Read Francis James Child (Wikipedia)
Francis James Child (February 1, 1825 – September 11, 1896) was an American scholar, educator, and folklorist, best known today for his collection of English and Scottish ballads now known as the Child Ballads. Child was Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard University, where he produced influential editions of English poetry. In 1876 he was named Harvard's first Professor of English, a position which allowed him to focus on academic research. It was during this time that he began work on the Child Ballads. The Child Ballads were published in five volumes between 1882 and 1898. While Child was primarily a literary scholar with little interest in the music of the ballads, his work became a major contribution to the study of English-language folk music.
Interesting that Johns Hopkins tried to recruit him and Harvard created a new position and title in an effort to keep him.

Child considered that folk ballads came from a more democratic time in the past when society was not so rigidly segregated into classes, and the “true voice” of the people could therefore be heard. He conceived “the people” as comprising all the classes of society, rich, middle, and poor, and not only those engaged in manual labor as Marxists sometimes use the word. 

Annotated on August 04, 2020 at 09:31AM

Though there were no graduate schools in America at the time, a loan from a benefactor, Jonathan I. Bowditch, to whom the book was dedicated, enabled Child to take a leave of absence from his teaching duties to pursue his studies in Germany. There Child studied English drama and Germanic philology at the University of Göttingen, which conferred on him an honorary doctorate, and at Humboldt University, Berlin, where he heard lectures by the linguists Grimm and was much influenced by them. 

Annotated on August 04, 2020 at 09:33AM

Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bett), the first enslaved African American to sue for her freedom in the courts based on the law of the 1780 constitution of the state of Massachusetts, which held that “all men are born free and equal.” The Jury agreed and in 1781 she won her freedom. Her lawyer had been Theodore Sedgwick. 

Annotated on August 04, 2020 at 09:35AM

Read Introducing the idea of ‘hyperobjects’ by Timothy MortonTimothy Morton (High Country News)
A new way of understanding climate change and other phenomena.

We are obliged to do something about them, because we can think them.

Annotated on January 15, 2020 at 08:56AM

It’s very difficult to talk about something you cannot see or touch, yet we are obliged to do so, since global warming affects us all.

It’s also difficult to interact with those things when we’re missing the words and vocabulary to talk about them intelligently.
Annotated on January 15, 2020 at 09:00AM

Timothy Morton is Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University in Houston. He is the author of Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality and Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End Of The World.

want to read these
Annotated on January 15, 2020 at 10:10AM

Or global warming. I can’t see or touch it. What I can see and touch are these raindrops, this snow, that sunburn patch on the back of my neck. I can touch the weather. But I can’t touch climate. So someone can declare: “See! It snowed in Boise, Idaho, this week. That means there’s no global warming!” We can’t directly see global warming, because it’s not only really widespread and really really long-lasting (100,000 years); it’s also super high-dimensional. It’s not just 3-D. It’s an incredibly complex entity that you have to map in what they call a high-dimensional- phase space: a space that plots all the states of a system. In so doing, we are only following the strictures of modern science, laid down by David Hume and underwritten by Immanuel Kant. Science can’t directly point to causes and effects: That would be metaphysical, equivalent to religious dogma. It can only see correlations in data. This is because, argues Kant, there is a gap between what a thing is and how it appears (its “phenomena”) that can’t be reduced, no matter how hard we try. We can’t locate this gap anywhere on or inside a thing. It’s a transcendental gap. Hyperobjects force us to confront this truth of modern science and philosophy.

A short, and very cogent argument here.
Annotated on January 15, 2020 at 10:07AM

Hat tip: Ethan Marcotte #

Listened to From Upspeak To Vocal Fry: Are We 'Policing' Young Women's Voices? from Fresh Air | NPR

Journalist Jessica Grose, linguistics professor Penny Eckert and speech pathologist Susan Sankin discuss upspeak, vocal fry and why women's voices are changing — and whether or not that's a problem.

Journalist Jessica Grose is no stranger to criticism of her voice. When she was co-hosting the Slate podcast, the DoubleX Gabfest, she would receive emails complaining about her "upspeak" — a tendency to raise her voice at the end of sentences.

