Shared posts

26 Aug 15:45

datarep: Letter and next-letter frequencies in English by...


Letter and next-letter frequencies in English

by Udzu

The best part of this chart is the pseudowords it generates: 

  • Bastrabot
  • Forliatitive
  • Wasions
  • Felogy
  • Sonsih
  • Fourn
  • Meembege
  • Prouning
  • Nown
  • Abrip
  • Dithely
  • Raliket
  • Ascoult
  • Quarm
  • Winferlifterand
  • Uniso
  • Hise
  • Nuouish
  • Guncelawits
  • Rectere
  • Doesium
  • Whigand 
  • Gamplato
  • Onal
  • Foriticent
  • Thed 
  • Euwit 
  • Gentran 
  • Loubing.
20 Aug 07:31

"Deep in the belly of a giant fiberglass triceratops, eight rare bats have made a home."

“Deep in the belly of a giant fiberglass triceratops, eight rare bats have made a home.”

- Today in “linguists are not kidding when they say that your command of English enables you to understand sentences that have never occurred before in the entire history of the human species.” (from Atlas Obscura)
20 Aug 07:31

breakaribecca:Found this quote in an article on the harm of...


Found this quote in an article on the harm of prescriptivism in social movements, so I made a simple, shareable version.

The whole article, about English varieties in Ghana, is also worth reading

17 Aug 13:38

White tears in Trumpville

by Lisa Wade, PhD

This week FOX commentator Melissa Francis was brought to tears while trying to defend Trump’s assertion that “many sides” were to blame for the fatal violence in Charlottesville, VA during a white supremacist, anti-Semitic, pro-Confederacy demonstration and counter-demonstration. She was challenged by two of her fellow panelists who argued that Trump was drawing a false equivalence to suggest that each side was responsible. Oddly, Francis took their comments on Trump personally, began to cry, and said this:

I am so uncomfortable having this conversation… because I know what’s in my heart and I know that I don’t think that anyone is different, better, or worse based on the color of their skin. But  I feel like there is nothing any of us can say right without without being judged!

At this point, a fellow FOX commentator, Harris Faulkner, who is African American, interrupted to console her:

You know Melissa, there have been a lot of tears… It’s a difficult place where we are… [but] we can do this. We can have this conversation. Oh yes, we can. And it’s okay if we cry having it.

But is it okay for white people to cry in the midst of conversations about racism?

Education scholar Frances V. Rains has argued that it is not okay. In her essay, Is the Benign Really Harmless?, Rains discusses several types of reactions white people frequently have to difficult conversations about race, ones that undermine meaningful progress. In one, she talks about white people’s tears.

When a white person cries in response to frank discussions of racism, Rains explains, it derails the conversation, refocuses the attention on the white person, and holds anti-racist speakers accountable for attending to his or her feelings. The most important thing in the room, in other words, becomes a privileged person’s hurt feelings, not generations of systematic racial oppression, exploitation, and violence.

This is exactly what happened in the clip above.

  1. The panelists were debating whether Trump’s comments amounted to a false equivalence that was supportive of racism and anti-Semitism.
  2. A white woman rejects the notion that Trump’s comments endorsed bigotry.
  3. When some disagree, she cries and begins discussing what it feels like for her personally to be having this conversation.
  4. The conversation turns away from racism, anti-Semitism, and the possibility that the President of the United States is a Nazi sympathizer, and toward the white woman and her feelings.
  5. Her discomfort become the problem to be resolved.
  6. A member of the disadvantaged group steps in to comfort her.

This is just as Rains would have predicted.

Amazingly, an earnest conversation about oppression turns into an opportunity to give solace to the oppressor… and it’s a member of the oppressed who must do the comforting.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(View original at

15 Aug 07:30

snowgall: Rare audio of indigenous languages saved by invention...


Rare audio of indigenous languages saved by invention 100 years later

Non-invasive technology allows researchers to transfer recordings from thousands of decaying wax cylinders.

Optical scan technology is helping researchers at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, preserve audio of 78 indigenous California languages, most of which were recorded more than a century ago. The recordings are on approximately 2,700 wax cylinders that are now barely audible due to issues such as mold. These are the only known sound recordings for several of the languages, and in many other cases, the recordings include unique speech practices and otherwise unknown stories and songs.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), linguist Andrew Garrett, digital librarian Erik Mitchell and anthropologist Ira Jacknis, all of UC Berkeley, are restoring these recordings.

[read more and watch the video at the NSF page]

29 Jul 10:56

A video from Nyle DiMarco illustrating the difference...

A video from Nyle DiMarco illustrating the difference between hearing actors playing Deaf characters and his actual fluent ASL (subtitled). 

One thing that I noticed was that many of the movie clips had the actors poorly lit, so you couldn’t see their signing very well, especially their faces. Non-manual markers are also a really important part of ASL grammar! 

26 Jul 20:39

christophoronomicon: fieldofblackbirds: shaelit: spinningyarns: madmaudlingoes: assassinregrets: ...







im just

the cherokee language has a verb tense that specifically notes the exclusion of a person in the conversation

so there’s i’m going, you’re going, we’re going, and we’re going (but not you) 

i love it

This is called “clusivity” and it’s found a bunch of languages, including Chechen, Vietnamese, Samoan, and Quechua.

Some languages just side-eye harder than others.

No wait, please come back. How does this work? Like, is there a conjugation system so it’s everyone by me, everyone but you, everyone but him/her/it, etc.? Or is the change made on the noun, so there’s like the root verb hanging there and everyone knows SOMEONE is being excluded, but you don’t know until the indication pops up on the word for “you”?

In all the examples of this I’ve heard it is just for first person plural. So there’s we as in me and you vs we as in me and someone else. It’s not everyone but you. For instance, in English if you say, “what are you up to tonight” and I say, “we’re going to dinner,” it might be ambiguous whether I meant something like “you and I made dinner plans for tonight, remember?”  or “I can’t hang out with you because I made dinner plans with someone else.” Many languages have first person plural pronouns and conjugations which clarify that

Exactly. The OP made the whole thing really unclear by calling it a “tense”, but it’s not. It’s a person. As in “1st person” (I), “2nd person” (you), etc. Clusivity is about how some languages do not have one but two separate 1st person plural markings (pronouns, affixes on verbs, etc.): an inclusive 1st person plural that means “you, me and possibly others”, and an exclusive 1st person plural that means “me and others, but not you”.

That’s all clusivity means. It’s a very useful distinction mind you, but it’s not dark magic!

If English had clusivity, we could imagine that instead of “we” we might have “wein” and “weex” (we-inclusive and we-exclusive). So you’d get: 

Wein are going
Weex are going

And of course you’d need object and possessive forms, so you’d also have:

They like usin
They like usex

Ourin chocolate
Ourex chocolate

If a language with verb inflection, like Spanish, had clusivity, we could imagine that instead of “vamos” there might be “vamosi” and “vamose” (again for inclusive and exclusive). These would be in your present tense paradigm along with voy, vas, va, etc. 

Except that pronouns and verbal inflection tend to be pretty old parts of the language, so they almost certainly wouldn’t be formed after the grammatical descriptive terms which came around much later. But that’s how it could show up on pronouns or inflectional endings. 

It’s kind of like when a language has formal and informal second persons – they tend to show up on pronouns and/or verbal inflections. 

26 Jul 19:04

Scenes & Sketches: America’s Women Naturalists

by Sarah Pedry

Rachel Carson and the tidepools


Rachel Carson (b. 1907–d. 1964) is one of the most famous women naturalists. Her book Silent Spring documented the devastating effects DDT had on the environment. Because of Silent Spring, DDT was banned for agricultural use in the US. But Rachel Carson, a trained biologist, was also an artful writer whose first love was life in the sea. She wrote three books focused on life in and around the ocean. Her book The Edge of the Sea (from which the following quotes are pulled), captures the fleeting beauty of life in this unique ecosystem.

Life where the sea meets the shore is brutal. Survival requires adaptation to both full submersion in the salty sea water, and baking dry in the heat of the sun. And in between, there is the relentless hammering of the waves. For biologist and writer Rachel Carson — whose love of the sea still could not convince her to enter into it any more deeply than her knees — the edge of the sea was like home. She knew every nook and cranny of that home, including the one room that was open for only a fleeting moment under the perfect conditions.

In the twilight between the darkness of the night and the dawn of the sun, Rachel Carson waited on the shore, near what she called “the fairy cave.” The moon was full, pulling the tide to its lowest point. This was key. The fairy cave held within it a rarely seen tide pool filled with exquisite, delicate creatures. But it could only be accessed “rarely and briefly when the lowest of the year’s low tides fall below” the entrance. This was one of those rare times. Finally, as the sun peaked over the horizon, and the tide ebbed, Rachel traversed a slippery, seaweed-covered ledge that emerged from the receding water. This led to the mouth of the fairy cave.

She carefully approached the entrance, and knelt, finally getting a close-up glimpse of the pool, which lay just inches from the ceiling of the cave. The water was crystal clear and still. A starfish hung from the ceiling, dangling only inches from the surface of the pool. So vivid and distinct was its reflection, Rachel wrote it was “so perfectly delineated that there might have been, not one starfish, but two.” Her time at the fairy cave was short, and she spent the few moments she had taking in the rest, observing “flowers that are not plants but animal, blooming on the threshold of the deeper sea.” And then the tide rose, and Rachel left the fairy cave, enchanted by “the poignant beauty of things that are ephemeral, existing only until the sea should return…”

Art by Sarah Pedry. Words by Sarah Pedry and David Obuchowski.

Scenes & Sketches: America’s Women Naturalists was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

25 Jul 11:03

Review: That's the way it crumbles, by M. Engel

by lynneguist
Those who follow the blog may remember that in February I was on BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth, where fellow guest Matthew Engel and I debated the effect of American English on British English. Engel had written many newspaper columns on the topic, but at that point his book, That’s the way it crumbles: the American conquest of English, was yet to appear. What struck me in that radio conversation was how little Engel appeared to have to say about a topic he’d just written a book about. While he had some examples, he mostly seemed to repeat his claim that American English is "taking over" British English while offering little more than the experience-based perceptions of an Englishman in his seventh decade. He does have much more to say in the book, but he hasn't changed my mind about the topic. (You're not surprised, right?) I'm writing this on my way back from giving a conference paper on the research gaps and logical problems in British arguments that "American English is taking over". While I didn't discuss Engel's book there (my focus was on work by linguists—and media representation of that work), I wouldn't have had to change my argument if I had discussed it.

