Archive for February, 2015


From Coby Lubliner:

A few years ago, when I heard someone introduced on the radio as a "domestic-violence advocate," I assumed that it was a slip-up associated with the informality of radio, and what was meant was something like an advocate for victims of domestic violence, which was what they turned out to be.

But this morning, in an article by the esteemed (and very literate) literary critic Laura Miller ("'50 Shades': Not actually the end of civilization as we know it, guys", Slate 2/12/2015), I read the following:

In the U.K., an advocate of domestic violence argued that the books are a veritable “instruction manual for an abusive individual to sexually torture a vulnerable young woman.”

I have not seen any dictionary entry showing "advocate of" meaning the opposite of what seems to mean. Are you familiar with this usage?

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Getting your book depublished

Two comments on the strange business of how we academics work for almost nothing doing our academic writing, and even do our own typesetting, and get our colleagues to do unpaid editing and quality reviewing of what we have written, so that publishers who have contributed almost no value added can then charge you readers huge sums of money for looking at the finished product. First, Stefan Müller in the preface to a new book he has just published in draft through the open-access organization Language Science Press (the emphasis in this quote is mine):

I started to work on my dissertation in 1994 and defended it in 1997. During the whole time the manuscript was available on my web page. After the defense I had to look for a publisher. I was quite happy to be accepted in the series Linguistische Arbeiten by Niemeyer, but at the same time I was shocked about the price, which was 186,00 DM for a paper back book that was written and typeset by me without any help by the publisher (twenty times the price of a paperback novel). This basically meant that my book was depublished: until 1998 it was available from my web page and after this it was available in libraries only.

The other comment you can see in its original habitat on Twitter at "Shit Academics Say":

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Colorado cuisine inspiration

I'm in Paris for a few days, and walking a few hundred meters to dinner with friends last night I happened to pass a couple of indications of the influence of American culture on vernacular food in France. One was a small sandwich shop offering "hod dogs", and another was this illuminated sign on the side of a bus-stop shelter:

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The number of fucks you need to not give

Several people have directed my attention to Stuart Cantrill, "A quantitative analysis of how often Nature gives a fuck", 2/8/2015. That's Nature the magazine, not Nature-the-material-world-and-its-phenomena. In graphical form:

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Speke Englysch, dammit

From John Trevisa's 1385 translation of Ranulph Higben's Polychronicon (from version here):

…by comyxtioun and mellynge firste wiþ Danes and afterward wiþ Normans, in meny thynges þe contray longage is apayred, and som vseþ straunge wlafferynge, chiterynge, harrynge, and garrynge grisbayting..

…by mixing and mingling, first with Danes and afterwards with Normans, in many cases the country's language is impaired, and some use strange stammering, chattering, snarling, and grating gnashing of teeth.

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Claire Bowern on male lactation

Claire Bowern, whom I know best for her work on historical linguistics and Australian languages, turned up recently as the author of an Op-Ed at Talking Points Memo, "The Supreme Court Says Men Lactate, Too. So When Can They Start Breastfeeding?", 2/9/2015:

The Supreme Court has now established that it isn't sex discrimination to fire a woman because of breastfeeding, in part because men can lactate, too. Critics have met the ruling with disbelief, indignation and dismay.

I disagree. I think it's great news. Finally, we have federal legal recognition that men can take part in this fundamental part of newborn care. At times the present Supreme Court has seemed retrograde and unconcerned with reproductive rights (Hobby Lobby, anyone?), but in this case the Justices have forged ahead, outpacing even biology and culture. I haven't seen too many men in lactation classes (maybe they're such naturals, they don't need the classes) or publicly chestfeeding their kids, and the Daily Mail ran a story about the now sadly defunct "Project Breastfeeding"'s campaign to get more dads involved. Their slogan was "If I could, I would"— and now you can!

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Sandwiched in an escalator

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More Chinese characters in nature

Chips Mackinolty sent in this intriguing photograph from Peter Cooke Darwin's tumblr, Life Is A Carnivore:

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Can 50,000 Wikipedia edits be wrong?

