Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Utopia: shameless self-promotion

I really hate self-promotion in general, which is why I try to avoid it. On the flip side, if I can't self-promote here, where can I?

So why today? Well, I'm working on a cool project that has to do with language, so it sort of pertains to the blog. This particular book has Latin in it, so it double applies.

Anyway. If you head over to Amazon, you can help pay for lights and heat at my place. If you don't you'll have to wait a few days for the free ebook (which I'll link to from here).

What is so awesome about this book? Thomas More's Utopia (though Amazon thinks it's Vtopia—silly them) in Latin and English. Oh, yeah. And it's priced to sell. Even better, I've got some concordance type information at this site. And that's free.

If you're curious about the insides, it looks somewhat like a Loeb, but as a trade paperback. Or a knockoff I Tatti. Your pick. The big reason for doing this is that other Latin-English editions are really expensive (like $60). I'll probably do Erasmus's Praise of Folly next. Got any suggestions for what else?

But whatever you do, buy fifty million copies of it over at Amazon. I want to go to Istanbul.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

New words for me

So I had to learn 100 new English words for the lexical acquisition class I took. Here they are, warts and all.

  1. polysemous – adj – about word that has several meanings (e.g. bank1, bank2)
  2. tumbleblog – n – a multimedia blog that isn't as text heavy as a more prototypical blog, a blog in the style of tumblr.
  3. fameball – n – "a derogatory term for someone who has an unquenchable desire for fame" from
  4. magnetar – n – neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field, the decay of which powers the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, particularly X-rays and gamma rays
  5. social steganography – n – the practice of users of social media, often teens, to cloak messages with double meaning. (A status update of "Always look on the bright side of life" seems innocuous, unless you know the context of the song and that the author of the comment is making allusion to it. It allows for outsiders to see one reading and insiders to see another. Example from this paper.)
  6. bibelot – n – tschochke, geegaw, but with the overtones that explicitly French borrowings bring to English
  7. postern – n – a door or gate that isn't the primary door or gate
  8. proddie – n – a protestant, use is derogatory and Irish
  9. saccade – n – the jerking motion of the eye across the field of vision
  10. swag – n (possibly adj too) – style, Urban Dictionary has a lot of interesting info on this word, which in some communities may have positive connotations and negative connotations in others. An are-you-joking origin: an acronym for "Secretly We Are Gay", but UD suggests a much more plausible origin in Scots English. More likely origin: an abbreviation of swagger.
  11. incel – adj (also n) – involuntarily celibate
  12. teknonym – n – a name taken from a child (e.g. Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the PLO, is also known as Abu Mazen, which refers to his first son Mazen)
  13. Einzelgänger – n – the opposite of a doppelgänger, unique
  14. ambilingual – adj – a fully fluent and balanced bilingual, the Platonic ideal of bilingualism
  15. arseward(s) – adj – perverse (obsolete), screwed up; I had assumed that back asswards was some sort of play on ass backwards, but no.
  16. intersubjective – adj – occurring between two minds (e.g. When two people use a word, it is intersubjective because they both know the word and agree on its meaning.)
  17. moil – v – to work hard; often collocated with toil – toil and m.
  18. progymnasmata – n – a curriculum of rhetorical development in antiquity
  19. phatic – adj – words that pertain to social relationships rather than their strict meaning
  20. decolletage – n – a low cut neckline in women's fashion
  21. poorism – n – tourism in poverty stricken areas (rhymes with tourism); probably a journalism word as I heard it on the radio (NPR, Worldview, 4 June 2013)
  22. binge watch – v – watching a whole season or series of movies in a very short time, possibly even one sitting: synonym for marathon, though I'm not sure what the exact difference might be
  23. crepitus – n – medical term for cracking knuckles (or any other joint really)
  24. survivorship – n – the state of being a survivor (thanks Wiktionary, I'd have never guessed that)
  25. stanchion – n – an upright bar or post that provides support to something else; the vertical bar in a a leadlight
  26. leadlight – n – a decorative window made with small panes of glass separated by metal bars (though I'm not sure how this is different from stained glass except maybe there's no color in the glass of a leadlight?)
  27. raceway – n – an electrical conduit that is a decorative element rather than hidden behind a structure
  28. spiv – n – a criminal (specifically a con man or black marketeer) who dresses in a flashy manner; probably obsolete
  29. paresthesia – n – pins and needles feeling in a numbed or "asleep" body part
  30. doodlesack – n – bagpipes; possibly obsolete
  31. ergodic – adj – applies to dynamic systems whose average behavior is the same over time when compared to average phase states; applies to Markov chains and thermodynamics
  32. comedo – n – a blackhead
  33. be spoiled – v – to have spoilers told to you
  34. bogie – n – the wheel unit of a train, typically with two axles
  35. journal – n – the part of the axle that lies on bearings
  36. dinkum – n – hard work (regional to Derbyshire)
  37. dinkum – adj – good, excellent, honest (regionalish to Australia)
  38. ology – n – a science; a backformation, its use probably indicates low social status on the speaker's part
