Adjectives and adverbs

A puzzling note arrived in my inbox a few days ago:

I came across an article you wrote about the use of adverbs and adjectives.  To count the use of adverbs and adjectives you actually wrote a program. Is this something you would be willing to share or give me some advice on how to create myself? I am looking for a tool that our marketing team can use to keep the puffery to a minimum.

It was puzzling because the cited article was  "Stop Hating on Adjectives and Adverbs", Slate 9/10/2013.  And as the title suggests, my attitude towards eliminating adjective and adverbs was a skeptical one:

Calculating the relative percentages of adjectives and adverbs in texts tells us nothing useful about their readability, clarity, or efficiency.

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Singlish: alive and well

We've mentioned that special brand of Singaporean English on Language Log from time to time, most recently just a few days ago:

"New Singaporean and Hong Kong terms in the OED" (5/12/16)

So what is it, really?

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Two dozen, two thousand, whatever

For Times Insider, David W. Dunlap has an article about some of the more entertaining errors and corrections that have graced the pages of The New York Times: "The Times Regrets the Error. Readers Don't."

Among the goofs is this one from a Q&A with Ivana Trump that appeared in the Oct. 15, 2000 New York Times Magazine:

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Bruce Rusk thought Language Log readers might be interested in a bit of digraphia from Vancouver: an “escape room” company (on this phenomenon, see here), with several locations in Vancouver and its environs, uses the Sinograph chū 出 ("go out / forth; exit") in place of the letter E in its name, “出XIT” (where it looks like a doubled, rotated E). The logo looks like this:

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Ted Chiang uninvents Chinese characters

Yesterday morning on the commute to Penn, I was intrigued by a series of six articles in the latest New Yorker (5/16/16) that appeared under the rubric "Uninvent this":  Mary Karr on high heels, Charlie Brooker on dancing, Carrie Brownstein on conference calls, Lee Child on fiction, Alexandra Kleeman on mirrors….  When I reached the sixth and last one, I was so stunned that I almost dropped the magazine and nearly fell out of my seat.

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Xy McXface

Yesterday Google announced the open-source release of SyntaxNet,

an open-source neural network framework implemented in TensorFlow that provides a foundation for Natural Language Understanding (NLU) systems. Our release includes all the code needed to train new SyntaxNet models on your own data, as well as Parsey McParseface, an English parser that we have trained for you and that you can use to analyze English text.

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The shape of things to come?

Writing about Donald Trump's language, Ben MacIntyre ("Trump’s cleverest trick is sounding stupid", The Times 5/13/2016) brings in the usual suspects: Basic English, Flesch-Kincaid readability, "bigly". He starts this way:

In 1930, the English linguist CK Ogden invented a pared down, simplified form of language as a tool for teaching English as a second tongue. His “Basic English” included a vocabulary of just 850 words, 18 verbs, and a radically reduced grammar. Anyone with a grasp of Basic English would be able to understand anyone else with the same rudimentary skills.  

HG Wells was intrigued and horrified by the idea, and in his 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come he depicted a totalitarian government ruling a world in which Basic English becomes the global lingua franca.  

Donald Trump has forged his own Basic English, a blunt, reduced, idiomatic form of speech that is comprehensible to any American with the educational skills of the average ten-year-old. Trumpspeak appals his critics, delights his supporters with its directness, and represents one of the keys to his successful bid for the Republican nomination.

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Democracy is not chicken nuggets

Kyle Gorman stumbled upon something strange happening to the Wikipedia article on "List of blacklisted keywords in China".  The first item under "General concepts" is mínzhǔ 民主 , which means "democracy".  However, what Kyle saw there as the definition yesterday was "chicken nuggets".  After he told me about it, I went there and saw the same thing:  "chicken nuggets".

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New Singaporean and Hong Kong terms in the OED

"The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) added 19 Singaporean terms and 13 Hong Kong terms in its latest update."  So reports BBC News in "Singapore terms join Oxford English Dictionary" (5/12/16)

Here are the lists:

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Bleg: Varieties of Spanish

Neville Ryant and I are experimenting with the use of audiobooks to study linguistic variation. As a contribution to that research, we'd like to ask Spanish-speaking readers to give their opinions about fifteen short samples, using an interactive survey posted here.

Thanks in advance for your help!

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Standards of evidence

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John Oliver on TV Science — featuring the TODD talks ("Trends, Observations, and Dangerous Drivel"):

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Twice, or a hundred times, whatever …

"Figures reveal ethnic variations in prevalence of alcohol-related diseases", The Scotsman 5/9/2016 [emphasis added]:

Irish people living in Scotland are more than twice as likely to end up in hospital or die from alcohol-related diseases as white Scottish people, research has found.

The risk for women from a mixed ethnic background is almost 100 times that of white Scots, scientists concluded. […]

Compared to the white Scottish population, women of mixed ethnicity are 99% more likely to to [sic] require hospital stays or die from alcohol-related disease.

This is enough to warn us that we're dealing with a hard-to-believe level of numerical illiteracy. Apparently the writer interpreted "99% more" as meaning "almost 100 times" more — and no editor caught it, either at The Scotsman or at any of the other papers that reprinted the story.

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