Archive for April, 2008

Technical vocabulary of the day

If you're among those who worry that the vocabulary and syntax of English are about to collapse under the assaults of whateverist nomads, I suggest a close study of Penny Arcade for 3/12/2008, "The Case of Texas vs. KryoLord":

[For legal background, see Elizabeth Langton, "Rockwall County District Attorney Ray Sumrow used server for personal items, expert says", Dallas Morning News, 3/11/2008, with more here. For WoW background, see e.g. here.]

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Disputed agreement

Jeremy Hawker wrote:

Where it says, at the bottom, Comments are closed, shouldn't that be Comments IS closed?

It's the category "Comments" that is closed, and there is only one.

I'm not sure, myself — but I can guarantee that if it said "Comments is closed", some people would complain about that choice too. I pointed this out to Jeremy, who suggested a punctuational solution: "Comments" is closed. But that one would run afoul of Evan "Funk" Davies  at The Gallery of "Misused" Quotation Marks (or whoever has taken over that franchise).

Appealing to norma loquendi (blogandi?), I see that {"comments are closed"} gets 10.9 million Google hits, whereas {"comments is closed"} gets only 1,030.

Anyhow, comments is open.

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Two Dots Too Many

The Turkish newspaper Hürriyet reports a tragic consequence of the failure to localize cell phones.

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Disjunction mailbox

The saga of English or (last discussed on Language Log here) continues in my e-mail, with several pointers to literature (taking us away from traditional logic) and possibly relevant data.

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The best part of blogging is the conversation. From the beginning, some of our most interesting content has come from readers' emailed suggestions and reactions, or from online interactions with other bloggers. However, our experience with online comments has generally been a negative one.

Since our new WordPress software makes it easier to keep down spam, and also offers some new options for managing comments and commenters, we'll be trying some new experiments with comments over the next few weeks.

As a result, we can look forward to conversations like this one:

Because of our focus on language, we'll benefit from the added energy that led (for example) to this outpouring of 3,429 deeply-felt and well-informed linguistic opinions. And since language connects with every aspect of human biology, culture and society, we can also expect to be enlightened by lengthy ideological manifestos on topics connected to our posts by gossamer threads of associative thought.

I can't wait.

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Recent WTF reactions: a teaser

I've had a few opportunities to overhear (or over-read) some strange example sentences while I've been spending more time here in the west wing basement of Language Log Plaza. Here are a couple of them for our readers to mull over before I comment on them (and invite your comments on them) sometime later this week.

  1. I'll never forget how he must have felt. (overheard)
  2. Aren't you glad you archived instead of deleted? (over-read)

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Heart China

I asked a former student of mine who has been working in China for many years the following questions:

What's the atmosphere like in China these days? Is it at all evident that there is a huge amount of tension between China and virtually the rest of the world over what's been happening in Tibet and Xinjiang, the arrests of dissidents in the heartland itself, and the intrusive way the government has been orchestrating the torch relay through many countries?

Here's his answer:

I have not talked to a single person among my friends and colleagues in China who has any sympathy for Tibet, Xinjiang, or the protests. Their reactions are as offended and irrational as those of the Chinese government.

In the past few days my Windows Live Messenger (an instant messaging program) contacts list has seen numerous Chinese changing their "personal message" that follows their name and is displayed to all their contacts to some version of a heart picture and China. See attached image.

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Conjunctions and logical connectives

In my posting on and/or, I gave an informal (but precise) account of what I take to be the semantics of expressions of the form X1 or X2or Xn, where or is understood exclusively: the disjunction is true if and only if exactly one Xi is true and the rest are false. (Compare the inclusive understanding, where the disjunction is true if and only if at least one Xi is true.) My inbox is now filling up with mail from people explaining to me that I'm wrong about the semantics of exclusive or. Well, actually, they're telling me that I'm wrong about the semantics of the binary logical connective of exclusive disjunction + (or however you want to represent this logical connective). I'm perfectly clear about the semantics of +, but that's not what I was talking about.

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Mourning ambiguity

From Phineas Q. Phlogiston, "Cartoon Theories of Linguistics, Part ж—The Trouble with NLP", Speculative Grammarian, CLIII(4), March 2008:

Crying Computational Linguist

This is only the second cartoon about computational linguistics that I know of. The first one is also rather negative, but I guess that this is only to be expected from cartoonists, who are on the whole much more likely to criticize something than to praise it.

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Bring in The Donald

I've defended William Safire from David Beaver. I even nominated him for an award, though when the news leaked out, it was biggest public relations disaster in the history of this venerable weblog.

But now I'm starting to come around to my colleagues' view. It's time for some serious housecleaning at Safire Industries Ltd. We need a new reality show: The Language Maven's Apprentice.

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Waza waza

The illustration is from Taro Gomi, An Illustrated Dictionary of Japanese Onomatopoeic Expressions, by way of a new addition to our blogroll, The Ideophone, by Mark Dingemanse.

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"Superdelegates": a not-so-novel concoction

Back in January 2004 Mark Liberman engaged with Dr. Robert Beard, then doing business as "Dr. Language" on, on the politics of pronunciation. Dr. Beard now goes by a new nom de blog, "Dr. Goodword," on yourDictionary's successor, It turns out he's interested in presidential politics as well, as demonstrated by the most recent Dr. Goodword post on "superdelegates." He takes grave offense at the term and its popularization in the 2008 Democratic primary season:

The US press is pushing a new word into our collective vocabulary in an apparent attempt to tilt the US elections in the direction it prefers. Political leaders are now called superdelegates because they have more power at a political convention than rank-and-file members of the party.

Of course, this has always been the case. In fact, it should be the case since it is the leaders of the party who must ultimately decide what is best for the party and who are responsible for its health and success. So why do we need this new pejorative term this year (2008)?

This would be an intriguing argument — if, you know, the word "superdelegate" was actually new. The Recency Illusion strikes again.

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Communication technology actually helps writing

I got a message the other day from Laura Petelle, an adjunct professor of philosophy at Illinois Central College, with an optimistic view of the effects of modern technology on writing skills and research abilities, the diametrically opposed to the ill-substantiated pessimism about cellphones destroying language and thought that Naomi Baron somehow peddled to a writer for The Economist. Says Laura:

I've been tutoring writing since I was in high school, and I think texting and instant messaging has made the job quite a bit easier! I used to get students who'd stare at a blank page, for whom writing was a chore, and translating their normal communication mode from talking to writing was like pulling teeth. Today, I get students (both in my college classroom and in the high school tutoring I do on the side) for whom writing IS a normal mode of communication.

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