Friday, April 30, 2010

brain modules that comprise the Language Organ

Instead, humans rely on several regions of the brain, each designed to accomplish different primitive tasks, in order to make sense of a sentence. Depending on the type of grammar used in forming a given sentence, the brain will activate a certain set of regions to process it, like a carpenter digging through a toolbox to pick a group of tools to accomplish the various basic components that comprise a complex task.
"We're using and adapting the machinery we already have in our brains," said study coauthor Aaron Newman. "Obviously we're doing something different [from other animals], because we're able to learn language unlike any other species. But it's not because some little black box evolved specially in our brain that does only language, and nothing else."

D: variable word order in sign language makes it useful.
The brain uses different parts for rigid word order and Latinate infixes.
I..e analytic versus synthetic.

In fact, Newman said, in trying to understand different types of grammar, humans draw on regions of the brain that are designed to accomplish primitive tasks that relate to the type of sentence they are trying to interpret. For instance, a word order sentence draws on parts of the frontal cortex that give humans the ability to put information into sequences, while an inflectional sentence draws on parts of the temporal lobe that specialize in dividing information into its constituent parts, the study demonstrated.

D: I'll get around to that SPE-derived Espo critique eventually. Been distracted by the nice weather, taking lotsa long bike rides in the countryside.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


D: article by author I mentioned last blog.

The very first lines of the first Star Trek movie in 1979 were in Klingon: wIy cha'! HaSta! cha yIghuS! And those few words—which were subtitled as "Tactical … Visual … Tactical, stand by on torpedoes!"

Klingon is something altogether different. There is a logic behind it; a linguist doing field research among Klingon speakers would be able to work out the system and describe it as he would an exotic indigenous tongue. This is not surprising, considering that Klingon was created by Marc Okrand, a linguist whose dissertation was a grammar of a now-extinct Native American language.

Okrand filled the language with back-of-the-throat sounds and made up a rich war vocabulary but left out social pleasantries like "Hello." (The closest translation for hello in Klingon is nuqneH —"What do you want?").
Knowing that fans would be watching closely, Okrand worked out a full grammar. He cribbed from natural languages, borrowing sounds and sentence-building rules, switching sources whenever Klingon started operating too much like any one language in particular. He ended up with something that sounds like an ungodly combination of Hindi, Arabic, Tlingit, and Yiddish and works like a mix of Japanese, Turkish, and Mohawk. The linguistic features of Klingon are not especially unusual (at least to a linguist) when considered independently, but put together, they make for one hell of an alien language.

D: 250,000 dictionaries sold, while only about 25 speakes are fluent.
I think those might be the same ratios we encountered with Esperanto 'native speakers', roughly.
I wonder if it holds up across the board.
See my earlier blog on that subject, coupla months ago now.

Next entry: how modern pop song lyrics compare to old sonnet forms.

Monday, April 26, 2010

ontario courts have trouble finding translators

D: and the Supreme Court too.

The use of interpreters in Ontario courtrooms could become a serious issue after about 40 per cent in the first group failed the new proficiency tests

Read more:

D: I read 1/3 failed and 1/3 are not functional.

I can hear the refrains.
Just learn English! Just find good translators!

How do you convey something in another language? There's an Italian saying, "traduttore, traditore." That is, "translator, traitor.

D: I wonder if an artifically designed auxiliary language, or a highly controlled natural language, still seem 'too hard'.

D: too expensive?
See the 1/4 -1/5 of operating budget that EU/ UN translation services consume.

Still too hard? Still too expensive?

Try too stuck in our ways. Too bigotted (sp.) as Anglos that everybody should learn English.
We'll regret that sentiment. By 2100, The Chinese will be saying 'just learn Mandarin!' in exasperation.

Try it sometime.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Post #156. Cool book on aux-langs!

D: my friend Laura recommended this.

About the Author
Arika Okrent received a joint PhD in the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Psychology's Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Program at the University of Chicago. She has also earned her first-level certification in Klingon

In the Land of Invented Languages
Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon, which was nothing more than a television show’s attempt to create a tough-sounding language befitting a warrior race with ridged foreheads. But few people have heard of Babm, Blissymbolics, and the nearly nine hundred other invented languages that represent the hard work, high hopes, and full-blown delusions of so many misguided souls over the centuries.

In In The Land of Invented Languages, author Arika Okrent tells the fascinating and highly entertaining history of man’s enduring quest to build a better language.

