ESL spam scam? (updated)

« previous post | next post »

I just got an email from WordPress notifying me of a comment awaiting approval at LAWnLinguistics. Here is the comment, in full:

This is Pam, and English is my 1st language. I'm for real, and would like you to get back in touch with me.

The comment makes four assertions:

  1. This is Pam
  2. English is my 1st language.
  3. I'm for real,
  4. and would like you to get back in touch with me.

It's almost certain that three of those four assertions are false. Does anyone want to guess which is the one that is true?

CLARIFICATION (after reading the first five or six comments, all guessing wrong): For the benefit of those who want to submit a guess, note that what prompted this post was the content of the comment, not anything about its word choice, syntax, punctuation, etc.

HINT (after reading more wrong guesses): Pragmatics.

HINT IN THE FORM OF A QUESTION (after reading still more guesses that are not only wrong but aren't even close): How often have you encountered a situation in which, upon your initial contact with someone who is a complete stranger, the first thing they say after introducing themself is "English [or some other language] is my 1st language?



29 Comments

  1. jpiitula said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 11:31 am

    The first is really "This is spam" and is the one that is true.

  2. Jimmy Hartzell said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 11:37 am

    I think the only one that is true is that she wants us to get back in touch with "her." If English was her (or rather, the bulk writer of this e-mail's) first language, she wouldn't use "for real" to mean "real" instead of "serious." Also, I don't know that anyone would write "1st language"…

  3. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 12:07 pm

    The "for real" doesn't strike me as unidiomatic, especially for a speaker/writer Millenial-age or younger, (Maybe even younger Gen X) nor does the use of "1st". It's very informal writing, though.

    In fact, there's nothing about the English – either the words or the punctuation, which raises any "this is a non-English speaker" flags for me.

    (Not saying it's not spam – but I see nothing to indicate that the writer is not a native English speaker.)

  4. Neal Goldfarb said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 12:18 pm

    @Michèle Sharik Pituley:

    The "for real" doesn't strike me as unidiomatic, especially for a speaker/writer Millenial-age or younger, (Maybe even younger Gen X) nor does the use of "1st". It's very informal writing, though.

    In fact, there's nothing about the English – either the words or the punctuation, which raises any "this is a non-English speaker" flags for me.

    (Not saying it's not spam – but I see nothing to indicate that the writer is not a native English speaker.)

    I guess I should clarify that it was the content of the comment that prompted my post, not anything about the comment's word choice, syntax, punctuation, etc.

  5. Phillip Minden said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 12:32 pm

    Well, "back" in contact implies you were in contact. But didn't even know old Pam's first language was English.

  6. DaveK said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 12:56 pm

    As a native speaker of American English, I've always taken "for real" to mean "truthful, sincere, bona fife" and it seems idiomatic here. Pam is assuring us that her other assertions are true and she's not a figment of someone sitting in a cyber cafe in a foreign land

  7. DaveK said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 12:58 pm

    Erratum
    Bona fide of course not bona fife

  8. Addison said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 1:09 pm

    Def wants you to get back to them, for nefarious purposes I'm sure.

  9. Neal Goldfarb said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 1:09 pm

    @ Phillip Minden:

    Well, "back" in contact implies you were in contact. But didn't even know old Pam's first language was English.

    I didn't understand "get back in touch me" as presupposing that we had previously been in contact and therefore as meaning "get in touch with me again". Rather, I understood it to mean essentially "get back to me."

  10. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 1:12 pm

    @Neal — my comment was in response to Jimmy saying that "for real" and "1st" were somehow markers of non-native English use. I should have @-ed him but forgot. Mea culpa! :-)

    @Phillip – "get back in touch with me" is perfectly normal informal idiom for "please reply to this message", at least in American English. I might have phrased it as simply "get back to me" but it's not unusual her way, either.

    Again, very informal, but nothing indicating non-native usage.

    @DaveK – "bona fife" lol. I play flute and I'm imagining a bone piccolo. :-)

  11. DaveK said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 1:49 pm

    It's fairly common for spammers to have a subject line like "About our discussion last week" or "Here's the information you asked for" , knowing that some busy people won't remember if they talked to Pam or whoever a week ago and will click on the attachment

  12. Yuval said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 2:09 pm

    Has Ms. Jackson been notified?

  13. Chandra said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 2:12 pm

    I'm with Michèle Sharik Pituley and DaveK in that "I'm for real" is perfectly idiomatic to me, and the "1st language" shorthand seems equally unremarkable. Imo the only thing that strongly suggests #2 is false is the lady-doth-protest air of its inclusion.

  14. Chandra said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 2:17 pm

    @Yuval I was about to reference that myself, then realized that the lines "I'm sorry Ms. Jackson, I am for real" could be interpreted as "I'm sorry – for real, I am" (though I don't think that's actually the intended meaning). However while googling the phrase I came across another song by an artist called Skales where the usage is unambiguous:

    I am for real yeah
    O baby I am for real
    For your loving girl I am for real yeah

  15. Chandra said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 2:22 pm

    On further reflection, maybe there's a whole other side to (s)Pam that we don't know about.

    (Ok I'm done now)

  16. Michael Watts said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 2:40 pm

    I'm mystified. l don't see how exactly one of the four claims can be true. The true claim has to be (4), "I would like you to get back in touch with me", because in the absence of any other content there is no reason to leave the comment in the first place. But in order to do that, you need to be able to contact the commenter, which you can't do if every other piece of information in the comment is false.

