Archive for January, 2010

Magnetic fields

Several readers have written to suggest LL coverage of the latest viral site, "Sleep Talkin' Man". So if you're one of the half-dozen netizens who haven't yet browsed this compendium of oneirophonic entertainment, by all means do so now.

I haven't written about this because I don't have much to say, except that it's interesting how interested people are in such things. In some Elysian bistro, André Breton and Philippe Soupault are doubtless kicking themselves for being born too early to publish in the t-shirt and coffee-mug market:

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In the NYT

In the January 25 New York Times, two items that caught my eye:

First, a front-page piece on the Tohono O'odham Nation of southern Arizona: "In Drug War, Tribe Feels Invaded by Both Sides" (by Erik Eckholm). The tribe is pressed by drug smugglers and by federal agents, a combination that has made their lives difficult indeed.

Linguists will recognize the group as the people formerly known as the Papago (a name given them by unfriendly outsiders), whose (Uto-Aztecan) language is familiar to linguists through the work of the late Ken Hale and his student Ofelia Zepeda. Reading about the trials of the Tohono O'oodham is like hearing distressing news about an old friend.

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Modal deafness

The business about musical modality and emotion reminds me of an amazing unpublished experimental result.  At least, it's amazing if it's true; and I think it probably is.

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Indie-pop Manglish

Over the weekend, one of the guests on the NPR show "Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen" was the Malaysian singer-songwriter Zee Avi, who has managed to convert YouTube buzz into an indie recording contract and a well-received debut album. Most of her lyrics are in English, but one of her songs, which she performed on the show, code-mixes Malay and English. As she explains, the song "Kantoi" (meaning "Busted") is in "a hybrid of Malay and English called Manglish." I talked about Manglish a few years ago in the post, "Malaysia cracks down on 'salad language,'" where I discussed measures taken by the Malaysian government to ban Malay-English mixtures. I wonder how government officials feel now that Manglish is getting international exposure, thanks to a diminutive, ukulele-strumming songstress.

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Singular they trudges on

Over on ADS-L, Larry Horn read his NYT carefully:

One additional highlight of the Virginia Heffernan guido/guidette piece in today's N. Y. Times Magazine section is a nice example of a plural pronoun with singular sex-known but indefinite antecedent, a phenomenon we've discussed in the past. Here's Sammi Sweetheart, describing the role she plays in the MTV Reality show, "Jersey Shore", as quoted by Heffernan

"A Guidette takes really good care of themselves, has pretty hair, cakes on makeup, has tan skin, wears the hottest heels."

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Sweet tooth fairies

Just a pointer to a bit of whimsical language play described by Erin McKean in the Boston Globe's "The Word" column: composites of the form X Y Z, created by overlapping a composite X Y with a composite Y Z. So: sweet tooth fairy, from sweet tooth plus tooth fairy. Examples that make "a certain cockeyed sense" (parlor game warden) or those "merging wildly divergent things" (magnetic personality disorder) are especially entertaining.

Post comments to Erin's column.

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Tone collections and affective reactions

A few days ago, I pointed to a recent paper arguing that "major and minor tone collections elicit different affective reactions because their spectra are similar to the spectra of voiced speech uttered in different emotional states" ( Daniel L. Bowling et al., "Major and minor music compared to excited and subdued speech", Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 127(1): 491–503, January 2010).

The argument in this paper has a nice rhetorical shape: the authors use a new form of quantitative analysis to explain the psycho-physiological substrate of a generally-accepted cultural association.  But in this case, both sides of the explanation strike me as having some very odd properties. In this post, I'll try to explain what struck me as strange in their characterization of the cultural association between "tone collections" and "affective reactions". At some point in the future, I'll return to their quantitative analysis of music and speech.

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Look it up

We've been reprinting or linking to Rob Balder's PartiallyClips comics for more than six years. (I believe that this was our first link, and this was our second one.) Now Rob has handed the strip over to Tim Crist, who started right out with a lexicographical theme:

(As always, click on the image for a larger version.)

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Language-related efforts to help out in Haiti

Posting on behalf of Phil Resnik:

This post brings together a bunch of news about language-related efforts to help out in Haiti:

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Of Pogue and plosives and palates

In his latest article, "Packing a Series of Pluses," New York Times tech columnist David Pogue went 1 for 2 in his phonetic terminology:

Apparently, the people in positions of power at Palm weren’t completely pleased with the plethora of P’s in the appellations “Palm Pre” and “Palm Pixi,” the app phones Palm produced for Sprint. Palm has now expanded the parade of P’s with a pair of improved products: the Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus.
(We’ll pause while you repair your palate after all those plosives.)

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Ask Language Log: "On point"

From reader JHG:

Is it just my perception, or is the phrase "on-point" in the midst of a meteoric rise in usage and a de facto expansion in meaning?  I have heard it used repeatedly as a general term of approval or commendation rather than to mean only "germane." We may not have the next "cool" on our hands, but I think there's a trend here. Any way to validate one listener's perceptions with some research?

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In a world with no rules … one man … broke them all.

That's the tagline for Banksy's soon to be released film Exit Through the Gift Shop. This is turning out to be a good day for sentences you need to read twice. And it's rare to find one which says nothing and everything (about street art, grammar, movies, you name it) so precisely.

[via the Guardian]

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An ursine crash blossom

Via Wonkette and The Raw Story comes this shocking political headline from the Reuters newswire:

One can only imagine what Stephen Colbert will have to say about this.

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Manfred Schroeder

Manfred Schroeder died on Dec. 28, 2009, as I just learned.  He was a physicist specializing in acoustics, who worked at Bell Labs from 1954 to 1969, and then split his time between Göttingen and Bell Labs.  He carried forward the tradition of Harvey Fletcher, an accomplished physicist whose most important work was in the psychology of hearing. As Manfred jokingly pointed out to me when we first met in 1975, this is also the tradition of  Gleb Vikentyevich Nerzhin, the mathematician in Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle who seals his fate by chosing to work on psycho-acoustics rather than cryptography.

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Dilbert fails to apologise

Dilbert fails to grasp the distinction between brevity (a syntactic property of a locutionary act) and brusqueness (a pragmatic property relating to a perlocutionary effect), and fails to draw the distinction between sorry with clause complement and the same word employed in a speech act of apology (see here and here and here and here and other places); and more office discord results…

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