We spent one week in Almaty and one week in Astana, with a day in Bishkek and a train journey across Kazakhstan. It was every bit as wonderful as I could have imagined, and we had an amazing time. The people are so lovely and the cities so beautiful.
We spent one week in Almaty and one week in Astana, with a day in Bishkek and a train journey across Kazakhstan. It was every bit as wonderful as I could have imagined, and we had an amazing time. The people are so lovely and the cities so beautiful.
As I've observed several times over the years, automatic speech recognition is getting better and better, to the point where some experts can plausibly advance claims of "achieving human parity". It's not hard to create material where humans still win, but in a lot of ordinary-life recordings, the machines do an excellent job.
Just like human listeners, computer ASR algorithms combine "bottom-up" information about the audio with "top-down" information about the context — both the local word-sequence context and various layers of broader context. In general, the machines are more dependent than humans are on the top-down information, in the sense that their performance on (even carefully-pronounced) jabberwocky or word salad is generally rather poor.
But recently I've been noting some cases where an ASR system unexpectedly fails to take account of what seem like some obvious local word-sequence likelihoods. To check my impression that such events are fairly common, I picked a random youtube video from YouTube's welcome page — Bill Maher's 6/23/2017 monologue — and fetched the "auto-generated" closed captions.
Here's an example that combines impressive overall performance with one weird mistake:
5:07 Mitch McConnell says he wants a vote
5:10 before the 4th of July when Trump voters
5:13 traditionally blow their hands off
5:19 oh the fourth of July hey summers here
5:24 boy it was real Beach weather in Phoenix
5:26 the other day did you see that it was
5:28 122 122 plains could not take off hey
5:34 climate deniers
5:36 if melting IceCaps and rising oceans and
5:40 pandemics aren't enough to scare you not
5:42 being able to leave Phoenix that should
I'll give the machine a pass on "summers" instead of "summer's", and we can ignore the issue of "oh" vs. "ah", and forgive the hallucinated "work" at the end — but "plains could not take off"? In Psalm 114:4 the mountains skipped like rams, but not even then did the plains take off.
A bit later:
6:32 but speaking of solar Donald Trump broke
6:36 some news at the rally that the wall you
6:39 know the wall between us and Mexico it's
6:41 going to have solar panels on he said it
6:43 was his idea solar battles okay so the
6:47 wall which is never going to be built
6:49 which Mexico is never going to be paying
6:52 for which now has imaginary so propels
6:56 on because if it's one big Donald Trump
6:59 AIDS it's fake news
So the system got "solar panels" right the first time, but then heard "solar battles" and "so propels". In fairness, Maher kind of garbles the last one into something like "solar pels":
But still, I don't think anyone in the audience heard "so propels".
And then at the end, "if it's one thing Donald Trump hates it's fake news" get turned into "if it's one big Donald Trump AIDS it's fake news":
In that case, I don't hear any acoustic phonetic excuses. And surely "one thing Donald Trump hates" is a priori a more probable word string than "one big Donald Trump AIDS"…
I don't know which generation of ASR Google is using to generate YouTube captions. But it's possible that this sort of thing is an example of the sometimes-peculiar behavior of RNN language models.
Due to my job involving taking phone calls from people living in London, I have noticed a linguistic phenomenon that intrigues me: some people whose first language seems likely to not be English display a tendency to use /jespliːz/ (with timing as if it was a single word) as the affirmative rather than simply /jes/.
We all struggled with the heat this week. This house does a good cross-breeze when such a thing is worth doing - this week that was usually from approx 9pm to 7am, so a lot of opening and closing windows and doors according to temperature and people being awake. We acquired a standing fan to help. I did a lot of waking up about 5am to open things and then droop back on my bed waiting for the breeze to help. I think I'd be a lot less resentful of the lost sleep if I'd been able to be productive with the time, but no.
I went out to a PARTY yesterday and enjoyed catching up with people, and being introduced to Subjective Guess Who? This is played using the standard board game set, but you can only ask questions which have no objective answer - some memorable ones from last night included "Have they ever played World of Warcraft?" and "Are they a morning person?". The kibbitzing from the audience is the best part.
Going to the party was utterly self-indulgent given the state of my studying since the election. Today will probably not include much studying either, as plans already include: taking C to see Transformers: The Last Knight, attempting to get some sandals beforehand, getting in my weekly call to my mother before she gets on a bus to San Francisco, and making the cheating version of Tudor costume for C's class trip to Kentwell this week.
Jamil Anderlini in the Financial Times (6/21/17), "The dark side of China’s national renewal", writes:
To an English-speaking ear, rejuvenation has positive connotations and all nations have the right to rejuvenate themselves through peaceful efforts.
But the official translation of this crucial slogan is deeply misleading. In Chinese it is “Zhonghua minzu weida fuxing” and the important part of the phrase is “Zhonghua minzu” — the “Chinese nation” according to party propaganda. A more accurate, although not perfect, translation would be the “Chinese race”.
That is certainly how it is interpreted in China. The concept technically includes all 56 official ethnicities, including Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Koreans, but is almost universally understood to mean the majority Han ethnic group, who make up more than 90 per cent of the population.
