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Wednesday, September 15, 2004


So that's it, all over, no longer a linguistics student. Though I am still a student of linguistics. (Wait a minute... *mutters to self*... syntax versus morphology, morphological combination must have semantic differences... No, wait! I don't do that any more!) I am an unemployed person of no fixed vocation.

Here are the last moments of That:

8.57 continue writing what I didn't do any of last night cos of the brandy
12.03 begin printing
1.03 baffled by clasp on plastic binder
2.22 finish proofreading
2.48 printer runs out of ink
2.48.02 triumphant ha! I am prepared for this
3.11 finish printing
3.14 out of house
4.04 stuff binders into box in department
5.05 back home
5.08 booze (Hobgoblin)

Sometimes for amusement I taunt spelling-checkers. Here are words I used that it doesn't know: arity, binarity, clitic, coreference, complementizer, cybernetically, discardable, disfluency, ditransitive, featural, fillable, Golgi apparatus, grammaticalized, intervenience, intonational, iterable, logophor, lookahead, minimality, moggy, nominalized, ourself, parametrize, proformal, satisfiable, specifier, stipulative, structuralist, subcategorization, subrule, syntagmatic, tertium quid, therefrom, topicalization, treehood, unaccusative, unassignable, underlyingly, unemphatically, unimplementable, unnoticingly.

So I won't be updating here any more, this is the LAST ONE, and I'm putting on the Ring and slipping out into another life.

Some of you might spot the odd luminous pale eye on the water, a faint paddling, a bit of wood on your tail, and wonder what it might be...

(13 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

8:42PM - Citizens of Prague, beware!

Conkers have started falling, it's cold out even in a jumper, and a bottle of Courvoisier is therefore much needed. Mmm.

And this, I spose, means I have therefore finished It? Well. Well not finished as such, but section 8 (Command, government, and barriers, pity, it was the only section name longer than three words) has been stifled and upended into the wood-chipper and might make a nice pair of decorative parenthetical comments somewhere, and [I don't know any football team managers' names but pretend I do and think of one being written here, to make me seem 'with-it'] has sent section 5-1/2 (a screed about Learning I'd forgotten I'd added to) in as a substitute.

So the corpse hath torso and limbs, but to make it shamble once printed out (estimated time: noon tomorrow) it needs a little something extra, a tetragrammaton slipped under its tongue, a few choice morsels from other people's thoughts, so I've been through my book of notes and red-biro'd at least one per source so I can legitimately list 'em in the references. That I can do tonight, since it doesn't involve thinking, even though I'm sipping the brandy. Tomorrow morning, same ploy with my last-minute photocopies.

Current mood: accursed

(3 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Sunday, September 12, 2004

11:31PM - dogs etc.

oh god hav got about 2 days til The Thing is due, and must still finish typing introduction (c. 800 words) before sewing into reanimated corpses of other bits I printed out, cut up into sections, and sellotaped together. No longer have time to read or discover any more; it's just going to be barefaced lying about who's influenced me. Actually I've made it up out of my own head and everyone except Chomsky and Culicover has their head in the sand.

Pub. Dogs. An ageing salt-and-pepper Staffordshire very interested in finding nice comfy places to curl up and get to sleep on. A young particoloured collie-like heraldic beast nosing out company and being interested. Stroked both.

(5 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

3:32PM - Green Eggs and Sam

Green Eggs and Sam

Sample snippet (with flimsy linguistic connexion at end):

Gandalf:  I would not, could not, by the fire.
             I would not, could not, in the Shire.
Frodo:    Would you, could you, in a tree?
             Would you, on the road to Bree?
             Would you, with an orc or troll?
             Would you, in a hobbit-hole?
Gandalf:  I would not, could not, in a tree.
             I would not, on the road to Bree.
             I would not, with an orc or troll.
             I would not, in a hobbit-hole.
             I will not take it here or there.
             I will not take it anywhere!
             For it is evil, as you say.
             You'll have to take that ring away
             And throw it in the Cracks of Doom.
Frodo:    I'll need a friend. But who, or whom?

