Category Archive 'Language'
22 Aug 2016

Flatiron Building

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FlatironBuilding

FlatironPC

The Fuller company, famed for its skyscraper designs, purchased a triangular plot in Manhattan on 23rd Street. The space was known as the Flatiron for its resemblance to a household clothes iron. Architect Daniel Burnham designed a building in the Beaux-Arts style, incorporating classical Roman features into a modern building with sculpted decoration. Upon completion in June 1902, the 22-story Flatiron Building was the tallest building in New York.

During its construction, many thought the wind would blow the building down, due to its odd height and shape. Thus, it was nicknamed “Burnham’s Folly.”

Due to the geography of the site, with Broadway on one side, Fifth Avenue on the other, and the open expanse of Madison Square and the park in front of it, the wind currents around the building could be treacherous. Wind from the north would split around the building, downdrafts from above and updrafts from the vaulted area under the street would combine to make the wind unpredictable. This is said to have given rise to the phrase “23 skidoo”, from what policemen would shout at men who tried to get glimpses of women’s dresses being blown up by the winds swirling around the building due to the strong downdrafts.

12 Aug 2016

Supernatural Collective Nouns

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01 Jul 2016

How Language Becomes Simple & Efficient

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EfficientLanguage
35th Berlin Marathon

John McWhorter, in the Atlantic, compares the complexity of several languages.

When a language seems especially telegraphic, usually another factor has come into play: Enough adults learned it at a certain stage in its history that, given the difficulty of learning a new language after childhood, it became a kind of stripped-down “schoolroom” version of itself. Because all languages, are, to some extent, busier than they need to be, this streamlining leaves the language thoroughly complex and nuanced, just lighter on the bric-a-brac that so many languages pant under. Even today, Indonesian is a first language to only one in four of its speakers; the language has been used for many centuries as a lingua franca in a vast region, imposed on speakers of several hundred languages. This means that while other languages can be like overgrown lawns, Indonesian’s grammar has been regularly mowed, such that especially the colloquial forms are tidier. Lots of adult learning over long periods of time is also why, for example, the colloquial forms of Arabic like Egyptian and Moroccan are somewhat less elaborated than Modern Standard Arabic—they were imposed on new people as Islam spread after the seventh century.

In contrast, one cannot help suspecting that not too many adults have been tackling the likes of sǝq’ayǝƛaaɣwǝaɣhaś. Kabardian has been left to its own devices, and my, has it hoarded a lot of them. This is, as languages go, normal, even if Kabardian is rather extreme. By contrast, only a few languages have been taken up as vehicles of empire and imposed on millions of unsuspecting and underqualified adults. Long-dominant Mandarin, then, is less “busy” than Cantonese and Taiwanese, which have been imposed on fewer people. English came out the way it did because Vikings, who in the first millennium forged something of an empire of their own in northern and western Europe, imposed themselves on the Old English of the people they invaded and, as it were, mowed it. German, meanwhile, stayed “normal.”

25 Jun 2016

Nine Swiss German Words

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Bunzli

The Local:

Bünzli

This insult – based on a real Swiss surname – applies to those boring people who follow all the rules and make sure everyone else does too. A Bünzli is the sort of person who would never cross the street when the light is red, who never stays out too late and never gets too drunk.

He is also the person most likely to complain to the building president when you dare to do your washing on Sunday, or to ring the police when he sees someone parked in front of a fire hydrant. Think garden gnomes and socks paired with Adiletten and you have the idea.

Hat tip to Althouse.

25 Jun 2016

Trump’s Visit to Scotland Inspired Some Very Creative Profanity

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Quartz story

————–

A few samples:

TrumpScottishInsults

29 May 2016

“Listen to Them, the Children of the Night. What Music They Make!”

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WolvesHowling

Holly Root-Gutteridge studies wolf dialects.

After hundreds of hours listening to thousands of wolves for my PhD, the difference between howls was obvious. The voice of a Russian wolf was nothing like that of a Canadian, and a jackal was so utterly different again that it was like listening to Farsi and French. I believed that there must be geographic and subspecies distinctions. Other researchers had made this proposition before, but no one had put together a large enough collection of howls to test it properly. …

Studies since the 1960s have shown that the howls that have haunted our dreams for centuries can tell us a lot about the particular wolf vocalising. Like humans, each wolf has its own voice. Each pack also shares howl similarities, making different families sound distinct from each other (wolves respond more favourably to familiar howls). This much we knew. What we didn’t know was whether the differences seen between packs were true of subspecies or of species, and if an Indian wolf howl would be distinct from a Canadian one.