The most interesting thing about Zhonghua minzu is that it very deliberately and specifically incorporates anyone with Chinese blood anywhere in the world, no matter how long ago their ancestors left the Chinese mainland.
“The Chinese race is a big family and feelings of love for the motherland, passion for the homeland, are infused in the blood of every single person with Chinese ancestry,” asserted Chinese premier Li Keqiang in a recent speech.
This is a highly perceptive, and troubling, article that merits reading in its entirety.
In this post, I will focus on some key terms.
First of all, front and center, what is this mínzú 民族? It can mean lots of things: nation, nationality, people, ethnic group, race, volk. This is not the first time that mínzú 民族 has erupted on the international stage. One of the most notable instances was four years ago, emanating right here from the University of Pennsylvania. The incident is well recounted by R.L.G. in "Johnson" at The Economist (5/21/13), "Of nations, peoples, countries and mínzú: Differing terms for ethnicity, citizenship and group belonging ruffle feathers":
DID Joe Biden insult China? The American vice-president has a habit of sticking his foot into his mouth, and in this case, the recent graduation speech he gave at the University of Pennsylvania inspired a viral rant by a "disappointed" Chinese student at Penn, Zhang Tianpu. What was Mr Biden's sin? Was it Mr Biden's suggestion that creative thought is stifled in China?
You cannot think different in a nation where you cannot breathe free. You cannot think different in a nation where you aren't able to challenge orthodoxy, because change only comes from challenging orthodoxy.
No, that wasn't it.
The source of the insult is a surprising one: Mr Biden called China a "great nation", and a "nation" repeatedly after that. Victor Mair, the resident sinologist at the Language Log blog, translates Mr Zhang's complaint.
In this sentence, "You CANNOT think different in a nation where you aren't able to challenge orthodoxy", he used the word "nation". This is what really infuriated me, because in English "nation" indicates "race, ethnicity", which is different from "country, state". "Country, state" perhaps places more emphasis on the notion of the entirety of the country, even to the point of referring to the idea of government.
Mr Mair explains:
The weakness in Zhang's reasoning lies mainly in his confusion over the multiple meanings of the word mínzú 民族…. [M]ínzú 民族 can mean "ethnic group; race; nationality; people; nation". Coming from the English side, we must keep in mind that "nation" can be translated into Chinese as guó 国 ("country"), guójiā 国家 ("country"), guódù 国度 ("country; state"), bāng 邦 ("state"), and, yes, mínzú 民族 ("ethnic group; race; nationality; people; nation").
It is clear that, when Biden said "China is a great nation", he was respectfully referring to the country as a whole. Yet the sensitivity to questions of ethnicity in China, especially with regard to the shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 ("ethnic / national minorities"), e.g., Uyghurs, Tibetans, and scores of others, caused Zhang to take umbrage over something that the Vice President never intended.
In a later post about smartphone zombies, Cant. dai1tau4 zuk6 / MSM dītóu zú 低頭族 (“head-down tribe”), "Tribes" (3/10/15), I wrote:
The first word I think of when I see 族 as a suffix is Mandarin mínzú, Japanese minzoku 民族 (“nation; nationality; people”), which is formed from 民 (“people; subjects; civilians”) + 族 (“family clan; ethnic group; tribe”). The term is a neologism coined in the late 19th century by Japanese thinkers to match the Western (especially German) concept of “nation”.
… I have assembled a large amount of material concerning the absence of mínzú / minzoku 民族 as a lexical item corresponding to “nation” in China before it was introduced from Meiji [1868-1912] Japan.
When we prefix mínzú 民族 with shǎoshù 少数 ("few; small number; minority"), we have shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 ("minority; national minority; ethnic minority"). Here it gets really tricky, because, as Anderlini points out in his article, there are officially 56 ethnic groups (mínzú 民族) in China, of which 55 are shǎoshù mínzú 少数民族 ("minorities; national minorities; ethnic minorities; ethnic groups"), with the 56th being the dominant, majority (over 90%) Hàn mínzú 汉民族 ("Han nationality; Han ethnic group"). Consequently, when Chinese politicians talk about the blood of the Chinese race, it's important to know whether they are are referring to Hàn mínzú 汉民族 ("Han nationality; Han ethnic group"), Zhōnghuá mínzú 中华民族 ("Chinese nation / people", where Zhōnghuá 中华 is understood as "Central cultural florescence"), or something else. In each case, we need to judge carefully whether they meant to include all the ethnicities within the sovereign territory of the PRC or in the whole world, or whether they were referring specifically to individuals of Han ethnicity within the sovereign territory of the PRC or in the whole world. Often, for politicians, as for poets, ambiguity is desirable, or at least convenient.
There are no less than half a dozen other words for "(the) people" that are in common use in Mandarin. I won't go into all of them here, but will mention only one: rénmín 人民, as in rénmínbì 人民币 ("RMB; people's currency") and Rénmín rìbào 人民日报 ("People's Daily"). This term, rénmín 人民, does not get involved with race, ethnicity, nation, and so on, but emphasizes the population as a whole.
