[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

[This is a guest post by Alex Wang, a long-term resident of Shenzhen, China]

I was wondering if there have been any studies on how readily a language can absorb new elements and features.

Yesterday at the Pacific Coffee shop near where I live, by chance I struck up a conversation with a professor who teaches economics at the local Shenzhen University.  He heard me speaking with my younger son in English and, when I went to attend my older son, he struck up a conversation with my younger son.  I suppose he was curious about how my younger son's oral English skills were so “good”, since he has a daughter who is around the same age as my older boy.  It would seem many locals want an English speaking friend for their children so as to have an environment to practice.

Anyway, the point is that, after we started speaking in English, I noticed he spoke English pretty fluently.  I asked if he had studied abroad.  He said no. He watched TV shows and he wrote most of his research papers in English.  After I remarked that’s interesting, he explained that this was quite normal as some English economic terms were easier to remember and more natural.

I have long suspected this, as I have spoken to many professions such as doctors, chemists, etc., and they all say the same thing.

My view is that, by using characters rather than pinyin, the language won't evolve in a natural way. As discoveries in all fields — astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry, culinary items, music types, peoples' names, etc. — are being made in an exponential fashion, the creation of words will become ever increasingly bièniu 别扭 / 彆扭 ("awkward; difficult to deal with") until more and more locals turn toward another language.  Translating research papers, literature, and so forth will fall further and further behind unless perhaps the "machines" become better at it.  Even so, already for popular books like Harry Potter in Chinese, the names of people, spells, and items are awkward for locals. Whereas when I read names such as Hu Jintao or Deng Xiaoping, it's not awkward at all.

You can see that a profound linguistic transformation is already happening in the oral realm.  Many people are just using English words inserted directly into Chinese sentences. The use of acronyms, as discussed in prior Language Log posts, is very widespread.  For example, in the US we say that a picture was photoshopped. Here everyone uses PS, e.g., “zhège zhàopiàn PSle 这个照片PS了" ("this picture was photoshopped") or Ptú P图 ("photoshopped picture").

A reverse example is the word "MA LA" to describe Sichuan food.  Even among expats here, we just use "MA LA", as it's too cumbersome to describe in English while speaking that something is "spicy and numbing".

Many kids now use the actual English names of people in their Chinese oral conversations instead of transcribing them syllabically as if they were written in characters.  It's only a matter of time before it's easier for them to type the English name directly than try to remember the Chinese character version of an English name as more and more kids learn English from pre-school.

Finally, I am reading a book titled Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green.  I couldn’t even begin to understand how such a book could be translated felicitously into Chinese, given that there are so many proper nouns of people and places; it would seem reading all of these names transcribed into characters would be extremely bièniu.

An example. “Artaxerxes used them against Cyrus. Darius clearly thought he had found the magical formula for victory. The plain at Cunaxa, some sixty miles north west of Babylon.…”

Now an English reader not knowing those names still could read it without feeling bièniu.  However, when words are created like “salad” with characters meaning "sand" and "pull" (shālā 沙拉), or the way names of people constructed with Chinese characters that have all sorts of irrelevant meanings, it becomes totally burdensome and odd to read even for native speakers of Chinese.  I know this firsthand, as my wife started reading the Chinese translation of an English encyclopedia with my older son for some mother-son time and even she found it utterly frustrating.

I suppose that's enough rambling for now!  I just feel that an implosion is coming within the next few decades.  Like a giant star collapsing.

PEDTM: Day 27

2017-07-27 07:52 pm
mirabile: (Peggy Carter)
[personal profile] mirabile
Only a few days left in the month, and I managed to post every day so far. Let's see if I can finish it out.

Today was . . . kind of hard. I broke a bud vase that belonged to my great-great-grandmother. It wasn't valuable, except for sentimental reasons, plus my mother was using it. I was so upset. I brought home the pieces and will try to glue them back but honestly, I don't think it can be done. Or at least that I can't do it. But I'll try.

Then, while cleaning up after dinner, I broke my favorite bowl. Again, not valuable in any way except I use it for everything: eating soup or cereal and measuring flour and sugar when I bake. I just felt overwhelmed when I saw the pieces in the sink. Webster cleaned them up for me but what's broken is broken, you know? And to break two things in one day? Frankly, I feel a little broken. The political situation doesn't help. I stupidly logged into Twitter and oh my fucking god. No no no no no.

Webster says I'm not having enough fun, that I'm working too hard. Maybe? Anyway, we're going to find time to go to a movie, and I'm going to try to chill out. I'm going to give up on politics again for a while, too. I don't want the bastards to win, but I need to take care of myself so I can take care of Webster and Mother.

I did have a nice time with Mother, despite the broken vase. She's still talking about my late aunt and uncle, but it's easier for me to say, No, gosh, I didn't get a chance to talk to them. And she's so excited that my sister will be out for a visit in five weeks.

I think I'll listen to the latest My Favorite Murder now, and then go to sleep, even though it's ridiculously early.

Pod Save America

2017-07-27 09:21 pm
laceblade: (Pod Save America)
[personal profile] laceblade posting in [site community profile] dw_community_promo
Three former aides to President Obama — Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor — started a media empire they named "Crooked Media," a hat-tip to Donald Trump. Their flagship podcast is Pod Save America, a freewheeling conversation about politics, the press, and the challenges posed by the Trump presidency.

Hang out at [community profile] podsaveamerica to discuss this podcasts and others by Crooked Media - Pod Save the People, Pod Save the World, Lovett or Leave It, and With Friends Like These.

In this community, we'll have discussion posts about each podcast. Talk about the guests, the conversations, whatever grievances were aired during the ads (lol). We'll also have posts about targeted activism. For example, during Resistance Recesses, you can discuss in the comments if/what you did. (The podcasts themselves frequently suggest specific action items for listeners.)

Listen to all of the podcasts, or just 1 or 2. No pressure.
gingicat: the hands of Doctor Who #10, Martha Jones, and Jack Harkness clasped together with the caption "All for One" (all for one)
[personal profile] gingicat posting in [community profile] metaquotes
The characters I liked best? The bad guys. They were hard-working citizens who got screwed out of jobs that were legally contracted as theirs. So they decided to do something else, by selling alien equipment.

Context contains spoilers for a movie currently in theatres.

Airedales, pugs, and poodles

2017-07-27 03:56 pm
semyaza: (Demon)
[personal profile] semyaza
Dr. Haiselden and the Bollinger Baby.

"To clinch his argument that the baby was not fitted for life, Dr. Haiselden in the afternoon unfolded the cover lid and disclosed the little form to view as he explained the physical deformities.

"There is no ear on the right side of the head," the doctor said, pointing out the defects. "Neither is there any auditory canal on that side. On the left side the ear is badly malformed. Its sense of hearing is slight.

