Mark Liberman

Website: http://ling.upenn.edu/~myl

Posts by Mark Liberman:

    Why not a simple, straightforward directory?

    From C.M., a sign in the Sydney, Australia, suburb of Waterloo:

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    Form, function, fun

    In "Pragmatics as comedy" (1/28/2010) I discussed a blog post and two comedy sketches that enact familiar rhetorical structures through a series of self-referential descriptions. Thus Chris Clarke's "This is the title of a typical incendiary blog post" (1/24/2010):

    This sentence contains a provocative statement that attracts the readers’ attention, but really only has very little to do with the topic of the blog post. This sentence claims to follow logically from the first sentence, though the connection is actually rather tenuous. This sentence claims that very few people are willing to admit the obvious inference of the last two sentences, with an implication that the reader is not one of those very few people. This sentence expresses the unwillingness of the writer to be silenced despite going against the popular wisdom. This sentence is a sort of drum roll, preparing the reader for the shocking truth to be contained in the next sentence.

    This sentence contains the thesis of the blog post, a trite and obvious statement cast as a dazzling and controversial insight.

    Jon Wu's "A Generic College Paper", recently published at McSweeney's Internet Tendency, is a worthy addition to the genre.

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    Wanting that very (no)thing

    Robert Neubecker, "Parents, the Children Will Be Fine. Spend Their Inheritance Now.", NYT 9/19/2014, reports "polling data from both older Americans and their adult children about whether they expected to leave or receive an inheritance":

    Among the parents, ages 59 to 96, 86.2 percent expected to leave a bequest. But just 44.6 percent of the children, ages 40 to 60, thought they would get one. [...]

    The message here would seem to be that aging parents are generous to a fault, if a bit manipulative on occasion. Adult children, meanwhile, accept their obligations to care for their parents with little expectation of receiving anything in return, though some who remain on the dole well into adulthood expect their parents to provide for them from the grave too.

    The study’s yes-no questions, however, are relatively limiting. Many parents may be hoping to leave just a token amount, after all. Adult children might lie about their expectations to please the researchers, too. And besides, even if you expect nothing it doesn’t mean that you don’t badly want that very thing.

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    Sex, age, and pronouns on Facebook

    Andy Schwartz and others at the World Well-Being Project have worked with "Facebook posts from over 75,000 volunteers who also took the standard Interpersonal Personality Item Pool (IPIP) personality test to measure the 'Big Five' personality traits", looking for linguistic features that correlate with those aspects of personality measured by that test.

    Lyle Ungar talked about this work a few days ago (Andy was unfortunately out of town), for an audience of mostly first-year undergraduates. The venue was a weekly event, Dinners With Interesting People, held in the Quad, an undergraduate residence here at Penn.

    This year, the DWIP talks (though still open to the public) are integrated into a Freshman Seminar called "The Landscape of Research and Innovation at Penn". The idea is to give the participants a general idea of what kinds of research go on around here, and how they might get involved. As part of the course, I've asked DWIP guests to provide a dataset that we can use as part of a course assignment in quantitative analysis.  Since the students have widely varied backgrounds in mathematics, statistics, and programming, and since the quantitative analysis part of the course is only one of several aspects, the assignments start with an R script that does something interesting, with the assigned task being to modify the script to do something a bit different.

    In this case, Andy was kind enough to give me a table indicating number of posts and token counts for each "word", in their Facebook dataset, for males and females of each age.  Inspired by Jamie Pennebaker's The Secret Life of Pronouns,  I decided to focus the quantitative analysis assignment around the issue of pronoun usage. The body of this post lays out some of the things that I've noticed in setting the assignment up.

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    Fairy Ann

    David Shariatmadari, "That eggcorn moment: If you’ve been signalled out by friends for saying ‘when all is set and done’, you’re not alone – linguists even have a word for it", The Guardian 9/16/2014:

    Learning your mother tongue might seem effortless, but doesn’t always go without a hitch. In particular, you may hear certain sets of words and break them down wrongly in your head. So long as your version is plausible, sounds the same, and you’re not asked to write it down, the error can persist for years. I was in sixth form when I realised my version of “as opposed to” wasn’t widely shared. I thought it was “as a pose to”, which in my head implied some kind of challenge to an existing idea, like posing a question.

    Confirming the general public's fascination with linguistics, there are 1108 comments so far.

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    Matched guise among the tombstones

    Lawrence Block's 1992 novel A Walk Among the Tombstones has been made into a recently-released movie. I haven't seen the movie, but in the book, the character TJ carries out what sociolinguists would call a "matched guise experiment".  This is a technique for measuring language attitudes by having the same speaker read a passage in two different ways, and asking hearers a series of questions about the speaker's intelligence, honesty, or whatever.

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    Accent elimination class

    In a better world, the speakers of the "standard" variety would take a prejudice elimination class instead.

