The Chaos


Posted: 2012-01-06 15:02   |  More posts about art funny linguistics poetry words

A poem by Gerard Nolst Trenité demonstrating the abundant irregularities of English spelling and pronunciation. More info here. 

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Yo dawg, I heard you like linguistics...


Posted: 2010-10-10 16:15   |  More posts about linguistics oddities poetry words

Came across this amusing Inception / Yo Dawg meme face-off the other day on reddit. It led me back to one of my favourite linguistic peculiarities, the sentence "Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo." Its Wikipedia page seems to have been updated since the last time I had a look at it, as there are a few other interesting linguistic cases linked, none of which I'd come across before. I especially enjoyed the sentence "James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher". And then I stumbled across this old Chinese poem, "The Lion-eating Poet in the Snow Den":

The text, although written in Classical Chinese, can be easily comprehended by most educated readers. However, changes in pronunciation over 2,500 years resulted in a large degree of homophony in Classical Chinese, so the poem becomes completely incomprehensible when spoken out in Standard Mandarin or when written romanized in Standard Mandarin.

Pretty remarkable. Its Wikipedia page, linked above, is rather detailed and well worth a read.

Here's a video of the poem being read aloud in Standard Mandarin:

More: A List of Linguistics Example Sentences

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Writing without reading


Posted: 2010-06-23 19:15   |  More posts about animation film linguistics literature oddities science short film words

A curious case of a professional writer who awoke one morning to find his capacity to read crippled by a stroke. Animation and narration from Lev Yilmaz. You can watch the video here. For some reason the embedding seems to be a bit mucked-up.

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Die Stimme des Klaviers


Posted: 2009-10-07 18:20   |  More posts about art berlin computers experimental german language germany linguistics news oddities

Peter Ablinger, an Austrian composer currently residing in Berlin, has done something rather interesting: he made a recording of a child reading the Proclamation of the European Environmental Criminal Court, then invented a mechanical piano player capable of reading notes in a very high time resolution from a computer.

The computer performs a frequency analysis of the sound spectrum, aided by Ablinger himself, which is then fed into the piano player and out comes the child's voice.

<object width="490" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/muCPjK4nGY4&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/muCPjK4nGY4&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowScriptAccess="always" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

(Video in German with English subtitles)

While I wouldn't have much hope for people trying to work out what the piano is "saying" without the aid of seeing the words as they're heard, I think it's a pretty interesting experiment. The auto-player in itself is something to be marvelled at. Neat!

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Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia to be fined for speaking their own language


Posted: 2009-09-01 23:05   |  More posts about linguistics media news politics words

Daniel Tencer has posted his English translation of an article in Gazeta Wyborcza from Warsaw, Poland, which describes a new law which imposes a fine of five to ten thousand euros for publicly speaking Hungarian in Slovakia:

Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia are planning to protest today in the city of Dunajska Streda against a law they say violates their basic human rights. Under a penalty of five to ten thousand Euros, as of today it will be a crime in Slovakia to use the Hungarian language in public places. As the Hungarian weekly Heti Világgazdaság states, every Hungarian doctor in Slovakia will from now on be required to speak Slovakian with their patients, even ethnically Hungarian patients, even if neither party wishes it so. [Explanatory note: There are 550,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia. They are there because after the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in World War I, the Allied Powers drew the borders of Hungary in such a way as to marginalize the Hungarian nation. A full 3.3 million Hungarians were left out of Hungary, and have been living as minorities in Slovakia, Romania, etc. for the past ninety years.] The protest marks the culmination of several nightmarish weeks in Hungarian-Slovak relations, during which time the Slovak government refused entry to the Hungarian prime minister, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences declared the new Slovak language law a violation of fundamental human rights.
It's always a thorny issue when governments get involved in mandating and prescribing the use of language in their respective societies, but it's surprised me that such an incredibly racist law brought in in Eastern Europe has gone almost completely unnoticed in the news media -- especially when one considers the background to the Hungarians' presence in Slovakia.


