Archive for January, 2012

The state of each other

From reader AH:

I know I'm a little slow, but during the State of the Union, President Obama said something along the lines of the following (I'm not 100% certain that the noun was "soldier" and I don't remember the verb, but those aren't the relevant parts): "every soldier respects each other."

As soon as he'd said it, my dad and I exchanged a look of disconcertedness — Barack Obama shamelessly putting forth such a blatantly ungrammatical statement? However, when I analyzed it a moment later, I came to the conclusion that the structure "every X Ys each other" is equivalent to the structure "every X Ys each other X," which is correct, and that the more usual structure "all the Xs Y each other" is equivalent to the structure "all the Xs Y each other X," which to me seems at best ambiguous. If my reasoning is incorrect, where did I go wrong? And if my reasoning is correct, what accounts for the little jolt my dad and I (and probably other listeners) experienced as a reaction to Obama's sentence — and what accounts for the fact that we wouldn't even have noticed if he'd said "all the soldiers respect each other"?

The Fox News transcript and the whitehouse.gov transcript agree that there are three uses of each other in the 2012 SOTU, only one of which is connected with a subject noun phrase involving every:

They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to the future of their country, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility.

More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other — because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s somebody behind you, watching your back.

This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.

So what about "every member of that unit trusted each other"? Is it "a blatantly ungrammatical statement", as AH and her dad first thought? Or is it OK, as she later decided?

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Another milestone

At some point around lunch time today, our filter nabbed its 2 millionth spam comment:

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Alyssa "talks backwards"

A currently viral video:

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GURT 2012: Measured Language

For half a century, the annual Georgetown University Round Table on Language and Linguistics has featured interesting presentations on a topical theme.  GURT 2012, to be held 3/8/2012-3/11/2012, on the theme of "Measured Language",

…will bring together researchers presenting replicable methodologies for quantitatively analyzing different facets of language, with an emphasis on sharing and incorporating perspectives and findings across a diverse range of linguistic inquiry.

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Annals of airport Chinglish, part 3

Carley De Rosa spotted this sign in the Kunming airport on her way to Laos. Dumbfounded by the Chinglish, not least because what it called an "elevator" was actually an "escalator", on her way back from Laos she made sure to get a photograph of the sign and send it to me for analysis:

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Rage against the machine, vote for Newt!

"Sarah Palin talks Florida GOP battle", Justice with Judge Jeanine, Fox News, 1/29/2012:

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You gotta rage against the machine at this point in order to defend our republic and save what is-
what is good and secure and prosperous about our nation – we need somebody
who's engaged in sudden and relentless reform and isn't afraid to shake it up, shake up that establishment. So
if for no other reason, rage against the machine, vote for Newt!
Annoy a liberal! Vote Newt!

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"Two chairs"?

In the interview discussed in the previous post, there was one place where some combination of phonetic variation in vowels and cultural variation in measurement units left me puzzled. The context is as follows:

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Georgina_Ball: Kim Dotcom's a real standout a larger than life character
and- and uh very large in person as well
one of the things his lawyer said in court was
look this guys not going to flee the country he's so big he wouldn't get through customs without being noticed
Lisa Mullins: How big is he?
Georgina Ball: O K I'd say
don't know the weight there but about two chairs (?)
here
Lisa Mullins: So in pounds we can just guess
Georgina Ball: I'm about fifty five K Gs I'd say he'd be about three of me.
((apparent editing break))
I'd estimate he's about three thirty pounds

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DRESS-raising in New Zealand

For a recent story on the arrest of Kim Dotcom, The World's Lisa Mullins turned to Georgina Ball from Radio New Zealand ("Cyber Tycoon Wanted for Internet Piracy Arrested in New Zealand", 1/26/2012). One of the things Ms. Ball says is this:

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they're worried he'll flee to Germany which is where he's from
which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

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OMG moments induced by allegro forms in Pekingese

This afternoon I passed by a group of high school kids from China going down the street outside of Williams Hall, the office building in which I work.  One of the girls said merrily, "Bur'ao", by which she meant Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) bù zhīdào 不知道 ("[I] don't know").