More questions follow. If howls from different subspecies are different, do the howls convey the same message? Is there a shared culture of howl-meanings, where an aggressive howl from a European wolf means the same thing as an aggressive howl of a Himalayan? And can a coyote differentiate between a red wolf howling with aggressive intent and one advertising the desire to mate? Even without grammar or syntax, howls can convey intent, and if the shape of the howl changes enough while the intent remains constant, the foundations of distinctive culture can begin to appear. … Our canine voice collection represented was one of the most comprehensive ever.

We compared howls across 13 different subspecies and species of coyotes, dogs, wolves and jackals (collectively known as canids).

We then stretched all the howls to the same length, using a process called dynamic time warping, to compare the changes in the tune without including the tempo it was played at. We found that each species had its own favourite howl shape, a preferred set of changes to their howls to raise and drop the pitch, but that they also used howl shapes preferred by other species, and varied the shapes as they pleased. The species were like music bands with preferred styles of playing, whether riff-filled like jazz or the pure tones of classical, but were flexible in what they actually played at any given time. So while they had a favourite style, the tune itself varied.

Like musicians, the wolves were influenced by their forebears in the genre, and species shared traits with other canids that were closer to them geographically and genetically. An Eastern grey wolf, recorded in the US, sounded more like a North Carolinian red wolf than a European wolf, and an African jackal sounded quite different again. Small and delicate compared with their cousins the European wolves, golden jackals have high, rising howls, running up and down the scales in bravura performances of control and speed, but with less variation in overall shape, whereas the European wolves used a slower style of deep and steady long notes ending in falls that seem to drift away into the night. New Guinea singing dogs earned their names with a large vocal repertoire and a wide selection of howl shapes. While sometimes the different species achieved crossovers to other shapes, most had a style that dominated their repertoires.

Read the whole thing.

29 May 2016

Cambridge University App Tries to Identify English Regional Accents

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EnglishDialects

University of Cambridge Research:

A new app which tries to guess your regional accent based on your pronunciation of 26 words and colloquialisms will help Cambridge academics track the movement and changes to English dialects in the modern era.

Along with colleagues from the universities of Zurich and Bern, Cambridge’s Adrian Leemann has developed the free app English Dialects (available on iOS and Android) which asks you to choose your pronunciation of 26 different words before guessing where in England you’re from.

The app, officially launched today on the App Store and Google Play, also encourages you to make your own recordings in order to help researchers determine how dialects have changed over the past 60 years. The English language app follows the team’s hugely successful apps for German-speaking Europe which accumulated more than one million hits in four days on Germany’s Der Spiegel website, and more than 80,000 downloads of the app by German speakers in Switzerland.

“We want to document how English dialects have changed, spread or levelled out,” said Dr Leemann, a researcher at Cambridge’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. “The first large-scale documentation of English dialects dates back 60-70 years, when researchers were sent out into the field – sometimes literally – to record the public. It was called the ‘Survey of English Dialects’. In 313 localities across England, they documented accents and dialects over a decade, mainly of farm labourers.”

The researchers used this historical material for the dialect guessing app, which allows them to track how dialects have evolved into the 21st century.

“We hope that people in their tens of thousands will download the app and let us know their results – which means our future attempts at mapping dialect and language change should be much more precise,” added Leemann. “Users can also interact with us by recording their own dialect terms and this will let us see how the English language is evolving and moving from place to place.”

The app asks users how they pronounce certain words or which dialect term they most associate with commonly-used expressions; then produces a heat map for the likely location of your dialect based on your answers.

For example, the app asks how you might say the word ‘last’ or ‘shelf’, giving you various pronunciations to listen to before choosing which one most closely matches your own. Likewise, it asks questions such as: ‘A small piece of wood stuck under the skin is a…’ then gives answers including: spool, spile, speel, spell, spelk, shiver, spill, sliver, splinter or splint. The app then allows you to view which areas of the country use which variations at the end of the quiz.

It also asks the endlessly contentious English question of whether ‘scone’ rhymes with ‘gone’ or ‘cone’.

Read the whole thing.

