Mark Liberman

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

Posts by Mark Liberman:

    Multiple

    John F. Banzhaf III writes to complain about overuse of "multiple":

    Over the past six months I have heard an ever-growing number of TV news anchors, reporters, and talking heads on television use the word "multiple" where "many" – a shorter and less pretentious word – would do as well, if not better.

    I would suggest that your remind people not to use the word "multiple" when many is what is meant, or is at least as good.  Otherwise, the speaks sounds pretentious and perhaps pompous.  A quick guide as to when to use each word would also be helpful to many of your readers.

    This is not something that I've noticed, though perhaps I don't listen closely enough to enough talking heads.  It does seem to be true that the use of multiple has increased fairly steadily over the past century and a half, from nearly nothing to a rate in the range of 60 to 80 per million words:

    (I've used multiplication by 10,000 to turn the Google ngram viewer's uninterpretable percentages on the vertical axis into rates per million words…)

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    That mystery language was…

    Last night's "Mystery Language" post has gotten 43 interesting and insightful comments.

    The answer, revealed by Doug Marmion, of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies:

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    Maximizing Buzzword Compliance

    From a "sponsor message" sent to me by the Chronicle of Higher Education "on behalf of Campus Management":

    Institutions are facing a convergence of forces that, combined with an outdated technology infrastructure, have created the need for a new approach in education technology: the On Demand Model for Higher Education.

    Discover the cornerstones of this innovative strategy, including how to enhance constituent engagement, provide more flexibility in academic delivery and financial aid, and leverage an agile infrastructure to grow and adapt in any market.

    Hear from a panel of thought leaders as they discuss rising above technology challenges to empower dynamic models of engagement and delivery, and in turn positively impact growth, retention and financial security.

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    Mystery Language

    Can anyone determine what language this woman is speaking?

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    Fake word history of the month

    Jason Torchinsky, "A very common word was invented by Dodge", Jalopnik 12/15/2014:

    Dodge is known for producing many things, most notably cars, minivans, and sometimes large, lingering clouds of tire smoke. Oh, and the K-Car. But one thing I didn't realize was that they're also in the word business, coining an extremely common word way back in the 1910s. [self-referential clickbait omitted] 

    That wasn't so bad, right? Sorry to do that, but, you know, I have old cars to maintain. Okay, here's the word that didn't exist before some Dodge PR guy came up with it:  Dependability.

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    The Price of Wisdom

    Here's (some of) Google Street View for 7 Coulter Avenue in Ardmore PA:

    Why am I showing this to you? Read on…

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    The global language network

    Michael Erard has a nice discussion in Science magazine of a paper recently published in PNAS: "Want to influence the world? Map reveals the best languages to speak", 12/15/2014.

    The original paper is Shahar Ronen et al., "Links that speak: the global language network and its association with global fame", PNAS 2014. And there's a cute interactive visualization.

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    "X percent of Y are Z"

    It's amazing how troublesome simple percentage-talk can be. Donald McNeil Jr., "Fewer Ebola Cases Go Unreported Than Thought, Study Finds", NYT 12/16/2014

    By looking at virus samples gathered in Sierra Leone and contract-tracing data from Liberia, the scientists working on the new study estimated that about 70 percent of cases in West Africa go unreported. That is far fewer than earlier estimates, which assumed that up to 250 percent did.

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    Editing error or recursive construction, Take 2

    Lant Pritchett & Lawrence H. Summers, "Growth slowdowns: Middle-income trap vs. regression to the mean", Vox 12/11/2014:

    No question is more important for the living standards of billions of people or for the evolution of the global system than the question of how rapidly differently economies will grow over the next generation.

    Is this a slip of the fingers (e.g. for "how rapidly different economies will grow")? Or do the authors really mean a sort of second derivative,  "how rapidly differently economies will grow" meaning something like "at what rate the growth rates of economies will diverge"?

