Why So Many Languages?

Fri, Jul. 21st, 2017 12:13 am
[syndicated profile] languagehat_feed

Posted by languagehat

Michael Gavin of Colorado State University has a fascinating piece at The Conversation that asks: “Why is it that humans speak so many languages? And why are they so unevenly spread across the planet?”

The questions also seem like they should be fundamental to many academic disciplines – linguistics, anthropology, human geography. But, starting in 2010, when our diverse team of researchers from six different disciplines and eight different countries began to review what was known, we were shocked that only a dozen previous studies had been done, including one we ourselves completed on language diversity in the Pacific.

These prior efforts all examined the degree to which different environmental, social and geographic variables correlated with the number of languages found in a given location. The results varied a lot from one study to another, and no clear patterns emerged. The studies also ran up against many methodological challenges, the biggest of which centered on the old statistical adage – correlation does not equal causation. […]

A better way to identify the causes of particular patterns is to simulate the processes we think might be creating them. The closer the model’s products are to the reality we know exists, the greater the chances are that we understand the actual processes at work.

Two members of our group, ecologists Thiago Rangel and Robert Colwell, had developed this simulation modeling technique for their studies of species diversity patterns. But no one had ever used this approach to study the diversity of human populations.

We decided to explore its potential by first building a simple model to test the degree to which a few basic processes might explain language diversity patterns in just one part of the globe, the continent of Australia.

The success of the model for Australia is truly astonishing; as they say, different patterns will be at work elsewhere, and I certainly join them in their concluding wish: “We hope other scientists will become as fascinated by the geography of language diversity as our research group is and join us in the search for understanding why humans speak so many languages.” Thanks, Trevor!

Harry Potter Lootcrate!

Thu, Jul. 20th, 2017 07:26 pm
alisanne: (Default)
[personal profile] alisanne
You guys!
So I signed up to receive Harry Potter Lootcrates, and the first one arrived today!

Clicky to see mah loot! Warning, pictures are GIANT (not sure how to fix that) )
Anyway, all in all, I liked the loot. I'll let you know how it goes. :)
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roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Kekkaishi.Yoshimori - Coffee milk)
[personal profile] roadrunnertwice

Eleanor Davis — How to be Happy

April 10

This is a collection of Davis' short comics, which are all over the place in style, length, and media. Davis is a really good cartoonist, and her more out-there art styles (the spindle-legged huge-torso look) are legit unique — the sort of thing that shouldn't work nearly as well as it does.

I liked these shorts; they felt like they were holding me at arm's length a lot of the time, but they did unexpected stuff and followed through on their swing. And Davis' cartooning is real engaging even when you're not really feeling a given story.

Books I stopped reading: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter — The Long Earth

April 2X

I stopped reading this about a third of the way through, because it lacked all of the things I'm looking for when I pick up a Terry Pratchett book.

John Darnielle — Universal Harvester

June 24

To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out what I think of this one. I was very much not satisfied at the end, and I'm trying to decide how much of that was the whole point, and how much of it was JD's reach exceeding his grasp this time. I might end up not deciding.

This had certain rewards anyway, despite the way it trailed off in the back third or so. There's this kind of roaring hollowness behind every paragraph that I feel really fuckin' nails why I find rural and small-town America scary, and not jump-scare scary but existential dread scary. JD was onto something here, and it's pretty compelling for a while. But it seems like an unfinished thought, and I put the book down with the sensation that someone had walked out of the room in the middle of a sentence and was not going to come back.

Again, it's possible that was the point.

Italo Calvino — Invisible Cities

May 9

Whoa, this was great! Not quite a novel, not quite short stories, more just an expanding fabric of disorienting oddness. A glitchville sort of vibe that reminded me of the last section of Kalpa Imperial, or maybe (faintly?) of Vellum? I feel like I can't quite dig up the thing it reminds me most of, which is very on-brand for this, now that I think of it.

Lars Brown — North World, vol. 1 (comics)

July 18

This had its charms, but maybe not enough of them. I don't feel the need to read more of it.

It feels like it belongs to a very very particular era — that bit in the late '00s, where mixing elements of classic video game settings with more prosaic character drama was having a moment? Scott Pilgrim kind of kicked it off and did it best, but there were a lot of others; some were blatantly following the trend, but I feel like a whole bunch of them were legit convergent evolution. Stories their authors wanted to do anyway, and which happened to be ready to go when the commercial moment arrived. Like, old games are responsible for a lot of the foundational metaphors by which my generation understands life, and of course we're going to work through that in our art.

