Archive for April, 2016

Prolific code-switching in Vietnamese

Michael Rank writes:

I'm intrigued by a sign in the window of a Vietnamese restaurant in Shoreditch, ultra-hipster area of east London which also has lots of inexpensive, unpretentious (mainly) Vietnamese restaurants. I don't know any Vietnamese, I assume Can Tuyen (please forgive lack of diacritics) means "wanted" or "job available" or similar and that there are perfectly good words for waiter/waitress in Vietnamese, so why are these two words in English? It's a bit like another (Chinese) London restaurant sign that I mentioned in this post:

"No word for 'serve' in Chinese? " (3/1/15)

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Singular They of the day

Today's Questionable Content:

I think we've reached the point where no one who reads this web comic regularly would even notice. For more on those who would, see "Linguistic Reaction at the New Yorker", 3/8/2016.


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Misnegations, or scribal errors?

JVB wrote to point out that there's apparently an extra negation in a quotation presented in a current New York Time book review (Janet Maslin, "‘Maestra,’ a Novel of Sex, Murder and Shopping', 4/12/2016, emphasis added):

“Maestra” is the work of L. S. Hilton, who is otherwise the British historian Lisa Hilton, but wanted to give voice to her inner babe. Ms. Hilton has talked up the independence and sexual freedom of her main character, Judith Rashleigh. But hold the phone: “Maestra” is terribly confused about what constitutes Judith’s idea of a good time. Sometimes she savors her bravado and channels James Bond. More often, she is a sad, status-seeking, increasingly homicidal opportunist/prostitute. “I’ve never met the girl who wasn’t prepared to hawk it when there wasn’t a bona fide billionaire in the room,” Judith confides.

So this looks like another addition to our long list of misnegation examples, "No post too obscure to escape notice". The usual factors are there: modality, multiple negation, and (at least implicitly) a scalar predicate.

But the unusual thing about this example is that the extra negation isn't there in the book to which the quotation is attributed.

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Ask Language Log: Sticked/Stuck a landing?

From Charlie Clingen:

To stick a landing gone viral since last Friday. But where does it come from and which is right:   "SpaceX finally stuck a sea landing Friday, when the company's first-stage booster glided" (from an online news item) or "SpaceX finally sticked a sea landing Friday…"?

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The "split verb rule": a fortiori nonsense

John McIntyre has identified the "split verb rule" as "The Dumbest Rule in the AP Stylebook" (You Don't Say, 4/9/2016):

[A]s you look through Garner, Fowler, MWDEU, and language authorities whom you reckon by the dozens on the subject of the split infinitive, you will not find them treating what the AP Stylebook imagines is a problem with splitting a compound verb. That is because placing an adverb between the auxiliary verb and main verb is perfectly idiomatic English, and has been so for half a dozen centuries and more. The authorities do not identify a problem there. If the split infinitive bugaboo is nonsense, than the split compound bugaboo is a fortiori nonsense. John Bremner dismisses it in Words on Words: “Those who would ban splitting a compound verb are even more antediluvian than antisplitinfinitive troglodytes.”

Since many reporters habitually observe this imaginary rule, I have to conclude that it is a linguistic artifice perpetrated by journalism schools, with the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook supplying aid and comfort.

It is time, past time, for this stylebook entry to go to a crossroads and lie down.

In my opinion, John is being unfair to troglodytes here: the "split verb rule", like the prejudices against sentence-initial conjunctions and singular they, is a relatively recent pop-prescriptivist invention, not an attempt to preserve an ancient principle.

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Correction of the year

…and maybe of all time, at least in quantitative terms. In the New York Times Magazine, 4/10/2016:

An article on March 20 about wave piloting in the Marshall Islands misstated the number of possible paths that could be navigated without instruments among the 34 islands and atolls of the Marshall Islands. It is 561, not a trillion trillion.

A trillion trillion is presumably 1024, and 561 is 5.61 x 102, so the original number was off by a factor of about 1.78 x 1022, which is more than a thousand times greater than the estimated number of grains of sand in all the beaches and deserts of planet earth.

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Candidate for President

ICYMI, the median presidential candidate TV ad:

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"Movie stars broken down by age and sex"

Here's some quick follow-up to "Data journalism and film dialogue" — Peter Weinberger sent a link to Thomas Lumley's blog post, "Movie stars broken down by age and sex", StatsChat 4/9/2016, and commented "I've always thought of that as their fate, but no, it's some graphs".


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Data journalism and film dialogue

Hannah Anderson and Matt Daniels, "Film Dialogue from 2,000 screenplays, Broken Down by Gender and Age", A Polygraph Joint 2016:

Lately, Hollywood has been taking so much shit for rampant sexism and racism. The prevailing theme: white men dominate movie roles.

But it’s all rhetoric and no data, which gets us nowhere in terms of having an informed discussion. How many movies are actually about men? What changes by genre, era, or box-office revenue? What circumstances generate more diversity?

To begin answering these questions, we Googled our way to 8,000 screenplays and matched each character’s lines to an actor. From there, we compiled the number of lines for male and female characters across roughly 2,000 films, arguably the largest undertaking of script analysis, ever.

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"Either… or…"

The following photographs come from an article on citizen protests in Lanzhou and Beijing openly demanding governmental transparency on public officials' personal assets (I am no longer able to access the article online).

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"Please enter your cock after urinating"

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Some phonetic dimensions of speech style

My posts have been thin recently, mostly because over the past ten days or so I've been involved in the preparation and submission of five conference papers, on top of my usual commitments to teaching and meetings and visitors. Nobody's fault but mine, of course. Anyhow, this gives me some raw material that I'll try to present in a way that's comprehensible and interesting to non-specialists.

One of the papers, with Neville Ryant as first author, was an attempt to take advantage of a large collection of audiobook recordings to explore some dimensions of speaking style. The paper is still under review, so I'll wait to post a copy until its fate is decided — but there are some interesting ideas and suggestive results that I can share. And to motivate you to read the somewhat wonkish explanation that follows, I'll start off with a picture:

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I'm learning… something?

Google Translate renders "Tanulok Magyarul" as "I'm learning English":

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