Archive for July, 2011

Bolting upright, he reached for his dictionary

In the NYT this weekend, Ben Zimmer has a great piece on new horizons in humanities computing:  "The Jargon of the Novel, Computed", 7/29/2011. The article is illustrated with a bar chart of the frequency in COCA of "bolt upright" in various genres:

Among the nuggets you can find in Ben's article is an allusion to David Bamman and Gregory Crane, "The Logic and Discovery of Textual Allusion", LaTeCH2008, which alone is worth the price of admission. But the thing that mainly struck me was the possibility that I'd gotten "bolt upright" wrong, all these years.

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"Dan has not filled out their profile yet"

Another example of extreme singular their, this one from Google+:

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Americans: 90% on the right, if you will

Having discovered that Rick Perry is a right-leaning hedger, if you will, while Mitt Romney is, if you will, a leftish hedger, I wondered what the distribution of these alternatives might be in general American usage.

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Desk hemorrhages

A recent Reuters headline made Jeffrey Kallberg wonder "What is a 'desk hemorrhage' and why would GS want to rate one?":

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If you will

Geoff Pullum, "It's like so unfair", 11/22/2003:

Why are the old fogeys and usage whiners of the world so upset about the epistemic-hedging use of like, as in She's, like, so cool? The old fogeys use equivalent devices themselves, all the time. An extremely common one is "if you will". [...]

Like functions in younger speakers' English as something perfectly ordinary: a way to signal hedging about vocabulary choice — a momentary uncertainty about whether the adjacent expression is exactly the right form of words or not. If the English language didn't implode when if you will took on this kind of role among the baby boomers, it will survive having like take on an extremely similar role for their kids.

I responded  that "Like is, like, not really like if you will" (11/22/2003), mostly on the basis of a difference in maximum frequency of usage. I was reminded of this argument, and tempted to take it back, when I read "Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 'Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me…'", FRCBlog 7/28/2011.

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Music of the (binary) trees

Yesterday I noticed for the first time the "Music" feature of Neil J.A. Sloane's Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, which connects the OEIS's number sequences with Jonathan Middleton's Musical Algorithms site.

So, of course, I immediately listened to sequence A000108, the Catalan numbers, which (among many other things) count the number of ways to arrange n matching pairs of parentheses, or the number of full binary trees with n+1 leaves, or the number of Dyck words of length 2n:

1, 1, 2, 5, 14, 42, 132, 429, 1430, 4862, 16796, 58786, 208012, 742900, 2674440, …

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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From X-X to X-X-X

Today's Sheldon takes Contrastive Focus Reduplication up a notch:

[Tip of the hat to David Craig]

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From the Department of Unintended Interpretations

The Telegraph argues that "the inability to speak a host country's language [...] is a very reasonable requirement of any immigrant":

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Google me with a fire spoon

Despite its simple and straightforward Chinese vocabulary, this sign in Dalian (a large city in northeast China) is badly translated into English:

(As usual, you may click on the photograph to embiggen it.)

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Authors vs. Speakers: A Tale of Two Subfields

The best part of Monday's post on the Facebook authorship-authentication controversy ("High-stakes forensic linguistics", 7/25/2011) was the contribution in the comments by  Ron Butters, Larry Solan, and Carole Chaski.  It's interesting to compare the situation they describe — and the frustration that they express about it — with the history of technologies for answering questions about the source of bits of speech rather than bits of text.

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Try your hand at Linguistics Olympiad problems

Ben Piché writes:

We here at the at 2011 IOL have uploaded the problems that our participants are currently working on. I have to say, they are rather challenging! Anybody who is interested can download these problems from our website and compete with our linguists in real time. We'll upload the solutions on Friday.

Give it a shot! This is the World Cup of linguistics!

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Empirical Foundations of Linguistics

I gave a talk a few weeks ago at the Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie in Paris, founded in 1897 by L'abbé P.-J. Rousselot. Antonia Colazo-Simon took this picture of l'abbé and me:

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How great would that be?

Hilary is finished with contrastive focus reduplication, and is now exploring the communicative potential of re-framing rhetorical questions as real ones:

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The colonial strikes back

Grant Barrett keeps the ball in the air — "American English is getting on well, thanks" BBC News 7/25/2011:

When Matthew Engel wrote here earlier this month about the impact of American English on British English, he restarted a debate about the changing nature of language which ended in dozens of suggestions from readers of their own loathed Americanisms.

Most of those submitted were neither particularly American nor original to American English.

But the point that Americans are ruining English is enough to puff a Yank up with pride.

We Americans lead at least two staggeringly expensive wars elsewhere in the world, but with a few cost-free changes to the lexis we apparently have the British running in fear in the High Street.

Soon we'll have Sainsbury's to ourselves! Our victory over English and the English is almost complete.

I like it. Hyperbolic gloating is a fitting response to ill-informed peevery.

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High-stakes forensic linguistics

Over the past few months, there have been several developments in the legal battle between Paul Ceglia and Mark Zuckerberg over Ceglia's claim to part ownership of Facebook. As Ben Zimmer explains ("Decoding Your E-Mail Personality", NYT Sunday Review, 7/23/2011):

Mr. Ceglia says that a work-for-hire contract he arranged with Mr. Zuckerberg, then an 18-year-old Harvard freshman, entitles him to half of the Facebook fortune. He has backed up his claim with e-mails purported to be from Mr. Zuckerberg, but Facebook’s lawyers argue that the e-mail exchanges are fabrications. [...]

The law firm representing Mr. Zuckerberg called upon Gerald McMenamin, emeritus professor of linguistics at California State University, Fresno, to study the alleged Zuckerberg e-mails. (Normally, other data like message headers and server logs could be used to pin down the e-mails’ provenance, but Mr. Ceglia claims to have saved the messages in Microsoft Word files.) Mr. McMenamin determined, in a report filed with the court last month, that “it is probable that Mr. Zuckerberg is not the author of the questioned writings.” Using “forensic stylistics,” he reached his conclusion through a cross-textual comparison of 11 different “style markers,” including variant forms of punctuation, spelling and grammar.

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