27 May 2016

Recipe For Disaster

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Voice Recognition Elevator… in Scotland!

27 May 2016

NYC Mandates Businesses Recognize 31 Genders

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Genders
4chan Genders

MRCTV:

On Tuesday, the New York City Commission of Rights released a list of 31 different gender identities that all businesses must recognize or else they risk paying a financial penalty between $125,000 and $250,000.

When de Blasio originally announced the Gender Identity/Gender Expression Legal Enforcement Guidance in December, individuals such as Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, saw is as a positive step in the right direction.

    “It’s a huge step forward and really catapults New York City to the forefront of the struggle for transgender rights”.

Originally, the guidebook included phrases such as gender, gender identity and gender non-conforming. But the newly released list includes pronouns such as hijra, third sex, non-op, gender gifted, two-spirit and gender bender.

    A “gender bender” is someone “who bends, changes, mixes, or combines society’s gender conventions by expressing elements of masculinity and femininity together.”

The terms include obscure descriptors like, “person of transgender experience,” but also mention well-known terms such as MTF, FTM and transgender. So I don’t see the point of having that one long and entirely unnecessary phrase.

Then again, all these pronouns are utterly senseless.

Just in case you wanted to look up the definition of these various terms, the University of Wisconsin and University of California Berkeley provides them.

Obviously not the sort of law which can practically be universally enforced. To even know what they’re talking about you would have to be deeply grounded in the sexually-perverted subculture as well as educated in the language and vocabulary of Marxist Critical Studies, which demonstrates just how crazy leftists really are. People like de Blasio are not only willing to endorse demands of the pervert class that they do not actually understand themselves, they are willing to go so far as to make the theoretical acquiescence of the general public compulsory.

07 Apr 2016

If Trump Did Shakespeare

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TrumpKing

Aryeh Cohen-Wade, in the New Yorker, imagines what The Donald would do to the best-known soliloquies.

Listen—to be, not to be, this is a tough question, O.K.? Very tough. A lot of people come up to me and ask, “Donald, what’s more noble? Getting hit every day with the slings, the bows, the arrows, the sea of troubles—or just giving up?” I mean, smart people, the best Ivy League schools.

But I say to them, “Have you ever thought that we don’t know—we don’t know—what dreams may come? Have you ever thought about that?” Ay yi yi—there’s the rub! There’s the rub right there. When we shuffle off this mortal whatever it is—coil? They say to me, “Donald, you’ve built this fantastic company, how’d you do it? How?” And I say one word: “leadership.” Because that’s what it’s all about, is leadership. And people are so grateful whenever I bring up this whole “perchance to dream” thing. So grateful.

And on and on with the whips and the scorns of time and the contumely and the fardels and the blah blah blah.

Then I see a bare bodkin and I’m like—a bodkin? What the hell is this thing, a bodkin? Listen, I run a very successful business, I employ thousands of people and I’m supposed to care whether this bodkin is bare or not? Sad!

And when people say I don’t have a conscience—trust me, I have a conscience, and it’s a very big conscience, O.K.? And the native hue of my resolution is not sicklied o’er, that’s a lie! If anyone tells you that the native hue of my resolution is sicklied o’er, they’re trying to sell you a load of you-know-what. And enterprises of great pith—listen, my enterprises are so pithy. So pithy. Fantastic pith. But sometimes, hey, they lose the name of action, right? I mean, it happens—it happens.

Read the whole thing.

31 Mar 2016

Donald Trump’s Gettysburg Address

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LincolnTrump

If Trump, instead of Lincoln, had given the Gettysburg Address (via Kevin M. Levin):

It was a long time ago – I don’t think anyone can even remember, but I can remember, I have a great memory, I’ve got the best memory ever. These guys, they made the most special thing, really, really special. Where everyone was free and everything was great, just the way I’ve made America, I really, really mean that.

Now we’ve got these people – I don’t like these people, let me tell you, they’re really awful, they said, “Hey Trump, you’ve got small hands,” and so I went after them, I really did, I sued them, and what did they do? They decided they wanted a fight and I said, “Okay, we’ll see who’s still here in a few years,” and see, we’re still here, on this battlefield. It’s a yuge battlefield, and it’s really, really, great, it’s so special. See, we’ve built this cemetery, so how big it is? It’s so special. And these guys – we’ve got the best guys – they tell me, “Hey Donald, give us someone who can lead us and we’ll beat these rebels,” and so I made things happen – it’s what I do – and boom, look, we’ve got this big, big win. These guys died winning, and I’m sure that makes their families just so, so happy, all this winning. It’s really great that we can be here to make this place special because of all the winning they did.

