Archive for August, 2011

Root haughtiness

A root haughtiness constraint in English derivational morphology? The latest PartiallyClips strip:

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Does Gary Locke speak Chinese?

Yesterday's Bloomberg News ( ) carried an article by Adam Minter entitled "New U.S. Ambassador Sparks Emotional Debate in China".

Minter quotes "Wang Xiaosheng", a business columnist with the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolitan Daily (said to be China’s most important independent newspaper):  "I am afraid that [Locke’s] understanding of China is much less than former ambassador Jon Huntsman, a white man who speaks fluent Chinese, due to the fact that Gary Locke speaks only a little Cantonese and no Chinese at all."

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Missal crisis

Reader JM has pointed me to the slowly-unfolding controversy about the new English-language missal, due to be used in Roman Catholic services from 11/27/2011 onwards. For a chronological overview, see Rita Ferrone, "Roman Missal Crisis: A Timeline", 7/16/2011.

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Forgive my indignation

There's still no sign of the logically-imminent spamularity. On the contrary, the same tired old spam formulations seem to be endlessly recycled. One that recently slipped past gmail's spam filters into my inbox began

Greetings from Iraq.
Forgive my indignation if this message comes to you as a surprise.
I am SGT. LAURA MCMILLAN, i am presently in Iraq and i have something very important to discouse with you.Please contact me via my private box:

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A big dictionary anniversary, and a smaller one

Congratulations to Oxford University Press (OUP) on a special morning: it is publication day for the newest edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, marking its 100th anniversary. The first edition was in 1911, and this is the 12th. But I also want to thank OUP for a personal kindness to me. Or rather to my dad, who was celebrating a smaller anniversary of his own.

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How intellectual must intellectual property be?

Kim Kardashian, the Armenian-American reality TV star, socialite, model, and actress, is suing the clothing store chain Old Navy in California for a sum in the tens of millions, on the grounds that they are using a Kardashian lookalike, Melissa Molinaro, in their advertising. But that's not the remarkable thing (this is Language Log, not Reality TV Financial Catfight Log). The remarkable thing is contained in a remark to the press by Kardashian's lawyer, Gary Hecker:

Kim Kardashian's identity and persona are valuable. When her intellectual property rights are violated, she intends to enforce them.

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Philosophical animals

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Starkey ravings

We've had Geoff Pullum's response to "David Starkey on rioting and Jamaican languages" (here): a suitably outraged reaction to Starkey's amazingly ignorant ravings on language, race, and culture in the recent British riots (it's all the fault of Jamaican Creole!). Now, from the ironic wing of the creolist world, the following response by Peter Trudgill (Honorary Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of East Anglia in Norwich), written as a letter to the Guardian (which might or might not publish it) and reproduced here with his permission:

During the Newsnight interview in which David Starkey complained about "this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that has been intruded in England" (13th August), it was shocking to note that he himself used a form of language which was distressingly alien. I estimate that at least 40%, and quite possibly more, of his vocabulary consisted of utterly foreign words forced on us by a wholly other culture – words which were intruded in England from the language of Norman French immigrants to our country, such as "language" and "false". And there were many other alienating aspects to his speech. It was unfortunate, for instance, that he chose to use the term "intruded", employing a word insinuated into our language by sub-cultures in our society who abandoned their true Anglo-Saxon heritage and instead imitated the wholly false language of Roman invaders.

From back-channel discussion, it appears that pretty much all living linguists with significant knowledge of Jamaican Creole — I don't count, since what I know about the language comes mostly from Beryl Bailey's wonderful Jamaican Creole Syntax (1966) and later descriptions, rather than from personal experience — are appalled by Starkey's incendiary ravings. How could they not be?

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Permitted loads are not allowed

Driving on I-91N between New Haven and Hartford a couple of days ago, I saw this sign describing one of the exits:

Permitted loads are not allowed on Route ___.

At least that's what I think it said. According to Michael Quinion's World Wide Words (4/16/2011):

Gordon Drukier noted that new signs have appeared In the past few months on the approaches to State Route 3 from Interstate 91 in Connecticut. These warn: ROUTE 3 NO PERMITTED LOADS ALLOWED

I suspect that Mr. Drukier's attention and memory were better than mine, but I haven't been able to find a picture to verify either version.

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Nim: the unproject

The documentary Project Nim, about Herbert S. Terrace's effort to have a chimpanzee reared from birth like a human child and taught sign language, is an excellent piece of film-making, and you should see it. But if you go to it expecting to see something about research and data and results, there's a surprise in store for you. I now think this was not an experiment, there are no results, there is no Project Nim.

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Repetition disfluency

Modern mass media expose us to a lot of political speech, and therefore to a lot of journalistic commentary on politicians' individual speaking styles.

Regular readers know that I don't generally have a lot of sympathy for attempts to tag Politician X with his or her allegedly characteristic X-isms, whether it's the collections of Bushisms and Palinisms, or Barack Obama's supposed over-use of first-person singular pronouns. This is partly because the empirical support for these attempts is generally below even the usual punditorial standards, and partly because style ought to be less important than substance.

However, I've already commented on Gov. Rick Perry's fondness for a certain hedge/filler ("If you will", 7/29/2011), and this post will describe (what seems to be) his characteristic mode of disfluency when extemporizing. Hypocrisy? We blog, you decide.

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Drawing a line in the noodles

The following photograph was found on the internet by Charles Mok and was shared by Rebecca MacKinnon (of the Berkman Center) on Facebook:

Just make sure that you don't slip on the pasta! Seriously, though, what is a traveler supposed to do when instructed to "wait outside rice-flour noodle"?

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David Starkey on rioting and Jamaican language

A week after the riots that sprang up across a large part of England, pundits are struggling to find smart and profound things to say. One of the least successful has been David Starkey, a historian and veteran broadcaster. Speaking about the results of immigration into Britain since the sixties, he explained on the BBC 2 TV program Newsnight (video clip and story here):

The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion, and black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that has been intruded in England, and that is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.

So it wasn't not mindless, ignorant, immoral lust for consumer goods that was behind the copycat violence of the August riots across England; it's language what done it! That damned Jamaican patois is responsible! What a moron. My latent prejudices are whispering to me (I will try to resist) that white historians must have an innate intelligence deficit.

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