Archive for the 'Language' Category

So, You Want to Learn a Language?

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

You can learn (but not master) any language in one hour or less. Don’t believe me? Well, that’s what Tim Ferriss says. He says most language learners neglect the most critical first step in learning a new language: deconstruction. He claims that the fastest language learners deconstruct the language they want to learn before they start memorizing lists of vocab words. His reasoning is that for native speakers of a particular language to learn some languages might be very easy, while others might be nearly impossible.

I took an intro to Linguistics course in Southern California and the instructor also happened to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Most of his students were Japanese students who wanted to learn English, so they enrolled in student exchange programs. My Linguistics instructor and Ferriss both point out that Japanese and Mexican Spanish have very similar sets of sounds (phonemes) in their languages. Many students would become frustrated learning English and wound up learning Spanish from other students at the college.

Treat Language like a sport. If you are very short, you might have more work to do to be a successful basketball player. The same holds for languages that are very different from those you already speak. Learn how to deconstruct a language first so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

New Software Reads and Understands Legalese

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

FineTooth is the fastest and easiest solution for converting paper documents into easily searchable digital information. With their Contract Management Software you have instant access to information no matter where and how the hard-copies are stored. The really interesting part is that their software can read through narrative contracts and automatically index bullet-points, milestones, and dates. This is in the same field of computational linguistics that I’m interested in. It’s amazing that their software can understand these complex documents well enough to pull out this information. We’re getting closer and closer to a robot that can interact with you like C-3PO can. This is exciting stuff!

Sure, He Know How To Write

Thursday, May 18th, 2006

My last final was today. My linguistics teacher threw us a bit of a curve ball. He told us that half of the final would deal with morphology. What he didn’t tell us was that all of the questions would be in reference to a sample of African American Vernacular English. In answering one of the questions I wrote the following in response to the question: Does Katrina use only the uninflected form of the verb be? I answered with the following sentence:

No, she say “I’m,” “it’s,” and others.

Just before I turned it in I noticed and added an s at the end of say. Reading and writing sentences in AAVE for an hour started to influence my writing. That’s something that I never would have expected.

Blow Up or Explode: Does it Matter?

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

In my grammar explode is an intransative verb. I would never say “He exploded the dynamite.” or “She exploded the bridge.” I would say, “She blew up the bridge, or in other words, the bridge exploded.”

Only recently have I found that I am in the minority, although I think most people use blow up more often than explode in their everyday speech. I seem to hear explode used much more often now than I used to. I suppose it’s to avoid ambiguity. I still don’t like the transitive use of explode.

I think I’ve always had this bias, but I think it was strengthened considerably while I lived in Germany. in German explodieren is intransitive, and translates to mean explode in English. If you want a transitive verb, you would use sprengen which, not surprisingly, means blow up. More research needs to be done to determine if the English transitive usage of explode is new or old.

In any case, I don’t like it.

Update: Transitive usage of explode goes back at least 400 years according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

LEGO® Bricks, Logically

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

LEGO® BrickIn my logic class today the professor was illustrating the point that the final conclusion in a mapped argument may not be the main point of the argument. As an illustrative example he related the following scenario.

Imagine that I am building a wall out of LEGO® bricks. I want to make the wall as tall as possible, but it’s still on its side on the ground. I want to add more LEGO® bricks to it, so I ask my friend if she’s done with her LEGO® bricks yet. She says she is done with her LEGO® bricks and that I may use them. Where do I put the LEGO® bricks in order to make the wall taller? You can put the LEGO® bricks at the top or the bottom of the wall. It doesn’t matter, it still makes the wall taller.

I was impressed that he followed the instruction on the back page of the LEGO Company Profile. The 2004 and 2005 versions, and possibly other oversions, include the following recommendations:

Using the LEGO brand name

    Help us to protect our brand name:

  • The LEGO brand name should always be written in capital letters.
  • LEGO must never be used as a generic term or in the plural or as a possessive pronoun, e.g. “LEGO’s”.
  • When the LEGO brand name is used as part of a noun, it must never appear on its own. It should always be accompanied by a noun. For example, LEGO set, LEGO products, LEGO Group, LEGO play materials, LEGO bricks, LEGO universe, etc.
  • The first time the LEGO trademark appears in a headline and in the following text it should be accompanied by the registration symbol ®.

Thank you for helping us!

As it turns out, he had no idea that there were any such recommendations and seemed quite amused that he was “being a good guy and didn’t even know it.” Speaking like that seems so unnatural to me that I was relatively certain that he was doing it on purpose as a result of something he had been taught. LEGO® would have been pleased to know that such brand name usage advocacy is being demonstated in an academic setting.

Rock and Suck

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

In a blog posting at his website,, Jon discusses a scanner that he recently purchased for his computer. He describes its overall quality in the following way:

It’s not rock, but it’s not suck. Apparently, nonsuck is the best the scanner market currently offers.

This is one of the most efficient descriptions of any product’s quality that I’ve ever seen.
The verbs to rock and to suck (meaning to be good or to perfom well, and to be bad or to perform poorly respectively) have been “nouned” here. Usually Nouns get “verbed” in English, but here we see the opposite. A more standard rendering of this sentence would be: “It doesn’t rock, but it doesn’t suck.”