Digital scholarship and cultural ideology

Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette and David Golumbia, "Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities", Los Angeles Review of Books 5/1/2016:

Advocates position Digital Humanities as a corrective to the “traditional” and outmoded approaches to literary study that supposedly plague English departments. Like much of the rhetoric surrounding Silicon Valley today, this discourse sees technological innovation as an end in itself and equates the development of disruptive business models with political progress. Yet despite the aggressive promotion of Digital Humanities as a radical insurgency, its institutional success has for the most part involved the displacement of politically progressive humanities scholarship and activism in favor of the manufacture of digital tools and archives. Advocates characterize the development of such tools as revolutionary and claim that other literary scholars fail to see their political import due to fear or ignorance of technology. But the unparalleled level of material support that Digital Humanities has received suggests that its most significant contribution to academic politics may lie in its (perhaps unintentional) facilitation of the neoliberal takeover of the university.

Allington et al. give a plausible account of the history of computational text analysis in the humanities. Their narrative is oriented towards literary studies, without much discussion of fields like history, archeology and musicology; and there's room to argue about their choice of people and works to feature. But from my perspective outside the field, they have cause and effect reversed. Digital Humanities is not a top-down neo-liberal conspiracy aimed at a corporatist restructuring of literary studies. Rather, it's the natural and inevitable response of students and younger scholars to the opportunities afforded by new technologies, entirely comparable to the consequences of the invention of printing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (33)


Innocuous words that sound sexual

FLM writes:

A colleague (who has request anonymity) and I have developed a fondness for perfectly innocuous words which, to the linguistically unwashed masses, sound sexual. My colleague's example sentence is

Because her husband was intestate, she sought to dilate her fungible assets; despite cunctation for titivating, she managed to masticate and lucubrate far into the night.

A website of possible interest: Chuck Lorre Productions — words that confuse the CBS censor

I'd be curious to see how your Language Log aficionados might augment this body of knowledge.

Comments (50)


Freedom of speech vs. speaking rights

Bill Holmes, who is familiar with the language of Chinese law, writes:

With greater frequency over the past ten-odd years, I have run across the phrase “话语权", typically in commentary on (more or less sophisticated) mainland websites. This phrase can be put into English, clumsily, as “speaking rights” — though I believe it extends to written as well as oral communication. I have wondered whether this is a Chinese neologism, or an import — it doesn’t seem to resemble (older) Chinese usages with which I am familiar. Insights appreciated.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)


Suspicious null objects in the news

Below is a guest post by Jason Merchant.


There is an interesting grammatical point in an article in today's New York Times exploring some of the strands of support for Donald Trump, who has repeatedly been endorsed by racists, neo-Nazis, and their fellow travelers. In prior campaigns, such endorsements were typically followed by immediate and explicit disavowals by the Republican candidates, who would often take pains to express inclusionist ideas (compare the 1980 primary debate between Bush and Reagan here for the very different tone the Republican primaries had in the past, for example).

Trump has charted a different course. He has contented himself with what the Times calls 'a vague refrain': when pressed about these endorsements, as for example after onetime KKK member David Duke spoke in Trump's favor, Trump's response was merely "David Duke endorsed me? O.K. All right. I disavow, O.K.?"

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (41)


How not to not write

The first of 14 tips from Zachary Foster ("How not to write: 14 tips for aspiring humanities academics", Times Higher Education 7/7/2016):

Titles. Once upon a time, scholars thought titles should be succinct and descriptive. Now we know better. Instead, introduce your work with an unintelligible phrase such as “Interrupted Modernity”, “Sovereign Emergencies”, “Overthrowing Geography” or “Violent Accumulation”. “Bodies that Speak” and “Empires without Imperialism” also make for great titles, even if bodies cannot speak and empires cannot exist without imperialism. Everyone knows that confusion attracts attention. Obscure quotes also make for great titles, especially if they include grammatical errors or antiquated speech. “Oh motherland I pledge to thee”, “What does not respect borders” and “Fortress Europe in the field” are good examples.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (31)


More bovine excrement to rebut

Recently someone who runs some sort of online discussion forum wrote to ask me about the accuracy (or otherwise) of two bipartite claims. One said that "Language became prominent only after printed word entered our consciousness" and that "This caused the externalization and objectification of 'knowledge'," and the other said that in non-literate cultures "people have more verbs in their language" while we English speakers "have more nouns," and that "Our language [= English] is actor centered and their language is action centered."

