Archive for March, 2016

Crowdsourcing Language Revitalization

We often hear of projects for revitalizing or documenting endangered languages obtaining grants, but the Tahltan Language Conservation Initiative folks have a new approach: crowdsourcing. Here is their appeal at Indiegogo, better known as a way of funding technology projects. The rewards that contributors can obtain are materials produced by the project.

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 4

Previous posts in the series:

As mentioned before, the following post is not about a sword or other type of weapon per se, but in terms of its ancient Eurasian outlook, it arguably belongs in the series:

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Hyper-Confucian government

This picture shows the main entrance to a public agency office in Qufu, home town of China's greatest philosopher of government, Confucius.

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Poetic Vienna

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Banned through mistranslation

Notice on the New York MTR:

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British headlinese: Grammar lesson

From Eric Smith:

"Police appeal after teenage girls kissed and touched in alleged bus incident", Isle of Wight County Press, 3/24/2016.

In today's enlightened society, why shouldn't teenage girls kiss and touch?

I think this illustrates that, in a British headline

* if a verb form is ambiguous as between a preterite tense and a past participle, the past participle is probably what is meant;

* if the syntax is ambiguous as between a standard sentence and an abbreviated sentence, the abbreviated sentence is probably what is meant.

As a secondary point, I suspect that "appeal" is intended as a noun, so that "Police appeal" is a nominal and not a clause.

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Accents, dialects, topolects, and languages — United Kingdom, Australia, and China

Normally I wouldn't want to call attention to a program as vapid as the one transcribed in the "quasi-blog" post linked to below, but the intelligent, critical comments that are interspersed by the blogger make it an instructive exercise after all.

"An interview about Chinese accents:  How cross-cultural differences led to a conversation conducted totally at cross-purposes" (3/23/16)

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Cymascope: a new form of pseudoscience?

I have just learned of what is either a remarkable development with implications in many fields or, more likely, a new form of pseudoscience. It is a device called the Cymascope. Information about it may be had at the Cymascope web site. The Cymascope is a device for visualizing sound by causing a membrane to vibrate and shining lights on the membrane. It is claimed that this new method of visualizing sound has already led to marvelous new insights in fields ranging from Astrophysics and Biology to Egyptology and Musicology.

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An Interesting Press Release

This press release ("At the Flick of a Switch"), from the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, is apparently for real. Here's a direct quote:

Since the page was taken down a few hours after I posted this, the content can be found here. This is exactly what was on the Judiciary Committee website earlier, shorn of the header and footer and sidebars giving lot of juicy Judiciary Committee links.

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Theory of Mind

In yesterday's Questionable Content, the "combat AI" Bubbles rejects the gift of a collapsible cardigan. The first couple of panels:

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Dictional levels for "again" in Chinese

This is a follow-up to "Again and again " (3/20/16), in which we looked at two different Mandarin words for "again", yòu 又 and zài 再, both of which are very common in the language, but which are used in different ways.

A commenter, Nathan, asked:

So if yòu 又 is associated more with the past and unwanted things, and zài 再 more with the future and wanted things, how do you say something future and unwanted –- "Never do that again!"?

I thought that was a good question, so I asked a number of my students and colleagues who are native speakers how they would say it, and was astonished at the wild variety of answers I received.

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It's about time

Biologists are figuring out what many other fields learned decades ago:

See Amy Harmon, "Handful of Biologists Went Rogue and Published Directly to Internet", NYT 3/15/2016. Also see "Reviewer Two must die".

Academic journals are on their way to playing the same role in the life of science and engineering that caps and gowns do: a quaint cultural relic that plays a role in celebratory rituals, but has nothing to do with the day-to-day process of exploration, discovery and communication.

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Stigmatized varieties of Gaelic

St. Patrick's Day was last Thursday, but this afternoon I saw someone wandering around in a sparkly green top hat.  In that spirit, I offer a post about perhaps-fictional attitudes towards a variety of Scottish Gaelic.

The content comes from Ken MacLeod's novella The Human Front, which the publisher's blurb calls "a comedic and biting commentary on capitalism and an exploration of technological singularity in a posthuman civilization". We learn that "the story follows John Matheson, an idealistic teenage Scottish guerilla warrior who must change his tactics and alliances with the arrival of an alien species". The protagonist tells us that

My mother, Morag, was a Glaswegian of Highland extraction, who had met and married my father after the end of the Second World War and before the beginning of the Third. She, somewhat contrarily, taught herself the Gaelic and used it in all her dealings with the locals, though they always thought her dialect and her accent stuck-up and affected. The thought of her speaking a pure and correct Gaelic in a Glasgow accent is amusing; her neighbours' attitude towards her well-meant efforts less so, being an example of the the characteristic Highland inferiority complex so often mistaken for class or national consciousness. The Lewis accent itself is one of the ugliest under heaven, a perpetual weary resentful whine — the Scottish equivalent of Cockney — and the dialect thickly corrupted with English words Gaelicized by the simple expedient of mispronouncing them in the aforementioned accent.

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