Archive for April, 2020

Fractured Japanese-to-English translation on amazon.com

From Paul Shore:

I don't know whether the item below, an Amazon translation of an Amazon customer review, is Language-Log-worthy; but I thought that at the very least you might be amused by its sublime anti-logic.  The January 1, 2017 review, written by "横川いずみ", is of Freedom Betrayed, Herbert Hoover's massive, radical critique of U.S. foreign relations from the thirties to the fifties, which wasn't published until 2011, roughly a half-century after Hoover completed it.  In the heading, 横川いずみ rates the book five stars out of five and "[v]ery good".  The Japanese original of the review text is as follows:

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Another kind of political lip-syncing

I've previously featured comedy turns from Kylie Scott ("Drunk in the club after Covid") and Sarah Cooper ("How to medical"), lip-syncing recorded passages from Donald Trump's press events. Here's another approach, from @JaneyGodley, substituting her own voice for that of the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon:


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Wolf Warrior Diplomacy

A little over two years ago, I made a rather detailed post on Lycogala epidendrum, commonly known as wolf's milk or groening's slime, and its metaphorical applications in China:

"Wolf's milk, a slime mold attractive to young Chinese?" (4/7/18)

During the interim, the popularity of this lowly amoeba has only grown, until it has become the model for an aggressive style of diplomacy on the world stage called in Chinese "zhàn láng wàijiāo 戰狼外交" ("wolf warrior diplomacy").  Synergistically, it has joined forces with another microoranism, this one called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), also known as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and a host of other names that I will refrain from mentioning here for fear of pushing the wrong buttons (this is highly fraught topic, one that must be treated delicately, lest one stirs up a hornets' nest of conflicting onomastic opinions).  Together, COVID-19 and wolf warrior diplomacy have brought the world to the brink of pandemic strife.

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Learning empiricism

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Scope ambiguity of the week

A recent NYT headline seems like the premise for a particularly dark dystopian movie: Emily Oster, "Only Children Are Not Doomed", NYT 4/27/2020. A sort of cross between 12 Monkeys and Lord of the Flies? No:

The coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of confusion, but it also may bring into focus a question many parents (or expectant parents) ask: What is the right number of kids for my family? Quarantine or not, having siblings shapes one's experiences and development. On balance, is this for good or for ill? […]

Overall, when it comes to what economists call success, having siblings simply does not seem to matter.

But what about the awkward only child? The data has largely rejected that idea for decades. One 1987 review article, which summaries 140 studies, found some evidence of more "academic motivation" among only children, but no differences on personality traits like extroversion. In other words, although you might expect a built-in playmate makes a kid more social, the data doesn't bear that out.

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Bats in Chinese language and culture: Early Sinitic reconstructions

The May 2020 issue of a scientific journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, shows a rank badge of Qing Dynasty officialdom.  There are five bats in this piece of ornate embroidery (can you spot them?):

Artist Unknown. Rank Badge with Leopard, Wave and Sun Motifs, late 18th century. Silk, metallic thread. 10 3/4 in x 11 1/4 in / 27.31 cm x 28.57 cm. Public domain digital image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA.; Bequest of William Christian Paul, 1929. Accession no.30.75.1025.

(Source)

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Once more on Sinitic *mraɣ and Celtic and Germanic *marko for "horse"

Jessica Hemming, in consultation with Joseph Eska (personal communication), writes:

In the debate about whether Sinitic 'mra' could be a borrowing from an Indo-European language, given that only Celtic and Germanic have horse words in *marko, it may be of use to know that proto-Celtic is now conventionally dated to no earlier than c.1000 BC and proto-Germanic to c.500 BC. These would seem to be too late to be options. Also, the native word for horse in Celtic is *ekwo; nobody is quite sure where *marko came from, although later it became the standard medieval word for horse (especially in the sense of 'war horse' or 'steed' in Middle Welsh).

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Moist aversion: The twitter thread

On Twitter, @muffkin7 asks readers to "Ruin a film by inserting the word 'moist' into its title".

