Archive for September, 2011

The bee rumble

I missed this when it came out — Virgina Morell, "Elephants Have an Alarm Call for Bees", Science Now 4/26/2011:

East Africa’s elephants face few threats in their savanna home, aside from humans and lions. But the behemoths are terrified of African bees, and with good reason. An angry swarm can sting elephants around their eyes and inside their trunks and pierce the skin of young calves. Now, a new study shows that the pachyderms utter a distinctive rumble in response to the sound of bees, the first time an alarm call has been identified in elephants.

… [T]he study suggests that this alarm call isn’t just a generalized vocalization but means specifically, “Bees!” says Lucy King, a postgraduate zoologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and the study’s lead author.

When they hear buzzing bees, the pachyderms turn and run away, shaking their heads while making a call that King terms the “bee rumble."

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Yes it can

It can cover partially-used containers of cat food:

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Is a title and is a campaign too WHAT?

A couple of days ago, Greta van Susteren interviewed Sarah Palin on Fox ("'Maverick' Palin vs. 'Quasi Reality Show'", 9/27/2011).  Out of the whole 16-minute segment, one word got the lion's share of the coverage.  Thus Sheila Marikar, "Sarah Palin: ‘Is a Title and Campaign Too Shackle-y?’", ABC News 9/27/2011:

A Palin presidency: Too “shackle-y?”

That’s what Sarah Palin suggested on Fox News’ “On The Record with Greta VanSusteren” tonight [...] “Is a title worth it?” she asked, rhetorically. “Does a title shackle a person? Are they someone like me who’s maverick? I do go rogue and I call it like I see it and I don’t mind stirring it up in order to get people to think and debate aggressively.”

“Is a title and a campaign too shackle-y?,” she continued.

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Integration of knowledge

The most recent xkcd:

Mouseover title: "Funding was quickly restored to the NHC and the APA was taken back off hurricane forecast duty."

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Billionaires, janitors, … and Jews?

Andrew Malcolm, "New gaffe: Obama confuses Jews with janitors", LA Times 9/26/2011:

Here is what the president actually said, catching himself almost in time but not quite:

If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a Jew, uh, as a janitor makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that with a badge of honor. I have no problem with that. [...]

Maybe in Saturday night's speech Obama was thinking about all those talks on Israel in New York.

This has gotten quite a bit of play in the media as well as in the blogosphere.  The trouble is, I'm not at all sure that Mr. Malcolm's version of the president's speech error is accurate.

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Transcribin' again

There's some interesting socio-politico-linguistic discussion, along with links to a lot more of the same, in Dylan Stableford's post "Was the Associated Press transcription of Obama’s CBC speech ‘racist’?", The Cutline 9/26/2011. I don't have time this morning to add significantly to this discussion, but in any case, I'd largely be recapitulating the material covered in this earlier LL posts:

"The internet pilgrim's guide to g-dropping", 5/10/2004
"Empathetic -in'", 10/18/2008
"Palin's tactical g-lessness", 10/18/2008
"Pickin' up on those features also", 2/29/2008
"Eye dialect in the newspapers", 5/7/2008
"Aksking again", 2/25/2010
"Pawlenty's linguistic 'southern strategy'?", 3/17/2011
"Symbols and signals in g-dropping", 3/23/2011
"Automatic classification of g-dropping", 6/12/2011
"Ask Language Log: Writing 'gonna' or 'going to'", 6/25/2011

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Learn some phonetics, Reacher

Through the accident of reading two of Lee Child's novels out of sequence, I first got the impression that he had actually checked some phonetic details with a linguist, but then ended up disappointed. I wrote about this recently on the Chronicle of Higher Education's Lingua Franca blog. I can be a bit more technical about the phonetics and phonology with you here, because you are Language Log readers.

