Mark Liberman

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

Posts by Mark Liberman:

    Age, sex, and f0

    I've recently been working with Naomi Nevler and others from Penn's Frontotemporal Degeneration Center on quantifying the diverse effects in speech and language of various neurodegenerative conditions. As part of an effort to establish baselines, I turned to the English-language part of the "Fisher" datasets of conversational telephone speech (LDC2004S13, LDC2004T19, LDC2005S13, LDC2005T19), where we have basic demographic information for 11,971 speakers, including age and sex. These datasets comprise 11,699  short telephone conversations between strangers on assigned topics, or 23,398 conversational sides, with a total duration of 1,958.5 hours. The calls were recorded in 2003.

    For this morning's Breakfast Experiment™, I took a look at age-related changes in pitch range, as quantified by quantiles of fundamental frequency (f0) estimates. We have time-aligned transcripts, so after pitch-tracking everything, I can extract the f0 estimates for each speaker, combine them across calls if the speaker was involved in more than one call, and calculate various simple statistics. Here are the median values for the 90th, 50th, and 10th percentile of f0 estimates by decade of age from 20s to 70s. Values for female speakers are in red, and for male speakers in blue:

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    "Watch the predicate"

    From Jonathan Lundell:

    Can't think of anyone to ask but LL… what on earth does this mean?

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    Originalism 2.0

    An email from Jonathan Weinberg:

    I’m passing along, for whatever interest it holds, Jonathan Gienapp’s new (to my mind very good) essay on originalism in constitutional law, which I thought you might appreciate.  [(myl) Jonathan Gienapp, "Constitutional Originalism and History", Process 3/20/2017.] His focus is on originalists’ shift from their initial position that the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with its drafters’ intentions, to their more recent position that it should be interpreted in accordance with its “original public meaning” — that is, in accordance with what a well-educated person, at the time the document was promulgated, would have understood its text to mean.  Gienapp makes the point, which I had not before thought to put that way, that while “Originalism 1.0” called for the use of historians’ tools, Originalism 2.0 — the search for original public meaning — calls instead for linguists’ tools.  As a historian, he decries this; he urges that historians’ tools are essential to determine the meaning of a document in its original historical context.

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    "Bare-handed speech synthesis"

    This is neat: "Pink Trombone", by Neil Thapen.

    By the same author — doodal:

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    Misunderestimation of the month

    "Scottish parliament to seek new independence vote despite UK government rebuff", Reuters 3/22/2017:

    Holding a non-binding referendum would be damaging, argues Stephen Tierney, Professor of Constitutional Theory at Edinburgh Law School, because it would not provide certainty in a highly divisive situation.  

    "The central importance of commonly agreed rules and a neutral referee in a situation of deep disagreement when the stakes are high cannot be under-estimated," he said.

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    Renaming anonymous

    Paula Abul sends in a spooneristic eggcorn:

    I've just come across an eggcorn I've never seen before, and thought it might interest you. It is the phrase "who will rename anonymous", in place of the more usual "remain anonymous". A cursory Google search shows a fair few instances.

    Her example is from Kate Allen, "What Your Hairstylist Really Thinks of Your Groupon", Hello Giggles 11/21/2013:

    But recently, I’ve received an overwhelming request from hairdressers (who will rename anonymous) to write a guideline for the proper etiquette for using a coupon (Living Social, Groupon, Amazon Local Deal) for a beauty service.

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    Irish "would"

    Below is an email from Eoin Ryan (with added audio):


    Last week on Language Log you posted about a "tentative would" as used by Mike Pence, which reminded me of a use of "would" which I find interesting and may be similar, but I think it is different. Also, last week I had no clear examples to hand, which was a reason not to jump into the comments of the previous post.

    Martin McGuinness died this morning. As a central and complex figure in both the Northern Irish Troubles, Peace Process and devolved Stormont parliament, his death is receiving blanket media coverage. A radio host named Ryan Tubridy has a show every weekday morning at 9 on RTE 1 (one of the national radio channels) and he too could not but talk about McGuinness, and this is how he led off:

    As you can imagine, it is wall-to-wall
    uh talk of
    uh the passing of Martin McGuinness, which
    is news that I would have woken up to this morning and uh as soon as I checked
    the uh newspapers and the headlines and so forth it was the uh
    it was the opening story.