  39. pinion – – gear type either within another gear with cogs on the inside or the gear that meshes with the rack
  40. rack – n – a bar with cogs, as if it were a gear built flat instead of round
  41. threequel – n – a second sequel, probably in distinction to part three of a trilogy 
  42. bargainous – adj – an outstanding deal, opposite of spendy
  43. dee – n – police Detectives
  44. slashdot – v – to overwhelm with messages
  45. half handle – n – one of the two pieces of a knife handle that are not the metal part of the knife
  46. tang – n – the metal part of the knife between the two half handles
  47. bolster – n – the thickened metal part of a knife just past the handle
  48. heel – n – the portion of a knife's blade that extends below the handle
  49. guard – n – the taper on the metal between the blade and bolster
  50. back – n – the edge opposite the cutting edge of the knife
  51. skimmer – n – a kitchen utensil with a handle and a round, perforated dish on the end that is used to take food out of liquid or skim things off the top of soups
  52. slot – n – the space between the tines of a fork
  53. demitasse – n – a small cup for coffee, usually used for espresso
  54. ramekin – n – an oven to table dish that is used for individual portions
  55. cork ball – n – the inner cork portion of a baseball
  56. yarn ball – – the outer wound portion of a baseball
  57. cover – n – the leather outside of a baseball
  58. shrift – n – the act of confession, related to shrive
  59. emulous – adj – ambitious, though possibly without the negative connotations (hard to say what connotations ambitious had when RL Stevenson was writing)
  60. coquetry – n – effort to attract attention, often directed from a woman to a man
  61. risk – v – to take a risk (heard in a live interview on the radio, is this a nonce form caused by the ease of zero derivation in English?)
  62. chuff – v – to make a noisy puffing sound like a steam engine (heard every day thanks to Thomas and Friends, defined thanks to class) Source: oh, the horror,
  63. chuff – v – to deliberately and obviously fail a standardized test
  64. chuffed – adj – pleased
  65. shunt – v – to move a train from one track to another or move cars from one train to another (again courtesy of Thomas and Friends)
  66. head – n – the flared load-bearing part of a railway rail
  67. web – n – the thin(ner) part of a rail between the base and head
  68. fishplate – n – the piece that joins two railway rails together
  69. safety line – n – the textured and colored strip at the edge of a train station platform
  70. trough – n – long, narrow area of low pressure, named because of its shape
  71. cornice – n – portion of roof that overhangs the main structure for rain protection
  72. pilaster – n – rectangular column that sticks out of a wall but is structurally insignificant
  73. fore edge – n – the edge of a book opposite the binding
  74. square – n – part of book board that overhangs the block; a book cornice
  75. action – n – the part of a piano that transfers motion between the key and hammer; possibly generalized to (musical) keyboard function
  76. nacelle – n – /ˈnæsl̩/ at M-W, /nəˈsɛl/ at Wiktionary – the boxy part of a windmill between the hub and the mast (and just what is the difference between a mast and stanchion?)
  77. swart – adj – dark; related to swarthy
  78. percy – adj – personal (of a drug stash), which has led to a meaning of unreal or legit
  79. bpw;dr – initialism – behind pay wall; didn't read
  80. avidity – n – greed, intensity of desire
  81. catholicity – n – universality; appears to relate to catholic and Catholic
  82. cheval-glass – n – a full length mirror on a stand that allows the mirror to pivot
  83. arras – n – tapestry, since Arras (a city in France) was a major source of them
  84. tippet – n – a shoulder covering garment, an animal skin draped on the shoulders is a typical example, a scarf worn loose around the neck is another example
  85. bartizan – n – (also bartisan) a wall with projecting battlements like the Spanish fortifications in Cádiz or San Juan (though the word is Scottish in origin)
  86. retronym – n – a term modified to make the original sense explicit as in acoustic guitar, natural turf or white milk; apparently coined by Frank Mankiewicz
  87. annuitant – n – someone who gets an annuity
  88. absquatulate – v – to run off; a joke coinage from the 19th century
  89. hangry – adj – anger caused by hunger; a joke portmanteau of the 21st century (not the only portmanteau of hungry I've seen, just that this one was new)
  90. nyctophilia – n – a love of the night
  91. cat vacuum – v – to be doing something other than the writing you ought to be doing (like collecting words rather than preparing a book I ought to be)
  92. adiabatic – adj – involving no heat transfer into or out of the working fluid of thermodynamic processes; highly associated with process
  93. hegemony – adj – a notion of a power structure involving domination of one group over another; more narrowly a power structure that is not questioned—how Things Are The Way They Are and why they stay that way
  94. memristor – n – passive electrical element (resistor, capacitor and inductor are the other three) caused by imperfect metal-metal contact; portmanteau of memory resistor
  95. coherer – n – radio detector that predates crystal detector; some are memristors
  96. articulated bus – n – one of the really long busses with two halves
  97. slug – v – to carpool informally but not as informal as hitchhiking;, usually to take advantage of HOV lanes (similar to the expresses on the Kennedy, but for cars with multiple passengers) or lower tolls
  98. slug – n – the person who gets a slugged ride; not the driver
  99. tender – n – another name for coal car
  100. tank engine – n – a steam engine that does not have a tender, but carries all fuel and water on-board

