Introduction to linguistics

2013/08/07 at 06:26

The answers to this Quora question provide an entertaining introduction to several aspects of linguistics: What are some English language rules that native speakers don’t know, but still follow? Among several very good answers, this one is very succinct:

Expletive infixation

If you want to insert ‘fucking’ in the middle of a word you know exactly where to do it. You say Colo-fuckin-rado, not Co-fuckin-lorado.

Even more surprisingly, if you want to insert ‘diddley’ in the middle of a word, like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, you know where to put that and it’s not the same place. (Note: Flanders’s also duplicates a syllable so it’s slightly different.)

Still more surprisingly, the rule that explains this placement can be explained in terms of prosody which is an entire dimension of linguistic (and almost musical) rules that few people seem to be aware they use.

Tie-dye party

2013/07/13 at 14:27

A couple of months ago, a very creative friend of ours hosted a tie-dye party. It’s actually quite an involved process. You have to soak the shirts for 15 minutes in advance, then tie and dye them, and then 24 hours later, you have to rinse them thoroughly, apply a fixative and then wash them with a fixative detergent.

She purchased the dyes and other chemicals (about $160 worth, I think she said) and then invited several families over to do the tie-dying in her front yard. The following evening, I spent several hours rinsing our clothing on the deck and washing them. We had a lot of fun, and I made the shirt below, as well as a couple of T-shirts. I’m afraid my attention to detail wasn’t very good, but every time I wear this shirt, I get compliments, so I guess I did well enough.

Stan's fetching swimming attire

Do you know anyone who…?

2013/05/02 at 10:56

Recently, Charlie Pierce got thinking about how well Americans of one group know others outside their group. He got a polling organization to ask a set of “Do you know anyone who…?” questions, and here are the results:

Results: The percentage of Americans who don’t know anyone who…

  • Died in Iraq or Afghanistan: 87%
  • Is part of a married gay couple: 76%
  • Was a victim of gun violence: 73%
  • Has HIV/AIDS or died of AIDS: 72%
  • Is an illegal immigrant: 71%
  • Is a millionaire: 63%
  • Is in jail: 62%
  • Committed suicide: 59%
  • Had an abortion: 49%
  • Lost his/her job in the financial crisis: 46%
  • Doesn’t have health care: 31%
  • Has been arrested: 26%
  • Owns a gun: 22%
  • Served in the military: 17%

In reading through the list, I realized I do, in fact, know people who meet almost all of these criteria.

Here are my responses:

  • Died in Iraq or Afghanistan: No
  • Is part of a married gay couple: Yes
  • Was a victim of gun violence: Yes
  • Has HIV/AIDS or died of AIDS: Yes
  • Is an illegal immigrant: Yes
  • Is a millionaire: Yes
  • Is in jail: Yes
  • Committed suicide: attempted, yes, succeeded, not that I can think of.
  • Had an abortion: Yes
  • Lost his/her job in the financial crisis: Depends on how you define ‘financial crisis’
  • Doesn’t have health care: Yes
  • Has been arrested: Yes
  • Owns a gun: Yes
  • Served in the military: Yes

So, I apparently have a much broader experience than the average American. I would like to think that it makes me more accepting, but I don’t want to flatter myself. I’m not sure what else to take from this survey and my answers except to try to keep in mind that many of the people around me do not have such broad experience with their fellow residents of the US.

On the death of RSS

2013/04/03 at 13:07

I’ve been an avid user of Google Reader for several years, and I am bummed about Google’s decision to shutter it. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about the life of the underlying technology: RSS. In this blog post, Ryan Holiday offers his opinion on why RSS, along with Google alerts and Delicious, is dying:

Think about it: in an ad impression-and pageview-driven business, a service [such as an RSS reader] that allows users to opt out of the noise and get content delivered directly to them is dangerous. When the common practice for bloggers is to publish first, verify second, the paper trail of Google Reader can be an embarrassment. And when sites do everything they can to hook you and increase the critical “time on site” metric or hit you with retargeting cookies, off-site RSS Readers once again stand in the way.

In other words, RSS is impervious to blogging’s worst, but most profitable, traits.

Depressing but probably accurate.

 

Watson in the laundry

2013/03/31 at 12:44

20130331-134349.jpg

The mystery poster

2013/03/18 at 12:57

In 1982-83, I was a high school exchange student in Austria. A few months after I returned home, my friend Jim sent me the political poster below that he had found in Graz. He identified the blond guy on the left with the bandaged head as me. It sure looks like me, and it was–and still is–very common to find me with a bumped head, but I had  no recollection of this photo being taken. So, either I attended a political event that I don’t remember or my Austrian doppelgänger did.