It's easy to suspect that the conquestin the book's subtitle was the work of his publisher's marketing
department, since Engel states in the preface "Let’s get two things straight right now: this crisis is not the Americans' fault; and this book is not anti-American." (Some of his best friends are American…) Instead, the "crisis", as Engel has it, is mostly the fault of the British, and their "current self-imposed verbal enslavement" (p. 3). Chapter by chapter, the book takes a chronological tour of Britain's alleged "long journey towards subservience" (p. 109). I've written about this slavery trope in an earlier blog post. It seems a peculiarly post-imperialist way of understanding global relationships—if you are no longer the master, you must be the slave.

If Engel is not anti-American (and we do have to ask: is he the best judge of that?), we can still conclude he’s somewhat anti-linguist. A few linguists are cited in the book (mostly for popular-audience works), listed in the references list under the 19th-century-feeling heading "Philology, etc.". In recalling the path to the book (more on this below), he complains that his work
reached the ears of the online lexicographical community, some of whom have not quite learned the niceties of civil disagreement and disputed my right to offer an opinion at all. One American said it was none of my business because I was not a 'qualified lexicographer'.
This is one quotation whose source Engel doesn't cite, and which I’ve been unable to find in the "online lexicographical community". (I don't know what they'd think a "qualified lexicographer" is. Lexicographers generally have experience rather than qualifications—see the last book I reviewed.)
As for whether linguists and Americans (or, indeed, American linguists) have been civil in their conversations, well, if you start with fighting words, you get fighting conversations. For Engel, there is a contest between American and British words, and it is "no longer a fair one" (p. 66). Americanisms aren’t just words, they're culprits, invaders, garbage. And if you say that about my words, it feels like you're saying it about me.

The lexicographers were loud not just because of Engel’s opinions, but because the "facts" in his newspaper columns often misjudged what was actually British or American English. He has learn{ed/t} his lesson on that point and so starts the book with a "note on the text" in which he admits that there will be "honest errors" of categori{s/z}ation and that he's willing to receive "politely worded suggestions for amendments" (p. viii). Since I suspect that Engel and I do not share a common view of what "polite wording" is (maybe I'm the "online lexicographical community" to which he refers), I won't burden him with my (few) (orig. AmE) nitpicks about word origin in the book.

The issue for debate here is not whether Engel is entitled to an opinion; rather it's whether people are entitled to go unchallenged when they express opinions that show only partial understanding of the issues at hand. Engel has the opinion that Britons should fight against American English. But this opinion is based on various claims or assumptions 
  • about what English is in the US and UK. For example, though he's not southern in origin, the English he talks about is very much the south-eastern standard—take, for instance, the claim that pants meaning 'trousers' is American and trousers is British—a common oversimplification, but an oversimplification all the same
  • about the nature of the "Britishness" that he wants to protect.
  • about how language changes, and how it is or is not changing in the UK and US. For example, what's the role of regional identity or social class [in bold because it's heavy] in how English changes in Britain?
  • about the relationship between language and culture. 
This last point is important. Engel's real enemy is not American words, but changes to British culture. Thatcherism, Blairism, loss of interest in the countryside, all are blamed on "Americani{s/z}ation". The extent of that can be debated, but Engel wants to situate the problem in words. The words came over, and they brought ideas with them, and as if in some Whorfian horror story, the ideas have eaten British brains. One problem with blaming the words is that in several chapters Engel has to stop after discussing word-culprits and admit "None of these can actually be counted as Americanisms" (p. 110)--they are relatively fresh Britishisms. But they feel American in tone or meaning to Engel, so they go on the slag heap.

Engel’s book provides lots of interesting cultural history, rich with entertaining facts, quotations and stories of the famous and not-so-famous. It’s also very well written, with a sly sense of humo[u]r. But the claim for “loss of the British language” (p. 235) feels, at best, like a case of selective attention leading to a grumpy nostalgia for olden times (or vice versa). At worst, it comes off as disingenuous. Engel  knows very well (as evidenced in the book) that British English has always been undergoing change and that exciting linguistic things are happening in Britain that have nothing to do with America. (He has a bit on Multicultural London English, which is not very American at all.) But he's got himself into an argumentative corner where he has to rely on hyperbole. "It would be totally impossible to write a coherent book in English without words imported from the United States" (p. 11). (Writers! The gauntlet has been thrown!) It also has irony. "I’m not prescriptive", he writes on page 13.

In the end, Engel proposes that Brits try to stop Americanisms with pressure groups, for instance emailing and Twitter-shaming the BBC whenever they hear life vest instead of life jacket. The thing that worries me is that when I analy{s/z}ed a list of complaints to the BBC about Americanisms, only half of them were Americanisms. But if you're going to base your linguistic crusades on nationalism, maybe you don't care about facts. Engel also proposes that "Ridicule can work wonders" (p. 238). Ah, so that's how "civil disagreement" works.

One gets the feeling in the book that Engel is not fully committed to the topic. That he’s got himself in a (BrE) one-way system and is having a hard time getting out. It’s not really the language he wants to complain about, it's modern life—and who doesn’t want to complain about that? In the acknowledg(e)ments, Engel recounts that the publisher had called to tell Engel he wanted his book. Engel replied "What book?". "I had already decided I did not want to write a book about Americanisms", Engel tells us (p 259). But he has written it.

Thank you to Profile Books for providing a review copy of this book. In fact, they sent me two. If you'd like my spare copy, please write a comment on the Americanism you're most grateful for in British English in which you indicate a word/phrase of American origin that has been usefully (to your mind) been borrowed into British English.
I'll put those responses into a hat on 31 July and draw one.  If you win it, you can then tell me if you think this was a fair review! (Anonymous entries may have to be discounted if I can't find a way to contact you.)

17 Jul 17:54

Linguist twitter is pretty excited to watch people refer to the...

Linguist twitter is pretty excited to watch people refer to the Doctor across regenerations using singular they. 

16 Jul 19:48

The highly accurate dialect map we didn’t know we needed, from...

The highly accurate dialect map we didn’t know we needed, from twitter

Bonus points for identifying the original distinction that this map was made for. (Answer on Language Log.)

16 Jul 02:11

"the" Americanization of English?

by lynneguist
from the Guardian
Today the Guardian reported on a new study by Bruno Gonçalves, Lucía Loureiro-Porto, José J. Ramasco, and David Sánchez (you can get the pdf here) entitled The End of Empire: the Americanization of English. There are interesting things to find in this study, but I'm taken back to a panel that Sandra Jansen, Mario Saraceni and I presented on 'problems in predicting the linguistic future' last week in Newcastle. The focus of our talks was how the media present change in the English language and how linguists  sometimes contribute to skewed presentations of past, present and future—taking part in the very linguistic ideologies that academic linguists should be regarding with a critical eye. We're now working on making our panel contributions into an article, and I think it'll be a good one.

It's perfectly clear that many originally-American words and spelling standards have spread elsewhere. It would be surprising if they hadn't, since the US has a large population that mostly (and mostly only) speaks English, as well as a very big and very international economy. For me, the problem comes
    • (a) when "Americanization" becomes the whole story (because life and language are more complex than that),
    • (b) when the story depends upon informational/logical fallacies, and
    • (c) when that story is pitched as a story of winners and losers (because language doesn't have to be a competition, and because that winner-loser narrative is often heavily dependent on the simplifications of (a)).
    Though I've label(l)ed those points as a/b/c, part of the task I have in writing up the paper is that it's hard to pick apart and label those points—they're very interrelated and also they hide a lot of detail. Here was my first draft—a slide from my talk last week. It's called "panic tools" because I am considering how Americani{s/z}ation* news stories might sit within "moral panic" about language change in Britain—a panic that Deborah Cameron wrote about in her 1995 book Verbal Hygiene.
    Slide from Is the future American? (Murphy 2017)

    Anyhow, I was heartened to see that the Guardian article is by a data scientist, Mona Chalabi, and therefore it did something that popular news articles rarely do when talking about linguistic research—it sounded a note of caution concerning the data sources for the research: Google books data and Twitter.

    Both are problematic resources in terms of making sure the data is what you think it is (here's one of many Language Log posts about Google Books metadata). This is not a criticism of the paper—we linguists use what we can to find out about language. But then we give caveats about the data, as we should.

    But that note of caution is about where they've looked. There's also what you look for. Neither the Guardian article nor the paper give many caveats about that. The Google Books data was used to see what's happening in the US and UK over time, and the Twitter data to see what English is like across the world, and they searched for a specific list of "American" and "British" spellings and vocabulary.

    To give just some examples that deserved more caution (from the paper's appendix of the British and American vocabulary that the authors searched for).
    • AmE bell pepper is matched to "BrE" capsicum. But the usual term in British (as in AmE, really) is just pepper or a colo(u)r+pepper (green pepper, etc.) or sweet pepper. Capsicum is primarily Australian English.