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Crash blossom of the week

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What an English major knows about "adverbs"

Housepets for 9/23/2011:

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

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The elusive triple "is"

Last month ("Xtreme Isisism", 8/13/11), Mark Liberman analyzed a TED talk by Kevin Slavin, a speaker who is particularly prone to copula-doubling ("the point IS IS that…", "the reality IS IS that…", etc.). Slavin even produced an impressive case of copula-tripling: "and the thing IS IS IS that this isn't Google." The triple IS is rare enough that any instance in the wild is worth noting. On the American Dialect Society mailing list, Jonathan Lighter reported one that he heard in an interview of Ron Suskind by Howard Kurtz on the CNN show "Reliable Sources." Well, it's an IS IS IS with a vocative "Howie" inserted, but close enough.

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Three logicians walk into a bar

We've had several posts recently (here and here) showcasing the humorous consequences of interpreting quantifiers overly literally, with a blind eye to the usual contextual limits on their domain of interpretation. The following comic illustrates another possible pragmatic failure when it comes to quantifiers:

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The winds of freedom

David Starr Jordan, among other accomplishments, was president of Stanford University from 1891 to 1913, and then chancellor of Stanford until 1916. He was also director of the Sierra Club from 1892 to 1903. He chose Stanford's motto, "Die Luft der Freiheit weht" ("The winds of freedom blow"). Stanford's Jordan Hall is named for him, and now houses the psychology department.

In the course of randomly scanning the results of a query at bookworm.culturomics.org, I stumbled on Jordan's essay The Blood of the Nation: A Study of the Decay of Races Through the Survival of the Unfit. This work was apparently published for the first time in 1901 by the Peace Association of Friends in America, as the "abstract of an address given at Stanford University, May 9, 1900". The whole thing was put out in 1902 by the American Unitarian Association in Boston, and in at least three other editions in later years

To today's reader, even the title is somewhat shocking; and the work itself fully delivers what the title promises.

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Bookworm

When the Google Ngram Viewer came out, I tempered my enthusiastic praise with a complaint ("More on 'culturomics'", 12/17/2010):

The Science paper says that "Culturomics is the application of high-throughput data collection and analysis to the study of human culture".  But  as long as the historical text corpus itself remains behind a veil at Google Books, then "culturomics" will be restricted to a very small corner of that definition, unless and until the scholarly community can reproduce an open version of the underlying collection of historical texts.

I'm happy to say that the (non-Google part of) the Culturomics crew at the Harvard Cultural Observatory have taken a significant step in that direction, building on the work of the Open Library. You can check out what they've done with an alpha version of an online search interface at http://bookworm.culturomics.org/. But in my opinion, the online search interface, alpha or not, is the least important part of what's going on here.

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Uptick in spam comments

Stock markets are down around the world, but the flow of spam comments continues to increase. Three weeks (21 days) ago, our spam comments counter stood at 1,008,782. As of this morning, it's at 1,140,742, for an increment of 131,960 in 21 days. This is 6,284 per day, or 2,293,591 per year.

I've long since given up scanning the spam trap for real comments that the automatic algorithms have caught by mistake, though I'm sure that there are still a few of these. (Note that even if the false alarm rate is very low, say a tenth of a percent, there would still be a half a dozen innocent victims a day. I believe that in fact the rate is a bit lower than that, but it's not zero.)

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Vanity plates, writing systems, and the sexualization of tofu

Whitney Calk submitted a request to the state of Tennessee for the following license plate:

According to Nick Carbone, "Tennessee Veggie Lover's Vanity License Plate Banned for 'Vulgarity'", Time 9/16/2011:

A Tennessee woman just wanted to share her love of vegetarian eating. The state thought she was expressing her love for a more explicit activity.

It's a battle of semantics – implied spacing, really. Whitney Calk innocently (or perhaps not) requested a vanity license plate from the state of Tennessee, one that read “ILVTOFU.” But her personalized plate reflecting her fondness for bean curds was rejected on the grounds of "vulgarity.” There's nothing vulgar about tofu, right?

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