Siri can you hear me?

Wired.com has some perfect linguaphile clickbait: “Watch People With Accents Confuse the Hell Out of AI Assistants.”  By “accents” they mean, non-American ones (e.g., Irish English). The AI Assistants were Siri, Amazon Echo, and Google Home. I’m curious about how well the voice recognition systems in these devices work with varieties of spoken English, so I clicked. Sucker! Can’t tell anything from the video except that it’s fun to say “Add Worcestershire sauce to my shopping list” to a machine.  This definitely beats asking Siri “What is the meaning of life?”

Mainly I was impressed by how poorly I understood the speakers.  I have a bad time understanding other people’s accents  but that’s only one data point.  How well do people understand speech that is in the same language as their own but spoken with a different accent?

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Study the linguistics of Game of Thrones

At the instant of posting this, there are only 18 places remaining out of the 40 maximum in Linguistics 183 001, David Peterson’s summer session course at UC Berkeley on “The Linguistics of Game of Thrones and the Art of Language Invention.” 3 to 5 p.m., Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu, May 22 to June 30.

It’s not a ‘Structure of Dothraki’ course; it’s about how you go about inventing languages (Peterson has done this for film and TV several times, and has been paid money for it).

Hurry to sign up. And don’t ever let me hear you saying that linguistics doesn’t provide fun things to do.

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-ist vs. -ic in Riyadh

During last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump was repeatedly insistent that everyone should use the term “radical Islamic terrorism”. For example, his reaction to the Orlando massacre, from Inside Edition 7/13/2016:

Announcer: Trump spoke out about the massacre today, saying the president is afraid to call it an act of Islamic terrorism.
Donald Trump: He won’t even use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” which I think is insulting to our country and it’s insulting to everybody. And if you don’t use the term, if you don’t describe what’s happening, you’re never going to solve the problem.

So like many others, I was curious how he would handle the issue in his speech to the “Arab Islamic American Summit” yesterday in Riyadh.

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Schrödinger’s pundit

Today’s SMBC:

Mouseover title: “On second thought, let’s just leave them in the box.”

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The unreasonable hilarity of recurrent neural networks

If you haven’t done so already, read Andrej Karpathy, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks“. And then Janelle Shane, “New paint colors invented by neural network“.

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Trends in presidential pitch II

In Trends in presidential pitch (5/19/2017), I observed that the median fundamental frequency (= “pitch”) of President Trump’s weekly addresses has increased  steadily since January, by about 30%.  As a point of comparison, I did the same calculation for President Obama’s first few months of  weekly addresses, from 1/24/2009 to 5/23/2009, in comparison to Trump’s weekly addresses from 1/28/2017 to 5/19/2017:

[I’ve omitted Trump’s three addresses from 3/3/2017, 3/25/2017, and 3/31/2017, because of the differences in recording context and production style explained in the earlier post. Because Obama seems not to have recorded any weekly addresses in February of 2009, the time span of the 13 plotted weekly addresses from the two presidencies is very nearly the same. ]

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BARF (Belt and Road Forum) 2.0

[This is a guest post by the inimitable satirist, S. Tsow]

[1.0 is this: “BARF (Belt and Road Forum)” (5/19/17)]

Xi Jinping (“Mr. Eleven” [XI]) calls his New Silk Road initiative “One Belt, One Road”  (Yidai-Yilu).  A map I have shows a land route in the north, going westward, bifurcating at Urumchi, and ending at Rotterdam and Istanbul.  OK, that’s the “belt”.  The “road” shows a sea route in the south that wanders all over the place and ends in the west at Venice.

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BARF (Belt and Road Forum)

We are currently in the midst of a massive propaganda barrage unleashed upon the world by the People’s Republic of China.  It’s all about something that started out being called “Yīdài yīlù 一帶一路” (“One Belt One Road”), at least that’s what it was named when I first heard about it a year or two ago.  The Chinese publicists writing about it in English may have just styled it “The Belt and Road”, but everybody I know spoke of it as “One Belt One Road” — “OBOR” for short, which reminded me of Über.

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Trends in presidential pitch

I’ve been downloading the audio for Donald Trump’s Weekly Addresses from whitehouse.gov, as I did for George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And as I did for the previous presidents, I listen to the results and sometimes do simple acoustic-phonetic analyses — see e.g. “Raising his voice“, 10/8/2011; “Political sound and silence“, 2/8/2016. Recently I thought I noticed a significant change in Mr. Trump’s pitch range, and a quick check confirmed this impression.

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Use of the I-word

Trevor Noah explains the cultural constraints:

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“White left” — a Chinese calque in English

I had never heard of “white left” until two or three days ago when I read this article by Chenchen Zheng in openDemocracy (5/11/17):

The curious rise of the ‘white left’ as a Chinese internet insult“.

It’s an intelligent, thought-provoking piece, followed by a stimulating discussion among the commenters who come from many perspectives and venture into all sorts of relevant areas (e.g., immigration, race, social constructionism, deregulation, privatization, healthcare, and so on, but even more purely philosophical questions as well).

What I find particularly interesting about the issues swirling around “white left” is that they were initially broached in the context of China, which means that both the advocates and detractors of “white left” thinking were outsiders critiquing the West, yet wondering what implications the “white left” critique of the social, political, and economic situation in the West hold for themselves.

Here’s the epigraph:

Meet the Chinese netizens who combine a hatred for the ‘white left’ with a love of US president Donald Trump.

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Machine learning

Today’s xkcd: slightly unfair, but funny:

Mouseover title: “The pile gets soaked with data and starts to get mushy over time, so it’s technically recurrent.”

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“Fli??ed me off”

Sent in with the comment “Who the hell says ‘flicked off’ instead of ‘flipped off’??”

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