"There is marked paralysis of the facial and trifacial nerves and the branches of the auditory nerves.

"The chest has a caved appearance owing to deformity of the ribs. The fatal deformity is a closed intestine. A simple surgical operation would open this canal and the baby would live."

"While the brain is apparently normal in size and development," said Dr. Haiselden, "the paralysis of the facial and trifacial nerves would render it subnormal and defective. There is no doubt the child would be defective mentally and morally if allowed to live. It might be criminal.

I hadn't known that Helen Keller was a eugenicist. Her response to the Bollinger baby affair (in part, the rest is here):

It seems to me that the simplest, wisest thing to do would be to submit cases like that of the malformed idiot baby to a jury of expert physicians. An ordinary jury decides matters of life and death on the evidence of untrained and often prejudiced observers. Their own verdict is not based on a knowledge of criminology, and they are often swayed by obscure prejudices or the eloquence of a prosecutor. Even if the accused before them is guilty, there is often no way of knowing that he would commit new crimes, that he would not become a useful and productive member of society. A mental defective, on the other hand, is almost sure to be a potential criminal. The evidence before a jury of physicians considering the case of an idiot would be exact and scientific. Their findings would be free from the prejudice and inaccuracy of untrained observation. They would act only in cases of true idiocy, where there could be no hope of mental development.

So much for her.

[ SECRET POST #3858 ]

2017-07-27 07:01 pm
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[personal profile] case posting in [community profile] fandomsecrets

⌈ Secret Post #3858 ⌋

Warning: Some secrets are NOT worksafe and may contain SPOILERS.


More! )


Secrets Left to Post: 01 pages, 07 secrets from Secret Submission Post #551.
Secrets Not Posted: [ 0 - broken links ], [ 0 - not!secrets ], [ 0 - not!fandom ], [ 0 - too big ], [ 0 - repeat ].
Current Secret Submissions Post: here.
Suggestions, comments, and concerns should go here.
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[personal profile] sunnymodffa posting in [community profile] fail_fandomanon

New Rule updates:
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On the Right Track

2017-07-27 04:39 pm
[syndicated profile] lotrips_ao3_feed

Posted by <a rel="author" href="/users/Ink_Gypsy/pseuds/Ink_Gypsy">Ink_Gypsy</a>


Sean is happy to be writing again.

Words: 149, Chapters: 1/1, Language: English

Series: Part 13 of Sanctuary Singles

Fic: Donkey

2017-07-27 10:52 pm
afra_schatz: Made by wizzicons on LJ (Default)
[personal profile] afra_schatz
This is for [personal profile] noalinnea because Orlando is being particularly charming today and I have stuff to make up. (It's not my fault! Orlando is Sean's responsibility and he is in Italy, the bastard) <3

July, 27th - Donkey )
grav_ity: (caesar)
[personal profile] grav_ity
So this book was deeply off-putting, as it is meant to be. I can't watch Horror on screen, but I really like Steph, and I wanted to give her book a try, and I'm really glad I did. Scary af, but really well done. I didn't set it down the whole time I was reading, and just curled tighter and tighter into a ball every time I turned the page. If it's your thing, I think you'll like it.


2017-07-27 05:30 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Pearls before Swine for 7/23/2017:

A couple of Generation Z language consultants confirm the accuracy of the translations. Or as one of them put it, "Haha right".

(no subject)

2017-07-27 09:36 am
baranduin: (Default)
[personal profile] baranduin
Hello, hello. It's back to work I am (since yesterday) but today I'm in a daylong HR intensive course, which means I get to spend the day with about 50 super funny, super smart women coz the face of health care is women. At least that's my observation of all the health care organizations I've worked in.

[personal profile] hanarobi and I saw a lot of good stuff while she was here! We watched:
- Both Bahubali and Bahubali 2 movies, the second one we watched twice and that's without any English subtitles. I think the second movie is going to be available for purchase this coming Tuesday! So in love with Prabhas!
- We went to see Wonder Woman and adored it. I even watched the new trailer for the Justice League because of Gal Gadot being in it.
- We binge-watched the first season of Stranger Things Monday night/Tuesday early morning. Can't wait for the second season!

What we did not get done during H's visit:
- Sadly no story was written for poor [personal profile] claudia603. We spent hours and hours building the head canon and taking notes on H's phone, but sadly we never really wrote anything. Sorry C! No crackfic for you this time though maybe we'll get inspired. It really was a great idea.

I have decided a different punishment for the old white Christian men who are trying to keep the world in their image. I think the tribunal will still be the same, but I think I have an interesting punishment. Put them in stocks and invite people to slap their turkey wattle jowls. Paddles supplied if you don't want to touch their squicky flesh.

selenak: (Watchmen by Groaty)
[personal profile] selenak
Reading the first Bernie Gunther novel has sent me into the rabbit hole, the marathon reading from which I now slowly emerge, having grabbed all the novels my local library had available and then buying the most recent one, Prussian Blue. By which you can conclude that these novels are addictive, despite or maybe because of their very dark setting and the way Kerr handles it. I didn’t always read them in order, but that works out better than usual in a series because Kerr writes them not always in linear order as well, and several take place in different eras simultaneously (one post WWII, one during the Third Reich), each filling out different gaps in his anti hero’s life. In fact, I’m glad I read, not by intention but coincidence of availability, “The Other Side of Silence” (No.11, probably the one most located in the 1950s, with just one flashback to the 1940s) before “The Pale Criminal” (No.2, set in 1938), because while both novels feature male gay characters, the ones in No.11 are fleshed out and for the most part sympathetic, and also not just one or two but four on page and a fifth one intensely talked about, whereas in No.2 they are solely a weak coward and a villain respectively, which for a novel set during a time when gay people ended up in prison and/or camps in Germany is a highly questionable authorial choice.

(Sidenote: not that you don’t have historical basis for writing gay villains in a story set among the Nazis. I mean, Ernst Röhm. But still.)