    Capsicum the GloWBE corpus
    • AmE drug store and drug stores are matched to BrE chemist's. Why just the singular possessive? Why no plural? Looking at the same data set as they used (Google Books), it's clear that it's more common to get things from the chemist than from the chemist's. And often (maybe even usually) in contexts in which Americans would say drug store rather than pharmacist—e.g. The boy from the chemist is here to see you. But then, that leads us to another problem: does chemist's really match with drug store, when it also means pharmacist's and pharmacy?
    Click here to be taken to the interactive version

    And then there are the problems of polysemy (many-meaninged-ness) and variation, for example (but there are many examples):
    • The polysemy problem: in comparing BrE draughts and AmE checkers, are we sure that they're all about games? Some of the draughts will be AmE drafts (for beers or breezes). Some of the checkers could be checking things. If the frequency of use of any of these meanings changes across time, then that can interfere with answering the question of what people call the game. Elastic band is given as the BrE for AmE rubber band, but in my AmE, elastic band can be a name for the covered kind you make ponytails with (and then in the US there are also regional terms for both the stationery kind and the hair kind).
    • The variation problem: BrE plasterboard is given as equivalent of AmE wallboard, which I can't say I've ever used. It's drywall or Sheetrock to me in AmE. BrE spring onions is compared with AmE green onions (which, since that's the title of a song, might provide a fair amount of data "noise"), but AmE scallions is not included. BrE mobile phones is searched for, but not mobilesbut it looks to me (using GloWBE corpus) that about 1/3 of mentions of such phones have the shorter term. In the US, calling the phone by the shortened name cell looks to be less common than the equivalent shortened British form. So if you compare mobile phones to (AmE) cell phones, you might be missing a lot of BrE. (Then there's the problem of the not-uncommon spelling cellphones, which they didn't search for either.)
    • The vocabulary–spelling problem: AmE license plate v BrE number plate. If BrE or another English borrows license plate, they may very well adapt the spelling to their standard, so why not look for licence plate? What does it mean if that's found? Is it an Americanism or not?
    All of this is to say: comparing such things is hard to do well. If it's possible at all.

    (If the authors read this and want to correct me on any points in the comments, please do. I may have misread something in my haste.) 

    I'd also like to sound a note of discomfort and caution regarding talking about AmE and BrE  "around the world". This involves a leap of thinking that bothers me: that AmE and BrE are used outside the US and UK. To be fair, the authors mostly talk about BrE or AmE forms being used. But for us to claim national ownership of those forms is to take a particular nationalist-political stand on English, I think.

    It's a common way to talk about English. People in, say, India or Korea might say "I/we speak British English" or "I/we speak American English". But what people generally mean is "I/we use the British (or American) spelling conventions."

    If you're learning English as a foreign language (e.g. in Korea), you may well use learning materials that are from the US or the UK. (Your teacher may well be from somewhere else.) You may aim for a particular kind of accent (though a number of studies show that learners are often not very good at telling the difference between the accent they're aiming for and others). What you speak will be English, but it won't particularly be "American English" or "British English".  You may aim for a certain pronunciation convention, you may get certain vocabulary. But your English has not developed in Britain or America. It's developing right now where you are. It's absolutely related to British and American English. But it is neither of those. (Glenn Hadikin's your linguist if you want to know about Korean English.)

    In a place with longstanding English usage, like India, the language has been going in its own direction for some time. The fashions for UK or US spellings may change, and the language will take in new English words from the US and other places, but it also makes up its own, has its grammatical idiosyncrasies, etc. If you look at whether people in India use off-licence or liquor store (as this study did), then you're missing the fact that the Indian English liquor shop is more common than either the American or the British term. (And, interestingly, it looks like a mash-up between American liquor store and the British use of shop for retail places.) I don't know what the alcohol-selling laws in India are, but if they're not like Britain's then the British term off-licence would make no particular sense in India. Instead, Indian English has a nice descriptive phrase that works for India. But what a study like this will find is that there are a few more uses of liquor store in their Indian data than off-licence —who knows, maybe because they're talking to Americans on Twitter or because they're talking about American films in which people rob liquor stores. (Spare thought: are there UK films where people rob off-licences?) The study then completely misses the point that, for this particular word meaning, Indian English is Indianized, not Americanized.

    The most interesting thing about the study (for me), but not one that gets a mention, is what happens to their data in the Internet age. After 1990, we see the gap narrowing. This does not come as a surprise to me—this is also the point at which Britain falls out of love with the -ize spelling and starts preferring the -ise one (having allowed them co-mingle for centuries). In the internet age, we also are seeing grammatical changes that set British and American on different paths (you're just going to have to wait some months for my book for those details).

    From Gonçalves et al. 2017

    This graph is based on Google Books data from the US and UK (or at least, that's what Google Books thinks). The yellow line is BrE vocabulary and the black line is BrE spelling (of the particular vocabulary and spellings they were looking for—which include no words with -ise/-ize). Those lines are fairly steady--though you can see that the two world wars did no favo(u)rs to British book publishing. You can also see dips in the American lines after WWII. The authors attribute this to European migration to the US after World War II.  I'd also wonder about American contact with Britain during the war.

    But after 1990, those British lines are going up—the spelling one quite sharply. In the paper I gave last week, I talked about (what I've decided to call) contra-Americanization—British English changing or losing old forms because they look like they might be American. There seems to be a backlash to (perceived and real) Americanization.

    I've  congratulated the Guardian author on the note of caution. I don't want to congratulate the headline writer, though. Nor the researchers' title for their paper.

    The paper's title, setting the end of Empire against Americanization, implicitly feeds into that "it's a two-way competition" story.

    The Guardian headline 'Do you want fries with that? Data shows Americanization of English is rising' includes an Americanism that wasn't part of the study. The implication that Americanization means de-Briticization (which falls out from the competition story) doesn't work for fries. British English now has fries, but it has very Britishly made it mean something different from what it means in America, since in Britain it contrasts with (rather than replaces) chips. But the bigger problem in the headline is that "is rising". Given what we've seen in the post-1990 graph line, is that true?

    These kinds of things also raise the question: what is meant by Americanization? Apparently it means non-Americans having the words fries and cookies in their vocabulary. But if those words don't mean the same thing to them that they mean to Americans, what does Americanization mean here?

    The moral of this story: talking about "the Americanization" of English makes a lot of assumptions—including that "Americanization" and "English" are each one thing. They ain't.

    *I'm too tired to keep up the marking of the s/z contrast here, so I'm going with the z because it's Oxford spelling, good in Britain and America. Don't let any contra-Americanizer tell you otherwise!
    09 Jul 15:53

    Harry Potter and the Neural Network fan fiction


    Or, what happens if you train a neural network on the titles and plot summaries of over 100,000 works of Harry Potter fan fiction.

    In the decades since the Harry Potter books were published, fans have written literally hundreds of thousands of Harry Potter stories of their own, and shared them online. Can a neural network join in on the fun?

    In a way, everything a recurrent neural network writes is fan fiction. A recurrent neural network looks at an example dataset (such as the complete Sherlock Holmes stories) and teaches itself the patterns and conventions that it sees. So, if it’s given Sherlock Holmes stories, it will become obsessed with Holmes and Watson, and if it’s given knock-knock jokes, it will spend all day telling awful knock-knock jokes of its own.


    Thanks to an idea by a couple of readers, some heroic work by @b8horpet in scraping (with permission) hundreds of thousands of Harry Potter fan fiction titles and summaries from AO3, and a flexible new recurrent neural network implementation by Chen Liang, the neural network’s latest obsession is Harry Potter.

    The Perfect Party by iamisaac
    Draco has been left alone, and Ginny confused must learn and who has his best friend. They were breathed by a love that didn’t become his grounds and the flowers begin.

    This is a typical example of the neural network’s fan fiction - romantic pairings of two or more Harry Potter characters (called “ships” in fan fiction-speak). In this case, it even has chosen a plausible author: iamisaac is a real and fairly prolific fan fiction author whose works do tend to be of the “romantic” variety. 

    The Garden by perverse_idyll for lexigilite
    Ron and Hermione move after a man party. What did her best things go and has to deal with people she loves? How many imperfect love really belonges them and needs to be a person? Or will they learn and more than the war?

    Mirror Thing by Queen_Elexhan
    “Are you there for a relationship? I was a sad future for your love.”  Harry and Ginny find out the meaning is.

    Shatters by Kis [archived by TheHexFiles_archivist ]
    Based on the Spot Are It Falls Into A Heir by NextrangeOnTheThree
    Draco and Hermione share a whole indescribbening.

    Again, “perverse_idyll” and “TheHexFiles_archivist” are fairly active authors. (Hi, if you’re reading! The neural network seems to like your writing, and is writing fan fiction of your fan fiction!) Those familiar with Harry Potter fan fiction will not be surprised to learn that the neural network really likes to generate ships; pretty much every combination of characters is represented (some of the more unusual combinations being “The Snow/Voldemort”, “The Ministry/Draco Malfoy”, and “Voldemort/Random Quidditch Child”).

    By turning down the neural network’s creativity setting to near-zero, we arrive at its vision of what the quintessential Harry Potter fan fiction would be like - and we also learn its favorite ship:

    Persuading by theladyblack
    Harry and Draco are still a second chance at the end of the war.  Will they be able to do with the fairy tale of the first time they were a strange stranger to the street of the war and the war is over?

    It turns out the neural network is obsessed with Harry/Draco, although in a pinch, Sirius/Remus will also do.

    The neural network also seems to really like stories about Professor Snape trying to do rather ordinary things:

    New Moon Boys by Dungoonke for Loki_Kukaka
    Severus Snape comes back to a night’s politics.

    In the Reason Is Blinders by LittleRoma
    Severus has been through his lost remote.

    In The Alteri Silence by Forest_of_Holly for roscreens41
    Snape receives life after plants to do by work over whether they get into. Just Hell.

    A Second Chance by DarkCorgi
    Snape had a second thing, and that is better than anything for for the rest of his life.

    Mirror by orphan_account
    Severus Snape tries to get a lot of dragons and that was to be more than he didn’t expect to continue. He has always been a bit of an old and a baby to stay the way he’d been the brother at Hogwarts and he keeps the chance of meeting…

    Deception by FlyingEyes
    Snape is a British Robes of interesting things and worrys like a little fun and sees the pretty battle for a while.