Reflections on a life lived

2013/02/20 at 09:55

I received my Ph.D. in Germanic Studies from the University of Texas in 1997, but I work as a software quality assurance engineer. I do not directly use my language/culture/literature education in my work, but I started out as a computational linguist in jobs which very much required my educational background. I was recently invited to talk with the students currently enrolled in my graduate program about career opportunities outside of the academy. How could I offer any kind of advice when I didn’t really have any particular plan before the age of 30? After a lot of soul searching, I settled on describing it this way: I was the recipient of some significant good luck, but only because I was open to a variety of experiences did I take advantage of the luck when it presented itself.

The biggest break came after six years in grad school. I had completed my coursework, was working on my dissertation and was beginning to think about my longer-term future. I admitted that I wasn’t particularly passionate any longer about my academic area (if I’d ever been very passionate, to be honest). Therefore, there was no reason to believe that I would be among the smallish percentage of my peers who would get good jobs in academia. So, I made a conscious decision to open myself up to other opportunities. Very shortly after this self-confession, there was a part-time job opening for a English-to-German lexical coder and quality analyst with the Metal machine translation project (which was, at the time, owned by Siemens and maintained a development office at UT). To make a long story short, this job led to a full-time job as a software quality assurance engineer with  Logos machine translation and ultimately to my career as a software QA engineer.

As far as I know, I was the only one of 20 or so qualified grad students who applied for the Metal position. There are very few industry applications for my graduate education, and working in machine translation was one of them, but most of my peers were so focused on the very narrow path that was presented to them by their graduate program that they didn’t even think to try out this opportunity. Tellingly, when I decided to pursue this path instead of one directly in the academy, some of the faculty members in my program wrote me off. They didn’t consider my job as a computational linguist a valid career choice for my education.

So, my advice to the current grad students was to think more broadly of the skills that they’ve acquired in grad school and just to be open to the opportunities that fate places in our paths. You just never know what might come along, and if you’re not open to it, you might not recognize an interesting opportunity when it presents itself.

Get Rich Slowly!

2012/12/17 at 09:00

Marco ArmentMarco Arment‘s new project, which he’s calling The Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud, is brilliant. As a counter to the typical get-your-investors-rich-quickly model of venture capital investment in startups, Marco believes that “ social capital [not money] has become the bottleneck to success.” Therefore, Marco is backing innovative projects with his own social capital: his ability to get “world to go look at what you made.”

Having worked in numerous startups (including one that refused venture capital), I’ve long been critical of the VC model of investment. My primary criticism is that it reinforces short-term, get-rich-quick thinking, not a view for the long term viability of the product or services. Marco holds similar beliefs and furthermore, he has the ability to help give a leg up to innovators who aren’t interested in, or aren’t appealing to, the venture capital model.

 

 

Racial injustice

2012/12/10 at 10:27

This story reminds me of an experience that I had many years ago that made a deep impression on me. In 1989, I think it was, while I was in grad school, I taught German at Southwestern University for a semester while the German professor there was on sabbatical. On my first drive through Georgetown, I got a speeding ticket in a school zone. For the record, I had slowed for the school zone but sped back up when I thought I was through it. I wasn’t paying close enough attention–I was still in the school zone.

Being an idealistic young man, I decided to appear in court to plead that it was my first drive through town, etc. So, I showed up to my court date, wearing a shirt and tie, or course. When I got there, the court room was packed with probably over a hundred people. Like the Episcopal priest who recounted the story I linked to above, I was surprised at the racial diversity in the room.

The judge went down hist list of accused, reading the charge and asking the person whether they would plead guilty, innocent or no contest. As he read one Hispanic man’s name, a woman stood, explained that the man doesn’t speak English and that she was his sister. The judge asked her if she could translate for him. She agreed.

The judge read the charge (public intoxication, if I recall correctly). When the judge asked how the man would plead, my Spanish was good enough to understand that the sister only translated guilty or not guilty but not no contest. Either the sister didn’t understand what it meant or how to translate it, or both. The man pleaded guilty.

It struck me that the court receptionist was bilingual but nobody in the court itself was. Justice was not served that day due to a language barrier and the court’s lack of preparedness for it.

The love of a dog

2012/12/04 at 09:49

Profound thoughts:

It was my birthday yesterday, and I had to lay down Mister President, my dog of ten years, to rest forever.

. . .

Mister President came to me at the height of my selfishness, during a time of my life when, fundamentally, I was interested only in myself, despite all the relationships I’d had up until that point. And when he came to me, he taught me how to care for someone else, to devote myself to someone else, to really love someone else — unreservedly and unconditionally .

. . .

In this way, he saved me. Without him, I don’t know if I would have been ready to fall in love with Laura when I met her, and more importantly, I don’t know if I would have known how to sustain that love. And without Mister President, I don’t know if I would have been equipped to care for and truly love our wonderful daughter.

In and of themselves, those are two enormous gifts that he gave me. This is what dogs do, I guess. You think you’re doing all the giving. But they give you more than you know in return.