Reading the first novel had left me wondering how Kerr would justify Bernie Gunther’s continued survival as a (mostly) ethical P.I. in one of the most brutal dictatorships in history. Turns out, he doesn’t; Bernie gets drafted back into police service by Reinhard Heydrich in 1938, which means that when WWII starts, he along with the rest of the police gets absorbed into the SS, and while he manages to get a transfer into another unit, this doesn’t happen before being exposed to and in one case participating in mass shootings. While some of the novels feature flashbacks to the P.I. period, most therefore have Bernie as part of the institutions he abhors, which simultaneously deepens his moral compromise (and self loathing) but heightens the likelihood of his survival (while also providing the novelist with excuses for letting Bernie be present at some key points he couldn’t have been as a civilian, like the discovery of the Katyn massacre, more about that in a moment). I find this a fair authorial choice – if you’re going to produce a series of novels with a German detective set mostly in the Third Reich, keeping him entirely guilt free of the morass the nation was sunk into would have felt like cheating. I also was able to buy into the premise of various upper hierarchy Nazis – Heydrich, Goebbels, Arthur Nebe – finding Bernie so useful they would want to use him because he’s That Good at crime solving and occasionally even in a dictatorship you need to figure out who actually did the deed as opposed to finding the most convenient scapegoat. (The constant in fighting and rivalry between top Nazis also plays a role in Bernie’s survival, since a good detective is also useful for getting dirt on each other.) Another way Kerr plays fair is having Bernie constantly aware of the sheer insanity of it all – trying to track down individual criminals when the entire system around you has become criminal, and murder and thievery actually are the law.

Further ramblings below the cut )

The weight of a thing

2017-07-27 03:33 pm
marina: (Default)
[personal profile] marina
Everything is super hectic and I've slept for 7 hours total in the last 48, and everything is kind of reaching a boiling point that will basically be "resolved" by me going to London (LONDON LONDON LONDON!), but something happened and I feel the need to record.

Almost exactly a year ago, I handed in the first draft of my MA thesis. And my adviser responded, in his usual overall polite way, that the document I sent him, that I took a week off work for, that I wrote for 6 days straight from morning till night, was not even worthy of being called a first draft. It was a first attempt that needed to be scrapped entirely.

Partially this feedback was softened by a phone conversation we later had, where he assured me he believes in me, and these flaws are all fixable, but for a good few days all I had in my head were his written comments, which basically boiled down to "I thought you were a normal person?? but you are apparently a trash fire that should never have been accepted into grad school????"

It was an awful, awful sort of feedback to get, definitely the most demoralizing moment I've ever had in academia. (And like, I triple majored in undergrad, and in grad school finished a course load that was intended for 4 semesters minimum, in 3 semesters. While working FULL TIME in an unrelated field. None of this means I'm good at original research, but getting the "who do you even think you are? clearly you're totally unfit" feedback was really fucking painful.)

Anyway, it's been a year. I spent 5 days straight rewriting the draft. My adviser spent over 6 months not replying to me. (I contacted him after a month, he politely told me to sit down and shut up, I contacted the department 5 months after that, and he responses with "oh no! I totally forgot about you! sorry".

When he finally replied, he told me this rewritten version was about 70% done. Going from a first draft that was ZERO percent done, according to him, to a second draft that was 70%... well. Let's just say I think his initial reaction was WILDLY exaggerated, but you know. Ugh.

I worked evenings and weekends and finally took 2 more days off work, and wrote a new draft, based on his comments. I got it done in the MINIMUM amount of time he allowed. Like, I wanted to submit a revised version 2 weeks after he sent me the comments, but he insisted he was busy and wouldn't read it for 2 months at least. I submitted it on the FIRST DAY he said he'd accept it.

It has been 6 more weeks! He's gotten back to me with comments. I was SO NERVOUS because a lot of his feedback didn't make sense to me, and he wouldn't answer questions, and I was like, I'm going to bring that 70% back down, aren't I? I mean I was a failure on draft #1, maybe this second version was a fluke. I have NO IDEA whether what I'm doing will really improve things.

Anyway. The verdict is in. He has comments and things he wants me to fix and change, obviously, but in the email he sent me? He started it with: "You have written a highly engaging, well-built thesis.

He ended it with: "Your current version is very strong," before listing a few more minor things he'd like to improve.

I'm doing grad school in between work, and trying to unfuck my health, and an attempt at a fiction writing career, and so I never anticipate how much it affects me.

Getting this email was such sweet, sweet vindication. That's right, I fucking did it. I wrote a thing that you admit is GOOD, from 2 drafts back when you were basically calling it garbage.

There are things I'm way more proud of in my life, even in the last year. I don't know why this feels like such an achievement. I'm sure it doesn't seem like that big of a deal to anyone else.

But I feel like I have been clawing at grad school until my fingers are bloody for the past 3 years at least. I've fought to cling to it, to keep up, to get it fucking done, through being homeless multiple times, through essentially becoming paralyzed to the point where I spent 95% of the time I wasn't spending at my full time job lying in bed. Through writing original fiction, which already took every second of my mental energy and the 5% of the time I could actually function.

I've clawed and clawed at this, and it's felt so uncertain, and the journey has been so long, and literally everyone I began my degree with has given up by now, half of them quit the program and the other half declined to write a thesis.

But I wanted this thing, for whatever arbitrary reason (its usefulness to my life will be zero, have no doubt) and I clung, like someone trying to scale a smooth wall with their bare hands, and somehow I managed.

I still have a revised draft to submit, of course. I'll take so long, and be so hard, and take up time I'd rather spend writing fiction. And who knows when/if I'll actually be allowed to submit? (I mean, god willing October? But who knows)

But I wanted to stop and appreciate this moment. The point at which this thesis is actually good enough to submit.

For a while, I wasn't sure I'd get here.

Orli's Present

2017-07-26 03:41 pm
[syndicated profile] lotrips_ao3_feed

Posted by <a rel="author" href="/users/nverland/pseuds/nverland">nverland</a>


Valentine’s Day is coming; the boys want that something special for each other.
Written for the Red challenge at Adorf_ckable and IndecentDreams. Bunny from my friend Linda, who wanted very specific red things for Valentine’s Day.
Originally posted 2/2005

Words: 1716, Chapters: 1/1, Language: English

rushthatspeaks: (vriska: consider your question)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
I haven't reviewed anything here in far, far too long, and I certainly didn't think this book would be the thing to push me into wanting to write something. However. At Readercon, I picked up the new collection of Ursula K. Le Guin essays, Words Are My Matter, of which this is not a review because I am nowhere near finishing it, and I noticed that there are three separate essays on H. G. Wells. Three! This is not unique, in the structure of the book-- there are also three separate essays on José Saramago-- but that makes more sense to me, because Saramago, you know, Nobel laureate, relatively recent death, work in an interesting position vis-à-vis speculative fiction as a genre, there are some conversations to be had there that seem very much in Le Guin's chosen critical milieu. But H. G. Wells! Hasn't everything been said already?

Then it occurred to me that I, personally, had not read any Wells since the age of eight or nine, when I'd read The Time Machine and found it pretty and confusing, and then hit The War of the Worlds and found it extremely upsetting and went away again. So I went back. The Time Machine is indeed very pretty, though far less confusing to an older person. The Island of Dr. Moreau turned out to be the most vicious piece of theological criticism I have encountered in years, and an actual novel with things like character dimensionality to boot, as well as such an obvious influence on Lovecraft that I was shocked I hadn't heard that mentioned before. And then I got to The War of the Worlds.