I feel I have to make an effort to aid the benighted, so I responded to this cry for help. I made a few false starts on drafts containing phrases like "utter raving nutball" and "toxic, festering, postmodernist bullshit," which I then erased, and finally I settled down to write a kinder, gentler response. I didn't manage brilliantly — what I wrote won't win any prizes at a kindness-and-gentleness show, if they have such things — but I reined myself in a little (not voicing my suspicion that the writer's brain had been poisoned by reading Derrida, for example, because I think the accusation that someone has read Derrida is always offensive), and what I wrote back was as follows.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off


Learning to read and write Chinese

Responding to "How to learn to read Chinese" (5/25/08), Alex Wang writes:

Thanks for the great blog.  I have also enjoyed the articles of David Moser.  My path toward your blog started when I decided to teach my younger son, 4, to start to read Chinese and English.  It also was heavily influenced by watching my elder son, 7, struggle with learning how to write characters.  He is attending public school here in Shenzhen.  Both were born in HK and raised in Shenzhen.  Moreover, my wife's side is from the mainland.  After analysing the issue at length I have come to many of the same conclusions as your colleagues and you have.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (61)


Whodunit sociolinguistics

In order to pass the time on the long flight back from Paris, I downloaded a set of classic Margery Allingham mysteries. And in reading them, I was struck now and again by interesting and unexpected linguistic trivia. Thus in  Look to the Lady1931 [emphasis added]:

Mr Campion was introduced, and there was a momentary awkward pause. A quick comprehending glance passed between him and the elder girl, a silent flicker of recognition, but neither spoke. Penny sensed the general embarrassment and came to the rescue, chattering on breathlessly with youthful exuberance.  

'I forgot you didn't know Beth,' she said. 'She came just after you left. She and her people have taken Tye Hall. They're American, you know. It's glorious having neighbours again – or it would be if Aunt Di hadn't behaved so disgustingly. My dear, if Beth and I hadn't conducted ourselves like respectable human beings there'd be a feud.'  

Beth laughed. 'Lady Pethwick doesn't like strangers,' she said, revealing a soft unexpectedly deep voice with just a trace of a wholly delightful New England accent.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)


Humor among the Finns

According to The Economist (July 9, 2016, "Just visiting" [p.30 in UK edition]), a joke was "making the rounds" in Finland back in 2008 when Russia invaded part of Georgia (and Finns aren't laughing at it quite so much since the Ukraine conflict flared up):

Vladimir Putin lands at Helsinki airport and proceeds to passport control. "Name?" asks the border guard. "Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin," answers the Russian president. "Occupation?" asks the border guard. "No, just visiting," answers Mr Putin.

But wait a minute, I thought: that relies on a pun. In English the word for a militarily backed presence and control of governmental functions imposed by one state on the territory of another happens to be identical with one of the words for a person's regular paying job or profession. Are the two also, by pure accident, identical in Finnish (a non-Indo-European language)? That somehow feels implausible to me.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off


Spelling bees in the 1940s

[This is a guest post by Frank Southworth.  Since Frank is a linguist who specializes on South Asia, it has particular resonance with our long running series of posts on Indian dominance in more recent spelling bees.]

In the spring of 1941, when I was in sixth grade, I was the spelling champion of Public School #30 in Buffalo, NY (which only went up to 6th grade), and I competed in the citywide Buffalo Spelling Bee. In those years the Buffalo contest was regularly won by girls from the Annunciation School, a parochial school built in 1928 and operated by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. It was closed in 1988. (I just learned these facts from Wikipedia.) The school was famous for its rote learning which, if nothing else, did produce good spellers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)


Translation variation

For the past week, I've been in Paris attending JEP-TALN-RECITAL 2016 ("31ème Journées d’Études sur la Parole — 23ème Conférence sur le Traitement Automatique des Langues Naturelles  — 18ème Rencontre des Étudiants Chercheurs en Informatique pour le Traitement Automatique des Langues). This event certainly takes the prize for the longest acronym of any conference I've ever attended.

Attending a francophone conference gave me a chance to practice what remains of my high-school French, and the content was worthwhile as well — I heard many interesting papers and saw many interesting posters, about which more later. I haven't posted much during the past week because the internet at the conference site was badly overloaded, and the situation at my hotel was not much better. But now at CDG waiting for my flight there's decent connectivity, so here's a little something about signage translation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (30)


A confusion of languages and names

Xinjiang  新疆 (lit., "New Frontiers / Borders / Boundaries") is the northwesternmost and largest (one sixth of the whole country) among all of China's 34 provincial-level administrative units.  It got its present official name in the 1880s under the Manchus during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), but it has also been called, among other names, "Western Regions", Eastern Turkestan, and Uyghurstan.  When suitable, I prefer to refer to this region as Eastern Central Asia (ECA), since the latter designation is purely geographical in nature and has no political implications.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (29)


Campaign for promoting falls awareness

The Health Promotion Board (Bǎojiàn cùjìn jú 保健促进局) of Singapore has launched a campaign to promote awareness of falling.  Here's the poster they circulated in conjunction with the launch:


(Source)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (19)