As for "Zhongguo / China", that too is a huge can of worms, for which see this incisive paper by Arif Dirlik:
[h.t. John Rohsenow, Bill Bishop]
The Annual Reviews have a tradition of featuring retrospective articles by or about senior figures, and the Annual Review of Linguistics has followed this pattern with pieces featuring Morris Halle in the 2016 volume and Bill Labov in 2017. For 2018, we'll be featuring Lila Gleitman.
As background, Barbara Partee, Cynthia McLemore and I spent the last couple of days interviewing Lila about her life and work. We've got more than 7.5 hours of recordings, which is more like a book than an article — and it may very well turn into a book as well, with edited interview material interspersed with reprints of Lila's papers. But what I want to post about today is one of the many things that I learned in the course of the discussions. This was just a footnote in Lila's life story, but it has its own intrinsic interest, and I'm hoping that some readers will be able to provide more information.
I learned that the founder of the Penn Linguistics Department, Zellig Harris, was married to a mathematical physicist named Bruria Kaufman. She worked with John von Neumann, wrote some widely-cited papers on crystal statistics in the late 1940s, published with Albert Einstein (Albert Einstein and Bruria Kaufman. "A new form of the general relativistic field equations", Annals of Mathematics, 1955), and later wrote papers like "Unitary symmetry of oscillators and the Talmi transformation", Journal of Mathematical Physics 1965, and "Special functions of mathematical physics from the viewpoint of Lie algebra", Journal of Mathematical Physics 1966.
The thing that interested me most was that Bruria Kaufman also worked for a while in the 1950s with Harris at Penn, at the same time as others including Lila Gleitman, Aravind Joshi, R.B. Lees, Naomi Sager, Zeno Vendler, and Noam Chomsky. And according to this 1961 NSF report, her contributions included Transformations and Discourse Analysis Papers (TDAP) numbers 19 and 20:
19. Higher-order Substrings and Well-formedness, Bruria Kaufman.
20. Iterative Computation of String Nesting (Fortran Code), Bruria Kaufman.
I've found a couple of citations to these works, but so far not the works themselves.
The 1961 NSF report says that
Paper 15 gives an information [sic — should be informal?] presentation of a general theory and method for syntactic recognition. Papers 16-19 give the actual flow charts of each section of the syntactic analysis program.
where 15-19 are
15. Computable Syntactic Analysis, Zellig S. Harris. (Revised version published as PoFL I, above)
16. Word and Word-Complex Dictionaries, Lila Gleitman.
17. Elimination of Alternative Classifications, Naomi Sager.
18. Recognition of Local Substrings, Aravind K. Joshi.
19. Higher-order Substrings and Well-formedness, Bruria Kaufman.
and "PoFL I" is Harris's String Analysis and Sentence Structure, 1962.
Aravind Joshi and Phil Hopely, "A parser from antiquity", Natural Language Engineering 1996, explains that
A parsing program was designed and implemented at the University of Pennsylvania during the period from June 1958 to July 1959. This program was part of the Transformations and Discourse Analysis Project (TDAP) directed by Zellig S. Harris. The techniques used in this program, besides being influenced by the particular linguistic theory, arose out of the need to deal with the extremely limited computational resources available at that time. The program was essentially a cascade of finite state transducers (FSTs).
More on the history from that source:
The original program was implemented in the assembly language on Univac 1, a single user machine. The machine had acoustic (mercury) delay line memory of 1000 words. Each word was 12 characters/digits, each character/digit was 6 bits. Lila Gleitman, Aravind Joshi, Bruria Kauffman, and Naomi Sager and a little later, Carol Chomsky were involved in the development and implementation of this program. A brief description of the program appears in Joshi 1961 and a somewhat generalized description of the grammar appears in Harris 1962. This program is the precursor of the string grammar program of Naomi Sager at NYU, leading up to the current parsers of Ralph Grishman (NYU) and Lynette Hirschman (formerly at UNISYS, now at Mitre Corporation). Carol Chomsky took the program to MIT and it was used in the question-answer program of Green, BASEBALL (1961). At Penn, it led to a program for transformational analysis (kernels and transformations) (1963) and, in many ways, influenced the formal work on string adjunction (1972) and later tree-adjunction (1975).
The paper's bibliography cites
Transformations and Discourse Analysis Project (TDAP) Reports, University of Pennsylvania, Reports #15 through #19, 1959-60. Available in the Library of the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) (formerly known as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS)), Bethesda, MD.
So I'll ask my friends at NIST if these works are still there.
4th tone – 3rd tone, it would appear:
Well, maybe not; the diacritics are probably meant to indicate vowel quality, but I don't know what system (if any) they are using.
Ben Zimmer writes:
The diacritics may be intended to evoke pinyin tone marks, but they're also reminiscent of dictionary-style phonetic respelling and stress marking. The grave accent on "ì" could be intended as an indicator of primary stress, though that's more typically marked with an acute accent. And the breve on the "ĭ" is a common enough way to represent /ɪ/ (the macron is used for long vowels and the breve for short vowels — see, e.g., Phonics on the Web). But this use of diacritics as typographical ornamentation is never very consistent — recall the styling of the play Chinglish as "Ch’ing·lish”.
