Saturday, March 11, 2006

Notes from the catbird seat

a) So I won the game of scrabble I was playing when I started wondering about letter distributions. It was a game of Super-Scrabble, actually—quadruple word scores! 200 letters! Four blank tiles! I feel they should have named it ExTREME Scrabble, so that it could augment our collection of Extreme products. ('Extreme' has become the new 'New!' in the last five years or so -- how long will that last, do you suppose? Our favorite Extreme packages in our collection so far are the 'Extreme Vanilla Ice Cream', and the 'Extreme Pastel Gel Pens'.) Anyway, Super Scrabble is fun, especially if you've been playing a lot of regular scrabble; it feels like you have lots of room to roam by comparison.

b) Check out Lance's further notes on letters at the end of words in the comments on the previous post; it does seem like the big 's' count in the lexicon he used (the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary) is due to the inclusion of all the plural forms. Interesting observations about the letters which are most likely to be addable-on to the ends of words -- 'y', of course, and, surprisingly, 'o'.

c) I've had occasion to make another letter distribution observation lately, as I've just moved offices and have been unpacking my books onto my new bookshelves. I think linguists have an unusual tendency to have names beginning with 'b' and 'c' -- or at least, I have a tendency to buy books by linguists whose names begin with 'b' and 'c'. I keep having to make more room in that section of the bookshelves. I thought I'd had it all planned out with adequate space allotted for each letter, but now I'm back into the stupid move-all-the-books-one-shelf-on procedure... drat! Hey, Lance -- want to do a comparison of the percentages of initial letters of surnames of members of the LSA with the percentage of initial letters of surnames in, say, the NY phone book? (No, no, I don't mean it. Do your work! :) )

d) The Advanced Search capability on ODIN has been activated -- now you can actually access the searchability functions I was talking about a while ago. I have already had a look at all the examples of questions in Yaqui that the spider has found, and multiple wh-questions in Itza and Malagasy. Sadly it hung up when trying to show me examples of counterfactuals; probably counterfactuals blow its little electronic brain.


Blogger Q. Pheevr said...

I think linguists have an unusual tendency to have names beginning with 'b' and 'c' -- or at least, I have a tendency to buy books by linguists whose names begin with 'b' and 'c'.

Two potential partial explanations spring to mind:

1. There is, after all, one particularly prolific and influential linguist among the Cs.

2. In any collection of books, there will probably be a larger concentration of items near the beginning of the alphabet than in a corpus of surnames, because co-authors are frequently listed in alphabetical order, with the result that alphabetically later co-authors are masked in biblioraphies. (So, for example, SPE ends up under C rather than under H.)

Come to think of it, though, one would expect a linguist in our stretch of the alphabet (viz., yours, mine, and Morris's, inter alia) to come out ahead a little bit more than half the time on works with two authors. And yet I've somehow never been the first author alphabetically on any collaboration, because I keep writing papers with people whose names begin with B or C (or, in one case, F). So maybe your original impression is right after all.

1:40 PM  
Blogger hh said...

Good point, Q! I'd been even taking into account that that certain C linguist would inflate my C space somewhat -- but it still took over more than allotted.

On the coauthorship argument, I think I'm about statistically even -- hmm, or maybe not... 4 coauthors alphabetically ahead of me, three after... I'll have to plan my next collaborations carefully!

:) hh

4:44 PM  
Blogger Loxias said...

All this is so superficial, totally disregarding the deeper principles at play and insisiting on phenotypical observations.

Not to mention that the topic has already been treated by Neil Smith in his Velarity of Linguists chapter of 'Language, Bananas and Bonobos'.


(Have a great day and a better week!)

11:36 PM  
Blogger hh said...

hey, that's right! neil smith DID prove that all linguists have velar name beginnings. D'oh! I should have remembered and allotted space accordingly. :) thanks, loxias!

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Sophia Malamud said...

Proper attribution:

The "iced cream" quotation from Burns, used in lecture 1 of my summer course, was actually noted by Gene Buckley in his Intro to Linguistics course I had TA-ed.

9:19 PM  

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