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

L2 tactics on L1 vocabulary learning

Since one of the projects in the vocabulary acquisition class is to learn 100 new English words, I figured I could take a page out of L2 teaching. There are some ways of teaching that include pre-reading vocabulary instruction. Why not do the same for L1? Sure, I've got an adult-sized vocabulary, but why make this harder than necessary?

But where to find the words I don't know? Enter the Simple Concordance Program teamed up with Jekyll and Hyde. One of the SCP's tricks is that it can generate a word list by frequency of the word's use. And Jekyll and Hyde is in the public domain, so its text is already txt. So team them up to make a list showing from least frequent (one use for a whole bunch) to most frequent (1,600 uses for the). Scan the words that occur once for likely targets, and you've now got a list of words to learn. 

Just. Like. That.

(I should add that this doesn't add to vocabulary depth or catch all of the likely targets, but it speeds things up quite a bit.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Themes in learning new words

So we’re most of the way through the vocabulary acquisition class now. It’s over next week in fact. In my reading for the class, some common themes cropped up. The following are some take away points for people looking either to improve their vocabulary in their native language or learn vocabulary in a non-native language. Learning new words:
  • is a social process
  • follows your interests
  • depends on your level of engagement.
Let’s take a look at what I mean by this.

It’s a social process. You are somehow going to get these words and their meanings from other people. Period. (I suppose there might be an exception, but most people don’t coin new words the way Shakespeare did. So, period.) To be sure, some of those people will be face to face with you, but written langauge has a broader use of words. Slight data on this point: Of the words in my vocabulary project, only a handful were in any sort of spoken context. The vast majority were from written sources. (I’ll supply some numbers once I finish that project.) I suspect, though haven’t seen anything saying so in peer-reviewed research that
face-to-face > movies/tv > radio > reading
in terms of what format is likely to stick best.