The illustration appears at the top of this article:
- Kou Jie, "China to standardize use of English on public signs", People's Daily Online (6/21/17)
It turns out that the image used by the People's Daily originally appeared as a promotion for the play Chinglish that Ben mentioned, specifically for its performance by the Singaporean theater company Pangdemonium in 2015. See the Pangdemonium website, as well as local coverage by PopSpoken and Today. So the People's Daily may have searched for a "Chinglish" image online and borrowed this one, without giving proper credit. (Credit should go to Olivier Henry of MILK Photographie.)
The six individuals in the picture seem to be aspiring to some idealized form of Chinglish in the sky above, overlying the cloud shrouded five star design of the Chinese flag, leading them on. The thrust of the People's Daily article, however, is anything but adulatory of Chinglish:
Chinese authorities on June 20 issued a national standard for the use of English in the public domain, eradicating poor translations that damage the country’s image.
The standard, jointly issued by China’s Standardization Administration and General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, aims to improve the quality of English translations in 13 public arenas, including transportation, entertainment, medicine and financial services. It will take effect on Dec. 1, 2017.
According to the standard, English translations should prioritize correct grammar and a proper register, while rare expressions and vocabulary words should be avoided. The standard requires that English not be overused in public sectors, and that translations not contain content that damages the images of China or other countries. Discriminatory and hurtful words have also been banned. The standard provided sample translations for reference, and warned against direct translation.
There are perpetual plans for eliminating Chinglish in China, but they are unlikely ever to materialize unless professional translators are sought after for their expertise and paid accordingly.
Earlier calls for the elimination of English more generally are no longer heard from responsible persons:
- "English Banned in Chinese Writing " (12/23/10)
Now the goal is more reasonably just to get rid of Chinglish, but that will not happen on December 1, 2017 when the new standards go into effect. Although it will take many years for their full implementation and realization, the standards are admirable goals to aim for.
- Neil Connor, "Beijing wages war on ‘Chinglish’ to prevent translation gaffes", The Telegraph (6/23/17)
[h.t. Jim Fanell, Toni Tan]
The leader of a tiny UK political party, the Liberal Democrats, resigned because
To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching, has felt impossible for me.And a tiny UK Jewish denomination, Orthodox-aligned Sephardim, are up in arms because R' Joseph Dweck taught something about homosexuality in Rabbinic sources and commented
I genuinely believe that the entire revolution of…homosexuality…I don’t think it is stable and well…but I think the revolution is a fantastic development for humanity.
This stuff is minor on the scale of things, but the media love the narrative of gay rights versus religious traditionalism. Anyway lots of my friends are religious Jews or Christians who are also gay or supportive of gay people and other gender and sexual minorities. So lots of my circle are exercised about one or both of the incidents.
( opinions )
Query from a reader:
Is it correct to use the word assuage to indicate a lessening of something? That is, it is often used in the realm of feelings, i.e. assuage hunger, assuage grief, etc. But would it be acceptable to use to indicate the lessening of something more tangible, such as assuage criminality, assuage the flow of water, assuage drug use.
I probably wouldn't use assuage to describe the lowering of flood waters or the amelioration of traffic jams. But I don't have any special standing to rule on such matters, so as usual, let's look at how others use the word.
The OED's entry for assuage, which is flagged as "not yet … fully updated (first published 1885)", has several senses marked as "arch. or Obs." that don't involve "angry or excited feelings", or beings in such a state.
There's the transitive form glossed "To abate, lessen, diminish (esp. anything swollen)", with examples like
1774 J. Bryant New Syst. II. 284 The Dove..brought the first tidings that the waters of the deep were asswaged.
There's the intransitive inchoative version of the same, glossed "To grow less, diminish, decrease, fall off, die away; to abate, subside", with examples like
1611 Bible (King James) Gen. viii. 1 And the waters asswaged .
COCA has 509 instances of "assuage", 134 of "assuaged", 46 of "assuaging", and 17 of "assuages". Looking at a random sample of 100, we find that all 100 are transitive, and that in 98 of them, what's assuaged is an negatively-evaluated emotion or feeling or concern ("the community's grief", "his guilt", "such mortal concerns", "the twitchy sensation in my cells", "white opposition to slave conversion", "my hunger", "Democratic anxieties", "India's complaints", "feelings of humiliation", the monarch's fears", "his own damaged pride", "the egos of movie stars", "my curiosity", …), or an person or group of people subject to such emotions or feelings or concerns ("his uneasy party", "the academic intellectual community", "the larger man", "international critics of the war", "his jittery passenger", "the chiefs", "the dealers", …).
The two exceptions in the sample are these:
In The Efficiency Trap, Steve Hallett claims that we will exhaust many of our resources by the 2030s, and violence and chaos will erupt as a result. Hallett proposes recycling and growing food locally as possible means of assuaging the damage.
The measure, which awaits Senate approval of a minor amendment next week, can not assuage the impending disaster that will kill virtually all the fish in the Dolores River this summer.
