Ethnography of academia

ICYMI — Alexander C. Kafka, "‘Sokal Squared’: Is Huge Publishing Hoax ‘Hilarious and Delightful’ or an Ugly Example of Dishonesty and Bad Faith?", The Chronicle of Higher Education 10/3/2018:

Reactions to an elaborate academic-journal hoax, dubbed "Sokal Squared" by one observer, came fast and furious on Wednesday. Some scholars applauded the hoax for unmasking what they called academe’s leftist, victim-obsessed ideological slant and low publishing standards. Others said it had proved nothing beyond the bad faith and dishonesty of its authors.

Three scholars — Helen Pluckrose, a self-described "exile from the humanities" who studies medieval religious writings about women; James A. Lindsay, an author and mathematician; and Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University — spent 10 months writing 20 hoax papers that illustrate and parody what they call "grievance studies," and submitted them to "the best journals in the relevant fields." Of the 20, seven papers were accepted, four were published online, and three were in process when the authors "had to take the project public prematurely and thus stop the study, before it could be properly concluded." A skeptical Wall Street Journal editorial writer, Jillian Kay Melchior, began raising questions about some of the papers over the summer.

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"The midtowm and midtern year"

At the beginning of Donald Trump's press conference yesterday about the results of the midterm elections, he said something psycholinguistically interesting:

it was a big day yesterday, an incredible day
and last night the republican party defied history
to expand our senate majority
while significantly beating expectations in the house
for the midtowm
and midtern year

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Writing characters and writing letters

A few days ago, I wrote the following titles on the blackboard in my "Poetry and Prose" class:

Dà Táng Sānzàng qǔjīng shīhuà 大唐三藏取經詩話 (Poetic Tale of Tripitaka of the Great Tang Fetching Scriptures)

Yóuxiān kū 遊仙窟 (The Grotto of Playful Transcendants)

Guānshìyīn yìngyàn jì 觀世音應驗記 (Records of the Verifications of Responses by Avalokiteśvara)

As I was rapidly writing the strokes of the characters — click click click tick tick tack tack click clack tick tack — I suddenly became aware of how different the writing sounded from when I write something in Roman letters.  Not only did writing characters sound very different from the way writing letters sounds, the two types of script have a very different kinetic feel to them.

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"Human parity" in machine translation

In May of 2015, I gave a talk at the Centre Cournot in Paris on the topic "Why Human Language Technology (almost) works", starting with a list of notable successes, including how well Google and Bing on-line translation did on the Centre Cournot's web site. But my theme required a few failures as well, and I found a spectacular set of examples when I tried a chapter-opening from a roman policier that I was reading (Yasmina Khadra, Le Dingue au Bistouri):

Il y a quatre choses que je déteste. Un: qu'on boive dans mon verre. Deux: qu'on se mouche dans un restaurant. Trois: qu'on me pose un lapin.

Google Translate: There are four things I hate. A: we drink in my glass. Two: we will fly in a restaurant. Three: I get asked a rabbit.

Bing Translate: There are four things that I hate. One: that one drink in my glass. Two: what we fly in a restaurant. Three: only asked me a rabbit.

Should be: There are four things I hate. One: that somebody drinks from my glass. Two: that somebody blows their nose in a restaurant. Three: that somebody stands me up.

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Gender bending in the Sinosphere

Don Clarke has called to my attention a new bilingual, digraphic expression:  “娘man结合”.  That's "niáng man jiéhé ('woman man [the English word] combination')".

It’s a women’s fashion style that combines femininity in one part of the outfit with manliness in the other — like wearing a colored print dress with an army jacket.  Supposedly, “man” is read in the first tone.

Don remarks:

This expression must have the authorities very distressed; not only does it contain foreign words spelled in letters, but it also has the disfavored style "niáng 娘" ("mother; woman; mum; ma; a woman; young girl / woman; young lady; a form of address for an elderly married woman; effeminate [coll.]") . No less than the Xinhua News Agency recently inveighed against the sissified “娘炮”之风 (basically, the Korean boy-band look) as unmanly.

