Archive for June, 2015

Word aversion science

Paul Thibodeau et al., "An Exploratory Investigation of Word Aversion", COGSCI 2014:

Why do people self-report an aversion to words like "moist"? The present study represents an initial scientific exploration into the phenomenon of word aversion by investigating its prevalence and cause. We find that as many as 20% of the population equates hearing the word "moist" to the sound of fingernails scratching a chalkboard. This population often speculates that phonological properties of the word are the cause of their displeasure. One tantalizing possibility is that words like "moist" are aversive because speaking them engages facial muscles that correspond to expressions of disgust. However, three experiments suggest that semantic features of the word – namely, associations with disgusting bodily functions – underlie peoples' unpleasant experience. This finding broadens our understanding of language and contributes to a growing literature on the cognitive processes relating to highly valenced and arousing words.

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Reading for pleasure at a young age

I'm often amazed (and pleased) at how children already in elementary school are reading big books for fun.  They can curl up for hours with the Harry Potter novels and read them all by the time they enter middle school, and while in middle school they finish off more challenging fantasy works like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  They become deeply absorbed in reading these thick volumes, and regard the experience as pure delight.

My siblings and I had all read Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson by the time we entered junior high school, and I still remember the intense enjoyment I derived from reading Don Quixote as a sophomore in high school (neglecting to do my regular class assignments while preoccupied with Cervantes' huge tome for a couple of weeks).

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NYC rhoticity

"Can you spot wealthy New Yorkers by their 'R" sounds?", Improbable Blog 6/19/2015:

Is it possible to gauge how wealthy a New Yorker might be just by the way they pronounce their /r/ s? A new paper in the Journal of English Linguistics investigates whether variations of rhoticity [viz. the prevalence, or lack of, the /r/ sound in speech] in wedding-consultants' speech could be correlated with the amount of money a bride states she is willing to spend on her wedding dress. That is to say, the amount of money she has at her disposal, used as a measure of her (perceived) social status. The paper, in the Journal of English Linguistics, June 2015, 43: 118-142, can be downloaded here for US$30: Maeve Eberhardt & Corinne Downs, "'(r) You Saying Yes to the Dress?' Rhoticity on a Bridal Reality Television Show", Journal of English Linguistics 2015.

Or you can deprive Sage Publications of their  $30, and get a report about the same research for free in an earlier version: Maeve Eberhardt & Corinne Downs, "A Department Store Study for the 21st Century: /r/ vocalization on TLC's Say Yes to the Dress", NWAV 2013.

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Punctuating Happiness

Today at the National Archives: "Punctuating Happiness":

In advance of its traditional Fourth of July celebration, the National Archives, in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Study, will host a free conference on the Declaration of Independence titled "Punctuating Happiness" […]

Inspired by the work of Danielle Allen, […] the conference will explore the National Archives' work in preserving the original Declaration of Independence, the diversity of the document's textual tradition, how this diversity affects historical research, and how it is taught in schools. […]

Ms. Allen's research raises questions about the transcription of the Declaration taken from the 1823 Stone engraving. Specifically, that the Stone engraving uses a period after "pursuit of happiness," whereas the 1776 manuscripts by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Secretary for the Continental Congress Charles Thomson use semicolons or commas. She argues that the question of whether a period belongs there affects whether we read a sentence with three self-evident truths, or with five. And it affects whether we take the self-evident truths to concern primarily individual rights or rather to concern the positive value of government as a tool for securing individual rights.

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Disastrous ambiguity

Talking of the possibly impending Grexit, what an unfortunate sentence The Economist chose to conclude its leader article on the ongoing Greek monetary crisis:

This marriage is not worth saving at any price.

A quirk of English syntax and semantics makes this radically ambiguous.

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Multilingualism: personal and national

I just returned from an excellent conference on multilingualism in China that was held at Göttingen, Germany:

Language Diversity in the Sinophone World: Policies, effects, and tradition

International Symposium
Göttingen University
11 – 13 June 2015

So the idea of there being more than one language in a country, or of a single person freely speaking more than one language, is fresh in my mind.

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Grexicography

Today is another stage in the Grexit crisis — the Greek banking system may collapse, creating a Graccident that pushes the situation over the Gredge without any party having actually made a decision. Then again, the relevant ministries and committees may find a way to kick the can down the road again — another Grextension — thereby keeping the crisis in Grimbo to the point of Grexhaustion and beyond.

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Take off that broccoli!

From Stephen Dodson:

It took me a minute to parse this headline correctly: 
Bill Pennington, "'Like Putting on Broccoli,' or Cauliflower, and Results Are Bumpy", NYT 6/20/2015.

 

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Lift Trappings: a locally-emergent collocation?

One of the benefits of travel is exposure to new ways of expressing things. Sometimes it's different metaphors — the French connect parallel-parking slots and appointment times with battlements, for example — but often it's just apparently-arbitrary differences in word choices.

On Thursday and Friday I was in London, and was therefore reminded of familiar trans-Atlantic vocabulary differences like lift vs. elevator. But on this visit, I noticed a collocational difference — perhaps an emergent one — that I hadn't seen before. One of the elevators that I rode in had a sign on the wall offering advice about what to do in case of a "lift trapping incident".

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Sort of rubblish

Back in 2009, somebody (unfortunately I forget who it was) sent me this photograph of a sign in Beijing:

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Secret Dracula Star

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Polysyllabic characters revisited

In "'Double Happiness': symbol of Confucianism as a religion"  (6/8/15), we had a vigorous discussion over how to pronounce this character:  囍 ("double happiness").  Some participants and sources said that it should be pronounced the same as 喜 ("happy; joyful"), i.e., xǐ, while others held that it is pronounced with two syllables as shuāngxǐ.

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Vigilance — Cleanliness

The trash receptacles on Paris streets consist of suspended transparent plastic bags, printed with two words in large black letters: VIGILANCE (= "vigilance") on top, and PROPRETÉ (= "cleanliness") underneath.

The bags used to be green, but are now clear — and the container of curved metal spokes is new — but the VIGILANCE / CLEANLINESS message has been there for while. And to the extent that I noticed it, I interpreted this motto as a quaint cultural survival, some long-ago authority figure wagging a monitory textual forefinger at the prospect of litter.

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