Once an older man she was interviewing for an article in Businessweek told her that she sounded like his granddaughter. "That was the first moment I felt [my voice] was hurting my career beyond just irritating a couple listeners," Grose tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

–Originally bookmarked on December 18, 2019 at 09:53AM

🔖 [1803.09745] English verb regularization in books and tweets | arXiv

Bookmarked [1803.09745] English verb regularization in books and tweets by Tyler J. Gray, Andrew J. Reagan, Peter Sheridan Dodds, Christopher M. Danforth (
The English language has evolved dramatically throughout its lifespan, to the extent that a modern speaker of Old English would be incomprehensible without translation. One concrete indicator of this process is the movement from irregular to regular (-ed) forms for the past tense of verbs. In this study we quantify the extent of verb regularization using two vastly disparate datasets: (1) Six years of published books scanned by Google (2003--2008), and (2) A decade of social media messages posted to Twitter (2008--2017). We find that the extent of verb regularization is greater on Twitter, taken as a whole, than in English Fiction books. Regularization is also greater for tweets geotagged in the United States relative to American English books, but the opposite is true for tweets geotagged in the United Kingdom relative to British English books. We also find interesting regional variations in regularization across counties in the United States. However, once differences in population are accounted for, we do not identify strong correlations with socio-demographic variables such as education or income. [.pdf]

Reply to Why Trump? by George Lakoff

Replied to Why Trump? by George Lakoff (George Lakoff)
Donald Trump is winning Republican presidential primaries at such a great rate that he seems likely to become the next Republican presidential nominee and perhaps the next president. Democrats have little understanding of why he is winning — and winning handily, and even...
I appreciate the logic you’ve laid out on multiple levels here. I wish it were more widely viewed and shared. There’s an additional linguistic trick which Trump seems to take heavy advantage of as well: doublespeak. I’ve laid out some of the details here: though I’ve got a slightly more nuanced approach now a year on and with additional data.

I enjoy your take on Direct vs. Systemic Causation which I bundle a bit more simply under the concept of “complexity”. The example I provide certainly fits well into your argument. It also seems to explain the political divide, which also follows the same party lines, in the ways the country views science in general, but the ideas of climate change and evolution specifically. While the evolution portion may be in direct conflict with the religious right, it doesn’t explain why so many don’t believe in the sciences generally or why they would be climate change deniers. Direct causation would seem to supersede the simple religion argument and explain the backlash against the sciences in general.

📺 Linguist and Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff on Tavis Smiley (PBS)

Watched Linguist and Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff from PBS
The esteemed academic discusses Trump supporters who stay faithful to him even when he works against their material best interests and well-being.

Dr. Lakoff does a solid job of dissecting Trump’s communication style and providing some relatively solid advice to journalists and media outlets who aim to disrupt what Trump is attempting to accomplish. The discussion of morality and its role in our political system, albeit brief, was incredibly interesting.

In the last third of the interview, Lakoff provides an interesting reframing of much of the public/private case that Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson make in their recent book American Amnesia.

Apparently there is another interview Smiley’s done with Dr. Lakoff. I can’t wait to watch it. I certainly would have appreciated an extended hour or two of their conversation.

I can see people like Jay Rosen and Keith Olbermann appreciating these interviews if they haven’t seen them.

This was so solid that I actually watched it a second time. It may also be time to dig into some of Lakoff’s other writings and research as well. Some of it I’ve read and seen before in general terms, but it’s probably worth delving into more directly.

🎧 Our Computers, Ourselves | Invisibilia (NPR)

Listened to Our Computers, Ourselves from Invisibilia |
In Our Computers, Ourselves, a look at the ways technology affects us, and the main question is : Are computers changing human character? You'll hear from cyborgs, bullies, neuroscientists and police chiefs about whether our closeness with computers is changing us as a species.
Possibly not as interesting to me because I’ve watched this space more closely over the past 20 years or so. Still it’s an interesting episode asking some great questions.

I can’t believe I flew through season one so quickly.

