Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Mother of All Garden-Path Sentences

I posted this to Facebook but have been told it is too good to hide there.  So, this appeared on the Daily Kos on Sunday.  It's the second sentence - I'm including the first one for context:
[A church in Davidson, NC placed a bronze statue of Jesus sleeping while homeless on their property.] So a neighbor outraged a taker dare get a bit of rest in her neighborhood called the police in order to have them remove the unsightly vagrant from her neighborhood.
Okay, spoiler alert, here's the grammatical interpretation:
So a neighbor (who was) outraged (that) a "taker" (would) dare (to) get a bit of rest in her neighborhood called the police in order to...
Good one, huh?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Soziales Verhalten in deutscher Konversation

If you can't read that title, this post isn't for you. If, on the other hand, that title is in your mother tongue, you need to click here and help out a grad student. And if you know native speakers of German, please give them a heads up.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Essay Contest: Dictionary of American Regional English

How cool does it get? DARE is now holding an essay contest -- just 500 little words -- on this question:
how would you use DARE to enrich and improve your writing?
Deadline is April 30 and the winner gets a 3-year subscription to the digital edition of DARE. Full details here.

Ready, set, go!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I heart word-formation

On a hotel bill Joe got on his recent trip to England:

Non-Vatable - awesome!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

'Bakery' = 'baked goods' in Dublin!?!?

Well, at the Dublin airport at least. I changed planes there on the way to England (and then Scotland), and bought a quick cup of coffee at this place:

Anybody know offhand whether Irish English has this usage generally?

Saturday, January 04, 2014


As I feared, I didn't make it to the Word of the Year at the American Dialect Society yesterday. Here's the ADS press release. I'll ask around today for insights into the discussions, but am mostly relieved for the moment that twerk and selfie didn't win.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Word of the Year

The nominations are out, as most readers of this blog will know. Here's a list. Some people have said it's not a very exciting set, but there's some interesting stuff in there, I think … and some things that seem like they'll stay around for a while.

I may actually miss the festivities this year, but there are lots of Wisconsin folks around and maybe somebody will post.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

You blame Chomsky for WHAT?!?!?!?

OK, this is a pretty weird piece. It starts with this title + comment:
It's time to challenge the notion that there is only one way to speak English. Why do we persist in thinking that standard English is right, when it is spoken by only 15% of the British population? Linguistics-loving Harry Ritchie blames Noam Chomsky.
Wait, what? It's Chomsky's fault that there's linguistic bias? Here's the start of the article:
Did you see that great documentary on linguistics the other night? What about that terrific series on Radio 4 about the Indo-European language family tree? Or that news report on language extinction? It is strange that none of those programmes happened, or has ever happened: it's not as if language is an arcane subject. Just as puzzling is the conspicuous lack of a properly informed book about language – either our own or language in general.
Oh.  So, who gets the blame? After some meandering commentary on Pinker's Language Instinct, among other things, we eventually learn:
I put it down to the strange way that the discipline developed under the aegis of the man who has dominated and defined it since the late 50s, the father of modern linguistics, Chomsky.
And this is no vague blame, just about the popular impact or perception of linguistics:
the wholesale acceptance of Chomsky's rationalist assumptions has meant that the discipline has been hunting for unicorns while neglecting many key areas of language. There is still little research being carried out on, for example, environmental influences on children's language acquisition. 
Most pressingly of all, too little work is being done to record the languages currently facing extinction. By one estimate, 95% of the 7,000 languages now spoken in the world are in danger of dying out. Recording these should have been a priority.
I just googled 'endangered languages' and got over 2,000,000 hits. Google 'generative grammar' and you get over 500,000. That probably roughly reflects the current levels of activity on those two fronts. I would add something on 'environmental influences on children's language acquisition', but I'm not entirely sure what it means.

Ultimately, Chomsky "turned grammar into a technical subject full of jargon and algebra studied on whiteboards by men with beards". Yeah, that's certainly killed physics and cognitive science and whatnot. 

I eventually realized I was reading science fiction. 

Image from here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Academic freedom isn't in Kansas anymore

This story started floating here overnight about the Kansas Board of Regents new policy about social media. The link is from the WaPo blog The Monkey Cage and it's worth reading.

Here's the key passage (emphasis added):
The chief executive officer of a state university has the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate from employment any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media. “Social media” means any facility for online publication and commentary, including but not limited to blogs, wikis, and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. “Improper use of social media” means making a communication through social media that:

i. directly incites violence or other immediate breach of the peace;

ii. when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interests of the University;

iii. discloses without authority any confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data; or

iv. subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.

 In determining whether the employee’s communication constitutes an improper use of social media under paragraph (iv), the chief executive officer shall balance the interest of the university in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern, and may consider the employee’s position within the university and whether the employee used or publicized the university name, brands, website, official title or school / department / college or otherwise created the appearance of the communication being endorsed, approved or connected to the university in a manner that discredits the university. The chief executive officer may also consider whether the communication was made during the employee’s working hours or the communication was transmitted utilizing university systems or equipment. This policy on improper use of social media shall apply prospectively from its date of adoption by the Kansas Board of Regents. 
A lot of faculty I know see their proper role as specifically trying to push their institutions in ways that many administrators instantly interpret as 'contrary to the best interests' of those institutions. And it seems like interfering with the institution's 'ability to effectively provide services' surely includes working for higher wages and better conditions for workers, for instance.

Now, if they actually try to enforce this, there'll surely be long legal battles over it. But this is not a good moment.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Prepositioning ...

This blog is literally all about verbing. And we've talked some about nouning. But today's Bizarro takes us to a whole nother lexical category ...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Animal communication, hockey player edition

In case you missed the biggest language or communication news of the week, here it is:

Scientists Believe Hockey Players May Communicate By Banging Sticks Against Boards
At least one contributor to this blog plays hockey (and the image here may be the stick he uses, in fact); it's good to know that he's capable of some form of communication beyond snarky blog posts.

Here's a key piece of the story, from biologists at Stanford:
“We found that hockey players can use stick-banging to indicate anything from disagreement with a referee to encouragement of their teammates,” said lead researcher Dr. Margaret Cundiff, who explained that players typically strike the boards a single time with force when they want to display anger, or use multiple softer taps in order to display approval. “Sometimes, an entire bench full of players will begin banging the boards in unison—either signaling that a goal has occurred, or that the players want a goal to occur. This actually lets hockey players ‘speak’ to each other, if you will, in surprisingly complex ways far beyond what was previously anticipated. They are truly magnificent creatures.”
Wow, magnificent indeed. 

Thank you, The Onion, for continuing top-shelf science journalism.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Science and Nature "distorting the scientific process"

Was too busy to blog this when I first saw it, but it doesn't seem like it's circulating as widely as I would have expected … Nobel Prize winner Randy Schekman has announced he's boycotting Science, Nature and Cell, because they …
are distorting the scientific process and represent a "tyranny" that must be broken.
The original article has this important note:
He also attacks a widespread metric called an "impact factor", used by many top-tier journals in their marketing. 
A journal's impact factor is a measure of how often its papers are cited, and is used as a proxy for quality. But Schekman said it was "toxic influence" on science that "introduced a distortion". He writes: "A paper can become highly cited because it is good science - or because it is eye-catching, provocative, or wrong."
This act alone won't change things, but maybe it's a start?

Image from here.