Archive for April, 2010

Pinhead speechlessness

April 22, 2010

Some pinheads are speechless. No speech, but music and mathematical formulas, sometimes together. There are probably mimes lurking about as well. The artwork:

Do languages get (all) the words they need?

April 21, 2010

Commenter Nick on Mark Liberman’s Language Log posting on Icelandic peculiarities, in particular, the lack of a word equivalent to the English politeness marker please:

there’s a couple of points where English is lacking in comparison with other languages.

… 2. The English language can ask questions of quantity only when the answer is cardinal, not ordinal. The answer is “Barack Obama is the 44th President of the USA.” I know “Barack Obama” and I know “President of the USA”, but I need to know the ‘nth’ part. What question do I ask in English?

What’s wrong with English?


The Information Retrieval bumper sticker

April 21, 2010

Photo by Melinda Shore, posted on her Facebook page:

Yes, we all have trouble finding things…

Click on the image to get a larger one, and you’ll see that this is the work of the American Society of Indexers (now, there’s a difficult craft).

Palinian evolution

April 15, 2010

Griffy and Zippy contemplate the immensity of geological time, and the effects of erosion:

Over on Language Log, we’ve posted again and again about so-called “g-dropping” (most English speakers don’t in fact have a final [g] in words spelled with final NG — there’s no actual “erosion” here — but the name is traditional, so the phenomenon of alveolar or dental nasal as a variant of velar nasal in final position is customarily referred to, even by linguists, under its orthography-based name). Pretty much every native speaker of English has some g-dropping in PRP –ing and some compound pronouns in -thing, but there is very complex variation as to who does this, in what social and linguistic contexts, and to what degree. And of course some people are especially likely to detect it from certain speakers — so Sarah Palin tends to take more heat than she probably deserves.

Old vs. new technologies

April 14, 2010

The Zippy and Zits series on old vs. new communications technologies (most recently posted about in this blog here) continue with today’s Zits, on letters vs. txtng:

Postcard collages

April 14, 2010

For some time a while back I created a series of wry collages on academic (mostly linguistic) subjects, according to a strict formula: the background had to be a postcard I had gotten in the mail; I supplied a caption, covering up an existing one where necessary; and I then embellished the composition with stickers from a sticker-a-day assortment for primary school teachers (supplied by Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky), occasionally supplemented by other images.

A framed sampling of these academic “postcard collages” is on display at the Stanford Humanities Center.

Now Ned Deily has scanned an assortment of these and figured out how to make them viewable on-line. There are 39 of them, plus one from another postcard series, in the album here.

Single-click on one of the thumbnail images to get a larger image. Then click on the arrows to move around the display.

Dingburgers are connected

April 12, 2010

In today’s Zippy, we learn that Dingburgers are (almost all of them) intensely plugged in, to the point of having broadband implants placed in their skulls:

The wave of the future?

Another playful portmanteau

April 11, 2010

Hilary Price (of Rhymes With Orange) continues her series on playful portmanteaus — most recent examples I’ve posted on here (nightmarathon) and here (floorganized) — with Petris (pet + Tetris):

More on marinara sauce

April 10, 2010

Rick Brown, in  a 6 April comment on my “semantic change on the menu” posting, quotes me:

“Americans (for whom marinara sauce is just a simple tomato sauce with herbs) feel obliged to stipulate the presence of marine protein if there’s some in the sauce.”

and replies:

This sentence confused me. Did you mean “[…] if they want there to be some in the sauce”?

I was writing from the point of view of someone (a menu writer, a server in a restaurant, a recipe writer, etc.) referring to a sauce, but my comments to follow hold equally for someone requesting a sauce.

In the U.S., such a reference to marinara sauce will be understood as a reference to the U.S.-unmarked marinara sauce, which has no seafood or meat, or in fact mushrooms, in it (but see below). But the expression is not incompatible with the presence of these further ingredients. In the U.S. there are such things as seafood marinara sauce, clam marinara sauce, shrimp marinara sauce, lobster marinara sauce, calamari marinara sauce, crab marinara sauce, fish marinara sauce, salmon marinara sauce, meat marinara sauce, (ground) beef marinara sauce, sausage marinara sauce, chicken marinara sauce, turkey marinara sauce, mushroom marinara sauce, and so on. All of these are types of marinara sauce; that is, X marinara sauce is a subsective compound; in subsective compounds, the compound X Y denotes a type of Y.

The complexity is that some expressions Y are conventionally understood (in certain socio-cultural contexts) as picking out only certain (“unmarked”) types of Y. These conventional understandings can be canceled: if it’s been established that the marinara sauce we’re talking about is curried, or has mushrooms in it, or ground beef, or whatever, then (the/some/etc.) marinara sauce can be used, unproblematically, with this more specific understanding. But in the absence of such a set-up, the more specific understanding requires a stipulation: curried marinara sauce, mushroom marinara sauce, meat marinara sauce, seafood marinara sauce, etc.

In socio-cultural contexts where the conventions are different — in most places outside the U.S., for instance, where the convention is that marinara sauce has seafood in it — the more general understanding has to be stipulated (by, say, vegetarian marinara sauce or via some other expression, like tomato (pasta) sauce).

(What I’ve just said is a considerable expansion of what I said originally, which made assumptions that linguists would naturally supply but which I hoped would nevertheless be comprehensible to others. But I clearly was wrong.)

Now a further twist. For some U.S. speakers, marinara sauce can be used with the general understanding or with the more specific understanding ‘meat marinara sauce’, even more specifically ‘(ground) beef marinara sauce’ (what is known by many in the U.S. as spaghetti sauce), a fact that can make menu references to “marinara sauce” problematic. Here’s one very clear example from many you can find on the net:

Marinara Sauce is the famous Italian tomato sauce. Marinara Sauce can be rich and meaty, good over spaghetti or linguini, or it can be light and vegetarian, for use by itself over pasta, polenta and other dishes, or as a garnish to veal parmigiano or such. Marinara is good with big chunks of wild mushrooms cooked in it and served over pasta. Here is my recipe for a good honest marinara with about any kind of ground meat. Beef of course is a natural. For vegetarian marinara sauce leave out the meat and go a bit lighter on the spices. (link)

(A side issue that I’ve disregarded in all of this discussion is a potential ambiguity in X marinara sauce: ‘marinara sauce (made with) X in it’ or ‘marinara sauce as a sauce for X’. So chicken marinara sauce can refer to marinara sauce with diced or ground chicken it it (the understanding I’ve been discussing) or to a dish with (U.S.-style) marinara sauce on pieces of cooked chicken (an understanding that’s not relevant to my discussion above); pork marinara sauce to marinara sauce with ground pork in it or to a dish with (U.S.-style) marinara sauce on a cooked pork chop or medallion of pork, and so on. Such potential ambiguities are, of course, commonplace in noun-noun compounds.)

The embattled pen

April 10, 2010

The Zippy strip continues its defense of old-fashioned writing materials against the wave of electronica:

But Jeremy in Zits is past the great electronic divide: