Archive for May, 2013

Nihon, Nippon, Japan

Students of Japanese often get confused about when to use “Nihon” and when to use “Nippon” as the name of the country.  In truth, there are many names for the “Land of the Rising Sun (a translation of Nihon / Nippon にほん / にっぽん / 日本), and sometimes the English name “Japan” gets thrown into the mix.  All of these variants came together in an incident that is recounted for us by Jim Breen.

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Hippie punching

“Hippie punching” is in the news around the world these days — Paul Krugman, “Macroeconomic Hippie-Punching“, NYT 5/26/2013; “Gordon Campbell on the govt’s latest bout of hippie punching“, Scoop Media NZ 5/27/2013; “« Hippie punching » et puis tant pis !“, L’est-éclair 5/28/2013;

One definition is offered by Michael Berube, “Libya and the Left“, The Point, Spring 2012:

Those who believe that there should be no enemies to one’s Left are fond of accusing me of “hippie punching,” as if, like Presidents Obama and Clinton, I am attacking straw men to my Left in order to lay claim to the reasonable, vital center.

But hippie-punching seems sometimes to include the rhetorical abuse of leftists by people who self-identify unashamedly as rightists.

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“The saddest tweeters live in Texas”

That’s not from the chorus of a postmodern country song — it’s the title of a National Geographic piece discussing Morgan R. Frank, Kameron Decker Harris, Peter Sheridan Dodds, and Christopher M. Danforth, “The Geography of Happiness: Connecting Twitter Sentiment and Expression, Demographics, and Objective Characteristics of Place“, PLoS ONE 5/29/2013.

I don’t have time this morning to do anything more than point to the article, but my previous interactions with Peter Dodds and others at the Vermont Complex Systems Center have been positive.

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Ask Language Log: indicating or stating (that) S

S.A. writes:

I’m working with someone who writes sentences like these:

“Past studies indicate teachers with high self-efficacy for providing nutrition instruction devote more classroom time to the subject.”

“D____ and colleagues have stated teachers are better able to promote healthy eating among preschool children when they are more knowledgeable about nutrition content…”

Doesn’t there need to be a “that” between indicates and teachers and between stated and teachers?

The absence of a “that” is a constant throughout her writing so I need to know if I’m correct, and if so, how I can explain it to her.

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“…to help them avoid staying out of jail”

From an email solicitation for an “Electronic Evidence Workshop”, run by “E-Discovery Training Solutions”:

What process do you have in place that will protect your clients [sic] privacy on their smartphones or from electronic discovery in general? Your clients are relying on you, as their counsel, to help them avoid staying out of jail or being “slapped” with a large litigation fine.

This is clearly a workshop that no responsible defense attorney can fail to miss.

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Vietnamese in Chinese and Nom characters

The Dōngfāng zǎobào 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post / dfdaily) (May 26, 2013) carried an article entitled “Dāng rénmen dōu xiě Hànyǔ shí” 当人们都写汉语时 (When everyone writes Chinese) that begins with the following photograph:

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“Legal if not arcane”?

Gigi Douban, “Tim Cook goes to Washington“, Marketplace Morning Report 5/21/13, commented on Apple’s tax-avoidance techniques (basically stashing profits overseas and arranging to pay no taxes on them, by transferring intellectual property assets to an paper subsidiary in Ireland and then paying extensive royalties to this foreign aspect of itself, which through a quirk of Irish law is not “tax resident” anywhere):

[audio: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/myl/LegalIfNotArcane.mp3]

All of this is perfectly legal, if not arcane, says Robert Pozen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Four different readers wrote to suggest that Mr. Pozen probably meant “legal, if arcane”. I agree with them, but the construction is a curious one, and so it takes a bit of digging to make an argument either way.

