Linguistics

Allo, non mais allo quoi

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The weather impacts not only upon our mood but also our voice. An international research team has analysed the influence of humidity on the evolution of languages.

Their study has revealed that languages with a wide range of tone pitches are more prevalent in regions with high humidity levels. In contrast, languages with simpler tone pitches are mainly found in drier regions. This is explained by the fact that the vocal folds require a humid environment to produce the right tone.

The tone pitch is a key element of communication in all languages, but more so in some than others. German or English, for example, still remain comprehensible even if all words are intonated evenly by a robot. In Mandarin Chinese, however, the pitch tone can completely change the meaning of a word.

{ EurekAlert | Continue reading }

‘We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.’ —Saul Bellow

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DNA is generally regarded as the basic building block of life itself. In the most fundamental sense, DNA is nothing more than a chemical compound, albeit a very complex and peculiar one. DNA is an information-carrying molecule. The specific sequence of base pairs contained in a DNA molecule carries with it genetic information, and encodes for the creation of particular proteins. When taken as a whole, the DNA contained in a single human cell is a complete blueprint and instruction manual for the creation of that human being.

In this article we discuss myriad current and developing ways in which people are utilizing DNA to store or convey information of all kinds. For example, researchers have encoded the contents of a whole book in DNA, demonstrating the potential of DNA as a way of storing and transmitting information. In a different vein, some artists have begun to create living organisms with altered DNA as works of art. Hence, DNA is a medium for the communication of ideas. Because of the ability of DNA to store and convey information, its regulation must necessarily raise concerns associated with the First Amendment’s prohibition against the abridgment of freedom of speech.

New and developing technologies, and the contemporary and future social practices they will engender, necessitate the renewal of an approach towards First Amendment coverage that takes into account the purposes and values incarnated in the Free Speech Clause of the Constitution.

{ Charleston School of Law | Continue reading }

photo { Bruce Davidson }

‘If you’re critical, you’re already out of the game.’ —Jeff Koons

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This paper considers when a firm’s freely chosen name can signal meaningful information about its quality, and examines a setting in which it does.

Plumbing firms with names beginning with an “A” or a number receive five times more service complaints, on average. In addition, firms use names beginning with an “A” or a number more often in larger markets, and those that do have higher prices.

These results reflect consumers’ search decisions and extend to online position auctions: plumbing firms that advertise on Google receive more complaints, which contradicts prior theoretical predictions but fits the setting considered here.

{ Ryan C. McDevitt | PDF }

Hugs Not Drugs

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The term “stress” had none of its contemporary connotations before the 1920s. It is a form of the Middle English destresse, derived via Old French from the Latin stringere, “to draw tight.” The word had long been in use in physics to refer to the internal distribution of a force exerted on a material body, resulting in strain. In the 1920s and 1930s, biological and psychological circles occasionally used the term to refer to a mental strain or to a harmful environmental agent that could cause illness.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

The modern idea of stress began on a rooftop in Canada, with a handful of rats freezing in the winter wind.

This was 1936 and by that point the owner of the rats, an endocrinologist named Hans Selye, had become expert at making rats suffer for science.

“Almost universally these rats showed a particular set of signs,” Jackson says. “There would be changes particularly in the adrenal gland. So Selye began to suggest that subjecting an animal to prolonged stress led to tissue changes and physiological changes with the release of certain hormones, that would then cause disease and ultimately the death of the animal.”

And so the idea of stress — and its potential costs to the body — was born.

But here’s the thing: The idea of stress wasn’t born to just any parent. It was born to Selye, a scientist absolutely determined to make the concept of stress an international sensation.

{ NPR | Continue reading }

art { Richard Phillips, Blauvelt, 2013 }

Keepin it real since 94 ☞ *Amaze*

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“Would you please take a selfie of my friend and I in front of this window?”

She was not aware that she had approached a linguist. […]

It would not be like him to snarl that of my friend and I should be of my friend and me (or perhaps better, of me and my friend). Nor did he remonstrate with the woman over her rather extraordinary misuse of the noun selfie.

{ Language Log | Continue reading }

unrelated { Photographer countersues Empire State Building for $5M over topless photos }

‘Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.’ —H. L. Mencken

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More than 400 years after Shakespeare wrote it, we can now say that “Romeo and Juliet” has the wrong name. Perhaps the play should be called “Juliet and Her Nurse,” which isn’t nearly as sexy, or “Romeo and Benvolio,” which has a whole different connotation.

I discovered this by writing a computer program to count how many lines each pair of characters in “Romeo and Juliet” spoke to each other, with the expectation that the lovers in the greatest love story of all time would speak more than any other pair.

