The traits of a troll

Troll watch

WATCHWORD:  When one goes fishing for trolls, the trolls are almost always certain to bite.

We've recently had a succession of posts on trolls (see "Readings" below).  We all know that there are lots of trolls lurking out there all over the internet, and they are up to no good.  They cause much mischief and disrupt otherwise interesting, productive discussions.  They are especially destructive when they are the first to jump in after a post goes up and reflexively say something nasty and negative, without really having read the post and thought about what it's trying to communicate.  Yet, it is clear that different people have different ideas about what exactly a troll is.  So let us see if we can get some idea of or consensus on what constitutes trollishness in today's world.

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Self-aware autoreply

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One law to rule them all?

Power-law distributions seem to be everywhere, and not just in word-counts and whale whistles. Most people know that Vilfredo Pareto  found them in the distribution of wealth, two or three decades before Udny Yule showed that stochastic processes like those in evolution lead to such distributions, and George Kingsley Zipf found his eponymous law in word frequencies. Since then, power-law distributions have been found all over the place — Wikipedia lists

… the sizes of craters on the moon and of solar flares, the foraging pattern of various species, the sizes of activity patterns of neuronal populations, the frequencies of words in most languages, frequencies of family names, the species richness in clades of organisms, the sizes of power outages, criminal charges per convict, volcanic eruptions, human judgements of stimulus intensity …

My personal favorite is the noises it makes when you crumple something up, as discussed by Eric Kramer and Alexander Lobkovsky, "Universal Power Law in the Noise from a Crumpled Elastic Sheet", 1995 ) referenced in "Zipf and the general theory of wrinkling", 11/15/2003).

Contradicting the Central Limit Theorem's implications for what is "normal", power law distributions seem to be everywhere you look.

Or maybe not?

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An anecdote on the limitations of the Chinese writing system

[This is a guest post by Ari-Joonas Pitkänen]

I'm a frequent reader of Language Log, and I've been particularly interested in the debate about the usefulness / limitations of the Chinese script in modern society. As the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approaches, I remembered an anecdote about the limitations of Chinese characters presented in Louisa Lim's book The People's Republic of Amnesia. It describes the way jailed activists communicated in prison after the crackdown on Tiananmen in 1989:

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Variant pronunciations of "posthumous"

Nick Kaldis asks about the pronunciation of "posthumous":

On NPR this morning, and once a few weeks ago, both announcers pronounced it "pōst-hyooməs"; I can't recall ever hearing this pronunciation before.

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Moby Zipf

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Spelling Bee 2019

I'll let this incredible ESPN (it's a sport, after all) video speak for itself:

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Not just any old Putonghua

No siree!  These Hong Kong students are being taught to emulate Beijing government models:

In the 13rd [sic] Hong Kong Cup Diplomatic Knowledge Contest held on May 12, Hong Kong high school students militantly spoke perfect Putonghua. Their Beijing accent, tone, gestures, facial expressions all reminded one of China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, or even Chairman Mao's wife Jiang Qing. E.g, a schoolgirl indignantly yelled, "Not a single country has fallen into a debt crisis as a result of joining the One Belt One Road!" (The fact, however, remains that due to their inability to repay debts to China, Zambia has lost to China its Kenneth Kaunda Airport and the ZESCO Power Plant; Sri Lanka has handed over its Hambantota Port to China on a 99-year lease; and Kenya is giving up its Mombasa Port to China.) Xie Feng, Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry of PRC in HKSAR, called upon the students to love the State of China and take up positions in international organizations like the UN. Critics suspect that quite a few HK kids are already thoroughly brainwashed by their pro-CCP education and may be used to infiltrate into American & other Western organizations.

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Whistled Turkish

Malin Fezehai, "In Turkey, Keeping a Language of Whistles Alive", NYT 5/30/2019:

Muazzez Kocek, 46, is considered one of the best whistlers in Kuşköy, a village tucked away in the picturesque Pontic Mountains in Turkey's northern Giresun province. Her whistle can be heard over the area's vast tea fields and hazelnut orchards, several miles farther than a person's voice. When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey visited Kuşköy in 2012, she greeted him and proudly whistled, "Welcome to our village!"

She uses kuş dili, or "bird language," which transforms the full Turkish vocabulary into varied-pitch frequencies and melodic lines. For hundreds of years, this whistled form of communication has been a critical for the farming community in the region, allowing complex conversations over long distances and facilitating animal herding.

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Accidental art

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All clear in kindergarten

The "sǎo hēi chú è 扫黑除恶" ("sweeping away blackness and eliminating evil") campaign in China not only has not waned, but rather is going in a hysterical direction. The local authorities in Wuxi are marching into the kindergartens; below is their conclusion after investigating one of them:

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A tangled web

Daniel Deutsch sent in this quotation

"The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the OLC opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice. The Special Counsel's report and his statement today made clear that the office concluded it would not reach a determination — one way or the other — about whether the President committed a crime. There is no conflict between these statements," a joint statement from DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec and Mueller spokesman Peter Carr said.

with this comment

I understand that Language Log is not a political site, but this calls for a language expert:

Affirmed that—was not saying—that, but for—would have found. No conflict.

I had to read it 20 times to understand it.

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Why Literary Sinitic is so darn hard

Two days ago, in "Difficult languages and easy languages, part 2" (5/28/19), we listed scores of languages from easiest to hardest to learn.  Spanish came out overall as the easiest widely spoken language for many people to learn, while Arabic and Turkish struck many people as quite difficult to master.

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