Archive for February, 2012

It's All Grammar (the inventory)

On my personal blog, an inventory of postings (mostly from Language Log) on IAG (It's All Grammar) — here — with the proposed technical term garmmra.

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Pausal epenthesis in Brussels

I happened to have the TV going in the background during the press conference where the new Greek bail-out was announced, and it struck me that at an event about Greek sovereign debt, held in Brussels,  Klaus Regling (German), Christine Lagarde (French),  Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourgeois) and Olli Rehn (Finnish) were all speaking English. Nor did I notice any native speakers of English among the reporters who asked questions (in English) afterwards. This is is now completely normal, of course.

But sometimes completely normal things seem temporarily strange, and I had this experience while listening to Olli Rehn's remarks, when it occurred to me that international affairs have become a wonderful opportunity to study non-native pronunciation of English.

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Whorfian Economics

[This is a guest post by Keith Chen.]

Mark and Geoffrey were kind enough not only to write thoughtful columns on a recent working paper of mine here and here, but to invite me to write a guest post explaining the work. In the spirit of a non-linguist who’s pleased to be discovering this blog, I wanted to use Mark and Geoffrey’s insightful posts as a springboard to explain my work.

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More radical mis-speaking

At about 6:38 a.m. today Jak Beula, chairman of a community trust, was talking on BBC Radio 4's "Today" program about Smethwick, a town in the Midlands of England, where there were famous incidents of racism in the 1960s, leading to an important visit by Malcolm X nine days before his assassination in New York. Beula wanted to explain about a disgracefully racist election leaflet that was going around at the time, aimed at discrediting the Labour Party. He knew that because he was on the BBC he was under a constraint (which Language Log does not impose on itself): he must not utter the word nigger. So he struggled to walk round what he had to say without ever uttering that word. And the result was a total disaster of mis-speech.

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Radical mis-speaking

"Santorum Spokesperson Refers To Obama's 'Radical Islamic Policies'", TPM 2/20/2012:

Rick Santorum spokesperson Alice Stewart slipped up on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports Monday afternoon when talking about President Obama's environmental policies. Instead, she called them Obama's "radical Islamic policies."

Santorum communications director Hogan Gidley told TPM that Stewart "misspoke." Andrea Mitchell said that Stewart called her to say she slipped up. "She had repeatedly said during that same interview ‘radical environmental policies’ and she said she slipped when she apparently said [it]."

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Judge mental

A charming eggcorn on a Yahoo! answers page — one that involves writing what is really a single word as a sequence two separate words:

My friends have been being really judge mental lately, i need advice?

Kay so my best friends i have known and been friends with for about 2 years now, are being really judge mental around me lately. . .

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Sticky business in WordNet land

Just a quick pointer to this fun post by Toma Tasovac, which discusses the removal of a term from WordNet, the best known and most widely used lexical database for English. Apparently DuPont, the huge chemical company, expressed displeasure about the entry for Teflon (oops, I mean TeflonTM), which did not indicate its status as a registered trademark.

Christiane Fellbaum's mail to the WN-USERS mailing list indicates that, although DuPont had not yet actually requested removing the term, the WordNet folks "settled" by offering to do so as "the simplest solution". Tasovac suggests to DuPont that they follow up this clear success by following his generously contributed outline for setting up a Division for Lexicography, Trademark Enforcement and World Domination. He concludes, "I have three more killer tips for how to rule the world by means of lexicographic black magic, but they are patented and trademarked. I am willing to discuss business propositions with DuPont representatives in strictest confidence."

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A new opportunity for linguists

Senator Rick Santorum has taken over the lead in national polling for the Republican presidential nomination; and so there is increasing interest in his ideas for new national policies, for example as he explains them in this October 2011 interview with Shane Vander Hart.  As a linguist and a true conservative, I'm especially intrigued by a section that starts at around 25:50, where Senator Santorum promises to protect us against government interference in education by mandating an federal accreditation program to ensure ideological balance among teachers.

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Gesture at 8:00 a.m.