    Another thing that happened, which is pretty much my favorite thing ever, is that the neural network apparently encountered some fan fiction stories that were not in English. As a result, it learned to do this from time to time:

    The Secretary Of the World 
    Challenge inspired by GoF and la mating resigns de la mill colors per mereple beruit carteur la pelete el wert rardo completing and herillo intus den una a des rush sentines kelta an transoles… 

    Between by Cheyangel13
    A series of fivers are unexpectedly depressed and controlled by the bed, with least more from una perfemale erpensa de the maesse akai suidadium dela vida call de la los se terriuus do form en sou dies de fasurard il resisted de for dogs la sementu sein prong colors itu dee adte se sige natard…

    The neural network has also learned to employ capital letters:

    Les finds love by violet_quill for starstruck1986
    Severus Snape wanted him to be more and she likes Draco.  The person he wants an energy to him.  WHALIDE NO GEATIRE SOURR INSPE AHARMANABLISH ALL SOME TO VERY THE RERIDE!!!!!!!

    secret Quidditch by snapsleert
    Collapse and find the second worst and very different. See Gain and Descent motivate surprising death. Unbusing one of the months: should make more bumo.choooshots. HUGULATED

    And the neural network occasionally uses content warnings, although it seems to have a rather fuzzy idea about what to warn its readers about:

    Better With The Broom Complicate by Margyn_Black
    Tonks gets more than the best girl of creation. (Rated Maturisle, mark, a violence, contract) (slash] part of themes) ferret.

    Art for the Sun a Scary by disillusionist9
    A collection of warnings: characters and situations of silence.

    Some of the neural network’s stories, though, are just plain weird.

    Harry Potter and the Painful Eyes by dark_pook
    A Birthday drabble about the problems and a woman who shows up a lot less than she checks at Hogwarts in the destiny to the infamous adventure of control of the Art of The Good Boy Kings With Hermione.

    Harry and the Blue Special Delicious by apolavia_scg
    An unexpected potions messaged in the world their lives are to find friendship following the day of different pagers. James and Lily come to the summer before the war.

    The Perfect Cow by alafaye
    Severus and Hermione start a horcruxes

    Art: Let Draco roll the light of the moon, and means. by Dangelanne
    What happens after the war. Not drawn to Draco Malfoy jumpers. Originally written in 2008.

    Birds of a Saturday by SasuNarufan13
    Harry Potter is drunk and discovers he is an alternate universe.

    Holly theody by yesIpxdishoftlyGrinli
    What would be dangerous! Side Voldemort Jones does all lord off the sunshine show.

    Lily Evans and the Ravenclaw of a Christmas Surprise by ci
    Severus angst the truth of a frighten situation for the wink.

    Persuasion by Samanthian
    The Sorting Hat is fighting in one of the houses.

    lily’s family by sharkle
    Harry woke up in searching after a werewolf Sherlock’s picnic. He is furious.

    As a bonus, I leave you with some fairly-plausible screennames the neural network invented, which appear not to be taken (yet):


    One day I will get tired of “neural network makes weird things” posts. Today is not that day. 

    01 Jul 07:43

    Cheer-damnably-ho! A 1928 expletive infix from Dorothy Sayers,...


    A 1928 expletive infix from Dorothy Sayers, via Dennis Baron on twitter.

    01 Jul 07:34

    What is it you believe in?

    by Kat Tanaka Okopnik

    Demo, the people. Kratos, power.”

    Americans love to say we believe in the fundamental goodness of democracy. That we are proud to have been one of the first modern democracies. That our representative form of government is the best of all possible forms. That it is a fundamental goodness that the Pax America spreads democracy throughout the world.

    But we also have an electorate (the group of people who are eligible to vote) with one of the lowest rates of participation in the world.

    Helping guide how our towns, our states, and our nation is governed is one of our essential responsibilities as citizens. But many of us act like spoiled sons of privilege, letting someone else attend to the essential tasks. Yes, we are in a representative democracy, which means that instead of being directly involved, we are trusting a representative. But when we don’t do the due diligence of actually screening that representative, trusting instead to vague impressions or name recognition, we are in fact doing our part to continue the sort of nepotism and cronyism we claim to oppose.

    We talk about “a jury of our peers,” but when we don’t make provision for jurors being compensated for their time, we create a system where only those with leisure and privilege sit on juries. We are seeding the jury pool with privileged viewpoints, and ceding justice.

    When we shy away from difficult discussions at gatherings, we allow friends and family to vote and judge based on viewpoints that will continue the systemic injustice we are surrounded by.

    I get asked, constantly, “but what can I do?”

    You can decide how much time justice and oversight get in your life. You can push for reforms to voting systems. You can push for fair pay for jurors. You can push for a universal stipend for study time for ballot issues. You can push for more transparency and public discussion of ballot issues. You can push for better access to polling places.

    And if you can’t do it personally, find someone else who can, that you trust. And/or pay an organization that works for those issues.

    Because some of us don’t have that time. Some of us are working too many hours to try to make ends meet. Some of us have barely enough endurance to make it through each day. Some of us are unable to vote.

    But none of us can really afford to ignore the issue. Except for the few that this current system works for.

    25 Jun 22:10

    "Many supporters, with the best intentions, will often claim that “Welsh is the oldest language in..."

    Many supporters, with the best intentions, will often claim that “Welsh is the oldest language in Europe” (or one of). I wish they wouldn’t say this, because it’s untrue. It’s worse than that, in fact, because it’s not even wrong, in the sense that the claim itself doesn’t make sense.

    It’s a bit like claiming that your family is older than someone else’s family. All families, and all languages, ultimately share a common ancestor, so really they’re all as old as each other.

    Throughout history, parts of one family dynasty or clan have gone on to start another, yet at the time nobody would have noticed the difference. It’s the sort of thing that you can only observe with hindsight (rather like the emergence of new families of species in biological evolution). In the same way, the point at which a modern language is said to have sufficiently developed from its predecessor is rather arbitrary, and an academic convenience more than anything else. […]

    The distinction between two languages is political rather than scientific. Norwegian and Danish are classified as two separate languages even though they are much more similar than the versions of vernacular Arabic spoken in Mauritania and Oman, for example, which we merly call dialects. Again, my point is simply that these labels are mainly social constructs. I’m guessing that many of Europe’s languages claim to be among the continent’s “oldest”. Basque, famously, isn’t closely related to any other language in Europe and is said to be a survivor from the time before the Indo-Europeans arrived. Lithuanian, meanwhile, is sometimes called Europe’s most conservative language since it retains many ancient linguistic elements that others have long lost. Both, it may be conceded, would have a better claim to the “oldest language” title than Welsh, but it wouldn’t really be a linguistically meaningful thing to say in those cases either.

    You may, very reasonably, ask whether any of this really matters. But even if it were true (which it isn’t), I would also argue that it isn’t actually a particularly helpful point for the language’s supporters to be making. Do we really want to imply that our language is some sort of curious fossil? Emphasising Welsh’s so-called antiquity plays into the hands of those who seek to dismiss the language as unfit for the modern age.

    - Why Welsh makes a good point about the problem with “oldest language” claims that are often brought up in the context of language revitalization. (Although I will note that sign languages are a possible exception: they may inherit gestures that are as old as humanity as inspiration for some signs and some have roots in older sign languages, but other sign languages are genuinely very young.)
    25 Jun 22:07

    Things I Won’t Let My Dog Eat, Ranked

    by Kelly Conaboy

    4. Bones

    3. Rocks

    2. Dirt

    1. Bees

    Things I Won’t Let My Dog Eat, Ranked was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    16 Jun 11:37

    The 1830s Are Back Like A Statement Sleeve

    by Rebecca Christopher

    Is Romantic nationalism back too?

    L to R: Net-A-Porter, Anthropologie, Aritzia

    We are demonstrating, we are protesting, we resent the decisions of our parents’ generation, we are broke, the White House is occupied by a catastrophically destructive populist weirdo, we are being compelled to wear increasingly bizarre sleeves. It’s happening. Finally. The 1830s are back.

    Now is the time of the “statement sleeve” aka the weird sleeve, from cold shoulder to balloon, to fluted, to “sculptural,” to ???, to the ones that end with little ties instead of cuffs, to just an extra $1,000 sleeve, to any combination of these features. I have recently had and overheard multiple conversations about sleeves, conversations not had during the Obama administration. It’s a moment, one which coincides with a participatory form of civil unrest from which primordial soup have emerged a nonzero number of soul-crushing takes about how protesting is the new brunch.

    Extreme gigot/leg of mutton sleeve. Image: Wikimedia Commons

    The last time this happened was 1830, when women* in Western Europe wore the largest sleeves of any period in sleeved Western European history. Some of the stuff I’ve gotten Lyst alerts about in this week alone would give that fact a run for its money.

    Then, as now, sleeves erupted from the small, innocent sleeve of the Empire gown to the leg-of-mutton and elephant sleeves, a dropped shoulder silhouette that poofed so dramatically from the bicep it was enforced with whalebone, then narrowed at the forearm or wrist. Like a leg of mutton. Like an elephant’s ear. Like an inverted teardrop. Like nearly every goddamned sleeve in 2017.

    Unlike previous generations of wacky sleeves like the virago, finestrella, and paned sleeve, these did not reveal an undergarment, which suits both modern sleeve construction and possibly modern undergarments. And unlike the sleeves of the Victorians, but like the sleeves of today, the poof began below the shoulder. In our case, it is most often dropped below a bare shoulder, prompting me to constantly ask everyone I’ve ever met what kind of bra you’re supposed to wear. In the 1830s this bare shoulder was most often covered, in daytime, by a little shoulder cape called a pelerine so nobody had to struggle with those goo bras or removable straps. Advances in printing and a taste for the naturalistic over the classical meant that preferred patterns were floral or striped.

    Image: Wikimedia Commons

    What else was going on in the places where people may have worn these sleeves or seen a great deal of them? In France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Brazil and Portugal, revolutions were going on! In the U.S., under the presidency of populist Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, one of the most gruesome and morally outrageous pieces of legislation concocted in human history. As the 1830s wore on, coal miners in Wales revolted, Gran Colombia dissolved, Germans gathered for the Hambacher Festival in a pro-republican demonstration that was also apparently fun. Ada Lovelace met Charles Babbage, so that one day we might be able to tweet poo emojis at reporters.

    Nationalist uprisings took place at the edges of the Ottoman Empire, specifically Greece and Bosnia. Across Algeria, nationalists revolted against the French occupancy that recently replaced the Ottoman. In Canada, Ottawa and Quebec revolted. In Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul attempted secession. In the U.S., so did Texas. When the 1830s were semi-wistfully remembered by Victor Hugo, they were embodied by Millennial patron saint Marius Pontmercy, a mortifyingly awkward law student who couldn’t pay rent but ate desert every night and joined the antimonarchist revolt mainly out of FOMO. The end of the East India Trading Company’s monopoly on trade from China meant that then, as now, actual opiates were the opium of the masses.