(3 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

9:21PM - consider siderophobia

I hate these silly made-up words for non-existent phobias, and my ire is particularly invoked on ones like Walloonophobia 'fear of Walloons' and angrophobia 'fear of anger'. Since anger is a Norse borrowing, this more than usually violates the principle that if you're going to make up words, try to have the courtesy of making them up in Greek. So fears of railways and peanut butter have respectable-looking Greek elements.

I find someone has stuck the Latin sidus, sideris 'star' into the sausage machine and created siderophobia 'fear of stars'. Now not only is there a much more familiar prefix astro-, which happens also to be Greek, but sidero- is Greek for 'iron'. Siderophobia is a perfectly good word for 'fear of iron', but a rotten one for 'fear of stars'.

etymology feastCollapse )

(4 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Sunday, September 5, 2004

11:53AM - wrought with pain/errors

Either an eggcorn or a development of a new verb form. Wrought is being treated as meaning racked or fraught, in senses such as wrought with pain, wrought with errors. In fact racked makes better sense as an origin for the first, fraught for the second, and it's picking up on the fact that racked with is often spelt wracked with by association with the older word wrack = wreck.

(supply more fish)

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

11:54PM - wh garden path

An interesting example in the comments in latin of a garden path from wh-fronting: the commenter writes 'Verres was a former official whom the Sicilian people hired Cicero to prosecute for embezzlement.'

As far as I can tell, this is not only grammatical but natural. The simplest thing is just to front the pronoun. Pied-piping is relatively costly and moves you up a register (I have to say 'for whom', 'pictures of whom', whereas direct object 'who(m)' depends on register). The pied-piped alternative here is particularly marked: you have to front an entire VP, 'to prosecute whom the Sicilian people hired Cicero'. And dammit, there's an adjunct, and it just doesn't fit anywhere else, so you have to pied-pipe the goddam adjunct! 'to prosecute whom for embezzlement the Sicilian people hired Cicero'.

So the most natural grammatical way of saying it is a garden path: 'a former official whom the Sicilian people hired...'.

Afterthought. I suppose if 'to prosecute [him]' is an adjunct itself, to 'hired', that'd be some sort of barrier to extraction.

(11 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Friday, August 27, 2004

12:40PM - CV

Now trying to come up with a CV. For most people keeping it down to a page is supposed to be a problem. I am up to about half a page, and that's mainly name and address. Useful skills: None. Relevant experience: Nil. Telephone manner: Abysmal. Can-do attitude: Can't even pretend. Prospects: Awful.

Current mood: depressed

(7 pelicans burst | supply more fish)


Am mildly amused and rather horrified and terribly embarrassed that Daniel Everett himself has picked up on my throwaway phrase "Borgesian fantasist". I could try accusing Mr Libermann of abusing the privileges of private e-mail if I hadn't bandied similar slack-jawed amazement around in several other places off my own BAT (a winged mammal). So deep apologies again to Professor Everett, but of course it is completely... er... contrary to expectations. (And oh god it would be such a wonderful Borges story!) It is literally unbelievable, and Everett seems to have acknowledged this repeatedly in his quest to be believed. I'm a staunch defender of the orthodoxy and always a rubbisher of the Sapir-Whorfian, so one of the first things to do on seeing this sort of amazing claim is to worry about other well-known expositors, Mead and Turnbull and Chagnon... but the way Everett describes it just doesn't sound like them. It doesn't sound ideologically pegged, it doesn't sound linguistically credulous, it... I don't know what it is. But worlds come crashing down. Everything I thought was part of my Sprachgefühl is wrong.

Couple this with the despair at the fact that I can't come up with anything original about the logic of grammar. I think I'm fifty years too early. We have no idea what's going on. No idea at all.

