Archive for May, 2012

Tiny grass is dreaming

Although quaint, the English on the following sign cannot be classified as Chinglish:



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MediaEval censorship

I'm spending the week at LREC 2012 in Istanbul, and the presentation that I just listened to was Maria Eskevich, Gareth J.F. Jones, Martha Larson and Roeland Ordelman, "Creating a Data Collection for Evaluating Rich Speech Retrieval":

We describe the development of a test collection for the investigation of speech retrieval beyond identification of relevant content. This collection focuses on satisfying user information needs for queries associated with specific types of speech acts. The collection is based on an archive of the Internet video from Internet video sharing platform (, and was provided by the MediaEval benchmarking initiative. A crowdsourcing approach was used to identify segments in the video data which contain speech acts, to create a description of the video containing the act and to generate search queries designed to refind this speech act. We describe and reflect on our experiences with crowdsourcing this test collection using the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform. We highlight the challenges of constructing this dataset, including the selection of the data source, design of the crowdsouring task and the specification of queries and relevant items.

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"A very differentiated discussion"

Today I learned a valuable new phrase. According to Nicholas Kulish and Paul Geitner's description of the recent European summit meeting in Brussels ("Euro Zone Crisis Boils as Leaders Argue, Failing at Pact", NYT 5/23/2012):

“Each of us spoke and put forward our position,” said Ms. Merkel, addressing the discussion of jointly issued debt, known as euro bonds, after the meeting. “François Hollande spoke as he said he would. It was a very differentiated discussion.”

Much better than "frank exchange of views".

I haven't been able to find video or audio of Chancellor Merkel's remarks — perhaps a reader can give us a link in the comments.

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Compound semantics

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Udmurt advances

The Buranovskie Babushki ("Buranovsky Grannies"), Russia's entrants in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, have advanced to the final round of ten with their song "Party for Everybody":

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No, it should be "… to whom to turn"

A recent New Yorker cartoon, courtesy of Paul Kendall:

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Open Access petition

Every once in a while, an article is discussed or mentioned here on Language Log that many of our readers can't access without paying a hefty fee, whether to pay to view the article or to subscribe to the journal in which it appears. Many of these same readers are American taxpayers, and much of the research in those same articles is funded by governmental organizations (such as the NSF and the NIH) that are of course underwritten by American taxpayers. Why — the argument goes — should taxpayers pay again to access the results of the research that they are already paying for? What prevents those results from being disseminated (relatively) freely, so that all may benefit?

This is the gist of this petition that has been posted at the Obama Administration "We The People" petition site by the good folks at access2research. 25,000 total signatures are needed by June 19; as of this writing, they're almost halfway there. Please take a look at the petition and sign if you're for it.

And please also tell others about this petition! Stuart Shieber (computational linguist, open access advocate, and Director of Harvard University's Office of Scholarly Communication) has written and shared a message suitable for passing on to colleagues, friends, and family. Or, you can point them to the video found below the fold.

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Overnegation of the week

Daniel J. Wakin, "Met Reverses Itself on Reviews Ban by Opera News", NYT 5/22/2012:

The Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday backed away from its decision to bar reviews of its productions in Opera News, its affiliated magazine and the leading opera publication in the country.

The Met said an “outpouring of reaction” from opera fans on the Internet caused it to change course a day after The New York Times reported that Met officials and the publishers of Opera News had decided to stop reviewing Met shows.

“I think I made a mistake,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager. “The Metropolitan Opera only exists with the good will of the public. Clearly the public would miss Opera News not being able to review the Met, and we are responding to that,” he added, referring to a “groundswell of disappointment.”

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News flash: Congresscritters using slightly shorter words and sentences

And this is apparently a Bad Thing. Tamara Keith, "Sophomoric? Members Of Congress Talk Like 10th-Graders, Analysis Shows", NPR Morning Edition, 5/21/2012:

Every word members of Congress say on the floor of the House or Senate is documented in the Congressional Record. The Sunlight Foundation took the entire Congressional Record dating back to the 1990s and plugged it into a searchable database.

Lee Drutman, a political scientist at Sunlight, took all those speeches and ran them through an algorithm to determine the grade level of congressional discourse.

"We just kind of did it for fun, and I was kind of shocked when I plotted that data and I saw that, oh my God, there's been a real drop-off in the last several years," he says.

In 2005, Congress spoke at an 11.5 grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. Now, it's 10.6. In other words, Congress dropped from talking like juniors to talking like sophomores.

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Lacking semantic support from unexpected quarters

Reader PN wrote to comment on the first sentence of  a story by Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald, "US unlikely to condemn Argentina’s ‘outlaw behavior’ — yet", Miami Herald 5/16/2012:

A U.S. congressional proposal aimed at expelling Argentina’s populist-leftist government from the G-20 group of the world’s leading economies faces an uncertain future, not the least because it lacks significant support from unexpected quarters — conservative Cuban-American Republican lawmakers.

PN's comment:

From the rest of the article — and typical attitudes of Cuban-American Republicans to leftist Latin American governments — it seems clear that they are trying to say that the *lack* of support was unexpected. But what a strange way to put it.

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Rating American English Accents

If you're a native speaker of American English, a Dutch linguist needs your responses to an accent questionnaire:

In this questionnaire we will ask you as a native U.S. English speaker to rate the pronunciation of different speakers, some of whom were born outside the U.S. We ask you to rate how native-like the pronunciations are. While we offer a set of 50 speech fragments, you are free to rate as few or as many as you'd like (of course we'd prefer more, but there is no required minimum).

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Is this a great photo or what!

That was the start of my heading-comment on a photo of my son Dave. Ensuing back-and-forth on Facebook between me and Andy Rogers (with a relevant interpolation from my son Morriss):

Andy Rogers: Shouldn't it be "or what?"?
Barbara H Partee: I punctuated it as I would pronounce it! Maybe if it was somebody else I might right "or what?".
Andy Rogers: Seems syntactically like a question.
Barbara H Partee: That's true. Well, but how would you punctuate an annoyed "Will you stop that!" It's also a question, but it's pronounced as an imperative. Maybe "Will you stop that?!" Maybe that's what some of those double punctuation marks are for — I've never seen them discussed (but haven't really looked — it's not a category I normally think about.) So maybe we could agree on "or what?!" ?
Barbara H Partee But I have to confess that when I made the original post, a question mark never even entered my head.
Morriss Partee: Would you stop arguing about punctuation or what?!?!??!??!???!!!!?!???!!!??!??!
Morriss Partee: ;)
Andy Rogers: So what IS the relationship among syntactic form, whatever is going on in your ! examples, and punctuation?
Barbara H Partee: ‎(Sorry, Morriss, but wasn't it always like this at the dinner table? Should make you nostalgic!) Andy, I don't know, but somebody must. Maybe I should put a little query-post on Language Log and see what turns up.

So comments are open because I really don’t know! In this domain I’m just a naïve native writer of English, with ordinary education about prescriptive grammar, but they never taught us about what might be called “colloquial punctuation” (maybe it has a name, I don’t know that either.) I wonder if comic strip writers study colloquial punctuation somewhere, or if they just pick it up by paying attention to what other comic strip writers have done. If it’s been studied at all, I’m sure Facebook must be one good corpus-source.

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Help Wanted: Sharing Data for Research on Reading and Writing

On Friday, July 20, at the 2012 meeting of the Council of Writing Program Administrators in Albuquerque NM, there will be a session called "Help Wanted: Sharing Data for Research on Reading and Writing".  Here's the proposal that was submitted for this session:

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