Monday, November 26, 2007

Lesser-Evil Politics and Endless Despair

If you are like me in feeling utterly disgusted with and unrepresented by both major political parties in this country, and I suspect you are, why do you keep voting for them? No, but seriously.

The argument that everybody endlessly gives, viz. that otherwise the other, worse, party will get elected is, frankly, asinine. It seems like some kind of mass insanity which inevitably results in nothing but the ongoing prosperity of the completely unacceptable status quo. The plain fact is that we will never have a genuine democracy in the U.S. until there are more than two viable parties to choose from, and this fact should in itself be enough to persuade anybody that voting Democrat is a Bad Idea.

I would never, ever vote for a candidate who did not openly and without reservation support same-sex marriage, a woman's right to choose, socialized medicine, funding for social programs, a firm boundary between the government (and education) and religion, massive reduction of our military budget, and environmental well-being over corporate greed -- and neither should any intelligent, responsible, ethical person.

Seriously, people, there needs to be a change in this country, and it needs to happen now. This means you. Don't support the parties whose primary goal is not to rock the boat for fear of losing Ohio.

(For information, here is a comparison of Democrat/Republican positions on a number of key issues compared with the Green Party. Note that I don't necessarily advocate the Greens specifically, but I find this chart instructive.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

More funky relativization

The story you're about to hear is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, at their surprisingly adamant insistence.

So the other day I was talking to a co-worker, Micole Arny, about the fact that she had come back from lunch very sleepy and somewhat confused, at which point she uttered the following phrase:

"Do you know what's fault it is?"

She was going to follow this up with a description of the enormous burrito she had just consumed, but was immediately interrupted by my impassioned demands to know whether she had just said what it sounded like she had just said.

It's confirmed: not only did she say this, but she felt completely unselfconscious about it even when questioned. Clearly this is an exciting development.

That this could happen is, of course, not all that surprising, especially by analogy with "whose" which sounds like "who" plus a possessive suffix (in fact, isn't "whose" hwæs in OE, the genitive of hwa "who?" This makes sense because hwæs would also be the genitive of hwæt "what," giving rise to this whole problem). It is, indeed, a fairly stupid thing about English that it lacks a standard way to relativize an inanimate possessor in a manner that doesn't sound completely ridiculous: "the book whose cover had been defaced" sounds marginally acceptable, but certainly not "Do you know whose fault it is?" with the meaning that Micole intended.

...and so we're forced to circumlocute, or if we're more adventurous, invent some new, more convenient morphology. Any bets on whether this one will be "normal" in 100 years?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Gapless relative clauses in Polish

I am thrilled to report that a few weeks ago I was finally able to capture this odd relative construction that my grandmother occasionally perpetrates in Polish. The "standard" phrase would run something like this:

Tomek, którego poznałeś...
Tommy-NOM, which-ACC meet-PAST-2SG
"Tommy, whom you met..."

Really a very normal Indo-European relativization strategy. The somewhat weirder one that my grandmother has been observed to do is as follows:

Tomek, co go poznałeś...
Tommy-NOM, what him-ACC meet-PAST-2SG
"Tommy, that you met him...," i.e., "Tommy, whom you met..."

So instead of a declined relative pronoun, we have what may be an invariable marker something like the English "that," followed by the relative clause with a retained pronoun. I have never (consciously) observed pronoun retension in Polish relative constructions in any other context.

It would be interesting to find out how common this is, and whether that "co" is really indeclinable in this construction -- under ordinary circumstances, of course, it has the full array of forms: co, czego, czemu, czym, etc. I'll have to try to come up with a test that I can administer to my grandmother without making her self-conscious.

Interestingly, by the way, my mother's usual way of phrasing this kind of relative clause in English is a nearly perfect analog to this Polish clause: "Tommy, who you met him..."

Other comparative linguists out there: how often does this pronoun-retension strategy manifest itself in Indo-European? The only IE language I'm aware of in which this is the standard is Farsi, if I'm not mistaken.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The best of the best of craigslist

Potato Cannon

Date: 2007-08-06, 11:21AM EDT

It's 8ft long. My neighbors figured out what was happening so I need to get rid of it today.

  • Location: Park Slope
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

(Original post here)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I love cleaning vomit

...I mean, who doesn't, right? But no, I mean I REALLY love cleaning
up vomit. I think some people might even be surprised by the way my
face lights up whenever I'm informed that someone has let out the
peacock in the bathroom sink and could I please deal with it. And
really, the more easily identifiable the chunks are, the better I like
it. Large pieces of steak in particular really do it for me for some
reason. And can we talk quantity for a minute? When I'm cleaning my
vomit, I like there to be enough to really get both of my hands
immersed in it -- not that I'd turn up my nose at cleaning up a thin
puddle on the floor, but the experience isn't as transcendental.

Does this make me a weirdo in some way?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Those halcyon days of ASCII

Remember X-SAMPA? I think Mr. Parrish and I may be alone on this one. It seems to be gradually disappearing from the internet in the face of Unicode, which for once I can't fully say I'm in favor of. The thing is that sometimes I'm writing an e-mail and want to transcribe something phonetically, but I'm not in the mood to search through code tables to try to find the proper diacritic -- and then not be sure that the client's Unicode compatibility will be advanced enough to successfully decode my message on the other end.

I was surprised never to hear a word about any of the ASCII schemes for encoding the IPA during all my years in UC Berkeley's linguistics department. I think awareness needs to be raised that there is actually a standard way of doing this.

Here, then, is the X-SAMPA chart, as salvaged from one of only two places I could still find it in less than an hour of searching. Now that this is up here I figure I can use these symbols in my e-mails with impunity, n'est-ce pas?

Addendum, two weeks later: My self-righteousness about this wonderful standard may not have been fully warranted, given my discovery that I apparently actually use a mish-mash of X-SAMPA and Kirshenbaum, determined largely by my aesthetic judgments on the merits of the two systems. But let's be reasonable, who in their right mind would even consider using "%" for secondary stress? And [æ] is clearly supposed to be represented by "&" instead of "{". Basically, I would like people please to use the conventions in effect on the conlang listserv back in the mid-90's. Thank you.