Edit: Ah. Literally minutes after I clicked "Publish" (I didn't know my blog was that closely watched! ;) ), a story about this appeared in the third most prominant position on the BBC News website.

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The Language Log


Posted: 2009-08-09 16:22   |  More posts about america linguistics words

I first came across this blog a week or two ago, and have so far thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of articles I've read there. It's updated frequently (certainly more frequently than this derelict blog has been in the past while) and is now enjoying a secure place in my RSS reader. Here, I'll link to a few articles that are worthy of mention:

The first article I read, entitled "Fucking shut the fuck up" is a serious analysis of the syntax of one of Van Morrison's on-stage outbursts. Short, readable and interesting - even a few of the comments are good - it's a must-read.

The next is an article on timing and silence in spoken discourse (summary from John Gumperz , "Contextualization and Ideology in Intercultural Communication"):

Conversations are often punctuated with relatively long pauses and silences. In informal gatherings, Indian people may sit or stand quietly, without speaking. If addressed, they may look away and remain silent for a relatively long time (at least from the perspective of mainstream Americans) before responding. When a person is asked a question and she has no new information to provide, nothing new to say, she is likely to give no answer. In all such cases, American Indians themselves interpret the silence as a sign of respect, a positive indication, showing that the other's remarks or questions are being given full consideration that is their due.
The blog post is essentially a series of quotations from the literature such as this, comparing the differences in implied meaning of silence in Native American and Anglo cultures. The final post is a link to an article from Ben Zimmer that's appeared in this week's New York Times' On Language column. It describes the transformation of the word "fail" from verb to noun, due to it becoming an internet meme:

Time was, fail was simply a verb that denoted being unsuccessful or falling short of expectations. It made occasional forays into nounhood, in fixed expressions like without fail and no-fail. That all started to change in certain online subcultures about six years ago. In July 2003, a contributor to Urbandictionary.com noted that fail could be used as an interjection “when one disapproves of something,” giving the example: “You actually bought that? FAIL.” This punchy stand-alone fail most likely originated as a shortened form of “You fail” or, more fully, “You fail it,” the taunting “game over” message in the late-’90s Japanese video game Blazing Star, notorious for its fractured English.

In a few years’ time, the use of fail as an interjection caught on to such an extent that particularly egregious objects of ridicule required an even stronger barb: major fail, überfail, massive fail or, most popular of all, epic fail. The intensifying adjectives hinted that fail was becoming a new kind of noun: not simply a synonym for failure but, rather, a derisive label to slap on a miscue that is eminently mockable in its stupidity or wrongheadedness. Online cynics deploy fail as a countable noun (“That’s such a fail!”) and also as a mass noun that treats failure as an abstract quality: the offending party is often said to be full of fail or made of fail.

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Stealing from the newspapers


Posted: 2009-04-02 11:04   |  More posts about censorship funny ireland linguistics literature politics words

Two amusing articles brought to my attention today. The first is from the Irish Times' supplement celebrating its 150 years. It focuses on the role of the Irish language in newspapers over the years, from their early opposition to the introduction of compulsory Irish in schools, until today, when the sight of the Irish language is becoming rarer and rarer by the day. One paragraph in particular, quoting the late Brian O'Nolan, writing for the Times under one of his pseudonyms, Myles na gCopaleen, made me laugh:

The humour was often surreal. During the days of rationing in the "Emergency",  as the second World War was officially known in this State, Myles suggested that the dative case or "tuiseal tabharthach" in Irish be sacrificed as an unnecessary luxury.
The second article, printed in the Independent, is a short, humourous, satirical piece, lampooning the current Taoiseach and RTÉ's handling of the "picturegate" affair, when it seemed as if the Taoiseach's office was dictating to the national broadcaster what it could and could not cover on the news.

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