🎧 The Power Of Categories | Invisibilia (NPR)

Listened to The Power Of Categories from Invisibilia |
The Power Of Categories examines how categories define us — how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. The show looks at what categories provide for us, and you'll hear about a person caught between categories in a way that will surprise you. Plus, a trip to a retirement community designed to help seniors revisit a long-missed category.
The transgender/sexual dysphoria story here is exceedingly interesting because it could potentially have some clues to how those pieces of biology work and what shifts things in one direction or another. How is that spectrum created/defined? A few dozen individuals like that could help provide an answer.

The story about the Indian retirement community in Florida is interesting, but it also raises the (unasked, in the episode at least) question of the detriment it can do to a group of people to be lead by some the oldest members of their community. The Latin words senīlis ‎(“of or pertaining to old age”) and senex ‎(“old”) are the roots of words like senate, senescence, senility, senior, and seniority, and though it’s nice to take care of our elders, the younger generations should take a hard look at the unintended consequences which may stem from this.

In some sense I’m also reminded about Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and why progress in science (and yes, society) is held back by the older generations who are still holding onto outdated models. Though simultaneously, they do provide some useful “brakes” on both velocity of change as well as potential ill effects which could be damaging in short timeframes.

🎧 A deep dive into cucurbit names | Eat This Podcast

Listened to A deep dive into cucurbit names from Eat This Podcast
Continuing the short season of bits and pieces that didn't quite fit in the year's episodes by getting to grips with the origin of "gherkin" and other names we give cucurbits.

A Secondary Meaning for POSSE

I’d meant to document this back in November when it was discussed at IndieWebCamp Los Angeles, but it was a busy weekend.

In conversation with Tantek Çelik, I asked if a double entendre meaning to POSSE was originally intended when it was coined?

POSSE is an abbreviation for Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere (or Everywhere), a content publishing model that starts with posting content on your own domain first, then syndicating out copies to 3rd party services with permashortlinks back to the original on your site.

When I originally heard about POSSE, I considered the original post on my own site as the Sheriff or “leader” and the ensuing syndicated copies as the (literal and figurative) traditional posse which follows along behind it adding ideas, conversation, and help in accomplishing the original post’s mission.

The posse, one tough looking gang of o’n’ry corporate silos! Let’s mount ’em up!

If that second meaning didn’t exist before, it does now…

Chris Aldrich is reading “The little-known story of how “fracking” entered our vocabulary”

Read The little-known story of how "fracking" entered our vocabulary (
"True story," Matthew Lewis, a communications strategist based in San Francisco, told me recently over Twitter. "I put the 'k' in fracking." As best I can verify, he is correct. I'd always wondered how the term "fracking," which has dominated energy discussions for years, worked its way into our vocabulary. And the backstory turns out to be pretty interesting.

Weekly Recap: Interesting Articles 7/24-7/31 2016

Went on vacation or fell asleep at the internet wheel this week? Here’s some of the interesting stuff you missed.

Science & Math


Indieweb, Internet, Identity, Blogging, Social Media


The emotional arcs of stories are dominated by six basic shapes

Bookmarked The emotional arcs of stories are dominated by six basic shapes (
Advances in computing power, natural language processing, and digitization of text now make it possible to study our a culture's evolution through its texts using a "big data" lens. Our ability to communicate relies in part upon a shared emotional experience, with stories often following distinct emotional trajectories, forming patterns that are meaningful to us. Here, by classifying the emotional arcs for a filtered subset of 1,737 stories from Project Gutenberg's fiction collection, we find a set of six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives. We strengthen our findings by separately applying optimization, linear decomposition, supervised learning, and unsupervised learning. For each of these six core emotional arcs, we examine the closest characteristic stories in publication today and find that particular emotional arcs enjoy greater success, as measured by downloads.

