Bill Poser


Posts by Bill Poser:

    Court Interpretation in Peru

    Joran van der Sloot, the leading suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005, was arrested in Peru in 2010 and charged with the murder of Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramírez in Lima. According to news reports, the reason that he has not yet come to trial is that there are no certified Spanish-Dutch interpreters in Peru.

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    The Organization for the Islamic Cooperation?

    The Organization of the Islamic Conference renamed itself "The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation" on June 28th at its meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan according to this press release. As I write, the English version of their web site reflects the new name, but the French version does not, although the French version of the press release gives it the same name in French: "Organisation de la Coopération islamique".

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    Flight of the Phoenix (2004)

    The 2004 remake of The Flight of the Phoenix is on TV here right now. According to the Wikipedia article it wasn't all that well received, with many critics of the opinion that it didn't improve on the original. However, there is one point that they seem to have missed: this version is set in Mongolia, and the unfortunately brief conversation with the bandits is in comprehensible Mongolian! I don't think I've ever encountered Mongolian before in an American film.

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    Hockey in Punjabi

    Hockey is not a popular sport in the Punjab but it is THE sport in Canada, which now has a large Punjabi population. An interesting example of cultural integration is the fact that CBC Sports now has hockey commentary in Punjabi.

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    Video of Trombone Shockwave

    It isn't exactly linguistics, but on the theory that some of our readers are interested in acoustics, here is what is reported to be the first video of the shock wave generated by a trombone. It is pretty faint so I suggest going to full screen.

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    Mysterious Symbols on Justin Bieber

    The Daily Mail reports that a visit by Justin Bieber to the beach revealed a new tattoo. Here's a screenshot showing the Daily Mail's description of the tattoo as "a row of mysterious symbols under his left arm". Here's the Daily Mail's close-up, captioned "What is it? It's unclear exactly what Bieber has had tattooed under his arm".

    The "mysterious symbols" are perfectly ordinary and legible Hebrew letters. They spell ישוע "Yeshua", the Hebrew name for "Jesus". I understand that not everyone can read Hebrew, but that no one at the Daily Mail can even recognize Hebrew writing is pretty bad.

    [For those of our readers who do not know who Justin Bieber is, he's a teen idol. A lot of teenage girls are crazy about him. When I teasingly told a 15-year old friend on Facebook that he looks like a dork, she unfriended me for three weeks!]

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    Visualization of Plagiarism

    The latest plagiarism scandal involves the now former German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who resigned due to allegations that he had plagiarized much of his doctoral dissertation. The scandal itself is of no particular interest, but it has inspired some really pretty and informative visualization. The "barcode" shows the fraction of pages on which plagiarism from a single source was found (black), the fraction of pages on which plagiarism from multiple sources was found (red), and the fraction of pages on which no plagiarism was detected (white). The blue pages are things like the table of contents and appendices which were not included in the analysis. There is also a display of the individual marked-up pages here.

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    Language Politics in Canada

    We've just had a national election here in Canada, the overall result of which is that the Conservatives, who had formed a minority government, finally secured a majority. Another interesting result was the collapse of the Bloc Québécois, the Québec separatist party, which lost most of its seats to the New Democrats, the social democratic party, which now forms the Official Opposition. Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, who resigned as a result of his party's poor performance, went into the election thinking that language was still an issue. Yesterday's Toronto Globe and Mail gave a brief quotation from each party leader on the front page. Duceppe's was: "How can we accept putting our confidence in people who don't even speak our language?".

    One can only imagine that he, like many others, was stunned by the result in the Québec riding of Berthier–Maskinongé, where the NDP ran a young woman, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who lives 400km from the riding, went to Las Vegas for a vacation at the peak of the campaign, and for practical purposes does not speak French. She won, with a margin of 10 percentage points over the runner up, the incumbent Bloc candidate. We're not in Kansas anymore…

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    Is "plagiarism" in a judicial decision wrong?

    The Court of Appeal for British Columbia handed down a very unusual decision today that raises an interesting linguistic issue. The underlying case, Cojocaru (Guardian Ad Litem) v. British Columbia Women’s Hospital, was a medical negligence suit by the parents of a brain-damaged baby against the hospital at which it was born. At trial before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Justice Joel Groves ruled for the plaintiffs and awarded them $5 million in damages.

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    Must Cinco de Mayo fall on the 5th of May?

    Last night Jay Leno presented an advertisement by someone a little bit confused about Mexican(-American) culture: it urged people to get ready for Cinco de Mayo on May 6th. "Cinco de Mayo" of course means "the fifth of May". In this case the confusion is real – Cinco de Mayo does not fall on the sixth of May, but in theory it could. "Cinco de Mayo" is the name of a holiday. The holiday is named after the day on which it falls, but the name is not itself a date. That means that we can imagine a future in which the holiday is still named "Cinco de Mayo" but falls on another date. It might be decided to celebrate on another day but to keep the traditional name, or Mexico might adapt a different calendar, one that had no month called "Mayo".

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    The current disaster in Japan raises the question of the origin of the word tsunami. It is from Japanese 津波, where 波 [nami] is "wave" and 津 [tsu] here means "harbor". It was apparently first used in English in 1897 by Lafcadio Hearn in his Gleanings from Buddha Fields. The Japanese Wikipedia article contains a discussion of early English usage.

    In English the word is pronounced [sunami] rather than [tsunami] since English does not allow syllable-initial [ts]. This is yet another example of insane English spelling practices and of the fact that they cannot be blamed entirely on the preservation of archaic spellings. The word could perfectly well have been borrowed into English as sunami. The person learning to write English must memorize the fact that this [s] is written <ts> for no reason at all. Note that the English spelling does not even have the virtue, whatever that might be, of preserving the Japanese spelling since Japanese is not written in Roman letters.

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    Text Message Language Is Everywhere

    Those who hate text message abbreviations will be dismayed to learn of how far they have spread. Here is the sign at the gas station on the Gitksan reservation in Hazelton, British Columbia.
    The gas station on the reservation in Hazelton, BC.

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    The Tolkien estate over-reaches

    The latest trademark atrocity is due to the Tolkien estate, whose lawyers have written to Zazzle demanding that it cease to advertise and sell buttons reading "While you were reading Tolkien, I was watching Evangelion", which, they claim, infringes on the trademark owned by the estate. They are almost certainly wrong. The rights granted trademark holders are very limited and have to do with identification of products and services. The Tolkien trademark means that you and I cannot market Tolkien branded items – it most emphatically does not mean that we cannot use the word "Tolkien" in other contexts, such as discussing J. R. Tolkien himself, his work, or Tolkien-branded items. Trademark is not intended to, and does not, give the holder a general power to control the use of words.

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