It follows your interests. The words that I have the most trouble recalling are the words that other people gave me on a request. Ergodic is cool, but I’m not that interested in mathematics or thermodynamics. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure to remember bogey—I love riding on the train. My wife likes Scrabble sorts of games, so ai is likely to stay in her vocabulary while I’ll probably forget it because I don’t play those sorts of games.

It depends on your level of engagement. This is somewhat trickier. You are certainly more likely to be engaged when talking about things you are interested in. But you are also more likely to be engaged when you are talking face to face with a person and ask for an explanation of a new word. Likewise, explicit vocabulary instruction in a non-native language—whether from a teacher, fellow student or other speaker—will increase your level of engagement with the new vocabulary. Another anecdote, though involving grammar. On a trip to Spain, I wanted to know how to say “I’m ready to X”. So indicating to the man running the tapas bar, I told him that I wanted to pay and that I was ready. I then asked but how do I say those at the same time. I now know that you ESTAR list@ para INFINITIVE. Because I got a short explanation from him and engaged him in communication, I remember that information several years later.

Coming up: Points specific to non-native language vocabulary

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The power of extensive reading in L2

One technique of learning a second language is extensive reading. It's been known for some time that it can create gains in language knowledge. And if anecdote is the singular of data, that's been my experience. One of the problems with extensive reading is that researchers didn't have much notion about how effective it was in terms of learning vocabulary. Enter Marlise Horst and her measurement study.

Her aim in 2005 was to find two things. 1. How effective is ER—that's so much shorter than extensive reading—for learning new words? 2. How can we test that learning?

I'm going to assume that you're not interested in the second part. Testing is its own thing, and I'm going to figure that most people are more interested in learning vocabulary anyway. I'm interested in ER for the simple reason that dead languages aren't learned by actual interaction with a speech community they way you can do with Tamil or Dutch. So ER is the way, so to speak.

Well, the answer is good news. Despite some problems in the study, all of which Horst acknowledged, there is good lexical growth going on with ER. However, I should add a caveat: the students in the project were not rank beginners. They had a good, though not perfect, grasp on the 2,000 most frequent words in English. And while she only shows that students picked up about 10 or 11 low-frequency words in her testing, they assuredly learned more.

So in practical terms, if you want to learn more vocabulary, you need to read and read widely. Why? There are claims—and I've got no reason to doubt it—that spoken language is much more heavily reliant on high-frequency words (though I think Nation has suggested that the top 5,000 to 7000 are needed for a broad-use spoken vocabulary but the point stands). The upshot is that the only way you'll get exposed to these less-frequent words is to read.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"I was never good in English.”

So said Andrew Shaw after he let slip with a profanity on live television.
It was a great shot, a great setup … [Bleeping] … It was unbelievable. All the guys, we deserved it.
How could he help himself? He scored the tie-breaking goal in a thriller of a hockey game—triple overtime in the finals. I don't know about you, but I'd be a little emotional and prone to let something slip too. In an interview a little later he was asked about what he said.
Slip of the tongue. I couldn’t think at all, actually. Could barely breathe. I think I made up a word in there, too, actually.
All of that is completely understandable. It happens to us all, but then he said something else.
I was never good in English.
As far as I can tell, Shaw is a native English speaker, so there's no reason he shouldn't be good at English. Nor is there anything particularly unusual about the comment. I've heard similar sentiments often enough. Setting aside written English, I wonder how many people feel that way about themselves? It's no wonder they do. You can find a powerpoint about this topic here (it gets specific to English on page 19 and the meat of the matter on page 28).

My point is this: as a native speaker, your language use is fine. Your tongue may slip on occasion. But on the whole, you're fine. And if it isn't? Then we better let the cardinals in Maine know about how poorly they sing their song. They don't sing it the same as cardinals in Illinois, where cardinals are the state bird and would know the official song.

