Monday, June 26, 2006

Old MacDonald had a handle

Dave Barry's been autotranslating his whimsical prose for humorous effect: English-->French-->German-->French-->Greek-->French-->English. Kinda funny:

Among other things, adjectival 'dead' becomes past participle 'died' while still retaining the 'be' auxiliary, and 'Jack Bauer' become 'Bauer-Klinke' ('jack' in the sense of 'socket', my online dictionary tells me -- inverting the headedness of the imaginary compound coz it's coming from French, I guess, though 'jack' doesn't appear in my French dictionaries) then 'La poignée d'agriculteur' ('Klinke' in the sense of 'handle'), then 'The handle of the farmer'. Don't even ask what happens to "Chinese actors who are still ticked off about a subplot from the previous season that most of us don't even remember."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bridget of the late Ilani Ilani has started a site for language-related news stories: I've just now posted a story, about the new RC mass tracking the original Latin phraseology more closely—weirdly, deliberately making the ceremony even more opaque. (Probably they're just eliminating stranded prepositions and split infinitives, in honor of the Latin original. Haw.) The other news items already there are much more linguistically interesting—I just wanted to contribute something as I made this announcement! Check it out!

Update: Check out caelestis' excellent series of posts on the translation's improved metrical qualities, and other qualities:

Mea Culpa

Monday, June 05, 2006

It must be good, I can say it!

Hi all! I'm back from various wanderings across the Atlantic, including my first visit to Norway and the linguistic mecca of Tromsø, which is really beautiful. I had a few linguistic things to note about my travels, but unfortunately I forget them, except one: In Oslo, there are as many English-language advertisements on billboards and posters as there are Norwegian, which I thought a bit odd. A native told me that English has a coolness factor in Norway, as it does in Japan. Anyway, they're all amazingly bilingual, luckily for me.

But the main point of this post is to note a lingusitically-oriented NYT Science story, according to which 'pronounceability' has a demonstrable appeal in stock ticker names. Princeton psychology grad student Adam Alter and his colleagues had students rate possible company names as more or less 'pronounceable', and then had other students estimate the financial appeal of hypothetical companies bearing the names: more pronounceable companies were rated more appealing than less pronounceable ones. The result was then borne out by looking at actual stock names and correlating their pronounceability with initial short-term performance at the beginning of public trading.

They note that 'pronounceable' abbreviations are more appealing than 'unpronounceable' ones -- that is, acronyms which can be read as words, like PER, are more appealing than initialisms which must be pronounced letter-by-letter, like GTS.

I'm curious about whether 'proounceable', in the estimation of Alter's subjects, correlates with 'matches English phonotactics' or 'has a relatively simple phonological structure'. For example, English allows complex consonant onsets and codas, so something like 'Prax' would be phonotactically unremarkable to an English speaker. Cross-linguistically, though, simpler syllable codas are more common -- something like 'Praka' would be more pronounceable by more speakers of more languages than 'Prax' would. These two types of pronounceabliity can be in conflict -- English doesn't allow short vowels in open, stressed syllables, for instance, so something like 'Notemi' is orthographically foreign-looking and uncommon, though perfectly pronounceable. Would such names be rated as more or less 'pronounceable'? That is, does 'pronounceablity' in this case just equate with 'familiar-looking'.

The article goes on to say,
People respond positively to easily processed information in other areas as well. For example, they are more likely to believe an aphorism that rhymes ("woes unite foes") than one with an identical meaning that does not rhyme ("woes unite enemies"). Studies cited in the report demonstrate that people more often judge easily processed information to be true, likable, familiar and convincing than more complex data.

The last sentence I think suggests that the relevant notion is 'familiarity', rather than 'pronounceablity'. But the first part of this para is also interesting. Rhyme facilitates memorization, for sure, but it's not clear to me why rhyming would render an aphorism more 'easily processed', unless it's some kind of phonological priming effect. The illustrative example given could also involve differences in syllable count, lexical frequency, or several other other dimensions. I would imagine that the actual research showing this effect would have controlled for such factors, and would have had an explicit way of connecting rhymingness to processability (as measured by e.g. reading times or something).