Archive for September, 2013

Uptalk awakening

Keith "Rip van" Humphries awoke from a couple of decades of sleep and asked "This is a Declarative Statement?" (9/28/2013):

I have been noticing something lately about the way many people are speaking? It seems more common among women than men, but they both do it? It involves making statements in a rising tone that suggests the statement is a question? I keep thinking I am expected to answer even when someone says something simple and declarative, like “Hi my name is Bob”? It’s driving me crazy?

Is anyone else noticing more of this style of speech, and, if so, how in the name all that’s sacred can we stamp it out? (That really IS a question and not a statement phrased as one).

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Not anybody who doesn't think it won't

Professor Pauline Jacobson of Brown University asks Language Log whether Dana Bash, CNN's chief congressional correspondent, is saying the government will shut down or that it won't. Language Log likes to go back to primary sources, so here is a verified direct quotation from Ms. Bash on this topic that appeared on the website of in Milwaukee:

"I've not talked to anybody here who doesn't think it's a very, very big possibility, even Republicans, that the government won't shut down — even for a short time," Bash said.

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"Scientific English" in Singapore

From "Got English English and "Scientific" English one meh?", 9/18/2013:

"This P6 science question is taken from a paper that is set by a local brand name primary school. The majority of the students who took this test gave the answer as (4). The science teacher insisted that the answer is (2). The reason given was that sentence D should be interpreted to mean that only light energy is given off when an electric current passes through it."

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Stanford remembers Ivan Sag

As reported earlier this month by Arnold Zwicky, the world of linguistics lost Ivan Sag after a three-year fight against cancer. Now Corrie Goldman of The Humanities at Stanford provides a more in-depth look at Sag's life, quoting many colleagues (including a couple of Language Loggers) who worked — and played — with him.

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Signifying the Local

I just found out about this new book on local languages in China.  Judging from the abstract and table of contents, it looks very interesting and promising: Signifying the Local: Media Productions Rendered in Local Languages in Mainland China in the New Millennium. The publisher's blurb:

In Signifying the Local, Jin Liu examines contemporary cultural productions rendered in local languages and dialects (fangyan) in the fields of television, cinema, music, and literature in Mainland China. This ground-breaking interdisciplinary research provides an account of the ways in which local-language media have become a platform for the articulation of multivocal, complex, and marginal identities in post-socialist China. Viewed from the uniquely revealing perspective of local languages, the mediascape of China is no longer reducible to a unified, homogeneous, and coherent national culture, and thus renders any monolithic account of the Chinese language, Chineseness, and China impossible.

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X combines the P of Q with the R of Q

The most recent xkcd:

The mouseover title: "Functional programming combines the flexibility and power of abstract mathematics with the intuitive clarity of abstract mathematics."

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Free range jobs

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Two Disciplines in Search of Love

This is a guest post by Bill Benzon, in response to earlier posts by Hannah Alpert-Abrams and Dan Garrette ("Computational linguistics and literary scholarship", 9/12/2013) and David Bamman ("On Interdisciplinary Collaboration and "Latent Personas"", 9/17/2013).

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Naughty meanings and naughty words

Piraro makes the point that he is allowed to publish a cartoon showing a street prostitute holding up a sign saying "GLUTEN FREE" (see it here), but he was censored when he came out with a cartoon showing a deadbeat vampire loiterer holding up a sign saying "WILL SUCK FOR BLOOD". Both clearly suggest the possibilty that oral sex is being referred to, if you have a dirty mind, but the second explicitly contains a word (suck) commonly recognized by the relevant prudish authorities as colloquial sex talk, wheras the first doesn't. The prostitute cartoon would doubtless also have been banned if it had incorporated the word eat, instead of just implying it through the reference to a potentially allergenic food ingredient. Piraro's comment on the situation is: "Americans (and maybe all humans, I'm not sure) are more obsessed with words than with their meanings."

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Misreading like a lawyer

Jill Anderson, "Misreading Like a Lawyer: Cognitive Bias in Statutory Interpretation", Harvard Law Review, Vol. 127, 2014, Forthcoming:

Statutory interpretation dilemmas arise in all areas of law, where we often script them as scenes of conflict between a statute’s literal text and its animating purpose. This article argues that, for an important class of disputes, this supposed discord between text and purpose is an illusion. In fact, lawyers are overlooking ambiguities of literal meaning that align well with statutory purpose. The form of ambiguity in question inheres not in individual words, but at the level of the sentence. What triggers a split in readings are verbs that linguists classify as "opaque," which are perfectly common in legal texts: intend, impersonate, endeavor, and regard are among them. In ordinary speech we resolve their dual readings unconsciously and without difficulty. In law, however, our failure to notice multiple readings of ambiguous language has left a trail of erroneous judicial determinations and doctrinal incoherence across a broad swath of law, from disability rights to white collar crime to identity fraud to genocide. Drawing on examples from these areas, this Article uses the tools of formal semantics to expose the ambiguity of opaque constructions and to make visible the family resemblance among the ways we misinterpret them. It then turns to the question of why lawyers misread and what we can do about it. The converging literatures of language development and the psychology of reasoning suggest an answer. When we analyze opaque sentences explicitly as statutory interpretation requires (as opposed to spontaneously in conversation), we may be particularly vulnerable to cognitive bias. Factors peculiar to law tend to amplify and propagate this bias instead of dampen and contain it, but they may also point the way toward more sophisticated legal reading.

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Too much Victor Mair

I've been reading way too much Victor Mair. In the restaurant of my hotel in London I just saw an English girl wearing a T-shirt on which it said this:


And I immediately thought, who is Ho Pe?

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Pseudo-science and pre-existing distaste

Tim Marchman & Reuben Fischer-Baum, "Who Is The Most Pompous Sports Pundit? A Scientific Investigation", Deadspin 9/25/2013:

Of all the stupid rhetorical plays columnists use—issuing thundering imperatives, positioning their banal opinions as the exact midpoints between varieties of unyielding madness, championing their cronies' worthless businesses as examples of the disciplinary power of markets, etc. etc.—the funniest are always the ones that reveal they truly do regard themselves as small stars, able to fix planets in orbit around them through the gravitational pull of their self-regard.

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A few weeks ago, the Verein Deutsche Sprache awarded its 2013 Sprachpanscher prize to the Duden dictionary, for Duden's role in the "shitstorm" shitstorm ("'Shitstorm' Shitstorm: Dictionary Wins Award for Ruining German", Spiegel OnLine):

The most respected dictionary in the German-speaking world has come under fire for its excessive use of English words.

The Association for the German Language (VDS) — a group that campaigns to protect and promote German — gave the dictionary its annual "Sprachpanscher" (language adulteror) award, which singles out people or organizations responsible for legitimizing anglicisms in German.

(For background, see "Das Wort "Shitstorm" hat nun einen Platz im Duden", 7/4/2013.)

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