Eric Baković

Website: http://idiom.ucsd.edu/~ebakovic/

I'm a Professor in the Linguistics Department at UC San Diego. My interests are in pretty much all things having to do with phonology, phonological analysis, and phonological theory.

Posts by Eric Baković:

    Happy. Fourth.

    In anticipation of the 4th of July weekend, I was compelled to read this very interesting (July 1 draft) manuscript: "Punctuating Happiness", by UPS Foundation Professor Danielle S. Allen of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. A political theorist friend's Facebook post led me both to the article and to this front-page NYT piece on it: "If Only Thomas Jefferson Could Settle the Issue: A Period is Questioned in the Declaration of Independence", by Jennifer Schuessler (July 2 online, July 3 print).

    Professor Allen makes a thorough and compelling case for her claim that the second sentence of the actual Declaration of Independence parchment has a comma after the well-known phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" — and not a period, as the most frequently reproduced version of the document, an engraving made by printer William J. Stone in 1823, would lead one to believe. The matter can't be resolved via visual inspection; the parchment is extremely faded, and Allen presents some evidence — suggestive but not conclusive, in my opinion, but that's neither here nor there — that it may have already been sufficiently faded at the time of Stone's engraving. Allen thus "advocate[s] for the use of hyper-spectral imaging to re-visit the question of what is on the parchment".

    For everyone's reference, here is the relevant "second sentence" of the Declaration of Independence, as transcribed on pp. 2-3 of Allen's manuscript, with the "errant period" highlighted in green.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. — That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

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    Media uptake on uptalk

    Yesterday afternoon, UC San Diego Linguistics grad student Amanda Ritchart presented her research (joint with Amalia Arvaniti) on the use and realization of uptalk in Southern California English at the 166th Acoustical Society of America meeting. This work is profiled in the ASA's press room, and has thus far received a fair amount of attention. You can hear and/or read about it on KPBS (San Diego's public radio station), at WBUR's Here & Now, on BBC News, and in the Washington Post. (See also this shout-out on the Linguistic Society of America website.)

    Uptalk has been discussed many times here on Language Log, so regular readers are probably not unfamiliar with it. But one of the most recent Language Log posts on the topic ("Uptalk awakening", 9/29/2013) shows how relatively unaware of this long-standing feature of many varieties of English some folks still are. So the media coverage of Ritchart & Arvaniti's work is welcome — and on the whole pretty good, if a little biased toward a "wow, it's spreading to men!" interpretation of the research results, which kinda misses the point. But of course, if you scroll down to the comments (why oh why do I ever scroll down to the comments???), you'll see that many appear to think that the use of rising intonation at the ends of (some!) statements is the clearest evidence we have of the decline of western civilization. Sigh.

    Update — more here.

     

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    Linguistics Goes to Hollywood

    On April 19, the Linguistics Department at UC San Diego (aka the Extreme Southwest Wing of Language Log Plaza) hosted a special event as part of our celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Department.

    The event was entitled Linguistics Goes to Hollywood: Creators of the Klingon, Na'vi and Dothraki Languages, a panel discussion featuring Marc Okrand (creator of Klingon, Star Trek), Paul Frommer (creator of Na'vi, Avatar), and David J. Peterson (creator of Dothraki, Game of Thrones).

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    It just looks so much better in sign

    On my commute home from Language Log Plaza West yesterday, I heard this brief piece on NPR about Lydia Callis, NYC Mayor Bloomberg's American Sign Language interpreter. (See also here, here, here, here, here — screw it, just search for "Lydia Callis".) A couple choice quotes from some of these stories:

    From the NPR piece I heard: Callis was animated – both in her facial expressions and hand movements – the antithesis of the stoic mayor.

    From this Bloomberg News piece: "She's awesome," Lynn Correa, 30, who has watched YouTube videos made about Callis, said today at a bus stop in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood. "She's much more expressive than [Mayor Bloomberg] is."

    Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that Callis, and sign language interpreting generally, are getting some postive attention. But looking at the videos, I don't see anything other than a (very good) ASL interpreter — in other words, Callis is not doing anything extra special here, she's just doing her job, which is to translate what people are saying into ASL. I understand that there's the contrast with the otherwise somber Bloomberg, and that what is being translated is news about Hurricane Sandy, and that for many folks this may be one of the first times they've seen sign language interpretation up close — but I can't help pointing out here that the hand movements and facial expressions are defining features of ASL (and of other signed languages). The perception that we non-signers have that these hand movements and facial expressions are particularly "animated" and "expressive" is precisely due to our lack of experience with them as linguistic features.

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    Just in time for Open Access Week

    Today marks the beginning of Open Access Week, and last week's announcement about changes to the Linguistic Society of America's publications program was like an early OA Week present. Some highlights:

    • All content published in Language will be made freely available on the new LSA website after a one-year embargo period.
    • Authors who wish to have their content available immediately, either on the Language site or on other websites, may pay a $400 article processing fee to do so.
    • The contents of Language will continue to be immediately available to LSA members and to other subscribers of Project MUSE.

    Information about more Open Access goodness to come at the LSA's Annual Meeting in January here.

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    Joint LSA/MLA Organized Session on Open Access

    The 87th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America is scheduled to be held in Boston, January 3-6, 2013. As it happens, the 128th Annual Convention of the Modern Language Association will also be held in Boston on the same dates. The LSA and MLA have planned a number of joint activities for meeting attendees.

    The LSA's Committee of Editors of Linguistics Journals (CELxJ) will sponsor an organized session on Open Access publishing, to be held at the LSA on Thursday, January 3, 4-7pm. In addition to yours truly, our confirmed panelists include:

    I hope that anyone planning to attend the LSA or the MLA will make time to attend this important and timely session. Building on its efforts with eLanguage, the LSA has recently committed to extend the range of the journal Language to include online-only, Open Access material; a business model for supporting Open Access publications is currently under consideration and will be available before the panel meets. The MLA Convention's Presidential Theme is Avenues of Access, including Open Access and the future of scholarly communication. The efforts on the part of both of these organizations to increase public access to scholarly work will be among the topics under discussion in this session.

    Check this space soon for more/updated information. [ Update, 10/2/2012 -- abstracts for the session are now posted. ]

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    Endangered Alphabets

    My attention has been recently drawn to Tim Brookes' Endangered Alphabets project and to its second Kickstarter project, Endangered Alphabets II: Saving Languages in Bangladesh. You can follow the links to find out more; copied below is the text from the Kickstarter page, with images provided by Tim Brookes and Hailey Neal. If you feel moved to pledge to their cause, please do so — they have 127 backers as of this writing, pledging a total of $4,535, with only 19 days to go to reach their goal of $10,000.

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    Last month on the EL trail

    It's been a while since I've been on the endangered languages beat. Here are a couple of links of recent writings on the topic for those who are interested.

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    Open Access petition — an update

    One month after it was created (on May 13) and a week before it will be closed to signatures (on June 19), the White House Open Access petition (which I pointed Language Log readers to on May 23) now has 26,768 signatures — 1,768 more than the 25,000 threshold! By my calculation, the average rate was over 1,190 signatures a day from the first to the 25,000th signature (by "David L" of Holmdel, NJ, who signed on June 3 — three weeks after the petition was created); after that, the rate dropped to just shy of 177 a day. No reason to slow down the pace now! If you agree with the petition, please sign it and/or pass it on to your agreeable friends — send a strong message to Washington that "[e]xpanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our [public] investment in scientific research."

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    The trouble with making linguistic claims

    There is a lot for reasonable people to agree with and disagree with in Philip Kitcher's recent essay in The New Republic, "The Trouble with Scientism: Why history and the humanities are also a form of knowledge". This being Language Log, however, I can only urge readers of Kitcher's essay to take the following linguistic claim with a healthy dose of skepticism:

    In English we speak about science in the singular, but both French and German wisely retain the plural.

    Kitcher's point in making this claim — and the actual, reasonable argument that follows it — is that "science" is hardly a singular thing:

    The enterprises that we [English speakers--EB] lump together [with the singular word "science"--EB] are remarkably various in their methods, and also in the extent of their successes. The achievements of molecular engineering or of measurements derived from quantum theory do not hold across all of biology, or chemistry, or even physics.

