Archive for August, 2011

Socio-acoustics of Asian elephants

Adam Philips, "Elephant Study Reveals Social Bonds, Communication Skills", VOA 8/29/2011:

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Shermin de Silva, who finished her PhD in biology at Penn last year and is now the director of the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project at Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka, is featured in this slide show explaining some of her research:

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Shouting sectarian comments

There's nothing funny about the religiously-based sectarian strife between Protestant-associated and Catholic-associated soccer teams in Scotland. And there's nothing funny about a physical attack on a sports team manager by a fan at a game (especially a team manager who has already had a violent assault, death threats, bullets in the mail, and a parcel bomb). Yet the linguistic aspects of the story in UK newspapers today seem nonetheless unintentionally hilarious, and I think I wouldn't be doing my duty to Language Log if I didn't share them with you.

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Pullum at The Chronicle

Fans of Geoff Pullum will want to read his contributions to the Lingua Franca blog ("Language and writing in academe") at The Chronicle of Higher Education. So far there's just one: "I Wish I'd Said That", 8/26/2011.

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Happy cat → I'm cute

In several recent posts ("Difficult to find the translation," "Google me with a fire spoon"), we've seen evidence that Google Translate has become the preferred automatic translation tool from Chinese to English, sometimes with rather peculiar results.

Now reader Mike Wasson has discovered a quirky translation going the other direction (from English to Chinese).

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Authorize your dealer to be 100% informative

It's always fun to spot lingquirks in ads, and this one, pictured in its natural habitat in Bancroft, Ontario, offers two of them for the price of a moment's attention:

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The Mock Spanglish of @ElBloombito

If nothing else, Hurricane Irene leaves us with the legacy of a fine fake-Twitter account, @ElBloombito (aka "Miguel Bloombito"), which takes satirical aim at the Spanish-language announcements that New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg appended to the end of his many hurricane-related press conferences. Bloomberg has been working on his Spanish public speaking for years (and has even received intensive tutoring sessions), but his very Bloombergian enunciation was too good a target to pass up for Rachel Figueroa-Levin, the creator of the @ElBloombito Twitter account.

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Wet power

This youtube clip, with a caption that shows Michele Bachmann asking a crowd "Who likes white people?", has occasioned a fair amount of discussion:

(The original http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE4OPMmdPsg has now been declared "private" — I've substituted one from another site.)

Examples of people who took the captioned video at face value are here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, …

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Pwimming poot

Usually an unintelligible or partially intelligible Chinglish sign is due to faulty translation, whether human or machine. But not always. Recently, when I was rushing from my room at the Kucha Guest House in Xinjiang (the Uyghur Autonomous Region in the far west of China) through a huge greenhouse to the dining room for breakfast, I was stopped in my tracks by the following sign:


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It was gonna rain

This is what the local TV and radio programming was like around here through Saturday night and Sunday morning:

Well, that and occasional tornado warnings…

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Cemel Dosce

A few days ago, MikeTheDudeHenry posted a picture of his first tattoo on Reddit's /r/tattoos discussion board, with the explanation "Cemel Dosce = latin for 'Know Thyself'":

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Furacan

Irene is no longer a hurricane, and Muammar Gadaffi is no longer "brother leader" of Libya. As I noted hyperbolically a few months ago ("Spelling champion", 2/11/2011), the ex-brother-leader's name was "the last hold-out for the Elizabethan approach to spelling".

As a memorial to the traditional orthographic creativity of the English language, I give you the OED's list of hurricane variants:

α. 15 furacane, furicano(e, 15–16 furacana, 16 foracan(e, furicane. β. 15 haurachana, 15–16 (18) hurricano, 16 haraucana, haroucana, haracana; her(r)i-, hery-, hira-, hire-, hyrra-, hyrri-, ( hurle-, hurli-), ( h)uracano. γ. 15–16 uracan, 16 heri-, huri-, ( hurle-, oran-), urycan; harau-, haura-, heri-, heuri-, herocane, harrycain, 16–18 hurrican, 16– hurricane.

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Jafaican doesn't exist

To answer the many critics of his "whites have become black" diatribe, the Tudor historian and obnoxious TV personality David Starkey published an article in The Telegraph on August 19 defending his stance on the way Jamaican linguistic patterns are allegedly implicated in the cause of the English riots. The linguistically relevant point is that he has now shifted his reference away from "Jamaican patois", which is a synonym for Jamaican Creole, Ethnologue code JAM, henceforth JC (see my article in Times Higher Education on this). He now cites a "mixed race" critic of "ghetto grammar" to back up his condemnation:

Lindsay Johns, the Oxford-educated mixed-race writer who mentors young people in Peckham, argues passionately against "this insulting and demeaning acceptance" of a fake Jamaican — or "Jafaican" — patois. "Language is power", Johns writes, and to use "ghetto grammar" renders the young powerless.

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Nerds, alpha and otherwise

By lexicographical synchronicity, the latest Widgetitis illustrates the developing distinction between alpha and beta nerds, while Ben Zimmer discusses the history of the word and the concept ("Birth of the nerd: The mysterious origins of a familiar character", Boston Globe 8/28/2011.)

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Seidenberg on Singer and Nim

[Below is a guest post by Mark Seidenberg, following up on Geoff Pullum's post "Nim: the unproject", 8/16/2011.]

Nim Chimpsky and I met when I was a graduate student at Columbia. “Project Nim” is an excellent documentary, a deeply sad story leavened with humor and astonishment at the behavior of the personalities involved . The parts of the movie that cover events I observed—the period when Nim lived at the Delafield Mansion in Riverdale NY and was driven down to Columbia for teaching—was accurate as far as it went. It’s a documentary, not a detailed record of what happened, and it is stronger on Nim’s personal history and the foibles of his human caretakers (and I use the term loosely) than on the science.

I was preparing to write a commentary on the movie and the project, but then Peter Singer’s piece appeared in the New York Review of Books ("The troubled life of Nim Chimpsky", 8/18/2011). Singer is the Princeton philosopher famous for “Animal Liberation” and other influential, controversial books. His blog post about Nim got many facts wrong and I was moved to write a short response. It might be of interest to Language Log readers.

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He's on first

The most recent SMBC presents an updated chemical version of the classic "Who's on first" skit. I think that Zach Weiner does a better job of setting the joke up than Abbott and Costello did:

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