    It's possible that the comment includes additional information like a spam link to a website, in which case the comment would make sense, but (1) this violates the hypothesis that we've been given the comment in full; and (2) this would provide no evidence as to whether claim (2), "English is my 1st language", was true or false. (It would tend to cast doubt on the other three claims.)

  17. Suzanne Valkemirer said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 3:08 pm

    The only true statement is "English is my 1st. language."

    Sloppy English being the "norm" today, she sounds like a native speaker to me.

  18. Ethan said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 3:33 pm

    @Michael Watts: Perhaps it is a coded message, the sort of thing that might feature in a Sherlock Holmes story. "You" is not necessarily Neal Goldfarb. If the comment were to appear on LAWnLinguistics then one or more readers might know who "Pam" is, real or not, and recognize the message as a coded signal. Now that the coded message has appeared on Language Log instead, even if it is not approved for LAWnLinguistics the intended recipient may still find it. That logic would allow (4) to be a true statement since the target might independently know how to contact "Pam" or might be expected to respond by responding to the blog comment.

  19. peterv said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 3:41 pm

    I disagree with your third sentence, which claims there are four assertions present. The fourth component of the email

    "and would you like to get back in touch with me"

    is not an assertion (a statement about the world) but a question. It makes no sense to speak of the truth or falsity of questions.

    It is possible to define a semantics for questions, but not in terms of truth values. For instance, in his PhD (1957), Charles Hamblin defined a game-theoretic semantics for questions.

  20. Viseguy said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 3:47 pm

    My conclusion is that "I'm for real" is true. My reasoning is based on the assumption that "Pam's" message is the output of a robot. "This is Pam" is false to the extent it suggest that it's a human named Pam; (however, the robot could be named Pam, so my assertion isn't water-tight). "English is my 1st language" is false; a robot's first language is the computer language it was created it, or the resulting machine code. "I would like you to get back in touch with me" is false to the extent it suggests it's the utterance of a sentient/volitional being, and could not be true if Pam is not a sentient/volitional being. "I'm for real" is true, because sentient/volitional or not, whatever it is is (for) real, unless unreal entities are capable of sending messages, which seems unlikely.

    Of course, my assumption could be wrong. Pam could be a human being posing as a robot, or a sincere human with a robotic style of communication, or a non-human non-robot that is sentient, volitional and capable of electronic communication — in which case any or all of the four statements could be true or false.

    In other words, I give up.

  21. Ellen K. said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 3:52 pm

    @Michael Watts

    I would assume that the contact information is in a header field, not in the actually comment. Like here on Language Log if someone puts something in the URI box, their name shows up as a link. If that link has their contact information, they can be contacted.

  22. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 4:31 pm

    How often have you encountered a situation in which, upon your initial contact with someone who is a complete stranger, the first thing they say after introducing themself is "English [or some other language] is my 1st language?

    I don't know, but if it was going to happen, then a linguistics blog is one of the more likely places. I mean, I tend to let people extrapolate from my name that my native experience is with SSE and to a lesser extent Scots, but that's still the reason *why* I post under that name here and at LH, and not one of the pseudonyms I use more commonly elsewhere.

    (The other possible location that comes to mind is those notices like A4 jellyfish which appear on university notice boards offering tuition in the poster's native language, although they usually have a header saying something like 'Do you want to learn Spanish?' before getting on to name and background.)

  23. Bathrobe said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 4:46 pm

    I'm puzzled here. Are you saying that "and would like you to get back in touch with me" is false, and that one of the other three is true?

  24. andy said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 5:28 pm

    "Introducing themself"? I'm beginning to wonder if English is your first language.

  25. Neal Goldfarb said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 5:59 pm

    Andy, have you heard of "singular 'they'"? Since you are reading Language Log, my guess is that you have. That's what I was using, and reflexives pose a bit of a conundrum when the referent is only one person: "introducing themselves" wouldn't have been great, either.

    But in any case, your comment is obnoxious, and as soon as I figure out how to block you from posting further comments on Language Log, I will do so.

  26. Robot Therapist said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 6:04 pm

    I think Viseguy makes a strong case.

    It's hard to see how "I am for real" can be false, unless you imagined this comment.

  27. Michael Watts said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 8:06 pm

    "I am for real" certainly can't be the only true claim of the four, because if either (1) or (2) is false, so is (3). (If I introduce myself to you by lying about my name and background, I am not "for real". I'm scamming you.)

  28. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 9:38 pm

    Viseguy: "a robot's first language is the computer language it was created it, or the resulting machine code."

    Not really, unless you want to count the genetic code as a human's first language.

    What sort of information you're built from (genes for people, computer code for robots) is a completely different question from what languages you natively speak.

  29. Viseguy said,

    September 4, 2019 @ 10:40 pm

    @Gregory Kusnick: "What sort of information you're built from (genes for people, computer code for robots) is a completely different question from what languages you natively speak."

    Point taken. But assuming that Pam is a robot, it's still not true that English is Pam's L1. It may be true of Pam's creator(s), if they're human, but it's not true of Pam in the usual sense of the term L1|"my first|1st language" as applicable to humans — which is how Pam's message, on the face of things, would lead the reader to apply it.

    Wow. I hope this joke has a good punch line.

RSS feed for comments on this post