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    Baby blues

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    Predictive poetry

    A few years ago, people noticed that the predictive typing on Android smartphones could construct interesting phrases all on its own: "Your typical sentence", 6/13/2012. iOS 8 has caught up  – Geoffrey Fowler and Joanna Stern, "iOS 8 Keyboard Makes Hilarious 'Mad Libs' For You", WSJ 9/17/2014:

    Now the latest version of Apple’s iPhone software, iOS 8, adds a layer of smarts on top of autocorrect called QuickType, predictive typing of a sort previously found on Android. Not only does it suggest spelling, it also suggests words you might want to type next. If you keep following its train of robotic thought, QuickType will form entire sentences on your behalf.

    The result is so goofy that it is brilliant. For the last week, we—your WSJ personal technology columnists—have been conducting serious tests of the new iPhones and iOS 8, while also holding nonsensical auto-generated conversations with each other.

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    The things neither of them don't do

    Charlie C. writes:

    “There are countless things neither the iPhone 6 nor the 6 Plus don’t do” [link]    

    Huh??  Does this say what we know it means?  

    I’m still in a loop on this one. Every time I read it I grind to a halt.  I could go to the Wikipedia and give myself a short refresher course on Boolean logic and then see if I could do the conversion from English to Boolean correctly, or… here I am.

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    UM / UH map in the media

    Jack Grieve's map ("UM / UH geography", 8/13/2014) has been featured in an article by Nikhil Sonnad, "Um, here’s an, uh, map that shows where Americans use 'um' vs. 'uh'", Quartz 9/15/2014. Unfortunately, the lovely map in the article reverses the UM and UH areas  (just as I did in the first version of the 8/13 post):

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    Um and Uh in Dutch

    Below is a guest post by Martijn Wieling, following up on a series of LLOG postings over the years on the effects of sex, age, geography and other factors on the relative frequency of the filler words um and uh: "Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005; "Fillers: Autism, gender, and age", 7/30/2014; "More on UM and UH", 8/3/2014; "UM UH 3", 8/4/2014; "Educational UM / UH", 8/13/2014; "UM / UH geography", 8/13/2014; "UM / UH: Life-cycle effects vs. language change", 8/15/2014; "Filled pauses in Glasgow", 8/17/2014.

    I was surprised to see this effect in the first place; and more surprised to see it robustly replicated in a variety of American English datasets; and even more surprised to see the same pattern in Glasgow. The fact that the same pattern is also found in Dutch raises some interesting questions, about which more later.


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    Another casual lie from Charles Krauthammer

    "Krauthammer: 'Obama Clearly a Narcissist,' 'Lives In a Cocoon Surrounded By Sycophants'", Fox News 9/16/2014:

    "This is all because, I mean, count the number of times he uses the word I in any speech, and compare that to any other president. Remember when he announced the killing of bin Laden? That speech I believe had 29 references to I – on my command, I ordered, as commander-in-chief, I was then told, I this. You’d think he’d pulled the trigger out there in Abbottabad. You know, this is a guy, you look at every one of his speeches, even the way he introduces high officials – I’d like to introduce my secretary of State. He once referred to ‘my intelligence community’. And in one speech, I no longer remember it, ‘my military’. For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor, Napoleon."

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    At the Peevers' Jamboree

    Alison Flood at Guardian Books extracts a famous author's top linguistic peeves from an interview about how to teach writing ("Stephen King has named his most hated expressions. What are yours?", 9/15/2014),

    The Atlantic’s fantastic interview on teaching, writing and reading with Stephen King is well worth reading in full. [...] But perhaps the most interesting part is where teacher and writer Jessica Lahey wrangles out of King what his most irritating phrases of the moment are. [...] Naming her own most irksome new phrase as “on accident” – and I’m slightly bemused as to how to use this one, so can happily state I’ve not sinned here – Lahey asked King if he had any additions to this list.

    King's response was rather mild:

    “’Some people say’, or ‘Many believe,’ or ‘The consensus is’. That kind of lazy attribution makes me want to kick something. Also, IMHO, YOLO, and LOL,” said the novelist.

    So Flood confesses her own sin, identifying her "own most irritating word/phrase of the moment: brainchild", and then gets to the clickbait point, inviting her readers to let their own peeve flags fly:

    I have used it in the past, on a few occasions , and I’m cringing to see it. What a terrible mutant hybrid of a word – why not just say “idea”? Why does it have to be the child of a brain? I vow, here and now, never to let it darken my keyboard again.  [...] Comfort me, please, with your own moments of linguistic shame – and your current most-hated turns of phrase."

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    Returning to from A to B

    From D.D.:

    I'm a 30-yr NYC resident, and I've been speaking American English all my life, more than 50 years now. Even so, I had a hell of a time parsing the prepositions in this headline:

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