limits

From David Randall via Steven Pinker:

This sign was posted near the southern edge of Loveland, Colorado. It is no longer there.

Is there a term for the strange, almost redundant phrase? Have you run across anything similar?

There are certainly plenty of other instances on the web of the same word sequence.

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Little Urban Anna

A note from David Donnell:

A friend in Urbana, IL informed me this afternoon that a fellow Urbana-ite, Melissa Applebee, was appearing on the game show "Jeopardy" this evening (12/23). However, she lamented, Jeopardy host Alex Trebec pronounced the name of her town as "Urbahna". (It reminded me of people from Colorado and Nevada lamenting that outsiders don't pronounce the penultimate syllables in those Latinate state-names as a short 'a' vowel. Whaddyagonnado?)

So I went in search of the origin of the seemingly-Latinate name of my friend's Illinois town. (Of course, in Italian, Spanish & Portuguese, it means “urban”.)

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"Suffered We Protect They"

I came across this post on a Chinese blog, and it features new propaganda from the Liuzhou Police SWAT Team.

Here's a sample, in case the author's fears of having to take it down are realized:

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Fat shaming (?) in Rōmaji

Nathan Hopson found this poster hanging up all over student bulletin boards at Nagoya University in Japan:

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Miracle

This signpost is from a building near the subway station closest to Nathan Hopson's apartment in Nagoya:

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The moos you can moo

Geoff Pullum, always forthright, looks at some typical journalistic anthropomorphisms about animal communication and calls them "lies" ("Now it's cows that use names (sigh)", LLOG 12/20/2014):

The bottom line is that when it comes to language, journalists simply make stuff up. They are shockingly careless in all sorts of ways (in accuracy of quotations, for example, as Mark has pointed out many times), but when it comes to animal language it's far worse than that. They actually print what are obviously lies, even when the text of the same article makes it clear that they are lying.

I was curious about the background of this case, which as Geoff notes is a particular instance of a generic class of untruths, so I looked into it a bit more closely.

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Sony hacker language

Everybody is in a tizzy over the hacking of Sony Pictures.  Most people assume that North Korea was behind the hacking, which caused Sony Pictures to withdraw "The Interview" shortly before it was supposed to open in theaters.

Some of the coverage: "U.S. Intelligence Connects North Korea to Sony Hack: Reports", Newsweek 12/17/14; "A Look At North Korea's Cyberwar Capabilities", Huffington Post 12/18/14; "Obama May Have Forced Sony To Release 'The Interview'", Business Insider12/20/14.

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Kanji of the year 2014

As chosen by ballots to the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Public Interest Foundation (Nihon Kanji Nōryoku Kentei Kyōkai 日本漢字能力検定協会, more commonly known as Kanken 漢検), the annual "Kanji of the Year" (kotoshi no kanji 今年の漢字) for 2014 is zei 税 ("tax"), with 8,679 (5.18% of the total) votes.

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Chinese WOTY 2014

Three years ago, Language Log covered what we referred to as the "Morpheme(s) of the Year" (12/17/11).

Two years ago, we advanced to "Chinese character of the year: mèng 梦 ('dream')" (12/25/12).

And last year, we looked at "'Words / Characters of the Year' for 2013 in Taiwan and in China" (12/26/13).

Toward the end of last month, the tension began to build in the selection process for this year:  "APEC Blue, Tigers and Flies: What Chinese Phrase Best Describes 2014?" (11/28/14).

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Now it's cows that use names (sigh)

According to a sub-headline in Full-Time Whistle, new scientific research has shown that "Cows and their calves communicate using individualised calls equivalent to human names."

How interesting. Cows have enough linguistic sophistication to employ the high-level device of personal naming? Let us delve into the details just a little, without moving away from the article itself.

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Which is what we what?

Charles Belov sent in a link to an AP story that contains a puzzling quote from SONY's CEO Michael Lynton ("Sony responds: 'We had no choice'", AP 12/20/2014):

Since Wednesday when Sony cancelled the film’s Dec. 25 release, the studio has come under withering criticism by those who have said capitulating to hackers sets a dangerous precedent. Everyone from George Clooney to Newt Gingrich has bitterly reproached Sony for what they've called self-censorship that goes against American ideals of freedom of expression. Obama said the same Friday morning.  

‘‘I wish they had spoken to me first,’’ said Obama in a press conference. ‘‘We cannot have a society in which some dictatorship someplace can start imposing censorship.’’  

But in an interview with CNN on Friday, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton disputed that, saying: ‘‘The President, the press and the public are mistaken about what happened.’’ He also said that he spoke to a senior adviser in the White House about the situation.  

‘‘We were taken by surprise by the theaters, which is what we wanted to do first. Now we’re trying to proceed and figure out what the next steps would be,’’ Lynton told CNN.

As Charles noted, the sentence in bold doesn't seem to make any sense.

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