     

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    "No Turkish leader has had as much influence as Ataturk as Erdogan"

    Ishaan Tharoor, "Why Turkey’s president wants to revive the language of the Ottoman Empire", WaPo 12/12/2014:

    In 1928, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the modern Turkish republic, enacted one of the more dramatic and radical reforms of the 20th century. Ataturk ordered the wholesale transformation of the Turkish language: He instituted a Latin alphabet, abandoning more than a millennium of writing in Arabic script, and had the language stripped of centuries of accumulated Persian and Arabic words. Instruction of "Ottoman" Turkish was banned. […]

    Fast forward almost a century. No Turkish leader has had as much influence as Ataturk as the country's current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And Erdogan, it seems, is keen on turning back Ataturk's legacy.

    The decision to institute compulsory education in the Ottoman writing system  is worthy of discussion. But first, can anyone construe the sentence that I've put in bold? Is it an editing error, or is it a construction that for some reason is escaping me?

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    UM / UH update

    Nine years ago, I stumbled on an unexpected fact about the filled pauses UM and UH ("Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005). I found, as I expected, that older people tend to use UH more often than younger people do, and that males tend to use UH more than females. The surprising thing was that UM seemed to work in the opposite way, at least in the (large) American conversational-speech corpus that I looked at — younger people use UM more than older people, and females use UM more than males:

    Last summer, some colleagues and I began a study of interviews with adolescents on the autism spectrum compared with neurotypical controls, and one of the features that we looked at was filled pause usage. We found a significant difference in UM vs. UH usage; and subsequently learned that some researchers from OGI had reported a similar finding in a poster at the 2014 International Meeting for Autism Research ("Fillers: Autism, gender, and age", 7/30/2014).

    A couple of weeks later, this came up in coffee-break conversation at the Methods in Dialectology meeting in Groningen, and a few of the people sitting around the table in the break room immediately pulled out their laptops and started looking at other datasets. To our surprise, we found essentially the same pattern in the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus, in the (spoken part of) the British National Corpus, in the Edinburgh-Glasgow Map Task Corpus, and in collections of Dutch, German, and Norwegian conversational speech. This work has continued (for a partial progress report, see "UM / UH in Norwegian", 10/8/2014), and we hope to finish a journal paper on the topic over the holiday break. As part of the effort, I've looked a bit more closely at one of the datasets used in my 2005 post, and below I'll show you a few of the resulting pictures.

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    Mazel Tov, Molotov, whatever

    Jessie Opoien, "The political pitfalls of cultural crossover: Scott Walker edition", The Capitol Times 12/10/2014:

    In an undated letter unearthed by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now during the August release of documents from the first of two John Doe investigations related to the governor, Walker responded to a letter from Milwaukee attorney and chairman of the Wisconsin Center District Franklyn Gimbel.  

    Walker told Gimbel his office would be happy to display a menorah celebrating "The Eight Days of Chanukah" at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, and asked Gimbel to have a representative from Lubavitch of Wisconsin contact Walker's secretary, Dorothy Moore, to set it up.  

    The letter is signed, "Thank you again and Molotov."

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    sitemeter = malware

    Apologies to anyone (and it must be lots of you) who tried to reach a LLOG page yesterday and got redirected to x.vindicosuite.com.

    This was the result of the latest malfunction in the sitemeter.com tool for counting visits and referrals, which we've been using for the past decade. Increasingly often over the past year or so, the sitemeter tracking code has been non-deterministically routing visitors to unwanted advertising sites, playing strange background music, etc. At about the same time, the company stopped responding to any support queries or complaints. Because its tracking statistics are useful, and because the unwanted redirections were rare and intermittent (and arguably due to mistakes rather than malice), I've stuck with them.

    But as of yesterday evening, for a significant period of time, every single attempt to access a LLOG page resulted in a glimpse of the desired page followed quickly by redirection to x.vindicosuite.com, which is apparently some sort of passive DNS replicator or something. As far as I can tell, no virus or worm attack was involved, but the redirection alone is unacceptable, even if this is just another bug in sitemeter's counting software rather than anything malicious.

    It seems that a lot of other people had the same problem with sitemeter (see also here, and many other comments over the past couple of years). So I've removed the sitemeter code from our WordPress installation. Now I can look forward to wasting a few hours trying to get sitemeter to stop charging me for their "service".

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