Archive for Language and culture

Logic from the voice of the earth itself

On Friday, I gave a talk at the 46th Algonquian Conference. As the conference web page explains,

The 46th Algonquian Conference will be held in Uncasville, Connecticut, on the reservation of the Mohegan Tribal Nation.  This is the first time in 46 years that the conference will be held on sovereign Native territory.

The 46th Algonquian Conference coincides with the 20th Anniversary of the Mohegan Tribe winning its sovereignty through federal recognition.  The conference itself will be held in the Mohegan Sun Hotel and Convention Center at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

In our registration packet was a copy of Melissa Jayne Fawcett, The Lasting of the Mohegans, 1995.

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Women modifiers

Maddie York, "Why there are too many women doctors, women MPs, and women bosses", The Guardian 10/17/2014:

I am a subeditor at the Guardian. I am a woman. I am not a woman subeditor. But “woman” and its plural seem to be taking over the role of modifier, so that now, there is no such thing, as far as much of the media is concerned, as a female doctor, a female MP or a female chef. Instead you hear or read about a woman doctor, a woman MP and so on. [...]

As far as the Guardian style guide is concerned, it is simply wrong to use “woman” and “women” in this way, because, it says, they are not adjectives.

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Matched guise among the tombstones

Lawrence Block's 1992 novel A Walk Among the Tombstones has been made into a recently-released movie. I haven't seen the movie, but in the book, the character TJ carries out what sociolinguists would call a "matched guise experiment".  This is a technique for measuring language attitudes by having the same speaker read a passage in two different ways, and asking hearers a series of questions about the speaker's intelligence, honesty, or whatever.

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Predictive poetry

A few years ago, people noticed that the predictive typing on Android smartphones could construct interesting phrases all on its own: "Your typical sentence", 6/13/2012. iOS 8 has caught up  — Geoffrey Fowler and Joanna Stern, "iOS 8 Keyboard Makes Hilarious 'Mad Libs' For You", WSJ 9/17/2014:

Now the latest version of Apple’s iPhone software, iOS 8, adds a layer of smarts on top of autocorrect called QuickType, predictive typing of a sort previously found on Android. Not only does it suggest spelling, it also suggests words you might want to type next. If you keep following its train of robotic thought, QuickType will form entire sentences on your behalf.

The result is so goofy that it is brilliant. For the last week, we—your WSJ personal technology columnists—have been conducting serious tests of the new iPhones and iOS 8, while also holding nonsensical auto-generated conversations with each other.

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Experience the power of the bookbook™

From Ikea and ad agency BBH:

And feel the force of Contrastive Focus Reduplication™.

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Somebody

Yesterday I was skimming the digital New York Times and clicked on the second-from-the-right item in the panel below, without noticing the "paid post" superscript:

This took me to an article about a new smartphone app called Somebody:

Here’s how Somebody works: when you send your friend or loved one a message through the app, it doesn’t go directly to them, but uses GPS to locate the Somebody user nearest to him or her. This person (probably a stranger) delivers the message verbally, acting as your stand-in.

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The once and future goddess

Geeta Pandey, "An 'English goddess' for India's down-trodden", BBC News 2/15/2011:

The Dalit (formerly untouchable) community is building a temple in Banka village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to worship the Goddess of the English language, which they believe will help them climb up the social and economic ladder.

About two feet tall, the bronze statue of the goddess is modelled after the Statue of Liberty.

"She is the symbol of Dalit renaissance," says Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer who came up with the idea of the Goddess of English.

"She holds a pen in her right hand which shows she is literate. She is dressed well and sports a huge hat – it's a symbol of defiance that she is rejecting the old traditional dress code.

"In her left hand, she holds a book which is the constitution of India which gave Dalits equal rights. She stands on top of a computer which means we will use English to rise up the ladder and become free for ever."

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Genres

In today's Bad Machinery, Shauna abandons powerviolence and decides against crustcore.

Some of you will recognize that these are names of musical genres, well enough established to have Wikipedia entries. Thus

Powerviolence [...], is a raw and dissonant subgenre of hardcore punk.The style is closely related to thrashcore and grindcore.

and

Crust punk (often simply crust) is a form of music influenced by anarcho-punk, hardcore punk and extreme metal.

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Sanskrit resurgent

When I was studying Buddhism at the University of Washington (Seattle) in 1967-68, there were about ten students in my first-year Sanskrit course for Buddhologists and Indologists.  What intrigued me greatly was that there was another beginning Sanskrit course being offered at the same time.  It had many more students than the class I was in and was offered by the Linguistics Department.  The rationale for encouraging (I can't remember if it was actually required) linguistics students to take Sanskrit was that the foundations of the scientific study of language had been laid by Panini, Patanjali, and other ancient Sanskrit grammarians around two and a half millennia ago, so that it would be good to have at least a basic understanding of the roots of the tradition.

