Archive for Psychology of language

Ask Language Log: Caitlyn Jenner, Patriarch?

Julia Preseau wrote to ask about a phrase in Caitlyn Jenner's (5/5/2021) interview with Sean Hannity, where Jenner seems to say "I love this country, I'm a patriarch":

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"No longer scared to hide who I am"

Jeré Longman, "An N.H.L. Prospect Is the First Such Player to Announce He’s Gay", New York Times 7/19/2021:

Luke Prokop, 19, a prospect with the Nashville Predators, on Monday became the first player with an N.H.L. contract to publicly announce that he is gay.

Prokop, who is from Edmonton, Alberta, made his announcement in an Instagram post, writing, “From a young age I have dreamed of being an N.H.L. player, and I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams.”

A third-round selection by the Predators in the 2020 N.H.L. draft, Prokop wrote: “While the past year and a half has been crazy, it has also given me the chance to find my true self. I am no longer scared to hide who I am. Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay.”

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The Fermi Conversation effect

Since unidentified aerial phenomena (=UFOs) have been in the news recently, so has the "Fermi Paradox". And the Wikipedia article on the Fermi Paradox has an interesting linguistic resonance, aside from all the speculation about what communication with aliens might be like. Here's Wikipedia on the original Los Alamos conversation:

In the summer of 1950 at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Fermi and co-workers Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, and Herbert York had one or several casual lunchtime conversation(s).

Herb York does not remember a previous conversation, although he says it makes sense given how all three later reacted to Fermi's outburst. Teller remembers seven or eight of them at the table, so he may well be remembering a different previous conversation.

In one version, the three men discussed a spate of recent UFO reports while walking to lunch. Konopinski remembered mentioning a magazine cartoon which showed aliens stealing New York City trash cans, and as he wrote years later, "More amusing was Fermi's comment, that it was a very reasonable theory since it accounted for two separate phenomena."

Teller remembered Fermi asking him, "Edward, what do you think? How probable is it that within the next ten years we shall have clear evidence of a material object moving faster than light?". Teller said, "10–6" (one in a million). Fermi said, "This is much too low. The probability is more like ten percent" (which Teller wrote in 1984 was "the well known figure for a Fermi miracle").

At lunch, Fermi suddenly exclaimed, "Where are they?" (Teller's remembrance), or "Don't you ever wonder where everybody is?" (York's remembrance), or "But where is everybody?" (Konopinski's remembrance).

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New directions in deception detection?

Jessica Seigel, "The truth about lying", Knowable Magazine 3/25/2021

You can’t spot a liar just by looking — but psychologists are zeroing in on methods that might actually work

The featured research is a review by Aldert Vrij, Maria Hartwig, and Pär Anders Granhag, "Reading Lies: Nonverbal Communication and Deception", Annual Review of Psychology 2019:

The relationship between nonverbal communication and deception continues to attract much interest, but there are many misconceptions about it. In this review, we present a scientific view on this relationship. We describe theories explaining why liars would behave differently from truth tellers, followed by research on how liars actually behave and individuals’ ability to detect lies. We show that the nonverbal cues to deceit discovered to date are faint and unreliable and that people are mediocre lie catchers when they pay attention to behavior. We also discuss why individuals hold misbeliefs about the relationship between nonverbal behavior and deception—beliefs that appear very hard to debunk. We further discuss the ways in which researchers could improve the state of affairs by examining nonverbal behaviors in different ways and in different settings than they currently do.

That review focuses on why peoples' ideas about clues to deception are mostly wrong, and why nobody is very good at detecting deception from behavioral cues.

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An Escher sentence?

Tom Ace writes:

(Possibly) an Escher sentence:

"The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so."

It appears on page 65 of this document.

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Donald Trump, now with more filled pauses

Today's shocking news story: "‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’: In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor", WaPo 12/3/2020. The full audio and transcript of the call is here.

But since this is Language Log, and not Political Chicanery Log, my take on the event is to observe a striking change in Donald Trump's speaking style.

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Fay-Cutler malapropism of the week


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What makes an accent "good" or "bad"?

Lacey Wade, a postdoc in the Penn Linguistics Department, is featured in the most recent episode of Big Ideas for Strange Times:

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"The subject-matter of universal grammar"

This semester, John Trueswell has been teaching a seminar focused on Lila Gleitman's recently-published collected works,  Sentence First, Arguments Afterward: Essays in Language and Learning. Last week, the paper under discussion was Cynthia Fisher, Henry Gleitman, & Lila Gleitman,  "On the semantic content of subcategorization frames", Cognitive Psychology, 1991. The start of its abstract:

This paper investigates relations between the meanings of verbs and the syntactic structures in which they appear. This investigation is motivated by the enigmas as to how children discover verb meanings. Well-known problems with unconstrained induction of word meanings from observation of world circumstances suggest that additional constraints or sources of information are required. If there exist strong and reliable parallels between the structural and semantic properties of verbs, then an additional source of information about verb meanings is reliably present in each verb’s linguistic context.

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Word substitution of the month

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Congressman Covid

In a statement on 7/29, Kevin McCarthy apparently meant to say "Congressman Gohmert" but what comes out is "Congressman Covid":

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Disfluency stylings: On beyond hesitation

Some things that "everybody knows" are refuted repeatedly by the experience of everyday life. A notably example is the function of "filled pauses", whose American English versions are conventionally written "um" and "uh".

Dictionaries all say that these are are expressions of hesitation, doubt, uncertainty; ways to fill time or hold the floor. The OED glosses uh as "Expressing hesitation", and um as "Used to indicate hesitation or doubt in replying to another". Wiktionary glosses uh as "Expression of thought, confusion, or uncertainty", or "Space filler or pause during conversation", and um as "Expression of hesitation, uncertainty or space filler in conversation". Merriam-Webster glosses uh as "used to express hesitation", and um as "used to indicate hesitation". Collins glosses uh as "used when hesitating in speaking, as while searching for a word or collecting one's thoughts", and um as "used in writing to represent a sound that people make when they are hesitating, usually while deciding what they want to say next".

So what are we to make of this, the opening phrase of an hour-long video interview?

uh thanks for tuning in today

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WFH Tech Issues

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