Ocracoke

Frances Stead Sellers, "Amid flooding and rising sea levels, residents of one barrier island wonder if it’s time to retreat", WaPo 11/9/2019:

On any normal late-fall day, the ferries that ply the 30 miles between Swan Quarter and this barrier island might carry vacationing retirees, sports fishermen and residents enjoying mainland getaways after the busy summer tourist season.

But two months ago, Hurricane Dorian washed away all signs of normalcy here. After buzz-cutting the Bahamas, the giant storm rolled overhead, raising a seven-foot wall of water in its wake that sloshed back through the harbor, invading century-old homes that have never before taken in water and sending islanders such as post office head Celeste Brooks and her two grandchildren scrambling into their attics.

Ocracoke has been closed to visitors ever since. Island-bound ferries carry yawning container trucks to haul back the sodden detritus of destroyed homes. And O’cockers — proud descendants of the pilots and pirates who navigated these treacherous shores — are faced with a reckoning: whether this sliver of sand, crouched three feet above sea level between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, can survive the threats of extreme weather and rising sea levels. And if it can’t, why rebuild?

Most linguists know Ocracoke from the history of research on the variety of English spoken there — documented in Robert Howren, "The Speech of Ocracoke, North Carolina", American Speech 1962, and especially the 2000 book by Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes, Hoi toide on the outer banks: The story of the Ocracoke brogue. Works like that one make me hope for the day that books, or anyhow e-books, will have embedded audio and video.

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"Horse Master" in IE and in Sinitic

This is one in a long series of posts about words for "horse" in various languages, the latest being "Some Mongolian words for 'horse'" (11/7/19) — see also the posts listed under Readings below.  I consider "horse" to be one of the most important diagnostic terms for studying long distance movements of peoples and languages for numerous reasons:

  1. In and of itself, the horse represents the ability to move rapidly across the land.
  2. The spread of horse domestication and associated technology such as the chariot is traceable, affording the opportunity to match datable archeological finds with linguistic data.
  3. The symbolic, religious, military, political, and cultural significance of the horse is salient in widespread human societies outside the normal ecological reach of the animal itself.  In other words, the horse is treasured in areas far beyond its natural habitat (the Eurasian steppeland), such that it is a symbol of royal, aristocratic power and prerogative.  Indeed, for many societies, it is a sacred animal imbued with divine power.
  4. In studying the words for "horse" in various languages, we have been fortunate on Language Log to benefit from the expertise of historical linguists who have been providing cutting edge analysis of data drawn from numerous languages belonging to different groups and families.

And so forth.

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*Neither Sentence Nor Sentence?

Today in Seth Cable's seminar on Montague's Universal grammar, he gave out a problem set that included the task of adding "Neither Mitt smokes nor Barack smokes" to the little fragment of English that had been developed. And in the discussion of the problem set, it turned out that I was the only one in the class who seemed to have any doubts about whether the sentence "Neither Mitt smokes nor Barack smokes" was grammatical.
My own intuition was that it had to be "Neither does Mitt smoke nor does Barack smoke", though that sounded a little funny too.

So out of curiosity I just checked in the big Huddleston and Pullum Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. I was afraid the question was too arcane to be covered there; but to my happy surprise they do actually discuss it, on pages 1308-9 in their chapter on coordination.

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Sharing joys with birds

Vito Acosta sent in this photograph of a sign at Tianmu Lake ( Tiānmù hú 天目湖) in Jiangsu:

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No watching and no walking

Bryan Van Norden sent in this sign that he found here:

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Some Mongolian words for "horse"

This is a follow-up post to "'Horse' and 'language' in Korean" (10/30/19).  The two main words for "horse" in Mongolian that we will consider are mor' and adyy, though we will also touch upon others.

My original inquiry:

If you know, please tell me the difference between морь / mor' and адуу / adyy.

Is it true that морь means "gelding" (to be ridden) and адуу means horses in general, but not for riding.

Any other nuances of these two words that might be useful for me to understand how they are thought of by Mongolian people?

I presume that Manchu "morin" is borrowed from Mongolian.

Many correspondents kindly replied to my inquiry concerning the difference between adyy and mor.  Because most of their responses are brief and informal, I will not cite all the respondents by name, though I will list them in the acknowledgements.

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Ask Language Log: The alphabet in China

Jeff DeMarco writes:

I have just come across some mixed language abbreviations on Chinese social media. For example, 川A市 refers to Chengdu. 皖J市 is Huangshan in Anhui, and 皖A市 is Chaohu.

