Archive for August, 2010

Is "Character Amnesia" Here to Stay?

A little over a month ago, I wrote a blog about what I called "Character Amnesia." Today, half a dozen readers have called my attention to an Aug. 25th article by Judith Evans for Agence France-Presse entitled "Wired youth forget how to write in China and Japan" (and other titles) that refers to "character amnesia" and quotes from an interview with me on August 9.  The article is also being sent around on Facebook and other sharing services, so it is getting a lot of coverage.  I cannot guarantee that I coined the expression "character amnesia," but it does seem to be meeting a need.

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"Shorten link as Brumby cops beating"?

Unless you're familiar with Australian English and Australian politics, this one is going to baffle you.

In fact, I'm still somewhat baffled, even after reading (what I think is) the associated story. It may help you to know that Shorten is "federal Labor powerbroker Bill Shorten", Brumby is John Brumby, the premier of Victoria,  cops is a verb form  meaning (I think) "receives" and beating is a reference to the political defeat of an MP named Craig Langdon and/or the consequences of his resignation. Or something like that.

[Hat tip to Dave Ripley]

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"Latin-obsessed 17th century introverts"?

Some Language Log readers have long suspected me of secret prescriptivist sympathies, and I'm about to add fuel to the fire by standing up for John Dryden. Sort of.

It all starts with today's SMBC. A student asks "Can I end my sentence with a preposition?", and the teacher responds "Good question! Let's see what a group of Latin-obsessed 17th century introverts decided!"  The introverts' cartooned answer:

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Texting while operating machinery

A Zits on modern menaces:

I've been getting reports of texting while bicycling / bicycling while texting, too.

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It turns out…

James Somers, on his blog, has a subtle and convincing literary analysis of the mildly dishonest use of a rhetorical device I have often reflected on: the embedding of an assertion in the context "It turns out that _______."

Skilled readers are trained, Somers suggests, to be disarmed by the phrase: over time they learn to trust writers who use it, "in large part because they come to associate it with that feeling of the author’s own dispassionate surprise." So an unscrupulous theorist who tells you his theories by revealing how "it turns out" that they are true is being subtly dishonest, but with very considerable deniability. After all, if P is true, you can hardly deny that "It turns out that P" is also a true assertion, can you?

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The terror of technical titles

From Bruce Webster a few weeks ago, a report of this paper title from the journal Nature Materials early this month:

Designer spoof surface plasmon structures collimate terahertz laser beams

Not exactly an ordinary crash blossom, since it's thick with technical terminology, especially plasmon and collimate, but also spoof, which looks suspiciously like an ordinary-language word used as a technical term (since otherwise it looks totally out of place in a severely technical article).

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Delusions of gender

That's the title of Cordelia Fine's new book, due out on August 30.

Some reviews: Katherine Bouton, "Peeling Away Theories on Gender and the Brain", NYT 8/23/2010; Robin McKie, "Male and female ability differences down to socialisation, not genetics", The Observer 8/15/2010; "Q&A: 'Delusions of Gender' author Cordelia Fine", USA Today 8/9/2010; Louise Grey, "New book leads 'backlash' against sexual stereotypes that say men are from Mars and women are from Venus", The Telegraph 8/16/2010.

Delusions of Gender joins Lise Eliot's Pink Brain, Blue Brain (published in May and due out in paperback on Sept. 2) in a backlash of experts against the "sex difference evangelists" — authors like Leonard Sax and Louann Brizendine, picked up in the popular press, and promoted by pundits like David Brooks.

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An accusative person in a nominative world

From the August 30 New Yorker:

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Empty rhetoric

Emptier than usual, I mean:

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Cell phone cupertinos

Reader JH's wife texted from the playground

She's so tired though… may come home Zionist

This was not an example of the role of fatigue in political identity formation, but rather a cupertino, created when her iPhone helpfully corrected (some spelling of) "soonest" to "Zionist".

SMS messaging and cellphone email must be a rich source of cupertinos, since autocompletion and spelling correction are always (?) on, and the input methods are very error-prone.

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Ban bid taxi hire train wreck word salad crash blossom

Professor Simon Kirby (the world's only Professor of Language Evolution) regards himself as pretty good at parsing headlines on the whole, but saw one recently that completely stumped him. I agree with him; it's worse than a crash blossom, it's positively a train wreck, a scattered mess of uninterpretable short words almost all capable of more than one interpretation, the whole apparently signifying nothing. See if you can recover any reasonable meaning for this headline without reading the story:

Council hires ban bid taxi firm

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The ventious crapests pounted raditally

The comments on my recent post, "Making linguistics relevant (for sports blogs)" meandered into a discussion of linguistic example sentences that display morphosyntactic patterning devoid of semantic content. The most famous example is of course Noam Chomsky's Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, though many have argued that it's quite possible to assign meaning to the sentence, given the right context (see Wikipedia for more).

But what about sentences that use pure nonsense in place of "open-class" or "lexical" morphemes, joined together by inflectional morphemes and function words? This characterizes nonsense verse of the "Jabberwocky" variety ('Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe). One commenter recalled a classic of the genre, The ventious crapests pounted raditally, which was introduced by the cognitive scientist Colin Cherry in his 1957 book, On Human Communication: A Review, Survey, and a Criticism.

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So new?

David Craig asked whether Anand Giridharadas is suffering from the Recency Illusion in his small piece on "so" (Follow My Logic? A Connective Word Takes the Lead, NYT 5/21/2010), which observes that

“So” may be the new “well,” “um,” “oh” and “like.” No longer content to lurk in the middle of sentences, it has jumped to the beginning, where it can portend many things: transition, certitude, logic, attentiveness, a major insight. […]

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