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The Penultimate Penn Ultimate Ultimate Penn Pen

Today’s Pearls Before Swine:

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The Afterlife Ethnographic Survey

Franz Boas has a facebook page, whose contents suggest that his acumen is undimmed by death. A couple of weeks ago, one of his facebook friends asked this:

When Freud gave his famous “introductory lectures” at Clark University in 1909, Boas was a faculty member at the same university. I wonder if he attended the lectures? I have read some off-hand comments in Franz Boas’s writing indicating that apparently he didn’t think much of Freud. But does anyone know of any more in-depth historical accounts of this (missed?) encounter between papa Freud and papa Boas? Thank you hive mind!!!

Boas responded:

When I read Totems and Taboos I thought it was one of the most brilliant parodies ever written. You can imagine my surprise when I learned that Sigmund was serious about all that elders urinating on the fire nonsense. Such flights of fancy, imposing Victorianism on the human subconscious as a human universal. He has not fared well here in the afterlife, last time I saw him he was living in a van down by the river with L. Ron Hubbard.

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Sanity is the most important

Sign at the Paris Baguette shop in Zhongguancun, Beijing:

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On “blogs” and “posts”

Forrest Wickman, “This Is a Blog Post. It Is Not a ‘Blog.’” Slate 5/24/2013:

Let’s get this straight up front: I am now writing a blog post, not blogging a blog.

For many, using the word blog when you mean blog post is an understandable mistake. Most who make it are new to blogging, or aren’t fluent in the language of the Web. But over the last several months it’s become clear to me that the tendency to make this error has infected even some of the most Internet-savvy denizens of the Web. And it needs to stop.

I hit my breaking point a few weeks back with—who else?—Amanda Palmer. Of all the irritating things in her blog post about “A Poem for Dzhokhar,” the most irritating was the title: “A Blog About ‘A Poem for Dzhokhar.’ ” Palmer, of course, had not created a whole blog about her poem “A Poem for Dzhokhar.” (Even she’s not self-involved enough to do that.) Instead, she’d written a 2,000-word blog post about the poem.

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Hopefully no need to comment

A number of people have written to ask me why I have made no public comment on the preposterous old fraud Nevile Gwynne and his highly publicized recent book Gwynne’s Grammar.

Well, one reason is that a certain amount of collapse in the will to live had come over me when contemplating the sheer dopiness of Mr Gwynne’s pontifications about grammar and his lack of any grasp of the subject (declaring that too much too young is incomprehensible does not make a retired accountant into a grammar expert). Another is that Mark Liberman covered the topic very nicely, with an unerring eye for syntactic reasoning, in a comment on the first Bad Grammar Award, ostentatiously given to the authors of a short letter criticizing the UK education minister, which was really just a strategy for getting the press to show some interest in Gwynne’s Grammar. (The citations and evidence relating to the Bad Grammar Award have apparently never been published on the web; I have been unable to find even the original press release, let alone anything more detailed.) But I now have discovered a third reason for not offering detailed comments: there are at least two beautifully aimed non-credulous posts about Gwynne already available in the blogosphere (and the superior quality of the blogs over the newspapers here is really striking).

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From the American Association for the Advancement (?) of Science (?)

The following is a guest post by Richard Sproat:

Regular readers of Language Log will remember this piece discussing the various problems with a paper by Rajesh Rao and colleagues in their attempt to provide statistical evidence for the status of the Indus “script” as a writing system. They will also recall this piece on a similar paper by Rob Lee and colleagues, which attempted to demonstrate linguistic structure in Pictish inscriptions. And they may also remember this discussion of my “Last Words” paper in Computational Linguistics critiquing those two papers, as well as the reviewing practices of major science journals like Science.

In a nutshell: Rao and colleagues’ original paper in Science used conditional entropy to argue that the Indus “script” behaves more like a writing system than it does like a non-linguistic system. Lee and colleagues’ paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society used more sophisticated methods that included entropic measures to build a classification tree that apparently correctly classified a set of linguistic and non-linguistic corpora, and furthermore classified the Pictish symbols as logographic writing.

But as discussed in the links given above, both of these papers were seriously problematic, which in turn called into question some of the reviewing standards of the journals involved.

Sometimes a seemingly dead horse has to be revived and beaten again, for those reviewing practices have yet again come into question. Or perhaps I should in this case say “non reviewing practices”: for an explanation, read on.

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