Archive for Psychology of language

Jeremy who?

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Towards automated babble metrics

There are lots of good reasons to want to track the development of infant vocalizations — see e.g. Zwaigenbaum et al. "Clinical assessment and management of toddlers with suspected autism spectrum disorder" (2009). But existing methods are expensive and time-consuming — see e.g. Nyman and Lohmander, "Babbling in children with neurodevelopmental disability and validity of a simplified way of measuring canonical babbling ratio" (2018).  (It's also unfortunately true that there's not yet any available dataset documenting the normal development of infant vocalizations from cooing and gooing to "canonical babbling", but that's another issue…)

People are starting to make and share extensive recordings of infant vocal development — see e.g. Frank et al., "A collaborative approach to infant research: Promoting reproducibility, best practices, and theory‐building" (2017). But automatic detection and classification of vocalization sources and types is still imperfect at best. And if we had reliable detection and classification methods, that would open up a new set of questions: Are the standard categories (e.g. "canonical babbling") really well defined and well separated? Do infant vocalizations of whatever type have measurable properties that would help to characterize and quantify normal or abnormal development?

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Dysfluency considered harmful

… as a technical term, that is. Disfluency is no better, although the prefix is less judgmental. There are two problems:

  1. These terms pathologize normal behavior, creating confusion between pathological symptoms and common phenomena in normal speech, which may be different not only in their causes and their frequency but also in behavioral detail;
  2. Applied to normal speech, these terms often treat intrinsic aspects of the content and performance of spoken messages as if they were disruptions or failures.

My suggestion: we should use the term interpolation for silent pauses, filled pauses, filler words or phrases, repetitions and corrections, etc. This leaves open the question of whether such interpolations are normal or pathological, and whether or not they're an intrinsic part of the content and performance of the message.

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Coherence Quiz answers

As promised, the results of yesterday's little experiment on "Coherence of sentence sequences" are here.

A tabular summary:

 Question Correct Wrong
1 166 (98%) 4 (2%)
2  135 (80%)  33 (20%)
3 167 (99%) 2 (1%)
4 158 (93%) 12 (7%)
5 113 (67%) 56 (33%)
6 152 (90%) 17 (10%)
7 165 (97%) 5 (3%)
8 115 (68%) 55 (32%)
9 169 (99%) 1 (1%)
10 167 (98%) 3 (2%)
11 163 (96%) 7 (4%)
12 137 (81%) 32 (19%)

So the survey respondents (as a whole) guessed the original order of all twelve sentence-pairs correctly — though the margins varied from 2-to-1 to 99-to-1. The overall percent correct was 89%, though of course that percentage will depend on the particular mix of examples.

(The counts don't all sum to the same row-wise value because a couple of participants left some answers blank — there's probably a way to get Qualtrics to prevent that, but I didn't figure it out in time…)

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Too few words to describe emotions

At about 22:45 of the BBC discussion program The Moral MazeNatasha Devon  asserts

Well it- I- again, one of the problems is language, actually, because in English, we have a very limited emotional vocabulary. When you look at other languages, they- they have a much broader amount of words that they can use to describe their emotions and their mental health. So, if I say to you 'I'm feeling anxious', that could be anything from common or garden anxiety right through to an anxiety disorder. And one is a medical issue and the other is not.

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Reading problems?

Or maybe writing problems? Donald Trump's recent speech announcing the end of the government shutdown was read (I presume from a teleprompter), but the reading was awkward in at least two ways: the president often pronounced unstressed function words in a full and unreduced form, and his phrasing was odd, sometimes to the point of obscuring the meaning.

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Making our familiars listener with the Brefit rexerendum

"Senate Finds Russian Bots, Bucks Helped Push Brexit Vote Through", NPR Weekend Edition 1/19/2019:

A recent report on Russian influence operations overseas detailed large amounts of money and effort spent to influence the referendum. Scott Simon talks with The New Yorker's Jane Mayer.

Uncharacteristically for a professional speaker, Scott Simon commits two interesting speech errors in his short parts of this short (3:44) interview.

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Which what?

Presumably this is elliptical for something like

We lose 300 Americans a week to drugs, 90% of which comes through the Southern Border.

Some might object to the singular agreement of "comes", but intuitions and behavior are likely to be variable on this point, especially because the antecedent is omitted :-)…

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Another slur-or-not

Ryan Miller, "Jeremy Kappell apologizes in Facebook video, promises he did not use racial slur on TV", Rochester Democrat & Chronicle 1/7/2019:

Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell promised that he did not use a racial slur in reference to Martin Luther King Jr. and issued an apology to anyone who may have been hurt by his slip-up during a television broadcast last week.

WHEC-TV (Channel 10) fired Kappell on Monday, three days after he appeared to refer to a Rochester park as "Martin Luther Coon King Jr. Park" in a live shot on a newscast. Kappell said that he jumbled his words by mistake during a four-minute Facebook video that he posted on Monday evening.

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Grover's F-bomb

An audio ambiguity was recently posted on YouTube, like Yanny v. Laurel but more socially evocative. What Grover actually said was presumably

Move the camera! Yes, yes, that sounds like an excellent idea!

But you can also hear it as

Move the camera! Yes, yes, that's a fucking excellent idea!

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Orientation-dependent ambiguity

A striking example of orientation-dependent visual ambiguity:

Since speech is effectively one-dimensional, the only direct forms of orientation-dependent speech perception are time-reversal and spectral inversion, which require technological intervention.

But in writing, orientation-dependent perception is easy to arrange, and has a name, namely ambigrams. I don't recall every having seen an accidental ambigram, that is, a piece of text that reads differently upside down without the creator being aware of it. At least, not one where the ambiguity depends on properties of the font or script design.

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Life, death, whatever

David Brooks, "It's Not the Economy, Stupid: How to conduct economic policy in an age of social collapse", NYT 11/29/2018:

People, especially in the middle- and working-class slices of society, are less likely to volunteer in their community, less likely to go to church, less likely to know their neighbors, less likely to be married than they were at any time over the past several decades. In short, they have fewer resources to help them ride the creative destruction that is ever-present in a market economy.

And they are dying. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that life expectancy in the United States declined for the third straight year. This is an absolutely stunning trend. In affluent, well-connected societies, life expectancies rise almost as a matter of course. The last time the American mortality rate fell for three straight years was 1915-1918, during World War I and the flu pandemic, which took 675,000 American lives.

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A better way to calculate pitch range

Today's topic is a simple solution to a complicated problem. The complicated problem is how to estimate "pitch range" in recordings of human speakers. As for the simple solution — wait and see.

You might think that the many differences between the perceptual variable of pitch and the physical variable of fundamental frequency ("f0") arise because perception is complicated and physics is simple. But if so, you'd be mostly wrong. The biggest problem is that physical f0 is a complex and often fundamentally incoherent concept. And even in the areas where f0 is well defined, f0 estimation (usually called "pitch tracking") is prone to errors.

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