25 Questions for Teaching with "Word Crimes"

The following is a guest post by Lauren Squires.


While "grammar nerds" are psyched about Weird Al's new "Word Crimes" video, many linguists are shaking their heads and feeling a little hopeless about what the public enthusiasm about it represents: a society where largely trivial, largely arbitrary standards of linguistic correctness are heavily privileged, and people feel justified in degrading and attacking those who don't do things the "correct" way. What's behind linguists' reactions are at least three factors.

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Want to get ahead as a woman in tech?
Learn to interrupt.

Below is a guest post by Kieran Snyder.


This week’s earlier posting on interruptions, in which I presented data to suggest that men interrupt more than women in the tech workplace, and that women are interrupted all the time by everyone, has easily been the most viewed, discussed, tweeted, and shared jenga post so far. This is due in no small part to the cross-posting picked up by Language Log, so many thanks to Mark Liberman for sharing it and to my linguist friends who suggested it. You can take the girl out of linguistics, but it’s hard to take linguistics out of the girl.

In case you missed the first post, a quick recap. In this totally observational and directional study, separate from any other factors, men interrupt women about three times as often as they interrupt other men. In a climate where interruptions happen on average once every two minutes and fifty-one seconds, there is less than one instance per hour of a woman interrupting a man for any reason. You get the idea: big tech is not an equitable environment as far as interruptions are concerned. This makes sense, since it is not a particularly equitable environment in terms of hiring and promotions either.

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"Jesus" in Dungan

Dungan is a Sinitic language spoken by the descendants of Hui (Muslim) refugees who fled from northwest China after a failed revolt against the Qing (Manchu) government about a century and a half ago.  Experiencing horrible losses along the way, their remnants settled in parts of what are now Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where ultimately they thrived and are quite successful today, particularly in growing produce.

Naturally, separated as they were from their homeland and its speech community, the language of the Dungans has undergone considerable change, especially through the borrowing of terms from Russian, Persian, Arabic, Turkic, and other languages.  Even more radical was the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet for their writing system (nearly all of those who fled were illiterate in Chinese characters).

For a brief introduction to the Dungans and their language, see "Dungan: a Sinitic language written with the Cyrillic alphabet".

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More on speech overlaps in meetings

This post follows up on Mark Dingemanse's guest post, "Some constructive-critical notes on the informal overlap study", which in turn comments on Kieran Snyder's guest post, "Men interrupt more than women".

As part of a project on the application of speech and language technology to meetings, almost 15 years ago, researchers at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) recorded, transcribed and analyzed a large number of their regular technical meetings. The results were published by the Linguistic Data Corsortium as the ICSI Meeting speech and transcripts. As the publication's documentation explains:

75 meetings collected at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley during the years 2000-2002. The meetings included are "natural" meetings in the sense that they would have occurred anyway: they are generally regular weekly meetings of various ICSI working teams, including the team working on the ICSI Meeting Project. In recording meetings of this type, we hoped to capture meeting dynamics and speaking styles that are as natural as possible given that speakers are wearing close-talking microphones and are fully cognizant of the recording process. The speech files range in length from 17 to 103 minutes, but generally run just under an hour each.

There are a total of 53 unique speakers in the corpus. Meetings involved anywhere from three to 10 participants, averaging six. The corpus contains a significant proportion of non-native English speakers, varying in fluency from nearly-native to challenging-to-transcribe.

There's an extensive set of "dialogue act" annotations of this material, available from ICSI, and described in Elizabeth Shriberg et al., "The ICSI Meeting Recorder Dialog Act (MRDA) Corpus", HLT 2004.

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Some constructive-critical notes on the informal overlap study

The following is a guest post by Mark Dingemanse, commenting on Kieran Snyder, "Men interrupt more than women", 7/14/2014.


Although I understand the interest of the topic, and although Kieran Snyder clearly did a lot of work for a substantial blog posting, I think the results are given too much credit, almost inevitably now that they are featured in news media everywhere (in her defense, she does note some methodological problems herself that should lead to a more cautious interpretation).

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Because come on

Philip Bump's article about the initiative aimed at splitting Caifornia into six new states contains a cute example of a new playful extension of the use of because:

Happily, in this instance the federal government would have to sign off on the idea, which it will never do, because, come on.

It's not a real extension of the syntax that allows because to take imperative clause complements, of course; it's just a humorous way to dismiss the idea of federal approval, taking its structure from the kind of changes of plan that happen in casual talk. Here the plan for a preposition phrase with because is just abandoned, and the idiomatic "come on" injunction to get real is substituted. But it works very nicely.

