Inflection in Georgian and in English

Helen Sims-Williams has a new post on The Philological Society Blog:

"Understanding the loss of inflection" (11/23/16)

Helen takes what might superficially seem to be a dry and dreary topic and turns it into a lively, stimulating essay.  Here's how it begins:

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Chinese transcriptions of Donald Trump's surname

From the following post, we see that there are three main ways to transcribe Donald Trump's given name in Chinese and two main ways to transcribe his surname:

"Transcription of "Barack Obama", "Hillary Clinton", and "Donald Trump" in the Sinosphere" (10/2/16)

Here are the two prevailing transcriptions of "Trump" in Chinese characters:

Tèlǎngpǔ 特朗普 (mainland China, Macau, Malaysia/Singapore) — 4,970,000 ghits

Chuānpǔ 川普 (Taiwan, Hong Kong, but also on the mainland, especially on the internet) — 1,570,000 ghits

N.B.:  The relative popularity of these two forms is shifting among different groups in all of the designated regions.

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"Arrival" gets the wug treatment

Linguists have been having a field day with the movie "Arrival" (see: "'Arrival' arrives"). From Ollie Sayeed on Facebook, here's a playful take on the shot of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) holding up a whiteboard with the word "HUMAN" for the aliens' perusal.

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Apostrophe in Hebrew

We've already looked at the use of an apostrophe in Hangul.  Now Wendy Heller has sent in this photograph of a shop sign in Haifa, Israel:

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Language vs. script

Many of the debates over Chinese language issues that keep coming up on Language Log and elsewhere may be attributed to a small number of basic misunderstandings and disagreements concerning the relationship between speech and writing.

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Another fake AI failure?

The "silly AI doing something stupidly funny" trope is a powerful one, partly because people like to see the mighty cast down, and partly because the "silly stupid AI" stereotype is often valid.

But as with stereotypes of human groups, the most viral examples are often fakes. Take the "Voice Recognition Elevator"  skit from a few years ago, which showed an ASR system that was baffled by a Scottish accent, epitomizing the plight of Scots trapped in a dehumanized world that doesn't understand them. But back in the real world, I found that when I played the YouTube version of the skit to the 2010 version of Google Voice on my cell phone, it correctly transcribed the whole thing.

And I suspect that the recent viral "tuba-to-text conversion" meme is another artful fraud.

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Using animal images to cast aspersions

We call people "swine", "pigs", "dogs", "curs", "rats", even "water buffalo" when we want to disparage them.

The latter epithet was uttered in the famous "water buffalo incident" that took place at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993, when an Israeli-born Jewish student, translating from Hebrew slang behema ("animal; beast" — used by Israelis to refer to loud, unruly people) shouted "Shut up, you water buffalo" out his window at a noisy group of students who were disturbing him and others in his building at midnight.  The controversy was exacerbated by alleged racial overtones of "water buffalo", though the student who yelled the phrase denied that he meant it to have racial implications.

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…"such matters as Opinion, not real worth, gives a value to"

Recently, a series of serendipitous connections led me to read Mary Astell's work, A serious proposal to the ladies, for the advancement of their true and greatest interest, first published in 1694.  And this experience led me to two questions, the first of which is, Why in the world are Mary Astell's works not available in a readable plain text form, from sources like Project Gutenberg and Wikisource?

Astell's Wikipedia entry explains that she "was one of the first English women to advocate the idea that women were just as rational as men, and just as deserving of education." And she is important enough to merit an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which describes at length her contributions to metaphysics and epistemology.

I know that the first-order reason for this lacuna is that OCR is still pathetically incapable of dealing with 17th-century printing, and that no volunteers have stepped forward to transcribe her writings from the available paper or image sources. But this doesn't really answer the question, it just moves it back a step.

Anyhow, my second question is one that I've wondered about before, without ever trying to find an answer: Why did authors from Astell's time distribute initial capital letters in the apparently erratic way that they did?

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Advances in tuba-to-text conversion

My dad accidentally texted me with voice recognition…while playing the tuba

(h/t Chris Waigl)

[Update: Mark Liberman suggests this might be some artful fakery. See: "Another fake AI failure?"]

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Words for anger

Lisa Feldman Barrett has an article on "The Varieties of Anger" in last Sunday's NYT.  Most of it consists of reflections on pre- and post-election anger in our society.  But Barrett has one paragraph in which she makes some rather dubious claims about the number of words for “anger” in several languages:

The Russian language has two distinct concepts within what Americans call “anger” — one that’s directed at a person, called “serditsia,” and another that’s felt for more abstract reasons such as the political situation, known as “zlitsia.” The ancient Greeks distinguished quick bursts of temper from long-lasting wrath. German has three distinct angers, Mandarin has five and biblical Hebrew has seven.

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"Thank you for your contribution"

Yesterday evening I wound up spending several hours in the Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, and the result was a brilliant idea. Or maybe an idle fantasy — you decide.

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Big-league metaphors: the role of sports language in American politics

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining fellow Language Logger Barbara Partee on Josh Chetwynd's KGNU radio show, "The Real Deal in Sports." Josh is the author of The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors, and he spoke to Barbara and me about how the metaphorical language of sports pervades American politics (especially in the latest presidential campaign). We mulled over how those metaphors shape our political discourse, and callers joined in with their own thoughts. You can listen to the hourlong broadcast here.

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Hokkien-Tagalog-English-Spanish phrasebook

Page of a phrasebook published in 1941 (click to embiggen):

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