But really, we can’t make this place any more special than they did by winning so hard, unless it’s to build a brand new Trump Towers – Gettysburg – that’s right ladies and gentlemen, that’s right, right here, right where you’re standing, we’re going to build this yuge tower, and oh my goodness, it will be so special, so big. You’ll just get sick from how big it is. You say to yourself, “Hey, I wonder if anyone will remember this place.” And now you don’t have to wonder anymore because you’ll be able to see it from miles and miles away, that’s how yuge it will be. We’ll make those rebels remember this place where they lost, where they became losers. I really hate losers. I hate them so much that we’re going to keep on winning, just to show them how much of losers they really are, that’s what we’re going to do. What these guys did – and they’re just the best, so special – well, we’re going to make sure that what they won for is going to be kept alive forever. Know what I’m going to do? I’m going to build a wall, a yuge wall, really, really yuge, all along the Mason-Dixon Line, and know what? I’m gonna make Jeff Davis pay for it, I really am. That guy’s such a loser, it’s why I hate him so much, and I think it’s what the guys that won here would really want. I’m just going to keep this great country really great, and yuge, just like me. We’re going to keep winning until we’re so tired of winning that you’ll have to thank me for making everything so great. My government is going to be around for a while, so get used to that winning.

Oh hey, look, we’ve got someone yelling about issues over there. What’s that? Slavery? Throw that guy outta here, get him out, this is about winning, and he’s a loser.

06 Mar 2016

Speaking in Trumpish

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TrumpSentences

18 Feb 2016

Bernie Sanders: a Linguistic Analysis

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Bernie Sanders: a linguistic analysis

Bernie Sanders has now spent most of his life in Vermont. But his voice tells a story of his past, and the history of New York City.

Posted by Vox on Thursday, February 18, 2016

26 Jan 2016

Connolly on Addison

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Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

From Enemies of Promise, 1938 by Cyril Connolly:

Style is manifest in language. The vocabulary of a writer is his curency but it is a paper currency and its value depends on the mind and heart that backs it. The perfect use of language is that in which every word carries the meaning that it is intended to, no less and no more. In the verbal exchange Fleet Street is a kind of Bucket Shop which unloads words on the public for less than they are worth and in consequence the more honest literary bankers, who try to use their words to mean what they say, who are always ‘good for’ the expressions they employ, find their currency constantly depreciating. There was a time when this was not so, a moment in the history of language when words expressed what they meant and when it was impossible to write badly. This time I think was at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the metaphysical conceits of the one were going out and before the classical tyranny of the other was established. To write badly at that time would involve a perversion of language , to write naturally was a certain way of writing well. Dryden, Rochester, Congreve, Swift, Gay, Defoe, belong to this period and some of its freshness is still found in the Lives of the Poets and in the letters of Gray and Walpole. It is a period which is ended by the work of two great Alterers, Addison and Pope.

Addison was responsible for many of the evils from which English prose has since suffered. He made prose artful, and whimsical, he made it sonorous when sonority was not needed, affected when it did not require affectation; he enjoined the essay on us so that countless small boys are at this moment busy setting down their views on Travel, the Great Man, Courage, Gardening, Capital Punishment to wind up with a quotation from Bacon. For though essay-writing was an occasional activity of Bacon, Walton and Evelyn, Addison turned it into an industry. He was the first to write for the entertainment of the middle classes, the new great power in the reign of Anne. He wrote as a gentleman (Sir Roger is the perfect gentleman), he emphasized his gentle irony, his gentle melancholy, his gentle inanity. He was the apologist for the New Bourgeoisie who writes playfully and apologetically about nothing, casting a smoke screen over its activities to make it seem harmless, genial and sensitive in its non-acquisitive moments; he anticipated Lamb and Emerson, Stevenson, Punch and the professional humorists, the delicious middlers, the fourth leaders, and the memoirs of cabinet ministers, the orations of business magnates, and of chiefs of police. He was the first Man of Letters. Addison had the misuse of an extensive vocabulary and so was able to invalidate a great number of words and expressions; the quality of his mind was inferior to the language which he used to express it.

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