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Officer-involved passives

Radley Balko's Washington Post article "The curious grammar of police shootings" begins by reminding us about "mistakes were made" (an utterance so famous that it has its own Wikipedia page), and proceeds to quote a description of a shooting that is not by a policeman ("The suspect produced a semi-automatic handgun and fired numerous times striking the victim in the torso"). He comments with approval: "Note the active voice. We have a clear subject, verb, and direct object."

So far so good: the suspect is clearly identified as the agent. But that reference to the "active voice" clearly implies an upcoming allegation that the police use the passive voice when talking about their shootings. And the article signally fails to establish this. One quoted police report says: "The suspect then ran towards the officers still armed with the sword and an officer-involved-shooting occurred." Another says: "When the suspect continued to advance on the officer while refusing to comply with his repeated commands, an officer-involved shooting (OIS) occurred." I grant you that this phrase "officer-involved shooting" (it even has its own abbreviation!) is a weird piece of slippery and evasive bureaucratic jargon. But the examples given are just as much in the active voice as the earlier one where the suspect does the shooting.

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Word Crimes

For his new album Mandatory Fun, Weird Al Yankovic has crafted the ultimate peever's anthem: "Word Crimes," to the tune of last summer's big hit, "Blurred Lines."

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The rice is prosperous

Here follows an egregious example of bad machine translation without human intervention to correct or improve it.  This is a listing for a book in Chinese on Amazon.

Pinyin as given in the listing:  dao sheng he fu de jing ying zhi hui [ fu zeng / xue xi shou ce qi che ban lv ]

Chinese characters as given in the listing:  稻盛和夫 经营智慧  [附赠]学习手册 汽车伴侣 (click on the small image of the cover ["See this image"] to embiggen)

English translation as given in the listing:  The rice is prosperous and the management intelligence of the man [present|the study manual car companion ] (this is obviously errant nonsense and of no use to anyone who might want to buy the book)

The listing states that the book is by "unknown (Author)".

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Scheduled power outage

The building where the current LLOG server sits will be without power this evening, due to a construction project, and as a result, LLOG will be unavailable for several hours.

We should be back by early morning, if all goes well.

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Men interrupt more than women

Below is a guest post by Kieran Snyder, taken with permission from her always-interesting tumblr Jenga one week at a time.

image

About a month ago at work I overheard one woman complaining to another woman about a man’s habit of interrupting everyone in meetings. Then they went further. “That’s just how it is around here. The women listen, but the men interrupt in meetings all the time,” one of them summed it up.

As a moderate interrupter myself – I’m sorry if I’ve interrupted you, I just get excited about what you’re saying and I want to build on it and I lose track of the fact that it’s not my turn and I know it’s a bad habit – I started wondering if she was right. Do men interrupt more often than women?

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Ningbo pidgin English ditty

While visiting Ningbo last month, Barney Grubbs snapped this picture of a doggerel song featuring English words in local transcription at the Museum of the Ningbo Commercial Group ( Níngbō bāng bówùguǎn寧波幫博物館): Website, Wikipedia article.

The photograph is not clear (even with a magnifying glass it's hard to read), so a typed version is given below. [Update: Barney sent a clearer image of the verse -- click to embiggen.]


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Neoguri: raccoon or raccoon dog?

The typhoon that struck Okinawa a few days ago and is now passing by Tokyo is called Neoguri.  It gets it name from a Korean word meaning "raccoon dog".

The Japanese refer to it as Taifū 8-gō Neoguri 台風8号ネオグ リ ("Typhoon No. 8 Neoguri"), but most often without the "Neoguri" (see below for discussion of Japanese typhoon designation practices).  However, the Chinese are calling it Huànxióng 浣熊 ("raccoon"), which is a clear mistranslation.  The Chinese name for the raccoon dog is hé 貉 or háozi 貉子.

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When half of a quarter is all, or at least mostly

Steve Connor, "Nature rather than nurture governs intelligent behaviour in primates, scientists discover", The Independent 7/10/2014:

The vexed question of whether intelligence is inherited from birth or acquired through education seems to have been answered – for chimpanzees at least.

Scientists have found that being a smart primate is down to genes rather than upbringing, suggesting that nature rather than nurture governs intelligent behaviour in our closest living relatives.

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A "Japanese" supermarket at Peking University

Gianni Wan sent in this photograph of a sign on the front of a popular convenience store at Peking University:


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