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Ye Olde English katakana

Via HiLobrow (8/10/2014), Ben Zimmer came across this virtuoso display of Gothic katakana on feitclub's Tumblr:


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Patchwriting by Rick Perlstein (and Craig Shirley)

Alexandra Alter, "Reagan Book Sets Off Debate", NYT 8/4/2014:

Mr. Perlstein’s new 856-page book, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” which comes out Tuesday, is proving to be almost as divisive as Reagan himself. It has drawn both strong reviews from prominent book critics, and sharp criticism from some scholars and commentators who accuse Mr. Perlstein of sloppy scholarship, improper attribution and plagiarism.

The most serious accusations come from a fellow Reagan historian, Craig Shirley, who said that Mr. Perlstein plagiarized several passages from Mr. Shirley’s 2004 book, “Reagan’s Revolution,” and used Mr. Shirley’s research numerous times without proper attribution.

In two letters to Mr. Perlstein’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, Mr. Shirley’s lawyer, Chris Ashby, cited 19 instances of duplicated language and inadequate attribution, and demanded $25 million in damages, a public apology, revised digital editions and the destruction of all physical copies of the book. Mr. Shirley said he has since tallied close to 50 instances where his work was used without credit.

The controversy has three different parts: Perlstein's use of online notes instead of notes within the published book; the ethical status of Perlstein's use of material from Shirley's book, with or without attribution; and the legal status of that usage.  The most problematic of the accusations seem to be instances of what has been called "patchwriting", and that's the aspect of the controversy that I want to focus on.

My conclusion will be that Perlstein did indeed take idea-combinations and associated word-choices and word-sequences from Shirley; and he sometimes did this without specific attribution; but what he did seems to be within the normal boundaries of research methods for narrative histories, as indicated by the fact that Shirley did quite similar things with his own sources.

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Wrecking a nice beach

Under the subject line "Things you never thought you'd get to say", Bob Ladd sent me this note yesterday:

You are among the few people I know who will appreciate this anecdote:  

It's been unusually cool, wet, and windy in many parts of the Mediterranean this summer, including our part of Sardinia.  On our last full day there last week, our local beach was still unpleasantly rough and windy, so we decided to go to a place called La Licciola about 10 miles away, on the other side of the headland and therefore protected from the wind.  The last time we went there a couple of years ago, the final access was a long downhill stretch of dirt road with what amounted to a field to park in at the bottom.  It was fairly chaotic in a typically Italian way, with people managing to park along the edges of the dirt road when the field got full, but with everyone always leaving just enough room to get through.  Anyway, the other day we got to the top of the downhill road to discover that it has been properly paved, with an actual sidewalk along one side and no-parking signs on the other (though everyone was parking there anyway).  The parking field has been improved with clearly delineated spaces and there was a chain across the entrance because it was already full.  People were having a hard time turning around because the sidewalk has narrowed the driveable part of the downhill road, and new people kept coming in at the top of the hill looking for a space to park, creating more chaos.  We decided to give up and go somewhere else, but it took us the better part of 15 minutes to extract ourselves from the mess. It was only on the way back out to the main road that it occurred to me that, in trying to improve things, they had managed to, well, wreck a nice beach.  

It was my misfortune to be sharing the car with someone who wouldn't have understood why I was giggling. 

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Generational punctuation differences again

Forwarded from a young person, who got it from an acquaintance:

just got an email that said "Address is correct…" like are you sad? are you upset? why the fuck are those extra periods there?

dear people over 25, stop using ellipses for no reason like please what are you doing

It occurs to me that the quoted reaction ("why are those extra periods there?" "like please what are you doing") has something in common with the reaction of non-uptalkers to uptalk.

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Foul Meat-gate

In "Dead and alive: metaphors for (dis)obeying the law " (7/27/14), we discussed the food scandal that has rocked China in recent days.  Abe Sauer had earlier made this post to the brandchannel:  "China's Latest Meat Scandal Could Deal a Death Blow to Brands Like KFC " (7/23/14).  In it, Abe remarked, "Taking a note from America's Watergate-based nomenclature, the scandal is being called 'Foul Meat-gate' ('臭肉门')."  Ben Zimmer, who called Abe's post to my attention, asked, "Is '-gate' really working as a morpheme here?"

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CXO

Under the Subject line "Notice of Online Survey of Higher Ed CMOs", I got an email last week from someone who described herself as the Chief Marketing Officer of the Chronicle of Higher Education. It began like this:

Dear Mark,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has partnered with SimpsonScarborough, a higher education market research firm, to study the organization and operations of the marketing unit within higher education institutions. The purpose of this study is to better understand marketing budgeting, staffing structure, responsibilities and priorities at higher education institutions.

And the next day, the Director of Project Strategy at SimpsonScarborough sent me a note, under the Subject line "Online Survey of Higher Ed CMOs",  that started this way:

Dear Mark:
 
The Chronicle of Higher Education and SimpsonScarborough, a higher education marketing company, would like to invite you to participate in an important online survey of higher ed chief marketing officers. The purpose of this study is to better understand the role and influence of marketing in higher education including budgeting, staffing structure, responsibilities and priorities at higher education institutions.

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