The retroflex final -r is well known for northern varieties of Mandarin, but in Pekingese it seems that the mighty R has the ability to swallow up whole syllables, as in the example quoted in the previous paragraph.

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Write new speeches, don't borrow from Hollywood

The Australian minister of transport and infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, recently plunged himself into an embarrassing situation that will probably stain his reputation permanently (see the Daily Mail's coverage here). He delivered a speech in which one passage, a piece of nicely honed rhetoric about the leader of the opposition (the Liberal party), was lifted with hardly any alteration from a speech that Michael Douglas was seen giving in a 1995 American romantic comedy, The American President (script by Aaron Sorkin). Naturally the two speech segments are now available side by side on YouTube. Albanese's staff, who prepared the speech for him (Albanese claims never to have seen the movie) had apparently forgotten that (1) millions of Australians have in fact personally visited a movie theater, and (2) some of them remember at least parts of movies that they have seen.

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The "dance of the p's and b's": truth or noise?

Stanley Fish asks  ("Mind Your P’s and B’s: The Digital Humanities and Interpretation", NYT 1/23/2011):

[H]ow do the technologies wielded by digital humanities practitioners either facilitate the work of the humanities, as it has been traditionally understood, or bring about an entirely new conception of what work in the humanities can and should be?

After a couple of lengthy detours, he concludes that neither any facilitation nor any worthwhile new conception is likely: the digital humanities

… will have little place for the likes of me and for the kind of criticism I practice: a criticism that narrows meaning to the significances designed by an author, a criticism that generalizes from a text as small as half a line, a criticism that insists on the distinction between the true and the false, between what is relevant and what is noise, between what is serious and what is mere play.

In other words, he agrees with Noam Chomsky that statistical analysis of the natural (or textual) world is intellectually empty – though I suspect that they agree on little else.

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Prophylactic over-negation

Almost the end of January, and not a single Language Log reader hasn't failed to complain about the lack of over-negation in any of this year's posts. But here's some naughtily nutty negation anyway:

"It's not that I don't doubt the sincerity of their desire to protect the talent. And believe it or not, we have the same ambition," Christian Mann, general manager of Evil Angel Productions who also serves on the porn industry's Free Speech Coalition, said last week after the council's vote. "We just don't believe their way is the best way." (Associated PressLA mayor signs law requiring condoms in porn films, Jan. 24, 2012; widely syndicated story.)

Hmm. That's a curious lack of non-self-doubt. So does it mean Mann does in fact doubt the sincerity  of "their" desire to protect the talent? I don't think so.

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The running man

Near my hotel on the Plaça Imperial Tarraco in Tarragona, the indicators to tell pedestrians when they can cross the street have a countdown in seconds to the next green: a minute ticks by, the lights go yellow for the vehicular traffic at 6 seconds, then red at 3 seconds, and finally — 3, 2, 1, liftoff — the little green man is displayed and you can walk across. Only in Tarragona the little green man figure does not just pose in a walking sort of shape: he moves. Those little green arms and legs are working away: he seems to be race-walking. And that's not all: when there's only 7 seconds left, he begins to sprint.

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The curse of bottled water

Six of us were dining in Tarragona on Tuesday night, and the topic of bottled water came up. We all agreed, it is a scandal that diesel fuel is being used to move bottled water around the earth's surface when often it has no chemical advantage whatever over tapwater. What an ecological disaster. What a ripoff. We all insisted we wanted tapwater, and our Spanish-speaking Catalunya-resident host clearly understood us. But three bottles of spa water duly arrived.

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Happy LÓNG year!

Every year around this time, I write about the relevant Chinese zodiacal animal.  Here are some recent posts:

2012 is the year of the dragon, which in Modern Standard Mandarin is lóng (simplified 龙 traditional / complicated 龍).

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