Archive for June, 2009

Taxonomic controversy

The latest (20 June) New Scientist has an article ("Are orangs our nearest relatives?" by Graham Lawton, pp. 6-7) on an article in a recent Journal of Biogeography (by Jeffrey Schwartz and John Grehan) proposing a family tree for primates in which orangutans rather than chimpanzees are the closest relatives of human beings. (Schwartz has been arguing this position for about 20 years.) The now-orthodox position is based on DNA similarities, which Grehan argues fails to distinguish between "derived novelties" and "primitive retentions". Other evolutionary biologists dispute this.

My purpose here is not to judge the evidence and the arguments, but only to point out that the derived novelty vs. primitive retention distinction is a familiar one from the field of linguistic taxonomy, where it goes under the names "shared innovations" vs. "shared retentions", shared innovations outweighing shared retentions in establishing how closely languages are related to one another.

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Shall wear a modest violet in honor of poor Father

On ADS-L, Fred Shapiro (following up on a lead from Barry Popik) has posted the following antedating of Father's Day, which the OED currently has from 1943:

1908 Boston Globe 19 May 10 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)  Why doesn't somebody suggest the idea of having a "Father's day," when everybody in the country shall wear a modest violet in honor of poor Father?

I don't know why the writer suggested a "modest violet", but the idea seems never to have caught on. Instead, as the holiday was commercialized, the celebration came to center on giving "poor Father" characteristically "masculine" gifts: tools, gadgets, golf equipment, grilling equipment, supplies for hunting, fishing, and camping, items associated with sports (especially football), stock car racing, and beer drinking, and so on.

But this is Language Log, not Culture Log. So the main point of interest is the shall in the 1908 quote. First, however, some background on the holiday.

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Everyone to obey the orders and guidelines Mzmlh call girl

Over the past couple of days, I've continued to use Google's alpha Persian-English translation system as part of an attempt to keep track of what's happening in Iran.

On long passages, the results are still at the fever-dream stage of machine translation, where enough relevant words and phrase-fragments emerge to leave a sort of impressionistic residue of content, but without much overall coherence. For example, I tried it on a bulletin from Mehr News yesterday evening that claimed to be a statement from the Assembly of Experts announcing full support for Kahmenei's speech on Friday. This sentence

به گزارش خبرگزاری مهر ، در این بیانیه آمده است: مجلس خبرگان رهبری ضمن تشکر از حضور شکوهمند و حماسه‌ساز مردم در انتخابات ریاست جمهوری، حمایت قاطع خود را از بیانات روشنگرانه، وحدت‌بخش و داهیانه‌ مقام معظم رهبری در نماز جمعه تهران اعلام می‌دارد و با شکرگزاری به درگاه الهی نسبت به نعمت عظما و بی‌بدیل ولایت فقیه، این رکن رکین حدوث و تداوم انقلاب؛ همگان را به تبعیت از دستورات و رهنمودهای معظم‌‌له فرا می‌خواند.

comes out in the automatic translation as

Mehr News Agency reported, the statement states: the Assembly of Experts also thanked the glorious presence Hmas·hsaz and presidential elections, support their statements Rvshngranh decisive, and Vhdtbkhsh Dahyanh Ayatollah Khamenei Friday Prayers in Tehran and ready Thanksgiving Portal to the Divine favor Zma Bybdyl and velayat-e faqih, the pillars of the revolution and continuity Rkyn Hdvs; everyone to obey the orders and guidelines Mzmlh call girl.

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Real fake

In "Keepin' it real fake, part CCXVII: Not even Obama can sell us on BlockBerry", most of the folks at endgadget seem to think that the following ad is some sort of joke or an invitation to political demagoguery:

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Perso-Arabic and Sinitic Literacy

In discussions of literacy in contemporary China, because of the unreliability of government statistics and the emotional, controversial nature of the topic, it is sometimes good to adopt a more historical perspective.  Consequently, I shall from time to time write blogs drawing on first-hand records from earlier periods.

On July 23, 1845, a British missionary named George Smith visited a mosque in the city of Ningbo, which is a major commercial city on the coast about a hundred miles south of Shanghai.  He recorded the remarkable observations he made on that occasion in his book entitled A narrative of an exploratory visit to each of the consular cities of China (London:  Seeley, Burnside, & Seeley; New York:  Harper & Brothers, 1847), pp. 154-155:

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Green verdure tone desert liquidation

Researchers at Google have responded to current events in Iran by offering an alpha version of Persian-to-English machine translation. I'm a big fan of statistical MT, and for that matter of Google's MT team, and current events in Iran are gripping, so I thought I'd try it out.