Edit to add: As a Chicagoan, I feel I should say something like, "Go 'Hawks!" So, here it is. Go 'Hawks!

All of Shaw's quotes are taken from this Yahoo Sports article.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Noun incorporation in English?

No less than F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby.

But first some explanation. Just what am I talking about? Consider this word:
It describes a person who walks dogs. The key is that in English we don't care if there are twelve dogs, three dogs or just one. The exact dogs being walked don't matter. You would never say something like this:
This word isn't any good in English. It wants to make a distinction we don't want to make. It's not that you could go for this form optionally. In fact, it would seem to imply that there are specific dogs being walked in both cases, but we don't want that in English. It's good enough to be generic. Now, it turns out that there are some languages that allow for that—Mohawk for one. You can take the verb's object and glom it onto the verb. You keep the same meaning as if you hadn't. It's called noun incorporation since the verb incorporates the noun into itself.

And it's not normally a feature of English, so you cannot imagine how surprised I was to see Fitzgerald say this:
…the electric trains, men-carrying, were plunging home…
Now I don't actually think Fitzgerald was doing this to prove a point. I don't even know that he knew what he was doing, though it must have been on purpose. It's too weird to not be on purpose. He's violating a real rule in English grammar. It leapt off the page for me, so I'd not be surprised to hear it did the same while editors were having their way with the text. Likewise, I'm sure the printers noticed to as they were making plates. It's just weird, but there it is.

Fitzgerald has glommed a plural object (men) onto the verb (carrying). Oh, sure, there's a hyphen there, but it almost serves to underline the weird usage.

In case you don't believe me, here's the page the quote is taken from.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Word frequency lists

One of the things a Latin nerd is up against is poor word frequency lists. In English, there are lots of good lists. The frequency data from COCA is top notch.

If you look at their big list, you'll see that somehow they manage to deal with inflected forms: be, which is English's most inflected word, is in second place. Properly so. But then you go to a pre-cooked Latin frequency list and the various forms of esse are scattered. And to a degree I understand. It's easier to build a frequency list that ignores these sorts of things. Quo could belong to quo or qui/quae/quod or quis/quid. I suppose there are ways around it, but then you start getting into having to program a computer to know the difference. I don't want to think about teaching a computer the difference between cum1 and cum2. But to some degree that's small potatoes.

Perseus has a word frequency tool buried in the results page of the word study tool, and it's pretty cool. But as a frequency analysis for fax shows, it's got an idiosyncratic approach to defining the corpus (i.e. de senectute is its own corpus and so is epistulae ad familiares and so on and so on). So at Perseus you get an idea of frequency, so long as you're not interested in a broader vision of Latinity. Other lists give you an absolute ranking and no more. Some give you the lemma others give you the assorted word forms. And then there's a super list that I love (it's true) from Dickinson College Commentaries.

In any case, I've not found one that's good at tracking down collocations—its own can of worms. Oh, woe to someone whose interest in Latin goes beyond the literary, historical or pedagogical. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

L2 vocab project: Persian

I've settled on Persian for my non-English language for the vocabulary acquisition class. It's a language I'm fascinated by for a host of reasons. It's Indo-European and has a very long history—and I'm a sucker for history like that. And while modern Persian isn't its ancient counterpart, I'm also fascinated with the interplay between Iran and the West, which has been going on for years. And I'd like to go there, because it looks way cool. Alas, money is the biggest obstacle. Though the state based in Washington doesn't think it should be easy for me to go there either (and I'm not entirely sure that the state based in Tehran feels much differently).

So I'll get a little vicarious. As usual, I'll be blogging my way through this mess. In order to keep things from getting off track here, I'm setting up a blog here. To help anchor the words in the culture of Iran, I'm going to pick out proverbs. For one, you can't separate a language from its culture. For another, one of the aspects of a language that has been hinted at in class is set blocks of speech. And I really hope to be able to tell you more about formulaic speech in upcoming entries.