Archive for April, 2019

Corpora and the Second Amendment: "bear arms" (part 2)

Part 1 is here. An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

New URL for COFEA and COEME: https://lawcorpus.byu.edu.

In this post and the next one, I will discuss the corpus data for bear arms.

This post will focus on the data that I think is consistent (or at least arguably consistent) with the Supreme Court's interpretation of bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller, and the next one will deal with the data that I think is inconsistent with the Heller interpretation.

As I discussed in my last post, the court in Heller held that the "natural meaning" of bear arms in the late 18th century (i.e., its "ordinary meaning" (i.e., what it ordinarily meant)) was "wear, bear, or carry upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person." As I read the data, very little of it is consistent with that interpretation.

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Itchy Feet webcomic on Asian scripts

This is from 2013, but it's been making the rounds on Facebook…


(Source)

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Digitizing specialized language dictionaries

[The following is a guest post by David Dettmann.  The "Schwarz Uyghur dictionary" to which he refers in the third paragraph is this:  Henry G. Schwarz, An Uyghur-English dictionary (Bellingham, Washington:  Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University, 1992).]


It is a bit of a nerdy obsession of mine to customize my computers to comfortably use languages that I've studied.

About 10 years ago, I got relatively proficient with using optical character recognition (OCR) software and scanner hardware. Any time I found an essential dictionary for the languages I studied, I converted them to unicode OCR scans in pdf format (i.e., converting images of pages to text). I later used that data to create dictionary content files that would work together with the Mac OS dictionary application. I did this process with several dictionaries that I found essential while I studied Kazakh, Uzbek, and Uyghur.

This process was particularly useful for me to use the Schwarz Uyghur dictionary. I could not get used to the alphabetical order that he favored (which was different from typical Latin order AND Uyghur Arabic script order). As a result, any lookup would just take forever. That said, the formatting of each page was quite pleasant, and there were some nice illustrations of plants of traditional Uyghur medicine as well as handy keys at the bottom of each page to explain abbreviations.

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: "bear arms" (part 1), plus a look at "the people"

An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

New URL for COFEA and COEME: https://lawcorpus.byu.edu.

This is the first of what will be three posts on bear arms; it will be devoted to critiquing the Supreme Court's discussion of bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller. My examination of the corpus data on bear arms will appear in my next two posts. In the meantime, if you're interested, you can read discussions of the data by Dennis Baron ("Corpus Evidence Illuminates the Meaning of Bear Arms," in the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly) and by Josh Blackman & James C. Phillips ("Corpus Linguistics and the Second Amendment," in the Harvard Law Review Blog), both of which reach conclusions consistent with mine. (The piece by Blackman & Phillips is especially noteworthy, given that they are both gun-rights advocates.)

My focus in this post will be on the Supreme Court's conclusion that at the time the Second Amendment was proposed and ratified, bear arms unambiguously meant 'carry weapons, for purposes of being prepared for a confrontation,' without regard to whether the carrying was in connection with military service. What I conclude is that even without taking account of how bear arms was actually used, the court's arguments don't hold up. Assuming for the sake of argument that bear arms could reasonably have been understood to mean what the court said it meant, the court didn't show that it unambiguously meant that.

That's not to say that I think bear arms was ambiguous. As I'll discuss in the next two posts, the corpus evidence points toward the conclusion that bear arms unambiguously conveyed the military meaning that the Supreme Court rejected: "to serve as a soldier, do military service, fight" or "to wage war." But even if the evidence were equivocal, the absence of evidence unambiguously supporting the court's interpretation would still be important.

That's because the court's analysis in Heller depends crucially on its conclusion that bear arms was unambiguous. It was that conclusion that enabled the court to interpret the Second Amendment's operative clause ("the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed") without taking into consideration its prefatory clause ("A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State"). In the court's view, if the operative clause was unambiguous, the prefatory clause "does not limit or expand [its] scope." So if court was wrong in thinking that the operative clause was unambiguous, it was wrong in refusing to consider whether the prefatory clause affected its meaning. And if the prefatory clause plays a role in interpreting the operative clause, the argument against the court's interpretation is strengthened.

