Archive for June, 2012

Not raising hogs

Following on from Barbara Partee's example of Kruschev not banging his shoe, I just came across a great example of chained hypothetical negative events. It was during Bonnie Webber's plenary address here in Austin yesterday, at the NASSLLI Summer School. (BTW, if you'll be in the Austin area on Saturday, I have an announcement for you: NASSLLI is hosting a big event commemorating the centenary of Turing's birth, and it's free and open to the public.) But without more ado, here's the "Not raising hogs" text, a good Texas story of how to get something from nothing:


To: Mr. Clayton Yeutter
Secretary of Agriculture
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir,
My friends, Wayne and Janelle, over at Wichita Falls, Texas, received a check the other day for $1,000 from the government for not raising hogs. So, I want to go into the "not raising hogs" business myself next year.

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"Strategic Dynamism" at UVa

"Rector Dragas' Remarks to VPs and Deans", 6/10/2012
"Teresa Sullivan's statement to the U.Va. Board of Visitors", 6/18/2012

Scott Jaschik, "Early Exit at U. of Virginia", Inside Higher Ed 6/11/2012
Scott Jaschik, "Fired for Protecting Languages?", Inside Higher Ed 6/18/2012
Susan Resneck Pierce, "Lessons from Virginia", Inside Higher Ed 6/18/2012
Scott Jaschik, "The E-Mail Trail at UVa", Inside Higher Ed 6/20/2012
Kevin Kiley, "Going Another Round? UVa board poised to reappoint ousted president, but not without objection", Inside Higher Ed 6/22/2012
Johann Neem, "Disruptive Innovation: Rhetoric or Reality", Inside Higher Ed 6/26/2012
Kevin Kiley, "U.Va. Board Reinstates Sullivan", Inside Higher Ed 6/26/2012

Christopher Shea, "Inside the turmoil at the University of Virginia", WSJ 6/18/2012
Valerie Bauerlein, "Ruckus at the Rotunda", WSJ 6/21/2012
"The Virginia Fracas" WSJ Editorial 6/25/2012

Kieran Healey, "The More or Less Unanimous Declaration of the Board of Visitors", Crooked Timber 6/20/2012

Karin Kapsidelis, Michael Phillips, "UPDATE: U.Va. board reverses decision, brings back Sullivan", Richmond Times-Dispatch 6/26/2012
Richard , "University of Virginia Reinstates Ousted President", New York TImes 6/26/2012

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Petition to free Muhammad Ali Salmani-Nodoushan

According to a petition posted 6/14/2012 at GoPetition, Dr. Muhammad Ali Salmani-Nodoushan faces the death penalty in Iran on three charges:

1. Conversion to Christianism;
2. Persistence on New Faith;
3. Pro-human rights activity

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Reader C.A. writes:

I oversee a chess club at my local library. The kids (mostly 8-10 years old) will often use "versus" as a verb, saying "I already versed him" or "do you want to verse me?" I was wondering if you've seen this usage cropping up anywhere (I'm in a suburb of Ft. Worth, TX). Is it specific to this age group or geographic area? Is it becoming common usage in younger people?

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Stupid answering machine program code

Perhaps it is because I'm at the Computability in Europe 2012 conference, a big meeting honoring the centenary of Alan Turing's birth, that I was reflecting on algorithms today. My phone answering machine at home is programmed to count the number of messages waiting to be listened to, storing the total in a variable I will call N, and then set another variable that I will call M to the initial value of 1; and the playback button causes the running of a routine of which the pseudo-code would be this:

if N = 1
   speak "You have one new message."
   speak "You have N new messages."
end if
for each M from 1 to N
   speak "Message M:"
   play message M
end for
speak "End of messages."
speak "To delete all messages, press Delete."

Can you see what's so incredibly annoying here, to a linguist, or anyone with some basic common sense about pragmatics?

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"Pickled at Great Expense"

Google Translate has again provided innocent amusement to hundreds of thousands of netizens. But this time, the amusing transduction is not from Chinese to English, but rather from English to Hebrew. And the BBC, a well-known British comedy channel, provided an assist. Nathan Jeffay at The Guardian ("How BBC comedy Episodes inadvertently went viral in Israel") explains:

Everyone in Israel is talking about the British-American BBC comedy Episodes. Not that it is airing there, but the show has recently become famous for its disastrous use of freebie online translation.

