- Website: http://ling.upenn.edu/~myl
Posts by Mark Liberman:
Yesterday I was skimming the digital New York Times and clicked on the second-from-the-right item in the panel below, without noticing the "paid post" superscript:
This took me to an article about a new smartphone app called Somebody:
Here’s how Somebody works: when you send your friend or loved one a message through the app, it doesn’t go directly to them, but uses GPS to locate the Somebody user nearest to him or her. This person (probably a stranger) delivers the message verbally, acting as your stand-in.
In the course of writing about the "fourth highest of five levels", I looked around at how the pattern "Nth Xest" is used in general. I found that uses of such expressions overwhelmingly count from the "top" where X names a top-oriented scale (high, big, long, etc.), and count from the "bottom" where X names a bottom-oriented scale (low, small, short, etc.) In other words, unsurprisingly, "Nth Xest" normally counts (up or down) from whatever end of the scale "Xest" names.
Another (less logically necessary but still unsurprising) thing I noticed is that top-oriented counts are always a lot bigger than corresponding bottom-oriented counts, and that counts decrease almost-proportionately as N increases. Thus from Google Books ngrams:
We culturally-evolved plains apes often have problems dealing with scalar predicates, flipping direction even when negation isn't involved. Here's the UK "terror threat level" scale:
On Friday, the British government raised the level from "substantial" to "severe". Several news outlets described this as "the fourth highest" level — thus Laura Smith-Spark, Andrew Carey and Greg Botelhom, "UK raises terror threat level, citing risks out of Syria, Iraq", CNN 8/30/2014:
The UK government raised its terror threat level Friday from "substantial" to "severe," the fourth highest of five levels, in response to events in Iraq and Syria, where ISIS militants have seized a large swath of territory.
"Uyghur linguist sentenced to 18-month prison term in China", LSA News 8/28/2014:
The LSA has learned from news reports published this week that Abduweli Ayup has been ordered to pay a large fine and continue his detention in a Chinese prison for the next six months. The LSA had sent a letter earlier this year to government officials in China and the U.S., seeking details about Abduweli's alleged crimes, and legal intervention on his behalf, consistent with international covenants on human rights. Friends of Abduweli's have established a fundraising page on the YouCaring website to assist in raising a portion of the $13,000 (USD) fine imposed by the Chinese government.
The "technology is destroying our humanity" trope has been around for thousands of years, certainly since the invention of writing devalued textual memorization. I wouldn't be surprised if there were analogous complaints about the invention of the spear.
The most overhyped version of this trope that I've ever seen was the 2009 "Twitter numbs our sense of morality and makes us indifferent to human suffering" scandal, where hundreds of media outlets wrung their hands over a study that had nothing to do with either Twitter or morality (see "Debasing the coinage of rational inquiry: a case study", 4/22/2009). Running a close second is the 2005 "emails, text and phone messages are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than taking cannabis" kerfuffle (see "An apology", 9/25/2005).
But the current "Access to Screens is Lowering Kids' Social Skills" paroxysm is offering some stiff competition to these classics in the anti-technology nonsense department.
Matt Murphy, "Is 'unbecoming' becoming a sexist word? Warren Tolman apologizes after calling opponent Maura Healey unbecoming during debate", State House News Service 8/27/2014:
BOSTON — Democratic attorney general candidate Warren Tolman apologized on Wednesday if anyone was offended by his use of the word "unbecoming" to describe his opponent Maura Healey's criticism of his private sector record, as female Healey supporters blasted the comment as "sexist."
Tolman used the word during a Boston Globe Opinion debate Tuesday as Healey criticized him for not being forthcoming about his registration as a federal lobbyist while working as an attorney at Holland & Knight.
The episode conjured memories of a 2002 debate when former candidate for governor Mitt Romney drew the ire of prominent women like Teresa Heinz Kerry and Hillary Clinton for describing then Treasurer Shannon O'Brien's attacks on his abortion position as "unbecoming."
D.C., who sent in the link, wondered whether "'Unbecoming' is to women as 'Burly' is to African-Americans?"
Geeta Pandey, "An 'English goddess' for India's down-trodden", BBC News 2/15/2011:
The Dalit (formerly untouchable) community is building a temple in Banka village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to worship the Goddess of the English language, which they believe will help them climb up the social and economic ladder.
About two feet tall, the bronze statue of the goddess is modelled after the Statue of Liberty.
"She is the symbol of Dalit renaissance," says Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer who came up with the idea of the Goddess of English.
"She holds a pen in her right hand which shows she is literate. She is dressed well and sports a huge hat – it's a symbol of defiance that she is rejecting the old traditional dress code.
"In her left hand, she holds a book which is the constitution of India which gave Dalits equal rights. She stands on top of a computer which means we will use English to rise up the ladder and become free for ever."
Kyle Massey, "‘Burly,’ a Word With a Racially Charged History", NYT 8/25/2014:
As protests raged after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two articles in The Times on Aug. 16 referred to both Mr. Brown and the state police captain overseeing security in the case as “burly.” Both Mr. Brown and the captain, Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, are black.
Readers wrote to say that “burly” has long been a racial stereotype; the word hasn’t appeared in this context in The Times since the readers’ notes.
So here is the tale of a troublesome word with a fraught history and how The Times came to reconsider its use.
"Noam Chomsky to become new X-Factor judge", NewsBiscuit 8/23/2014:
Professor of linguistics and political campaigner Noam Chomsky has been confirmed as the new judge on TV talent show The X Factor. ‘Cheryl Cole was still recovering from malaria and we needed someone who could fill the intellectual void,’ said programme creator Simon Cowell, ‘Professor Chomsky is perfect and the audience just loves him.’
In today's xkcd, a list of
The relevant bit of the song goes like this:
Andy Schwartz recently gave me a copy of word counts by sex and age for the Facebook posts from the PPC's World Well-Being Project. So I thought I'd compare some of the Facebook counts to data from the LDC's archive of conversational speech transcripts. As a start, here's a comparison of rates of pronoun usage in the PPC Facebook sample and in the transcripts of the LDC's Fisher English datasets (combining Part 1 and Part 2).