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How Donald Trump tweets

Thursday, 5 January, 2017 0 Comments

Evan Puschak studied film production at Boston University and he’s been making videos as The Nerdwriter since 2011. After a stint at MSNBC in New York, he moved to The Discovery Channel in San Francisco, but left to pursue The Nerdwriter full time. His videos are about “life”, which he believes is a philosophical, political, moral, psychological, financial, artistic and scientific web of interactions.

He published his most popular video last Saturday. Titled “How Donald Trump Tweets”, it’s an analysis of the president-elect’s Twitter style and his conclusion is that Trump uses speech-like language, not written language. Puschak’s take: “Instead of asking us to read, he forces us to hear.” There are some people who don’t like Donald Trump, but they have to admit his use of Twitter is superb.


Google: Neural Machine Translation

Wednesday, 23 November, 2016 1 Comment

Hello Google Essentially, Google’s “Neural Machine Translation” system converts whole sentences, rather than just word by word. It has been activated for eight language pairs to and from English and French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish. “These represent the native languages of around one-third of the world’s population,” writes Barak Turovsky in a piece titled “Found in translation: More accurate, fluent sentences in Google Translate.”

Note: The system behind Neural Machine Translation is being made available for all businesses through the Google Cloud Translation API.


The Revenge of the Deplorables

Monday, 14 November, 2016 0 Comments

Deplorables: Nounified, pluralized form of deplorable, an adjective meaning “lamentable, very sad, grievous, miserable, wretched” and usually used in reference to events, conditions, or circumstances. The adjective is derived from the Latin verb plorare, to weep or bewail.

That definition is provided by “Chief Wordworker” Nancy Friedman on her Fritinancy website and she goes on to explain that the most topical use of the word occurred during remarks by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on 9 September at the LGBT for Hillary Gala in New York City.

That was then. Now, Bloomberg View columnist Clive Crook is writing that the “Deplorables” are having a moment. Snippet:

“If you can’t manage genuine respect for the people whose votes you want, at least try to fake it. However, forgive me if I go further. It really ought to be possible to manage some actual respect. The complaints that Trump is addressing deserve better than to be recast in caricature then dismissed with contempt… Elite opinion admits of only one answer: People are more stupid and bigoted than we ever imagined. Without denying that there’s plenty of stupidity and bigotry to go around, I think it’s more a matter of elite incompetence. Elite opinion heard the rebels’ complaints, but instead of acknowledging what was valid, it rejected the grievances in every particular and dismissed the complainers as fools or worse. The elites weren’t deaf. They were dumb.”

And blind, too.


The inspired choice of Brexit as Word of the Year

Friday, 4 November, 2016 0 Comments

A few hours after the Collins Dictionary had named “Brexit” its Word of the Year yesterday, the High Court in London ruled that Britain cannot start the process of leaving the European Union without a vote in parliament. Clearly, Brexit is a word that will not go away in the foreseeable future. Or ever, perhaps.

Brexit Brexit means “the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union” and the word became popular as the UK headed towards June’s historic referendum. In fact, lexicographers recorded an upsurge of more than 3,400 per cent in its use this year — an increase unheard of since Collins began monitoring word usage.

Collins says “Brexit is arguably politics’ most important contribution to the English language in over 40 years, since the Watergate scandal gave commentators and comedians the suffix ‘-gate’ to make any incident or scandal infinitely more compelling.” Brexit is far more elastic than Watergate, though, because not only does it sum up the result of one of the most dramatic events in British political history, it has inspired terms such as “Bremain”, “Bremorse”, “hard Brexit” and, of course, Grexit. Note: It has also been adapted to describe unrelated events coming to an end, such as “Mexit” for Lionel Messi’s someday retirement. God forbid!


Phraseum: A conversation with Ondrej Bobal

Thursday, 3 November, 2016 0 Comments

Ondrej Bobal is a serial entrepreneur from the Czech Republic who has created several startups, including nextstories.com and auto.cz, which was subsequently acquired by Germany’s Axel Springer SE. He’s currently busy with Phraseum, a project he describes as a tool for collaborative learning that’s also a social network.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: What is Phraseum and why did you create it?

Ondrej Bobal: Phraseum offers a community of phrase collections, or Phrasebooks, based on common topics, projects, or grammar lessons. Tags not only allow users to save and categorize phrases as they like, but they generate suggestions for other phrases related to a specific topic.

Phraseum allows you to collect words, phrases and sentences from anywhere on the web, while you browse and organise them into social phrasebooks. Phraseum is social, so you can share phrases and phrasebooks with anyone else on the site and follow other people if you like the kinds of things they are saving and sharing. A Spaced Repetition System allows users to memorise phrasebooks they are following.

My aim is to create the biggest crowd-based database of phrases to allow learners to find suitable ‘real language’ phrases for particular situation and meaning (by searching tags). There is no such tool on the internet so far.”

Eamonn Fitzgerald: Can you give us some facts about Phraseum: Monthly active users, number of countries where it’s used, most popular sections and so on?