It turns out the reason I found it very upsetting at eight or nine was because it is very upsetting, and at that age I had no context for or capacity to handle the ways in which it is upsetting.

We all know the basic plot: Martians invade, humans are technologically overpowered and defeated, Martians eventually drop dead because of Earth's microbiota. The novel came out in 1898, after having been serialized the year before, and has been dramatized and redramatized and ripped off and remade so often and so thoroughly that it has entered the collective unconscious.

The original novel, however, is notable in intellectual history not just for the archetype of the merciless and advanced alien invaders, but because it is an ice-cold prevision of the nightmares of the twentieth century. The phrase 'concentration camp' had already been coined, c. late 1860s by the Spanish in Cuba, though it would not become widely known by the English-speaking public until the Boer War, which Wells' novel just predates; that phrase is the only part of the vocabulary of future war to which Wells could have had access, and the phrase does not appear in the novel. Here are some of the concepts that do, without, as yet, any names: Genocide. Total war. Gas attack. Blitzkrieg. Extermination camp. Shellshock/PTSD. (Also, on a slightly different note, airplane.)

Wells' vision of war was ruthless, efficiently technological, distanced from the reader of the time only by the fact that the perpetrators were incomprehensible aliens. But he does not let you rely on the comforting myth that it would take an alien to perpetrate these atrocities, as perhaps the book's worst scene, in terms of sheer grueling terror and pain, is the sequence in which six million people attempt to evacuate London on no notice, with no overall organization, no plans, and the train as the most modern form of transportation. The Martians are miles away from that, literally. The only thing Wells spares you is the actual numbers of the death toll... but you can get an informed idea.

And, just in case you happen to believe that people (as opposed to aliens) are too good at heart for this sort of warfare, this novel is also a savage theological takedown*, in which the idea of humanity as the center of a cosmos created by a benevolent God is repeatedly stomped on by the sheer plausibility of the nightmare, the cold hard logistics of enemy approach + insanely destructive new bombing technology = frantic evacuation and a military rout. The priests and churchmen in War of the Worlds generally go insane**; their philosophical framework has left them ill-equipped to handle the new reality. Wells is displaying humanity as a species of animal, no more nor less privileged existentially than other sorts of animal, who may be treated by a sufficiently technological other animal in the way that humans often treat ants. He explicitly uses ants as the comparison.

This is where I noticed something fascinating. War of the Worlds has the most peculiar version of protagonist-centered morality that I have ever encountered: only the protagonist and his nearest and dearest are allowed to perform moral actions that are not shown in aggregate.

Everyone else either does good as a faceless mass, or neutral-to-evil at close proximity. The military, as a force, is allowed to act against the Martians, which is seen by definition as moral, but they are at a distance from the novel's viewpoint such that they don't emerge as people while they are fighting-- we meet an occasional refugee from a destroyed division, but we don't see people giving orders, taking orders, firing weapons. When the ramship Thunder Child attacks two Martians at close range in order to save shipping in the Channel evacuation-- a sequence distressingly like Dunkirk, only in the opposite direction and sixty years early-- it's one of the few acts of heroism and selflessness in the novel that actually works, and it's the ship personified who takes the action. Here's the middle of the fight:

"She was alive still; the steering gear, it seems, was intact and her engines working. She headed straight for a second Martian, and was within a hundred yards of him when the Heat-Ray came to bear. Then with a violent thud, a blinding flash, her decks, her funnels, leaped upward. The Martian staggered with the violence of her explosion, and in another moment the flaming wreckage, still driving forward with the impetus of its pace, had struck him and crumpled him up like a thing of cardboard."***

Notice how there are no humans, individual or otherwise, even mentioned here. And this is the high point of the book as far as moral action taken, a direct self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Individual people range from the curate who hears the narrator calling for water "for hours" and doesn't bring him any to the men whom the narrator's brother finds in the process of robbing two ladies and has to fight off at gunpoint. Even most mob action is inimical, including things like the looting of shops and the literal trampling underfoot of the weak.

The narrator and his brother, however, mostly behave as one would hope to behave in a catastrophe. They are constantly picking up strays, helping total strangers pack to evacuate, fighting off muggers, attempting to assist the trampled, sharing their provisions with others, etc.. They are the only people in the book who do this sort of thing-- every other individual (except a couple of the strays, who are there to be rescued and get in the way) is out for themselves and can, at very best, be bought with cash on the barrel at a high price.

Now, it's not that the narrator and his brother are saints. They're fully developed, three-dimensional, relatively decent people. The brother participates in the looting of a bike shop, refuses water to a dying man for fear of putting his own people in danger, and fails to rescue anyone from the relentless trample. The narrator may well kill a man to save his own life, and certainly aids and abets the murder if he does not strike the final blow (it's impossible to find out exactly when the man dies or what specifically killed him).

The odd thing is that nobody else has any of their virtues. No one else is picking up strays; no one who isn't under military orders to do it is knocking on doors to begin the evacuation; no one is giving away food and water; no one except the military is attempting to place themselves between those they love and danger. In short, there is none of the kind of everyday, tiny, sometimes futile heroism that the twentieth century has shown us is almost impossible to beat out of humans entirely.

Now, I think this is intentional, as part of Wells's argument: the Martians have broken the human social order as if it were an anthill, and none of the ants has any idea what to do anymore. It's part of the demystification of humanity's place in the cosmos and the insistence on our nature as intelligent animals.

However, I think it skews the thought experiment in two ways: firstly, the narrator (and the only other POV character, the brother) have to be decent enough that we as readers are willing to read a book from their perspectives, and in 1898 that was harder than it is now. "Probably murdered somebody who wasn't a villain or an enemy combatant, and is never punished for it in any way except by vague remorse" is a pretty radical stance for a first-person narrator in an English novel of that period, and Wells has to talk us round into considering this a sympathetic or at least justifiable stance by having the narrator be in most other ways a flat-out hero. I don't think this does too much damage to his argument, as the resemblance of the narrator to other hero-types of the period makes Wells's more radical premises easier to communicate than they would otherwise be. It's not the presence of altruism in the narrator that is the major way the experiment is skewed.

