Archive for Psycholinguistics

Corpora and the Second Amendment: "keep and bear arms" (Part 2)

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.

COFEA and COEME: lawcorpus.byu.edu.

This post will complete my analysis of the Second Amendment—for now. So far, I've focused almost entirely on the Second Amendment's specification of the right that it protected—the right of the people, to keep and bear Arms—and have said little or nothing about well regulated or militia. That doesn't mean I have nothing to say about those expressions, it just means that I'll defer that discussion until sometime in the future.

Meanwhile, here in the present, this post will try to answer the question that I raised in the last post: whether the Supreme Court was right in saying that the fact that bear arms appears in the phrase keep and bear arms means that bear arms couldn't have been used in its idiomatic military sense:

[If bear arms were given its idiomatic meaning,] the phrase "keep and bear arms" would be incoherent. The word "Arms" would have two different meanings at once: "weapons" (as the object of "keep") and (as the object of "bear") one-half of an idiom. It would be rather like saying "He filled and kicked the bucket" to mean "He filled the bucket and died." Grotesque.

It's true that interpreting bear arms as having been used idiomatically would mean that arms conveys two different meanings (a phenomenon known as copredication). But as explained in my last post, that doesn't rule out such an interpretation. Now, in this post, I'll argue that interpreting bear arms in that way is more than just a theoretical possibility. I'll discuss evidence that makes it reasonable to think keep and bear arms was intended to convey such a meaning, and that such an interpretation would have been more likely than the alternative.

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: "keep and bear arms" (part 1) (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.

COFEA and COEME: lawcorpus.byu.edu.

This was supposed to be the final entry in my series of posts on the Second Amendment, but I've decided to split the discussion into two parts.

In my last post, I concluded that as used in the Second Amendment, bear arms was most likely understood to mean 'serve in the militia.' The question that I'll address here and in my next post is whether that conclusion is changed by the fact that the Second Amendment protects not simply "the right of the people to bear arms" but "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."

The corpus data on keep and bear arms is of no help in answering that question, because all the uses of the phrase in the data are either from the Second Amendment or from drafts of proposals for what became the Second Amendment. Therefore, I won't deal with the corpus data at all in this post, and I'll deal with only a relative handful of concordance lines in the next one (though those lines will play an important role in the analysis).

Taken together, these two posts will provide an extended rebuttal of the portion of Heller (consisting of only four sentences) that raised the question that these posts will address. Those four sentences were part of the court's argument that bear arms as used in the Second Amendment couldn't possibly have been understood in its idiomatic military sense:

[If bear arms were given its idiomatic meaning,] the phrase "keep and bear arms" would be incoherent. The word "Arms" would have two different meanings at once: "weapons" (as the object of "keep") and (as the object of "bear") one-half of an idiom. It would be rather like saying "He filled and kicked the bucket" to mean "He filled the bucket and died." Grotesque.

When I first read Heller, this struck me as a pretty strong argument. But I've rethought the issue since then, and have come to think that the argument is seriously flawed. At this point, although I don't dismiss the argument altogether, I don't think it rules out interpreting bear arms in the Second Amendment to mean 'serve in the militia.'

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Rating and judging non-native English

From Martijn Wieling:

We have created a questionnaire about rating English accents and judging English audio samples from non-native speakers of English. We'd like to get as many native English speakers as possible to provide their judgements about the audio samples and I was hoping you'd be willing to link the questionnaire.

Note that the survey link randomly redirects people  to one of two questionnaires. One is about deciding which English word you hear (pronounced by a Dutch speaker), the other about rating the nativelikeness of English accents, similar to the questionnaire that you recruited subjects for in 2012 ("Rating American English Accents").

So all you native English speakers, please volunteer — the task just takes a couple of minutes: http://www.martijnwieling.nl/survey

 

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Yanny vs. Laurel, pt. 2

Just when you thought you'd never have to worry about this vexing acoustic phenomenon again, "Yanny vs. Laurel: an analysis by Benjamin Munson" (5/16/18) and the comments thereto having carried out such a probing, exhaustive investigation, a 3:44 video (5/15/18) surfaces that attempts to explain it in a way that has not yet been mentioned:

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Yanny vs. Laurel: an analysis by Benjamin Munson

A peculiar audio clip has turned into a viral sensation, the acoustic equivalent of "the dress" — which, you'll recall, was either white and gold or blue and black, depending on your point of view. This time around, the dividing line is between "Yanny" and "Laurel."

