Archive for Awesomeness

Complex nominal of the year

I recently got a note from the Philadelphia chapter of the Acoustical Society of America, informing me that the November meeting will held at a location identified as the "Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division Machinery Silencing Complex".

I'm pretty sure that this is the longest English complex nominal  that I've encountered so far this year, but unfortunately I'll be out of town on the date in question, so I won't be able to see the actual referent.

 

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An xkcd for Geoff Nunberg

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Bishnu Atal

Here at Interspeech 2018, the first presentation will be by Bishnu Atal, winner of the ISCA medal for scientific achievement. Though you probably don't know it, Bishnu has had an enormous impact on your life — at least if you ever talk on a cell phone, or listen to music on iTunes or Spotify or Amazon or wherever.

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Polyphonic overtone singing

[h/t Three Quarks Daily via Bob Shackleton]

Lessons here.
 

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Vowels are the souls of consonants

And a consonant without a vowel is a body without a soul.

So says Spinoza in his Hebrew Grammar (Compendium grammatices linguæ hebrææ), as published postumously in 1677.

At least, that's sort of what he says.

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Toward a recursive meta-pragmatics of Twitterspheric intertextuality

A few days ago, I posted a post consisting of…

a screenshot of a tweet (by me) consisting of…

a screenshot of a Language Log post (by me) consisting of…

a screenshot of a tweet (by me) consisting of…

a screenshot of a tweet by Lynne Murphy, a linguistics professor, quote-tweeting* an earlier tweet by Benjamin Dreyer, who is (although I didn’t know it at the time) a vice president, Executive Managing Editor, and Copy Chief at Random House.
* retweeting and adding a comment

The post was titled, "There's a fine line between recursion and intertextuality."

A screenshot of the post is provided below the fold—but I hasten to add that I am providing the screenshot solely as a convenience to the reader, to save them the trouble of having to leave this post in order to look at that one, should they be so inclined.

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Modality is a bitch (updated)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H/t (via retweet) Hugo Mercier.

UPDATE:

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There is No Racial Justice Without Linguistic Justice

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

One of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quotes come from a speech he delivered at a retreat attended by staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in South Carolina, one year before he was assassinated:

“We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We have been in a reform movement… But after Selma and the voting rights bill, we moved into a new era, which must be the era of revolution. We must recognize that we can't solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can't really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.” (King 1967)

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Zebra finch self-tutoring

Sometimes a new experimental result suggests a very different way of interpreting older results. On a visit a couple of days ago to Ofer Tchernichovski's lab at Hunter College, I encountered a striking example of this effect.

The background is the experimental literature on zebra finch song learning. If one of these birds is raised in acoustic and social isolation, it never learns to sing a species-typical song, but rather continues to produce "proto-song", which is a sort of songbird equivalent of grunts and groans. In contrast, with a relatively brief exposure to an example of adult song during a "critical period" early in life, a bird will (later on) learn to sing properly, in fact imitating the tutor's song quite closely. Crucially, species-typical zebra finch song is made up of discrete "syllables" arranged in regular "motifs", whereas proto-song is relatively diffuse and non-categorical at all time scales.

A decade ago, I reported on some fascinating work from Ofer's lab showing that species-typical song can emerge over a few generations in a colony raised in acoustic isolation, never encountering any external adult models ("Creole birdsong?" 5/9/2008).

Now a newer experiment (Olga Fehér et al., "Statistical learning in songbirds: from self-tutoring to song culture", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 2016) adds a result that makes us think differently about the earlier work.

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Scarf 'em up!

Is there a linguist in your life? Puzzled for a present that might really shiver their timbers? I know it seems like we're all living on a higher plane, laser-focused on abstractions beyond the merely corporeal, but we do enjoy a worldly indulgence now and then. Consider, for example, these beautiful IPA-print scarves (and other merch) available on Redbubble from the inimitable Lingthusiam podcast team, Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. Just the thing for keeping one's neck cozy at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in January in Salt Lake City. All the cool kids will be wearing them!

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The American Dialect Society in the New York Times crossword

The American Dialect Society gets a nice shout-out in Tuesday's New York Times crossword. More than a shout-out, in fact: the puzzle is actually ADS-themed.

Subscribers to the Times crossword can download the puzzle in Across Lite format or as a PDF. After you've solved it, you can read my commentary in the NYT's Wordplay column. (Or just skip to the column if you don't mind the spoilers. You can also see the clues and completed grid on XWord Info.)

Wordplay also quotes Greg Poulos, the crossword's creator (making his debut in the Times), who revealed that he came up with the theme while reading Language Log. Great to see, especially after Tom McCoy's grammatical-diversity-themed puzzle back in March. Linguisticky crosswords are all the rage!

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538 snags Trent Reznor Prize nomination

Rick Rubenstein has nominated this sentence (from Oliver Roeder, "The Supreme Court Is Allergic To Math", FiveThirtyEight 10/17/2017) for the prestigious Trent Reznor Prize for Tricky Embedding:

Justice Neil Gorsuch balked at the multifaceted empirical approach that the Democratic team bringing the suit is proposing be used to calculate when partisan gerrymandering has gone too far, comparing the metric to a secret recipe.

Rick notes that "This passage from 538 took me several readings".

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Literally bigger than the phone book

The Edinburgh Festival season has begun. There are more than half a dozen independently run and temporally overlapping festivals, depending on what you want to count. But the biggest of all of them is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the entire world (I admitted in a Lingua Franca post to my love of the lowbrow humor of the comedy shows). I've often told people that the catalog of shows is bigger than the phone book for an average city — a claim that will be uninterpretable to many, since most of us hardly ever see telephone directories now. But I would hate for you to think that I spoke loosely. Let's get quantitative. Edinburgh does still have a phone book, published by BT (formerly British Telecom). It covers not just the city of Edinburgh but the whole Lothian county in which it sits. And the new edition just arrived. So I have the Edinburgh and Lothian phone book on the table before me, beside the Edinburgh Festival Fringe catalog. I have compared them. I have numbers.

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