Archive for Humor

A new discovery about the history of English

In the comments on yesterday's post "Language development", Olaf Zimmermann pointed us to this recent Onion scoop — "Newly Uncovered Manuscript Reveals China Invented English Language 700 Years Before Western World", The Onion 1/13/2022:

BEIJING—Shedding new light on the origins of the world’s most popular language, an international team of linguists announced Thursday that a newly uncovered manuscript confirms China invented both spoken and written English 700 years before the Western world. “These remarkably well-preserved bamboo slips appear to show that Zhou dynasty scholars developed the English tongue as far back as the third century BC, long before the language arose in Britain,” said Li Zhang, a professor of comparative linguistics who examined the text, which outlines the alphabet and basic grammar rules of English, in addition to including the first known uses of words such as “barbecue” and “philanthropy.” “By the time Anglo–Saxons began cobbling together their language from Latin, French, and Germanic sources, the Chinese had already mastered it. There are even some passages in this manuscript that appear eerily similar to the work of Shakespeare, though they are of far superior quality.” Li went on to explain that the Chinese gradually abandoned the English language, finding its 26-letter alphabet too limiting and opting instead for the convenience of Mandarin’s more than 50,000 characters.

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Parenthetical, alphabetical, ironical commentary in Sinographic texts

Occasionally I see pinyin (spelling) interspersed with Sinographs (usually for phonetic annotation), but this one threw me for a loop:

Yěxǔ (jué duì) shì, gāi lǐngyù zuì qiángdà de jiǎngzhě zhènróng.

也许(jué duì)是,该领域最强大的讲者阵容。

"Perhaps (definitely) it's the case that this is the strongest lineup of speakers in this field.

It occurs about two thirds of the way down in this Chinese article.

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A different kind of "matched guise" test?

In a "matched guise" test, subjects are asked to evaluate "various traits including body height, good looks, leadership, sense of humor, intelligence, religiousness, self-confidence, dependability, kindness, ambition, sociability, character, and likability", for the same content presented by the same speaker in different languages, or perhaps by the same speaker associated with different pictures. The goal is to uncover linguistic or ethnic stereotypes.

This twitter "experiment" takes the idea in a different direction, using an associated picture to shift the interpretation of an ambiguous word:


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Sumomomomomomomomo

That's the name of a three-year-old filly who had a maiden win at a Tokyo racecourse on November 1, 2021, as described in "Japanese Tongue Twisters", by Richard Medhurst, nippon.com (Nov 17, 2021).

The horse takes her name from the following Japanese tongue twister: Sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi (スモモも、モモも、モモのうち), meaning “Both sumomo and peaches are kinds of peaches.”

A sumomo is a kind of plum (Prunus salicina), sometimes called the “Japanese plum,” although not to be confused with the famous ume. Botanically, it cannot really said to be a kind of peach (momo), which is only a close relation (Prunus persica). Still, the linguistic connection might be enough; at the word level, at least, we could say a sumomo is a kind of momo.

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More pronoun confusion

…but this time it's the second person, in an outtake from the Laura Ingraham show that's been widely discussed in the media, posted several times on YouTube, and apparently viewed millions of times on TikTok:

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Robotic anaerobic Rodak erotic rotisserie

In yesterday's "Lively Blind Men" post, Ben Zimmer was appropriately amused by Zoom's speech-to-text mis-recognition of Lila Gleitman's name. But as everyone now has opportunities to learn, speech-to-text systems continue to make strange (and often amusing) mistakes in transcribing words and phrases that they haven't been trained to recognize. There are plenty of examples in pretty much any automatic transcription, and the 10/26 edition of the "Spectacular Vernacular podcast", which Ben co-hosts with Nicole Holliday, doesn't disappoint.

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Lively Blind Men

Last weekend, there was a memorial service at Penn for  Lila Gleitman, who passed away in August. The hundreds of people physically present were joined by a large crowd on Zoom, where the automatic closed captioning was turned on. And so the audience got to see a large sample of speech-to-text versions of Lila's name, of which this was my favorite:

(Click the picture for a larger version with more context…)

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Oont ze knakkers

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Word play of the month

Featuring Bready Mercury:

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Borcester shots

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Japanese giggle words

Japanese giggle words

Daniel Morales has a fun article in Japan Times (7/2/21):  "‘PPAP,’ ‘golden jewels’ and other words that make the Japanese giggle".  It begins:

Unintentional comedy is actually relatively easy to pull off. All you have to do is trip and fall.

Intentionally getting a laugh, on the other hand, takes practice. Especially in a second language. What’s funny in Japan may be different from what’s funny in other countries, but one common thread is that humor can be found in the way you wield the language — any language — not just ドタバタ喜劇 (dotabata kigeki, slapstick).

Knowing the funny words, so to speak, can give students of Japanese a leg up and, fortunately for us, in 2019 the online comedy site オモコロ (Omocoro) conducted an extremely “scientific” survey of 356 Japanese-speaking individuals on the internet to determine the funniest Japanese words. What it found suggests that there are certain patterns that make some words funnier than others in Japanese.

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Intonation in "human emulation mode"

Dave Itzkoff, "Elon Musk Hosts a Mother’s Day Episode of ‘Saturday Night Live’", NYT 5/9/2012 ("The much-discussed Tesla and SpaceX executive took a self-deprecating approach, telling viewers, 'I’m pretty good at running human in emulation mode.'"):

Musk, the billionaire chief executive of Tesla and founder of SpaceX, appeared in several “S.N.L.” sketches this weekend, playing characters that included a doctor at a hospital that caters to Generation Z patients, the producer of an Icelandic TV talk show and the video game villain Wario.

He used his opening monologue to share some personal details about himself, introducing viewers to his mother and discussing his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome —  […]

Musk took a self-deprecating tone in his “S.N.L.” monologue, telling the audience: “Sometimes, after I say something, I have to say, ‘I mean that,’ so people really know that I mean it. That’s because I don’t always have a lot of intonational variation in how I speak. Which I’m told makes for great comedy.”

The question of intonational variation in the speech of people on the autism spectrum is an interesting one. In the literature and in clinical presentations, I've seen phrases like "As is well known, autistic individuals have monotone intonation", and also "As is well known, autistic individuals have singsong intonation".

This apparently reflects the fact that most observers of intonation only notice differences between what they expect and how people talk. So depending on  their relationship to the speakers and the contents and contexts of interaction, they might perceive the same speakers' intonation as inappropriately monotone or inappropriately varied. There may also be relevant subgroups within the large and extremely varied space of people "on the spectrum" — autism is one of the many DSM-defined behavioral categories that are "phenotypically diverse", which a clinician friend explains is the Greek translation of "We have no f-ing clue"…

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A new derivation of the Sinogram for verb "fly"

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