The Yanny vs. Laurel perceptual puzzle has been fiercely debated (see coverage in the New York Times, the AtlanticVox, and CNET, for starters). Various linguists have chimed in on social media (notably, Suzy J. Styles and Rory Turnbull on Twitter). On Facebook, the University of Minnesota's Benjamin Munson shared a cogent analysis that he provided to an inquiring reporter, and he has graciously agreed to have an expanded version of his explainer published here as a guest post.

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An inconclusive psycholinguistic take on post-period spacing

A while back, I peeved about the people for whom public devotion to single-spacing after a period is a form of virtue-signaling. I've now learned that the one-space-or-two issue has found its way into the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, which has posted "Are two spaces better than one? The effect of spacing following periods and commas during reading" ($) by Rebecca Johnson, Becky Bui, and Lindsay Schmitt.

The paper came to my attention via Matthew Butterick, the author of Typography for Lawyers and the free, online-only Butterick's Practical Typography ("Are two spaces better than one? A response to new research"). He writes:

Ap­par­ently de­fy­ing Bet­teridge's Law, the study claims to show that two spaces af­ter a pe­riod are eas­ier to read than one. On its face, this also seems to con­tra­dict my long­stand­ing ad­vice to put only one space be­tween sen­tences.

Be­cause the study costs $39.95 for a PDF, I'm cer­tain the so­cial-me­dia skep­tics rush­ing to claim vic­tory for two-spac­ing have nei­ther bought it nor read it. But I did both.

True, the re­searchers found that putting two spaces af­ter a pe­riod de­liv­ered a "small" but "sta­tis­ti­cally … de­tectable" im­prove­ment in read­ing speed—about 3%—but cu­ri­ously, only for those read­ers who al­ready type with two spaces. For ha­bit­ual one-spac­ers, there was no ben­e­fit at all.

Fur­ther­more, the re­searchers only tested sam­ples of a mono­spaced font on screen …. They didn't test pro­por­tional fonts, which they ac­knowl­edge are far more com­mon. Nor did they test the ef­fect of two-spac­ing on the printed page. The au­thors con­cede that any of these test-de­sign choices could've af­fected their findings.

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"and himself jail"

In "More Cohen Businesses Coming to Light," on Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall writes:

The biggest taxi operator in New York, Evgeny "Gene" Friedman, now manages Cohen's 30+ NYC medallions or at least did the last time we spoke to him. Friedman has been struggling for the last year to keep his taxi businesses out of bankruptcy and himself jail.

The final three words of the boldfaced clause present a weird, and dare I say unusual, case of double ellipsis. The semantic content communicated by those three words (in the context of the sentence) is richer than you'd think could be expressed by only three words, especially given that one of them is merely the conjunction and. That content can be represented as follows, with the struck-through text standing for the content that the reader must infer:

Friedman has been struggling for the last year to keep his taxi businesses out of bankruptcy and to keep himself out of jail.

There's nothing unusual about the first omission; I don't see anything wrong with the clause to keep his taxi businesses out of bankruptcy and himself out of jail. But the omission of out of strikes me as very strange, and what's even stranger is that to my ear, the clause is worse if to keep is put back:

* Friedman has been struggling for the last year to keep his taxi businesses out of bankruptcy and to keep himself jail.

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Hearing interactions

Listen to this 3-second audio clip, and think about what you hear:

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Blue Cell Dyslexia

An article about dyslexia appeared last week in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society B ("The [British] Royal Society's flagship biological research journal, dedicated to the fast publication and worldwide dissemination of high-quality research").  A week is a long time in blog-years, I know, but impact of the article is rippling far and wide. The authors claim to have identified a visual basis for dyslexia: an anomaly involving the distribution of a type of receptor in a part of the retina.  This anomaly may provide "the biological and anatomical basis of reading and spelling disabilities", with "important implications in both fundamental and biomedical sciences." They also seemed to demonstrate that the anomaly could be easily eliminated by changing lighting conditions.

