Archive for Linguistics in the news

Eastern Europe, northern suburbs, whatever

Doreen Carvajal, "Gems From 2008 Paris Theft Found in Drainpipe", NYT 3/9/2011:

More than two years after men dressed in wigs and scarves struck the Harry Winston jewelry store in Paris’s golden triangle of upscale shops, the police this week discovered a cache of sparkling diamonds from the theft in a far less glamorous place: a drainpipe in the northern suburbs of the city.

Two aspects of this story caught my eye — one a small inadvertent movie echo, and the other a more linguistically consequential question of accent identification.

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Popular Linguistics, Issue 2

The second issue of Popular Linguistics Magazine, a new online venture edited by DS Bigham, has hit the intertubes. The first thing readers may notice in the February issue is that complaints about the site's inverted color scheme (many voiced in the comments here) have been taken to heart: the magazine is now displayed with the familiar design of black text on a white background. As for content, Black History Month brings an interesting trio of articles: "The Diversity of English in America" by Simanique Moody, "The Mysteries of the N-Word" by Janet M. Fuller, and "Word on the Street: Blogging on African American English" by Renee Blake & Cara Shousterman (the last one reporting on the student-run blog, Word: The Online Journal on African American English). And there are various other lagniappes, including the editor's suggestions for enriching English snow-cabulary. Table of contents is here.

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Introducing: Popular Linguistics Magazine

A new online venture has just been launched: Popular Linguistics Magazine. From editor DS Bigham's welcome message to Volume 1, Issue 1:

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MacArthur Fellowships for two linguists

Of the 23 recipients of the 2010 MacArthur Fellowships (the so-called "genius grants"), two are linguists: Jessie Little Doe Baird, program director of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, and Carol Padden, a professor in the Communications Department at the University of California San Diego who specializes in sign languages. Congratulations to them both!

Descriptions of their work from the MacArthur Foundation after the jump.

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Monkey business?

Carolyn Y. Johnson, "Author on leave after Harvard inquiry", Boston Globe 8/10'/2010:

Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser — a well-known scientist and author of the book “Moral Minds’’ — is taking a year-long leave after a lengthy internal investigation found evidence of scientific misconduct in his laboratory.

The findings have resulted in the retraction of an influential study that he led. “MH accepts responsibility for the error,’’ says the retraction of the study on whether monkeys learn rules, which was published in 2002 in the journal Cognition.

Two other journals say they have been notified of concerns in papers on which Hauser is listed as one of the main authors.

It is unusual for a scientist as prominent as Hauser — a popular professor and eloquent communicator of science whose work has often been featured on television and in newspapers — to be named in an investigation of scientific misconduct. His research focuses on the evolutionary roots of the human mind.

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The Linguists receives an Emmy® nomination

Nat Geo E-TeamThe documentary film The Linguists has just received an Emmy® nomination for "Outstanding Science and Technology Programming". The press release can be found ; for those of you who would like a downloadable keepsake, the relevant nomination can be found on p. 25 of the PDF and Word versions of the press release.

In related (and even more awesome) news, the stars of The LinguistsK. David Harrison and Greg Anderson — are also featured members of the Nat Geo E-Team on the National Geographic Kids website. You can spot their cartoon likenesses in the full image fairly quickly: they're the only ones who are talking. But there they are on the right for those who just want a quick peek.

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Russian spies' accents puzzles

In the July 12 & 19 issue of The New Yorker, there’s a nice little piece by Ben McGrath called “Spy vs. Spy: Say What?” that starts out, “Count linguists and phonologists among those bewildered by last week’s Russian spying scandal, in which the F.B.I. arrested a network of presumed Muscovite spooks who appeared to be living ordinary American lives, gardening and Facebooking and selling real estate under assumed identities.” (Never mind the problematic presupposition signaled by the conjunction ‘linguists and phonologists’.) Only an abstract of the article is in the accessible online issue, here. For the full article you need hard copy or a subscription to the digital online version.