It's the absence of altruism in others, as shown by the work of Rebecca Solnit, the memoirs of Primo Levi, the oral histories of the camp survivors of several cultures: one reason The War of the Worlds is so very upsetting is that its events are more unmitigatedly depressing than the same circumstances would be in real life. One of the wisest men of the twentieth century, Fred Rogers, said that in tough situations you should look for the helpers (and somewhere elsenet I saw the corollary, which I think Mr. Rogers considered implicit but which could use unpacking anyway, that if you cannot find them, the helpers had better be you). In The War of the Worlds there are no helpers at all, except what little the narrator and his brother can manage. We have actual science now about the way people form communities in catastrophe; we have innumerable anecdotes from the worst places and times in the world about those who in small ways, quietly, do what they can for others with what they have. It's not that Wells was wrong about us being animals, about trying to knock us off the pedestal that insists that everything was made for humanity and we are the only important beings. It's that while we are a social animal, we are a social animal on the micro-level as well as on the macro, and we have now seen that the micro-level does not have to be limited to immediate biological family, because the bonds of catastrophe can cause, and in fact seem to produce, some amount, tiny though it may be, of genuinely altruistic behavior.

When I happened to say to [personal profile] nineweaving that I was in the middle of a Wells re/read, she promptly replied with a couplet from a comic verse she had memorized as a child: "H. G. Wells / Creates new hells."

Which is true. His Martian invasion, the twentieth century through a glass darkly, is right up there on the list of the most nihilistic things I've ever read, not because of the Martians, but because none of the humans are outright villains. Some of them are insane, and some are annoying, and many are behaving in ways unconducive to long-term survival, and all of them are terrified; but you believe in them not only as individuals but as a plausible set of people for the narrator to run into in the middle of a war. It's only after thinking about it for quite a while afterwards that I noticed how neatly Wells had removed the capacity for altruism from his secondary characters. The Martians are frightening and cool and interesting (and clearly described as being drawn by H. R. Giger, which has not made it into any of the adaptations I've seen), but I think one reason this particular nightmare has lasted so long and clung so thoroughly in the back of our heads is that it would take recreating these terrible catastrophes in almost every particular to prove him wrong about the essentials of human nature and the ways people would behave in these circumstances. That's part of the book's appalling genius.

The thing is, though-- we did.

And he is.

* albeit not as much of one as Moreau, which is saying something

** that classical nineteenth-century insanity in which they rant and rave and chew the furniture, i.e. nothing you can find in the DSM, and therefore I just use 'insane' as I am not sure there is a less aggravating descriptor for this particular literary trope

*** Via Project Gutenberg's HTML copy

PEDTM: Day 26

2017-07-26 08:34 pm
mirabile: (Saguaro Sunset)
[personal profile] mirabile
Hurray, the electrician came! And he worked really hard and charged less than his estimate! We like him, so so much more than the electrician our contractor had hired. We have already started another list of things for him to do -- in about a year or so. Tomorrow our contractor will be back and theoretically there's only a day or two at most for him to do and then we. Are. THROUGH.

I was up early to swim my laps and then mostly hung around with Webster while the electrician worked. I made peach cobbler and lentil-rice soup, did some laundry, read, and watched Master of Lies, about Bernie Madoff. That was such a creepy movie. I also listened to some early episodes of My Favorite Murder and it was interesting listening to Karen and Georgia figure out how to work the podcast.

Now I'm in bed and about to listen to the latest Magnus Archives episode. I need to write about that podcast. It is so beautifully written and performed, and I've grown to care so much about the characters, and am so curious and a little worried about what will happen next.

Webster discovered this beautifully written essay, The Geologic Origin of the Sonoran Desert. I'm about halfway through but will re-read it, I can tell. That's where we live now, by the way: in the Sonoran Desert. It's a hot, mean place, nothing like the loving green of home.

Chinese Synesthesia

2017-07-27 02:49 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Xiaoyan (Coco) Li, a native Chinese speaker with synesthesia (self identified, never formally tested), happened to come across this Language Log post:

"Synesthesia and Chinese characters" (3/9/17)

She wrote to me saying that she experiences some of what Leo Fransella (quoted in the earlier post) referred to as "'non-trivial' Chinese synaesthesia".  For him "trivial" Chinese synesthesia is associated with or stimulated by the letters of the Pinyin used to spell Chinese words, not from the characters used to write them.

Coco explains [the romanizations and additions in square brackets are by VHM]:

My synaesthesia tends to be less phoneme-color related, but almost completely grapheme-color based. For Chinese, the characters' colors are somewhat affected by their radicals. A more trivial example of this would be that characters with ⺮ [bamboo radical] are more likely to be green-hued, since this radical has the meaning of plants. A less direct relationship would be that characters with the radical 辶 ["walk"], which is grey by itself, are also likely to be more grey than their other components. 这 ["this"] is a faded pastel yellow, whereas 文 ["script; literature"] is a more saturated orange-yellow, although both characters are not direct grey scales of another.

I also took Japanese, so I'll talk a bit about how synaesthesia affects how I see Japanese kana versus kanji. I haven't seen any kanji that have different colors than their Chinese counterparts, though traditional Chinese characters tend to be darker/more saturated than simplified Chinese characters — 爱 (aì) ["love"] is a less saturated red than 愛 (ai あい), but 他 (tā) [third person pronoun] and 他 (hoka ほか) ["other"] are the same color. However, kanas have distinct colors that may differ between hiragana and katakana depending on how different they look, and these colors can differ from their kanji as well. For example, kaze かぜ ["wind"] is red/rust (か) and dull military green (ぜ ) whereas 風 (kaze) ["wind"] is a bright green character, and kaze カゼ ["casein"] is yellow (カ) and transparent green (ゼ, similar to ぜ because of their visual similarity). When I hear kaze かぜ I think of the bright green, however, because the kanji is the first grapheme representation that "pops into my head" rather than its kana. I could also talk about how kanas that are voiced/unvoiced (for the lack of better generalization for the dots and circles on kanas) change color if anyone is interested. Furthermore, vowels tend to be the same colors across languages — a (English/French etc.), as well as the pronunciation of 啊 and あ, are all red).

Since I do not experience this type of graphemic synesthesia, it would be hard for me to comment meaningfully on Coco's observations, but perhaps there are readers who do experience such sensations who may wish to weigh in from their own standpoint.

[ SECRET POST #3857 ]

2017-07-26 06:20 pm
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⌈ Secret Post #3857 ⌋

Warning: Some secrets are NOT worksafe and may contain SPOILERS.


More! )


Secrets Left to Post: 01 pages, 14 secrets from Secret Submission Post #551.
Secrets Not Posted: [ 0 - broken links ], [ 0 - not!secrets ], [ 0 - not!fandom ], [ 0 - too big ], [ 0 - repeat ].
Current Secret Submissions Post: here.
Suggestions, comments, and concerns should go here.

wednesday reads 'n things

2017-07-26 04:04 pm
isis: (Default)
[personal profile] isis
What I've recently finished reading:

Text: Empowered: Agent (Empowered, #1) by Dale Ivan Smith, which so far is the best Instafreebie book I've tried (a rather low bar). The world-building is simple but fun; it's not just that Empowered people (that is, people with superhero-type powers) exist, but it's also an alternate history - one in which Richard Nixon prevented a nuclear war from escalating into global destruction "after Washington DC had been destroyed by a Soviet nuke fired from Cuba." (So I guess Kennedy didn't stop the Soviets...) This only shows up incidentally, at least in this book, but I am charmed by Nixon being considered a hero in this universe.