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Bei mir bist du Hossein

A couple of days ago, I wrote about Hamrah Sho Aziz ("Join us, my dear"), a song perfomed by Mohsen Namjoo on his 2008 album Adad. This song was used as the sound track for a YouTube clip posted in June of 2008; it was used in a Mousavi campaign video; and during the past few days, it's been used in several videos about the current wave of post-election demonstrations.

I found these clips by searching on YouTube for Mohsen Namjoo, whose music I've admired in the past. And as a result of posting them, I learned quite a bit about this particular song. Farzaneh Sarafraz, in a comment, identifies the original as having been composed by Parviz Meshkatian during the 1979 revolution in Iran. This translation, provided in another comment by Troy S., suggests why the lyrics work as a background to the current protests:

Come along with us, my dear.
Suffer not alone,
For our shared suffering
Can never be healed in separation.

The troubles of life
Will never get easier for us
Without a shared resolve.

And in a third insightful comment, Bernhard observed that the opening phrase, at least, is the same as the famous Yiddish show tune Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. He's right:

Hamrah sho aziz
Mohsen Namjoo

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Bei mir bist du schoen
Benny Goodman & Martha Tilton

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Bei mir bist du schoen
Budapest Klezmer Orchestra

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More linguistic numismatics

Samuel Johnson has been commemorated on a special 50p coin, as Geoff Pullum notes, but he's not the only linguist (or linguistically inclined scholar) that has been pictured on currency.  Sejong the Great, the 15th-century Korean ruler who developed the Hangul alphabet, can be found on the South Korean 10,000-won banknote.

This is from the most recent series of South Korean currency (the 2006-2007 series), though Sejong has been featured on Korean banknotes in the past. According to Wikipedia, the new note also features text from Yongbieocheonga, the first work of literature written in the Hangul script.

For more about Sejong and Hangul, see Bill Poser's Oct. 9, 2005 post, "Hangul Day." And for more pictures of scientific scholars on paper currency, see the online collection of Jacob Bourjaily.

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Late update: linguist commemorated on a coin

I only just today happened to come into possession of one of the 50-pence coins issued in 2005 to commemorate a man we have to recognize as an early linguist: Dr Samuel Johnson, who published the first really successful monolingual dictionary of the English language, 250 years earlier, in 1755. I got the coin in change from the 7th-floor common room coffee vending machine in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences here in Edinburgh. I was amazed to look down and see a tail side with text where there is usually a picture, and a fragment of an etymology ("Saxon"), and a part of speech annotation ("n."), and a gloss ("plural of penny"), and the name of a lexicographer.

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Ex fele quodlibet

In today's Get Fuzzy, we learn about Bucky Katt's extension of the Principle of Explosion to the semantics of questions:

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Hamrah Sho Aziz

A song performed by Mohsen Namjoo, whose title is transliterated as "Hamrah Sho Aziz", has been posted a number of times on YouTube with different images. The earliest one that I've found is from 6/20/2008. There's a version posted on 5/27/2009 that seems to have released by Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign, with some added strings and speeches. Since the election, there have been several versions with different images and mixed-in audio, on 6/13/2009 and 6/16/2009. The last half of the latest one (below) is a TV interview with Mousavi.

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Prescriptivist pain

9 Chickweed Lane, for June 15, illustrates something about prescriptivist pain:

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Mikosham ankeh baradaram kosht

Like many others, I've spent much of the past few days reading the sites that offer news about events in Iran; and I appreciate the depth of information that the "New Media" collectively provide, including transcriptions and translations of many of the slogans. Thus Nader Uskowi's weblog features a YouTube video of a wounded girl being loaded into an ambulance ("Casualties in Teheran", 6/15/2009), and also transcribes and translates the chants of the crowd:

Protestors chanting: Mikosham, Mikosham, Ankeh Baradaram Kosht (“Will Kill, Kill, Those Who Killed My Brother”) and Marg Bar Dictator (“Death to Dictator”)

Using the first of these chants as a Google probe, thinking to find other reports and commentary on current events, I stumbled on an interesting account of exactly the same chant being used against the Shah in 1978.

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