Current mood: depressed

(1 pelican burst | supply more fish)

Thursday, August 26, 2004


Went to library. Did some reading and note-taking. I think the only interesting quote I got was someone echoing Einstein, that grammar was subtle but not malicious. Got distracted reading about Tagalog infixation. Spent the last couple of hours reading in Huddleston and Pullum's CGEL, more interested in something I could at least partly understand. It's so good to see English grammar described freshly and impartially, with terminology appropriate to it. And they spend only a few paragraphs on such hard nuts as used to and had better. This much needs to be done on every language in the world, starting with Pirahã and Eyak and all the ones that are rich and strange or that we might be about to lose.

Am still nowhere nearer understanding anything of what I'm trying to write about. I want to give up. I don't know how I can hand in anything.

Am now about to get more maudlin over some Old Peculier.

Current mood: depressed

(9 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

7:54AM - Bootvisor

This is just an excuse to experiment with whether I can put a stylesheet in an entry. Since losing my settings I'm back to the browser's defaults, which is a whopping 12pt for everything and a bizarre hideous bold rendition of the IPA font. Well I can't impose that on you or myself, and also I can't afford to adjust my settings and forget that it's still being imposed on you. Hence <span class=ipa> naʊ prə'ʤu:səz ðɪs ɪ'fekt, whereas the old-style <font face="Lucida Sans Unicode"> prə'ʤu:səz ðɪs ɪ'fekt.

Am going into the library today. Must get more than half a dozen references for the bottom of the Thing, or it won't look good. Am going to cobble together some lunatic introduction from the forced hybrid of MP and Culicover & Nowak, and pretend that's my intention. Then later today will add and discuss some quotes and see where that brings the word count. I've been trying to do it all in my own words so far.

Turbulent night, partly sleepless, partly full of wild and whirling dreams. Classic result of alcohol deprivation. Had nothing but two bottles of Budweiser ['bu:tvaɪzə], one the normal 5,0% one, the other a new one in the shops, gold label, subtitled Premier Select, at 7,6%. Quite nice. I'm not a lager drinker but I think I could have more than one of those with pleasure.

Now the reason for the phonetics is that this premier bottle is prominently labelled just Bud, and I was wondering whether that's [bʊt] or [bu:t] or, heav'n forfend, [bad]. (In ill-advised competition with that other muck, or do the Czechs actually say this too?) And then I noticed that when I say [bu:t] as a German name I give it a cardinal rounded, back vowel, not like the centred de-rounded one of English 'boot'. In fact calling Bud Boot sounds ridiculous. But it's palliated in the full Bootvisor.

Edited. Drattit, it don't work! So I've got to put all my specifications in-line each time, so <font face="Lucida Sans Unicode" color=blue size=-1> prə'ʤu:səz ðɪs ɪ'fekt, not to mention ['bu:tvaɪzə 'bʊdva:].

Current mood: depressed

(3 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

4:34PM - Making fun of names in spam

This is a pointless distraction, isn't it? But I've actually done something the last couple of days, I deserve a break. Granted it's not my essay (I've broken it to the ranks, I can't in all conscience call it a dissertation now), but doing anything at all is a big step up. I've played website designing, and I've discovered FTP. So now to answer all those spam.
Read more...Collapse )

Unrelated happy fun quote of the day: "May you in this way make the name German remembered in China for a thousand years so that no Chinaman will ever again dare to even squint at a German!" -- Wilhelm II, 1900.

Oh, and... Child Pimp and Ho Costumes, spotted by jonquil.

Current mood: gloomy

(3 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Monday, August 23, 2004


Today I wrote two or three paragraphs on the Thing (I'm afraid to look in case it was only one), which is a lot more than in the past two weeks. It's a nice evening out, pleasantly cool. It's almost as if I'm not quite as depressed today, so fuelled with some Guinness I might go back and see if I can write a few paragraphs more. (Edit: No I can't.)