    Olenina Aleksandra, 1865 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

    This is not to say that I have recently attended a post-Napoleonic nationalist uprising or that I think a politically empowered middle class is a new thing. But history has endlessly proven its ability to look superficially familiar and here we are, wearing these sleeves, Q.E.D.

    So why sleeves? They’re expressive, gestural, and silhouette-changing. They have throughout the course of human events variously indicated rank, wealth, and Cavalier-Roundhead affiliation. They have flashed our undergarments, covered our unbearably sexy arms, tactically revealed our unbearably sexy arms, served as pockets, and concealed or revealed our hands according to taste, culture, and fashion.

    The dropped shoulder of the 1830s represented a Romantic ideal, as did fancy hairstyles and fabrics. Fashionable people of that era recalled the Empire and Regency costume of narrow, gauzy dresses and overt Classical references with horror; Romanticism was at once more modest and more liberated. Now, as then, none of the shapes being played with are new, but rather reimagined references in new prints, proportions, and details. They express traits like creativity and boldness, and since they do not exist in menswear, imply some celebration of the variety allowed in modern female dress, even at the price of bra confusion and that godawful red mark you get from carrying your bag around all day. “While speaking to current tastes, these sleeves are also classically romantic and appeal to feminine women of all ages,” wrote a WWD observer, while earlier referencing their ability to evoke “retro Sixties and Seventies aesthetics.”

    Image: Wikimedia Commons

    Why did they grow so quickly? Maybe everyone’s arms were getting super ripped from carrying around carbines (then) and knitting pink hats (now) all the time, and narrow sleeves would be inconvenient. But, as anyone who has worn a cold shoulder poofy sleeve top on the subway with a tote bag can tell you, this is the opposite of practical. People were, and are, ostensibly doing more stuff, so why not really sturdy sleeves that can support civic action? Probably because fashion reflects our aesthetic instinct more than it literally describes what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis, and this is a shakeup. Sculptural silhouettes represent a desire to move into the future, retro details a yearning for the past. By 2018, “to sell a basic shirt [sleeve] will be out of the question,” said trend forecaster Li Edelkoort. Out of the question!

    We’re just so overwhelmed that we have to wear it (with) our sleeves. Whether the overwhelming feeling is Romantic nationalism, #resistance, solidarity, wistfulness, optimism or despair, there is too much of it to face in something as utilitarian as a narrow sleeve. If we are shouldering some kind of burden, we are doing so on our bare shoulders (or bra strap-covered shoulders? Please send help.) The 1830s are back. And since some stuff I saw at Zara clearly indicates we’ve plunged into a time warp where we’re given a do-over, our lessons are clear: Do not allow a cruel populist president to continue humiliating us in front of the other eras, don’t kill whales to reinforce our giant sleeves, don’t grow up to be the conservative reactionaries of 1848, and lay off the opiates.

    *What were men wearing? Suits. Hats. Next question.

    Rebecca Christopher is a writer with access to several Zara storefronts and the works of Balzac.

    The 1830s Are Back Like A Statement Sleeve was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    16 Jun 11:28

    2/3rds of sexual minorities now identify as bisexual, but it depends

    by Tristan Bridges, PhD

    Originally posted at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

    I’ve been following a couple different data sets that track the size of the LGB(T) population in the United States for a few years. There’s a good amount of evidence that all points in the same direction: those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and possibly transgender too are all on the rise. Just how large of an increase is subject to a bit of disagreement, but the larger trend is undeniable. Much of the reporting on this shift treats this as a fact that equally blankets the entirety of the U.S. population (or only deals superficially with the really interesting demographic questions concerning the specific groups within the population that account for this change).

    In a previous post, I separated the L’s, G’s and B’s because I suspected that more of this shift was accounted for by bisexuals than is often discussed in any critical way (*the GSS does not presently have a question that allows us to separate anyone identifying as transgender or outside the gender binary). Between 2008 and 2016, the proportion of the population identifying as lesbian or gay went from 1.6% to 2.4%. During the same period, those identifying as bisexual jumped from 1.1% to 3.3%. It’s a big shift and it’s even bigger when you look at how pronounced it is among the groups who primarily account for this change: women, people of color, and young people.

    The thing about sexual identities though, is that they’re just like other kinds of meaningful identities in that they intersect with other identities in ways that produce different sorts of meanings depending upon what kinds of configurations of identities they happen to be combined with (like age, race, and gender). For instance, as a sexual identity, bisexual is more common than both lesbian and gay combined. But, bisexuality is gendered. Among women, “bisexual” is a more common sexual identity than is “lesbian”; but among men, “gay” is a more common sexual identity than “bisexual”–though this has shifted a bit over the 8 years GSS has been asking questions about sexual orientation. And so too is bisexuality a racialized identity in that the above gendered trend is more true of white and black men than men of other races.

    Consider this: between 2008 and 2016, among young people (18-34 years old), those identifying as lesbian or gay went from 2.7% to 3.0%, while those identifying as “bisexual” increased twofold, from 2.6% to 5.3%.  But, look at how this more general change among young people looks when we break it down by gender.

    Looked at this way, bisexuality as a sexual identity has more than doubled in recent years. Among 18-34 year old women in 2016, the GSS found 8% identifying as bisexual.  You have to be careful with GSS data once you start parsing the data too much as the sample sizes decrease substantially once we start breaking things down by more than gender and age. But, just for fun, I wanted to look into how this trend looked when we examined it among different racial groups (GSS only has codes for white, black, and other).Picture1

    Here, you can see a couple things.  But one of the big stories I see is that “bisexual” identity appears to be particularly absent among Black men in the U.S. And, among young men identifying as a race other than Black or white, bisexuality is a much more common identity than is gay. It’s also true that the proportions of gay and bisexual men in each group appear to jump around year to year.  The general trend follows the larger pattern – toward more sexual minority identities.  But, it’s less straightforward than that when we actually look at the shift among a few specific racial groups within one gender.  Now, look at this trend among women.

    Here, we clearly see the larger trend that “bisexual” appears to be a more common sexual identity than “lesbian.” But, look at Black women in 2016.  In 2016, just shy of one in five Black women between the ages of 18 and 34 identified as lesbian or bisexual (19%) in the GSS sample! And about two thirds of those women are identifying as bisexual (12.4%) rather than as lesbian (6.6%). Similarly, and mirroring the larger trend that “bisexual” is more common among women while “gay” is more popular among men, “lesbian” is a noticeably absent identity among women identifying as a race other than Black or white just as “gay” is less present among men identifying as a race other than Black or white.

    Below is all that information in a single chart.  I felt it was a little less intuitive to read in this form. But this is the combined information from the two graphs preceding this if it’s helpful to see it in one chart.


    What these shifts mean is a larger question. But it’s one that will require an intersectional lens to interpret. And this matters because bisexuality is a less-discussed sexual identification–so much so that “bi erasure” is used to address the problem of challenging the legitimacy or even existence of this sexual identity. As a sexual identification in the U.S., however, “bisexual” is actually more common than “gay” and “lesbian” identifications combined.

    And yet, whether bisexual identifying people will or do see themselves as part of a distinct sexual minority is more of an open question. All of this makes me feel that we need to consider more carefully whether grouping bisexuals with lesbian women and gay men when reporting shifts in the LGB population. Whatever is done, we should care about bisexuality (particularly among women), because this is a sexual identification that is becoming much more common than is sometimes recognized.

    Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

    (View original at

    16 Jun 11:01

    missalsfromiram: prudencepaccard: jdragsky: missworthing: zombiekittensandmadscientists: One of...






    One of my favorite linguistic phenomena is rebracketing, which is when a word or words is/are redivided differently, either two words becoming one, one word heard as two, or part of one word interpreted as part of the other.  This frequently happens with articles, for example:

    • apron was originally napron, but “a napron” was interpreted as “an apron”
    • newt comes from ewt by the same process
    • In the opposite direction, nickname comes from Middle English nekename which in turn came from ekename (an ekename -> a nekename) where “eke” was an old word meaning “also” or “additional” (so basically “an additional name”)
    • ammunition comes from an obsolete dialectal French amunition, which came from munition, the phrase la munition being heard as l’amunition.
    • the nickname Ned comes from Ed, via “mine Ed” being heard as “my Ned” (in archaic English, “my” and “mine” had the same relationship as “a” and “an”), same with several other nicknames like Nell
    • The word “orange” ulimately derives from the Arabic nāranj, via French “orange”, the n being lost via a similar process involving the indefinite article, e.g., something like French “une norange” becoming “une orange” (it’s unclear which specific Romance language it first happened in)
    • in the Southern US at least (not sure about elsewhere), “another” is often analyzed as “a nother”, hence the phrase “a whole nother”
    • omelet has a whole series of interesting changes; it comes from French omelette, earlier alemette (swapping around the /l/ and /m/), from alemelle from an earlier lemelle (la lemelle -> l’alemelle)

    Related to this, sometimes two words, especially when borrowed into another language, will be taken as one.  Numerous words were borrowed from Arabic with the definite article al- attached to them.  Spanish el lagarto became English alligator.  An interesting twist is admiral, earlier amiral (the d probably got in there from the influence of words like “administer”) from Arabic amir al- (lord of the ___), particularly the phrase amir al-bahr, literally “lord of the sea”.

    Sometimes the opposite happens.  A foreign word will look like two words, or like a word with an affix.  For example, the Arabic kitaab (book) was borrowed into Swahili as kitabu.  ki- happens to be the singular form of one of the Swahili genders, and so it was interpreted as ki-tabu.  To form the plural of that gender, you replace ki- with vi-, thus, “books” in Swahili is vitabu.  The Greek name Alexander became, in Arabic, Iskander, with the initial al- heard as the article al-.