Anyway, what I really liked about this comic were the settings — the city streets and markets and shops and houses and apartments. Brown's approach went something like: assume this big dumbass JRPG world, then focus on what people actually do from hour to hour and try to make everything feel really lived-in. It was great, a cool mix of... how to describe this. How about "conflicting familiarities." Which is kind of the whole raison d'être of this subgenre, right? The dissonance between our too-many methods of making sense of the world, which went from an idle preoccupation to an emergency when we realized the social and economic structures we were supposed to be "growing up" into had been devastated pretty much beyond repair well before we arrived? Yeah.

Oh right, back to the comic. Setting good, plot totally forgettable. Character writing ok, but nothing I was really connecting with. I kind of need at least two out of three to keep investing in something, so I'm out.

Nope I'm totally overwhelmed

Fri, Jul. 21st, 2017 07:49 am
nrgburst: (watney do the math)
[personal profile] nrgburst
Okay we have 8 days left in Japan and I'm still trying to scan pictures so I can bring memories digitally instead of big stacks of albums and sell stuff. We aren't even started packing our suitcases. And we have so many bucket list people to see one last time and things to do and eat one last time. And now my kids are done school and expect entertainment. This is like The Perfect Storm. I'm sorely tempted to just get on the plane and LEAVE. ALL. THE. CRAP. BEHIND. So what if we lose a couple years of photos, right? siiigghhh 

In fandom news:
Game of Thrones is back and I'm suddenly shipping Missandei/Grey Worm like whoa. Those little glimpses in the trailers have got me so excited! They've had just the sweetest ~longing looks~ relationship where they've both vocalized how much they desire the other and yet have dutifully refused to act on their feelings. JUST DO IT ALREADY DON'T YOU KNOW WHAT SHOW YOU ARE ON. Like, other characters keep going on and on about how he has no equipment, and I'm like... that's not technically true? The way he shut down Daario on that with just a withering look last season was just A+++ XDDD Seriously they can have all the joys of a loving relationship with none of the childbirth/rearing stress! I'm feeling this is a fantastic life choice decision especially now. XD I love how much he *hearteyes* over her, how she's always the one making all the moves because he won't
Awesome premiere ep though. It was very much like setting up pieces on a chess board- you can probably see how it's all going down...but you're likely to be completely crushed by your expectations when things go absolutely sideways instead! "The Great Game is terrifying" and absolutely riveting teeveeeeee! :DDD

Here is my fandom giftbox if any of you are interested! I don't know if anybody else has one, but reply with a link yours if you do! I love stuffing, but I will obviously be doing it post-move!

Shadowhunters continues to delight more and more! I think it's Sebastian|Jonathan, but I'm waaay more interested in 2B than 2A or S1? I just wish there was more Izzy and less Clary, but fine, fine plot. (Why do I always glom onto non-main characters to stan in TV shows? There's got to be a psychological reason for this.) 



neotoma: My Glitch Avatar, with brown skin, purple hair, and cat ears (Glitch)
[personal profile] neotoma
Anyone interested in seeing Dunkirk at the AFI on Sunday, a group of us are going to see it at 12:30. Drop me a comment here, and show up at the theater at noon, and we can eat and discuss the movie afterwards at one of Silver Spring's eateries.

FFRK ALERT - bug gives LOTS of goodies

Thu, Jul. 20th, 2017 05:11 pm
auronlu: (Bobblehead Night)
[personal profile] auronlu
[personal profile] aurenare reports that DeNa's last maintenance run just introduced a bug so that every single relic you pull with the Volume 2 Relic Draw is 5*s (a rainbow orb).

Some are boring — Shared Diamond Shield letting anyone cast Protect as a SB is of limited utility -- but others (Sentinel's Grimoire, Ramza's Shout relic, Terra's Maduin summoning relic and so on) are very nice.

No telling how long before they fix this bug, so I can't promise it's still in effect, but I just picked up a bunch of nice toys.
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まるです。

Thu, Jul. 20th, 2017 11:00 pm
[syndicated profile] maru_feed

Posted by mugumogu

 


今度は箱の上に乗っているはな。
Hana gets on the box this time.


はな:「まーたなんか来た…。」
Hana:[He came over again…]


まる:「すべての箱は――」
はな:「あーはいはい!」
Maru:[Hey! All boxes――]
Hana:[Ok ok!]


まる:「まったくもう、油断も隙もありませんよ。」
Maru:[I cannot be careless.]