    This argument is a key part of the larger (and again, reasonable) argument laid bare in the essay's subtitle: that "history and the humanities are also a form of knowledge". Anyone interested in this kind of topic (as I am) is encouraged to read this essay, followed by the other links further above, and perhaps counterbalanced by this NYT Opinionator blog post. (And don't forget to squeeze the comments.)

    So what about the linguistic claim? Unfortunately for Kitcher, it's complete hogwash.

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    Open Access petition

    Every once in a while, an article is discussed or mentioned here on Language Log that many of our readers can't access without paying a hefty fee, whether to pay to view the article or to subscribe to the journal in which it appears. Many of these same readers are American taxpayers, and much of the research in those same articles is funded by governmental organizations (such as the NSF and the NIH) that are of course underwritten by American taxpayers. Why — the argument goes — should taxpayers pay again to access the results of the research that they are already paying for? What prevents those results from being disseminated (relatively) freely, so that all may benefit?

    This is the gist of this petition that has been posted at the Obama Administration "We The People" petition site by the good folks at access2research. 25,000 total signatures are needed by June 19; as of this writing, they're almost halfway there. Please take a look at the petition and sign if you're for it.

    And please also tell others about this petition! Stuart Shieber (computational linguist, open access advocate, and Director of Harvard University's Office of Scholarly Communication) has written and shared a message suitable for passing on to colleagues, friends, and family. Or, you can point them to the video found below the fold.

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    Create a language, go to jail

    I've received several messages with links to this NYT piece since its appearance online on Sunday. The piece is on Dothraki, a constructed language used in the HBO series "Game of Thrones" and invented by David J. Peterson, founder and President of the Language Creation Society and (as it happens) a former PhD student here in the Extreme Southwest Wing of Language Log Plaza. The piece also talks about constructed languages ("conlangs") and language constructors ("conlangers") a bit more generally, and most specifically with respect to their use in Hollywood. (That 'their' is purposely ambiguous.)

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    Quotes and context

    HuffPo has a post today entitled "Michele Bachmann: 'I Haven't Had a Gaffe'", in which they take Bachmann to task for what she said to Greta van Susteren in a recent Fox News interview. This is easy bait for those of us who are appalled at the prospect of Candidate Bachmann and who have delighted at the many gaffes that she has managed to have in the course of her presidential campaign. But note the context from which the 'I haven't had a gaffe' quote was pulled:

    As people are looking at the candidate that is the most conservative and the most consistent candidate, I've been that candidate. I haven't had a gaffe or something that I've done that has caused me to fall in the polls. People see in me someone who's genuinely a social conservative, a fiscal conservative, a national security conservative and a Tea Partier. I'm the whole package.

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    Watching the deceptive

    After almost a month, I'm finally following up on the results of the single-question surveys that I asked Language Log readers to participate in. Each survey received an overwhelming 1500+ responses, and I didn't realize that I needed a "pro" (= "paid") account on SurveyMonkey in order to view more than the first 100. I owe special thanks to Mohammad Mehdi Etedali, to whom I transfered the surveys and who kindly sent me the overall percentages.

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    Pick a survey, either survey…

    Ever wish you could participate in a little linguistics experiment? Neither have I. But anyway, now you can! I have set up two very easy surveys, one question each. (Well, it's not technically a question, but that's a word-sense issue for another day.) Pick one survey (either one, but please not both), read the question, and select one of the three possible answers. I'll wait about a week month, and then post a discussion of the results.

    [Update, Sept. 5: there has been an overwhelming response to both surveys, but a slight preference for #2 (1500+ responses thus far vs. 1100+ for #1). So I've closed #2 but kept #1 open to encourage another 400 or so responses to that one. -- EB]

    [Update, Sept. 7: both surveys are now closed, as they've both reached about the same overwhelming number of responses (1500+). Now I have to analyze the results, which may take longer than I originally thought so it may take another week or so. Speaking of which: anyone have access to a paid SurveyMonkey account? If so, please let me know…]

    LLog Survey 1 LLog Survey 2

    When you're done, you are allowed to do either of the following (again, not both): (a) take a peek at the other survey (but don't answer the question!), or (b) let us know that you've completed the survey and you'll be entered into a drawing for a free one-year subscription to Language Log! Don't say we don't take care of our readers.

    And, for those observing it: have a great Labor Day weekend.

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