- Website: http://ling.upenn.edu/~myl
Posts by Mark Liberman:
The URL for Chris Christie's new political action committee has occasioned a certain amount of innocent merriment, because LeadershipMattersForAmerica.org naturally suggests the acronym LMFAO, normally interpreted as "laughing my fucking ass off":
Earlier today, someone set up a Facebook account https://www.facebook.com/mark.liberman.121, with a version of my FB profile picture, and began communicating with people as if they were me. My actual FB page is https://www.facebook.com/mark.liberman, which I don't use much except to look at things that people tell me about.
This is apparently a phishing enterprise. The imposter asks people for their phone number and email address and postal address — at least one person gave them this much information — and eventually gets around to money. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Prepositional phrase attachment is one of the hardest things for English parsers to get right: if I hit a man with a bag of groceries, was that bag of groceries the instrument of my action, or was it just something the guy was carrying when I attacked him?
And PP-attachment ambiguity is especially common in English-language headlines, since omitted forms of to be add additional ambiguous attachment points.
For example, Alex Barker, "EU reforms to break up big banks at risk", Financial Times 1/29/2015: Are the reforms at risk, or are the reforms on track to break up banks that are at risk?
From reddit, a road sign in Leopardstown that translates English "Look right" to something like Irish "Look at correct":
Actually there are two semi-falsehoods in that sentence.
In the first place, I actually got the physical publication in the mail about a week ago, even though the issue is dated November 28, and the online article is dated November 21. That's because I live in a university residence, and my university apparently picks up the mail from the post office from time to time, sends it somewhere to be sorted at leisure, and then delivers it to its various destinations by occasional caravan.
The second misleading statement concerns the article's title: the online version is now called "The shrinking world of ideas". Since the URL is still "https://chronicle.com/article/Neuroscience-Is-Ruining-the/150141/", we can guess that the online article's title was changed after the fact. Thereby hangs a tale, though I can only guess what it is.
From Joshua Tyra:
Howard Oakley ("Birth of a new English phrase", 1/23/2015) was struck by the phrase "all proper and shit", in the context of a tweet by Christopher Phin noting that "[choice of printing mode] makes my writing seem all proper and shit". So Howard investigated the history of that four-word sequence by means of various web search tools.
I strongly support the combination of linguistic curiosity and empirical methods, but in this case, I'm puzzled by the fact that Howard saw the phrase as novel. As far as I can see, "all proper and shit" is a syntactically, semantically, and pragmatically compositional combination of two constructions that have existed in English for hundreds of years.
From Missouri House Bill No. 486, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on January 13, 2015 (emphasis added):
The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, superintendents of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution. Such educational authorities in this state shall also endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.
Ron Fournier, "Is Obama More Interested in Progress or Politics?", National Journal, 1/20/2015:
Count how many times Obama uses the words "I," "me," and "my." Compare that number to how often he says, "You," "we," "our." If the first number is greater than the second, Obama has failed.
This leads naturally to a different question: "Is Ron Fournier More Interested in Analysis or in Bullshit?" (where I mean "bullshit" in the technical philosophical sense, of course).
Ten days ago, I documented a striking 20th-century decrease in the frequency of the definite article the ("Decreasing definiteness", 1/8/2015) — from about 6.6% to about 5.4% in the Corpus of Historical American English; from about 6.4% to 5.2% in the Google Books ngram indices; and from about 9.3% to about 4.7% in U.S. presidents' State of the Union messages.
In two follow-up posts, I offered some additional ideas about this change:
In "Why definiteness is decreasing, part 1", I suggested that it might be connected to an overall decrease in the formality of published English, starting with the observation that in contemporary English, the frequency of the varies by a large factor between very formal material (6.42% in the "Academic" genre of the Corpus of American English) and conversational speech (2.47% in the Fisher corpus).
In "Why definiteness is decreasing, part 2", I noted that both in a collection of Facebook posts and in Fisher conversational speech transcripts, older people use the more often than younger people, and men use the more often than women; and I wondered whether this is a stable life-cycle and gender-identity difference, or the result of a change in progress. (Or both…)
Today, I want to discuss a third idea about the decreasing frequency of the, suggested to me by Jamie Pennebaker.
Where do zombies come from? As Wikipedia tells us, it all started with evil Haitian sorcerers using necromancy to create undead slaves. But then, Hollywood invented contagious zombification, originally attributed to radioactive contamination from Venus, but more recently understood to be due to human zombism virus (HZV).
As for zombie rules, all that we really know, in most cases, is where they don't come from. They're not based on observations of language use, even of formal writing by elite authors. Nor are they based on usage advice from knowledgeable authorities. Rather, these mutations in the meme pool seem to pop up spontaneously from time to time, in ordinary literate people who are heavily invested in the idea that some aspects of common usage are ignorant mistakes. Like sexual selection in genetics, prestige-based cultural selection can favor arbitrary and even maladaptive traits, and therefore zombie ideas like "no initial conjunctions", "no final prepositions", and "no split verbs" can spread through an intimidated population for no apparent reason at all.
But still, it's natural to want an explanation, even for weird pseudo-elitist fashion epidemics. So at the risk of post-hoc rationalization, I'll offer a theory about the origins of one zombie rule which came to my attention recently, the "titled not entitled" prescription.
Jose Pagliery and Frank Pallotta, "Hacked news companies tweet Chinese fired on U.S. warship", CNN 1/16/2015:
[h/t Dmitri Ostrovsky]