はなが立ち去った後もまだ不満げなまる。
Maru seems to be still dissatisfied.

まる:「めっ!」
Maru:[Mine!]


まる:「見張ってなくちゃ。」
Maru:[I must watch it here.]

making space to be creative

Thu, Jul. 20th, 2017 11:32 pm
[syndicated profile] wwdn_feed

Posted by Wil

One week and about ten hours ago, I decided to step away from Twitter for a little bit. The specific details aren’t important, and I suspect that many of you reading this now are already nodding in agreement because you grok why. But I took it off my phone, and I haven’t been to the website on my desktop since. For the first 48 hours, I spent a lot of time wondering if I was making a choice that mattered, and thinking about how I wasn’t habitually looking at Twitter every few minutes to see if I’d missed anything funny, or to see the latest bullshit spewing forth from President Fuckface’s mouthanus. I was, ironically, spending more time thinking about Twitter since I wasn’t using it than I spent thinking about it when I was.

It started out as a 24 hour break, then it was a 48 hour break, then it was the weekend, and here we are one week later and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything important. I feel like I’ve given myself more time to be quiet and alone, more time to reflect on things, and I’ve created space in my life to let my mind wander and get creative.

I’m not creating as much as I want to, and I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ll never be able to create as much as I want to, but I’ve gotten some stuff done this week that probably wouldn’t have gotten done if Twitter had been filling up the space that I needed.

Here’s a little bit from my blog post that became a short story that grew into a novella that is now a novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything:

My mother was leaning against her car, talking with one of the other moms, when we arrived. My sister was throwing a Strawberry Shortcake doll into the air and catching it while they watched. I walked out of the bus and across the blazing hot blacktop to meet her.

Willow, catch!” My sister cried, sending Strawberry Shortcake in a low arc toward me. I caught her without enthusiasm and handed her back. “You’re supposed to throw her to me!” Amanda said, demonstrating. Her doll floated in a lazy circle, arms and legs pinwheeling, before falling back down into my sister’s waiting arms. The writer in me wants to make a clever reference to how I was feeling at that moment, about how I could relate to Strawberry Fucking Shortcake, spinning out of control in the air above us, but it feels hacky, so I’ll just talk about how I wanted to make the reference without actually making the reference, thereby giving myself permission to do a hacky writer’s trick without actually doing it. See, there’s nothing tricky about writing, it’s just a little trick!

It’s still in the first draft, and I may not keep all or even any of it, but after putting it aside for months while I was depressed about too many things to look at it, it feels so good to be back into this story.

Oh, speaking of writing, I got notes back from the editors on my Star Wars 40th anthology submission. I thought that, for sure, they’d want me to rework a ton of it, but all they asked me to do is change a name! And they told me it was beautiful! So I’ve been feeling like a Capital-W Writer for a few days.

And speaking of feeling happy for a change, Hasbro and Machinima announced that I’m a voice in the next installment of the Transformers animated series, Titans Return. And it feels silly to care about this particular thing, but Daily Variety put my name in the headline, which made me feel really, really good.I’ve always felt like the only thing that should matter is the work, and that the work should be able to stand on its own … but that’s not the reality even a little bit. Daily Variety is the industry’s paper of record, so when it chooses to put you in the headline of a story, people pay attention and it matters in the way that can make the difference between getting called for a meeting, or the last ten years of my life as an actor.

It’s also a good reminder that, even if I’m not getting the opportunities I want to be an on-camera actor, it is entirely within my power to create the space I need to be a writer.

 

(no subject)

Thu, Jul. 20th, 2017 07:42 pm
nanslice: (Default)
[personal profile] nanslice
Yooooooo, Dream Daddy is already out? I want to play it so bad. ;3;

Dream Act 2017 introduced

Thu, Jul. 20th, 2017 07:31 pm
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[personal profile] executrix posting in [community profile] thisfinecrew
From United We Dream, info@unitedwedream.org:
The Dream Act of 2017 has been introduced in the Senate to protect DACA recipients. It has four sponsors: Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). United We Dream asks for peole to telephone their Attorney General. The number they give is (832) 610-3896.

Their suggested message is "I am calling to ask the Attorney General to come out publicly to defend the DACA program. This program has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth across the country and it must be protected. I expect my attorney general to support the immigrant community and protect DACA."

Response to Pullum on slurs

Thu, Jul. 20th, 2017 10:45 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Barbara Partee

This is a guest post by Robert Henderson, Peter Klecha, and Eric McCready in response to Geoff Pullum's post of July 10. My only role was offering in advance to post a reply if the authors would like me to. I'm a good friend of Geoff Pullum and a friend of the authors. What follows is theirs.

