Archive for May, 2014

An Avestan manuscript with Gujarati translation

In late January, the Asian and African studies blog of the British Library announced that, after "two years' work in an ongoing project sponsored by the Iran Heritage Foundation together with the Bahari Foundation, the Barakat Trust, the Friends of the British Library, the Soudavar Memorial Foundation and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute", the department had just uploaded more than 15,000 images of Persian manuscripts online.

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Random letter-partition advantages in baby names

Commenting on "QWERTY again", 5/14/2014, Rubrick suggested that

It seems like an extremely simple way to check the validity of this theory would be to repeat the analysis, but with the letters grouped into two random subsets, rather than right-left subsets. In fact, I'd think the original authors should have done this as a control. If this new grouping yields a graph with any meaningful-looking trends whatsoever (or if multiple repeats of the analysis with different random subsets yield such trends a significant percentage of the time), it would pretty soundly deflate the idea that the original trends are the result of "right-hand favoritism".

Steve Kass followed up on this suggestion, providing five examples, and commenting that

The graphs don't all look the same, but they all look interesting, and several of them practically beckon the storyteller. There's something interesting about this general kind of data and "advantage function" analysis worth discovering, I think.

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A 'World without Thieves' world

Tom Mazanec came across a poster that was located at a bus stop at one of Princeton's graduate housing complexes, and is an advertisement for a Chinese-language Christian fellowship. Here's a photograph of the poster:

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QWERTY again

Various readers have pointed out to to me that the "QWERTY Effect" is back. (For coverage of the first QWERTY-Effect paper, see "The QWERTY Effect", 3/8/2012; "QWERTY: Failure to Replicate", 3/13/2012; "Casasanto and Jasmin on the QWERTY effect", 3/17/2012; and "Response to Jasmin and Casasanto's response to me", 3/17/2012.)

The new paper is Casasanto, D., Jasmin, K., Brookshire, G. & Gijssels, T. "The QWERTY Effect: How typing shapes word meanings and baby names". In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society, 2014.

As before, the idea is that typing letters with the right hand makes us like them more; or in the words of their abstract,

Filtering words through our fingers as we type appears to be changing their meanings. On average, words typed with more letters from the right side of the QWERTY keyboard are more positive in meaning than words typed with more letters from the left: This is the QWERTY effect (Jasmin & Casasanto, 2012), which was shown previously across three languages. In five experiments, here we replicate the QWERTY effect in a large corpus of English words, extend it to two new languages (Portuguese and German), and show that the effect is mediated by space-valence associations encoded at the level of individual letters. Finally, we show that QWERTY appears to be influencing the names American parents give their children. Together, these experiments demonstrate the generality of the QWERTY effect, and inform our theories of how people’s bodily interactions with a cultural artifact can change the way they use language.

The most interesting new result is the baby-names experiment, in my opinion; and since I'm stuck in Heathrow Airport for a while, I thought I'd take a quick look at it.

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Separated at Birth

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You can you up

In "Chinglish in English?", we examined the expression "no zuo no die" and came to the conclusion that, no matter what it might mean, it has not — as has been claimed by devotees of Chinglish — become a part of English vocabulary; it has not even become a part of English slang.

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"Peak X" abides

Following up on "Peak X", 10/14/2008, O.C. sends in a link to "Twitter (Finally) Invents Revenue Stream", Marketing Vox 5/5/2014 (emphasis added):

In an honest-to-goodness innovation, Twitter has constructed a mechanism by which people can add items to their Amazon shopping carts by tweeting in response to things such as revenue-raising advertisements. There may be hope yet that even with Peak Twitter talk afoot, a serious revenue stream could launch the firms revenues to heights commensurate to the firms self-perceived importance.

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Rural amorous feelings

Someone posted this picture of a package of mushrooms (?) on Reddit:

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Territorial rights for languages

I had been waiting for the world's media to notice the extraordinarily anomalous character of Vladimir Putin's notion that he can annex pieces of land simply because speakers of the Russian language live there and are feeling aggrieved or imperilled. And now The Economist has done the job very nicely. See this page for an article about what the world map would look like under a generalization of Putin's doctrine.

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Draft words

Reuben Fischer-Baum, Aaron Gordon, and Billy Haisley, "Which Words Are Used To Describe White And Black NFL Prospects?", Deadspin 5/8/2014

Do NFL scouts talk about white players and black players differently? Are certain words reserved for white players? Are others used primarily to describe black players?

Let's try and find out. We've pulled the text from pre-draft scouting reports from (written by the infamous Nolan Nawrocki), CBS, and ESPN, split them by player race, counted the number of times individual words appeared using the Voyant tool, and then calculated the rate at which each word appeared per 10,000 words. (In total we pulled 68,465 words on 99 white players—6,228 unique—and 223,868 words on 288 black players—10,580 unique). You can play with the data in the interactive below; simply plug a single word into the input field, hit search, and see how often the word appeared in black and white scouting reports.

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Tasty Chinese

Jen Cardelús writes:

I live in a primarily Chinese community in the San Gabriel Valley (near LA) and don't yet speak any Chinese.  I've been wonderfully bemused by the restaurant naming conventions in the area, and was wondering if you have any insight into how Chinese people name restaurants, and what (if any) particular words are presumably being translated to reach the strange/humorous results.  In particular, "tasty" is used in the names of countless area restaurants. (My favorite is the lamentably-named Thousands Tasty, but there are also Tasty Garden, Tasty Dessert, Tasty Dining, Tasty Choice, New Tasty, Tasty Food, Tasty Noodle House, Tasty Duck, Beijing Tasty House, etc.)  Obviously, "Garden" is another word often used in Chinese restaurant names that would never be used for a non-Asian restaurant in the US.  Are these same sorts of restaurant names also seen in China, or are these patterns specific to Chinese restaurants in the US?  As a sidenote, it is amazing to me that so many immigrants opening restaurants must not know anyone with a reasonable command of English to run their proposed restaurant names by (e.g. Qing Dao Bread Food).

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No "linguistics" on Indiana license plates

In Indiana, a police officer successfully sued the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for the right to have a vanity license plate reading "0INK." According to the lawsuit, the message on the officer's license plate represents "an ironic statement of pride in his profession," but when he applied for a renewal his choice was rejected for impropriety. As the Indianapolis Star explains, a superior court judge has ruled that "the standards the BMV used to assess the appropriateness of personalized license plates were so vague that they violated the First Amendment." The lawsuit has also exposed the guidelines that the Indiana BMV is supposed to follow in determining if a vanity plate is objectionable. One of the big no-no's? "Linguistics"!

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Another misunderestimator

From M.S., we learn that Gary Marcus has joined Lila Gleitman, Chris MatthewsMark Aronoff, and  many others:

Language Log may not need another example, but Gary Marcus' book The Birth of the Mind contains this sentence at the top of page 128:  “Whether language is a medium for thought or just for communication, its importance in our lives cannot be understated.”

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