I am curious as to how the letters are assigned.

The incorporation of the Roman alphabet into the Chinese writing system is a topic that we have often addressed on Language Log, for which see the "Readings" (and the bibliographies they include) below.

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Maison d'être

Note from June Teufel Dreyer: "Driving around Coconut  Grove [Miami neighborhood] to admire old houses on back streets, [daughter] Elizabeth [Dreyer Geay] and I saw one with a plaque on the perimeter wall that read 'Maison d’Etre'":

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A diarization corpus from Amazon

About a month ago, Zaid Ahmed and others in Amazon's speech research group released DiPCo ("Dinner Party Corpus"), "a new data set that will help speech scientists address the difficult problem of separating speech signals in reverberant rooms with multiple speakers".

The past decade has seen striking progress in Human Language Technology, brought about by new methods, more training data, and (especially) cheaper/faster computers. But this rapid progress highlights the fact that "All problems are not solved", as I wrote last year — and in particular, the central problem of "diarization", or determining who spoken when, has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult one. And diarization is not just hard for conversations at dinner parties.

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Don't eat and don't drink

Wang Tong sent in this photograph of a sign which a friend of hers took during a visit to Japan.  The Chinese translation is quite amusing.

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Hong Kong protests: "recover" or "liberate"

From Alison Winters:

I am a regular reader of Language Log and really enjoy your digging on unusual Chinese turns of phrase.

One word I have recently been puzzling over lately is the usage of guāngfù 光复 in the Hong Kong call to arms 光复香港时代革命*. The dictionary description indicates it has to do with reclaiming land from an occupier, and specifically references the end of Japanese occupation in Taiwan, but in English the slogan has been translated as “liberate”. When I look up “liberate” in the other direction, the dictionary suggests jiěfàng 解放, but note that it’s also associated with the CPC victory over the KMT.

I wonder if the usage of 光复 for liberate is a quirk of Cantonese (I live in mainland and only speak Standard Chinese), or if it’s a political choice to use that word based on previous “liberations”? I am curious about the etymology and would be interested to see a write-up on the blog, if you know a bit more background.

[*VHM:  A "standard" English translation of this slogan is "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times", the "loose" Cantonese Romanization for which is "Gwong Fuk Heung Gong! Si Doi Gark Ming!"  Source

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University City train station notes

Announcements

1.

"Please be visible to the engineer OR* train will not stop."

*spoken with very heavy emphasis

Is there a choice?

2.

"Your attention please:  trains en route to destination may be late.  Passengers are advised* that times may increase or decrease** at any time."

*the preceding three words are uttered with rising crescendo, with a slight fall at the end

**strong emphasis on each of the preceding three words

This entire announcement is spoken in a seemingly snide, sneering, pompous tone.  No sympathy or apology whatsoever.  (In Japan, the railway administration is thoroughly ashamed when a train is half a minute late.  In Austria, where many of my relatives worked for the railways as much as a century or more ago, one could set your watch by the arrival and departure of the trains.)  I loathe this announcement more than any other — especially when one is made to wait for an hour or more, after which a train may simply be cancelled without explanation.

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Kabbalist NLP

Oscar Schwartz, "Natural Language Processing Dates Back to Kabbalist Mystics", IEEE Spectrum 10/28/2019 ("Long before NLP became a hot field in AI, people devised rules and machines to manipulate language"):

The story begins in medieval Spain. In the late 1200s, a Jewish mystic by the name of Abraham Abulafia sat down at a table in his small house in Barcelona, picked up a quill, dipped it in ink, and began combining the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in strange and seemingly random ways. Aleph with Bet, Bet with Gimmel, Gimmel with Aleph and Bet, and so on.

Abulafia called this practice “the science of the combination of letters.” He wasn’t actually combining letters at random; instead he was carefully following a secret set of rules that he had devised while studying an ancient Kabbalistic text called the Sefer Yetsirah. This book describes how God created “all that is formed and all that is spoken” by combining Hebrew letters according to sacred formulas. In one section, God exhausts all possible two-letter combinations of the 22 Hebrew letters.

By studying the Sefer Yetsirah, Abulafia gained the insight that linguistic symbols can be manipulated with formal rules in order to create new, interesting, insightful sentences. To this end, he spent months generating thousands of combinations of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and eventually emerged with a series of books that he claimed were endowed with prophetic wisdom.

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