We were quite surprised to read the LL post by Geoff Pullum of July 10. In this post, GP discussed the suspension of Tory MP Anne Marie Morris for using the phrase “n****r in the woodpile” at an event held at the East India Club. After her use of this phrase was recorded and publicized, she was suspended by the Tories for what the Financial Times described as a racist remark. According to GP, this punishment was excessive, as the remark in question was not racist; he proceeds “reluctantly” to defend Ms. Morris, as the idiom in question was merely “silly.” While we offer no comment on the appropriateness of the specific punishment Ms. Morris received, we do find this characterization problematic on both moral and empirical grounds, together with many other commentators on social media, and we want to suggest that the author should have been (much) more careful when dealing with such an important topic.

What counts as a racist remark? The range of possibilities is broad, from direct attributions of racial slurs to covert dog-whistles, and it’s ultimately not for us as white individuals, or for anybody outside of the oppressed group in question, to declare exactly what is or is not a racist act. However, it does seem clear to us that the category of racist statements isn’t limited to saying things like “X is a [slur].” Thus GP’s claim that the MP’s statement doesn’t count as a racist remark because she didn't call anyone by the slur is off the mark. Utterances which are judged to be racist remarks even include saying positive things about non-people, e.g., "I love [slur] food!" This fact shows that GP’s definition of racist remarks is far too narrow.

Once we allow racist remarks to include more than predicating a slur of an individual, the ground for defending Morris's remark shrinks substantially. The only such defense is to argue that the appearance of the n-word in an idiom is enough to neutralize its racist meaning component. GP tries this route, but here the post runs into empirical problems given well-known facts about slurs. There is a consensus in the semantic/pragmatic and philosophical literature on the topic that slurs aggressively attach to the speaker, committing them to a racist attitude even in embedded contexts. Consider embedded slurs; imagine Ron Weasley says “Draco thought that Harry was a mudblood”, where attributing the thought to Draco isn’t enough to absolve Ron of expressing the attitudes associated with the slur. Indeed, even mentioning slurs is fraught territory, which is why the authors of most papers on these issues are careful to distance themselves from the content expressed. While we aren’t aware of work on slurs in noncompositional idioms in particular, a moment’s thought is enough to show that just putting a potentially offensive word into an idiom doesn’t defuse it; we would feel uncomfortable saying “the shit hit the fan” in formal situations, for example, although here “shit” lacks its literal meaning. Thus we should expect that the slurring meaning of the n-word survives in the idiom.

Slurs are generally words which have a history of being used to inflict serious emotional distress. Setting aside how it is that they come to do that in first place (which surely must have something to do with both their literal meaning and with their issuers’ hateful intent), they come to have a perverse second effect, as we understand it: they viscerally remind their victims of the hurt they have experienced due to prior use of the word, as summed up by the Langston Hughes quotation excerpted by Geoffrey Nunberg’s post, or by Ice Cube in his recent discussion with Bill Maher: “When I hear a white person say it, it feel like that knife stabbing you, even if they don’t mean to.” And importantly, what we have read and heard from people who have been victimized by these words suggests that any depiction can be such a reminder, whether it is use, mention, quotation, or even just phonetic overlap, as in the very obvious case of an idiom containing a slur, or less obvious cases like similar-sounding but historically unrelated words.

As an analogy, consider someone who has been the victim of repeated axe-violence — someone who has been attacked with axes over and over again over the course of their life, and has been threatened with such attacks even more often. If such a person were to come into contact with even just a depiction of an axe or axe-violence, it would be responsible to assume that the person may well become upset, and maybe even re-traumatized. And importantly, this is independent of anyone’s intent — it wouldn’t matter if I showed such a depiction to such a person with the virtuous intent of wanting to rob these depictions of their power to hurt the victim, for example — it would still very likely cause pain. There would be no reason to expect that that pain would be in any way a function of the depicter’s intent.

Likewise, any depiction of a slur creates the risk of causing hurt to those people who have been historically victimized by the slur, regardless of speaker intent. In this way, the slurring effect of a slur is more like Grice’s (1957) natural meaning than his non-natural (communicative) meaning; it is something the hearer derives from the utterance independent of grammatical convention or of their recognition of the speaker’s intent. See also this discussion of research on the physiological effects “mere words” can have.

