Archive for September, 2012

Bipartisanship (the bad kind)

Some news about the presidential debates from Politico, as reported by Dylan Byers:

Philips pulls presidential debate sponsorship

Philips Electronics has dropped its sponsorship of the 2012 presidential debates, citing a desire not to associate itself with bipartisanship, POLITICO has learned.

That lede might cause many readers to do a double-take. If bipartisanship is conventionally understood to mean "cooperation between the two major political parties," why would Philips be opposed to such cooperation? If they don't favor bipartisanship, doesn't that mean they favor partisanship instead? But no: in this case, bipartisanship is actually the equivalent of partisanship, which are both in opposition to nonpartisanship.

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I can do pretty much whatever minus not being stupid

I just really like this sentence from the Baltimore Orioles' Nolan Reimold, who is recovering slowly from a herniated disk in his neck. "I can do pretty much whatever minus not being stupid." I find that a great sentence that could be used in a lot of situations, e.g. retirement …

No big linguistic point. Just three nice little dialectal variants in a row — that use of "whatever"; "minus" in place of "except for", and the inclusion of "not" in such a context. I think they've all been discussed in posts at one time or another, but this three-in-a-row is a gem, plus [oh, there's a 'plus'; I'm infected] I love the sentiment.

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"…Facebook hadn't been unable to confirm…"

Katie Rogers-Follow, "Facebook is not leaking your private messages – though you once did", The Guardian (US News Blog) 9/24/2012:

Monday afternoon, Facebook spokesperson Frederic Wolens added that Facebook hadn't been unable to confirm any issue related to a leakage of private messages.

Probably this is just a typo — though at the moment it's been up on the Grauniad's website for almost a week, suggesting that it's the kind of typo that's easy to fail to miss. Anyhow, it's one for the misnegation archives.

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Come to set

In the recently released film The Master, Amy Adams plays Peggy Dodd, the wife of cult leader Lancaster Dodd. On Thursday, Terry Gross interviewed Adams ("From Sweet To Steely: Amy Adams In 'The Master''", Fresh Air 9/27/2012), and something that Adams said struck my ear:

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… he'd just say hey, come to set, I want you to- to do something …

"He" is the film's writer and director, Paul Thomas Anderson. And what struck me was Adams' inclusion of set in the class of singular count nouns that can be used in a prepositional phrase without a determiner, in a non-referential or generic interpretation: come to bed, go to college, stay in school, and so on.

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Spot off

In an otherwise reasonably well-reported BBC piece on American adoptions of British — really English — expressions, Cordelia Hebblethwaite described me, accurately, as generally deploring the practice, but tricked out my remarks in a tone that made it sound unfamiliar to me or others, as Mark noted in his post.

"Spot on – it's just ludicrous!" snaps Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley.

"You are just impersonating an Englishman when you say spot on."

"Will do – I hear that from Americans. That should be put into quarantine," he adds.

Now, as Mark surmises, that report wasn't entirely spot on. For one thing, I wasn't snapping anything (at best, I was going for a crackle). To be sure, that could be the fault of it one of those cross-cultural misunderstandings arising out of intonational differences that John Gumperz explored in his research.

But I suspect that it was something more deliberate than that, particularly since Hebblethwaite later has me "quivering" with "revulsion" over British loans. Listen, when I quiver, I quiver, but the target is generally United Airlines, not some piece of English usage. But it's a weary cliché among the feature-writing classes that opinions about usage are made to sound more comical when they're rendered in the tone of operatic indignation that Lynn Truss has made a specialty of, even when that tone has to be spun from the writer's imagination. Indeed, it wasn't only my tone that Ms Hebblethwaite, well, misremembered.

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Romney: playing the devil with the details?

From an interview Mitt Romney did with CBS News last week:

Scott Pelley: You're asking the American people to hire you as president of the United States. They'd like to hear some specifics.

Romney: Well, I can tell them specifically what my policy looks like. I will not raise taxes on middle-income folks. I will not lower the share of taxes paid by high-income individuals. And I will make sure that we bring down rates, we limit deductions and exemptions so we can keep the progressivity in the code, and we encourage growth in jobs.

Pelley: And the devil's in the details, though. What are we talking about, the mortgage deduction, the charitable deduction?

Romney: The devil's in the details. The angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs.

Pelly: You have heard the criticism, I'm sure, that your campaign can be vague about some things. And I wonder if this isn't precisely one of those things?

Romney: It's very much consistent with my experience as a governor which is, if you want to work together with people across the aisle, you lay out your principles and your policy, you work together with them, but you don't hand them a complete document and say, "Here, take this or leave it.".

What is Romney using "the devil's in the details" to mean?

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BBC: Geoff Nunberg snaps and quivers

According to Cordelia Hebblethwaite, "Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English", BBC News 9/26/2012:

There is little that irks British defenders of the English language more than Americanisms, which they see creeping insidiously into newspaper columns and everyday conversation. But bit by bit British English is invading America too.