Mat is a good character, an interesting woman with a skill - manipulating growing plants - that is clearly much more useful (and lethal) than anyone gives her credit for. The Hero Council choice of "join us if we can use you, otherwise you must swear to never use your power" seems rather terrible to me, a bit of shoddy world-building but I guess it's needed for the plot. Her choices and actions are reasonable, especially as circumstances paint her into a corner. I like that she has a family she cares about, and I also like the lack of romance (though I suspect one is building).

The writing is okay, not great, though it's mostly free of typos and technically adequate. There are few obvious errors (such as a character being identified by name before Mat would actually know her name) but also few flashes of brilliance. Mostly it's just somewhat flat. I didn't feel particularly pulled along or emotionally invested, and this, plus uneven pacing toward the end, contributed to a general feeling of anticlimax.

Audio: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama, which was a SYNC offering, and surprisingly enjoyable and novel for dystopian YA. This is set in an alternate future in which the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 led to the need for split-shift staffing of hospitals, a day set and a night set of doctors and nurses, which in turn proved so efficient that the division between day workers and night workers was expanded to all parts of life, formalized and codified and enforced by law. But as daylight living is more natural and presumably more enjoyable, gradually the night people ("Smudges") became stereotyped as stupid, undesirable, lesser than the day people ("Rays") - and it took me until about 3/4 through the book to realize this was a civil rights allegory.

Yes, there is some suspension of disbelief required, but no more than, say, teenagers fighting to the death broadcast on television, or a society discarding all but a hundred selected novels, songs, and films. And what makes this an actually good book is that the plot is legitimately interesting and complex, and goes in unexpected (but foreshadowed) ways. There is a romance, which is somewhat cutesy and predictable, but at least it's not a love triangle - and, speaking of YA tropes, though this is in first person it is in PAST TENSE THANK GOD.

I liked the ending, which is not pat or universally happy, and which leaves a lot of things open-ended for a sequel (or for fanfiction). I would like to have seen a more explicitly "fight the system" plot, with Sol and the other characters actively working to bring the system down - maybe this will be in a subsequent book? Finally, I ship Sol/Gigi la la la and will be nominating this for Yuletide.

The audio version also includes "Noma Girl", a prequel short story which is also available free online. It was a nice fleshing-out of incidents only alluded to in the novel, but there's no new worldbuilding or anything unexpected here. I did like the more sympathetic view of Gigi. I don't think it will make sense if you haven't read the novel.

Webcomic: For some reason I followed a link (from Goodreads, maybe?) to The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal by E. K. Weaver, which I'd vaguely heard of through osmosis but really didn't know anything about (I didn't realize it was a comic, for one; for some reason I thought it had to do with lesbians) and devoured it over the course of four or five days. It's a gay (m/m, and has some nsfw) roadtrip story in which the title characters get to know each other and find themselves (well, sort of). If you haven't read it, I recommend it! There is a tiny fandom, and I believe the comic was originally posted on LJ as a WIP.

What I'm reading now: Cibola Burn, the fourth Expanse book. So far I'm about 25% in and enjoying it more than the previous book, Abaddon's Gate. Also, wow, apparently all minor characters are gay in this universe, or at least every throwaway line about people being married refers to a same-sex relationship.

What I'm reading next: Now that I'm recommitted to this book series, I've got the next two on my phone.

What I've just finished watching:

Movie: I finally watched Hidden Figures, and it was every bit as awesome as I'd hoped. ♥ My mother was a chemist for the FDA before and during this era, and I realized that at least she had the advantage of being white (though she had the disadvantage of being Jewish). I can't imagine what it must have been like to have both racism and sexism barriers looming so hugely in one's life.

TV: We have finished S2 of The Expanse! I am still a little weirded out by the timelines of book series and show being off from each other. I also thought the Ganymede plot was done better by the show, but the Avasarala and Bobbie plot was done better in the books.

What I'm watching next: Nothing for a while, because on Saturday we are headed out for a week of backpacking in the wilderness and so we might as well hold off on starting anything new. I'm trying to talk B into getting a short-term subscription to HBO Now via Amazon Prime so we can watch Game of Thrones. (His objections are that a, he hates WIPs even more than I do and wants to be able to watch every day or every other day rather than waiting a week between episodes, and b, he is sure they will make it hard for us to cancel after a month or two.)

In the meantime, [community profile] remixrevival has signups through Sunday, and [community profile] crossovering has extended signups through Sunday, so if either of these interest you, you have a few more days to join up!

(308) Avengers: Age of Ultron

2017-07-26 10:14 pm
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[personal profile] ebsolutely posting in [community profile] fandom_icons
(308) The Avengers: Age of Ultron
→ Tony Stark, Natasha Romanoff, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Thor, Maria Hill


OVER HERE at [community profile] megascopes
selenak: (BambergerReiter by Ningloreth)
[personal profile] selenak
Having now read three of the four books the first two seasons of The Last Kingdom are based on, I find my original suspicion that Bernard Cornwell novels benefit from adaptions into other media because these take you out of the main character's head justified, though not always quite in the way I assumed. Because the novels are narrated by an older Uthred looking back, his narrating self can sometimes point out things his younger self did not yet see or realise, for example, that he wronged his first wife Mildrith, or that he underestimated Alfred early on because a chronically sick non-warrior valueing learning and feeling guilty about sex could not possibly be a strong leader in his young eyes. Otoh, older, wiser Uthred narrating still doesn't change the fact most female characters come across as more dimensional and fleshed out in the tv adaption than they do in the novels (Brida and Mildrith in the first, Hild and Aelswith in the second season - Iseult, alas, is a cliché in both versions).

The tv show cut or compressed various characters and slimmed down events, and given that they do two books per season so far, that's not surprising. But even if they took a longer time, I think some of the changes and cuts were to the narrative's benefit. For example: Cornwell has to come up with some pretty convoluted circumstances and far-stretched plots to have a teenage Uthred who is still with the Danes secretly present when Prince (not yet King) Alfred confesses about his carnal lapses to Beocca. In the book, he needs to be because he's the narrator and neither Alfred nor Beocca would have told him about this. The tv show dispenses with said circumstances and just has the scene between Alfred and Beocca, without Uthred secretly listening in, because he doesn't need to be in order for the audience to get this information about the young Alfred.