"A lively, informative, insightful examination of artificial languages -- who invents them, why, and why most of them fail. I loved this book."

- Will Shortz, Crossword Editor, New York Times

D: actually, the large majority of people I've met have NEVER heard of Esperanto.
They HAVE heard of Klingon.
In the blue-collar world, people have also never heard of Chomsky.
I nearly fell over when I realized that.
(Shakes head sadly.)

Jason, my roomie, pointed out the sad story of Hitler and Zamenhof's family.

Three decades after Zamenhof's death Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union deemed Esperanto a dangerous part of some ill-defined Zionist conspiracy. During World War II Zamenhof's grown children, Adam, Zofia and Lidja, were all imprisoned and executed by Nazi Germany.

D: I reiterate my criticisms of Esperanto. What is OK for Europe may not be OK for the rest of the world. And don't treat the public like beta-testers. That is uncool with video games, and it is myopic with aux-langs. Plus don't think a Model T Ford is the solution to our transportion solution - go forward, not back. Classic, yes. Obsolete, also yes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

interesting origin of the 'jesus fish'

Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for "Jesus".
Chi (ch) is the first letter of Christos (Χριστὸς), Greek for "The anointed".
Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), Greek for "God's", the genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, Greek for "God".
Upsilon (y) is the first letter of yios (Υἱὸς), Greek for "Son".
Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for "Savior".

D: the ichthys is a fish in old Greek.
Each letter in turn stands for some quality.
So we have an end-result pictogram of a fish, after deriving an acronym that resembles a word from an alphabet.

And the 8 spoked wheel looks a lot like a stylized Hioxian figure.

Plus a coupla spoof pics.
Of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Lovecraft's Cthulu.

Monday, April 19, 2010

machine makes vowel sounds. thoughts on texting.

First experiments with sound
Bell's father encouraged Aleck's interest in speech and, in 1863, took his sons to see a unique automaton, developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone based on the earlier work of Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen.[21] The rudimentary "mechanical man" simulated a human voice. Aleck was fascinated by the machine and after he obtained a copy of von Kempelen's book, published in German, and had laboriously translated it, he and his older brother Melville built their own automaton head. Their father, highly interested in their project, offered to pay for any supplies and spurred the boys on with the enticement of a "big prize" if they were successful.[21] While his brother constructed the throat and larynx, Aleck tackled the more difficult task of recreating a realistic skull. His efforts resulted in a remarkably lifelike head that could "speak", albeit only a few words.[21] The boys would carefully adjust the "lips" and when a bellows forced air through the windpipe, a very recognizable "Mama" ensued, to the delight of neighbors who came to see the Bell invention.[22]

Intrigued by the results of the automaton, Bell continued to experiment with a live subject, the family's Skye terrier, "Trouve".[23] After he taught it to growl continuously, Aleck would reach into its mouth and manipulate the dog's lips and vocal cords to produce a crude-sounding "Ow ah oo ga ma ma." With little convincing, visitors believed his dog could articulate "How are you grandma?" More indicative of his playful nature, his experiments convinced onlookers that they saw a "talking dog."

Thoughts on texting.

I only started texting this year. I never needed -or wanted - a cell phone before.
However, I need it now, since I am often on call as a security guard.
LOL! The manual never explained how to text. Since 'everybody' knows how already! I didn't...

Ah, those timeless lines from Hamlet! (Here translated into texting by an online service, Lingo2Word)

O, w@ a rogue n peasant slave am I!
S it nt monstrous dat dis playa hre,

owe, what a scoundrel and a low level person in
society slave am I!
is it not monstrous dat this player here,

D: see omniglot. This resembles quite a few historical shorthand systems.

D: or predictive spelling.


Consider a typical phone keypad:

Suppose a user wishes to type "The". In a traditional "multi-tap" keypad entry system, it would be necessary to do the following:
Press 8 (tuv) once to select t.
Press 4 (ghi) twice to select h.
Press 3 (def) twice to select e.

Meanwhile, in a phone with predictive text, it is only necessary to:
Press 8 once to select the (tuv) group for the first character.
Press 4 once to select the (ghi) group for the second character.
Press 3 once to select the (def) group for the third character.


As mentioned above, the key sequence 4663 on a telephone keypad, provided with a linguistic database in English, will generally be disambiguated as the word "good". However, the same key sequence also corresponds to other words, such as "home", "gone", "hoof", "hood" and so on. Such confusions may lead to mistaken meaning even if all of the words are typed correctly and spelled correctly. For example, "Are you home?" could be rendered as "Are you good?"