In episode three, Merc Lapidus, one of the lead characters, attends the funeral of his father. The episode was shown in the UK several weeks ago and is airing in the US later this summer.The gravestone, as per Jewish tradition, is bilingual – the local vernacular, in this case English, along with Hebrew. But the entire Hebrew inscription is written backwards, starting with the last letter and working back to the first. The reason, of course, is that Hebrew runs in the opposite direction from English, from right to left. And it gets worse. If you go to the trouble of reading the text, you'll discover that the man commemorated, a certain Yuhudi Penzel, has been "pickled at great expense". This is what you get if you use Google Translate to render "dearly missed" into Hebrew. The blooper is now going viral in Israel.

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The transcription of the name "China" in Chinese characters

There's a joke going around in mainland China about the best way to transcribe the name of the country in Chinese characters.  Each line is redolent of some social issue:

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Much ado about Montreal greetings

I spent much of the past couple of weeks back in my childhood city of Montreal. It was an eventful time. Thousands of student demonstrators marched past the restaurant where I was having dinner, banging on pots and pans. The partial remains of a dismembered Chinese student were found not far from where my brother now lives. And scores of shopkeepers in downtown Montreal greeted their customers like this: "Bonjour, Hi."

This last development was reported by the Office Québécois de la langue française—this is the body charged with overseeing Quebec's language laws, not-so-affectionately referred to by many English Canadians as the "language gestapo". In a study released on June 1, the OQLF noted that while compliance with signage laws have increased over the past two years, there were concerns about how customers were being greeted. Evidently, in downtown Montreal, unilingual French greetings are in decline, from 89% in 2010 to 74% in 2012. More shopkeepers are initiating an exchange in English only, up from 10% to 13%. And bilingual greetings—"bonjour/hi"—have risen quite sharply, up from 1% to 13%.

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Bryan Fischer corrects The New Yorker's punctuation

In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Jane Mayer has a profile of Bryan Fischer ("BULLY PULPIT: An evangelist talk-show host’s campaign to control the Republican Party", The New Yorker, 6/18/2012), which starts this way:

Tupelo, Mississippi, is best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, and his childhood home remains the town’s top attraction. Another local performer, however, has recently garnered national attention. For two hours every weekday, a broadcaster named Bryan Fischer hosts “Focal Point,” a popular Christian radio talk show. He is one of the country’s most vocal opponents of what he calls “the homosexual-rights movement.” As he puts it, “A rational culture that cares about its people will, in fact, discriminate against adultery, pedophilia, rape, bestiality, and, yes, homosexual behavior.” His goal is to make this view the official stance of the Republican Party.

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"The last acceptable form of <SomeImmoralAttitude>"

Reader T.B. writes:

I don't think I've noticed discussion of this snowclone: "X is the last acceptable form of prejudice/discrimination".  I've come across it in reference to obesity…now linguistic bigotry and gingerism.

The fact that it's become a snowclone almost makes it an empty claim.  You can be sure that something else will soon pop up to replace X as the last acceptable form of prejudice…

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Hwæt, the parking-spaces …

Reader D.D. writes to ask about a use of the word "what" that he's noticed "on the part of young blacks of Caribbean descent here in NYC":

The word is sort of shrieked, or perhaps yelped, as if a very insistent question… and the final 't' is accentuated (Brit like)… But the meaning is something like "And how!" or "I'll say!" or "Fuckin' A!!"

I've noticed it outside of work this past week–by two strangers in public settings–but this most recent at-work example sticks in my mind:

Yesterday at work a twenty-something Jamaican-born NY'er went out to move his car, as per NYC parking regs. When he came back MUCH LATER someone asked him, "Was it hard to find parking?" His loud reply, "WHAT!!?" (and then he mumbled something about how hard it was…)

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Open Access petition — an update

One month after it was created (on May 13) and a week before it will be closed to signatures (on June 19), the White House Open Access petition (which I pointed Language Log readers to on May 23) now has 26,768 signatures — 1,768 more than the 25,000 threshold! By my calculation, the average rate was over 1,190 signatures a day from the first to the 25,000th signature (by "David L" of Holmdel, NJ, who signed on June 3 — three weeks after the petition was created); after that, the rate dropped to just shy of 177 a day. No reason to slow down the pace now! If you agree with the petition, please sign it and/or pass it on to your agreeable friends — send a strong message to Washington that "[e]xpanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our [public] investment in scientific research."

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Your typical sentence

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: Although the Markov chain-style text model is still rudimentary; it recently gave me "Massachusetts Institute of America". Although I have to admit it sounds prestigious.

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