As might be expected, the media picked this up as scientists maybe having at long last found the cause of dyslexia.

Dyslexics, their families and teachers, reading researchers and treatment specialists, and the organizations that represent them are asking: did someone just discover the cause and cure for dyslexia?  (I know this: I get email.) As someone who has conducted research in the area, my question is different:  how did this terrible article get published and how can its harmful impact be counteracted?

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Cartoonist walks into a language lab…

Bob Mankoff gave a talk here in Madison not long ago.  You may recognize Mankoff as the cartoon editor for many years at the New Yorker magazine, who is now at Esquire. Mankoff's job involved scanning about a thousand cartoons a week to find 15 or so to publish per issue. He did this for over 20 years, which is a lot of cartoons. More than 950 of his own appeared in the magazine as well. Mankoff has thought a lot about humor in general and cartoon humor in particular, and likes to talk and write about it too.

The Ted Talk
On "60 Minutes"
His Google talk
Documentary, "Very Semi-Serious"

What's the Language Log connection?  Humor often involves language? New Yorker cartoons are usually captioned these days, with fewer in the lovely mute style of a William Steig.  A general theory of language use should be able to explain how cartoon captions, a genre of text, are understood. The cartoons illustrate (sic) the dependence of language comprehension on context (the one created by the drawing) and background knowledge (about, for example, rats running mazes, guys marooned on islands, St. Peter's gate, corporate culture, New Yorkers). The popular Caption Contest is an image-labeling task, generating humorous labels for an incongruous scene.

But it's Mankoff's excursions into research that are particularly interesting and Language Loggy.  Mankoff is the leading figure in Cartoon Science (CartSci), the application of modern research methods to questions about the generation, selection, and evaluation of New Yorker cartoons.

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Chinese Synesthesia

Xiaoyan (Coco) Li, a native Chinese speaker with synesthesia (self identified, never formally tested), happened to come across this Language Log post:

"Synesthesia and Chinese characters" (3/9/17)

She wrote to me saying that she experiences some of what Leo Fransella (quoted in the earlier post) referred to as "'non-trivial' Chinese synaesthesia".  For him "trivial" Chinese synesthesia is associated with or stimulated by the letters of the Pinyin used to spell Chinese words, not from the characters used to write them.

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Faimly Lfie

When the parents are psycholinguists, the children get exposed to some weird stuff.

For example, the Stroop effect (words interfere with naming colors, e.g. GREEN RED BLUE) makes a great 4th grade science project; 9 year olds think it's hilarious. There are lots of fun versions of the task (e.g., SKY FROG APPLE) but prudence dictates avoiding this variant in which taboo words like FUCK COCK PUSSY produced greater interference than neutral words like FLEW COST PASTA (p < .01).

Or, the kid knows that "I see that the clothes on the floor in your room have risen a couple of feet above sea level" means "clean up the mess, please" but also that this is an indirect speech act because the form of the utterance (an assertion) differs from its communicative intent (a request).  Thus enabling exchanges such as "Can you take out the garbage???"  "Is that an indirect speech act?"

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Synesthesia and Chinese characters

Leo Fransella asks:

I'm curious to know whether, in your years studying and teaching written Chinese, you've ever come across synaesthesia as applied to Chinese characters (zi) or words (ci)?

The most common form of synaesthesia (~1% of people, I think) involves the systematic assignment of colours to letters, numbers or (sometimes) whole words. I have this 'grapheme-colour' quite strongly: when I hear a phone number or see a number written on a page, for example, I automatically sense it as bands of colour. Much the same for words: it literally bothers me when I don't know how to spell someone's name, as their associated colours can be so different (Catherine is bluey-green with a dash of red; Kathryn is green-yellow). Sounds a bit loopy to people who don't do this, but it's a very useful mnemonic trick when learning French vocab or Latin verb conjugations and noun declensions.

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