Firing and wiring

In discussions about the history of usage, like this one, people often bring out generic memories ("I heard this all the time back in such-and-such a time period") or even more specific recollections ("I remember so-and-so saying this back in 19XX"). I've done this myself more than once. But recently something happened that made me wonder whether these memories can sometimes be false ones.

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Polylingualism

I'm sitting in the San Francisco International Airport waiting for my flight to Taipei.  The guy next to me is happily chattering away on his cell phone to someone (or some people) at the other end of the "line".  What is curious is that one moment he is speaking in Taiwanese, the next moment in Japanese, then English, and then Mandarin.

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Bad of shape

Josh Marshall, "Prep for the Overshoot", TPM 4/19/2016 (emphasis added):

[P]eople had convinced themselves last week that Trump was basically done – largely on the basis of a few bad news cycles and a big loss in Wisconsin. As long as he didn't get to 1237, he was toast. But Wisconsin was obviously an outlier. Now though things look very different. And they are different. But part of that is that Trump was never in as bad of shape as people thought ten days ago.

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"Dangerous love"

In China, you may be breaking the law if you date a foreigner for the purpose of learning their language.

On April 15, China observed its first annual National Security Education Day with the distribution of propaganda materials, delivery of speeches, and other activities designed to raise awareness of security issues.  A centerpiece of the campaign is a comic book-like poster in 16 panels titled "Wéixiǎn de àiqíng 危险的爱情" (“Dangerous Love”).

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7/11

A lovely example of a Fay-Cutler malapropism, i.e. a lexical substitution error:

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Debate words

As I mentioned a few days ago ("More political text analytics", 4/15/2016), I've now got more-or-less cleaned-up text from the 21 debates held so far in the current U.S. presidential campaign.

[Update — with some help from Chris Culy, I've done additional clean-up on the debate texts, and therefore have revised the numbers in this post slightly, as of 4/23/2016. None of the numbers have changed a lot, and none of the qualitative implications have changed at all.]

If we focus on the contributions to those 21 debates of  the five remaining U.S. presidential candidates, we get 199,188 words in total, divided up like this:

Clinton 56,989
Sanders 50,649
Trump 41,039
Cruz 32,654
Kasich 28,772

This morning I'll add a few small examples of the kind of information that can be derived from a dataset of this type.

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When did "a thing" become a thing?

Alexander Stern, "Is That Even a Thing?", NYT 4/16/2016:

Speakers and writers of American English have recently taken to identifying a staggering and constantly changing array of trends, events, memes, products, lifestyle choices and phenomena of nearly every kind with a single label — a thing. In conversation, mention of a surprising fad, behavior or event is now often met with the question, “Is that actually a thing?” Or “When did that become a thing?” Or “How is that even a thing?” Calling something “a thing” is, in this sense, itself a thing.

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Old Sinitic reconstructions and Tibeto-Burman cognates

[The following is a guest post by Tsu-Lin Mei.]

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The Old Chinese reconstruction of Gong Hwang-cherng and James Matisoff is not only internally consistent, but can be shown to have a Tibeto-Burman counterpart through Sino-Tibetan comparative studies.  Gong Hwang-cherng's Collected Papers on Sino-Tibetan Linguistics 龚煌城, Hàn-Zàngyǔ yánjiū lùnwén jí《汉藏语研究论文集》(2002) has about 300 cognate sets — involving Old Chinese, Written Tibetan, Written Burmese, and reconstructed Tangut. I am writing a paper whose purpose is to unite Gong's work with Zàng-Miǎn yǔzú yǔyán cíhuì《藏缅语族语言词汇》(Lexicon of Tibeto-Burman languages), edited by Huang Bufan 黄布凡 (1992). So far I have 142 cognate sets and can testify that Gong's cognate sets on the whole hold water.

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Trump® brand insults

The first two panels of today's Doonesbury:

Previous coverage of this issue: "The Trump Insult Haiku", 2/29/2016; "Trump reviews", 3/17/2016.

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I'unno

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Ask Language Log: German restaurant-name zum?

From Aaron Powell:

I woke last night with a minor bout of food poisoning and spent some time catching up on Language Log to distract myself ,and it occurred to me that you might be able to explain a German linguistic phenomenon that I don’t understand.  I have recently moved from the USA to Vienna, Austria and I’ve noticed several restaurants whose names start with ‘zum’: zum schwarzen Adler, zum schwarzen Kameel, zum schwarzen Baaren, zum englischen Reiter.  (If you press me, I’ll tell you which one might have made me ill).

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More about UM/UH on the Autism Spectrum

At a workshop in June, a group of us will be presenting a report that includes this graph:

The x axis is the relative frequency of "filled pauses" UM and UH, from 0% to 8%, and the y axis is the proportion of filled pauses that are UM, from 0% to 100%. The individual plotting characters represent values from transcripts of 100 children's contributions to Q&A segments of a standard diagnostic interview, where the blue Ts are "typically developing" children, the green Ms are male children with an autism spectrum diagnosis, and the red Fs are female children with an autism spectrum diagnosis.

You can find the details in Julia Parish-Morris, Mark Liberman, Neville Ryant, Christopher Cieri, Leila Bateman, Emily Ferguson, and Robert T. Schultz, "Exploring Autism Spectrum Disorders Using HLT", Computational Linguistics and Clinical Psychology 2016.

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Rhetorical reviews

Negative reviews of Donald Trump's rhetorical style are all over the place. A small sample might start with Gary Schmidgall, "What would Shakespeare make of Trump?", The Chronicle Review 2/7/2016:

The current campaign’s race to the bottom of the rhetorical barrel, of course, has been led by Donald Trump. Did you know "trumpery" was Shakespeare’s word for fancy garments or showy rubbish?

We can add Lucy Ferris, "Diagramming Trump", Chronicle of Higher Education 8/7/2015:

This isn’t fancy syntactical footwork on Trump’s part. It’s just bad rhetoric.

Or Stephen Henderson, "Trump, 'The Princess Bride' and Plato, or how to abuse rhetoric", Detroit Free Press 4/9/2016:

Trump’s rhetorical style […] so easily dismisses complexity and nuance and embraces fluid but incompatible dichotomies of harsh brutality and feel-good optimism.

Simplistic speech is a hazard of the campaign trail, which by nature eschews details for slogans, nuance for battle cries. But Trump's sins are excessive. […]

Rhetoric matters, not least because it reflects thought — or it should. Used wisely, rhetoric can make complex ideas understandable or rally people behind a common cause. But absent guiding morality or philosophy, Plato wrote, rhetoric is nothing but empty words.

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