Mystery Language

Can anyone determine what language this woman is speaking?

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Curses! Introducing a new blog, "Strong Language"

There's a new linguablog that's definitely worth your time if you're not put off by vulgarities. And if you revel in vulgarities, well, you're in luck. It's called Strong Language, and it's the creation of James Harbeck and Stan Carey.

James and Stan have enlisted a great lineup of contributors (I'm happy to be one of them). As the "About" page explains, Strong Language "gives a place for professional language geeks to talk about things they can’t talk about in more polite contexts. It’s a sweary blog about swearing."

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Unwearied effort however beefsteak

I spotted this colossal translation fail at the top of the Chinalawtranslate home page.

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Fake word history of the month

Jason Torchinsky, "A very common word was invented by Dodge", Jalopnik 12/15/2014:

Dodge is known for producing many things, most notably cars, minivans, and sometimes large, lingering clouds of tire smoke. Oh, and the K-Car. But one thing I didn't realize was that they're also in the word business, coining an extremely common word way back in the 1910s. [self-referential clickbait omitted] 

That wasn't so bad, right? Sorry to do that, but, you know, I have old cars to maintain. Okay, here's the word that didn't exist before some Dodge PR guy came up with it:  Dependability.

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The Price of Wisdom

Here's (some of) Google Street View for 7 Coulter Avenue in Ardmore PA:

Why am I showing this to you? Read on…

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The global language network

Michael Erard has a nice discussion in Science magazine of a paper recently published in PNAS: "Want to influence the world? Map reveals the best languages to speak", 12/15/2014.

The original paper is Shahar Ronen et al., "Links that speak: the global language network and its association with global fame", PNAS 2014. And there's a cute interactive visualization.

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"X percent of Y are Z"

It's amazing how troublesome simple percentage-talk can be. Donald McNeil Jr., "Fewer Ebola Cases Go Unreported Than Thought, Study Finds", NYT 12/16/2014

By looking at virus samples gathered in Sierra Leone and contract-tracing data from Liberia, the scientists working on the new study estimated that about 70 percent of cases in West Africa go unreported. That is far fewer than earlier estimates, which assumed that up to 250 percent did.

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Mother Tongue: lost and found

The idea of a "Mother Tongue" has long preoccupied me, and I once wrote a lengthy paper about the relationship between Taiwanese and Mandarin entitled "How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language".

The topic has now come back to me from a different angle, one that I might title "How to Remember your Mother Tongue and (Temporarily) Forget Your Global Language".

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Editing error or recursive construction, Take 2

Lant Pritchett & Lawrence H. Summers, "Growth slowdowns: Middle-income trap vs. regression to the mean", Vox 12/11/2014:

No question is more important for the living standards of billions of people or for the evolution of the global system than the question of how rapidly differently economies will grow over the next generation.

Is this a slip of the fingers (e.g. for "how rapidly different economies will grow")? Or do the authors really mean a sort of second derivative,  "how rapidly differently economies will grow" meaning something like "at what rate the growth rates of economies will diverge"?

 

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"No Turkish leader has had as much influence as Ataturk as Erdogan"

Ishaan Tharoor, "Why Turkey’s president wants to revive the language of the Ottoman Empire", WaPo 12/12/2014:

In 1928, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the modern Turkish republic, enacted one of the more dramatic and radical reforms of the 20th century. Ataturk ordered the wholesale transformation of the Turkish language: He instituted a Latin alphabet, abandoning more than a millennium of writing in Arabic script, and had the language stripped of centuries of accumulated Persian and Arabic words. Instruction of "Ottoman" Turkish was banned. […]

Fast forward almost a century. No Turkish leader has had as much influence as Ataturk as the country's current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And Erdogan, it seems, is keen on turning back Ataturk's legacy.

The decision to institute compulsory education in the Ottoman writing system  is worthy of discussion. But first, can anyone construe the sentence that I've put in bold? Is it an editing error, or is it a construction that for some reason is escaping me?

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UM / UH update

Nine years ago, I stumbled on an unexpected fact about the filled pauses UM and UH ("Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005). I found, as I expected, that older people tend to use UH more often than younger people do, and that males tend to use UH more than females. The surprising thing was that UM seemed to work in the opposite way, at least in the (large) American conversational-speech corpus that I looked at — younger people use UM more than older people, and females use UM more than males:

Last summer, some colleagues and I began a study of interviews with adolescents on the autism spectrum compared with neurotypical controls, and one of the features that we looked at was filled pause usage. We found a significant difference in UM vs. UH usage; and subsequently learned that some researchers from OGI had reported a similar finding in a poster at the 2014 International Meeting for Autism Research ("Fillers: Autism, gender, and age", 7/30/2014).

A couple of weeks later, this came up in coffee-break conversation at the Methods in Dialectology meeting in Groningen, and a few of the people sitting around the table in the break room immediately pulled out their laptops and started looking at other datasets. To our surprise, we found essentially the same pattern in the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus, in the (spoken part of) the British National Corpus, in the Edinburgh-Glasgow Map Task Corpus, and in collections of Dutch, German, and Norwegian conversational speech. This work has continued (for a partial progress report, see "UM / UH in Norwegian", 10/8/2014), and we hope to finish a journal paper on the topic over the holiday break. As part of the effort, I've looked a bit more closely at one of the datasets used in my 2005 post, and below I'll show you a few of the resulting pictures.

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Kazakh

Google Translate just keeps getting bigger and bigger and better and better.  As of today, it now includes Kazakh.  And here's the first word that I typed in Google Translate + Kazakh:

Қазақ

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"Not a verb" is not an argument

This morning, when I checked out the website of The Atlantic, I saw an article by Megan Garber with the headline, "Gifting Is Not a Verb":

Megan has written perceptively about language before, notably in her piece from last year, "English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet," which played a large role in bringing attention to the emerging use of "because" — shortly thereafter recognized as the American Dialect Society's 2013 Word of the Year. (Some might argue that the new "because" isn't a preposition; Geoff Pullum defends that classification here and here but says it actually was one all along.)

The article itself is a seasonally appropriate exercise in word aversion, and Megan quotes one of Mark Liberman's posts on the topic to try to understand the source of her intense dislike of "gift" as a verb. But the headline goes much further, declaring that it is not a verb, despite the fact that the article clearly demonstrates that it is a verb, even if it's one that many people don't care for.

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