Archive for Psychology of language

A Remembrance of Anne Cutler

The following is a guest post by Martin Ho Kwan Ip,  who is now a postdoc at Penn. See "Anne Cutler 1945-2022", 6/8/2022, for some background and links.


I am one of Anne's most recent students (her 44th student from the MARCS Institute in Australia). I met Anne for the first time in 2014 when she was invited to give a talk at the University of Queensland (we had been corresponding by email but had never met until then). Although I was fascinated with languages, I was still an undergraduate student in psychology and foreign languages; I knew next to nothing about speech and was totally unfamiliar with many of the concepts and jargon in linguistics. But her talk was like a story and it was so memorable – she showed us some of the different mental challenges associated with listening (like when she used speech waveforms to show us how gaps between words are not as clear as we think), why different languages are needed to better understand how the mind works when we listen, how infants’ early segmentation abilities influence later vocabulary growth – this was the first language-related talk I had attended and I was just so, so intrigued. 

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"We apologize for your patience"

S.I. reports:

In a message from my building management:

Dear Valued Residents
A note to let you know that the water is back on. We apologize for your patience.

…and asks:

Is there a name for this kind of error?

 

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"Anti-sink missile"

Julie Coleman, "Shocking video shows Ukrainian drone destroying 2 Russian patrol boats", Insider 5/4/2022:

Ukraine said on Monday its drones sank two Russian ships in the Black Sea near Snake Island, which the Russians had captured the day the war broke out on February 24.

Snake Island has also become a legendary symbol of resistance for Ukraine, as military defending the island refused to surrender to Russian forces on February 24, radioing "Russian warship go screw yourself," when the Russian flagship cruiser Moskva approached.

[…]

The patrol boat losses add to the mounting toll for the Russian Navy. In April, the Moskva sank after being hit with at least one Neptune anti-sink missile, the Pentagon confirmed.

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Strain Tation

From nancynall.com, 4/10/022:

I joined a Facebook group for former employees of the Columbus Dispatch. This photo was shared today:

The copy desk was outsourced to some other place – maybe Texas – a while back, and I guess the workload is starting to strain capacity, eh? Either that, or someone started the Saturday-night party a bit early.

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Illusions of understanding

Lau et al., "The extreme illusion of understanding", Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2022:

Though speakers and listeners monitor communication success, they systematically overestimate it. We report an extreme illusion of understanding that exists even without shared language. Native Mandarin Chinese speakers overestimated how well native English-speaking Americans understood what they said in Chinese, even when they were informed that the listeners knew no Chinese. These listeners also believed they understood the intentions of the Chinese speakers much more than they actually did. This extreme illusion impacts theories of speech monitoring and may be consequential in real-life, where miscommunication is costly.

The paper begins with a quotation attributed to George Bernard Shaw: "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Ironically, this attribution seems to be apocryphal, though the false attribution was not invented by the authors.

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The weirdness of typing errors

In this age of typing on computers and other digital devices, when we daily input thousands upon thousands of words, we are often amazed at the number and types of mistakes we make.  Many of them are simple and straightforward, as when our fingers stumblingly hit the wrong keys by sheer accident.  People who type on phones warn their correspondents about the likelihood that their messages are prone to contain such errors because they include some such warning at the bottom: 

Please forgive spelling / grammatical errors; typed on glass // sent from my phone.

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Fay-Cutler malapropism of the week

Also the funniest:

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"…attacking members of the public found dead"

A striking example of the post-modifier attachment ambiguity: "Police officer jailed for attacking members of the public found dead", The Guardian 12/29/2021.

Bob Ladd, who sent in the link, spent "quite a few hundred milliseconds" puzzling about why the police officer had attacked dead people.

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Garden path of the day

This NYT link text needed a second reading for me to break the initial prepositional phrase after "Bruce Springsteen", and start the main-clause subject conjunction with "Bob Dylan":

Like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tina Turner and others have all sold rights to their music for eye-popping prices.

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"Linguistician"?

Helen Barrett, "‘Ça plane pour moi’ was a burst of Belgian punk with a dark twin", Financial Times 6/1/2020 [emphasis added]:

Meanwhile, the perennially lucrative “Ça plane pour moi” may not be all that it seems. Bertrand mimed it in TV studios, but whose is the bratty voice on the record?

It is a question that has been the subject of several court cases. Bertrand initially insisted it was him, then changed his story, telling a newspaper in 2010 that he did not sing on the track, despite being credited. During a court case that same year over royalties, a Belgian judge commissioned a linguistician to examine the original. Expert evidence suggested the true vocalist was of northern French origin. Deprijck, who has claimed to be the real vocalist, is from northern France.

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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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