Alien Encounter at Penn

Last week, I posted a few notes about how the alienness of aliens might make it hard to learn to communicate with them ("Alien Encounters", 9/15/2016). To start with, even the basic modes of signal generation and interpretation would probably not fit our biology very well. And the interpretation of signals — biological as well as cultural — might also be outside the range that we expect from experience with our fellow humans.

Some people, including my colleague and friend Victor Mair, nevertheless proposed methods based on those that have been found to work in human contexts. So to clarify the issues I was trying to raise, here's a little Alien Encounter Sketch.

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Strictly correct plurals of flower names

It has come to my attention that many laypeople, even Language Log readers, are using incorrect plurals for flower names. "Geraniums" indeed! "Crocuses", for heaven's sake! Please get these right. There follows a list of 30 count nouns naming flowers, together with their approved grammatically correct plurals. Don't use incorrect plurals any more. Shape up.

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Attachment ambiguity of the day

The latest message in the unending stream of spam sent my way by PayPal bears the Subject line "A great deal to get away from Hotels.com". My immediate response was that I don't need any help in getting away from hotels.com, thank you very much. But of course they're not offering to help me avoid hotels.com — rather they're trying to hook me up with hotels.com for a "get away".

Update — Following a suggestion in the comments, I looked again for a way to opt out of spam in my paypal account settings, but failed to find any. But inspecting the (very) fine print at the bottom of the latest note from the paypal spam bears, I did find a link that I was able to follow to reach a page that claimed I could use it to unsubscribe. So we'll see…

 

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"Literary" vs. "popular" fiction again

In "Annals of overgeneralization" (10/8/2013), I criticized a paper by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind", Science 10/3/2013. My complaint was that they drew conclusions about the effects of  reading three general categories of texts — "literary fiction", "popular fiction" and non-fiction —  based on experiments involved a small sample from each category, selected by the authors as in their opinion representative of the genre.

But you probably won't be surprised to learn that a replication attempt using exactly the same texts, performed by three separate research groups working in parallel,  failed to replicate Kidd and Castano's results.

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Learn Nepali

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Confessions of an Ex-Hokkien Creationist

[This, a guest post by Lañitri Kirinputra, is the fourth and last in a series of four posts on Hokkien and related Southern Min / Minnan language issues.  The first was "Eurasian eureka" (9/12/16), the second was "Hokkien in Singapore" (9/16/16), and the third was "Hoklo" (9/18/16).]

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Annals of Rediscovery

Harry Collins, Willow Leonard-Clarke, Hannah O'Mahoney, "Um, er: How meaning varies between speech and its typed transcript":

We use an extract from an interview concerning gravitational wave physics to show that the meaning of hesitancies within speech are different when spoken and when read from the corresponding transcript. When used in speech, hesitancies can indicate a pause for thought, when read in a transcript they indicate uncertainty. In a series of experiments the perceived uncertainty of the transcript was shown to be higher than the perceived uncertainty of the spoken version with almost no overlap for any respondent. We propose that finding and the method could be the beginning of a new subject we call 'Language Code Analysis' which would systematically examine how meanings change when the 'same' words are communicated via different media and symbol systems.

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Some kind of strict police

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "* Mad about jorts".

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When Uptalk Went Viral

This is a guest post by Cynthia McLemore, following up on Ben Zimmer's post on "'Uptalk' in the OED", 9/12/2016.


Twenty three years after James Gorman coined a word for “those rises” in the New York Times and unleashed a viral phenomenon associated with my name, and on the occasion of the OED's latest entries, Language Log has invited me to take stock of my experiences and offer some comments.

First, some background. In the late 1980s I started working to construct a theory of intonational meaning in English from the ground up. My aim was to gather facts about the intonational system as they occurred in natural settings in order to understand the role of culture and context in meaning-forming processes. I chose a sorority as the community to study because it had features of a natural speech “lab”: a social hierarchy, age stratification, recurrent contexts with consistent roles and expectations, homogeneity in ethnicity, gender, age, social class, religion, and regional affiliation, and pressure on speakers to conform to norms. In other words, identifiable socio-cultural parameters and reduced sources of variation.

One of the recurrent intonational forms I recorded and analyzed was a phrase-final rise used to introduce certain types of monologues in meetings and structure certain narratives. My Linguistics 101 students told me they heard it around campus and associated it with sororities. But while I was holed up in the lab scrutinizing pitchtracks of the sorority speech data, a broader use of those same phrase-final rises was spreading through American culture more generally. By 1991, when I started presenting my research on the more particular uses I’d found in the sorority — and the more abstract meanings I proposed for the intonational forms themselves — I was overwhelmed with invitations from various academic departments around the country, in addition to conferences, and gave over forty talks in little more than a year. Wherever I went, cab drivers, colleagues, friends and fellow travelers gave me their observations and opinions about “those rises.” Media interest was gaining in 1992 and 1993, but went right off the charts in August 1993 when the NYT published Gorman’s piece.

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Hoklo

[This is the third in a series of four planned posts on Hokkien and related Southern Min / Minnan language issues.  The first was "Eurasian eureka" (9/12/16) and the second was "Hokkien in Singapore" (9/16/16).]

Some names for Taiwanese language in MSM:

Táiyǔ 台語 ("Taiwanese")

Táiwānhuà 台灣話 ("Taiwanese")

Fúlǎo 福佬 / Héluò 河洛 ("Hoklo")

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Hikikomori: social withdrawal in Japan

I learned about this phenomenon through this article:

"Why won't 541,000 young Japanese leave the house?" (Emiko Jozuka, CNN, 9/12/16):

According to a Japanese cabinet survey released Wednesday, there are currently 541,000 young Japanese aged between 15 and 39 who lead similarly reclusive lives.

These people are known as hikikomori — a term the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry uses to define those who haven't left their homes or interacted with others for at least six months.

The term was coined as early as the 1980s, but there is still much debate on how exactly this condition is triggered and how it can be defined.

Somehow or other, I found both the sound and the meaning of this word to be intensely beguiling.

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Toxic shellfish warning in seven foreign languages

Stephen Hart sent in this photograph of a sign that appears on Ediz Hook in Port Angeles, WA (and probably elsewhere in the state):

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Hokkien in Singapore

[This is the second in a series of four planned posts on Hokkien and related Southern Min / Minnan language issues.  The first was this:  "Eurasian eureka" (9/12/16).]

Ryan of Singapore writes:

Just a few days ago, Singapore's Ministry of communications and information released a set of TV programs, aimed at seniors. It is halfway between a drama and a "public information" broadcast. What may interest you most is that it is in Hokkien, that long overlooked dialect / topolect.

Here is some information about the scope and aims of the program itself:  "New Hokkien drama aimed at seniors to be launched on Sep 9" (Channel NewsAsia, 9/1/16).

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