Answers include "Gone moist with the wind", "All moist about Eve", "The good, the bad, the moist, and the ugly", "Little shop of moist horrors", and "Close encounters of the third moist kind".

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COVID-1984: The theory of creepy

In these days of virtual networked life, with plans to automate contact tracing by coordinating registries of everyone's locations and actions over time, a recently-introduced technical term has gained greater relevance. The source is Omer Tene and Jules Polonetsky, "A Theory of Creepy: Technology, Privacy, and Shifting Social Norms", Yale Journal of Law and Technology 2014:

The rapid evolution of digital technologies has hurled dense social and ethical dilemmas that we have hardly begun to map or understand to the forefront of public and legal discourse. In the near past, community norms
helped guide a clear sense of ethical boundaries with respect to privacy. We all knew, for example, that one should not peek into the window of a house even if it were left open, nor hire a private detective to investigate a casual date or the social life of a prospective employee.

Yet with technological innovation rapidly driving new models for business and inviting new types of socialization, we often have nothing more than a fleeting intuition as to what is right or wrong. Our intuition may suggest that it is responsible to investigate the driving record of the nanny who drives our child to school, since such tools are now readily available. But is it also acceptable to seek out the records of other parents in our child's car pool, or of a date who picks us up by car?

Alas, intuitions and perceptions of how our social values should align with our technological capabilities are highly subjective. And, as new technologies strain our social norms, a shared understanding of that alignment is even more difficult to capture. The word "creepy" has become something of a term of art in privacy policy to denote situations where the two do not line up.

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Obsession with civilized behavior

In Chinese media, we often encounter exhortations to wénmíng xíngwéi 文明行为 ("civilized behavior"), but in this article, they've really gone over the top in promoting it:

"Běijīng wénmíng cùjìn tiáolì tōngguò  tíchàng zhèxiē wénmíng xíngwéi 北京文明促进条例通过 提倡这些文明行为" ("Beijing passes regulations for the advancement of civilization; for the promotion of these [types of] civilized behavior"), people.com (4/24/20)

Just counting wénmíng xíngwéi 文明行为 ("civilized behavior"), this four syllable, two word phrase is mentioned 17 times in this article.  If we count only the two syllable word wénmíng 文明 ("civilized; civilization"), it occurs 30 times.  I won't mention all of the more than sixty types of civilized behavior that are encouraged or required, but will note only those that are likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the proximate cause for the passage of these regulations:

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Speaker change detection

A couple of years ago ("Hearing interactions", 2/28/2018), I posted some anecdotal evidence that human perception of speaker change is accurate and usually also pretty fast. I noted that the performance of automatic systems at analogous tasks was distinctly underwhelming in comparison.

A recent paper measures human performance more systematically, and compares a state-of-the art program — Neeraj Sharma et al., "On the impact of language familiarity in talker change detection", ICASSP 2020:

The ability to detect talker changes when listening to conversational speech is fundamental to perception and understanding of multitalker speech. In this paper, we propose an experimental paradigm to provide insights on the impact of language familiarity on talker change detection. Two multi-talker speech stimulus sets, one in a language familiar to the listeners (English) and the other unfamiliar (Chinese), are created. A listening test is performed in which listeners indicate the number of talkers in the presented stimuli. Analysis of human performance shows statistically significant results for: (a) lower miss (and a higher false alarm) rate in familiar versus unfamiliar language, and (b) longer response time in familiar versus unfamiliar language. These results signify a link between perception of talker attributes and language proficiency. Subsequently, a machine system is designed to perform the same task. The system makes use of the current state-of-the-art diarization approach with x-vector embeddings. A performance comparison on the same stimulus set indicates that the machine system falls short of human performance by a huge margin, for both languages.

 

 

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More presidential lip-synching

Following up on Kylie Scott's "Drunk in the club after covid", Sarah Cooper performs "How to medical":

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Texas German

Here's a nice introduction to the subject:

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