Ondrej Bobal: “7,000 monthly users, mainly form countries where Phraseum was covered in media or blogs: Spain, Argentina, Brasil, Egypt, Indonesia, Germany, Poland — all over the world:-)

The most popular phrasebooks are English phrasal verbs, email communication, presentation…. The content is focused on real language — phrases you will not find in the text books.

Example from Phrasebok emails and online communication:

“Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.”
“Hey, no hurry but when you get a chance would you mind…”
“Let me know how your calendar looks for a quick talk.”

Phraseum

If learners use built-in memorising tool for the phrases, they can master them quickly and be more fluent and confident using real language.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: How could teachers use Phraseum in the classroom?

Ondrej Bobal: A good place to begins is Nik Peachy’s recent post on Using Phraseum to learn lexical chunks.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: How can English learners best use Phraseum?

Ondrej Bobal: They can create their own collections by clipping phrases and chunks of language while browsing the web or follow already published phrasebooks and memorise them using Phraseums’s memorising SRS tool. After few weeks they can master hundreds of phrases.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: Thank you, Ondrej.


Language guilt

Thursday, 29 September, 2016 0 Comments

The alleged crimes of the West are many and hardly a day goes by without the prosecutors discovering new examples of their oppression at the hands of Goethe and Emily Brontë, which are then paraded with the “-ism” suffix. The ensuing press release from the aggrieved will contain all the usual Stalinist/Maoist clichés: “The hegemonic power of capitalism propagates an increasing gravitation to English…”

Yes, English.

Why English? Confronting the Hydra Why English? Confronting the Hydra is a collection of essays edited by a group of remorseful scholars and English teachers, which begins with an abject apologia: “There is, indeed, huge irony in the fact this collection is written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Such is the power of the global publishing industry and the pervasiveness of English-language hegemony that this critique needs to emanate from within its very realm.”

Ah, yes, hegemony. A true trigger word. Just like “Orwellian” and “imperialism”. Talking of both, the publisher’s site has a glowing review of Why English? Confronting the Hydra by Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu, a member of the Department of Linguistics and Language Development at San José State University in California. Snippet:

“The contributors to this volume expose the Orwellian overtones that mask the linguistic imperialism that is being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid. The many examples of innovation and success stories they offer give hope that resistance is not futile after all.”

This is the same Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu who, in June 2012, delivered the plenary talk at the 4th International Symposium on Teaching Chinese as a Second Language for Young Scholars at Peking University in Beijing. The title? “Global Mandarin: Promoting Chinese language and culture in an age of globalization.” Did he warn the eager cadres about the Orwellian overtones that mask Chinese linguistic imperialism now being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid? Monosyllabic answers on a postcard, please.


Google Translate goes AI

Wednesday, 28 September, 2016 0 Comments

From now on, Google Translate will rely more on AI (artificial intelligence) when it translates languages. Alphabet, the parent company, claims that its brand new Google Neural Machine Translation system will reduce errors by 80 percent compared to its current method.

Google Translate Until today, Google has used what is called “phrase-based translation,” which is standard for the industry. With this method, a hand-coded algorithm breaks down a sentence into words or phrases and tries to match them a vast dictionary. The new system will use that same large dictionary to train two neural networks, one of which will deconstruct the original sentence to figure out what it means, while the other generates text in the output language.

Because AI algorithms don’t rely on human logic, they can often find better ways to do the job compared to the hand-coded algorithms, say the engineers. And as the network learns how to translate, no longer spending time dividing sentences into words or phrases, it discards the rules that humans thought were best and concentrates fully on the outcome. Such is the nature of AI. As Alan Turing wrote in 1950: “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.” (Computing machinery and intelligence). We’re getting there.

Google is releasing its new translation system for Mandarin Chinese first, and then adding new languages over coming months.


Hodge and his lexicographer

Sunday, 18 September, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1709, Samuel Johnson was born. The poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer spent nine years writing his Dictionary of the English Language, which was published in 1755 and continues to enlighten and amuse: “Oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”

The drudgery of lexicography was alleviated somewhat by Hodge, a cat the good doctor loved, and his friend and biographer James Boswell found Johnson’s relationship with Hodge so important that he preserved it for posterity:

“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat; for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants, having that trouble, should take dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presences of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying why, yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this; and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.”

Hodge is remembered by a bronze statue outside the house at 17 Gough Square in London he shared with Johnson and Barber, Johnson’s black manservant and heir. The statue shows the cat sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells atop a copy of Johnson’s dictionary, with the inscription “a very fine cat indeed”.

Hodge


Yes, he did.

Friday, 2 September, 2016 0 Comments

On Wednesday, here, our post was about the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who died on 30 August 2013. As Henry Miller put it in Tropic of Cancer: “In this chthonian world the only thing of importance is orthography and punctuation. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the calamity is, only whether it is spelled right.”

