Archive for September, 2014

"Free, white, and twenty one"

Sometimes I think that Philip K. Dick is passing the time in purgatory by ghostwriting news stories like this one —  "Atlantic City's Revel Casino reimagined as elite school", Reuters 9/22/2014:

A Florida developer who made a $90 million offer for Atlantic City's shuttered Revel Casino wants to use the site to help end world hunger, cancer, and resolve other pressing issues like nuclear waste storage.

Glenn Straub's plan is ambitious as it is high-minded. First, he would add a second tower to the 57-story structure, completing the original vision of the casino-hotel's developers. The businessman, who owns the Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club, would then convert the complex into a university where the best and brightest young minds from across the world could work on the big issues of the day.

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Homa Obama

Tom Mazanec sent in the following ad that he saw in a Guangzhou (China) apartment complex:

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Why not a simple, straightforward directory?

From C.M., a sign in the Sydney, Australia, suburb of Waterloo:

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Form, function, fun

In "Pragmatics as comedy" (1/28/2010) I discussed a blog post and two comedy sketches that enact familiar rhetorical structures through a series of self-referential descriptions. Thus Chris Clarke's "This is the title of a typical incendiary blog post" (1/24/2010):

This sentence contains a provocative statement that attracts the readers’ attention, but really only has very little to do with the topic of the blog post. This sentence claims to follow logically from the first sentence, though the connection is actually rather tenuous. This sentence claims that very few people are willing to admit the obvious inference of the last two sentences, with an implication that the reader is not one of those very few people. This sentence expresses the unwillingness of the writer to be silenced despite going against the popular wisdom. This sentence is a sort of drum roll, preparing the reader for the shocking truth to be contained in the next sentence.

This sentence contains the thesis of the blog post, a trite and obvious statement cast as a dazzling and controversial insight.

Jon Wu's "A Generic College Paper", recently published at McSweeney's Internet Tendency, is a worthy addition to the genre.

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Texting while walking

A few days ago, CNN published an article entitled "Chinese city tests out sidewalk lanes for cellphone users".

See also this article on Mashable and this one on MTV news (with some funny videos).

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Wanting that very (no)thing

Robert Neubecker, "Parents, the Children Will Be Fine. Spend Their Inheritance Now.", NYT 9/19/2014, reports "polling data from both older Americans and their adult children about whether they expected to leave or receive an inheritance":

Among the parents, ages 59 to 96, 86.2 percent expected to leave a bequest. But just 44.6 percent of the children, ages 40 to 60, thought they would get one. […]

The message here would seem to be that aging parents are generous to a fault, if a bit manipulative on occasion. Adult children, meanwhile, accept their obligations to care for their parents with little expectation of receiving anything in return, though some who remain on the dole well into adulthood expect their parents to provide for them from the grave too.

The study’s yes-no questions, however, are relatively limiting. Many parents may be hoping to leave just a token amount, after all. Adult children might lie about their expectations to please the researchers, too. And besides, even if you expect nothing it doesn’t mean that you don’t badly want that very thing.

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Newsworthy crash blossoms

The current BBC home page has some breaking news about Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond:

My first thought on reading this was that it's rather late in the day for Salmond to be going after the No vote, considering No already won handily. Then I realized it's not go after as in "pursue," but rather go + after — he's going (resigning) subsequent to the No vote on the referendum.

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Sex, age, and pronouns on Facebook

Andy Schwartz and others at the World Well-Being Project have worked with "Facebook posts from over 75,000 volunteers who also took the standard Interpersonal Personality Item Pool (IPIP) personality test to measure the 'Big Five' personality traits", looking for linguistic features that correlate with those aspects of personality measured by that test.

Lyle Ungar talked about this work a few days ago (Andy was unfortunately out of town), for an audience of mostly first-year undergraduates. The venue was a weekly event, Dinners With Interesting People, held in the Quad, an undergraduate residence here at Penn.

This year, the DWIP talks (though still open to the public) are integrated into a Freshman Seminar called "The Landscape of Research and Innovation at Penn". The idea is to give the participants a general idea of what kinds of research go on around here, and how they might get involved. As part of the course, I've asked DWIP guests to provide a dataset that we can use as part of a course assignment in quantitative analysis.  Since the students have widely varied backgrounds in mathematics, statistics, and programming, and since the quantitative analysis part of the course is only one of several aspects, the assignments start with an R script that does something interesting, with the assigned task being to modify the script to do something a bit different.

In this case, Andy was kind enough to give me a table indicating number of posts and token counts for each "word", in their Facebook dataset, for males and females of each age.  Inspired by Jamie Pennebaker's The Secret Life of Pronouns,  I decided to focus the quantitative analysis assignment around the issue of pronoun usage. The body of this post lays out some of the things that I've noticed in setting the assignment up.

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Fairy Ann

David Shariatmadari, "That eggcorn moment: If you’ve been signalled out by friends for saying ‘when all is set and done’, you’re not alone – linguists even have a word for it", The Guardian 9/16/2014:

Learning your mother tongue might seem effortless, but doesn’t always go without a hitch. In particular, you may hear certain sets of words and break them down wrongly in your head. So long as your version is plausible, sounds the same, and you’re not asked to write it down, the error can persist for years. I was in sixth form when I realised my version of “as opposed to” wasn’t widely shared. I thought it was “as a pose to”, which in my head implied some kind of challenge to an existing idea, like posing a question.

Confirming the general public's fascination with linguistics, there are 1108 comments so far.

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Matched guise among the tombstones

Lawrence Block's 1992 novel A Walk Among the Tombstones has been made into a recently-released movie. I haven't seen the movie, but in the book, the character TJ carries out what sociolinguists would call a "matched guise experiment".  This is a technique for measuring language attitudes by having the same speaker read a passage in two different ways, and asking hearers a series of questions about the speaker's intelligence, honesty, or whatever.

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Accent elimination class

In a better world, the speakers of the "standard" variety would take a prejudice elimination class instead.

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One's deceased father grind

Reader Crystal's friend recently came across the following message which they believe was machine translated from Chinese:  "I'm a junior, ready to one's deceased father grind".

Ready to WHAT?

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Baby blues

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