Archive for May, 2011

Very not appreciative

This use of "very not appreciative" caught my eye on Sunday:

“I’m very not appreciative of the way she came in here,” Ted Shpak, the national legislative director for Rolling Thunder, told the Washington Post.

This construction is not in my own dialect; it reminds me of the recent broader uses of "so". ("I'm so not ready for this", which I had perhaps mistakenly been mentally lumping together with "That's so Dick Cheney" or "That's so 1960's".)

I'm not sure what's changing, "very" or "not" or both. I suspect that "not" may be moving into uses previously reserved for "un-".

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Eight word BBC headline noun pile construction

Ian Preston reports this British headline word pile construction noun phrase length gem: "Ben Douglas Bafta race row hairdresser James Brown 'sorry'".

Ian's construal:

I usually have no trouble decoding these but this latest BBC example challenged me: Ben Douglas Bafta race row hairdresser James Brown 'sorry'. That's eight nouns in a row, four of them coming in the names of  two people's I'd not previously heard of.  It's intelligible once you know the story: a hairdresser called James Brown caused a controversy by using racial insults to Ben Douglas at the Bafta awards ceremony and has apologised.    I didn't know the story and, thinking someone called Ben Douglas must have provoked a controversy about race by winning a Bafta, struggled on first reading to incorporate hairdressing or the Godfather of Soul into the train of associations.  I think I'd have read it correctly without the names.

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Norvig channels Shannon contra Chomsky

According to Stephen Cass, "Unthinking Machines", Technology Review 5/4/2011:

Some of the founders and leading lights in the fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive science gave a harsh assessment last night of the lack of progress in AI over the last few decades.

During a panel discussion—moderated by linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker—that kicked off MIT's Brains, Minds, and Machines symposium, panelists called for a return to the style of research that marked the early years of the field, one driven more by curiosity rather than narrow applications.

The panelists were Marvin Minsky, Patrick Winston, Emilio Bizzi, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Partee, and Sydney Brenner. Based on Cass's short summaries, it sounds like an interesting discussion. I hope that recordings and/or transcripts will be available at some point — all that I've found so far is the symposium's advertisement on the MIT150 web site,  another write-up at MIT News, and a few other notes here and there. (Video for one of the other MIT150 symposiums is available here, so perhaps this will appear in time.)

But Cass's brief sketch of what Chomsky said was enough to provoke a lengthy and interesting response from Peter Norvig: "On Chomsky and the Two Cultures of Statistical Learning".

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The Bèn school of translation

Chengde (formerly Jehol), which lies 109 miles / 176 kilometers to the northeast of Beijing, was the old Manchu summer retreat, and is now a popular tourist destination. One its most notable attractions is the Putuo Zongcheng Temple, built by the Qianlong emperor (r. 1735-1796) as a copy of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Here is a photograph of the Chinese part of the sign describing a gate within the temple compound:


Regular readers of Language Log will have guessed that the punch line is in the English translation:

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Video of Trombone Shockwave

It isn't exactly linguistics, but on the theory that some of our readers are interested in acoustics, here is what is reported to be the first video of the shock wave generated by a trombone. It is pretty faint so I suggest going to full screen.

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Gil Scott-Heron's old-fashioned ghetto code

Gil Scott-Heron died yesterday at the age of 62 — a remarkable performer whose politically charged combination of music and poetry had an enormous influence on the development of hip-hop culture. One of my favorite spoken-word performances by Scott-Heron appeared on the 1978 compilation, The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron: " The Ghetto Code (Dot Dot Dit Dot Dot Dit Dot Dot Dash)." It's full of linguistic play, including an explanation of "old-fashioned ghetto code" used to mask phone conversations from snooping authorities.

The code involved infixation of "ee-iz" [i:ɪz] between the onset and nucleus of stressed syllables. So-called "[IZ]-infixation" would later become popular in rap music (particularly as used by Snoop Dogg), though OED editor at large Jesse Sheidlower has found examples back to a 1972 glossary on New York drug slang. There was also a predecessor in the talk of carnival workers (carnies), with the word carn(e)y represented in the code as kizarney. (See Joshua Viau's "Introducing English [IZ]-Infixation: Snoop Dogg and bey-[IZ]-ond" for some background.)

You can hear the whole performance on YouTube here. The relevant part starts at about 6:28:

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Out the door vs. Out of the house

On CNN recently, this exchange:

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Ari Velshi: You're more like an average guy.

Tim Pawlenty: I welcome that. I'm not, you know, going to light my hair on fire and shoot sparks out my ears, or whatever.

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Linguistic Institute 2011

Every other year, the Linguistic Society of America has a sort of combination summer school, conference, and party known as a "Linguistic Institute". The 2011 edition will take place July 7-August 2 on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and there's still time to register.

The Boulder Institute features more than 120 terrific visiting faculty from all over the world,

I've been to three of these frolics, and they were among the most enlightening and enjoyable experiences of my professional life. Martha Palmer, who's running the show this time, sent a notice featuring one aspect of this year's institute:

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International Linguistics Olympiad

I'd like to draw your attention to the International Linguistics Olympiad's "Call for Donations and Sponsorships".

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Mysterious Symbols on Justin Bieber

The Daily Mail reports that a visit by Justin Bieber to the beach revealed a new tattoo. Here's a screenshot showing the Daily Mail's description of the tattoo as "a row of mysterious symbols under his left arm". Here's the Daily Mail's close-up, captioned "What is it? It's unclear exactly what Bieber has had tattooed under his arm".

The "mysterious symbols" are perfectly ordinary and legible Hebrew letters. They spell ישוע "Yeshua", the Hebrew name for "Jesus". I understand that not everyone can read Hebrew, but that no one at the Daily Mail can even recognize Hebrew writing is pretty bad.

[For those of our readers who do not know who Justin Bieber is, he's a teen idol. A lot of teenage girls are crazy about him. When I teasingly told a 15-year old friend on Facebook that he looks like a dork, she unfriended me for three weeks!]

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Demagouge (v.)

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"You want punched out?"

Today's political buzz is all about the win by Democrat Kathy Hochul in New York's 26th congressional district, encompassing suburbs northeast of Buffalo and west of Rochester. National issues, particularly the debate over Medicare, played a big part in the race, but local factors were key as well, with the Republican candidate, Jane Corwin, losing votes to Jack Davis, a third-party spoiler running on the Tea Party line. Hochul was helped by squabbles between the Corwin and Davis campaigns, most notably a confrontation between Davis and Corwin's chief of staff outside a veteran's event a couple of weeks ago. The video of the confrontation memorably featured Jack Davis saying, "You want punched out?"

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Hanzi Smatter circa 1700

A friend showed me a photograph of a Dutch chinoiserie tile panel from the late 17th-early 18th century, and asked me to help her identify some of the curious scenes represented on it. My eye, however, was immediately drawn to the cartouche in the upper left corner.

On first glance, the characters seem to be completely fake (made up). Even after straining my eyes and enlarging the panel, I couldn't recognize a single character.

Since I had gotten hooked on this inscription, I obtained a high resolution photograph showing only that part of the tile panel. Now the "characters" were clearer, and I thought to myself, "My, they look a bit like Jurchen script":

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