Archive for January, 2014

Cantonese poetry recitation

A recent issue (1/7/14) of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) carried an article by a staff reporter entitled "Hong Kong student's poem recital goes viral in the mainland ". The article features this amazing video of a Hong Kong high school student reciting a couple of Classical Chinese poems:

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Opium rice

Karen Serago sent in the following photograph taken by her husband, Ben Yu, of a restaurant in Taiwan that specializes in duck dishes:

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SOTU plagiarism?

Dylan Byers, "Bush speechwriter: Obama plagiarized Bush", Politico 1/29/2014:

President George W. Bush's former speech writer said that President Barack Obama plagiarized his former boss in Tuesday's State of the Union address.

Speaking to Fox News's Megyn Kelly, Marc Thiessen, the lead writer on Bush's 2007 State of the Union address, said he found Obama's speech Tuesday night "eerily familiar."

"Barack Obama has gone from blaming George W. Bush to plagiarizing George W. Bush," Thiessen said. 

Thiessen then read phrases from the 2007 speech which focused on the theme "hope and opportunity."

"It was eerily familiar. There were lines like 'Our job is to help Americans build a future of hope and opportunity, a future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy, a future of hope and opportunity requires that all citizens have affordable and available healthcare, extending opportunity and hope depends on a stable supply of energy,' all of that came from the 2007 State of the Union from George W. Bush," Thiessen said.

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Obama's favored (and disfavored) SOTU words

Lane asked "It would be great if someone had time to find some truly Obama signature phrases, doing the math properly. I'd be curious to know what words he actually does use unusually often."

I have two classes to prepare for today, and a student study break to get ready for (bread and cheese, fruits and nuts, chips and dips, cakes and candies etc., but mostly cleaning up the living room…). So I don't have time to work on the "truly signature phrases" problem — that's a hard problem to solve on the basis of a sample as small as a few years of SOTU messages, anyhow.  But there's one thing that I do have time for: calculating the words (or rather, the lexical tokens) that are characteristic of Obama's SOTU messages in contrast to the other post-war SOTUs, against the background of all SOTUs since 1790.

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Three cheers for Michael Gove

This is a guest post by Richard Hudson, who proposed the title "The death and re-birth of grammatical analysis in UK schools". Americans who don't know who Michael Gove is may want to skim his Wikipedia page in order to appreciate what it means that Dick ends his post

So three cheers for Michael Gove! I never thought I'd live to read those words, let alone write them myself.

A few weeks ago, Mark Liberman kindly accepted a guest posting from me about sentence diagramming. In his introduction he said "This is a guest post by Dick Hudson, who has promised a later submission about his experience helping to organize the re-introduction of grammatical analysis in the British school curriculum." So here I am again, to try to explain a rather complicated bit of recent history in UK education.

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The evolution of SOTU pronouns

Following up on Sunday's "SOTU evolution" post, here's a quick glance at changes over time in the relative frequency of some classes of pronouns in State of the Union messages. Over the course of the 20th century, there's been a clear upward trend in the frequency of first and second person pronouns:

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Gourmet Chinese cookshop

Bruce Balden sent in this photograph of a sign on a restaurant in the Vancouver area:

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A stick tower by any other name

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SOTU evolution

In preparation for Tuesday's State of the Union address, I thought I'd take a look at the language of these addresses over the years. Texts are available at UCSB's American Presidency Project — I downloaded their texts and removed irrelevant mark-up .(Or rather, I wrote scripts to do all of this automatically — I believe that the results are generally correct but there are probably a few uncaught errors.)

There are lots of ways to approach this question. In today's post, I'll set the stage and look at a couple of simple word-frequency features, with more (and maybe more interesting) explorations to come later on.

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Plebgate: an overdue apology

It is time for Language Log to set things straight about the Right Honourable Andrew John Bower Mitchell MP. The story of what everyone thought had happened in London on 19 September 2012 was reported here (by yours truly) in this post and this follow-up. It involved (we all thought) a snooty and arrogant Conservative government minister and member of the House of Commons snarling words of class prejudice, in front of shocked independent bystanders, at an honest cop who was merely trying to enforce the laws that Parliament had ordained. The linguistic point of interest was that the nastiest of those words was alleged to be the noun pleb. Not the expressive expletive fucking: Mitchell never denied muttering something like I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us when the police told him to push his bike out of Downing Street through a small pedestrian gate rather than ride it through the big one. No, the scandal was that a minister of the crown had used a contemptuous upper-class snob's term for the common people.

Language Log repeated the story that the British newspapers gloried in; but after 15 months of glacially slow police investigation costing around a quarter of a million dollars, yielding one prosecution, the story now looks very different. It appears the Right Honourable Andrew Mitchell was both right and honorable. He was framed by lying cops, and deserves an apology.

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Epic software rant

From Dave Noon, "Christ, I hate Blackboard", Lawyers, Guns & Money 1/24/2014:

Hundreds of years from now, after disease and fire and famine have thinned the human herd to a shrunken patchwork of sagging, skeletal bands of jagged, half-mad wraiths — when the parched soil chokes forth desiccated roots and the air is a toxic brume slumping down on the arched, knotted backs of the still-barely-living — a remote spur of humanity will somehow recover the capacity to speak, an ability long since abandoned by their ancestors, who were mute-struck with the unfathomable despair of those cursed to watch everything they love die. After generations of dry-throated croaking and lung-starched wheezing, their tongues swollen with thirst and punctured with abscesses that never heal, these distant people will bring forth a new language to survey the boundaries of their pain. […]

On the outskirts of this new language, lurking on its crimsoned frontier, will lie words that will themselves have been cast into exile – foul offgassings within a lexicon that itself stands as a towering monument to the boundlessly obscene, words that will curve backward and devour themselves, each one an afflicted universe in the process of total collapse, words that exist for microseconds before streaking, unremembered and unmourned, into the void.  

These are the words, if I could shit them into being, that I would use to catalogue the depth of my loathing for Blackboard.

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The pending demise of Facebook (and Princeton)

John Cannarella & Joshua A. Spechler, "Epidemiological modeling of online social network dynamics", posted on 1/17/2014:

The last decade has seen the rise of immense online social networks (OSNs) such as MySpace and Facebook. In this paper we use epidemiological models to explain user adoption and abandonment of OSNs, where adoption is analogous to infection and abandonment is analogous to recovery. We modify the traditional SIR model of disease spread by incorporating infectious recovery dynamics such that contact between a recovered and infected member of the population is required for recovery. The proposed infectious recovery SIR model (irSIR model) is validated using publicly available Google search query data for "MySpace" as a case study of an OSN that has exhibited both adoption and abandonment phases. The irSIR model is then applied to search query data for "Facebook," which is just beginning to show the onset of an abandonment phase. Extrapolating the best fit model into the future predicts a rapid decline in Facebook activity in the next few years.

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Noun pile of the week

Well, almost: Mark Kinver, "Citizen science charts horse chestnut tree pest spread", BBC News 1/24/2014. Though charts might have been a plural noun, it's clearly a verb in this case, alas. The headline writer missed the chance for a genuine 8-element noun pile, e.g. "Citizen science horse chestnut tree pest spread tally".

Still, British headline interpretation continues to be good practice for reading classical Chinese poetry.

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