Mind you, dispensing with the first two times Uthred meets Alfred and letting their first encounter not happen until after Ragnar the Elder's death creates one important difference between book and show relationship that's worth mentioning. Book Uthred lies to Alfred (and Beocca) these first two times and point blank spies on them for the Danes, so the later "why do you keep distrusting me?" indignation rings a little hollow in this regard. Show Uthred does no such thing, so Alfred is accordingly less justified in his lingering ambiguity.

Another cut that somewhat shifts perception: the first novel has Uthred participating in a few Danish raids led by Ragnar, including one on Aelswith's hometown (though she doesn't know he took part). Now, in the show we go from Uthred the child to adult Uthred directly and adult Uthred is solely seen at Ragnar's home, with the deaths of Ragnar & Co. impending, but given adult Uthred later is shown to be already a skilled fighter, it stands to reason he practiced these skills. But I suspect the show avoided showing Uthred fighting against Saxon civilians this early on deliberately. Both show and books have Uthred loving the Danes but staying with the Saxons post Ragnar's death because various circumstances (and then Alfred's machinations) make it impossible for him to do otherwise. Only the book, though, spells out that Uthred doesn't start to feel any kind of identification/emotional connection to the Saxons until he sees them winning a battle (until then, narrator Uthred says, he hadn't thought Danes could lose, which makes sense given that throughout Uthred's childhood and adolescence, they were winning), when before he regarded them as weak and didn't want to think of himself as belonging to them. Which makes sense given Uthred is raised in a warrior culture and is a young, arrogant adolescent at the time, but again, I suspect the tv version avoids spelling this out in order not to make him off putting early on when establishing the character.

Otoh, the scenes the tv show adds in the two seasons where Uthred isn't present all serve to flesh out the characters in question more and work to their benefit, whether it's Alfred, Hild, Aelswith or Beocca. The notable exception is Guthred in s2, whose additional scenes make him look worse, not better than the novel does. Possibly, too, because in the novel Guthred is described having an easy charm that makes Book!Uthred forgive him even the truly terrible thing Guthred does to Uthred, and the actor playing Guthred on the show doesn't have that at all, and instead comes across as nothing but fearful, easily influenced and weak. (And show!Uthred while coming to terms with him doesn't forgive him.) I have to say, lack of actorly charm aside, given that Guthred does something spoilery to Uthred ), I find the tv version more realistic.

The push-pull relationship between Uthred and Alfred is there in both versions, but in the tv show, it comes across as more central. As my local library has it, I also read "Death of Kings", the novel in which, Alfred dies, not without manipulating Uthred one last time into doing what he wants him to do, and Uthred's thoughts on the man later, summing him up, are Cornwell's prose at its best:

I stood beside Alfred's coffin and thought how life slipped by, and how, for nearly all my life, Alfred had been there like a great landmark. I had not liked him. I had struggled against him, despised him and admired him. I hated his religion and its cold disapproving gaze, its malevolence that cloaked itself in pretended kindness, and its allegiance to a god who would drain the joy from the world by naming it sin, but Alfred's religion had made him a good man and a good king.
And Alfred's joyless soul had proved a rock against which the Danes had broken themselves. Time and again they had attacked, and time and again Alfred had out-thought them, and Wessex grew ever stronger and richer and all that was because of Alfred. We think of kings as privileged men who rule over us and have the freedom to make, break and flaunt the law, but Alfred was never above the law he loved to make. He saw his life as a duty to his god and to the people of Wessex and I have never seen a better king, and I doubt my sons, grandson and their children's children will ever see a better one. I never liked him, but I have never stopped admiring him. He was my king and all that I now have I owe to him. The food that I eat, the hall where I live and the swords of my men, all started with Alfred, who hated me at times, loved me at times, and was generous with me. He was a gold-giver.

Last Yuletide I added a Last Kingdom request at the last minute because I'd seen it had been nominated, and accordingly it was short, but this Yuletide I think I'll also offer, and will request in more detail and more characters. While the other historical tv shows I consumed during the last year were entertaining in various degrees, this was the only one which was also good.
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Spencer Caplan

Lately I've been thinking about "optionality" as it relates to syntactic alternations. (In)famous cases include complementizer deletion ("I know that he is here" vs. "I know he is here") or embedded V2 in Scandinavian. For now let's consider the English verb-particle construction. The relative order of the particle and the object is "optional" in cases such as the following:

1a) "John picked up the book"
1b) "John picked the book up"

Either order is usually acceptable (with the exception of pronoun objects — although those too become acceptable under a focus reading…)

1c) "John put it back"
1d) *"John put back it"

For something like (1a) and (1b) the semantic interpretation seems largely the same, and so the "optionality" refers to the grammar allowing the generation of more than one syntactic variant. In practice however, even if multiple syntactic arrangements are permitted only one can actually be produced at a given time in a given context. Acceptability judgments tend to be more delicate or varied than would be desired here. So if we'd like to investigate what factors govern the production of one form (particle-first) over another (object-first) we may examine the overall rates of use of either variant in a corpus under different conditions. Much has been written about these sorts of phenomena, including particle placement in particular (Stefan Gries has written a whole book on the topic), yet technical constraints often limit the scope of such investigations.

For instance, two factors which have been found to correlate with/against particle-first order are the heaviness of the DP-object (heavy objects tend to follow the particle), and whether or not the object had been recently referred to in context (discourse familiar objects tend to precede the particle). Stefan finds these effects over a few hundred sentences, but because the space of lexical combinations is so large there's simply not way to control for word-level effects which may be co-variate to NP-heaviness of discourse familiarity.

To get around this I wrote a script which extracts instances of verb-particle constructions from the spoken portion of COCA and tags them for particle-order. This requires a few hand-written heuristics so as not to erroneously include prepositional phrases whose order is in fact not option (e.g. "Walk down the path" is possible but not *"Walk the path down"), but nothing too technically involved. Overall, I find a particle-first rate of approximately 60% over a very large sample of roughly 50,000 such sentences. This is in line with previous work dating all the way back to the late 1970's on this topic. However, if we zoom into rates within various predicates, things appear far more varied on a lexical level. Below is a plot showing the rates of particle-first order for the twelve most frequent verbs (each verb appearing in a few thousand sentences in my sample.) The red vs. blue colors simply represent the particle-first ratio being below/above 50%.

Some verbs (Pick, set) show nearly categorical particle-first order, while others (help, get) are majority object-first.

Subsequently zooming in to look at the behavior under "bring" (since it shows a good split around 70/30), the picture remains varied. For instance, there is a near categorical gap in ordering for "bring about" compared to "bring over".

Notice that "bring back" is roughly 50/50, so conditioning on that and splitting over the head of the object DP there is again frequently categorical split in particle ordering. There are between 10 and 100 sentences for each condition below.