    Similarly, the English word Cherry came from Old Norman French cherise, with the s on the end interpreted as the plural -s.  Interestingly enough, that word came from Vulgar Latin ceresia, a feminine singular noun, but originally the plural of the neuter noun ceresium!  So a Latin plural was reinterpreted as a singular in Vulgar Latin, which in turn was interpreted as a plural when borrowed into English!

    The English suffix -burger used with various foods (e.g., cheeseburger, or more informally chickenburger, etc.) was misanlyzed from Hamburger as Ham-burger, itself from the city of Hamburg

    This can happen even with native words.  Modern French once is used for the snow leopard, but originally meant “lynx”.  In Old French, it was lonce (ultimately from the same source as lynx), which was reinterpreted as l’once!  In English, the word “pea” was originally “pease”, but that looked like it had the plural -s on it, and so the word “pea” was created from it.  Likewise, the adjective lone came from alone, heard as “a lone”, but alone itself came originally from all one.

    One of my favorite personal examples is the old Southern man who would come into work and ask me if I was “being have” (as opposed to the more usual “behaving”).

    the word editor predated the word edit - editor was reinterpreted as edit-er, so clearly someone who edits!

    when your open borders advocacy extends to morpheme boundaries

    Don’t forget the Swahili kipilefti (”roundabout”), from English keep left, with a plural vipilefti - and in reverse, singular kideo (”video”) with plural video.

    In Arabic, the plural is often formed by changing the vowels around the basic three consonants. So the plural of “fals” (money) is “fuluus”. When English words with three consonants are borrowed, they’re often reanalyzed, so when “bank” was borrowed and its plural became “bunuuk”. 

    01 Jun 05:00

    It Came From The Search Terms: The Lusty Month Of May

    by JenniferP

    Both the social anxiety play dates for adults app and the Language of Flowers app need to be a thing now. :)

    It’s time for the monthly ritual where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they were actual questions.

    True story: In 1986 my 6th grade class did a medley/pageant thing from Camelot and I sang a highly edited version of this song wearing a flower crown, an ice blue polyester bridesmaid’s dress that had been adapted to be somewhat ren-faire-ish, and (of course) my giant plastic 1980s Dawn Weiner/Sally Jesse Raphael/Log Lady eyeglasses.

    1) “I can’t have romantic feelings.”

    a) You don’t have to! and b) You might be aromantic. Look it up, find your people, be happy.

    2) “As a bi girl am I doomed to end up with a guy?”

    Depending on where you live men who like women may be more numerous than women who like women, so it may take you longer to find women you connect with. However, please don’t “end up with” or even “date” anyone who makes you wonder “Is this my doom?” Be picky and choose people who fucking delight you.

    3) “He can’t be with me because of depression”

    He can’t be with you.

    4) “Introvert boyfriend broke up with me”

    He broke up with you.

     5) He says he wants us to be together eventually, what does that mean?

    He doesn’t want you to be together now.

    6) “What does ‘I can’t be what you need from me’ mean?”

    “Don’t count on this relationship to be what you need.” “I am checking out of/trying to end this relationship.”

    7) Boyfriend makes fun of medical condition.

    What. A. Jerk.

    8) “He doesn’t give me allowance but he wants to control my appearance.”

    Even if he did give you an allowance he doesn’t get to control your appearance unless you have an explicit “this is a fun thing we like to do/kink we share and enjoy” agreement.

    9) “I don’t like my boyfriend’s physical appearance.”

    Okay? Options:

    • Learn to like something about how he looks and enjoy the beautiful love you share.
    • Admit to yourself that looks are really important to you and gently set him free to find someone who loves how he looks.

    10) “Too many Indian neighbours.”

    Move. Your neighbors shouldn’t have to live next to a gross xenophobe like you.

    11) “Should I try speed dating?”

    Sure! If you you don’t like someone or they don’t like you, there will be a new person in a few minutes, and if you hate it you never have to go back.


    12) “Can men and women be friends?”

    Glad you asked! I run an entire website devoted to this.

    13) “I won’t allow my husband to play with female band mates.”

    Women are half the human race, so, that’s a pretty sucky thing to do.

    14) “How can I proceed to relationship that I already know she is not interested in relationship yet?” & 15) How to make a long distance girl you don’t know fall in love?

    Or, you could just…not?

    If you know for a fact someone is not interested in a relationship, leave them alone?

    If someone lives far away and doesn’t know you exist, maybe…leave them alone and find someone a) closer to home b) who knows you and c) already likes you?

    Stop trying to project-manage unattainable love?

    16) Is 3 weeks too late to apologize to guy?

    Probably not, as long as you offer a clean, real apology:

    • Step 1: “I’m really sorry for [specific thing I did that hurt or upset you].”
    • Step 2: Hope for the best but let it go. Let him be the one to decide if he forgives, when he forgives, and what happens now.
    • Step 3: Don’t do the thing again.

    17) “Social anxiety play dates.”

    This person was probably searching for this thread about arranging play dates for your kids when you have social anxiety, but it would be so cool if this were an app or a service that hooked people up with social anxiety buddies.

    18) Ugliest floral arrangement for a funeral for someone you hate.

    Yessssssssssssssssss! Let’s be hate-florists!


    Description: Pink carnations and roses sculpted into a penis and balls. For when you care enough to send someone a dick.

    Would a corpse flower be prohibitively expensive? Are those even commercially available? If not, worry not: Here are some other stinky plants and flowers.

    I found a website listing traditional flower meanings.What if we combined:

    • CANDY TUFT – Indifference
    • GERANIUM -Stupidity; Folly
    • LILY  Orange – Hatred
    • MONKSHOOD – Beware; A Deadly Foe is Near
    • NARCISSUS – Egotism
    • NUTS – Stupidity
    • NASTURTIUM – Conquest; Victory in Battle
    I don’t know if it would be sufficiently hideous – a lot of those flowers are quite pretty – but you’d know exactly how much shade you were throwing.
    Now I wish that the Language of Flowers had an app where you could see each flower and build a virtual hate-bouquet (or like-bouquet, or “That secret sex we had was AWESOME and it fills me with shame. Elope with me?” bouquet) from them.


    30 May 12:52

    Countering class-based food stigma with a “hierarchy of food needs”

    by Lisa Wade, PhD

    Flashback Friday. 

    Responding to critics who argue that poor people do not choose to eat healthy food because they’re ignorant or prefer unhealthy food, dietitian Ellyn Satter wrote a hierarchy of food needs. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it illustrates Satter’s ideas as to the elements of food that matter first, second, and so on… starting at the bottom.

    The graphic suggests that getting enough food to eat is the most important thing to people. Having food be acceptable (e.g., not rotten, something you are not allergic to) comes second. Once those two things are in place, people hope for reliable access to food and only then do they begin to worry about taste. If people have enough, acceptable, reliable, good-tasting food, then they seek out novel food experiences and begin to make choices as to what to eat for instrumental purposes (e.g., number of calories, nutritional balance).

    As Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist writes, sometimes when a person chooses to eat nutritionally deficient or fattening foods, it is not because they are “stupid, ignorant, lazy, or just a bad, bad person who loves bad, bad food.”  Sometimes, it’s “because other needs come first.”

    Originally posted in 2010; hat tip to Racialicious; cross-posted at Jezebel.

    Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

    (View original at

    26 May 12:46

    "Gretchen: If you look at what kids actually do when they’re exposed to fragmented or incomplete..."


    I love this podcast so much.

    Gretchen: If you look at what kids actually do when they’re exposed to fragmented or incomplete linguistic input, they actually create full-fledged languages from kind of bizarre or difficult linguistic circumstances.

    Lauren: A really famous example is Nicaraguan Sign Language. The fact that we’ve taken until episode 7 to talk about it is actually pretty impressive, because it’s such a great go-to anecdote for linguists, and it’s such an amazing thing that happened. In the 70s and 80s in Nicaragua there was a change in policy that meant that a lot of deaf children suddenly came together at school, instead of being isolated and using their own home sign or maybe a local village sign language. Over the course of a couple of generations, these children went from all having kind of only a rudimentary communicative system to developing what is now considered to be a fully fledged language, which is Nicaraguan Sign Language. There are around three thousand users of that sign language now, and the language has been studied since its birth since the 1970s. There have been people watching the evolution of this language and how children can use limited resources and inputs to create something really sophisticated.

    Gretchen: It teaches us a lot about human children’s capacity for language. It’s not just that kids aren’t speaking some “bad” version of English now, but it’s actually that if ever we have disrupted linguistic transmission, it’s going to be the kids that save us. They’re not going to bring us back to what we had before, but they’re going to make a fully fledged linguistic system that’s capable of complex ideas and complex thoughts, even if the adults mess it up! If kids were just doing exactly what adults do, then language would be brittle and fragile. But because they change it each generation, language is incredibly resilient! And this brings us back to a point from episode one, where we talked about the language of space.

    Lauren: And Space Pidgin!

    Gretchen: And how the American and the Russian astronauts and cosmonauts use each other’s languages, and end up using this hybrid English-Russian pidgin to communicate with each other. But because all the astronauts so far have been adults this is kind of an incomplete, fragmented English-Russian hybrid space pidgin. However, if and when we go to Mars, if the astronauts and the cosmonauts got together and had some space babies….

    Lauren: If there were children…

    Gretchen: Then these Space Babies would grow up exposed to Space Pidgin and they would turn it into Space Creole.

    Lauren: And it would actually develop more sophisticated grammatical structures, the children would take the input that they get and turn it into a more fully fledged linguistic system. So the kids in space are going to be okay.

    Gretchen: The kids in space are going to be okay, the kids on earth are going to be okay, we’re all okay! Also, someone needs to write this story about space babies, I would like to read it.

    Lauren: I would definitely love to read about babies in space standardising English-Russian pidgin into a creole.


    Excerpt from Episode 7 of Lingthusiasm: Kids these days aren’t ruining language. Listen to the full episode, read the transcript, or check out the show notes for links to further reading.

    See also the original Space Pidgin quote from Episode 1, or listen to the full episode.

    (via lingthusiasm)

    We didn’t realize that Space Pidgin would be such a popular theme when we started @lingthusiasm, but hey, give the people what they want.