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Can a person have more than one native language?, part 2

Based on these two tweets, this 85-year-old Swedish woman has at least two native tongues:

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"Unparalleled accuracy" == "Freud as a scrub woman"

A couple of years ago, in connection with the JSALT2017 summer workshop, I tried several commercial speech-to-text APIs on some clinical recordings, with very poor results. Recently I thought I'd try again, to see how things have progressed. After all, there have been recent claims of "human parity" in various speech-to-text applications, and (for example) Google's Cloud Speech-to-Text tells us that it will "Apply the most advanced deep-learning neural network algorithms to audio for speech recognition with unparalleled accuracy", and that "Cloud Speech-to-Text accuracy improves over time as Google improves the internal speech recognition technology used by Google products."

So I picked one of the better-quality recordings of neuropsychological test sessions that we analyzed during that 2017 workshop, and tried a few segments. Executive summary: general human parity in automatic speech-to-text is still a ways off, at least for inputs like these.

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Can a person have more than one native language?

The following paragraph began as a comment to this post:  "How to maintain first and second language skills" (4/25/19)

How can a person acquire not just one, but two or more native languages? Now in China, some parents aspire to help their children learn both Chinese and English as their native languages. But, considering the drastic differences between the two languages, it seems to be quite a difficult goal to achieve, to use both languages equally well. A very interesting case I met is a 6th grader from an international school, a Chinese boy who spoke fluent English but stammering Chinese. He had to stop to organize his Chinese when trying to express complicated ideas. His parents are both native Chinese, and they sent him to an international primary school. There are undoubtedly many other students like him, since China has so many international primary and secondary schools. Their parents must have taken great effort making English the first language of their children. But why? And in the almost monolingual Chinese environment, I wonder if English as their first language could be as equally efficient as that of a real native speaker.

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Phonetic annotations as a welcome aid for learning how to read and write Sinographs

In several recent posts, we've been discussing the most efficient, least painful way to acquire facility with hanzi / kanji / hanja 漢字 ("Sinographs; Chinese characters").  Lord knows there are endless numbers of them and they are so intricately constructed that it is an arduous task to master the two thousand or so that are necessary for basic literacy.

It would be so much easier to learn the Sinographs if language pedagogues would provide phonetic annotations for each character.  Better yet, the phonetic annotations should be divided into words with spaces between them according to the official orthographic rules.

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How to maintain first and second language skills

In the comments to "Cantonese as a Second Language" (4/22/19), there's an interesting discussion going on about how to maintain and / or acquire competency in more than one language.  This post started out as a comment to that thread, but it soon grew too long, so I've separated it off here.

My son was born in Taiwan and spent the first two years of his life in Taipei in an all-Mandarin household with lots of members (father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, and two aunts), and plenty of other relatives in the Taipei area (more uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.) — all mainlanders.  They all spoke Mandarin with him.

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Tocharian, Turkic, and Old Sinitic "ten thousand"

Serious problem here.

Clauson, An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth-Century Turkish, p. 507b:

F tümen properly 'ten thousand', but often used for 'an indefinitely large number'; immediately borrowed from Tokharian, where the forms are A tmān; B tmane, tumane, but Prof. Pulleyblank has told me orally that he thinks this word may have been borrowed in its turn fr. a Proto-Chinese form *tman, or the like, of wan 'ten thousand' (Giles 12,486).

Source (pdf)

[VHM:  the "F" at the beginning of the entry means "Foreign loanword"]

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Cantonese as a Second Language

That's the title of a new book from Routledge:

John C. Wakefield, ed., Cantonese as a Second Language:  Issues, Experiences and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning

Readers of Language Log know that I'm an ardent advocate of this vibrant language and will understand why I consider the publication of Cantonese as a Second Language a cause for celebration.

Two caveats:

1. It's a full-fledged language, not a mere "dialect".

2. You don't have to worry about the Sinographs when you learn it.

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Of horse riding and Old Sinitic reconstructions

This post was prompted by the following comment to "The emergence of Germanic" (2/27/19):

…while riding horses _in battle_ is post-Bronze Age (and perhaps of questionable worth at any time), I think riding in general is older, and probably (assuming the usual dating of PIE) common Indo-European.

The domesticated horse, the chariot, and the wheel came to East Asia from the west, and so did horse riding:

Mair, Victor H.  "The Horse in Late Prehistoric China:  Wresting Culture and Control from the 'Barbarians.'"  In Marsha Levine, Colin Renfrew, and Katie Boyle, ed.  Prehistoric steppe adaptation and the horse,  McDonald Institute Monographs.  Cambridge:  McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2003, pp. 163-187.

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Communicating with cats and dogs

On twitter a few days ago:

Today's Liberty Meadows:

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