None of this of course explains what's driving these large, lexically conditioned gaps, but it would be interesting to keep digging into it.

The Big Move Project Begins

2017-07-26 08:45 am
redsixwing: Magikarp used Splash! meme with gold and orange 'karp and Great Wave off Kanagawa (splash)
[personal profile] redsixwing posting in [community profile] unclutter
So, I may have signed myself up to review every item in the house.

We're preparing for a major move and significantly smaller living space, so in a way, Everything Must Go, and in a way, we'll want to take very specific items along. I'm using my favorite Thing A Day method - if I can do one thing a day, no matter how small, I'll get an awful lot done!

My deadline isn't until next spring, and it's not set in stone yet, so right now I'm getting my checklists in order and my expectations set. It helps that my spouse, Star, has been wanting to get some stuff out of the house anyway. We decided just to go whole hog - anything that seems like it ought to go, goes, and we don't have to wait for the deadline to get things out of the house.

Monday, we sat down and figured out where several large items ought to go. (Family members and friends, mostly. And if they don't want them, to donation.)

Yesterday, I listed several collectors' items for price checks and got a nibble from an interested buyer.

Today, I need to get photos and get a sales thread up. I'll be adding to it as I go - I tend to be a thing collector, so I have a lot of things to get rid of.

Shelf things

2017-07-26 03:36 pm
[personal profile] openidwouldwork
Hit IKEA and bought shelves...

Now have to convince them to attach themselves to the wall...
Had better luck with a 'standing' shelf in the hallway!

Now, generally I'm not a girly girl, but )

Mid-week uncluttering

2017-07-26 09:15 pm
fred_mouse: drawing of mouse settling in for the night in a tin, with a bandana for a blanket (cleaning)
[personal profile] fred_mouse posting in [community profile] unclutter
How has everyone's uncluttering been going this week?

As previously advertised, I took the box (and some other bits and pieces) out of the front hall, and donated it. Not quite as virtuous as I might have been, because I took it to the op-shop that has the really good second-hand book section (bigger than the whole area of some op-shops) and came home with 11 new books (at least two are ones I already have, which are for a friend who I know was looking for this hard-to-find, probably out of print author).

As to yesterday and today, I can't actually point at anything. I've been doing *something* because the house is much tidier than it was (oh, and I cleared some of the things out of the fridge), but nothing that feels like having picked things to rehome. I do keep looking at a shelf in the lounge, but there is too much on it that I'd have to find homes for at present. But, oh, it would be nice to have that bit of wall back.
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[personal profile] sunnymodffa posting in [community profile] fail_fandomanon
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[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

As I mentioned last month ("My summer", 6/22/2017), I'm spending six weeks in Pittsburgh at the at the 2017 Jelinek Summer Workshop on Speech and Language Technology (JSALT) , as part of a group whose theme is "Enhancement and Analysis of Conversational Speech".

One of the things that I've been exploring is simple models of who talks when — a sort of Biggish Data reprise of Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson "A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation", Language 1974. A simple place to start is just the distribution of speech segment durations. And my first explorations of this first issue turned up a case that's relevant to yesterday's discussion of "significance".

In Neville Ryant and Mark Liberman, "Automatic Analysis of Speech Style Dimensions", InterSpeech 2016, we found systematic differences among individuals and contexts.

In that paper, we found that speech segments generally tend to be shorter in spontaneous/conversational speech than in fluent reading. The graph below compares density plots for speech-segment duration in three sources of read text and three sources of conversational speech. The largest read collection is  LibriSpeech, 1,571 hours of text reading by 2,484 speakers. The distributions for Bush and Obama are from their weekly addresses, about 14 hours in total. From spontaneous/conversational speech, we have  8.5 hours of the interview program Fresh Air, with the data for the guests and the host (Terry Gross) plotted separately; and 14 hours from YouthPoint, a radio program produced by students at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1970s.

This should not be a surprise — there are several sources of shorter speech segments specific to spontaneous/conversational speech, including backchannels and evaluations ("mm-hmm", "yeah", "right", "I know", "no kidding", "OK", "maybe", …), and pauses that reflect the process of composition, often with repetition or self-correction across the gap.

If we look more closely at individual conversations, we see some where the participants' distributions of speech-segment durations are pretty much the same, and others with significant differences. Here are the distributions for two two-party conversations from the Fisher (English) collection:

In the second case, Speaker A is doing most of the talking: 412.5 seconds in 200 segments, compared with 269.9 seconds in 213 segments for Speaker B.

This reflects an asymmetry in conversational roles — much of the dialogue is like this:

103.70 110.54 A: (( )) here and we have i think it's more healthy too you know the fat and more veggies greens
110.99 111.52 B: yeah
111.65 112.52 B: yes yeah
113.07 115.40 B: certainly more so than like the fast food
116.02 119.18 A: yeah i mean i i gained here uh
119.47 125.98 A: how many like thirty poun- uh pounds or so but then i started on this diet eating
123.29 123.62 B: yeah
126.33 127.96 A: in a at home and
128.39 129.89 A: lost lots of weight even i'm
130.02 130.76 A: thinner than
131.08 132.65 A: than when i came here you know
132.77 133.08 B: yeah

This naturally raises the question of how to quantify such differences, and how to relate them to individual characteristics and social or conversational roles. The Fisher collection is fairly large (23398 conversational sides) and relatively uniform in interactional context (short telephone conversations between strangers on assigned topics). There's no variation in interactional role, and our information about individual characteristics is limited (sex, age, years of education, region), but some of those characteristics are stereotypically related to speech styles.

The simplest way to parameterize the distributions of speech-segment durations is just to look at their means or medians. And if we look at the median length of speech segments by sex in the Fisher dataset, we see something interesting.

The mean value of the median speech-segment durations of women talking with women is longer than the comparable value of men talking with men. This difference is highly significant (in statistical terms), p-value = 6.734e-05 according to Welch's t-test, or less than one chance in ten thousand that the difference is due to sampling error. But the speech-segment durations of women talking with men and men talking with women are essentially the same by this measure (p-value = 0.2211):

And the differences between the Same Sex and Cross Sex conditions are also "significant". At this point we could wave our hands at various gender stereotypes and talk about accommodation theory.

But if you've looked at the numbers on the y-axis, you'll realize that this is an excellent object lesson in the difference between "(statistically) significant" and "meaningful", as discussed a couple of days ago. The differences, although unlikely to be the result of sampling error, are tiny — and also are small relative to within-group variance.

If we re-plot everything with a y-axis that starts at 0, this become clearer:

There's plenty of interesting and meaningful structure in conversational dynamics — but the effect of speaker and interlocutor sex on the distribution of speech segment durations is not a good example.


May 2017

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