Archive for Language and culture

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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"Spastic" and a different kind of "word crime"

Weird Al Yankovic's new song "Word Crimes" has generated a lot of heated discussion among linguists and other descriptivist types who didn't take kindly to its litany of language peeves — satire or no satire. (See my original post and Lauren Squires' guest post for extended commentary.) But in detailing various "word crimes," Weird Al managed to commit a linguistic foul of his own. And no, I'm not talking about the split infinitive at the end of the song ("Try your best to not drool"). Weird Al assured his Twitter followers that the line was an intentional bit of trolling:

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Want to get ahead as a woman in tech?
Learn to interrupt.

Below is a guest post by Kieran Snyder.


This week’s earlier posting on interruptions, in which I presented data to suggest that men interrupt more than women in the tech workplace, and that women are interrupted all the time by everyone, has easily been the most viewed, discussed, tweeted, and shared jenga post so far. This is due in no small part to the cross-posting picked up by Language Log, so many thanks to Mark Liberman for sharing it and to my linguist friends who suggested it. You can take the girl out of linguistics, but it’s hard to take linguistics out of the girl.

In case you missed the first post, a quick recap. In this totally observational and directional study, separate from any other factors, men interrupt women about three times as often as they interrupt other men. In a climate where interruptions happen on average once every two minutes and fifty-one seconds, there is less than one instance per hour of a woman interrupting a man for any reason. You get the idea: big tech is not an equitable environment as far as interruptions are concerned. This makes sense, since it is not a particularly equitable environment in terms of hiring and promotions either.

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More on speech overlaps in meetings

This post follows up on Mark Dingemanse's guest post, "Some constructive-critical notes on the informal overlap study", which in turn comments on Kieran Snyder's guest post, "Men interrupt more than women".

As part of a project on the application of speech and language technology to meetings, almost 15 years ago, researchers at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) recorded, transcribed and analyzed a large number of their regular technical meetings. The results were published by the Linguistic Data Corsortium as the ICSI Meeting speech and transcripts. As the publication's documentation explains:

75 meetings collected at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley during the years 2000-2002. The meetings included are "natural" meetings in the sense that they would have occurred anyway: they are generally regular weekly meetings of various ICSI working teams, including the team working on the ICSI Meeting Project. In recording meetings of this type, we hoped to capture meeting dynamics and speaking styles that are as natural as possible given that speakers are wearing close-talking microphones and are fully cognizant of the recording process. The speech files range in length from 17 to 103 minutes, but generally run just under an hour each.

There are a total of 53 unique speakers in the corpus. Meetings involved anywhere from three to 10 participants, averaging six. The corpus contains a significant proportion of non-native English speakers, varying in fluency from nearly-native to challenging-to-transcribe.

There's an extensive set of "dialogue act" annotations of this material, available from ICSI, and described in Elizabeth Shriberg et al., "The ICSI Meeting Recorder Dialog Act (MRDA) Corpus", HLT 2004.

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Some constructive-critical notes on the informal overlap study

The following is a guest post by Mark Dingemanse, commenting on Kieran Snyder, "Men interrupt more than women", 7/14/2014.


Although I understand the interest of the topic, and although Kieran Snyder clearly did a lot of work for a substantial blog posting, I think the results are given too much credit, almost inevitably now that they are featured in news media everywhere (in her defense, she does note some methodological problems herself that should lead to a more cautious interpretation).

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