Words produced by the same combination of keypresses are technically paragrams,, but may be referred to as "textonyms" (or "txtonyms",) or "T9onyms" (pronounced "tynonyms")., though the phenomenon has nothing to do with T9 per se and occurs in other systems.
Reportedly, textonyms may be adopted in regular speech; for example, the use of the word "book" to mean "cool" since book is debatably considered more frequent than "cool" by some predictive text systems , "idiom" to mean "Heino" (an abbreviation for "Heineken", used in Dublin) and "Zonino!" used to mean "Woohoo!".
Disambiguation failure and misspelling

Textonyms in which a disambiguation systems gives more than one dictionary word for a single sequence of keystrokes, are not the only issue, or even the most important issue, limiting the effectiveness of predictive text implementations. More important, according to the above references, are words for which the disambiguation produces a single, incorrect response. The system may, for example, respond with "Blairf" upon input of 252473, when the intended word was "Blaire" or "Claire" both of which correspond to the keystroke sequence, but are not, in this example, found by the predictive text system. When mis-typings or mis-spellings occur, they are very unlikely to be recognized correctly by a disambiguation system, though error correction mechanisms, such as used on the Apple iphone keyboard, may mitigate that effect.

D: so if you see 'good' in lieu of 'food', context likely provides enough meaning to allow you to guess correctly.

D: it is terribly unfortunate that S must accessed as the FOURTH letter - that is a lot of work for plurals!
Even the hacker EZ ending is no easier.

D: short of a revision of alphabet order in line with Morse Code, I cannot think of an easy solution.

Herbert S. Zim, in his classic introductory cryptography text "Codes and Secret Writing", gives the English letter frequency sequence as "ETAON RISHD LFCMU GYPWB VKXJQ Z", the most common letter pairs as "TH HE AN RE ER IN ON AT ND ST ES EN OF TE ED OR TI HI AS TO", and the most common doubled letters as "LL EE SS OO TT FF RR NN PP CC". [1]

D: so what would an optimized keypad look like? Perhaps the following.


D: so how does this system fare? Let's try the most common word, "the".
Old: t 8 one tap, h 4 two taps, e 3 two taps. That's um... 5 taps.
New: t one tap. h two taps, e 1 tap. For 4 taps. Not great.
But that's just a blip.

D: or "of". Old: SIX taps. New: THREE taps. But this is misleading, since O and F are on the same button.
I wait 3 seconds to hit the same key again. So that's +3 taps, arbitrarily.
One more try.

"And". Old: FOUR. New: also FOUR.
OK, I can see that the mechanical clockwork mapping of letter neglects certain realities about word frequency.

Doubled letters remain punitive on texting time.

Oddly, the existing alphabet system if pretty good for common 2-letter sequences.
I would be intrigued what is the optimized cellphone text alphabet layout.
Any takers?


Update: am waiting on my copy of Chomsky's SPE. It will take me a long time to master this. Damn notation... grr.
It should arrive for this next weekend. That's $60 - my sole next hardcover book acquisition any time soon. Ouch.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

kipf's law revisited. next entry.'s_law

D: I did not quite understand what this law is.

Zipf's law states that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, which occurs twice as often as the fourth most frequent word, etc. For example, in the Brown Corpus "the" is the most frequently occurring word, and by itself accounts for nearly 7% of all word occurrences (69,971 out of slightly over 1 million). True to Zipf's Law, the second-place word "of" accounts for slightly over 3.5% of words (36,411 occurrences), followed by "and" (28,852). Only 135 vocabulary items are needed to account for half the Brown Corpus.

D: nonetheless, it shows that common words should also be brief- and easy.

Next entry.
Well the university library wants SPE back. I paid 5 bux in late fines so far.
I can see I need more time with the book to figure it out.
I ordered it for 60 bux from the local Coles book store.
It should be in within 2 weeks.

The young woman behind the counter at the book store had heard of Esperanto. She is a language enthusiast.
That is the only type that HAS heard of it. I find it nearly impossible to retain what Esp-o I've learned without somebody to practise it with. Ditto ASL.

Next blog.

I plan to look at Esperanto words, and then guess how an Anglophone will deform them using English rules for altering syllable stress and sounds.

The more I read, the more I think any aux-lang worth its salt must avoid treating voiced/voiceless consonant pairs as discrete.