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There's a fine line between recursion and intertextuality

…and between intertextuality and self-indulgence.

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The meta-pragmatics of Twitter

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When intonation overrides tone, part 3

Mark Liberman's "Real tone" (2/7/18), replying to "Tones for real" (2/5/18), is a nice demonstration of what's happening in real speech.  The question for John McWhorter and all serious language teachers / learners is how much of it can be systematized and regularized?  In other words, how much of it can be taught / learned?

I will be blunt:  I don't think that the discernment and production of speech can be taught / learned at this ad hoc, microphonemic level.  That is why the very best teachers and best students I know do not focus on lexemes or morphemes, but rather on phrases, clauses, or even whole sentences.

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Using Chinese nonstandard characters to talk cute

Nikita Kuzmin told me about a trend among young Chinese to exchange certain characters with other phonetically close characters in their Internet writings, so that the words sound more "cute".

Here are some examples of such substitutions:

jiègè 介個 —  zhège 這個 ("this")
pényǒu 盆友 — péngyǒu 朋友 ("friend")
nánpiào 男票 — nán péngyǒu 男朋友 ("boyfriend")
xièxiè 蟹蟹 — xièxiè 謝謝 ("thanks")
kāisēn 開森 — kāixīn 開心 ("happy")
suìjué/jiào 碎觉 — shuìjiào 睡覺 ("sleep")

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The harmonics of 'entitlement'

A lot of the most effective political keywords derive their force from a maneuver akin to what H. W. Fowler called "legerdemain with two senses," which enables you to slip from one idea to another without ever letting on that you’ve changed the subject. Values oscillates between mores (which vary from one group to another) and morals (of which some people have more than others do). The polemical uses of elite blend power (as in the industrial elite) and pretension (as in the names of bakeries and florists). Bias suggests both a disposition and an activity (as in housing bias), and ownership society conveys both material possession and having a stake in something.

And then there's entitlement, one of the seven words and phrases that the administration has instructed policy analysts at the Center for Disease Control to avoid in budget documents, presumably in an effort, as Mark put it in an earlier post, to create "a safe space where [congresspersons'] delicate sensibilities will not be affronted by such politically incorrect words and phrases." Though it's unlikely that the ideocrats who came up with the list thought it through carefully, I can see why this would lead them to discourage the use of items like diversity. But the inclusion of entitlement on the list is curious, since the right has been at pains over the years to bend that word to their own purposes.

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They call the wind 'Maria'?

I hope you appreciate the wisdom of the new policy on naming hurricanes that was announced here on September 11. The latest brutal storm to devastate the islands of the eastern Caribbean would not have been named for the mother of Jesus; it would have been named "Hurricane Malaria." That's more like it. Nasty names for nasty stuff. You know it makes sense.

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The sociolinguistics of the Chinese script

Jonathan Benda posted this on Facebook recently:

Reading [Jan Blommaert's] _Language and Superdiversity_ in preparation for my Writing in Global Contexts course in the fall. Does anyone else think the following conclusions about this sign are somewhat wrongheaded?

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My summer

.. or at least six weeks of it, will be spent at the 2017 Jelinek Summer Workshop on Speech and Language Technology (JSALT) at CMU in Pittsburgh. As the link explains, this

… is a continuation of the Johns Hopkins University CLSP summer workshop series from 1995-2016. It consists of a two-week summer school, followed by a six-week workshop. Notable researchers and students come together to collaborate on selected research topics. The Workshop is named after the late Fred Jelinek, its former director and head of the Center for Speech and Language Processing.

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Machine learning

Today's xkcd: slightly unfair, but funny:

Mouseover title: "The pile gets soaked with data and starts to get mushy over time, so it's technically recurrent."

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The language of love, maybe

I just received an email from a total stranger, a young blonde woman dressed fetchingly in pink (she included two photographs). She may want a romantic relationship with me. But to clarify why I use the modal auxiliary ("may want" rather than "wants"), let me share with you the entire text of the message:

hello how are you doing amd marry from benaughty i will be happy to here from you

One scarcely knows what to say.

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Inaugural embedding again

"Inaugural Embedding", 9/9/2005:

0
1
2
3
4
Mean
Sentence
Length
Washington1789
629
(44%)
554
(39%)
206
(14%)
36
(3%)
5
(<1%)
60
Lincoln1865
440
(63%)
222
(32%)
38
(5%)
0
0
26
Bush2005
1842
(88%)
244
(12%)
4
(<1%)
0
0
22
Trump2017
1264
(87%)
178
(12%)
15
(1%)
0
0
15

"The evolution of disornamentation", 3/1/2005

"Elaborate interiors and plain language", 6/3/2016.

 

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Rinse thoroughly

As Mark Liberman has often reminded us, when taking things from newspapers you have to be very careful about what to attribute to the person who allegedly said something and what to attribute to the journalist who reported it or the subeditor who futzed with what the journalist turned in. So when we read this in the New York Times about a Parisian hair stylist named Christophe Robin, caution is in order as we try to assign responsibility for the syntactic blunder:

Mr. Robin, who is based in Paris, has also noticed scalp problems at his salon, but he thinks the issue is not under-shampooing but rather that women are not cleansing properly.

"Women are in too much of a rush," he said. "You need to rinse very thoroughly the products out of your hair."

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AI panics

The last month or so has seen renewed discussion of the benefits and dangers of artificial intelligence, sparked by Stephen Hawking's speech at the opening of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge University. In that context, it may be worthwhile to point again to the earliest explicit and credible AI warning that I know of, namely Norbert Wiener's 1950 book The Human Use of Human Beings [emphasis added]:

[T]he machine plays no favorites between manual labor and white-collar labor. Thus the possible fields into which the new industrial revolution is likely to penetrate are very extensive, and include all labor performing judgments of a low level, in much the same way as the displaced labor of the earlier industrial revolution included every aspect of human power. […]

The introduction of the new devices and the dates at which they are to be expected are, of course, largely economic matters, on which I am not an expert. Short of any violent political changes or another great war, I should give a rough estimate that it will take the new tools ten to twenty years to come into their own. […]

Let us remember that the automatic machine, whatever we think of any feelings it may have or may not have, is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic conditions of slave labor. It is perfectly clear that this will produce an unemployment situation, in comparison with which the present recession and even the depression of the thirties will seem a pleasant joke. This depression will ruin many industries-possibly even the industries which have taken advantage of the new potentialities. However, there is nothing in the industrial tradition which forbids an industrialist to make a sure and quick profit, and to get out before the crash touches him personally.

Thus the new industrial revolution is a two-edged sword. It may be used for the benefit of humanity, but only if humanity survives long enough to enter a period in which such a benefit is possible. It may also be used to destroy humanity, and if it is not used intelligently it can go very far in that direction.

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