    26 May 12:40

    How I Wrote My Novel in Gmail

    by Zan Romanoff

    It always had a reader.

    Image: Rob Sinclair

    In the winter of 2014 I had an idea for a book so perfect and absurd that I stopped in the middle of a sidewalk to laugh about it. I’d gotten very immersed in a conspiracy theory about the love lives of the boy band One Direction; I had recently read an article about how teenage girls in fandom could translate the skills they were learning online onto post-collegiate resumes. The two ideas collided in my brain. I imagined girls who’d learned to analyze images for traces of Photoshop in order to ascertain whether Louis Tomlinson was in fact a father turning their skills to a weightier mystery.

    I thought: someone should write a young adult novel about a teen girl fan-turned-detective.

    Though I had recently sold a young adult novel, I felt very certain that this person should not be me. In the first place, I already had a project: 40,000 or so words whose driving force was a desire to make the metaphor often latent in supernatural stories — the werewolf, he is a stand-in for a the shame of being a gay man! — explicit. (A good idea, but not a good idea for a story, as it turned out.)

    But also, I knew this book wasn’t the kind of thing I could write well: caper-y, was the way I described it in an email to my friend Logan about how someone else should write it for me.

    In retrospect, of course, I told Logan about it because I didn’t want to be alone with the idea. One of the most infuriating things about writing is how it puts you in a room with nothing but your own judgment to keep you company while you struggle to pull together a first draft. This is difficult no matter what it is a first draft of, but particularly unnerving when it’s a novel, which requires that you sink months — if not years — of your life into its creation, which you can never see the beginning of at the same time as the end. My lizard brain knew perfectly well that the werewolf book wasn’t working, but it couldn’t figure out why. Before I abandoned it, and committed myself to something new, I wanted someone to reassure me: this one is really the one.

    There is no such thing as the one; there is no such thing as knowing for sure when you set out on a novel-sized project how it will ultimately end out. But we tell ourselves stories in order to live, or we tell ourselves lies in order to take on projects we find intimidating, anyway, and the thing about Logan was, she wasn’t even lying to me when she said I had to write it, and that she was sure it was going to be good.

    Logan truly believed in the book, and in me. Her belief opened up space, and allowed me to look at my work from a different vantage: because now that I’d introduced her to the idea, I owed it to her to follow up. Writing a novel is foolish, selfish, an elaborate guise for telling the world about your dreams. Writing Logan a story she wanted to read would just be fair. (And also: fun.)

    But that didn’t mean I could get my mind around how to do it. There were plot problems, or, the problem that I have no great love for writing intricate plots — I can make things happen on the page, absolutely, but the sharp twists a detective story requires are just not my thing. I was also intimidated by the idea of trying to take a serious, diehard conspiracy theorist and quasi-stalker as my main character, and making her likeable — because I wanted this particular girl to be likeable. I wanted to write a book about being a fangirl that was engrossing and heartbreaking, not one that satirized her obsession even the tiniest bit.

    How I solved those problems is another essay; the point of this one is, I never would have done it if I hadn’t had someone assuring me — Logan sent me periodic encouraging emails between my initial description of the story, and when I finally surrendered, and started writing it — that she wanted to read it. And, in fact, having a potential audience, one I knew well, helped me reshape my conception of the book. It stopped being about an abstract girl, a clever plot, and started being about how I could say to my friend, who was also a fan: can you believe what’s happening to us?

    When I did start writing what became GRACE AND THE FEVER, I got excited about it the way I’d gotten excited about that first, instinctual idea: giddy, almost. Writing its first chapter was almost as fun as emailing Logan about the actual Direction’s shenanigans. So I sent it to her.

    “What happens next?” she asked.

    I sent her another chapter in answer.

    The book is written very much in the tradition of the fan fiction about my favorite boy band that I read growing up: what’s known as self-insert RPF, or fic in which a character much like the author meets a real-life celebrity. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the way I wrote it is reminiscent of how many fic writers’ process works: my friend Verity, for instance, a prolific fic author, will sometimes send me snippets of her works in progress, scenes she’s proud of, or thinks I will like, or wants a particular piece of feedback on.

    Sometimes I’ll make a suggestion but mostly, my role is as a cheerleader. That’s a bit of fandom linguistics, actually, the defined role of cheerleader, as opposed to the betas who will suggest edits when the whole thing is done. (Some fic writers will even post their WIPs publicly as they write them, which has always amazed me, the high-wire audacity of assuming that you can know in the first chapter what you’ll need to set up for the last. I have yet to write a book where I don’t end up inserting and removing characters throughout the editing process.)

    Logan and I exchanged just under 200 emails in the next two months; I sent her near-daily updates to the story. Her encouragement bolstered me, but also, just the fact of her kept me from getting too far into my head about anything; it kept the priority on making this a book someone would be dying to get back to in her inbox every morning. I can still read the book and break it into emails; its beats were established by the rhythm of my writing time (8:00 am-10:00 am on weekday mornings before going in to work), and the imperative to make sure that every day Logan would write back and say oh my GOD but what happens NEXT?

    There’s a lot of conversation among writers about why we write, and particularly among novelists about why we write longform fiction, a difficult, demanding discipline which can feel out of step in a hyperlinked, tl;dr literary landscape. Writing GRACE AND THE FEVER reminded me that the reason I write novels is because I love to tell stories, the longer the better, and because the breadth a novel allows can ultimately wrap up plot while also leaving the reader with tons of larger questions about the lives she’s just been immersed in.

    I write for myself but I publish in the hope of finding readers, which can make the writing feel tenuous — it’s tempting, always, to look past the page to imagine who might eventually be looking. It’s far too easy to imagine that reader being cranky, saying what do you think you’re doing, which is always what you’re saying to yourself anyway — or else to imagine them getting bored and wandering off, which makes you get bombastic on the page. Part of the trick of writing is getting comfortable with your own voice in your head, but the other part is remembering that, when you’re done with it, it has to engage other people, too. Writing is a monologue, and publishing is a conversation. Navigating both terrains requires nerve and practice but is always helped along by luck.

    GRACE was incredibly lucky: it always had a reader, someone sympathetic and generous, willing to take my hand and keep me focused. Someone who said, I love the way you tell this story. Who said, every morning: Can you tell me what happens next?

    How I Wrote My Novel in Gmail was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    26 May 11:45

    The relationship between gesture and thinking/speaking


    It’s easy to see the relationship between speech and gesture; people move their hands while they speak. There is also a more fundamental relationship between gestures and thinking, a relationship that is possibly even more primary for gesture than that with speech. Earlier this year a Sotaro Kita, Martha W. Alibali and Mingyuan Chu published a paper that brings together a lot of excellent research to discuss the role that gesture has in thinking and speaking. As Kita tweeted when it was was published in January, this paper brings together 20 years of research and 10 years of writing. The authors draw on an extensive background literature, which includes their own extensive and excellent research (you may remember Kita’s work from the ‘Blind people gesture’ post, and Alibali’s work featured in an earlier post about unhelpful gesturing).

    If you only read one survey paper on the relationship between gesture and language, this is certainly a good one. But reading papers about gesture is my day job, not yours, so I’ve summarised some of the good bits for you.

    Introducing the ‘Gesture-for-Conceptualisation’ model

    In this paper the authors argue that the main function of gesture is to help the speaker conceptualise what they are thinking about, and therefore going to speak about. The authors argue that gestures are “physical actions of a special type” (p. 1), which means that gesturing about moving a mug of coffee is linked to the action of moving coffee as much as it is talking about moving the coffee, and that makes gestures particularly important in conceptualising tasks, and also talking about them.

    They argues that there are four main ways gesture affects cognition to help conceputalise thought: (1) activation, (2) manipulation, (3) packaging and (4) exploration. All may occur in the one gesture, or one function may be more dominant at a particular time. I’ll go through each of these briefly. I often talk about the relationship between language and gesture being very close, so at the end I’ll also look at what the authors say about why gesture is at an earlier stage of cognition than spoken language might be. 

    Gesture activates cognition: Gesturing while thinking silently

    The authors present evidence from experiments that show people gesture when thinking about problems, even if they are not speaking and are by themselves, and that these gestures can help people perform better certain kinds of mental tasks that involve thinking about the manipulation of real or imaginary objects. Being allowed to gesture means people in experiments tend to think out solutions to problems using more space and movement, people who aren’t allowed to gesture tend to use more abstract ways of talking through the problem. This means that gesture plays a more central role in cognition than just being linked to one other cognitive skill, like language or problem-solving, which is how it has been discussed in earlier work.

    The authors argue that gesture can help with cognition because it represents information about objects and their manipulation in a more “schematic” way than other cognitive processes, stripping out a lot of potentially unnecessary detail.

    Gesture manipulates cognition: People gesture more while dealing with complex spatial/motion information

    Not only do people gesture more in these tasks, but in one set of experiments people who performed more gestures do better in later attempts at the task, even when they’re told not to gesture on the second attempt - indicating there is some ongoing benefit to cognition, manipulating their cognitive skills at the task. 

    Gesture packages cognition: Changing the way people gesture changes their language

    Gesture can package information about space and movement. In one experiment researchers used this to manipulate how people used language to discuss an event. By asking the participants to gesture about specific features of the event, they could also shift the language that the speakers used. Also, the more information that there is to be packaged up into speech in a task, the more gestures people tended to use, to help them package up all that information.

    Gesture explores cognition: Trying out ideas before you even say them

    There have been a number of studies that show that when people are learning about a new concept (particularly school-age children), there is a phase where there is a ‘mismatch’ between what they’re talking about and their gesture. For example when a young child sees water from a tall, narrow glass poured into a wider glass, the child will often say there is less water in the second glass, because the level is lower. If the child makes a hand-spreading gesture while saying this though, it is an indication that the child is beginning to understand that there’s actually the same volume of water, held in a different shape. Difficult tasks can lead to a speech/gesture mismatch, which the authors argue is the brain trying out ideas that aren’t expressed in speech. They also suggest that half-finished gestures may be an indication that the brain is abandoning ideas,  indicating unsuccessful exploration.