With respect to the specific examples in the query, Google finds
"assuage criminality": one example [link] Please reconsider your gig – don't play for a segregated audience in Israel and make of yourself a balm to assuage criminality.
"assuage the flow of water": no examples (though see biblical examples cited by the OED)
assuage drug use: one example [link] Becker's neoliberal drug policy presumes to assuage drug use and addiction by the instantiation of a highly regulated market as a system of control.
So the verdict of norma loquendi seems to be that applying assuage to things other than people and their feelings is out of fashion and currently marginal.
The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla
This is a series of essays about the experience of being an ethnic minority in the UK. A lot of the ideas were things I'd encountered before, but all presented thoughtfully and engagingly, so it would be a really good starting point for someone who hadn't thought much about race relations to introduce themselves to some of the common ideas and experiences. But there was also a lot that was new to me. Thoughts about representation and tokenism in popular media, about the relationships between generations with different levels of integration, about colourism and casteism, and about the impact on ethnic minority children of growing up learning that stories are about white people.
Seed to Harvest (Wild Seed, Mind of my Mind, Clay's Ark & Patternmaster) by Octavia Butler
This is a collection of four of the five Patternist novels (the fifth is set in the same universe, but I understand doesn't include any of the same characters, and is disliked by the author). These are all exciting and easy to read novels, but other than that and the plot thread that runs between them, they have surprisingly little in common. Wild Seed is alt-history, Mind of my Mind is a near future story about psychic mutants, Clay's Ark is gritty apocalyptic stuff, and Patternmaster is in a distant future that feels more like fantasy than sf. They're all great though - lighter than Kindred, but still packed with ideas about society and hierarchy.
Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
This book has a phenomenal amount of detail about the anatomy involved in five major lifts - the squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, and power clean. A fairly tedious read, but one which I hope will make me less likely to injure myself.
Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity by Fr James Martin SJ
I really like Fr James Martin, and his "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything" is one of the best books about life and religion that I've ever read. This is a short book in two parts; first an essay based on a talk about how the Church hierarchy and LGBT Catholics can heal the divide between the two groups, and secondly a series of suggestions of bible passages and questions that LGBT Catholics and their allies might find useful in prayer and reflection. I liked the essay, although more because it echoed a lot of my own thoughts back at me than because I learned much from it. I think that the more traditionalist members of the church could benefit a lot from reading it and taking it to heart. I think that most LGBT people, especially those who aren't Catholic, would find the suggestion that they too need to show respect, compassion and sensitivity towards those in the hierarchy who have hurt and oppressed them quite frustrating. I have a lot of sympathy with that, but ultimately I think that Fr Martin is correct, both because we are called to love all our neighbours, not just those whom it's easy to love, and because I don't think we will see change any other way.
Probably not standing: Stephen Lloyd, Wera Hobhouse, Christine Jardine
Probably standing: Ed Davey
Definitely standing: Vince Cable
You'll note that Norman Lamb has moved from probably standing to definitely not standing. He announced this with rather petulant article in the Grauniad, in which (among other things) he proclaimed the Lib Dems' second referendum policy as toxic. Now I agree, it is toxic. "First we'll negotiate brexit, then we'll set up a referendum, then we'll campaign against the deal we ourselves negotiated!" is an utterly ridiculous policy. The problem is, it was only in the sodding manifesto due to the insistence of people on the rump brexity wing of the party, of which Norman Lamb is definitely one. This was as far as the rest of the party, who just wanted "we will stop brexit" to be the manifesto position, could be dragged. Policy making by committee often comes up with soggy centrist compromises, and often that's a good thing and satisfies most people, but sometimes it's patently rubbish. This time was the latter. What I don't get is Captain Brexit blaming the rest of the party for it. Well, I do. He'd like us to embrace brexit. And that is not going to happen.
Anyway, the rest of the article sticks the boot in to members in various other ways, and alludes to, but doesn't actually acknowledge, the problems autistic people have with the idea of Norman as a leader, and frankly, just makes me glad he's not standing. At least he has the self-knowledge to know he's not right to lead the party as it currently is, even if he declares it in a rather Skinnerian way.
So the only likely runner at this point undeclared is Ed Davey. And there will be siren
Don't stand, Ed. Leadership elections are expensive, Ed. They are divisive and set party members up against each other, ed. It'd be easier all round just to crown Vince, Ed. You don't want the hassle, Ed. The party doesn't want the hassle, Ed. Lets just have a coronation, Ed.To which I say, pish, tosh, bunkum, bollocks, and bullshit.
Yes, leadership elections are divisive, and do set members up against each other, and sometimes even cause resentments. Do you know what's even more divisive, and causes even more resentments? Not letting Lib Dems have democracy. Not letting us scrutinise each candidate and come to a decision on merit. Not having hustings at which we can put questions to candidates and examine their views and records and promises. Imposing a leader on us without us having a say. I can guarantee you that while a leadership election might be divisive, it's nowhere near as divisive as a coronation.
Now, Ed Davey told one of the BBC politics correspondents (I think Norman Smith) the other day that he would declare whether or not he was standing "on Thursday or Friday". He didn't declare yesterday. I'm hoping he declares he's standing today.