Or alternatively, were 50,000 Wikipedia word choices actually errors to start with? Andrew McMillen, "Meet the Ultimate WikiGnome: One Man’s Quest to Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake", Medium 2/3/2015:

On a Friday in July 2012, two employees of the Wikimedia Foundation gave a talk at Wikimania, their organization’s annual conference. Maryana Pinchuk and Steven Walling addressed a packed room as they answered a question that has likely popped into the minds of even the most casual users of Wikipedia: who the hell edits the site, and why do they do it?  

Pinchuk and Walling conducted hundreds of interviews to find out. They learned that many serious contributors have an independent streak and thrive off the opportunity to work on any topic they like. Other prolific editors highlight the encyclopedia’s huge global audience or say they derive satisfaction from feeling that their work is of use to someone, no matter how arcane their interests. Then Walling lands on a slide entitled, ‘perfectionism.’ The bespectacled young man pauses, frowning.  

“I feel sometimes that this motivation feels a little bit fuzzy, or a little bit negative in some ways… Like, one of my favorite Wikipedians of all time is this user called Giraffedata,” he says. “He has, like, 15,000 edits, and he’s done almost nothing except fix the incorrect use of ‘comprised of’ in articles.”

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This never occurred to me…

Email from CGY.:

I recently read a BBC article detailing some of your work into the uses of 'uh' and 'um' in germanic languages: Ari Daniel Shapiro, "Why we are saying "uh" less and 'um' more", PRI's The World, BBC News 2/7/2014.

I am not a linguist of any sort however I thought you may find some interest in my personal experience. I am a 20 year old English speaking women and I use 'um' almost exclusively as predicted by your research. I am aware that I use 'um' in almost all social situations as I find using 'uh' sounds too sexual. Likewise if I am flirting with someone I find myself using 'uh' almost exclusively.

I thought that this might be the case for others and possibly help provide some explanation for the pattern. Possibly the rise in usage is proportional to the increase in exposure to pornographic material?

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A couple of days ago, I mentioned ("Sarah Koenig", 2/5/2015) that David Talkin was releasing a new pitch tracking program called REAPER (available from github at the link). After a few minor improvements in documentation, it's ready for the general public.

The reaper program uses the EpochTracker class to simultaneously estimate the location of voiced-speech "epochs" or glottal closure instants (GCI), voicing state (voiced or unvoiced) and fundamental frequency (F0 or "pitch"). We define the local (instantaneous) F0 as the inverse of the time between successive GCI.

After trying it out, I can recommend it whole-heartedly — it's robust and accurate and fast. It's my new standard pitch tracker.

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Most people seem to call it "homophonia" (25,000 ghits), but I'm not even sure what that means:   "Homophonia" (7/31/14).

Following this cartoon in Magic Coffee Hair (8/16/12) and Gretchen McCulloch's article, "What's the Difference Between Homophonia, Homophobia, and Homophonophobia?" (8/1/14) in Lexicon Valley, I'll go with homophonophobia (4,310 ghits), despite the fact that it is a forbidding mouthful, as being a more accurate term for what I want to describe:  an extreme, irrational fear of or aversion to words that sound alike.  In this post, we will discuss homophonophobia, particularly as it relates to Japanese, but also touching upon Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese manifestations of this type of anxiety disorder.

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Vocal creak and fry, exemplified

There are several different sorts of things involved on the perceptual side of the phenomena that people call "vocal fry" and (less often but more appropriately) "vocal creak".

One perceptual issue is the auditory equivalent of the visual "flicker fusion threshold". If regular impulse-like oscillations in air pressure are fast enough, we hear them as a tone; as they get slower and slower, we can increasingly separate the individual pressure pulses as independent events. The threshold at which the pulses fuse into a tonal percept is called "auditory flutter fusion" or sometimes "auditory flicker fusion". The transition between separation and fusion is a gradual one, and in the boundary region, we can hear the pattern in both ways, sometimes as what is called a "creak" sound, because it sounds like the creaking of a sticky hinge.

The other issue is the perceptual effect of pressure oscillations that are irregular as well as relatively low in frequency. Large amounts of random local variation in period sound like the sound of frying food, as bubbles of steam randomly form and pop here and there.

Both creak and fry can happen in human speech vocal-cord oscillation. But what people generally call "vocal fry" is actually more often mostly "vocal creak".

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