{ FiveThirtyEight | Continue reading }

‘All writing is pigshit. People who leave the obscure and try to define whatever it is that goes on in their heads, are pigs.’ —Antonin Artaud

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Ultracrepidarian (n):”Somebody who gives opinions on subjects they know nothing about.”

Groke (v): “To gaze at somebody while they’re eating in the hope that they’ll give you some of their food.” My dog constantly grokes at me longingly while I eat dinner.

{ BI | Continue reading }

Marty McFly: [seeing a holographic ad for Jaws 19] Shark still looks fake.

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Author profiling is a problem of growing importance in applications in forensics, security, and marketing. E.g., from a forensic linguistics perspective one would like being able to know the linguistic profile of the author of a harassing text message (language used by a certain type of people) and identify certain characteristics. Similarly, from a marketing viewpoint, companies may be interested in knowing, on the basis of the analysis of blogs and online product reviews, the demographics of people that like or dislike their products. The focus is on author profiling in social media since we are mainly interested in everyday language and how it reflects basic social and personality processes.

{ PAN | Continue reading }

photos { Neal Barr, Texas Track Club, 1964 }

‘Un seul être vous manque, et tout est dépeuplé.’ –Lamartine

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…the specific forms of linguistic mayhem performed by “young people nowadays.” For American teenagers, these examples usually include the discourse marker like, rising final intonation on declaratives, and the address term dude, which is cited as an example of the inarticulateness of young men in particular. This stereotype views the use of dude as unconstrained – a sign of inexpressiveness in which one word is used for any and all utterances. […]

The data presented here confirm that dude is an address term that is used mostly by young men to address other young men; however, its use has expanded so that it is now used as a general address term for a group (same or mixed gender), and by and to women. Dude is developing into a discourse marker that need not identify an addressee, but more generally encodes the speaker’s stance to his or her current addressee(s). The term is used mainly in situations in which a speaker takes a stance of solidarity or camaraderie, but crucially in a nonchalant, not-too-enthusiastic manner.

{ American Speech | Continue reading | via TNI }

images { Oh Seung Yul, naeng myun, 2011 | Postcard, Deutsches Reich. 1900 }

‘Existence is tedious, anyway.’ —Anton Chekhov

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“I want you to know…” or “I’m just saying…” or “I hate to be the one to tell you this…” Often, these phrases imply the opposite of what the words mean, as with the phrase, “I’m not saying…” as in “I’m not saying we have to stop seeing each other, but…” […]

Language experts have textbook names for these phrases—”performatives,” or “qualifiers.” Essentially, taken alone, they express a simple thought, such as “I am writing to say…” At first, they seem harmless, formal, maybe even polite. But coming before another statement, they often signal that bad news, or even some dishonesty on the part of the speaker, will follow. […]

Their use may be increasing as a result of social media, where people use phrases such as “I am thinking that…” or “As far as I know…” both to avoid committing to a definitive position and to manage the impression they make in print.

{ WSJ | Continue reading }

photo { Marek Chorzepa }

No more through rolling clouds to soar again

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Spoken irony, for the most part, avoids such pitfalls by virtue of tone of voice and the body language with which we accompany it. By cocking an eyebrow, by feigning enthusiasm or boredom, we give an attentive listener the clues they need to extract our true meaning. The problems most often arise not when we utter an ironic statement but when we try to write it down.

Yet written language is not without its own body language of sorts in the form of punctuation, and to approximate a specific tone of voice we might employ italic or bold text. Despite this, writers persist in looking for alternative ways to signal irony. For evidence of this we need look no further than the prevalence of the “smileys” with which we decorate jokes sent over SMS, instant messaging and email. Plainly, we do not trust conventional marks alone to convey our meaning. Even a crude :-) or ;-) is preferable to having an ironic comment misunderstood by its reader.

{ New Statesman | Continue reading }

To digg the dust encloased heare

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Cursing, researchers say, is a human universal. Every language, dialect or patois ever studied, whether living or dead, spoken by millions or by a single small tribe, turns out to have its share of forbidden speech, some variant on comedian George Carlin’s famous list of the seven dirty words that are not supposed to be uttered on radio or television. […]

Researchers point out that cursing is often an amalgam of raw, spontaneous feeling and targeted, gimlet-eyed cunning. When one person curses at another, they say, the curser rarely spews obscenities and insults at random, but rather will assess the object of his wrath, and adjust the content of the “uncontrollable” outburst accordingly.

Because cursing calls on the thinking and feeling pathways of the brain in roughly equal measure and with handily assessable fervor, scientists say that by studying the neural circuitry behind it, they are gaining new insights into how the different domains of the brain communicate — and all for the sake of a well-venomed retort. […]

“Studies show that if you’re with a group of close friends, the more relaxed you are, the more you swear,” Burridge said.

{ SF Gate/Natalie Angier | Continue reading }