Archive for September, 2016


I don't watch broadcast TV a lot, but over the past couple of days I've experienced more than four hours of live television — which turned out to be a surprisingly positive experience. Sunday afternoon I watched the Philadelphia Eagles play the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Monday evening I watched the first presidential debate.

My expectations for both events were low. I agreed with most Philadelphians in hoping that the Eagles and their rookie quarterback Carson Wentz could avoid embarrassing themselves, and maybe keep it close before losing. And I reckoned that the debate would be a sort of political duel of pro wrestling promos, maybe mixed with some reality-television tropes, where dominance theater would dominate.

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Trump's debate denials

As Geoff Pullum noted, in last night's presidential debate, many of Trump's interruptions of Clinton (or shall we say his "manterruptions") involved on-the-fly denials of what Clinton was saying. Geoff describes one such denial: "'Not!' he snapped at one point, like a 9-year-old, during one of her utterances."

Let's go to the transcript:

CLINTON: Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts. The facts are — I did say I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated…


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Debate words

Geoff quoted Vox on Donald Trump's interruptions during last night's debate, and discussed the extraordinary childishness of some of those interruptions. I don't have much time this morning, so I'll just add a few words about words.

Trump used 35% more wordforms than Clinton did — 8,866 to 6,580, by my trivial debate-analysis program's count based on the Washington Post's transcript. And as expected based on past performances, Trump repeated himself a lot — a type-token plot shows that Clinton actually used a larger number of distinct words (1,333 to Trump's 1,253), despite using significantly fewer word tokens:

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Sex, lies, and childishness; and insomnia

It's a bit early for Language Log to do any analysis of the presidential debate last night. Where I live, it came on after 2 a.m., and where Mark lives it is still only 5:15 a.m. right now. But Vox has already analysed the interruption rate, a well-known index of gender in speech style. Trump interrupted Clinton exactly three times as often as she interrupted him. I think Language Log can confidently affirm that here we have convincing linguistic evidence that Trump is male and Clinton is female.

But one other thing I noticed, as I struggled to stay awake in the darkness of the middle of the night here in Edinburgh, with the bedside radio softly relaying the debate via the BBC World Service, was the astonishingly childish nature of many of Trump's interruptions.

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"Spelling" errors in Chinese

A smart and generally careful graduate student from China recently handed in an English –> Chinese translation.  In checking over his work, I noticed several mistakes, from which I select here a couple of examples.  Except in two cases, I won't point out the problems with inappropriate word choice and grammar, but will focus on a particular category of error associated with contemporary Chinese writing.

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"No telling is neither complete nor accurate"

Emily Yahr, "Read George W. Bush’s speech at the African American Museum, 13 years after signing the bill to build it", Washington Post 9/24/2016:

Our country is better and more vibrant because of their contributions and the contributions of millions of African Americans. No telling of American history is neither complete nor accurate without acknowledging them.

Full audio is here.

Daniel Deutsch sent me the link, with the comment that "Bush 43 gave a beautiful speech at the museum opening, but this seems overly negative" — referring to the "No telling … is neither complete nor accurate" phrase.

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Fraudulent number agreement

I continue to be puzzled by the fact that phishers are unable to manage simple number agreement:

Um, "there are recent update in our security features"?  And did they never learn about comma splices? "This is simply for your safety online, after your account update normal banking activities will resume."

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Lisa Feldman Barrett, "Hillary Clinton's 'Angry' Face", NYT 9/23/2016:

When Hillary Clinton participated in a televised forum on national security and military issues this month, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, tweeted that she was “angry and defensive the entire time — no smile and uncomfortable.” Mrs. Clinton, evidently undaunted by Mr. Priebus’s opinion on when she should and shouldn’t smile, tweeted back, “Actually, that’s just what taking the office of president seriously looks like.”

The implication of Mr. Priebus’s comment was a familiar one: A woman making stern-looking facial movements must be angry or upset. A man who looks the same, on the other hand, is focusing on the important matters at hand.

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Close verbal shadowing

Rhett & Link:

"They're so close they can finish each other's sentences."

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Good to know

According to my iPhone-bearing sources, iOS 10.0.2

Addresses an issue that could prevent headphone audio controls from temporarily not working

I hate it when audio controls are prevented from temporarily not working, don't you?

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Annals of Spectacularly Misleading Media

If you were scanning science-related stories in the mass media over the past 10 days or so, you saw some extraordinary news. A few examples:

"Scientists discover a ‘universal human language’".
"The hidden sound patterns that could overturn years of linguistic theory" ("In a surprising new study, researchers have uncovered powerful associations between sounds and meanings across thousands of unrelated languages").
"Global human language? Scientists find links between sound and meaning" ("A new linguistic study suggests that biology could play a role in the invention of human languages").
"In world's languages, scientists discover shared links between sound and meaning" ("Sifting through two-thirds of the world’s languages, scientists have discovered a strange pattern: Words with the same meanings in different languages often seem to share the same sounds").
"Words with same meanings in different languages often seem to share same sounds" ("After analyzing two-thirds of the languages worldwide, scientists have noticed an odd pattern. They have found that the words with same meaning in different languages often apparently have the same sounds").
"Unrelated Languages Often Use Same Sounds for Common Objects and Ideas, Research Finds".
"Researchers Find the Sounds We Build Words From Have Built-In Meanings".

The trouble is, many of these reports are complete nonsense: no one "discovered a universal human language" or "overturned years of linguistic theory" or showed that "world languages have a common ancestor" or demonstrated that "the sounds we build words from have built-in meanings". And other stories simply trumpet as news something that has been known, argued, or assumed for millennia: "biology could play a role in the invention of human language", "words with the same meaning in different languages often have the same sounds", etc.) There may be a story out there that soberly presents the actual content and significance of the research — but if so, I haven't found it.

How did this happen? It seems to be the same old sad tale. Science writers, in search of sensational headlines and lacking adequate background to read and evaluate actual scientific papers, re-wrote wildly irresponsible press releases.  And as usual, it's not clear how complicit the scientists were, but there's little evidence that they tried very hard to tone down the hoopla.

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Chinese restaurant shorthand

Yixue Yang went to the Ting Wong Restaurant 天旺大饭店 in Philadelphia's Chinatown the other day. Here's the order the waiter took down:

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Changing usages in Japanese

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

NHK reported yesterday on the recently released results of the Agency for Cultural Affairs' annual survey of the changing uses of Japanese. This year, the survey of 3500 men and women 16 and up received responses from 54%. The most interesting results reflected the impact of online and SMS language use by young people.

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