He did


Speech II: Tom Wolfe vs. Noam Chomsky

Wednesday, 17 August, 2016 1 Comment

Tom Wolfe’s new book, The Kingdom of Speech, looks at the work of four major figures in the history of evolution and language: Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Everett. A 15-page excerpt appeared in the August issue of Harper’s Magazine titled “The Origins of Speech: In the beginning was Chomsky” and it focused on rise of Chomsky and Everett’s challenge to Chomskyism within the world of linguistics. The story begins in 1957, when Chomsky was 28. He wrote a book “with the opaque title” Syntactic Structures that turned the world of linguistics “upside down,” writes Wolfe. Snippet:

Language was not something you learned. You were born with a built-in “language organ.” It is functioning the moment you come into the world, just the way your heart and your kidneys are already pumping and filtering and excreting away.

To Chomsky, it didn’t matter what a child’s first language was. Whatever it was, every child’s language organ could use the “deep structure, ” “universal grammar, ” and “language acquisition device” he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese. That was why — as Chomsky said repeatedly — children started speaking so early in life… and so correctly in terms of grammar. They were born with the language organ in place and the power ON. By the age of two, usually, they could speak in whole sentences and generate completely original ones. The “organ”… the “deep structure”… the “universal grammar’… the “device” — as Chomsky explained it, the system was physical, empirical, organic, biological. The power of the language organ sent the universal grammar coursing through the deep structure’s lingual ducts to provide nutrition for the LAD, which everybody in the field now knew referred to the “language acquisition device” Chomsky had discovered.

Harpers Along with Chomsky’s linguistics, Tom Wolfe devotes a great deal of space to Chomsky’s politics, which have grown increasingly bizarre over the years, to the point where he ascribes almost all evils in the world to the USA. Despite, or possibly because of, such derangement, he remains a darling of the left-liberal media and nothing he says, no matter how absurd, is taken seriously by his credulous disciples.

Then, OOOF!

Typically Wolfe, the capital letters are introduced to make a big point and the biggest one concerns a 13,000-word article that appeared the August–October 2005 issue of Current Anthropology entitled “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã” by Daniel Everett. Pirahã is a language spoken by several hundred members of a hunter-gatherer tribe in the vast Amazon basin and it does not contain any recursion, which is central to Chomsky’s theories, and “it was the Pirahã’s own distinctive culture, their unique ways of living, that shaped the language — not any ‘language organ,’ not any ‘universal grammar’ or ‘deep structure’ or ‘language acquisition device’ that Chomsky said all languages had in common,” declares Wolfe.

Piraha

The Pirahã sentence ‘There is a paca there’ uses just two words: káixihíxao-xaagá, meaning, paca exist there

Tom Wolfe is very enjoyable on the academic skulduggery used by the Chomskyians to denigrate Everett’s work and destroy his career, and one is left with the impression that the professorial class is filled with characters similar to the consigliere and caporegime of the Mafia. Filled with loathing for Chomskyism, Wolfe concludes thus:

“In three decades nobody had turned up any hard evidence to support Chomsky’s conviction that every person is born with an innate, gene-driven power of speech with the motor running. But so what? Chomsky had made the most ambitious attempt since Aristotle’s in 350 B.C. to explain what exactly language is. And no one else in human history had come even close. It was dazzling in its own flailing way — this age old, unending, utter, ultimate, universal display of ignorance concerning man’s most important single gift.”

OOOF!


Speech I: Oliver Kamm vs. Tom Wolfe

Tuesday, 16 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Kingdom of Speech is published by Jonathan Cape but might as well have been issued by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose tracts at least have the merit of being funnier.” So writes Oliver Kamm in a devastating put-down of the latest book by Tom Wolfe. Along with being the author of Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage, Kamm is a leader writer and columnist for The Times and it was in that newspaper on Saturday that he took Wolfe to the reviewing woodshed.

The Kingdom of Speech Tom Wolfe argues that speech, not evolution, sets humans apart from animals and is responsible for all of our great achievements. He targets Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky in The Kingdom of Speech when arguing that there is no evolutionary explanation for language, particularly abstract language. Kamm differs, however: “Wolfe’s theory that words are a memory aid — a mnemonic system — likewise falls apart on a moment’s reflection. Words like cat and dog and run and jump might help us to remember things in the world, but what about words like not and very and whether and however?”

Readers who purchase The Kingdom of Speech in the hope of acquiring an invigorating clarification of the big ideas at the heart of the debate about morphology, syntax, phonetics and semantics will be misled, claims Kamm, who shows no mercy in his critique:

“It’s a celebration of ignorance: a vain, sneering and calumnious piece of fluff in which Wolfe misunderstands his subject and misrepresents leading thinkers, notably Darwin and the linguist Noam Chomsky. It’s not even stylishly written. What I learnt from it is that a crotchety celebrity of vaulting hubris and small mind doesn’t feel constrained by canons of evidence and accuracy.”

Tomorrow, here, Wolfe attacks Chomsky.