"Spot on – it's just ludicrous!" snaps Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley.

"You are just impersonating an Englishman when you say spot on."

"Will do – I hear that from Americans. That should be put into quarantine," he adds.

And don't get him started on the chattering classes – its overtones of a distinctly British class system make him quiver.

But not everyone shares his revulsion at the drip, drip, drip of Britishisms – to use an American term – crossing the Atlantic.

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Cage fight

Yesterday's offerings on the New York Times site include what seems to have been designed as a descriptivist vs. prescriptivist cage fight. They picked Robert Lane Greene of The Economist for their descriptivist and Bryan Garner as their prescriptivist, but unfortunately the two men soon start falling into an unseemly state of agreement. The last thing you want in a cage fight is two hulking battlers shaking hands and each expressing the feeling that the other is a good-hearted and well-meaning fellow. "Maybe we're getting somewhere," says Garner at the beginning of his second piece in the debate, pleased that some common ground is emerging: "…you and I are getting closer together." Oh, no! No blood?

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Panel on Digital Dictionaries (MLA/LSA/ADS)

Eric Baković has noted the happy confluence of the annual meetings of the Linguistic Society of America and the Modern Language Association, both scheduled for January 3-6, 2013 at sites within reasonable walking distance of each other in Boston. (The LSA will be at the Boston Marriott Copley Place, and the MLA at the Hynes Convention Center and the Sheraton Boston.) Eric has plugged the joint organized session on open access for which he will be a panelist, so allow me to do the same for another panel with MLA/LSA crossover appeal. The MLA's Discussion Group on Lexicography has held a special panel for several years now, but many lexicographers and fellow travelers in linguistics have been unable to attend because of the conflict with the LSA and the concurrent meeting of the American Dialect Society. This time around, with the selected topic of "Digital Dictionaries," the whole MLA/LSA/ADS crowd can join in.

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Joint LSA/MLA Organized Session on Open Access

The 87th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America is scheduled to be held in Boston, January 3-6, 2013. As it happens, the 128th Annual Convention of the Modern Language Association will also be held in Boston on the same dates. The LSA and MLA have planned a number of joint activities for meeting attendees.

The LSA's Committee of Editors of Linguistics Journals (CELxJ) will sponsor an organized session on Open Access publishing, to be held at the LSA on Thursday, January 3, 4-7pm. In addition to yours truly, our confirmed panelists include:

I hope that anyone planning to attend the LSA or the MLA will make time to attend this important and timely session. Building on its efforts with eLanguage, the LSA has recently committed to extend the range of the journal Language to include online-only, Open Access material; a business model for supporting Open Access publications is currently under consideration and will be available before the panel meets. The MLA Convention's Presidential Theme is Avenues of Access, including Open Access and the future of scholarly communication. The efforts on the part of both of these organizations to increase public access to scholarly work will be among the topics under discussion in this session.

Check this space soon for more/updated information. [ Update, 10/2/2012 — abstracts for the session are now posted. ]

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Endangered Alphabets

My attention has been recently drawn to Tim Brookes' Endangered Alphabets project and to its second Kickstarter project, Endangered Alphabets II: Saving Languages in Bangladesh. You can follow the links to find out more; copied below is the text from the Kickstarter page, with images provided by Tim Brookes and Hailey Neal. If you feel moved to pledge to their cause, please do so — they have 127 backers as of this writing, pledging a total of $4,535, with only 19 days to go to reach their goal of $10,000.

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Bumps in the road

Jake Tapper, "Republicans Jump on President Referring to ‘Bumps in the Road’ in Muslim World", ABC News 9/23/2012:

“I guess when u win a Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing,” tweeted former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, “an attack that kills an Ambassador is just a ‘bump in the road.’”

Other Republicans and conservatives, including officials from the Romney campaign, similarly criticized the president.

Fleischer was referring to this exchange on CBS’ “60 Minutes” this evening:

STEVE KROFT: “Have the events that took place in the Middle East, the recent events in the Middle East given you any pause about your support for the governments that have come to power following the Arab Spring?”

PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Well, I’d said even at the time that this is going to be a rocky path. the question presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change. I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights — a notion that — people have — to be able to — participate — in — their own governance. But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because — you know, in a lot of these places — the one organizing principle — has been Islam.

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Japanese survey on forgetting how to write kanji

According to a recent survey of more than 2,000 people, 66.5 percent of Japanese think they are losing the ability to correctly handwrite kanji. Moreover, the level is above 50% for every age group except for the youngest (16-19), who are of course still actively studying characters and thus must be prepared for tests; and even there the figure is still very close to the 50% mark. (See graph at the end of this post.)

This phenomenon is no surprise to anyone who regularly reads Language Log — see, for example, "Character Amnesia". Still, it is interesting to have the numbers. Also, the shift from the previous survey 10 years ago is dramatic. Read the article below for more details.

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