Archive for Linguistic history

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Where is this picture from?

I tried Google Image Search without useful results.

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In our 1992 chapter "The stress and structure of modified noun phrases in English" (in Sag & Szabolcsi, Lexical Matters), Richard Sproat and I noted that the normal order in English puts a nominal modifier before its head, but "there are some cases where it appears to be necessary to assume that the head of the construction is on the left and the modifier is on the right". We gave the examples

vitamin C, route 1, brand X, exit 14, peach Melba, steak diane, Cafe Beethoven, Club Med

My email address and cell phone number have recently found their way onto some political contact lists. And as a result, I get dozens of messages a day from Team X, where X is some politician's name: Team Trump, Team Joe, Team Warren, Team Collins, …

This led me to wonder about the history of the Team NAME construction. I'm not sure that I've got it right, so please explain in the comments what I've missed or misunderstood.

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IRCS Prosody Workshop 1992: Undoing bit rot

Recently, Antônio Simões wrote to Cynthia McLemore to ask about a 28-year-old proceedings:

I used to find on the internet the Proceedings from 1992 that you edited with Mark Liberman. I tried to find them, but they are not on the internet anymore. Do you still have that volume in pdf? Or is it accessible somewhere on the internet? This is the volume:

McLemore, Cynthia, and Mark Liberman, eds. 1992. Proceedings of the IRCS Workshop on Prosody in Natural Speech. IRCS Report No. 92-37.

"IRCS" stands for "Institute for Research in Cognitive Science", an NSF research center founded in 1990 by Lila Gleitman and Aravind Joshi. IRCS  died in 2016 after a lingering siege of academic politics, and its website seems to have been purged last year. Penn's library has some IRCS technical reports in its repository, but not the one that Antônio is looking for. Many others are clearly missing, along with event recordings and so on — I'll see whether there are backups somewhere from which things can be restored.

Meanwhile, Cindie found a paper copy of the requested proceedings, and this page provides a table of contents with links and abstracts for scanned versions of the 26 papers it contains. Most of them are still interesting and relevant today!


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Further v. Farther

Apparently, further and farther come from the same source, namely the verb that we retain as further meaning "to promote". The different spellings were originally due to the general diversity of English orthography in earlier times. And the spelling was apparently not regularized because the word(s) took over as the comparative form of far, which used to be farrer. But because of the similarity of meanings, both forms seem always to have been used in the full range of adjectival and adverbial meanings, though with some probabilistic influence of far's spatial sense on the vowel.

From the 1895 OED entry for farther (not revised since then):

Middle English ferþer (whence by normal phonetic development farther ) is in origin a mere variant of further n., due probably to the analogy of the verb ferþren < Old English fyrðrian to further v. The primary sense of further, farther is ‘more forward, more onward’; but this sense is practically coincident with that of the comparative of far, where the latter word refers to real or attributed motion in some particular direction. Hence further, farther came to be used as the comparative of far; first in the special application just mentioned, and ultimately in all senses, displacing the regular comparative farrer. In standard English the form farther is usually preferred where the word is intended to be the comparative of far, while further is used where the notion of far is altogether absent; there is a large intermediate class of instances in which the choice between the two forms is arbitrary.

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Structure of Language and its Mathematical Aspects

I recently had reasons to consult a book published in 1961, "Structure of Language and its Mathematical Aspects", Proceedings of Symposia in Applied Mathematics, Volume XII, edited by Roman Jakobson.

The table of contents:

W. V. Quine – Logic as a source of syntactical insights
Noam Chomsky – On the notion “Rule of Grammar”
Hilary Putnam – Some issues in the theory of grammar
Henry Hiż – Congrammaticality, batteries of transformations and grammatical categories
Nelson Goodman – Graphs for linguistics
Haskell B. Curry – Some logical aspects of grammatical structure
Yuen Ren Chao – Graphic and phonetic aspects of linguistic and mathematical symbols
Murray Eden – On the formalization of handwriting
Morris Halle – On the role of simplicity in linguistic descriptions
Robert Abernathy – The problem of linguistic equivalence
Hans. G. Herzberger – The joints of English
Anthony G. Oettinger – Automatic syntactic analysis and the pushdown store
Victor H. Yngve – The depth hypothesis
Gorden E. Peterson and Frank Harary – Foundations in phonemic theory
Joachim Lambek – On the calculus of syntactic types
H. A. Gleason, Jr. – Genetic relationship among languages
Benoit Mandelbrot – On the theory of word frequencies and on related Markovian models of discourse
Charles F. Hockett – Grammar for the hearer
Rulon Wells – A measure of subjective information
Roman Jakobson – Linguistics and communication theory

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ICPhS 1938

For those interested in the history of concepts and techniques in phonetics, I've scanned the Proceedings of the Third International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (1938), all 550-odd pages of it. Warning: 23 MB .pdf file.

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: “the right (of the people) to … bear arms”

An introduction and guide to this series of posts is available here. The corpus data can be downloaded here. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

New URL for COFEA and COEME:

Having dealt in my last post with how bear arms was ordinarily used and understood in 18th-century America, I’ll turn in this post to the question of how it was used in the Second Amendment.