And if you'd told me last month I'd be crossing my fingers for Ed Davey to run in a leadership election, I'd have thought you insane in the membrane, crazy insane, got no brain. Just goes to show what a funny old world it is...
My own investigations on the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age peoples of Eastern Central Asia (ECA) began essentially as a genetics cum linguistics project back in the early 90s. That was not long after the extraction of mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) from ancient human tissues and its amplification by means of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) became possible.
By the mid-90s I had grown somewhat disenchanted with ancient DNA (aDNA) studies because the data were insufficient to determine the origins and affiliations of various early groups with satisfactory precision, neither spatially nor temporally. Around the same time, I began to realize that other types of materials, such as textiles and metals, provided powerful diagnostic evidence.
By the late 90s, combining findings from all of these fields and others, I was willing to advance the hypothesis that some of the mummies of ECA, especially the earliest ones dating to around 1800 BC, may have spoken a pre-proto-form of Tocharian when they were alive (some people think it's funny or scary to imagine that mummies once could speak). This hypothesis was presented at an international conference held at the University of Pennsylvania in April, 1996, which was attended by more than a hundred archeologists, linguists, geneticists, physical anthropologists, textile specialists, metallurgists, geographers, climatologists, historians, mythologists, and ethnologists — including more than half a dozen of the world's most distinguished Tocharianists. It was most decidedly a multidisciplinary conference before it became fashionable to call academic endeavors by such terms (see " Xdisciplinary" [6/14/17]). The papers from the conference were collected in this publication:
Victor H. Mair, The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia (Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Man Inc. in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications, 1998). 2 vols.
"Early Indo-Europeans in Xinjiang" (11/19/08)
It is only very recently, within the last ten years or so, that Y-chromosome analysis has been brought into play for the study of ancient DNA. See Toomas Kivisild, "The study of human Y chromosome variation through ancient DNA", Human Genetics, 2017; 136(5): 529–546; published online 2017 Mar 4. doi: 10.1007/s00439-017-1773-z.* Since only males carry the Y-chromosome, this has made it possible to trace the patriline of individuals. This, coupled with the massive accumulation and detailed analysis of modern DNA with increasing sophistication and the rise of the interdisciplinary (!) field referred to as genomics, has made studies on the genetics of premodern people, including their origins, migrations, and affinities, far more exacting than it was during the 90s when I did the bulk of my investigations on the early inhabitants of the Tarim Basin.
Now it is possible to draw on the results of genetics research to frame and more reliably solve questions about the development of languages from their homeland to the far-flung places where they subsequently came to be spoken. One such inquiry is described in this article:
Tony Joseph, "How genetics is settling the Aryan migration debate", The Hindu (6/16/17).
It is significant that this substantial article appeared in The Hindu, since there is a strong bias against such conclusions among Indian nationalists (see "Indigenous Aryans"). It begins thus:
New DNA evidence is solving the most fought-over question in Indian history. And you will be surprised at how sure-footed the answer is, writes Tony Joseph
The thorniest, most fought-over question in Indian history is slowly but surely getting answered: did Indo-European language speakers, who called themselves Aryans, stream into India sometime around 2,000 BC – 1,500 BC when the Indus Valley civilisation came to an end, bringing with them Sanskrit and a distinctive set of cultural practices? Genetic research based on an avalanche of new DNA evidence is making scientists around the world converge on an unambiguous answer: yes, they did.
Joseph's paper is informed, sensitive, balanced, and nuanced. This is responsible science journalism.
The scientific paper itself, “A Genetic Chronology for the Indian Subcontinent Points to Heavily Sex-biased Dispersals” by Marina Silva, Marisa Oliveira, Daniel Vieira, Andreia Brandão, Teresa Rito, Joana B. Pereira, Ross M. Fraser, Bob Hudson, Francesca Gandini, Ceiridwen Edwards, Maria Pala, John Koch, James F. Wilson, Luísa Pereira, Martin B. Richards, and Pedro Soares, was published in BMC Evolutionary Biology (3/23/17) ( DOI: 10.1186/s12862-017-0936-9).
I'm skeptical of many of the claims put forward by geneticists concerning origins and dispersals, not just about humans, but also about horses, dogs, cats, plants, and so forth. This study, however, is both cautious and solid. Moreover, it fits well with the archeological evidence (more below).
Here are two key paragraphs from the scientific paper (numbers in square brackets are to accessible references):
Although some have argued for co-dispersal of the Indo-Aryan languages with the earliest Neolithic from the Fertile Crescent [88, 89], others have argued that, if any language family dispersed with the Neolithic into South Asia, it was more likely to have been the Dravidian family now spoken across much of central and southern India . Moreover, despite a largely imported suite of Near Eastern domesticates, there was also an indigenous component at Mehrgarh, including zebu cattle [85, 86, 90]. The more widely accepted “Steppe hypothesis” [91, 92] for the origins of Indo-European has recently received powerful support from aDNA evidence. Genome-wide, Y-chromosome and mtDNA analyses all suggest Late Neolithic dispersals into Europe, potentially originating amongst Indo-European-speaking Yamnaya pastoralists that arose in the Pontic-Caspian Steppe by ~5 ka, with expansions east and later south into Central Asia in the Bronze Age [53, 76, 93, 94, 95]. Given the difficulties with deriving the European Corded Ware directly from the Yamnaya , a plausible alternative (yet to be directly tested with genetic evidence) is an earlier Steppe origin amongst Copper Age Khavlyn, Srednij Stog and Skelya pastoralists, ~7-5.5 ka, with an infiltration of southeast European Chalcolithic Tripolye communities ~6.4 ka, giving rise to both the Corded Ware and Yamnaya when it broke up ~5.4 ka .