The linguistic issue is that one of the spies explained her accent by saying she was Belgian, and another by declaring herself to be Québécois. Maria Gouskova, a UMass Ph.D. now an assistant professor at NYU and a specialist in Russian phonology, gets extensively quoted and does the profession proud, including showing that linguists and phonologists can have a sense of humor; and Ben McGrath seems to have done a fine job of writing it up, also with good quotes from Stephanie Harves and Joshua Fishman.

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Using the wisdom of crowds to translate language

Today's Morning Edition on National Public Radio had a piece by Joel Rose on linguists' contributions to efforts to translate the Haitian language Kreyol, using the knowledge of Haitians dispersed around the world: transcript here, with a link to the audio version. This is an update on work reported on by Phil Resnik here on Language Log back in January, and in fact Phil is one of the three linguists quoted in the piece; the other two are Rob Munro (at Stanford) and Judy Klavans (at Maryland).

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Combating the monolithic tree mushroom stem squid

The New York Times reports on efforts by Shanghai officials to crack down on Chinglish, but the prospects are daunting:

For English speakers with subpar Chinese skills, daily life in China offers a confounding array of choices. At banks, there are machines for “cash withdrawing” and “cash recycling.” The menus of local restaurants might present such delectables as “fried enema,” “monolithic tree mushroom stem squid” and a mysterious thirst-quencher known as “The Jew’s Ear Juice.”
Those who have had a bit too much monolithic tree mushroom stem squid could find themselves requiring roomier attire: extra-large sizes sometimes come in “fatso” or “lard bucket” categories. These and other fashions can be had at the clothing chain known as Scat.

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ommmm picToday's Guardian offers Improbable research: The repetitive physics of Om. Tantalizing. In turn, this links to Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddharth A. Ladhak, Time-Frequency Analysis of Chanting Sanskrit Divine Sound "OM" Mantra, International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, VOL.8 No.8, August 2008. Even more tantalizing. A new field of theophonetics!

Unfortunately,  the article is not divine.

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Oh, we got endangered languages / right here in New York City

[ Note: the San Diego wing of Language Log Plaza is about as far from NYC as you can get in the continental U.S.; I just couldn't resist the title. ]

Surely, most if not all of our devoted Language Log readers have by now noticed the recent NYT story "Listening to (and Saving) the World's Languages", about some of the work being done by the Endangered Language Alliance to document and preserve endangered languages spoken in New York City. (And in case you hadn't noticed it, there it is. Check it out.)

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Eyjafjallajökull FTW

The explanation, from Aspen Swartz:

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Tarski's theory of truth as a reason to leave linguistics?

According to Elif Batuman, "Confessions of an Accidental Literary Scholar", The Chronicle Review, 2/12/2010:

I didn't care about truth; I cared about beauty. It took me many years—it took the experience of lived time—to realize that they really are the same thing.

In the meantime, I became a linguistics major. I wanted to learn the raw mechanism of language, the pure form itself. For the foreign-language requirement, I enrolled in beginning Russian: Maybe someday I could answer my mother's question about what Tolstoy was really trying to say in Anna Karenina.

The nail in the coffin of my brief career as a linguist was probably a seminar I took that winter about the philosophy of language. The aim of this seminar was to formulate a theory that would explain to a Martian "what it is that we know when we know a language." I could not imagine a more objectless, melancholy project. The solution turned out to consist of a series of propositions having the form "'Snow is white' is true if snow is white." The professor, a gaunt logician with a wild mane of red hair, wrote this sentence on the board during nearly every class, and we would discuss why it wasn't trivial. Outside the window, snow piled deeper and deeper.

By contrast with the philosophy of language and my other classes in psycholinguistics, syntax, and phonetics, beginning Russian struck me as profoundly human. I had expected linguistics (the general study of language) to resemble a story, and Russian (the study of a particular language) to resemble a set of rules, but the reality was just the opposite.

Apparently Batuman was an undergraduate at Harvard, so some people whose 02138-ology is more current than mine should be able to decode the identity of that gaunt logician.  Good academic gossip, I guess, but I don't care much (although I do wonder what department (s)he was in).  Rather, I'm interested in the idea that Tarski's theory of truth should be the critical factor in a young woman's decision to abandon linguistics.

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