Devastating News: Sol Golomb has apparently passed away on Sunday

I was getting concerned that I hadn’t heard back from Sol for a while, particularly after emailing him late last week, and then I ran across this notice through ITSOC & the IEEE:

Solomon W. Golomb (May 30, 1932 – May 1, 2016)

Shannon Award winner and long-time ITSOC member Solomon W. Golomb passed away on May 1, 2016.
Solomon W. Golomb was the Andrew Viterbi Chair in Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC) and was at USC since 1963, rising to the rank of University and Distinguished Professor. He was a member of the National Academies of Engineering and Science, and was awarded the National Medal of Science, the Shannon Award, the Hamming Medal, and numerous other accolades. As USC Dean Yiannis C. Yortsos wrote, “With unparalleled scholarly contributions and distinction to the field of engineering and mathematics, Sol’s impact has been extraordinary, transformative and impossible to measure. His academic and scholarly work on the theory of communications built the pillars upon which our modern technological life rests.”

In addition to his many contributions to coding and information theory, Professor Golomb was one of the great innovators in recreational mathematics, contributing many articles to Scientific American and other publications. More recent Information Theory Society members may be most familiar with his mathematics puzzles that appeared in the Society Newsletter, which will publish a full remembrance later.

A quick search a moment later revealed this sad confirmation along with some great photos from an award Sol received just a week ago:

As is common in academia, I’m sure it will take a few days for the news to drip out, but the world has certainly lost one of its greatest thinkers, and many of us have lost a dear friend, colleague, and mentor.

I’ll try touch base with his family and pass along what information sniff I can. I’ll post forthcoming obituaries as I see them, and will surely post some additional thoughts and reminiscences of my own in the coming days.

Golomb and national medal of science
President Barack Obama presents Solomon Golomb with the National Medal of Science at an awards ceremony held at the White House in 2013.

Collective learning has potentially been growing at the expense of a shrinking body of diverse language

Yesterday, I saw an interesting linguistic exercise:

Short activity to show how flexible our language is and how difficult collective learning would have been for our non sapiens ancestors.

Step 1: As a class, choose 200 random words. (I had 15 kids choose 14 words each)

Step 2: Answer the following questions using only the words listed:

  1. How should we try to kill that mammoth?
  2. Explain why you should marry me.
  3. Give directions for a simple task.
  4. Come up with a plan to improve our cave.
  5. Describe a physical landscape.
  6. Come up with your own question!
Chris Scaturo
on February 3 at 8:44am in Yammer Group on Big History: Unit 6 – Early Humans Group

I have to imagine that once the conceptualization of language and some basic grammar existed, word generation was a much more common thing than it is now. It’s only been since the time of Noah Webster that humans have been actively standardizing things like spelling. If we can use Papua New Guinea as a model of pre-agrarian society and consider that almost 12% of extant languages on the Earth are spoken in an area about the size of Texas (and with about 1/5th the population of Texas too), then modern societies are actually severely limiting language (creation, growth, diversity, creativity, etc.) [cross reference: A World of Languages – and How Many Speak Them (Infographic)]

Consider that the current extinction of languages is about one every 14 weeks, which puts us on a course to loose about half of the 7,100 languages on the planet right now before the end of the century. Collective learning has potentially been growing at the expense of a shrinking body of diverse language! In the paper “Global distribution and drivers of language extinction risk” the authors indicate that of all the variables tested, economic growth was most strongly linked to language loss.

To help put this exercise into perspective, we can look at the corpus of extant written Latin (a technically dead language):

“It is a truly impressive fact that, simply by knowing that if one can memorize and master about 250 words in Latin, it will allow them to read and understand 50% of most written Latin. Further, knowledge of 1,500 Latin words will put one at the 80% level of vocabulary mastery for most texts. Mastering even a very small list of vocabulary allows one to read a large variety of texts very comfortably.”
with data from Dickinson College Commentaries

These numbers become even smaller when considering ancient Greek texts.

Another interesting measurement is the vocabulary of a modern 2 year old who typically has a 50-75 word vocabulary while a 4 year old has 250-500 words, which is about the level of the exercise.

As a contrast, consider the message in this TED Youth Talk from last year by Erin McKean, which students should be able to relate to:

[ted id=2158]

And of course, there’s the dog Chaser, which 60 minutes recently reported has a vocabulary of over 1,000 words. (Are we now destroying variants of “dog language” for English too?!)

Hopefully the evolutionary value of the loss of the multiple languages will be more than balanced out by the power of collective learning in the long run.