Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Yoda lives on my desktop!

Apple-using LanguageLog readers may be interested in the following extremely weird Dashboard widget:


(For the uninitiated: Dashboard widgets are little mini-applications that just run in the background of OS 10.4 ('Tiger'), doing various useful or fun things, like telling you the weather, or the price of gas in your area, or making Pong available for slow moments. I just started exploring the plethora of widgets that are available at the Apple site today, and ran across Yoda, here.)

Here's the description of the widget provided on the site:
About Yoda Widget
The Yoda Widget simply lets you enter a sentence into a text box, you hit enter, the widget reorders the words and uses a system voice to speak the generated text out loud. For example: you type "I am Yoda." and Yoda will say "Yoda, I am".
This widget changes the order of the words in the sentence that you type in. The voice that is used to speak the text relies on the voices provided by the Mac OS.
Tips: There is no definite pattern on the sentence structure that Yoda uses.
Sentences containing verbs such as ”to have” or ”to be” work well.
Sentences containing subjects like ”I”, ”you” , ”we”, etc. work well too.
If your sentence is a question, make sure you add a question mark.
Examples: Here are a few examples.
- I am Yoda -> Yoda, I am
- The clone wars have begun -> begun, the clone wars have
- Are you going home? -> going home, are you?

What’s New in this Version
- Changed the default voice to “Whisper” upon user requests. If you prefer a different default voice, you can choose another one in the widget’s preferences.
- Improved the word-reordering-algorithm.
- Many more enhancements
The 'Whisper' voice is a pretty good imitation of Yoda on his deathbead ("No... there...is...another...Skywalker..."), but the algorithm for word-reordering doesn't seem super great... it turned "What time is it?" to "What? it time is", when the Force tells me Yoda would really say "It is what time?" (actually, Yoda's probably not into schedules). It seems to refuse to reorder many sentences; I can't get it to do anything with "Your algorithm isn't very good" (it just repeats it back to me), although "Your algorithm is not very good" generates an authentic-sounding "Very good, your algorithm is not." Maybe it doesn't like contractions.

Anyway, I wonder if the widgeteers used the expert analysis of Yoda's linguistic patterns, freely available through the goodness of the Language Loggers', and other linguabloggers', hearts, in the construction of their algorithm? You can't just go wantonly reverse-engineering Yodaspeak any old way you want when there's highly trained linguists who're willing to do it for you.

Update: Check out the musical homage to widget Yoda from Q Pheever!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Cyborthography and gender; misc; poetry.

a. Something I've been meaning to post for a while: a listserv note from UAZ graduate student Jaime Parchment, with an observation about typographical conventions for getting around grammatical gender when it would tend to have an unwanted semantic-gender implication, in Spanish. Jaime wrote:
I recently ran across something that I imagine will be of interest to somebody out there. On several web-pages from Spain, I noticed that the symbol "@" is used to replace "o" and "a" in order to avoid specifying gender. For example, a reference to "the students" would be written as "l@s alumn@s", which can be read as either "los alumnos" or "las alumnas". Interesting solution, I think.
I think so too. Is this unique to Spain Spanish? To Spanish? Has anyone noticed other Romance-language web pages doing anything similar?

Update: Check out the followup at polyglot conspiracy! Not restricted to Spanish, it seems...

b. PSA: All you (n)ever wanted to know about 'intelligent design', courtesy of Kai von Fintel.

c. Via a fairly bizarre series of now seemingly unreplicatable web steps involving googling Norvin Richards' dissertation title ("What moves where when in which language") without quotes, I ran across some poetry I liked, by a poet named Tad Richards, of whom I had not previously heard. (He's got some other poetry I don't care for as much, but heck, what poet doesn't?) Here's one that made me smile, "Selling Secrets;" here's another one I found poignant, "Story" (worth clicking the realaudio link to hear him read it aloud).

d. Then linking around from various Tad Richards pages, I found out about this piece of lifetime artwork, Opus 40, of which I also had not previously heard. I hope to stop in there soon during an upcoming road trip. I'll let you know if I liked it.

e. And finally, since poetry leads to more poetry, here's a poem I then ran across by Stevie Smith, who I first met in the hilarious (!) 'Tenuous and Precarious," but who I have since been happy to find wrote lots of others that are great too (see, e.g., "Our bog is dood," and "My heart was full.") This one, it seems, is quite famous, though I didn't know it.

Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.