I heard a bloke in the supermarket say ['emti] and a barrier crumbled. I'd thought phonology was the safe, easy, boring option I'd turned my back on. But why isn't it *['em?i]? The lecturer span us some story about weak foot positions, being the reason why it's glottalled in ['ba?@] and ['wIn?@]. But why not in ['emti] or ['ma:st@]? The whole edifice of phonology is probably just as unfounded as that of syntax; they just hide it better because most of phonology seems easy to understand.

Current mood: apathetic

(5 pelicans burst | supply more fish)


I really really need to devise some more potent abusive epithets about prescriptive grammar. I need buckets of mockery, and lashings of contempt. I need to pour scorn and impute ignorance and deride lack of education. And not drop to their level, let's not forget that.

I like the sound of 'Muggle grammar', but does it convey enough of its hopeless inadequacy?

(2 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Friday, August 20, 2004

11:59PM - Pirahã

The press have got hold of some garbled nonsense about the absence of number in the Brazilian language Pirahã. Their account is worthless, not because of how they garble it in this case, but because of how it falls short of the extraordinary strangeness of the language. Here's an article by Daniel Everett on Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã [warning! .pdf], in which he claims that their grammar is strongly shaped by their cultural habit of only referring to direct or reported direct experience. So he claims they have virtually no abstraction: no colour terms, no embedding or relativization, the simplest kinship system, no number or quantification, and they can't or don't or won't learn foreign languages or systems of thought that express these cultural violations.

As a description of a language it's extraordinary and alien, but as ethnography or game theory I find myself disbelieving it. A culture that has no sense of measuring value in an exchange? Is this Everett some sort of Margaret Mead dupe? The whole thing reads like a deliberate Borgesian fantasy about some impossible Uqbarian society that violates the rules of human thought. Well yes it would. Because that's what he's claiming they are. Fascinating -- dubious -- needs further study.

Bai baina. Mark Liberman in Language Log assures me Everett is pretty sound as a linguist. And I find his description of Wari' in The Handbook of Morphology eminently sensible and sober, so it looks like I have to get used to my eyes bugging out over Pirahã, which is about to get very famous indeed, even in the Muggle world.

Ez bakarrik. Language Hat points out it also contains a completely new sound, despite having the simplest phoneme inventory known. And Everett thinks they didn't use it in front of him for many years before because they knew it was strange and didn't want to be laughed at. This is scary too: because the culture is so fascinating we need lots of people studying it, but would it destroy it if we finally did convince them to learn Portuguese and arithmetic? Thankfully they seem robust against intrusion.

(7 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

6:00PM - but economics is even worse

I'm despairing at doing my syntax, but I don't have to deal with the stuff economists make up. Here's a single equation occupying about a quarter of a page in the Latex source I'm proofreading:

$$\sum_{y=1}^{K+H+I} \left((p_y^* - \bar{c}_y^0)\frac{\partial q_y(\vec{p^*})}{\partial p_x} \right)-\left( \bar{c}_{X-3}^0 + \bar{c}_{X-2}^0 \right)\alpha \frac{\partial \underline{n}(\vec{p^*})}{\partial p_x} - \left( \bar{c}_{X-1}^0 + \bar{c}_X^0 \right)\alpha \frac{\partial \underline{m}(\vec{p^*})}{\partial p_x} + $$
$$\sum_{j=1}^J \sum_{y=K+H+Ij+1}^{K+H+I(j+1)} \left((p_y^* - p_{X-1}^* - p_X^* - \bar{c}_y^j) \frac{\partial q_y(\vec{p^*})}{\partial p_x} - q_y(\vec{p^*}) \right)+ $$
\label{eq:unconstrained foc x>X-2 1}
\sum_{j=1}^J \sum_{y=K+H+I(J+1)+Gj+1}^{K+H+I(J+1)+G(j+1)} \left( (p_y^*-p_{X-3}^* - p_{X-2}^* -\bar{c}_y^j) \frac{\partial q_y(\vec{p^*})}{\partial p_x}- q_y(\vec{p^*}) \right) = 0

My current task is to remove the starred vector p arguments. In the future those absolute summation limits are for the chop.