Here’s an account of the controversy (in Chinese).

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Today's Google Translate poetry

Just checking to see that Google Translate is still into hallucinatory automatic writing

Today's input is five random hiragana characters — あっぉぉを — repeated various numbers of times:

 あっぉぉを Oh yeah
2X I am afraid that
3X We have an Omote
4X We will hold an Om to Oh no
5X We will send out a certain number of employees
6X We will send out a certain number of employees
to a certain number of employees
7X We will hold a certain number of employees
and one million yen
8X We do not want to be an omen
9X We will transfer a certain amount of money
to a certain number of employees
13X We did not wish to be a member of the company. Ah


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SMBC on the future of helpful gmail, a few days ago:

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Love those letters

Here we go again.  More Roman letters and English words on police and security guard uniforms in China (see below for some earlier posts).  Here's a doozy:

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I pressed the "correct" button three times and the ATM ate my card

That's what happened to Paul Midler when confronted with this display on an ATM in China:

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Parmesan cheese redux

From Jonathan Weinberg:

An update to "'100% grated parmesan cheese'" (9/5/2017):

In which the court explains that it can blow off the affidavit of Anne Curzan and Ezra Keshet of the University of Michigan that only one interpretation of the phrase “100% grated Parmesan cheese” is plausible in context, and the affidavit of Kyle Johnson of UM-Amherst that the phrase has only one semantically and pragmatically salient interpretation, because “a reasonable consumer -— the touchstone for analysis under the consumer fraud statutes -— does not approach or interpret language in the manner of a linguistics professor.” Aargh.

The new decision has been covered by Rebecca Tushnet at the 43(B) blog ("Post-parmesan: 100% grated parmesan still doesn't have to be 100% grated parmesan, court reiterates", 11/2/2018). (The affidavits — indeed, the names of the experts — don’t appear in the decision or in Rebecca’s writeup, but I pulled them off Pacer.)

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Annals of unexpected bowdlerization

Emily Jane Fox, "Michael Cohen says Trump repeatedly used racist language before his presidency", Vanity Fair 11/2/2018:

After the first few seasons of The Apprentice, Cohen recalled how he and Trump were discussing the reality show and past season winners. The conversation wended its way back to the show’s first season, which ended in a head-to-head between two contestants, Bill Rancic and Kwame Jackson. “Trump was explaining his back-and-forth about not picking Jackson,” an African-American investment manager who had graduated from Harvard Business School. “He said, ‘There’s no way I can let this black f-g win.’” (Jackson told me that he had heard that the president made such a comment. “My response to President Trump is simple and Wakandan,” he said, referring to the fictional African country where Black Panther hails from. “‘Not today, colonizer!’”)

I puzzled for some time over what word "f-g" might be a disguised form of, and eventually decided it must be "fag" — though Vanity Fair usually publishes taboo words without disguise, including that one. And even the famously prissy New York Times freely publishes "fag". But does anyone have a better guess?

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Complex nominal of the year

I recently got a note from the Philadelphia chapter of the Acoustical Society of America, informing me that the November meeting will held at a location identified as the "Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division Machinery Silencing Complex".

I'm pretty sure that this is the longest English complex nominal  that I've encountered so far this year, but unfortunately I'll be out of town on the date in question, so I won't be able to see the actual referent.


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Of honey, bee, mead, and Old Sinitic reconstructions

Pamela Kyle Crossley wonders:

Why, when mima– words for “honey” are so widespread across Eurasia, do English speakers say “honey” instead of some modern form of medhu or meli (except when referring to mead, of course)? Turns out all the Germanic languages left the medhu theme early on, and instead went with variation of *hunaga, which they might originally have cut off from hunigcamb. It sort of suggests that these Germans first encountered honey as imported in combs or frames, not as if they were extracting it from the bees themselves.

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