These considerations defuse the central claim of GP's linguistic defense of Morris's remark, namely that the meaning of the idiom is "a hitherto concealed unpleasant surprise". Instead, racial slurs are terms that both predicate racial categories of people, and also denigrate those categories (technically, they are “mixed content bearers”). The idiom thus means "a hitherto concealed unpleasant surprise" while at the same time committing the speaker to a racist attitude. It is this second component that we expect to attach to the speaker, even in idiom. That this is the case is also shown by the fact that people have to keep apologizing for using the phrase. In fact, the fact that the MP was suspended and the reporting of the suspension makes use of the term “racist remark” is itself evidence that people naturally get the racist interpretation.

We think that GP's defense of Morris is not tenable on linguistic grounds, but there is a second aspect of the post in question that we find disturbing and important to address. Throughout the post, GP repeatedly mentions the n-word in its uncensored form. In a follow-up to the original post, he says that his refusal to censor is a strategy to avoid giving that word its power. If you take the standard linguistic analysis of slurs, though, the word’s power does not come from mere taboo (i.e., a social prohibition on using or mentioning the word as we see with expletives like "shit"). The word literally has as part of its semantic content an expression of racial hate, and its history has made that content unavoidably salient. It is that content, and that history, that gives this word (and other slurs) its power over and above other taboo expressions. It is for this reason that the word is literally unutterable for many people, and why we (who are white, not a part of the group that is victimized by the word in question) avoid it here.

Yes, even here on Language Log. There seems to be an unfortunate attitude — even among those whose views on slurs are otherwise similar to our own — that we as linguists are somehow exceptions to the facts surrounding slurs discussed in this post. In Geoffrey Nunberg’s otherwise commendable post on July 13, for example, he continues to mention the slur (quite abundantly), despite acknowledging the hurt it can cause. We think this is a mistake. We are not special; our community includes members of oppressed groups (though not nearly enough of them), and the rest of us ought to respect and show courtesy to them.

The sad fact is that linguistics as an academic field has severe diversity issues. These problems are not helped by the strategy above, which, while in the abstract might have its merits, in practice is only hurtful, and only serves as a barrier to those who might find its use painful or insensitive. Certainly, the taboo-ignoring strategy exemplified by GP’s original post is not going to be helpful in solving the problems our field has with lack of diversity. These problems are further evidenced by the fact, mentioned above, that we, the authors, are white, so we cannot directly understand what it feels like to be affected by the slur under discussion. Writing this post discomforts us in light of this fact, but we feel that we have a responsibility to try to further this discussion, and acknowledge that our understanding of the actual harm that comes from the n-word is indirect. For all of us who are not targeted by particular slurs, understanding can only really come from listening to those who have been harmed by them. We strongly encourage everyone to do so.

We want finally to emphasize that it’s not our intention to hang GP from the nearest flagpole, or to implicate in any way that he is himself a racist. We mention this only because some people we have talked about this issue with felt the need to defend him on this count. It hadn’t even entered our minds; we know that language behaviors are deeply ingrained and don’t always reflect our values. Indeed, one of the main points of this note is that speaker intention is not always relevant to these matters. (What’s more, we don’t even believe that debating which individual people may or may not be “racists in their heart of hearts” is a productive way to take on racism.) We are, in fact, fans of GP’s; but we are not fans of this post, for the reasons above.

We are grateful for helpful comments on this note by Carissa Ábrego-collier, Chris Davis, Julia Goldsmith-Pinkham, Prerna Nadathur, and Betsy Pillion.

today is a day God can fucking take back

Thu, Jul. 20th, 2017 04:23 pm
kore: (Orpheus & Eurydice)
[personal profile] kore
MOI: Hey I feel less soul-crushingly depressed, let's see if I can make it from the bed to the sofa.

INTERNET: GUESS WHAT ANOTHER ADDICTED ARTIST WITH A MOOD DISORDER IN YOUR GENERATION DIED, WANNA GUESS HOW, GO ON, JUST GUESS

MOI: //would set shit on fire if not glued to couch


Everybody's sharing that "Hunger Strike" duet but I can't fucking listen to that right now, although they both look so joyful, it just breaks my heart. Been listening to this on repeat instead.



One promise you made
One promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
And dare to rise once more



and this one made me feel a little less crap.

[ SECRET POST #3851 ]

Thu, Jul. 20th, 2017 07:01 pm
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[personal profile] case posting in [community profile] fandomsecrets

⌈ Secret Post #3851 ⌋

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

01.


More! )


Notes:

Secrets Left to Post: 01 pages, 08 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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