Category: language and communication

What is language, really?  Vocal acrobatics are somehow converted by the brain of the listener/reader into meaningful utterances, at which point communication takes place.  This category examines those broad issues: how does communication occur (or fail to occur)?

Biden’s plagiarism alone disqualifies him

Stopping plagiarism is as hard as defining it. As long as certain ideas, themes, personages, etc., remain in the public domain, there will be accusations – but not necessarily dishonesty. Biden’s plagiarism is at a whole different level.

 

 

Don’t forget why God made your eyes — plagiarize!

Tom Lehrer, “Lobachevsky”

I’m involved in a fair number of plagiarism cases.   In non-fiction allegations, I typically represent a student who has omitted quotation marks, possibly because he/she was lifting what appeared to be basic background information.  There are very few ways of saying some things with the appropriate degree of precision (especially in legal and scientific writing).

Political language 2019: simpler but no less devious

Political speech – simpler, but no less devious

Definitions of “politician”:

An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared.

Ambrose Bierce

(One who) divides mankind into two classes: tools and enemies.  That means he knows only one class: enemies.

Friedrich Nietzsche

[Someone] who identifies the sound of his own voice with the infallible voice of the public.

Joseph K. Howard

A set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people and who…are, taken as a mass, at least one step removed from honest men.

“You have the right to remain silent…”: On understanding the Miranda warning (it’s not so easy)

The famous Miranda warning – “you have the right to remain silent…” — is actually very difficult to understand, especially for non-native speakers, who often give up their rights without knowing what they are.

1. You have the right to remain silent.
2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
3. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned.
4. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you wish one.
(After the warning and in order to secure a waiver, the following questions should be asked and an affirmative reply secured to each question.)
1. Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you?
2. Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to me now?

Language and the “Catfish” Scam (“It’s the Grammar!”)


The tongue of man is a twisty thing
There are plenty of words there
Of every kind
The range of words is wide
And their variance

— Homer, Iliad

If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.

— Confucius.

I’ve spent a lifetime learning about language. As I pay attention, I continue to learn. Here’s a true story about something I recently learned about language. I call it “It’s the grammar, stupid.”

Dr. Phil hunts online love-scammers

RIP Philip Roth, prophet of political correctness

 

Philip Roth produced a tremendous volume of work, on a machine like this. In “The Anatomy Lesson,” he writes of a man tortured by neck pain – possibly from all the typewriting.

“He had learned the worst lesson that life can teach – that it makes no sense.”

― Philip Roth, American Pastoral
“You put too much stock in human intelligence, it doesn’t annihilate human nature.”
― Philip Roth, American Pastoral

 

A prophet of political correctness

One of my favorite authors, Philip Roth, died recently, leaving a magnificent body of work. Unlike other personal faves, Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud, who composed mostly in the key of J (for “Jewish”; Malamud’s The Natural is an exception), Roth’s versatility was truly impressive.

The weaponization of language

Our society is divided by many conflicting forces, but two of them are in our face almost all the time, roiling America like the whirling blades of the old MixMaster – and causing just as much confusion.

Both are related to the field in which I was trained – linguistics. Both center on language – not surprising, since language is a multi-purpose tool without which we would not be human.

I think of them as two mega-issues, each with a constellation of sub- and intersecting issues.

  1. 1. Hate speech and fighting words

Trump, Trump, Trump: desperately seeking synonyms

Charles Dickens is famous for giving his characters whimsical names that often reflect their personalities.  “Scrooge” is probably the best-known, unmistakably conveying a grasping miserliness in almost tangible terms.

If Dickens had written about a vulgar, aggressive billionaire intent on seeking power, crushing his enemies, and emblazoning his name around the world, he could hardly have chosen a better name than “Trump.”

But we’re not talking about a literary character.  Trump is a real person who makes sure his name is repeated 24/7 in every possible mass-media outlet.

over-Trumpified

Questions about the war on clickbait

“People tell us they don’t like stories that are misleading, sensational, or spammy. That includes clickbait headlines that are designed to get attention and lure visitors into clicking on a link.”

Facebook blog

So Facebook has declared war on clickbait.  The post defines three categories.

“Spammy” I can understand. But we already have protection built into our email services — and, hopefully, our minds.

The Language of “The Passion”

If we can set aside, just for a moment, our passions about “The Passion,” we can view it as a movie with some really good linguistic special effects.

Below is the full text version of an article entitled “The Jesuit scholar who translated ‘The Passion'” (by Nathan Bierma, Special to the Tribune. Chicago Tribune, Mar 4, 2004). The footnote numbers refer to my comments at the end.


Obscured by the furor surrounding Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is one relatively mundane bit of trivia: Last week’s debut marked the widest release ever of a subtitled film in North America.

Beyond “Fun” linguistics: The Deconstruction of BS and the Search for Truth

I suppose I should not be shocked by the trivialization, in the popular view, of the discipline to which I devoted so many years of my life and still consider myself a practitioner: linguistics — the objective, scientific study of language. I’m not surprised because many sciences get trivialized. The ongoing search for knowledge of nutrition spawns health fads and new diets galore. The data of biology and astrophysics are twisted to support crackpot theories of creationism. The bewilderingly complex study of climate change is as polluted by politics and emotion as the environment is itself polluted with human, toxic waste.