Archive for October, 2013

Non-projective flavor

From a current Starbucks ad, a nice example of a non-projective English sentence:

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The whole world knows about Fukushima. Lest its reputation forever be associated with nuclear disaster, ending up as an East Asian Chernobyl, the city wishes to refurbish its image as a dynamic, forward-looking, productive place. To that end, the Fukushima Industries Corporation (a leading manufacturer of commercial freezer refrigerators and showcase freezers) has devised a new mascot:

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Hsigo, the imaginary flying monkeys of Chinese mythology

If you do a web search for "Hsigo", you will find thousands of references and hundreds of images.  I won't give specific references, because they're all complete and utter nonsense, but you can read detailed descriptions of these fake, mythical Chinese monkeys — including pseudo-learned discussions of their name — in works like the following:  Erudite Tales, Creepy Hollows Encyclopedia, Mythical Creatures Guide, Encyclo, Societas Magic, Monstropedia, etc., etc.  Hsigo are supposedly flying monkeys with bird-like wings, the tail of a dog, and a human face.

There's even a very brief Wikipedia entry for Hsigo, but I know a top Wikipedia editor who is endeavoring to liquidate that totally fictitious article as a first-step toward eliminating "Hsigo" lore from the Web and hopefully from circulation elsewhere as well.

It all started with a typo. See "'Hsigo', the viral OCR typo".  This detective article is really quite entertaining and edifying.  It ends with a reference to what our Language Log colleague, Geoffrey Nunberg, calls "the 'metadata train wreck' of Google Books".

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Getting off with your lover

Wicky Tse sent in the following photograph of a sign in the Xujiahui district of Shanghai:

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Somebody truck

Yesterday, listening to the radio in my car, I heard this song on the local Country station:

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Somebody truck in a farmer's field
A no trespass sign and time to kill
Nobody's gonna get hurt, so what's the big deal?
Somebody truck in a farmer's field

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"Record low levels of unpopularity"

"Reason For Optimism? Two Sides Talking On Debt Ceiling", NPR Morning Edition, 10/11/2013:

STEVE INSKEEP: What prompted Republicans to change course?

MARA LIASSON: They were losing. They were just getting battered politically. And here's a pretty good example of what was happening to the Republican political position. This is a new Wall Street Journal-NBC poll. By a 22 point margin the public thinks the Republican Party is more to blame for the shutdown than President Obama. That's a bigger margin of blame than the Republicans received during the last shutdown in 1995. The Republican Party is now at record low levels of unpopularity. Only 24 percent of people have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. The Democrats aren't doing much better, but at least they have a 39 percent favorable rating and they're not dropping like the Republicans. And here's the other thing. The president's approval rating actually went up in this poll.

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Banning foreign-language signs in China

The title of an article in International Business Times proclaims:  "'Chinglish' Signs To Be Wiped Out: Ban On Foreign Names Soon To Go In Effect".

While getting rid of Chinglish signs may be an admirable goal (though not in the eyes of everyone!), banning English on signs altogether is an entirely different matter.

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Signs from Kashgar to Delhi

Daniel Waugh sent in the following eight photographs taken between 1995 and 2009. Since they are all related to his travels in the Xinjiang region and thence down into India, I have decided to treat them as a set.

Dan explains:

The first three are from a men's room at the Gez checkpoint on the Karakorum Highway (KKH) south of Kashgar. Also, for decor above urinals, see the one at the end of the batch (this one at the Ai cave site), with a photograph of Mt. Rainier (but no signs as to where to point what you are doing…). The snake warning sign is along the path above Lake Kanas in the northern tip of Xinjiang. I think its real intent was to keep people from trampling the not so wild (they apparently have been planted) wild flowers. The last couple are not so much for linguistic analysis, though I think the "marriage reassembling" is an interesting concept. That one was taken in Delhi. The "relax" sign is in one of those precipitous stretches of the KKH above the Hunza Valley just before you get to Karimabad (Baltit). I was riding a mountain bike along that stretch of the road.

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Influence pedaling

Steven Croley, "White House Review of Agency Rulemaking: An Empirical Investigation", University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Summer, 2003):

After all, if the OIRA review process were eliminated altogether, as some critics of activist presidential oversight would seem to favor, some amount of White House influence pedaling would obviously persist.

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"AP (lambda) calculus" in the comics

Blondie for 10/3/2013:

I believe that this is the first time that the lambda calculus has ever been featured in a popular comic strip.

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Annals of overgeneralization

Suppose you heard about a study "showing" that Ivy League students are more socially sensitive than students at public universities or students at private colleges not among the Ancient Eight. You'd be skeptical, I hope.

So you take a look at the study, and discover that the authors — themselves Ivy League grads — did five experiments.

In the first experiment, they chose three Harvard students who exemplify, in their opinion, the best characteristics of that fine institution, and three students from the University of Michigan, again selected to represent the authors' idea of what such students should be like. They then subjected these six students to a battery of tests of empathy and social intelligence, and found that the three Harvard students scored a bit better than the three Michigan students.

The other four experiments were similar. In the second experiment, the authors selected three Princeton students from among a few dozen student-government leaders, and compared them to three selected representatives of the University of Oregon football team, and three (in their opinion characteristic) young people who did not attend college at all. Experiment 3 tested six new students, three from Yale and three from the University of Arizona, again selected to represent the authors' opinion of what such students should be like. Experiment 4 re-used four of the students from Experiment 3, but substituted two new choices from the same pools. And Experiment 5 re-used five of the six students from Experiment 4, substituting for one participant who seemed on reflection not to be quite of the Right Kind.

At this point, you should be saying to yourself, Wait a minute, this is a total crock! Where was it published, in one of those fake take-the-money-and-run open-access journals?

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One-syllable differences

What the hell kind of language has a one-syllable difference between "Gracious welcome to our honored guests" and "Your king ingests every possible secretion from all the mammals of our world"?

Seldom in the history of intergalactic travel have there been worse translation screw-ups. But I've been thinking…

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Manchu loans in northeast Mandarin

Wei Shao, who hails from Liaoning Province in northeast China (formerly called Manchuria), rattled off the following sentence in her local language and asked me if I understood it:

Wǒ dǎ cīliū huá'r de shíhou bǎ bōlénggài'r kǎ tūlu pí'r le.

I could only sort of understand the following parts:  Wǒ dǎ … huá'r de shíhou bǎ …'r kǎ (?) … pí'r le ("When I was … slipping [?], I scraped [?] … the skin of…").  But it was all so fragmentary — mainly just the rough grammatical structure and three or four disconnected content words  — that I really didn't know what was going on.  Wei said not to worry, since no one from outside the area where she lives could understand it either.

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