Archive for June, 2014

Language notes from Macao and Hong Kong

From June 13 until the 18th, I was at a conference on Buddhist culture and society held at the University of Macao.  There were about thirty participants, all except me from East Asia, and the East Asians were about evenly divided among scholars from Taiwan, China, Macao, and Hong Kong, plus one each from Japan and Korea.

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Introducing the Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group

For those who enjoy botanizing in realms of material culture:

This site contains several years of research in the classification of occlupanids. These small objects are everywhere, dotting supermarket aisles and sidewalks with an impressive array of form and color. The Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group has taken on the mantle of classifying this most common, yet most puzzling, member of phylum Plasticae.

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The shape of a spoken phrase in Mandarin

A few years ago, with Jiahong Yuan and Chris Cieri, I took a look at variation in English word duration by phrasal position, using data from the Switchboard conversational-speech corpus ("The shape of a spoken phrase", LLOG 4/12/2006; Jiahong Yuan, Mark Liberman, and Chris Cieri, "Towards an Integrated Understanding of Speaking Rate in Conversation", InterSpeech 2006). As is often the case for simple-minded analysis of large speech datasets, this exercise showed a remarkably consistent pattern of variation — the plot below shows mean duration by position for phrases from 1 to 12 words long:

The Mandarin Broadcast News collection discussed in a recent post ("Consonant effects on F0 in Chinese", 6/12/2014) lends itself to a similar analysis of phrase-position effects on speech timing. So for this morning's Breakfast Experiment™, I ran a couple of scripts to take a first look.

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Contraceptive printing room

Gianni Wan sent in this bizarre translation:

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[Pp]esh ?[Mm]erga

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That symbol again

Today's Zits:

For some background, see "The 'pound sign' mystery", 7/18/2010.

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Real fry

You'll search Google News in vain for stories about most technical terms in phonetics — no recent coverage of lenition, for example — but "vocal fry" has been prominent in the popular press for several years. Despite all the coverage, many people seem to be unclear about what it is and where it comes from — so today I thought I'd spend a few minutes on the phenomenon from a phonetician's perspective.

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"Redskins" ruled disparaging

Ken Belson, "U.S. Patent Office Cancels Redskins Trademark Registration", NYT 6/18/2014:

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, part of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, canceled the trademark registration of the name Redskins for use in connection with a professional football team, saying that “a substantial composite of Native Americans found the term Redskins to be disparaging.”

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(Prosodic) foot fetish

Today's xkcd:

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New vocal fry culprit

Jen Olenizcak, "Are Spanx Causing Vocal Fry?", Huffington Post 6/17/2014:

New Yorkers are incredibly tense. Articles have been written about our anxiety issues — most adults are incredibly tense.

And the butt tension! I hear so many pinched, throaty Kardashian voices, and when lamenting about the correlation I saw between this body image pulling-it-all-in problem and fry, before a class, a woman suggested the Spanx connection. Now I really don't think one product caused it all, but the act of "pulling-it-all-in" certainly does.

So try it, clench your butt, suck it all in and say hello. Now let it go and say hello. That drop in your voice that probably happened? The clench contributes to shallow breathing and a throaty voice. So loosen up!

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Pan-Romance spelling in San Antonio

Scott Cacciola, "The United Nations of the Hardwood: San Antonio Spurs Use Language Barriers to Their Advantage", NYT 6/15/2014:

The Spurs, as has been well established, have developed an international flair under Coach Gregg Popovich. Eight players on the current roster were born outside the United States. Loosely translated, that means the Spurs use at least four languages — English, Spanish, French and Italian — to communicate among themselves.

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A dog's life

Charles McFarlane, "A Dog’s Life: A Brief History of the Turnspit Dog", Modern Farmer 6/13/2014:

Today we think of working dogs as intelligent and loving creatures that are capable of amazing things — like detecting the presence of cancer through smell — but this is only a recent development in the human relationship with dogs. Little more than 150 years ago, dogs were hardly considered anything more than a power source.  

At the center of this was the turnspit dog. […]

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Sticky stereotypes

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