As long ago as 1914, an article by the grammarian George O. Curme made the point that more than can modify the verb of an infinitival complement, and since it must be adjacent to the verb, that actually forces a split infinitive: shifting the more than modifier to anywhere else creates clear ambiguity. I found a small measure of comfort in seeing that even The Economist, so often driven to deleteriously unnatural phrasing in its efforts to avoid split infinitives, acknowledges this grammatical imperative. In the November 26 issue for 2016 (online here) we read:
A string of purchases of A380s, starting in 2008, helped traffic to more than double to 51m in 2015.
Sometimes the obeisance to style guides by newspaper editors and journalists looks not so much craven as robotic. The Telegraph provides an example. Like many newspapers, it has a policy of reporting distances in kilometers but appending parenthesized equivalents in miles (it's a conservative newspaper, and is not going to push its mileage-oriented readers toward metric units any time soon). Often that's useful: when it reports that The behemoth Airbus A380 … is capable of carrying 544 passengers up to 15,200km (8,200 miles), the parenthetical suffix serves to assist metrically challenged Americans and older Brits in forming an idea of what 15,200 of those little bitty European kilometer things might amount to. (At least, it would have done if it were correct, but as Bruce Lin has pointed out to me, it's wildly wrong: 15,200 km = 15200/8 * 5 = 9,500 mi. They're off by 1,300 miles. They must have meant nautical miles: 15,200 km = 8207.34 NM. That could be a life-threatening error for a jetliner running low on fuel. But never mind; who's counting.) Sometimes, though, doing such conversions is rather less useful.
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After reading "A new English word" (11/30/16), Yixue Yang sent me the following interesting note on "lihai" ("awesome / awful") in action in China today:
This is a reality check on the current state of automatic speech recognition (ASR) algorithms. I took the 186-word passage by Scottie Nell Hughes discussed in yesterday's post, and submitted it to two different Big-Company ASR interfaces, with amusing results. I'll be interested to see whether other systems can do better. Read the rest of this entry »
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Last week, the Daily NK (from Seoul) published an article by Kang Mi Jin about "Loanwords frequently appearing in the Rodong Sinmun" (11/25/16), South Korean original here. Rodong Sinmun is the official newspaper of the North Korean Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea.
A source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on November 21 that the authorities have been delivering public lectures on the need to “actively fight to eradicate the bad habit of using foreign languages, including words of Japanese origin and the language of the puppet regime (South Korea)." However, many have pointed out the increasingly frequent usage of foreign words in the Rodong Sinmun.
I was surprised to learn that Scottie Nell Hughes has a broadcast communications/political science degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin, rather than a degree in literary theory from Florida International University. This makes her ideas about the relationship of texts to states of affairs all the more remarkable, since she has apparently developed them independently of Stanley Fish, rather than under his guidance.
Here's the most recent evidence of her theoretical sophistication:
The movie "Arrival" has been in theaters for three weeks now, and it has already grossed $100 million worldwide. That's an impressive box-office draw, and it can't all be due to linguists and their friends attending. Clearly this contemplative film, with a field linguist as the heroic protagonist, is resonating with audiences. But what does that mean for linguistics as a discipline and its perception by the public at large? Below is a guest post by Luke Lindemann, a PhD student in linguistics at Yale University who is working on the semantics of ergativity in Indo-Aryan. He is also a member of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project, and I had the pleasure of attending a press screening of "Arrival" with Luke and a few of his colleagues from the YGDP team. The film led to some intense discussions afterwards, as I'm sure it has for linguists everywhere. (In a separate post, I'll round up reactions from linguists since my last "Arrival" post.)
From Harry Asche:
I am a tunnel engineer, and the patron saint of tunnelling is St Barbara. Her saint's day is the 4th of December. I am a bit of a tunnel nut, so on a visit to a church in Europe, I bought a St Barbara card, printed on a handy credit-card sized piece of plastic.
Here is the Prayer to St Barbara, transcribed exactly:
"O God, who among the other miracles of Your power, have given even to the weaker sex the victory of martyrdom, grant, we beseech You, that we, who are celebrating the heavenly birthday of Blessed Barbara, Your Virgin and Martyr, may, by her example, draw nearer to you. Amen."
I am greatly impressed by the complexity of the first sentence. The core is "O God grant that we may draw nearer to you." But this is interrupted by no less than six additional clauses. "That we" and "may" live in little islands on their own.
Is this a result of translation from the Latin? I did five years of Latin at school and it had a lasting negative affect on my ability to write English.
In my introductory undergraduate course on English words, and in most undergraduate introductory courses on linguistics, students are invited to reflect on language and identity—how the way you speak communicates information about who you are—which they are typically very interested in. This isn't my beat, professionally speaking, but as a linguist I have a duty to help my students think through some of these issues (and, if they get interested, point them in the right direction to get really educated). To get started, I often play this one-minute clip of a Meshach Taylor Fresh Air interview from 1990, which is usually a good starting point for some discussion.
But Fresh Air (yes I'm a Terry Gross fangirl) also recently ran an interview with the biracial South African host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah, which contained this ten-minute motherlode of a reflection on multilingualism, language choice, racism, acceptable targets of mimicry, vocabulary size, Trump's communicative abilities, resentment of accented speech… whew. I'm just going to leave it here for your edification and enjoyment. Maybe one of our more sociolinguistically expert Language Loggers will provide some more detailed commentary later. For my part — well, I just invite you to think about what kind of 500-word essay you'd write for a Ling 101 class with this 10-minute clip as your prompt.
To hear the whole interview, or read the transcript, visit the NPR Fresh Air page.
On Saturday the 26th, Yixue Yang and I went to the Ting Wong Restaurant in Philadelphia's Chinatown. I took one look at the menu and knew right away that the first thing I wanted was the second item on the menu, the Congee with Chopped Beef.
Since I began the study of Chinese languages half a century ago, there's one word that I have found very useful and versatile, but extremely hard to translate into English, so in this post I'm going to propose that we might as well just simply (gāncuì 乾脆 = the previous five English words) borrow it into English and be done with it. That word is the almighty, inimitable, the one and only: lìhài!
lìhài 厉害 (simplified) / 厲害 (traditional)
There's a controversy over whether President Xi Jinping called President-elect Donald Trump to congratulate him on his victory in the November 8th election. The problem is summarized in this passage from The Economist:
Chinese officials pay obsessive attention to ensuring the Communist Party’s line is reflected accurately by the country’s main media. But Mr Trump’s victory caught them in a muddle. Several outlets said Mr Xi had telephoned his compliments to Mr Trump. But Mr Trump said he had spoken to or heard from most foreign leaders—except Mr Xi. The phone call did not take place until six days after the vote. In most countries such a mistake would be insignificant, the result of sloppy reporting or ambiguous phrasing (in Mandarin, the phrase “sent a congratulatory note” can also mean “congratulate by phone”). In China it suggested that media overlords were not sure what line to take.
From The Economist, November 19th, 2016, "China" section, page 59 of British edition.