- Website: http://ling.upenn.edu/~myl
Posts by Mark Liberman:
A dozen people have sent me links to this blog post — "Presidential Debate Grammar Power Rankings", Grammarly Blog 10/6/2015 — or to various commentaries on it, e.g. Justin Moyer, "Trump supporters have the worst Facebook grammar, study finds", WaPo 10/7/2015; Emily Atkin, "New Analysis Ranks Presidential Candidates By Their Supporters’ Grammar", ThinkProgress 10/6/2015; Paul Singer, "Democrats crush Republicans in grammar; Chafee on top", USA Today; "Trump First in the Polls, But His Supporters Are Last in Grammar", Yahoo! Health 10/7/2015; etc.
I don't have time this afternoon to write anything more about this, so feel free to talk among yourselves…
Claire Landsbaum, "Research Confirms Using Periods in Texts Makes You Seem Pissed Off", ComPlex 10/3/2015:
Before texts, every sentence ended with a period. But with the advent of impersonal electronic communication, line breaks became a quicker and easier way to express the end of a thought. "The default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all," Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told The New Republic. "In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like, 'This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.'" In other words, because the period is a deliberate choice, including it is especially passive-aggressive.
Yogi Berra may or may not have said that "You can observe a lot just by watching". He didn't add that you can learn a lot just by counting — but as a baseball person, he surely knew the power of simple statistics.
You can learn a lot about G.K. Chesterton from the Wikipedia article about him, including his observation that "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." But Wikipedia won't tell you that his fiction writing had a striking, perhaps unique, statistical property: he hardly ever uses feminine pronouns.
And what sort of factory? That's what Stephen B. wondered when he read the Guardian headline, "German factory orders slide unexpectedly".
In the running for attachment ambiguity of the week is a photo caption from Simon Johnson and Ben Hirschler, "Beating Parasites wins three scientists Nobel Prize for medicine", Reuters 10/5/2015:
Henry Thompson wonders (by email) whether something is changing in English syntax:
This from a 30ish native speaker of American English, with a PhD, definitely literate.
"I had a quick glance at sections of the [xxx], and it does have
some good tips, so I'd encourage you to look over it:"
The issue is whether a verb-associated intransitive preposition goes before or after a direct object. The standard view is that either order is possible with full noun-phrase objects, while unstressed pronominal objects can only precede the preposition:
Kim pointed out the mistake.
Kim pointed the mistake out.
*Kim pointed out it.
Kim pointed it out.
Henry has noticed (he thinks) an increasing number of violations of this pattern:
I first noticed this is spoken English, e.g. ripped off them, fucked over me, picked up it, in the 1970s, and I feel like it's been steadily occurring in my hearing since then.
Initially baffled by this BBC headline. Thought "ship" was a noun and "rolls" a verb. pic.twitter.com/otnLWElvui
— Ralph Harrington (@ralphharrington) October 3, 2015
[h/t Ian Preston]
Several people sent me links to this headline. One submitter wrote "I’ve enjoyed many ambiguous headlines in my few years of following Language Log. Today I ran across this one, which I read entirely wrong at first (how does a baby track down a nurse?):"
"Woman burned as a baby tracks down nurse who cared for her", Chicago Tribune 9/30/2015.
Upcoming editions of the Festival of Bad ad Hoc Hypotheses will take place in San Francisco, Seattle, and London. If you're not sure what these are like, here's a winning entry from BahFest West 2014:
Paul Kay wrote to point to a sexist joke that inverts a scalar predicate, in a way that's similar to what happens in the "No head injury is too trivial to be ignored" / "No wug is too dax to be zonged" type of misnegation:
The speed in which a woman says "nothing" when asked "What's wrong?" is inversely proportional to the severity of the shit storm that's coming.
Melvin Jules Bukiet, "What's Your Pronoun?", The Chronicle Review 9/21/2015:
[H]aving learned to adapt to unexpected or previously unknown pronouns, I am confronted by a new wrinkle in the language of identification. As one of the staff members at the college where I teach recently informed the faculty, "Some of the students will prefer to be referred to as ‘they.’ "
Really? Or rather, no, because here my problem is practical. Specifically, it’s what verb to use in those pesky evaluations. I cannot bring myself to write, "They is a good student." Nor can I write, "They are a good student." And I simply won’t write about an individual, "They are good students," because "they" are not Walt Whitman. "They" do not contain multitudes. They are entitled to their own identity, but not to their own grammar. Therefore, in lieu of any pronoun, I will use whatever name a student provides. This will lead to a stilted paragraph, but it won’t be wrong.
Beatrice Santorini's Linguistic Humor page has a good collection of sayings attributed to Yogi Berra (1925-2015). Maybe the most relevant one today is "Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours".
I won't be able to attend Yogi's funeral, but I'll link to his NYT obituary.
Update — and to Ben Zimmer at Slate, "Yogi Berra Turned Linguistic Vice into Virtue with His Cock-Eyed Tautologies".
Update #2 — "Yogi was an anchor baby".
Several people have sent this in: "Scots 'have 421 words' for snow", BBC News 9/23/2015:
Academics have officially logged 421 terms – including "snaw" (snow), "sneesl" (to begin to rain or snow) and "skelf" (a large snowflake).
The study by the University of Glasgow is part of a project to compile the first Historical Thesaurus of Scots, which is being published online.
The research team have also appealed for people to send in their own words.