Archive for March, 2013

Chranna and Fluffya

From the start of "What Can Doctors Learn by Admitting Their Mistakes?", Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode Making Mistakes:

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Guy Raz: That's Brian
Brian Goldman: I'm uh staff emergency physician
at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada
Guy Raz: That's [təˈɹɐn.toʊ]
Brian Goldman: You know
about thirty years ago
it was- it was [ˈtɹɜ.ɾ̃ə]
because I used to say [təˈɹɐn.toʊ]
and Canadians would correct me
Guy Raz: and say [ˈtɹɐ.ɾ̃ə]
Brian Goldman: ((yeah))
There's no 't' in it
Guy Raz: Anyway, Brian
went to medical school in
that city …

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Noodle devils

Nathan Vedal wrote to tell me about an interesting mistranslation into Chinese that he recently came across.

Having purchased some not particularly healthy, but quite delicious, instant noodles produced by a Korean company, he was perusing the Chinese instructions, which included the following sentence:

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Ask Language Log: SAT "Identifying Sentence Errors" questions

From reader Q.C.:

I'm writing to you as your article "The SAT Fails a Grammar Test" came to my mind the other day when I happened to stumble on the following Identifying Sentence Error question from a PSAT:

Opposite to the opinion of several respected literary critics, Jane Austen does not make good taste or manners in themselves sure signs of virtue in her characters.

I came up with three possible answers. The College Board people may feel that the phrase "opposite to" should be replaced by a more idiomatic expression, such as "opposed to" or "contrary to;" or that Jane Austen, being deceased, should be described with the past tense, thus faulting "does not;" or they may believe that there's no error, since dictionaries agree that "opposite" can mean "contrary", and the so-called "historical present tense" is quite common in literary review and literary criticism.

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John McIntyre on varieties of plagiarism

John McIntyre, at You Don't Say, has some cogent remarks on self-plagiarism:

Yesterday, writing at, Roy Peter Clark suggested that our current attitudes about plagiarism have conflated relatively minor or innocuous literary borrowings with serious thefts. One of the points he identified was the clamor about self-plagiarism. After quoting him, I'd like to add some observations.

Actually, he begins by quoting Judge Richard A. Posner's Little Book of Plagiarism: "Posner hits the target on this one: 'The temptation to lump distinct practices in with plagiarism should be resisted for the sake of clarity; "self-plagiarism," for example, should be recognized as a distinct practice and rarely an objectionable one.' All successful writers 're-purpose' their work for profit and influence, but they should always be forthright with potential publishers on whether the work is brand new or recycled."

I think of the practice of H.L. Mencken, who would write a short article for The Evening Sun, then revise and enlarge to magazine length, and finally repurpose it again for one of his books. (Bach and Handel regularly reworked material from one composition for another; were they self-plagiarists?)

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Androids in Amazonia: recording an endangered language

Augustine Tembé, recording a story using a smartphoneThe village of Akazu’yw lies in the rainforest, a day’s drive from the state capital of Belém, deep in the Brazilian Amazon. Last week I traveled there, carrying a dozen Android phones with a specialized app for recording speech. It wasn't all plain sailing…

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Calvert Watkins, 1933-2013

The great Indo-Europeanist Calvert Watkins passed away in his sleep on the evening of March 20. From the Harvard Gazette:

Calvert Watkins, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Linguistics and the Classics, emeritus, died earlier this month at the age of 80. 

A towering figure in historical and Indo-European linguistics and a pioneer in the field of Indo-European poetics, Watkins presided over the expansion of Harvard’s Department of Linguistics in the 1960s, and served as its chair several times between 1963 until his retirement in 2003. From then until his death, he served as professor in residence at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Victor Mair's birthday book

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History of Philadelphia vowels

A couple of days ago, Joe Fruehwald and Bill Labov were on WHYY, the local public television station, in a NewsWorks Tonight segment about "How the Philly accent is changing". The text version on the web site is nicely presented, with illustrative inline sound clips. You should read (and listen to) the whole thing!

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The plebgate plot thickens

It is only fair to Andrew Mitchell M.P., formerly holder of the important political office known as government chief whip, that I should return briefly to the plebgate incident. When I last wrote about it (here) I said it was "morphing from one about a bad-tempered upper-class put-down into a case of a cabinet member telling lies about a law-enforcement matter, and slandering armed police officers who work for his government and may have to put their lives on the line protecting it from terrorist attack". Well, it has morphed more since then. It turns out that some police officers lied about the incident. Three have actually been arrested, and seven more are being investigated. And this morning Mitchell is reported as having filed a libel suit against the newspaper that broke the story.

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Don't pee on this teapot

Over the years, we've often blogged about signs in China (and sometimes elsewhere) forbidding people to urinate where they're not supposed to, e.g., "Urination is inhuman", with references to earlier posts near the end.

Now Morgan Jones has sent in what is probably the most unusual of all such warnings in this genre.

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Made in Chian

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Technology marches on

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Annals of with

In the comments section of the London (Ontario) Free Press, there was a frank exchange of views on the grammaticality of the headline "Man wandering in traffic arrested with gun" (3/20/2013). A small sample follows.

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