(11 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

3:58PM - Spam that almost passes the non-stupidity test

Occasionally for amusement I check the quarantined bulk e-mails for new mutations. Here's a subject header that certainly took my eye:

Sender "Zhenthim74" <>
Subject What does this post mean? Your email was provided in comments
Text and stupidityCollapse )

Current mood: amused

(supply more fish)

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

9:14PM - ot, no w?

Am I the last person in the world, or in this part of it, to pronounce a [w] in 'quarter', 'quartet', 'quartz'? Cos I heard a Radio 3 announcer say [kɔ:'tet] just now, and I'm sure I keep hearing them say ['kɔ:tə] too. And the thing is, I believe I used to, when I was very young and prescriptivist, and corrected myself to ['kwɔ:tə], which is now ingrained in me. My 1993 Chambers just gives kwör'tər, no alternative, so it's sneaked (or snuck: which do I say?) up on us. But do all the best people say it w-less now? Cos if so I should do cos I'm dead posh, me.

(sings:) What do the simple folk do? Is it ['koɵʔɐ] or ['kwoɵʔɐ]? (spoken:) So they say.

And that vowel. Everyone, but everyone, up my local is called George, so I'm constantly hearing cries of what I've finally decided is [dʒoɵdʒ], i.e. a centring diphthong rounded throughout. It sounds like a consonantal [w]: but if I start with a closing diphthong [dʒoʊdʒ] and push the offglide higher, it's not right, it's too rounded and RP. Then I hit on the centring solution, and it seems about right when I try it.

(10 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

4:35PM - SP2, the piding, and the Muckle Spate

1. When journalists don't use multiple logical operators correctly, it can be gruesomely plausible. A BBC story on a Microsmurf patch to their XP system (and to be fair XP is the first time I've known a Microsnot OS to be an improvement on previous ones) contains this awful warning:

It also lets users know the risks they are taking if they do not have the firewall turned on, do not update their anti-virus software or install future updates for XP.

2. So this new bird found on Calayan that scientists didn't know about but the local people did. Okay, catalogue it, call it Gallirallus calayanensis, but what's this "Calayan rail" bizzo? The locals have a name for it, it's the piding, so why not now make the English the piding without italics?

3. Hm, searching for {piding} finds many thousands of sites in German because it's a place in Germany. My naive attempts to winnow these are thwarted: searching for {piding -der -die -das -zu -hier -nicht -ist} still throws up thousands of sites in German, and I'm wondering as a general question how much of the top lexicon you need to include to nearly guarantee a hit. Or non-hit or whatever I'm after.

4. The Cornish village Boscastle, wrecked by a freak flood, lies on the Rivers Jordan, Paradise, and Valency. Either one of the first two is charming, and the other of the pair isn't so surprising, but the collocation with Valency is delightful. Pity about how their catchment areas are arranged. Anyway, the worst flood recorded in Britain was that of the River Findhorn in Moray in 1829, appealingly and logically called the Muckle Spate. The Findhorn rose 15 m, which I find inconceivable on an island this size. But the largest ever flow recorded here was of the Findhorn in 1970. I think I'm going to have nightmares about that.

(5 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

8:48PM - Oh. Good.

So the Internet is the slowest it's ever been. So I wonder because I don't know any better if I've got a "virus". So I find my virus checker is "disabled". So I wonder how that happened and click on settings and it takes forever to respond. So I try to shut the machine down. So that doesn't respond. So I do it by brute force. So when I reload it comes up saying some system file can't be found. So I have to reformat by factory CDs. So I'm very lucky to have the Internet logon phone number and password scrawled on a piece of paper amongst the thousands. So I'm here now (waves hi) but my machine has funny colour schemes and icons and clicking sounds like when you just get it new. And not the files I used to have on it. The most critical were on a floppy or emailed to myself or on websites designed specifically for the reason that I knew my machine would suddenly instanteously die. But it's a bit of a sodding learning curve when it happens.

Current mood: depressed

(2 pelicans burst | supply more fish)

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