Or the arbitrary cat, horse, or pig

I think Mark Liberman may have been concerned that perhaps my post "Pronominal reference to the arbitrary dog" hinted at being tempted toward the Recency Illusion. Not true, of course: even when surprised by some point of usage that I notice, I never conclude I must therefore be the first to have encountered it. On encountering the use of singular they for a dog, I didn't say "This has never happened before"; I said "we should expect this sort of use to increase in frequency." But anyway, just in case, Mark sent me some other cases of animals being referred to with singular they. They presumably indicate that where sex is irrelevant, the use of it should nonetheless be avoided, because it might offend the animal.

https://www.bengalcats.co/why-do-cats-knead/
You see, the repetitive movement is not only serving as a way to promote milk flow, it also encourages maternal instinct and establishes a bond between a cat and their kittens.

http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/cat.html
When a cat died, their human family would go into a deep mourning and shave their eyebrows.

[By the way, notice that the foregoing example is ambiguous (cat's eyebrows vs. family members' eyebrows), and the ambiguity is caused solely by the refusal to use it for the arbitrary cat. People will risk being incomprehensible rather than change their mind about whether they could compromise on a pronoun gender choice. Or maybe the point is just that people do not avoid, and do not know to avoid, or even notice, dangers of ambiguity for the hearer or reader.]

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Long kanji readings

SoraNews24 (4/20/17) has an article by Scott Wilson titled "W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 kanji with the longest readings【Weird Top Five】 ".  Before attempting to read and critique this article, we need to familiarize ourselves with some basic terms and concepts about the modern Japanese writing system.  It basically consists of thousands of kanji (Chinese characters) and kana (a syllabary of 48 symbols, of which there are two different types, cursive hiragana and angular katakana).  As the name "syllabary" indicates, each of the kana symbols is pronounced as a syllable, except for one, which indicates the sound "n".

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The sphere of the sphere is the sphere of the sphere

In a comment on "Electric Sheep", Tim wrote:

Just want to share a little Google Translate poetry resulting from drumming my fingers on the keyboard while set to Thai:

There are six sparks in the sky, each with six spheres. The sphere of the sphere is the sphere of the sphere.

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"I want to God bless America"

Donald Trump has developed the habit of ending his speeches with the formula "Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America". Thus from his 2/6/2017 speech at CENTCOM:

And from his 4/21/2017 Weekly Radio Address:

But at the end of an event yesterday, things got a bit tangled, perhaps because these were spontaneous remarks rather than a prepared speech — "President Trump Signs Financial Services Executive Orders", whitehouse.gov 4/21/2017:

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Pronominal reference to the arbitrary dog

Following Bean's guest post about being scorned by an 8-year-old child for not using singular they when it was appropriate, Language Log now presents the first evidence (to my knowledge) of a newspaper abandoning the usual use of it to refer to animals, and instead using singular they for an unknown arbitrary animal. This is from an article in the Metro (a free UK daily) on what to do if you find someone's dog close to death because it has been locked in a car on a hot day; I boldface the pronouns of interest:

Get the dog out of the car and move them to a shaded, or cooler area. Then, douse the dog with cool water and let them drink small amounts of it. Make sure the water is cool but not cold, to avoid shock.

If the dog is not displaying signs of heatstroke, let them rest while you establish how long they were in the car, and make a note of the vehicle's registration.

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Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 4

Spotted by Greg Ralph in a London restaurant:

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Schooled on singular "they"

[This is a guest post by Bean]

My eight-year-old daughter in conversation with me last night:

Scene: I am giving her a sock, which she had brought home, only to find she already had both of her socks. So it logically must belong to some other girl (it's obviously a girl's sock).

Me: So, bring this lost sock back to school, and put it in the lost and found. Do you remember who was wearing it? Well, anyway if the other girl is looking for it she can find it. I'm assuming it was a girl so I'm going with "she".

Daughter [scornfully]: You mean "they".

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The language of homophobia on a Chinese campus

Banner displayed on the main campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, by members of the women’s basketball team:

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Electric sheep

A couple of recent LLOG posts ("What a tangled web they weave", "A long short-term memory of Gertrude Stein") have illustrated the strange and amusing results that Google's current machine translation system can produce when fed variable numbers of repetitions of meaningless letter sequences in non-Latin orthographic systems. Geoff Pullum has urged me to explain how and why this sort of thing happens:

I think Language Log readers deserve a more careful account, preferably from your pen, of how this sort of craziness can arise from deep neural-net machine translation systems. […]

Ordinary people imagine (wrongly) that Google Translate is approximating the process we call translation. They think that the errors it makes are comparable to a human translator getting the wrong word (or the wrong sense) from a dictionary, or mistaking one syntactic construction for another, or missing an idiom, and thus making a well-intentioned but erroneous translation. The phenomena you have discussed reveal that something wildly, disastrously different is going on.  

Something nonlinear: 18 consecutive repetitions of a two-character Thai sequence produce "This is how it is supposed to be", and so do 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24, and then 25 repetitions produces something different, and 26 something different again, and so on. What will come out in response to a given input seems informally to be unpredictable (and I'll bet it is recursively unsolvable, too; it's highly reminiscent of Emil Post's famous tag system where 0..X is replaced by X00 and 1..X is replaced by X1101, iteratively).

Type "La plume de ma tante est sur la table" into Google Translate and ask for an English translation, and you get something that might incline you, if asked whether you would agree to ride in a self-driving car programmed by the same people, to say yes. But look at the weird shit that comes from inputting Asian language repeated syllable sequences and you not only wouldn't get in the car, you wouldn't want to be in a parking lot where it was driving around on a test run. It's the difference between what might look like a technology nearly ready for prime time and the chaotic behavior of an engineering abortion that should strike fear into the hearts of any rational human.  

Language Log needs at least a sketch of a proper serious account of what's going on here.

A sketch is all that I have time for today, but here goes…

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Jesus is good, beef noodles are good, and so is money

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English orthography is fake news

Today's Non Sequitur:

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Russia is a surface but other countries are spaces?

In Finnish, that is. Garrett Wollman ("Some linguistic observations from my trip to Finland", Occasionally Coherent 4/14/2017) notes that Finnish morphology differentiates between "surface" and "interior" relationships of position and motion:

toward at away
surface allative
-lle
“onto”
adessive
-lla/-llä
“on” or “at”
ablative
-lta/-ltä
“off” or “away”
interior illative
-Vn/-hVn
(for stems ending in V)
“into” or “toward”
inessive
-ssa/-ssä
“in” or “inside of”
elative
-sta/-stä
“out of” or “from”

Against this background, he describes his recent experience at the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki.

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I (don't) doubt that the letter is fake

Somebody just sent me a note that begins, "I don’t doubt that the letter is fake…".

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