Archive for Changing times

The Washington Post concedes on singular they

Bill Walsh, the keeper of the Washington Post's style manual, buries the lede in "The Post drops the ‘mike’ — and the hyphen in ‘e-mail’", 12/4/2015. After 16 paragraphs about mic, email, and Walmart, he finally gets to the most important part, namely the "cautious" adoption of singular they, both for "gender-nonconforming" people and for "those he or she situations that have troubled us for so many years":

I was a little surprised that the singular they has drawn stronger online reaction, both positive and negative, than the other style changes, especially because we are approaching it pretty cautiously. The stylebook entry retains the old advice to try to write around the problem, perhaps by changing singulars to plurals, before using the singular they as a last resort.

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Lingua Disinformation

[This is a repost of an article on my personal blog. It continues the saga of the Lingua/Glossa Affair that Eric Bakovic and I wrote about here recently.]

Linguists today received a misleading email from Elsevier sent to everyone who has ever submitted to or reviewed for Lingua, the journal whose editorial board has decided to not work with Elsevier anymore and restart the journal as the open-access journal Glossa. Here is Elsevier’s email:

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Lingua is dead. Long live Glossa!

[This is a joint post by Eric Baković and Kai von Fintel. Much of the content of this post is also found in Kai's posts on his own blog, semantics etc.: "Lingua → Glossa" (11/2/2015) and "Lingua Roundup" (11/5/2015).]

As many readers of Language Log know by now, the editors and the entire editorial board of a major linguistics journal, Lingua, have resigned en masse, effective when their contractual obligations to their soon-to-be-erstwhile publisher, Elsevier, are concluded at the end of this calendar year. This same editorial team will re-emerge in 2016 as the editors and editorial board of Glossa, a fair Open Access journal to be published by Ubiquity Press. You can read all about it, if you haven't already, from a variety of sources linked at the end of this post.

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Gender bending

There's a guy with brown hair who has worked as a checkout person at a store I go to regularly.  He's been there for about five years.  Of the 20 or so checkout persons at the store, all of the others except one are female, mostly between 18 and 25.

Over the course of the last year or so, I noticed that this fellow became increasingly girllike.  Finally, last week when I went to the store, there was a new checkout girl with straight, long blonde hair.  It turned out that I was next in line to go to her counter.  She was wearing a name tag that said "Karen".  I really didn't know this person, but when she spoke to me I realized it was that guy, though his / her (–> their) voice was much higher, and manner even more feminine than before, and he / she (–> they) was (–> were) wearing a skirt.  I really didn't know what to do or say.  My overall reaction was to accept her as a new hire.

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Reversal of meanings

From Cecilia Segawa Seigle (9/18/15):

Yesterday morning's Asahi Shinbun reports that some Japanese words (or argot in certain cases) seem to be changing (reversing) meanings.

For example "yabai" (やばい), originally an argot used by criminals (thieves) meaning "not good" or "not propitious," seems to have changed its meaning among teenagers. 90% of the teens use the word "yabai" to express "wonderful," "good," "delicious," "smart-looking."  Only 5% of the people above 70 years of age used "yabai" for positive meaning; in other words the older people still use the word for negative situations.

For the word "Omomuroni" (おもむろに), an adverb meaning "unhurriedly," "slowly," 44.5% answered with the traditional meaning "slowly." 40.8% answered that "omomuroni" meant "suddenly."

This is only a small part of the phenomena revealing the breakdown of the Japanese language according to the recent survey made by Bunkacho (文化庁), Japanese government's Agency for Cultural Affairs.

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The kitchen sink

Randy Alexander asks:

How do you say this in Chinese?

This seems to be another one of those things where there is no standard name for it. Almost everyone I ask has a different name for it, and they have to think for a moment when I ask then how to say it in Chinese.

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Chinese Telegraph Code (CTC)

Michael Rank has an interesting article on Scribd entitled "Chinese telegram, 1978" (5/22/2015).

It's about a 1978 telegram that he bought on eBay.  Here's a photograph:

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A little bit disingenuous

[TRIGGER WARNING: Harsh Quantitative Evaluation of a Facile Generalization]

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Autocomplete strikes again

I think I know how an unsuitable but immensely rich desert peninsula got chosen by FIFA (the international governing body for major soccer tournaments) to host the soccer World Cup in 2022.

First, a personal anecdote that triggered my hypothesis about the decision. I recently sent a text message from my smartphone and then carelessly slipped it into my pocket without making sure it had gone to sleep.

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Superdry

Nathan Hopson spotted this gem in Bangkok while recruiting students this past weekend:

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Too close for comfort

Today's Zits:

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Peak peak apparently passed

"Peak peak reached", The Daily Mash 6/2/2014:

THE world is on the cusp of peak exhaustion after hitting peaks in every possible field.  

The simultaneous achievement of peak beard, peak box-set, peak 90s reunion nostalgia tour, peak gourmet burger and peak superhero film means that it is downhill from here.

See also: "Peak friend", 5/26/2014; "'Peak X' abides", 5/12/2014; "Peak X", 10/14/2008.

 

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The sparseness of linguistic data

Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis say in a New York Times piece on why we shouldn't buy all the hype about the Big Data revolution in science:

Big data is at its best when analyzing things that are extremely common, but often falls short when analyzing things that are less common. For instance, programs that use big data to deal with text, such as search engines and translation programs, often rely heavily on something called trigrams: sequences of three words in a row (like "in a row"). Reliable statistical information can be compiled about common trigrams, precisely because they appear frequently. But no existing body of data will ever be large enough to include all the trigrams that people might use, because of the continuing inventiveness of language.

To select an example more or less at random, a book review that the actor Rob Lowe recently wrote for this newspaper contained nine trigrams such as "dumbed-down escapist fare" that had never before appeared anywhere in all the petabytes of text indexed by Google. To witness the limitations that big data can have with novelty, Google-translate "dumbed-down escapist fare" into German and then back into English: out comes the incoherent "scaled-flight fare." That is a long way from what Mr. Lowe intended — and from big data's aspirations for translation.

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