## Bird language

From an anonymous correspondent:

I had wanted to ask you about niǎoyǔ 鸟语 ("bird language") after listening to an interview with Garry Kasparov. During the interview, he and the interviewer, the economist Tyler Cowen, get into a fairly abtruse discussion of chess. I'll paste the most relevant part of the transcript:

KASPAROV: Now you move back to these things, chess computers, and there’s certain things that people should realize. I hate talking about these things. We say in Russia it’s using a “bird language,” because you’re asking me questions and I’m not sure that — 99 percent of our listeners — they understand exactly what we are talking about.

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## Xdisciplinary

An anonymous correspondent reaches out (cf. "May I ask you a question?" [6/12/17]):

So, from one jargonista to another: here’s a frustrating set of related neologisms, again from my increasingly confused and pathetic campus administration:

We’ve gone from “interdisiplinary” and “crossdisciplinary” to “multidisciplinary”, but the new buzzword on our campus is “transdisciplinary” (not sure if hyphens are used in some cases). Our entire campus is trying to recluster itself around 5 key “Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence”, of all things.

Perhaps not worth analyzing, but a deplorable sign of the times, when academic institutions are focused on “branding”.

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## Simplified characters for Hong Kong? No thanks!

On July 1, the government is sponsoring a spectacular fireworks display that will light up the sky over Victoria Harbor to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British colonial control to the People's Republic of China.  Trouble is, the show will begin with the words "China" and "Hong Kong", but the form in which they will be written has made local residents unhappy:

"Hong Kong fireworks display for 20th handover anniversary sparks controversy over use of simplified Chinese characters:  City’s most expensive fireworks event since 1997 to run 23 minutes over Victoria Harbour at cost of HK\$12 million" (Jane Li, SCMP, 6/12/17)

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## David Bonderman no longer talking for Uber

J.P. Mangalindan, "LEAKED AUDIO: Uber's all-hands meeting had some uncomfortable moments", 6/13/2017:

Uber held an all-hands meeting on Tuesday, during which the board announced that CEO Travis Kalanick would take a leave of absence. Furthermore, management shared recommendations from the law firm Covington & Burling on how the embattled ride-hailing startup can fix its culture after complaints of sexual harassment. […]

While speaking, Huffington pointed out that Uber was adding a woman to its board, Wan Ling Martello.

“There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” she said around six minutes into the recording.

“Actually what it shows is it’s much likely to be more talking,” Uber board member David Bonderman said.

“Oh. Come on, David,” Huffington responded.

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## How swift we misoverestimate

How swift we forget echoes in my head as a familiar cliché, a precomposed adaptable drop-in phrase rather like a snowclone but without customizable parts. I thought it might even be a quotation from some famous source. When I happened to Google-search it today, I was expecting to see millions of hits. Instead there was exactly one, in an utterly obscure short comment on the HeroClix discussion forum. This astonished me. I figured all the millions of others must correct swift to its adverb form swiftly. So I repeated the search on How swiftly we forget. And I was astonished again. Just 26 hits, with some repetitions and duplicates so similar that Google didn't want to show them. Only 70 hits even if you force the display of the duplicates. Given the size of the web today, that should be regarded as approximately zero.

I mention this only because it reminds me that while we all have vague impressions of how often we hear or read something, vast numbers of those impressions are probably wrong (especially when we imagine we have been hearing something more often recently). And it seems to me that this must have some sort of relevance for the cognitive scientists who believe language learning is based on subliminal perceptions of the frequency of encountered word sequences. Though my feeling that it must have some sort of relevance is probably wrong too. It is a mysterious business, language. (Just ignore me. I'm merely ruminating in public. I shouldn't. I'm just wasting your time. Please go on with whatever you were doing.)

## From "reach out" to "outreach"

In response to "May I ask you a question?" (6/12/17), we've been having an energetic discussion about the origins and meaning of the expression "reach out", culminating (as of this moment) in Nick Kaldis' good question:

This topic causes an interesting related neologism to come to mind: when did “outreach” come into currency? Our campus has, for instance, a “Community Outreach” office.

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## (Not) not too crazy

Tom Recht sent in a link to a story in N.Y. Magazine with the headline "Trump is not too crazy to fire the special prosecutor". His accompanying note suggested that

…the intended but not quite computable meaning is "it isn't the case that Trump isn't crazy enough to fire the special prosecutor".

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## The hot potato of interpretive responsibility

Below is a guest post by Elisabeth Camp.

Mark posted part of a particularly linguistically juicy exchange from James Comey’s recent Senate testimony, in which Senator Risch “drilled down” on the “exact words” attributed by Comey to Trump, noting that Trump merely expressed his “hope” that Comey could “can see [his] way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Risch then went on to suggest, without saying, that speakers can only be held legally accountable for what they explicitly threaten or claim, and not for mere expressions of hope:

Risch: He said, ‘I hope’. Now, like me, you probably did hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases, charging people with criminal offenses and, of course, you have knowledge of the thousands of cases out there where people have been charged. Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?

Comey: I don’t know well enough to answer. And the reason I keep saying ‘his words’ is I took it as a direction.

In a follow-up post, Mark linked to a discussion of a 1995 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, which though not a criminal statute, held that the mere statement of an employer’s “hopes” can indeed have a “chilling effect” and “interfere with [an employee’s] exercise of rights.” But there are further grounds for challenge as well, including workplace law on sexual harassment.

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## May I ask you a question?

Lately my more formal, stiff students (mostly undergrads) have been using the expression "reach out to you" when they want to ask me a question.  I also notice that I'm receiving random inquiries from people I don't know who approach me with this opening.

There's definitely a surge of "reaching out".  Two or three years ago, I only received messages with that beginning rarely, almost never, but now I get at least one a week.

Does anyone know when this way of couching a question started to become popular?  Any idea of the context in which it began to be used so routinely?

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## Computational linguistics in three acts

Towards the end of April, I gave a short presentation at the Penn Science Café  in a session on "The past, present, and future of AI". I mentioned this in a comment on an xkcd cartoon in "Machine Learning", 5/17/2017, where I also reproduced my opening Science Café slide:

Over the weekend, Fernando Pereira posted a wonderful account of these three eras, with some thoughts about the nature of the underlying problems and possible directions for the future: "A (computational) linguistic farce in three acts", Earning My Turns 6/10/2017.

## Sentiment analysis disappointment

A Quinnipiac Poll released on May 10 asked respondents "What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump?"  46 words were used by 5 or more respondents. The full list, with the number of responses for each word, is here — the top 15 words were:

idiot         39
incompetent   31
liar          30
unqualified   25
president     22
strong        21
ignorant      16
egotistical   15
asshole       13
stupid        13
arrogant      12
trying        12
bully         11

For other reasons, I've recently been gathering word-linked information about features like frequency, concreteness, positive vs. negative valence, etc. So I thought it would be interesting to look at the (obviously bimodal) distribution of positivity found in this list, and perhaps the distributions of some more subtle properties as well.

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## Solo

Today's SMBC:

Mouseover title: "Dream big, guys."

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