Here at AAAS 2012 in Vancouver, this morning's 8:00 a.m. Section-Z symposium is "Gesture, Language, and Performance: Aspects of Embodiment", organized by Philip Rubin. The abstract:

Communication, language, performance, and cognition are all shaped in varying ways by our embodiment (our physicality, including brain and body) and our embeddedness (our place in the world: physical, social, and cultural). The real-time production of spoken and signed language involves the dynamic control of speech articulators, limbs, face, and body, and the coordination of movement and gesture, by and between individuals. Increases in computing power and the recent emergence of ubiquitous and flexible sensing and measurement technologies, from inexpensive digital video and other devices to higher end tools, are beginning to make it possible to capture these complex activities more easily and in greater detail than ever before. We are on the cusp of a revolution in sign, gesture, and interactive communication studies. New computational and statistical tools and visualization techniques are also helping us to quantify and characterize these behaviors and, in certain instances, use them to control and synthesize speech, gesture, and musical performance. This symposium brings together experts spanning linguistics, computer science, engineering, and psychology to describe new developments in related areas of inquiry. These include coordination and synchrony during spoken and signed language, gestural control of musical performance, physiologically and acoustically realistic articulatory speech synthesis, and cognitive and linguistic development.

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Sing, sang, sung

According to the UK Daily Mirror's report on Whitney Houston's funeral:

The funeral service included a eulogy by Kevin Costner, who starred with Whitney in her hit film The Bodyguard, and a performance by Alicia Keys, who sung with tears in her eyes.

What the linguist notices here is that the system of around 200 irregular verbs in English is so complex and hard to memorize that native-speaking professional journalists and editors are unable to pick the right preterite form for extremely common verbs. Alicia Keys, of course, sang with tears in her eyes.

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Autism in the AAAS

No, this is not me complaining again about the frustrating unwillingness of the AAAS to communicate with the public by making virtual versions of its marvelous symposia available on line. Instead, I'm going to tell you about the next symposium I'm about to sit in on: "Autism: Genetic, Epigenetic, and Environmental Factors Influencing Neural Networks", organized by Isaac Pessah and Cindy Lawler. The abstract:

Autism is a heterogeneous set of developmental disorders with complex etiologies. The goal of the symposium is to present a multidisciplinary perspective of how genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors can interact to promote autism risk. The speakers will critically evaluate the evidence from human and animal studies that gene x environment interactions influence autism susceptibility, severity, and treatment outcomes. Genetic risk factors for autism will be reviewed. New evidence that autism may be associated with an increased copy number burden especially in regions of genomic instability, will be presented and discussed in relationship to environmental causes. How epigenetic mechanisms alter expression of genes relevant to autism will be reviewed in light of environmental chemicals that alter global and gene-specific DNA methylation patterns. Recent progress in understanding how impairments in neural connectivity contribute to autism will be reviewed. The role of methionine (MET) polymorphisms in autism risk and how polyaromatic hydrocarbons found in air pollution differentially influence individuals with the cMET autism risk allele will be presented. Evidence that low-level chemical exposures influence molecular and cellular processes that alter the balance of excitation and inhibition and neuronal connectivity relevant to the development of autism will be evaluated.

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"Self-Help Providing Machine Of Free Contraceptives"

The following sign appears on a vending machine that provides free condoms at a maternity hospital in Beijing:

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Late talkers in any language

The next symposium that I'm planning to attend at AAAS 2012 is "Late Talkers in Any Language: Finding Children at Risk Worldwide", organized by Nan Bernstein Ratner. The abstract:

A major public health need worldwide is early identification of toddlers who are slow to talk. Early child language delay often signals other developmental problems and may limit eventual educational and vocational achievement. Thus, developing efficient, easily administered, universal toddler language instruments is critical. However, this step is also challenging because of cross-linguistic and cultural diversity and cost barriers. This session will present international research conducted over the past two decades that has made impressive progress toward achieving this goal by using standardized parent reports. Topics include the challenges involved in adapting the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (CDI) for use in numerous cultures and languages, strategies that have been successfully used to address these challenges, and major cross-linguistic universals as well as differences that have emerged from CDI adaptations for 69 languages. The panel will offer findings regarding identification of late talkers in four countries using the Language Development Survey, how to detect the correlates of persistent or transient early language delay, and associations with behavioral and emotional problems. Also presented will be how bilingual children master two languages concurrently, and how vulnerable bilingual late-talkers such as immigrant toddlers may be at risk for later educational or vocational failure if not properly identified.

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