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Born too early: prehistory of Berkeley linguistics

Andrew Garrett is Professor of Linguistics and Nadine M. Tang and Bruce L. Smith Professor of Cross-Cultural Social Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, and also Director of the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages there. He wrote to me after he saw my post about who has the oldest linguistics department in the USA to give some interesting comments about his department's early history, the relations between linguistics and anthropology, and the vexed question of which is the oldest department of linguistics in the USA. Here's the gist of his email, as a guest post.


Guest post by Andrew Garrett

The first Berkeley Linguistics department was set up in 1901, in fact a few months before even the Anthropology department here. An introduction to linguistics course that is still taught was first taught in Fall 1901, by Benjamin Ide Wheeler, the president of the university and an Indo-Europeanist who had received his Heidelberg PhD as a student of the neogrammarians. "Wheeler's Law" of Greek accentuation is named after him. (Joseph Aoun is another linguist university president, at Northeastern University, but I don't know how many others there have been.)

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Comment spam abates?

A year ago, I noted that Language Log was getting about 4000 spam comments per day ("A million (spam) comments", 9/2/2011). Recently, this number has been substantially lower — just 771 in the past 24 hours, for example.

But during the past year, the spam tide rose before it fell. We logged our millionth spam comment at some point early in the morning of September 1, 2011; today, a year later, our spam filters have caught 3,277,574, or an average of (3277574-1000000)/365 = 6240 per day over the intervening time.

Whether the spam filter's daily harvest is 500 or 10,000, it's too many for me to check the whole list for false positives. So if your comment doesn't appear, and it wasn't offensive and/or devoid of relevant content, there's a good chance that you somehow got caught in the spam filter.

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Casasanto and Jasmin on the QWERTY effect

LL readers will not be surprised to learn that Daniel Casasanto and Kyle Jasmin disagree with my evaluation of their work on the "QWERTY effect". Yesterday afternoon, they added a comment to that effect on the original post. Since relatively few of the people who read that post are likely to see their comment, I'm reproducing it below. I'll respond at some later point.

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The posts of Christmas past

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Uptick in spam comments

Stock markets are down around the world, but the flow of spam comments continues to increase. Three weeks (21 days) ago, our spam comments counter stood at 1,008,782. As of this morning, it's at 1,140,742, for an increment of 131,960 in 21 days. This is 6,284 per day, or 2,293,591 per year.

I've long since given up scanning the spam trap for real comments that the automatic algorithms have caught by mistake, though I'm sure that there are still a few of these. (Note that even if the false alarm rate is very low, say a tenth of a percent, there would still be a half a dozen innocent victims a day. I believe that in fact the rate is a bit lower than that, but it's not zero.)

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Comments on comments

Worth reading: Josh Marshal, "Should you be you?", TPM; and the comments following it.

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Andrewlanche

Note to readers: Thanks to a link from Andrew Sullivan, our server is maxed out at around 2250 visitors/hour, and things are a little slow. If you come back in an hour or two, response times for browsing or commenting should be better, as we return to our more normal mid-day average of around 1,000 visitors/hour:

(Status as of 3:05 p.m.)

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Back on top

Under the name "Arnold Zwicky" I have returned to the top of the list of Language Log authors, having spent some time in the guise "Zwicky Arnold" at the very bottom of the list. Let there be wild celebrations! Boundless e-Champagne and i-Bûche de Juillet for everyone!

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The posts of Christmas past

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Annals of spam

I last posted about spam comments on New Language Log in September, when the spam queue was nearing 9,000 items. Now it's over 77,000, and there have been waves of spam of many different types. We do get spam comments that take a moment's thought to discard. To start with, they're grammatical (while in the old days, many of the spam comments were entertainingly ungrammatical), but then they betray their spamminess by a cluster of properties: they are comments on postings from some time before; they have no real content, but merely say something congratulatory (like "Great site!"); and the URI they provide is to a commercial site (sometimes this is immediately obvious, but sometimes it takes some checking).

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Incommunicado

I may perhaps have commented before that I am a firm believer in the pessimistic principle that every upgrade is a downgrade. So when I saw on December 22 a message from our technical staff at the University of Edinburgh saying that on the following day the Unix servers would be taken down "for the installation of security patches and general maintenance", I naturally felt a chill like the coldness of the grave.

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More meta-commentary

Someone using the moniker "Tarlach" tried to post a number of comments last night. This one, related to Chris Potts' post "Probably they shouldn't", was typical:

Actual speaks of language have no problems with antecedents. They are completly un-noteworthy, and I don't understand why people make posts about these un-noteworthy language events on here. If Obama's slogan was "Yes, Fred can!" with no common perception of who the hell Fred is, that would be noteworthy.

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LL to be down 10:00-16:00 12/20/2008

Due to a scheduled power interruption in the building where our server is located, Language Log will be unavailable between approximately 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. tomorrow, Dec. 20. (That would be 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. GMT, if I've done the arithmetic right.)

[Update 12:07 12/20: Or maybe not -- in fact, things seemed to go down in the wee hours of the morning, and they're back as now, which is noon, and might be down later. Anyhow, everything seems to be OK...]

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A comment about comments

Earlier today, someone calling himself (?) Baishui submitted this comment on Victor Mair's post Burlesque Matinée at the Max Planck Gesellschaft:

My comments were deleted twice here. Apparently, someone is offended by me saying 'this incident shows how ignorant the West (and its academics) are of the non-Western world'. What pettiness!

I deleted this comment, just as I had deleted the same individual's first attempt, which consisted only of a one-sentence indictment of Western academics, and the second attempt, which added the accusation of censorship.

In an attempt to maintain a reasonable signal-to-noise ratio in the comments section, I'll continue to be skeptical of comments that lack specific and relevant content. To put this skepticism into context, though, you need to understand something about how comments work in a standard WordPress blog.

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Take our survey

For some weeks now I have been assigned to the Financial Good News Desk here at Language Log Plaza. It took me longer than it should have done for me to realize that this was just some sort of practical joke aimed at making sure I did not write anything, apparently because of pressure from the office of the Vice President of the United States (because of posts like this one, I suppose). I eventually applied for a transfer, and have now been assigned to the Research Survey Department. So I have to send out surveys. Please answer the questions below in your own time despite the considerable difficulties with format and the obscurity of the questions, and return by email at our convenience to surveys@research.languagelog.com, where an automatic system will use it to generate data entirely for our benefit rather than yours.

Do you believe the world has gone survey mad and that nearly all surveys done are a gigantic waste of time? __ strongly agree
__ sort of agree
__ utterly undecided
__ hardly care
__ sort of disagree
__ strongly disagree
Do you think surveys asking for people's opinions about the way things are, rather than verifiable things they have done, are an even more extreme form of stupidity, resulting in nonsense like "43% of employees believe managers may be snooping on them" being passed off as news or even social science? __ strongly agree
__ sort of agree
__ utterly undecided
__ hardly care
__ sort of disagree
__ strongly disagree

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