Archive for April, 2011

Pop-culture narcissism again

I'm in Minneapolis for a meeting of the LSA executive committee, and yesterday afternoon, on the plane from Philadelphia, I listened all the way through to Lee Atwater's extraordinary 1990 album, "Red, Hot and Blue". At the time these tracks were recorded, Atwater was chairman of the Republican National Committee, fresh from his successful role managing George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign. And as you can hear if you listen to the guitar and vocal stylings on his signature tune Bad Boy, Atwater was also a pretty fair R&B musician:

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Cursive and Characters: Dying Arts

In "The Case for Cursive," (NYT [April 28, 2011]), Katie Zezima states that:

For centuries, cursive handwriting has been an art. To a growing number of young people, it is a mystery.

The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the fancier ABC’s is revealing some unforeseen challenges.

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The prince and princess leave without saying "I do"

Language Log did of course have correspondents at the royal wedding of Prince William (now also the Duke of Cambridge) and Catherine Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge). And linguistically, our judgment is that all went well. Or at least, well enough.

One point to be made is that all the songs that use "when we say 'I do'" as a metonymy for "when we marry" (and that phrase even appears in some UK newspapers this afternoon) are plainly not in conformity with the language of the wedding service in the Church of England. There may be forms of the service where "I do" is said, but nobody said "I do" at this ceremony, and nobody was supposed to. When Prince William was asked the long question beginning "Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife…", his answer was of course, "I will". Or to be more phonetically precise, a very quiet and swift gulp from somewhat dry and nervous lips that sounded something like "Uh-wull".

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Intonational focus

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"Vampirical" hypotheses

Several readers have sent in links to recent media coverage of C. Nathan DeWall et al., "Tuning in to psychological change: Linguistic markers of psychological traits and emotions over time in popular U.S. song lyrics", Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 3/21/2011. For example, there's John Tierney, "A Generation’s Vanity, Heard Through Lyrics", NYT 4/25/2011.

[A]fter a computer analysis of three decades of hit songs, Dr. DeWall and other psychologists report finding what they were looking for: a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words “I” and “me” appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in “we” and “us” and the expression of positive emotions.

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BofA goes anarthrous in the Bay Area

Before (12/2010) & After (4/2011):

[Hat tip: "Thank you for not using a definite article", Bubo Blog 4/27/2011]

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At risk

In a comment on my post about the president's subordinators, "Jimbino" identified himself as an editor of medical articles, and asserted that

Of course, the most common error committed by physicians and nurses (and the NYT) is the use of "at risk for [cancer]" when they mean "at risk of [cancer]."

Challenged on this point by other commenters, he added that

A person who says, "… at risk for …" show misunderstanding of the careful use of prepositions that distinguishes persons educated in English from those who merely grew up in an English-speaking country. Your ability to catch this error will enable you to avoid docs and nurses who are incompetent and probably not careful about washing their hands.

And in response to some additional negative feedback, he explained himself further:

I am a prescriptivist who believes that "you are judged by the words you use," and who has little use for prescribing descriptivism or for those who do not take care to understand the correct use of prepositions and soap.

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A New Morpheme in Mandarin

A week ago, Anne Henochowicz sent me the following illustrated introduction to devotees of the five most popular Social Networking Services in China — Facebook (which is off limits to Chinese, but expats and others who can figure out how to get around the Great Firewall are naturally fond of it) and the top four indigenous knock-offs:

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"Advances in Internet of Things"

I'm used to being solicited by email to submit papers to spamferences like WMSCI, and (less often) I'm solicited to contribute to spam journals. But the names of these conferences and journals are generally plausible idiomatic (if somewhat abstract) imitations of the genuine article. So I was surprised yesterday to get an invitation from a new journal with the extraordinary monicker Advances in Internet of Things.

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Plus or minus 'that'

As everyone knows, the English subordinator that can often be omitted when it introduces a complement clause ("I  think (that) your plan goes too far") and also when it introduces a relative clause ("This is the one (that) I want"). And my intuition tells me that omitting that is a bit more informal than including it.

So I was a bit suprised to find that when President Obama gives speeches, he tends to add that in places where his  text "as prepared for delivery" leaves it out.

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Poetic Angst over Time and Tense

Over at the Poetry Foundation's blog, poet D. A. Powell comments about time in Mandarin:

DA Powell:  Every sentence written in English contains some anxiety about time. I’d love to write a poem that was Time-Free. Is that possible?

ME [Rachel Zucker]: Why? Is this particular to English?

DA: I don’t think English is necessarily the only language in which time is embedded in the verbs. But I know that in Mandarin it’s easy to make a sentence that doesn’t tell you at what time things happened. And I wish that were possible in English. A sentence in English begins and ends; it has direction; it carries you, relentlessly, toward a period, a place of death. It’s why I avoided sentences for so long in my poems–because I didn’t want to feel like I was living out a sentence.

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Berbers in Libya

According to Simon Denyer, "Libyan rebels seize western border crossing, as fighting in mountains intensifies", WaPo 4/21/2011:

Berbers have long faced suspicion and discrimination under the government of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, and many towns and villages took part in the uprising against his rule in mid-February. In recent days, the government has made a renewed bid to reclaim the Nafusa Mountains, which begin around 60 miles south of Tripoli and stretch westward to the Tunisian border, from rebel rule. [...]

Gaddafi called Berbers, also known as Amazigh, a “product of colonialism” who were created by the West to divide Libya. The Berber language was not recognized or taught in schools, and it was forbidden in Libya to give children Berber names.

The policy was relaxed in 2007, but a U.S. embassy cable released by Wikileaks said this relaxation was limited, and quoted Gaddafi as telling community leaders: “You can call yourselves whatever you want inside your homes — Berbers, Children of Satan, whatever — but you are only Libyans when you leave your homes.”

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Supplementary apposition train wreck

Bob Bechtel was reading James Warren's article "The Potentially Revolutionary Political Role of Fried Chicken" (in The Atlantic) when he stumbled on this sentence:

Reaching for a New Deal is supported by the Russell Sage foundation, a bastion of research in the social sciences and due out in August.

The Russell Sage foundation is due out…? What has gone wrong here? Was he looking at a sentence with a missed comma (perhaps from a typo)? Or an overapplication of the rule saying there should be no comma before a final and?

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Max Mathews R.I.P.

Max Mathews died yesterday morning.  For his 80th birthday in 2007, CCRMA's MaxFest described his contributions this way:

Fifty years ago, in 1957, at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Max Mathews demonstrated that the digital computer can be used as a fantastic new music instrument. He created a revolutionary software platform destined to form the basis of all contemporary digital musical systems (Music 1–Music 5).

His audacious ideas were driven by the belief that "any sound that the human ear can hear can be produced by a computer". Mathews's mastery of this new instrument revealed new musical horizons and sparked a burgeoning curiosity into the very nature of sound. His comprehension and elaboration made five decades of art and research possible, laying the groundwork for generations of electronic musicians to synthesize, record, and play music.

Today at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) as a Professor Emeritus he continues not only to educate students and colleagues, but also to guide and inspire with his constant inventiveness and pure musical pleasure.

Join us in honoring Max for two evenings of sound, celebration and discovery of his ideas, works, music, and writings.

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Phone Etiquette 2.0

Today's Zits:

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