An influx of such migrants into South Asia would likely have contributed to the CHG component in the GW [VHM: genome-wide] analysis found across the Subcontinent, as this is seen at a high rate amongst samples from the putative Yamnaya source pool and descendant Central Asian Bronze Age groups. Archaeological evidence suggests that Middle Bronze Age Andronovo descendants of the Early Bronze Age horse-based, pastoralist and chariot-using Sintashta culture, located in the grasslands and river valleys to the east of the Southern Ural Mountains and likely speaking a proto-Indo-Iranian language, probably expanded east and south into Central Asia by ~3.8 ka. Andronovo groups, and potentially Sintashta groups before them, are thought to have infiltrated and dominated the soma-using Bactrian Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) in Turkmenistan/northern Afghanistan by 3.5 ka and possibly as early as 4 ka. The BMAC came into contact with the Indus Valley civilisation in Baluchistan from ~4 ka onwards, around the beginning of the Indus Valley decline, with pastoralist dominated groups dispersing further into South Asia by ~3.5 ka, as well as westwards across northern Iran into Syria (which came under the sway of the Indo-Iranian-speaking Mitanni) and Anatolia [12, 95, 97, 98].
The spread of R1a into South Asia had earlier been securely documented in Peter A. Underhill, et al., "The phylogenetic and geographic structure of Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a", European Journal of Human Genetics (2015) 23, 124–131; doi:10.1038/ejhg.2014.50; published online 26 March 2014.
The precise coalescence of R1a within South Asia was identified in Monika Karmin, et al., "A recent bottleneck of Y chromosome diversity coincides with a global change in culture", Genome Research (2015);
This kind of male migration theory is proposed with arguments based on archeological evidence in the last pages of H.-P. Francfort, “La civilisation de l'Oxus et les Indo-Iraniens et Indo-Aryens”, in: Aryas, Aryens et Iraniens en Asie Centrale (Collège de France. Publications de l'Institut de Civilisation Indienne, vol. 72), G. Fussman, J. Kellens, H.-P. Francfort, et X. Tremblay (eds.) (Paris: Diffusion de Boccard, 2005) pp. 253-328. The complete paper is on academia website.
Michael Witzel has favored this, the (Indo-)Aryan Migration view, on linguistic and textual grounds since at least 1995 and was constantly criticized for saying so. See his papers of 1995, 2001:
"Early Indian History: Linguistic and Textual Parameters." In: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia. Ed. G. Erdosy (Berlin/New York: de Gruyter 1995), 85-125; — Rgvedic history: poets, chieftains and politics, loc. cit. 307-352 combined pdf (uncorrected).
and the substrate paper of 1999:
"Early Sources for South Asian Substrate Languages." Mother Tongue (1999, extra number) pdf
Some relevant Language Log posts:
"Dating Indo-European" (12/10/03)
"More on IE wheels and horses " (1/10/09)
"Irish DNA and Indo-European origins" (12/31/15)
*For those who are interested in the development of aDNA Y-chromosome studies beginning in the 2000s, I have some additional documentation and several relevant papers that I can send to you.
[Thanks to Richard Villems, Toomas Kivisild, and Peter Underhill]
.. or at least six weeks of it, will be spent at the 2017 Jelinek Summer Workshop on Speech and Language Technology (JSALT) at CMU in Pittsburgh. As the link explains, this
… is a continuation of the Johns Hopkins University CLSP summer workshop series from 1995-2016. It consists of a two-week summer school, followed by a six-week workshop. Notable researchers and students come together to collaborate on selected research topics. The Workshop is named after the late Fred Jelinek, its former director and head of the Center for Speech and Language Processing.
I took part in the first of these annual summer workshops, back in 1995, as a member of the team focused on "Language Modeling for Conversational Speech Recognition".
This summer, I'll be part of a group whose theme is described as "Enhancement and Analysis of Conversational Speech".
One of the group's goals is to do a better job of "diarization", i.e. keeping track of who spoke when in conversations. Existing systems do an especially bad job with overlapping speech, which can be extremely common.
Here's a graphical representation of (accurate) diarization in a (real) conversation between Red and Blue:
And the same thing continued for a while (though not to the end of the conversation):
As discussed here, turn-taking overlaps are often cooperative rather than competitive — and it would be good to be able to supplement robust diarization with a functional analysis of conversational flow.
As the workshop progresses, I'll post some updates.