    My favourite quote from this part of the paper:

    “The key features of these phenomena are that the microgenesis of ideas in gesture is, to some extent, independent from (and blazing the trail for) the microgenesis of ideas in speech, and that ideas develop in gesture via a process of trial and error” (p. 9)

    Gesture is linked to other ‘practical actions’

    The authors argue that gestures share features in common with other practical actions that we do with our hands and other parts of the body. They make a number of observations on this point:

    • People gesture more when talking/thinking about things that involve movement
    • Gesture rates also affected by how easy it would be to manipulate the objects being gestured about. In their example a picture of a spiky mug propted fewer gestures in a rotation task than a smooth mug (because who the heck would want to touch an ouchy mug?)
    • If people have experience manipulating the object being discussed then they gesture about it more

    But, they note that there are some extra things that gestures can do for cognition that actions don’t. Firstly, because gestures have this ‘schematising’ function, they have a stronger influence on thought and they’re better for making generalisation while making relevant information more flexible and efficient. Secondly the authors argue that gestures can affect through more strongly than actions. In a map recollection task people who gestured to remember the route did better than people who drew it. They also discussed research on expert users of abacuses, who calculate faster with an imaginary abacus BECAUSE REAL ONES SLOW THEM DOWN TOO MUCH . Kita, Alibali and Chu didn’t write that all in capitals, but I’m still blown away by the idea that reality is holding back calculation.

    They do note that it’s possible that sometimes schematic representations in gesture may not have the relevant information, or be distracting, but setting up an experiment to confirm this would be difficult.

    But Lauren, don’t you always say that gesture and speech are closely linked???

    I do, and they are. Kita, Alibali and Chu discuss this too:

    “We argue that this occurs because the action generation system and the speech production system are highly interactive. As proposed by Kita and Özyürek (2003), the two systems can exchange information and align their contents. Thus, the contents of concurrent gesture and speech tend to converge.” (p. 11)

    That is, gesture and speech are very closely related, but before that gesture and thought are very very closely related, and because speech is also linked to thought, it all tends to come together so quickly that it’s taken them decades of experiments to start pulling these relationships apart.

    They also discuss how their model fits with some other research that looks at the relationship between gesture and language. For example, it’s been observed that gesture helps with retrieving words when you can’t quite remember them. The authors of this paper argue that this fits with their model, because the ‘activation’ function of gesture can retrieve a representation of an item or a feature of it, which then activates associated information such as the name for it.

    There has been a great deal of research that indicates that gestures are useful for the people that we are speaking to, not just our own thinking. The authors of this paper don’t deny that that may be the case, instead arguing that it is possible for gestures to be both self-oriented and have a communicative function. Indeed, the schematisation that is beneficial for the speaker’s cognition may also be what is so useful about them for an interlocutor.

    They also argue that this still works for objects that we have no direct experience interacting with, because we are also able to navigate a  “virtual environment” of experiences.

    One final great quote from the paper that sums it all up

    “By schematizing spatio-motoric information for these four functions, activation, manipulation, packaging and exploration, gesture facilitates cognitive processing and generates novel ideas, strategies and solutions that are easy to process, adaptable, and generalizable.” (p. 14)


    Kita, S., Alibali, M. W., & Chu, M. (2017, February 27). How Do Gestures Influence Thinking and Speaking? The Gesture-for-Conceptualization Hypothesis. Psychological Review. Advance online publication.

    This link between gesture and thought reminds me of a previous Superlinguo post about how people who are blind from birth still gesture when they speak

    26 May 11:44

    New paint colors invented by neural network


    I'd seen the final image shared on twitter, but this has some of the process of how the neural network got to that, which I found interesting.


    So if you’ve ever picked out paint, you know that every infinitesimally different shade of blue, beige, and gray has its own descriptive, attractive name. Tuscan sunrise, blushing pear, Tradewind, etc… There are in fact people who invent these names for a living. But given that the human eye can see millions of distinct colors, sooner or later we’re going to run out of good names. Can AI help?

    For this experiment, I gave the neural network a list of about 7,700 Sherwin-Williams paint colors along with their RGB values. (RGB = red, green, and blue color values) Could the neural network learn to invent new paint colors and give them attractive names?

    One way I have of checking on the neural network’s progress during training is to ask it to produce some output using the lowest-creativity setting. Then the neural network plays it safe, and we can get an idea of what it has learned for sure.

    By the first checkpoint, the neural network has learned to produce valid RGB values - these are colors, all right, and you could technically paint your walls with them. It’s a little farther behind the curve on the names, although it does seem to be attempting a combination of the colors brown, blue, and gray.

    By the second checkpoint, the neural network can properly spell green and gray. It doesn’t seem to actually know what color they are, however.

    Let’s check in with what the more-creative setting is producing.

    …oh, okay.

    Later in the training process, the neural network is about as well-trained as it’s going to be (perhaps with different parameters, it could have done a bit better - a lot of neural network training involves choosing the right training parameters). By this point, it’s able to figure out some of the basic colors, like white, red, and grey:

    Although not reliably.

    In fact, looking at the neural network’s output as a whole, it is evident that:

    1. The neural network really likes brown, beige, and grey.
    2. The neural network has really really bad ideas for paint names.

    The neural network figuring out white and red is tantalizingly close to how the first colour distinction that human languages tend to develop is between light and dark and red, although grey is one of the latest colour distinctions to show up. I wonder if you could tweak the parameters such that the neural network would learn to split colours in the same order that human languages do (or in a radically different trajectory). 

    16 May 09:43

    A simple truth

    by Mo

    Source: Facebook, with thanks to Lynda.

    13 May 17:53

    Ban the Concept of the “Bandwagon Fan”

    by Erin Robertson

    (Why? It’s sexist, of course.)

    Image: Eric Kilby

    In April, the Cincinnati Reds “trolled” the Cubs with an in-game Bandwagon Cam showing Cubs fans in attendance. The video clip to start it off? Two young female fans labeled “Life long Cubs fans since 2016.”

    Now, they took it all in good stride, and of course, the whole bit was in jest — a jab at a very, very good team from one that’s, well, pretty bad. But, even so, what happened to those two young women? That’s my nightmare.

    In 2005, I moved back to Chicago from California. That October, my University of Chicago dormmates and I huddled around a grainy, rabbit-eared television as the White Sox swept the Astros in the World Series.

    Zoom in. That’s a White Sox Winning Ugly cap on my bib.

    I come from a White Sox family, with a grandfather who worked for the organization for decades and memorabilia that blended into the background of our house’s decor. Still, I hadn’t followed as a kid, just lazily soaked in the baseball waters that surrounded me, and I feared being seen as a casual fan, a latcher-on. I quietly saved a copy of the Chicago Tribune in my memories box and returned to my normal patterns as though I were still living in a pre-White Sox World Series Champions world. I didn’t dare dream of becoming a real fan because I was just a lifelong fan since 2005 — this despite the fact that I literally wore a White Sox bib as a baby.

    Google “bandwagon fans women” and one of the first things you get is this, about all of the female fans flocking to rugby during the most recent World Cup year. But are they really “bandwagon” fans? Or are they fans historically shut out of a locker room culture that only lets them in for high-profile events? Being a female fan is inherently fraught. There are the quizzes that don’t end unless you can list the entire makeup of the NL East in 10 seconds or less, the pink v-neck jerseys, and bedazzled hats — all of which you’ll get mocked for, even though there’s no way to avoid them.

    So, being a new fan as a female — perhaps a new fan to a team that is suddenly hot, because why wouldn’t you want to follow a World Series Champion? — is nearly impossible. For one, a new fan probably won’t know that the Expos were once in the NL East, a tidbit of information that hasn’t enhanced my understanding of the game at all. For another, the National Federation of State High School Associations estimates that just around one quarter of one percent of high school baseball participants were girls during the 2014–2015 school year. (I’ll let you imagine what that statistic might be for America’s current reigning pastime, football.) And softball, where we divert eager female little leaguers starting in adolescence, is a drastically different sport requiring an entirely distinct mechanical form and style of play, as has been pointed out by women time and again. What all of this creates is a culture that often cuts off women from participating in baseball fandom, and then sneers at them for their lack of knowledge.

    Meanwhile, the MLB Commissioner is pushing an aggressive agenda to rebuild major league baseball’s shrinking fanbase through controversial, and somewhat dubious, initiatives. At the same time, the organizations he presides over are promoting an atmosphere that punishes new fans just for being new. Following the Bandwagon Cam, FanRag Sport’s Alex Solokoff put out a rallying cry in favor of bandwagon fans, joining an increasing line of pro-bandwagon sports writers who argue against the condescending attitude traditional fans have toward their newer counterparts. If we add in that many of those new fans — like the lifelong Cubs fans since 2016 — are women trying to break into a good ol’ boys sports club, the whole thing appears even more toxic.

    I can’t explain the creepy doll, but I can explain the awesome ruffled Chicago jersey.

    I am here for criticizing Cubs fandom. I’m a South Side fan, after all. But you can do that without criticizing new fans: Cubs fans are notoriously ripe for the picking. The slipping MLB needs bandwagon fans, and our society needs to stop criticizing women for enthusiastically participating in things they haven’t before had access to.

    This year, my mom and I sat in record-breaking Arizona heat to watch the prospect-heavy White Sox at Spring Training. It took me a decade, but I’d finally embraced my passion for the team I’d grown up with: a “true” fan who now closely follows every game, despite how far the Good Guys are from World Series contention. So, yeah, it’s possible those two girls the Reds profiled are bandwagon fans. So am I.

    Erin Robertson is a freelance editor and writer living in California.

    Ban the Concept of the “Bandwagon Fan” was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    12 May 17:41

    Labels are not the Enemy

    by (Jen)
    I made a little web graphic about something that keeps coming up in conversations around bisexuality both in person and online.

    While labels are optional, too often they seem to catch the blame for another thing's misdeeds.

    (shareable online from here on twitter, here on tumblr, here on facebook)
    11 May 01:18

    Linguist twitter had some fun with the wordplay possibilities of...

    Linguist twitter had some fun with the wordplay possibilities of the newly-elected French president, Emmanuel Macron