Archive for Psychology of language

A zero-tolerance approach to PP attachment

Deborah Ball, "Pope Francis Appoints Eight to Sex-Abuse Commission", WSJ 3/22/2014:

Pope Francis on Saturday appointed a victim of sexual abuse and a senior cardinal known for his zero-tolerance approach to a new group charged with advising the Catholic Church on how to respond to the problem of sexual abuse of children.

The sequence "zero-tolerance approach to a new group" sent Tim Leonard down a syntactic garden path — he had to get past "charged with advising the Catholic Church" before he figured out that the cardinal was appointed to the new group rather than having a zero-tolerance approach to it. So Tim forwarded the example to me, and I had exactly the same experience.

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Too much information

Sunday's Pearls Before Swine:

This strip illustrates a well-documented aspect of aging:

While it is clear that more people now live longer than ever before in history, it is less obvious that this is a blessing. In Greek mythology, Tithonus was the mortal lover of Eos, goddess of the dawn. Eos asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal but failed to mention “eternal youth,” dooming Tithonus to an eternity of physical and mental decay. The tithonean account of aging echoes loudly in the literature of the psychological and brain-sciences, which portrays adulthood as a protracted episode in mental decline, in which memories dim, thoughts slow, and problem-solving abilities diminish (Deary et al., 2009; Naveh-Benjamin & Old, 2008), and where researchers seem to compete to set the advent of cognitive decrepitude at an ever younger age (Salthouse, 2009; Singh-Manoux et al., 2012). Thus, although studies indicate that older adults are, on average, happier than younger adults (Charles & Carstensen, 2010), in the light of the foregoing, even this small crumb of comfort might be seen as further evidence of their declining mental prowess.

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Another little Chinese v. English experiment

With respect to yesterday's little perception experiment ("Can you tell the difference between English and Chinese?", 12/20/2013), Edward Lindon asked, semi-rhetorically:

Could the putative perceived similarities have any connection with the rhythms and inflections of the "broadcast voice"? Would the results be the same if the sample were composed of daily or conversational speech?

And Cygil responded, taking him literally:

Exactly. Newsreaderese is a bizarre dialect of English that, if you used in regular conversation, would immediately signal you as a madman.

This is absolutely all true, though incomplete — there are at least four or five quite distinct dialects of newsreaderese in English, and probably in other languages/cultures as well. See "Celebrity Voices", 3/26/2011, for some discussion.

So this morning, I've selected eight phrases at random from published corpora of conversational telephone speech in English and in Mandarin, and you can try the same experiment again.

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Can you tell the difference between English and Chinese?

… from the pitch contours alone? It should be easy, right? Chinese is a tone language, English isn't, etc.

So try it…

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Despicable human scum

For those wondering why on earth an official announcement about the solemn business of executing a traitor would use wildly overheated language like "despicable human scum" and "worse than a dog" (especially about the uncle of the reigning monarch), the BBC has published a short article on the language of North Korean posthumous character assassination.

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Subtle differences

Andrew Gelman, "Separated by a common blah blah blah", SMCISS 12/1/2013:

I love reading the kind of English that English people write. It’s the same language as American but just slightly different. I was thinking about this recently after coming across this footnote from “Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop,” by Bob Stanley:

Mantovani’s atmospheric arrangement on ‘Care Mia’, I should add, is something else. Genuinely celestial. If anyone with a degree of subtlety was singing, it would be quite a record.

It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what makes this passage specifically English, but there’s something about it . . .

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Bilingualism delays dementia in India, too

Suvarna Alladi et al., "Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status", Neurology 2013:

Objectives: The purpose of the study was to determine the association between bilingualism and age at onset of dementia and its subtypes, taking into account potential confounding factors.

Methods: Case records of 648 patients with dementia (391 of them bilingual) diagnosed in a specialist clinic were reviewed. The age at onset of first symptoms was compared between monolingual and bilingual groups. The influence of number of languages spoken, education, occupation, and other potentially interacting variables was examined.

Results: Overall, bilingual patients developed dementia 4.5 years later than the monolingual ones. A significant difference in age at onset was found across Alzheimer disease dementia as well as frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia, and was also observed in illiterate patients. There was no additional benefit to speaking more than 2 languages. The bilingual effect on age at dementia onset was shown independently of other potential confounding factors such as education, sex, occupation, and urban vs rural dwelling of subjects.

Conclusions: This is the largest study so far documenting a delayed onset of dementia in bilingual patients and the first one to show it separately in different dementia subtypes. It is the first study reporting a bilingual advantage in those who are illiterate, suggesting that education is not a sufficient explanation for the observed difference. The findings are interpreted in the context of the bilingual advantages in attention and executive functions.

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That missing lack of magnanimity

Chris Matthews on Hardball, 11/7/2013 (about 5:36 into the segment), complaining about Republican politicians complaining about Chris Christie:

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and then he- the other guy, Cruz- going at it, Cruz was doing the same thing, saying he didn't battle for principle,
because he allowed a- a state of New Jersey which has a lot of poor people, and working poor people in it,
to get Medicaid. I just don't see
the lack of chivalry, or what's the right word, magnanimity,
uh Michael, is amazing, Michael Steele, is amazingly missing here.

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Za stall in Newtown

Together with his "greetings from small-town Japan", Chris Pickel sent in this photograph of a sign, which was put up in his neighborhood for the aki-matsuri 秋祭り ("autumn festival").

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Too much Victor Mair

I've been reading way too much Victor Mair. In the restaurant of my hotel in London I just saw an English girl wearing a T-shirt on which it said this:


H O
P E

And I immediately thought, who is Ho Pe?

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A miscellany of mondegreens

Click here for a stellar collection of mondegreens from comedian Peter Kay. And prepare to have half a dozen songs ruined for you forever. A mondegreen is a speech perception error that causes you to hear the words of a song incorrectly. Peter Kay tells you what you're going to hear, and then plays passages from well-known pop songs of the last decade or two, often miming the crucial part; and thereafter you will never be able to hear those lines any other way. In fact you will forget what the real words were in the first place. Be afraid; be very afraid.

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Crispy curly noodle cakes

This morning, Jason Riggle and I were on Minnesota Public Radio's The Daily Circuit, discussing word aversion.

You can listen here:

After the show, the guy who set me up in the studio at WXPN confided that his personal horror is the word nourish. "And nourishment is just as bad", he added with a shudder.

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Finch song learning in the news again

Tim Requarth and Meehan Crist, "From the mouth of babes and birds", NYT 6/29/2013:

Researchers who focus on infant language and those who specialize in birdsong have teamed up in a new study suggesting that learning the transitions between syllables — from “da” to “do” and “do” to “da” — is the crucial bottleneck between babbling and speaking.

“We’ve discovered a previously unidentified component of vocal development,” said the lead author, Dina Lipkind, a psychology researcher at Hunter College in Manhattan. “What we’re showing is that babbling is not only to learn sounds, but also to learn transitions between sounds.”

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How far up the garden path can a Time Lord go?

[From here via David Morris, who adds that we should not doubt the seriousness of the doctor's situation]

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Garden path of the week

Parse it if you can:

The right, by contrast, wants to provide those cross subsidies via marriage with single women who have sex (and their children) simply left to suffer pour encourager les autres.

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