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    "Made Beaver" and more

    As of March 17 2017, DCHP-2 went live: the Second Edition of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. The Project History, by Stefan Dollinger and Margery Fee, is worth reading — it includes this interesting variation on James Murray's Reading Programme:

    Because funding was slow to materialize, we adapted our data collection methods to a format suitable for the classroom. Students learned original research and provided some data for the project (Dollinger 2010a). In January 2008, with the help of UBC and SSHRC funding, we were in the position to open our offices. In the "Canadian English Lab" we completed between early 2008 and Fall 2010 the main data collection for the Bank of Canadian English based on a data "harvesting" scheme and a list of codified Canadianisms compiled from three print dictionaries (Canadian Oxford Dictionary 2004, the Gage Canadian Dictionary 1997 and the ITP Nelson Dictionary 1997). The years 2010-11 were primarily occupied with the proofreading of the scanned DCHP-1 and its conversion for the web. In 2007, UBC Archives scanned DCHP-1 free of charge, which produced the file that was imported to our online dictionary environment. In 2012-13 we began to work out the editorial principles that would guide the editing process of DCHP-2. Drafting of entries began in 2012 and was largely completed by the spring of 2015. The revising of entries was slower, partly because drafting was handed over to undergraduate and graduate students, which added more training tasks than is customary. Three student assistants, Baillie Ford, Alexandra Gaylie and Gabrielle Lim, drafted most of the entries. Other student drafters were Emily Briggs, Jona Dervishaj, Ana Martic and Dorota Lockyer.

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    Limerick Poems and Civil Wars

    This is a St. Patrick's Day guest post by Stephen Goranson.


    The five-line nonsense verses with AABBA rhymes existed long before they were called Limericks, it's generally agreed, but why they got that name lacks consensus.

    Let's start with an example:

    There was a young rustic named Mallory
    Who drew but a very small salary.
    He went to the show,
    But his purse was so
    That he sat in the uppermost gallery.
    Tune: wont you come [up] to Limerick

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    "Descending" votes and voices

    From Elliott Penegar:

    I was reading school board minutes (don’t ask) and noticed that the board secretary had noted several times that a board member had cast a “descending vote.”  I thought, “What was the member doing, voting while walking down the stairs?” No. She evidently meant “dissenting vote.” But it was “descending” each and every time . . .

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    Tentative "would"?

    Andrew Kaczynski, "Pence calls Assange tweets about 'Pence takeover' of White House 'absurd' and 'offensive'", CNN News 3/14/2017:

    Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that two tweets from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claiming a possible "Pence takeover" of the White House were "absurd" and "frankly offensive."

    "I would find all of that dialogue to be absurd and frankly offensive," Pence told radio host Laura Ingraham.

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    The accommodation

    Yesterday in phonetics class we were discussing accommodation — the way that people adapt the way they talk depending on who they're talking with — and I noted that broadcast interview programs are a natural source of evidence, since the same host speaks at length with many different guests. Previous posts have looked at accommodation in a couple of features on the Philadelphia-based broadcast interview program Fresh Air ("UM/UH accommodation", 11/24/2015; "Like thanks", 11/26/2015). During yesterday's class, it occurred to me that it would make sense to look at accommodation in the use of the definite article the, since the is one of the commonest words in English, and yet the rates vary surprisingly widely across time, registers, genders, moods, and individuals.

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    If we have learned nothing in this election

    From Allison Stanger, "Understanding the Angry Mob at Middlebury That Gave Me a Concussion", NYT 3/13/2017 [emphasis added]:

    Students are in college in part to learn how to evaluate sources and follow up on ideas with their own research. The Southern Poverty Law Center incorrectly labels Dr. Murray a “white nationalist,” but if we have learned nothing in this election, it is that such claims must be fact-checked, analyzed and assessed. Faulty information became the catalyst for shutting off the free exchange of ideas at Middlebury.

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