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Cultural diffusion and the Whorfian hypothesis

Geoff Pullum summarizes Keith Chen's view of "The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior" as follows ("Keith Chen, Whorfian economist", 2/9/2012): Chen […] thinks that if your language has clear grammatical future tense marking […], then you and your fellow native speakers have a dramatically increased likelihood of exhibiting high rates of obesity, smoking, drinking, […]

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Watermarking text?

Ashley Belanger, "OpenAI, Google will watermark AI-generated content to hinder deepfakes, misinfo", ars technica 7/21/2023: Seven companies — including OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, Meta, Amazon, Anthropic, and Inflection —- have committed to developing tech to clearly watermark AI-generated content. That will help make it safer to share AI-generated text, video, audio, and images without misleading others […]

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Trumpchi, the car

Now comes news of a Chinese car with an unusual name that is aiming to enter the American market: "China to Export Trumpchi Cars to U.S., Maybe With a New Name", by Keith Bradsher, NYT (11/17/17). GUANGZHOU, China — The cars are called Trumpchi (though their Chinese maker insists the name is just a coincidence). […]

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No word in any European language for "a vice common in Asia"

Mark Swofford recently encountered a variation of the "no word for" trope in a footnote in an 1831 work, History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea from 1807 to 1810 (Jìng hǎi fēn jì 靖海氛記), translated by Karl Friedrich Neumann. Here's the passage: Chang paou was a native of Sin hwy, near the […]

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Linguistic Diversity and Traffic Accidents

An important new paper (Sean Roberts & James Winters, "Linguistic Diversity and Traffic Accidents: Lessons from Statistical Studies of Cultural Traits", PLOS ONE 2013, is explained clearly in a blog post by one of the authors, "Uncovering spurious correlations between language and culture", a replicated typo 8/15/2013: James and I have a new paper out in […]

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The ventious crapests pounted raditally

The comments on my recent post, "Making linguistics relevant (for sports blogs)" meandered into a discussion of linguistic example sentences that display morphosyntactic patterning devoid of semantic content. The most famous example is of course Noam Chomsky's Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, though many have argued that it's quite possible to assign meaning to the […]

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Being a Gators?

The Sugar Bowl, where the Florida Gators shellacked the Cincinnati Bearcats 51-24, was a disappointment to me as a football game. But there was some added value linguistically. Pete Thamel's NYT article ("Sweet Finish for Tebow and Gators", 1/2/2010) quotes Tim Tebow: “I dreamed about being a Gators since I was 6 years old and […]

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"Internet Asperger's Syndrome" and "Austistic economics"

The ordinary-language meaning of technical terms often wanders far from home, following paths of connotative association and denotative opportunity. We've followed the semantic travels of "passive voice" through meanings like "vague about agency", "stylistically listless", and "failure to take sides". I recently read that writers should "Use an active voice (putting things in present/future) instead […]

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