French vs. English

When I travel around the world and come upon parallel translations of French and English, I am often struck by how much longer the French usually is than the English.  This impression was reinforced last week in the bathroom of the Marriott Courtyard in Columbia, Maryland.

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Say what what?

Doonesbury, "Say What?" 8/1/2015:

"It was my phrase. I came up with it, and I had it copyrighted. And people see the biggest standing ovations…and all of a sudden some of the other candidates started using the phrase. But I had it copyrighted, so they're not allowed to use it. Which even surprises me."

— Donald Trump on "Make America Great Again".

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Softy Calais goes ballistic…

Calais in north-western France, and Kent in south-eastern England, have been experiencing weeks of extraordinary chaos. Thousands of desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East are fighting to get into the Eurotunnel depot where they think they might be able to stow away on trucks that will make the train journey through the tunnel to the immensely desirable destination of Great Britain. The British think the Calais local authorities and the French government have been making only desultory efforts to prevent the migrants from clogging the approach roads, breaching the security fences, delaying train departures, and causing side effects like 24-hour traffic jams on the M20 freeway in Kent. So the headline writers at The Sun went to work, with feghoot based on a song from Mary Poppins:

Softy Calais goes ballistic… Frenchies are atrocious!

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A new AI problem

Here's a task that I haven't heard about: recognizing mixed metaphors and idiom blends.

For example, from Bob Ford, "Eagles season can go one of three ways", Philadelphia Inquirer 8/2/2015:

If the Eagles win big this season, they will get bonus points for degree of difficulty. The tightrope over which success is stretched is very narrow.

And at the end of the piece:

Those are the three doors, and, admit it, the Eagles could open any of them this season. As training camp begins, there is no way to tell. There could be opportunity knocking or a doorbell tolling. Finding out which will take a while, though.

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Roman letter shapes in Japanese

[A guest post by Nathan Hopson]

Recently, I encountered two examples of the intriguing use of roman letters in Japanese to describe various shapes and parts of the nether regions of human anatomy.

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Thing explainer

The xkcd site is promoting Randall Munroe's forthcoming book Thing Explainer, in which things are explained in the style of his comic "Up Goer Five", "using only the ten hundred words people use the most often".

At the time that "Up Goer Five" came out, Theo Sanderson created the Up Goer Five Text Editor, which checks words as you type them:

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Autonomous learning

I had never heard of this concept before, but apparently it is a hot topic, especially among government circles.

On Wednesday, I spoke at this workshop:

Application of the Autonomous Learning Environment in Foreign Language Education LEARN Workshop

Date: Tuesday, July 28th and Wednesday, July 29th
Loyola Columbia Graduate Center
Columbia, MD

The workshop was sponsored by the Federal Business Council in collaboration with several offices of the federal government that are involved with foreign language study and application.

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The International Linguistics Olympiad

From the news page at the LSA — "NACLO teams win nine medals at International Linguistics Olympiad":

Two USA teams and one Canada team, each consisting of four high school students, won eight individual medals and a team medal at the 13th International Linguistics Olympiad, held July 20-24 in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. The USA contestants also took five of the top ten places in the individual contest, including three gold medals. USA Red also finished in first place among 44 teams based on the combined score of its members in the individual contest.

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How Mandarin became China's national language

K Chang asked:

Possible topic for Prof Mair: Any one know what is this "Wang ts Joa" writing system, allegedly a topolect writing system for Chinese?

Here's a specimen of the script in question, from imgur:

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Miswritten character on a Tokyo Metro sign

From Matthew Duggan:

As a Tokyo resident, I take an interest in the failing ability of those in China and Japan to write and distinguish characters due to computer use. [VHM:  See, inter alia, here, here, here, here, and here.]

I could write 1,000 characters at my peak, but with constant computer use I’m down to my address and a few other common ones.

 In that spirit, I thought you might like this news story.

The story Matthew linked to is in Japanese, but it features these two (perhaps not so) revealing photographs:

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Cat and mouse on the Chinese internet

Yesterday in the Washington Post, there was an enticing article by Anna Fifield:  "These are the secret code words that let you criticize the Chinese government" (7/29/15).

Fifield states that she is drawing on "Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang," by authors Perry Link and Xiao Qiang.  Comment by Perry Link:  "This is good work, and I am happy to have my name associated, but it is not my work.  Ms Fifield somehow made a mistake."

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What the fingers want

Whole-word substitutions are a common type of speech error: "Italy" for "Israel", "competent" for "confident", "restaurant" for "rhapsody", "drink" for "breathe". The substituted word is often associated with the target word or with its context, often starts with sounds similar to the target word, and often has similar syllable counts and stress patterns. An even stronger regularity is the syntactic category rule — the substituted word is almost always the same part of speech as the target word. Thus in the speech-error corpus examined by David Fay and Anne Cutler in their 1977 work "Malapropisms and the structure of the mental lexicon", this syntactic category rule held for 95% of all word-substitution errors.

Therefore substitutions like "They provider very good care" for "They provide very good care", or "He resignation yesterday" for "He resigned yesterday", are quite unlikely — in speech. In typing, in contrast, such slips of the finger are very common. I make errors like this all the time, with -ing or -ed or -s or -er or nothing appearing where one of the other choices would be correct. I haven't counted, but I think that my lapsus digitorum of this kind are an order of magnitude more common than the confident-for-competent variety.

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Recursive philosophy of science

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