Yesterday I also went climbing for the first time in years. I used to climb quite a bit when I was a teenager, and then about five years ago I tried going with emperor as a day trip from Ardgour, and found it depressingly difficult. Since then my strength to weight ratio has improved significantly, so last night I had a much easier time hauling myself off the ground. I was still distinctly conscious that the kind of strength you need in order to lift a heavy thing and then lower it five times before putting it down and having a break to recover is quite different from the kind of sustained effort you need to put in climbing a wall. I started with what was probably the easiest route on the wall, and then gradually increased in difficulty until I found a couple of routes that I made it up but just barely, and a couple more that I couldn't manage, but which are now on my target list for next time.
This strikes me as an unusual obituary: Margalit Fox, "Paul Zukofsky, Prodigy Who Became, Uneasily, a Virtuoso Violinist, Dies at 73", NYT 6/20/2017. It massively violates the precept de mortuis nil nisi bonum, describing its subject at great length as an "automaton" who was "deeply ill at ease with world"; an "arch-bridge troll", full of "unbridled hubris", "disdain for those less gifted than he", and "an ample sense of self-worth"; "swift to run to judgment", "meanspirited, sarcastic, rather bitter"; someone who would "look at [his audience] with utter contempt", and on and on.
Margalit Fox certainly found plenty of sources for these judgments. But this litany of bitter score-settling is completely at odds with my own experience of Paul Zukofsky.
I first met Paul around 1976, when I was employed at Bell Labs in Murray Hill NJ, and he was the music director of the Colonial Symphony in Madison, a few miles west. He was planning to present Bach's Fourth Brandenburg Concerto, and he needed a continuo player. I owned a harpsichord, had once taken a conservatory course in figured bass realization, and occasionally performed with professional and semi-professional chamber groups in the area, so Joan Miller recommended me to him.
Paul was then teaching at Stony Brook, so I treked out there to audition. That was an amazing experience — while I played the continuo part, Paul, with an occasional glance at the score, played the parts of all three soloists and the rest of the orchestra all at once on the violin. It was amazing. I had never seen anything like it. I managed keep my jaw off the floor, and made my way through the audition well enough to get the part.
This situation was inherently intimidating, and my own musical gifts were far below Paul's. But he was charming and friendly, interested in talking about Bach's music, and about music theory and the psychology of music, and he left me with a positive feeling about the whole experience.
For a while around that time, Paul became a regular visitor at Bell Labs, where he contributed to some interesting work, including these publications:
Ronald Knoll, Saul Sternberg, and Paul Zukofsky, "Subdivision of the beat: Estimation and production of time ratio by skilled musicians", JASA 1976.
Mark Liberman, Joseph Olive, and Paul Zukofsky, "Studies of metric patterns", JASA 1977.
Saul Sternberg, Ronald Knoll, and Paul Zukofsky, "Timing by Skilled Musicians", in Diana Deutsch, Ed., Psychology of Music, 1982.
Throughout those interactions, I never met the cold, mean, unpleasant man depicted in the NYT obituary. On the contrary, Paul was always smart, engaged, friendly, and even convivial.
Maybe I have a thicker skin than the people who supplied Margalit Fox with so much bile. Or maybe Paul was different in later life than he was when I knew him.
But looking over the obituary, I see two other factors that might be relevant. One is Paul's role as executor of his father's estate — that's a side of him that I never saw, and one that would not have been relevant before Louis Zukofsky died in 1978, which was after most of my interactions with Paul.
And the other factor might be his apparent reluctance to take up the standard role of a violin virtuoso, or at least to limit himself to playing that part. Perhaps he saw me and others at Bell Labs as part of his self-liberation from that role, rather than as part of the world that he needed to escape, and perhaps he therefore interacted differently with us.
Still, I have a feeling that most people could be unlucky enough to be treated to an obituary like the one under discussion. The recipe is clear: find people with a grudge, people on the other side of arguments, people who were offended on purpose or by accident, people who were disappointed, people with relevant prejudices, and select your quotes to play up the negatives and minimize the positives. The Paul Zukofsky I knew deserves better.
Update — a letter sent by Saul Sternberg to the New York Times:
I believe that this obituary gives a false impression of Zukofsky's personality. The only indication that he could be a sweet, loving, caring person is the one quote (Kalish) "to those who understood him deeply…" If you look at the comments on slippedisc.com/2017/06/death-of-an-
It is as if, rather than providing a balanced description, the writer emphasized those aspects of his personality that would fit with her beliefs about his early life and her claims about his "emotional development" having been "sacrificed to professional prowess".
I've known Paul Zukofsky for the past forty years, and although the names of many people have come up in our conversations and correspondence, I've seen no evidence of "his disdain for people less gifted than he".
Also, the obit fails to mention the existence of the Zukofsky Quartet, named in his honor.
Update #2 — from Joshua Gordon:
It was good to read your commentary on the NYBTimes obituary for Paul Zukofsky, and I am sympathetic to your experience with him (he was an important mentor to me at Juilliard and beyond). I posted a new Facebook page for anybody who wants to share thoughts or materials on him called "In Memory of Paul Zukofsky", I hope you'll want to contribute to it.