Archive for July, 2017

Google is scary good

Before I finish typing "red", Google is already suggesting "red herring", which is what I was looking for.

When I've barely begun to type "Philadelphia" or "Seattle" and only one "Walla", Google is already suggesting ""Philadelphia weather", "Seattle weather" and "Walla Walla weather", which is what I was looking for in each case.

If I want to check in on American Airlines, all I have to type is "ame", and — voilà! — there it is!

I was trying to think of a certain kind of Japanese tomb.  I typed in "Japanese tombs" and, remembering that these tombs resemble a keyhole, I added "k", and up popped "japanese keyhole tombs".

I do this kind of search hundreds of times every day, and I'm infinitely grateful to Google for enabling them and making them seem (on my end) so effortless.

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Annals of singular their

"Officials: Flight in Vegas delayed by naked passenger", Washington Post (AP) 730/2017:

Officials say a Spirit Airlines flight leaving Las Vegas was briefly delayed after a passenger removed all their clothes while boarding and approached a flight attendant.

McCarran International Airport says police and medical responders took the passenger for observation.

Police Lt. Carlos Hank said the passenger received treatment after the medical episode.

 

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"Paranoiac"

Heather Murphy ("Scaramucci Did Not Invent the Word 'Paranoiac'", NYT 7/28/2017) quotes some tweets in which paranoiac "faced charges of being not being real" [sic], and comes to its defense with a link to a very interesting paper about a use of the word (but in Russian!) in 1927 — J. Kesselring, "Vladimir Mikhailovic Bekhterev (1857–1927): Strange Circumstances Surrounding the Death of the Great Russian Neurologist", European Neurology 2011.

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Learning to write Chinese characters

Following on yesterday's post ("The naturalness of emerging digraphia" [7/28/17]), Alex Wang tells me, "parents and supplementary educators often post photos like these on their WeChat moments".  Here's an example of one that he sent along:

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The naturalness of emerging digraphia

From David Moser:

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Taking @*#$%! from the WH Communications Director

Another milestone in the history of NYT editorial policy: Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, "Anthony Scaramucci's Uncensored Rant: Foul Words and Threats to Have Priebus Fired", 7/27/2017:

"Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac," he said. […]

"I'm not Steve Bannon. I'm not trying to suck my own cock," he said.

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How rapidly and radically can a language evolve?

[This is a guest post by Alex Wang, a long-term resident of Shenzhen, China]

I was wondering if there have been any studies on how readily a language can absorb new elements and features.

Yesterday at the Pacific Coffee shop near where I live, by chance I struck up a conversation with a professor who teaches economics at the local Shenzhen University.  He heard me speaking with my younger son in English and, when I went to attend my older son, he struck up a conversation with my younger son.  I suppose he was curious about how my younger son's oral English skills were so "good", since he has a daughter who is around the same age as my older boy.  It would seem many locals want an English speaking friend for their children so as to have an environment to practice.

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Han

Pearls before Swine for 7/23/2017:

A couple of Generation Z language consultants confirm the accuracy of the translations. Or as one of them put it, "Haha right".

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Chinese Synesthesia

Xiaoyan (Coco) Li, a native Chinese speaker with synesthesia (self identified, never formally tested), happened to come across this Language Log post:

"Synesthesia and Chinese characters" (3/9/17)

She wrote to me saying that she experiences some of what Leo Fransella (quoted in the earlier post) referred to as "'non-trivial' Chinese synaesthesia".  For him "trivial" Chinese synesthesia is associated with or stimulated by the letters of the Pinyin used to spell Chinese words, not from the characters used to write them.

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English Verb-Particle Constructions

Lately I've been thinking about "optionality" as it relates to syntactic alternations. (In)famous cases include complementizer deletion ("I know that he is here" vs. "I know he is here") or embedded V2 in Scandinavian. For now let's consider the English verb-particle construction. The relative order of the particle and the object is "optional" in cases such as the following:

1a) "John picked up the book"
1b) "John picked the book up"

Either order is usually acceptable (with the exception of pronoun objects — although those too become acceptable under a focus reading…)

1c) "John put it back"
1d) *"John put back it"

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Gender, conversation, and significance

As I mentioned last month ("My summer", 6/22/2017), I'm spending six weeks in Pittsburgh at the at the 2017 Jelinek Summer Workshop on Speech and Language Technology (JSALT) , as part of a group whose theme is "Enhancement and Analysis of Conversational Speech".

One of the things that I've been exploring is simple models of who talks when — a sort of Biggish Data reprise of Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson "A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation", Language 1974. A simple place to start is just the distribution of speech segment durations. And my first explorations of this first issue turned up a case that's relevant to yesterday's discussion of "significance".

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Real life

Today's SMBC:

For a more complex but pointed analogy, see "The Pirahã and us", 10/6/2007.

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Comrades, "hike up your skirts for a hard shag"

President Xi Jinping is fond of calling on the Chinese people to "roll up our sleeves and work hard" ( qǐ xiùzǐ jiāyóu gàn 撸起袖子加油干 / 擼起袖子加油幹).  No sooner had Xi uttered this stirring pronouncement in a nationwide address at the turn of the year (2016-17) than it became a viral meme (here and here) that has inspired countless signs, songs, and dances; enactment; and also this one, presumably in a poorly-heated environment

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