Archive for June, 2011

Gub doo gia bee?

The reason I've been in Bulgaria this week is to present three tutorial lectures on linguistics at (of all things) a conference on computability. It has been an excellent experience, thanks to the tireless efforts of Alexandra, the chief organizer. Academic conference organizing is a horrible job. Unpaid work that involves being responsible for hundreds of people's lives and dozens of unforeseen circumstances and uncontrollable variables. In the case of this conference, a central problem turned out to be that the spectacular high-ceilinged oval room that is the main conference hall has acoustics ideal for an unamplified concert of vocal music (what I wouldn't give to hear Renée Fleming in this room), but is totally unsuited to delivering amplified human speech on technical topics.

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Spam for sale

I guess I had not really foreseen how fast the advent of ebooks would lead to a gigantic, unstoppable tsunami of what can only be described as bookspam, available for sale at Amazon.com. Have a look at this article by John Naughton, about the results of Amazon making available an easy conversion to Kindle format and easy uploading for sale.

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Francophone lexical influence in Bulgaria

I write this from Sofia, a delightful city of broad boulevards and amazing churches and friendly people and huge tranquil parks, where I arrived on Sunday afternoon. Within a few minutes I made my first linguistically-deduced hypothesis about the history of Bulgarian technology. I could be wrong, of course, but I have been led to conjecture that the Bulgarians got at least some of their modern architectural, constructional, and engineering technology via the French.

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What we believe in

Faye Flam, "‘Belief’ in evolution? It may be the wrong word", Philadelphia Inquirer 6/27/2011:

When the contestants in the Miss USA pageant last week were asked whether evolution should be taught in schools, many volunteered that they either "believed" or "didn't believe" in the concept.

"I don't believe in evolution," said Miss Alabama. "They should teach both sides since some people believe in evolution and some people believe in creation," said Miss Arizona. "It's something people believe in," said Miss Florida. "I believe in evolution … and I like to believe in, like, the big bang theory," said Miss California, who won the crown.

Faye quotes some people who think that talk about believing in things confuses science with faith. She also quotes some people on the other side, including me.

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The pleasures of recursive acronymy

The latest xkcd:

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

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"Like" youth and sex

In confessing her like-aholism ("My Love Affair With 'Like'", Jezebel 6/26/2011), Erin Gloria Ryan framed the problem in terms of gender roles:

Any girl who's been teased for middle school nerdery has likely developed a long standing aversion for the feeling of being excluded for being too smart or opinionated. This is the way that socially acceptable people talk. This is the way that pretty people talk. Women are taught that it's more important to be pretty and socially accepted than it is to be smart. Ergo, like.

She's talking about the discourse-particle like, as in her example "so, like, my sentences, like, sound like this. And I, like, sound dumber than I actually am".  She reports a student evaluation that also noted the stereotypical association with youth: ""She says 'like' more often than a valley girl".

Are these stereotypes accurate? Is the discourse-particle like really characteristic of younger women? Today's Breakfast Experiment™ looks into the matter, and finds (in a limited and superficial survey of proxy measures) that one part of the stereotype is apparently valid, but the other is not.

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Republican self-referentiality

You may recall that last week, Craig Shirley & Bill Pascoe took Jon Huntsman to task for being "the GOP’s Barack Obama" ("Two more pundits who don't count", 6/21/2011). Their only fact-checkable evidence for this proposition was the observation that

In Huntsman’s announcement today, his remarks were infused with possessive pronouns, just like Obama.

Their article makes it clear that when they write "possessive pronouns", they mean to evoke the widespread idea that President Obama "is inordinately fond of the first-person singular pronoun", as George F. Will put it back in June of 2009.   Now that Michele Bachmann has officially announced her candidacy, I thought I'd see how Jon Huntsman compares with the other announced Republican candidates on the self-referentiality dimension.

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Spoken style correction: the iPeeve™

I just had a terrible idea that could probably make someone a modest fortune. I was inspired by Erin Gloria Ryan, "My Love Affair With 'Like'", Jezebel 6/26/2011:

I use the word "like" with embarrassing frequency. I've started paying attention to how other people talk as well, and it's amazing how many women who I know are very smart are similarly infected with like-itis.

Where does this come from? Why do we do this? [...]

Since we know that saying "like" too much leads others to negatively judge our intelligence, maybe inserting "like" into a sentence is something that we do to purposefully make ourselves sound less intelligent and forceful and therefore less formidable than we actually are. We're sabotaging ourselves! [...]

Maybe women of my generation have been taught, through positive social reinforcement, that we're supposed to pepper our speech with meaningless modifiers that make us sounds a little less sure of ourselves, a little less credible. No one likes a show off or a know-it-all. Better temper your smart-talk with assurance to whoever you're speaking that you're not, like, a threat or anything. Any girl who's been teased for middle school nerdery has likely developed a long standing aversion for the feeling of being excluded for being too smart or opinionated. This is the way that socially acceptable people talk. This is the way that pretty people talk. Women are taught that it's more important to be pretty and socially accepted than it is to be smart. Ergo, like.

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Two candidates for the Trent Reznor Prize

A candidate for the Trent Reznor Prize for Tricky Embedding, in the form of a BBC News teaser:

A penguin chick that was hand-reared by zoo keepers in Devon who used a puppet to impersonate an adult dies.


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Too true

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Cross examination

Here's how not to place a temporal modifier. See if you readily understand this sentence (from the UK's Daily Mirror) on first reading:

[H]e callously instructed his lawyers to add to her family's pain by implying the 13-year-old ran away because she was unhappy at home during days of cross examination.

So this poor 13-year-old girl was undergoing day-long cross examinations in her home? That certainly would make a teenager inclined to run away.

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Ask Language Log: Writing "gonna" or "going to"

Reader SL asks for intervention in an disagreement about whether newspapers should use "gonna" in quotations:

I got in an argument with a colleague, who used to be a journalist, even, about this. She said there is nothing wrong with transcribing what someone says accurately. My point is that this is a clear case of diglossia in English; everyone always says "gonna" but it should always be written as "going to". She disagreed, and I said, "Well, I'm going to write to Language Log about that." Actually, I said "I'm gonna", but I wouldn't write that.

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Please don't tell me about it

Those who can read German may be interested in some recent work by Gerd Fritz, of the Zentrum für Medien und Interaktivität at the Justus-Liebig-Universitaet Giessen, on "Texttypen im Language Log" ("Text types in Language Log"). Prof. Fritz tells me that this is "a brief summary of a longer paper to be published shortly".

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Another pundit who can't (or won't) count

… and is careless with grammatical terminology. Thomas Lifson, "Obama's troop withdrawal speech: when politics trumps victory", 6/23/2011:

Notably absent from the speech was any mention of General Petraeus or any of his other military advisors. The reasonable inference is that his military advice counseled against the withdrawal. Notably present was the personal pronoun, which was used about 3 dozen times. Obama is now openly mocked as "President Me, Myself, and I."

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-mander

I learned this morning (from Adam Nagourney and Ian Lovett, "Whitey Bulger is arrested in California", NYT 6/23/2011) that

James (Whitey) Bulger, a legendary Boston crime boss indicted in 19 murders and who is on the F.B.I.’s 10 Most Wanted list, was arrested by federal authorities Wednesday night in Santa Monica, ending an international manhunt that had gone on since Mr. Bulger disappeared nearly 16 years ago, the F.B.I. announced.

This made me think, not of crime and punishment, but of euphony and usefulness.

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