I’ll begin by considering how the right to bear arms would most likely have been understood during the Founding Era. As I will explain, I think it would have been understood to mean something along the lines of ‘serve in the militia.’ I’ll then ask whether that conclusion is changed by the fact that the right to bear arms is described in the Second Amendment as belonging to “the people.” My answer will be that my conclusion is unchanged.

My next post will wrap up my examination of the Second Amendment by considering whether my interpretation is ruled out by the fact that the Second Amendment deals not simply with the right of the people to bear arms but with their right to keep and bear arms. And again, the answer will be no.

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: “bear arms” (part 3) [UPDATED]

[Part 1, Part 2.] An introduction and guide to this series of posts is available here. The corpus data can be downloaded here. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen. 

New URL for COFEA and COEME:

From The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut
From October, 1735, to October, 1743, Inclusive


THIS WILL BE my final post about bear arms, and it will be followed by a post on the right of the people to … bear arms and another on keep and bear arms. These posts will directly address the linguistic issues that are most important in evaluating the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller: how bear arms was ordinarily used in the America of the late 18th century, and how the right of the people, to keep and bear Arms was likely to have been understood.

As I’ve previously explained, the court held in Heller that at the time of the Framing, bear arms ordinarily meant ‘wear, bear, or carry … upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.’ In my last post, I discussed the uses of bear arms in the corpus that I thought were at least arguably consistent with that that meaning. Out of the 531 uses that I identified as being relevant, there were only 26 in that category—less than 5% of the total.

In this post I’ll discuss the other 95%.

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F-word diets

JoAnna Klein, "Did Dietary Changes Bring Us ‘F’ Words? Study Tackles Complexities of Language’s Origins", NYT 3/14/2019:

Thousands of years ago, some of our ancestors left behind the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and started to settle down. They grew vegetables and grains for stews or porridge, kept cows for milk and turned it into cheese, and shaped clay into storage pots.

Had they not done those things, would we speak the languages and make the sounds that we now hear today? Probably not, suggests a study published Thursday in Science.

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Long words

I'm in Hamburg for lectures and meetings this week.

The first day I was here, in the afternoon I went out for a walk.  After taking about 50 steps from the front door of my hotel, I saw this lettering on the glass facade of a nearby building:

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: Responding to Weisberg on the meaning of "bear arms" [Updated, and updated again]

An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

New URL for COFEA and COEME:

The Originalism Blog has a guest post, by David Weisberg, taking issue with the conclusion in Dennis Baron's Washington Post op-ed that newly available evidence of historical usage shows that in District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice Scalia misinterpreted the phrase keep and bear arms. That's an issue that I wrote about yesterday ("The coming corpus-based reexamination of the Second Amendment") and that I'm going to be dealing with in a series of posts over the next several weeks.

One of Weisberg's arguments concerns a linguistic issue that I'm planning to address, and I think that Weisberg is mistaken. At the risk of getting out ahead of myself, I want to respond to Weisberg briefly now, with a more detailed explanation to come.

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The coming corpus-based reexamination of the Second Amendment [Updated]

An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

New URL for COFEA and COEME:

It was only three weeks ago that BYU Law School made available two corpora that are intended to provide corpus-linguistic resources for researching the original meaning of the U.S. Constitution. And already the corpora are yielding results that could be very important.

The two corpora are COFEA (the Corpus of Founding Era American English) and COEME (the Corpus of Early Modern English). As I've previously explained, COFEA consists of almost 139 million words, drawn from more than 95,000 texts from the period 1760–1799, and COEME consists of 1.28 billion words, from 40,000 texts dating to the period 1475–1800. (The two corpora can be accessed here.)

Within a day after COFEA and COEME became available, Dennis Baron looked at data from the two corpora, to see what they revealed about the meaning of the key phrase in the Second Amendment: keep and bear arms. (Baron was one of the signatories to the linguists' amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Heller.) He announced his findings here on Language Log, in a comment on my post about the corpora's unveiling:

Sorry, J. Scalia, you got it wrong in Heller. I just ran "bear arms" through BYU's EMne [=Early Modern English] and Founding Era American English corpora, and of about 1500 matches (not counting the duplicates), all but a handful are clearly military.

Two weeks later, Baron published an opinion piece in the Washington Post, titled "Antonin Scalia was wrong about the meaning of ‘bear arms’," in which he repeated the point he had made in his comment, and elaborated on it a little. Out of "about 1,500 separate occurrences of 'bear arms' in the 17th and 18th centuries," he said, "only a handful don’t refer to war, soldiering or organized, armed action." Based on that fact, Baron said that the two corpora "confirm that the natural meaning of 'bear arms' in the framers’ day was military."

My interest having been piqued, I decided to check out the corpus data myself.

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Generative linguistics and neural networks at 60

An interesting new paper by Joe Pater: "Generative linguistics and neural networks at 60: foundation, friction, and fusion":

Abstract. The birthdate of both generative linguistics and neural networks can be taken as 1957, the year of the publication of seminal work by both Noam Chomsky and Frank Rosenblatt. This paper traces the development of these two approaches to cognitive science, from their largely autonomous early development in their first thirty years, through their collision in the 1980s around the past tense debate (Rumelhart and McClelland 1986, Pinker and Prince 1988), and their integration in much subsequent work up to the present, 2017. Although these traditions are often presented as in opposition to one another, such a presentation assumes polar versions of each approach, and ignores the ever-growing body of results that have been achieved through integration.


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