Pixel Scroll 2/1/18 Five Little Pixel Scrolls, Argued On The Floor, One Used A Fallacy, And Well, There Were Still Five

(1) HORROR POETRY. At the Horror Writers Association blog: “The Word’s the Thing: An Interview with Michael Arnzen”

Q: How important is language in poetry? I realize the question is a bit open ended and hints of a “duh” question. However, there is something that distinguishes the many genre poets from a Marge Simon, Linda Addison or Bruce Boston. The subject matter may be similar but the language of poets of that caliber is just different. You can read many imitations of Poe or The Graveyard Boys, but the handful of poets that truly stand out seem to have this almost magical way of using language.

A:  There’s no poetry without language, obviously, but you make a really good point about what distinguishes one poet from another – I’d call it their “voice.” Poetry is a kind of music; the sound matters and it should reverberate in the body and fetch the ear when spoken in a way that narrative fiction cannot. Words are as important as the “notes” in music, but every poet might have an instinctive, experienced and individual way of “singing” or giving shape to those words. But genre poetry is not opera and it doesn’t require a reader to be schooled in anything special; it’s more like pop music. Remember, although we can trace the legacy of genre back to Beowulf, through the Graveyard Poets of the Romantic Period and then Edgar Allan Poe, horror poetry as we think of it today really got its start as filler — a way for pulp magazine editors to put content in the blank spaces on the page of early magazines and fanzines.  So some of the best horror genre poets in my opinion are more accessible and reaching readers with more easy to swallow language, perhaps using lyrical forms but not in an overbearing way, while still retaining a unique voice.  I’ve read hyper-literary genre poetry, but no matter how interesting it might be, it often feels like its pretending to be something it’s not, and rings false when it taps the emotional chords. So in my opinion language matters, but it really can’t get in the way of the emotional connection in this field. Music is the instinctive part of poetry that just “feels” right, and the best genre poets are the kind who know how to reach the audience — they sing in a way that reaches new fans and experienced readers/viewers/lovers of horror alike.

(2) UNSTOPPABLE MONSTER. Forbes’ Ian Morris says “Hulu Is Gaining On Netflix, But Star Trek Discovery Is An Unstoppable Monster”.

What’s interested me though is the Star Trek: Discovery “Demand Expressions” or, better known as the number of people talking about a show. According to Parrot Analytics – video below – Star Trek: Discovery has more than 53 million people talking about it in the US. That beats The Walking Dead which has around 46m expressions. Netflix’s Stranger Things also has a staggering 33m of these within the US.

(3) IRONCLAD PROMISE. The Verge’s Andrew Liptak reports “BBC is making a Victorian-era War of the Worlds TV series”.

Earlier today, the BBC announced a number of new shows, including a three-part series based on H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. The show is scheduled to go into production next spring, and it appears that, unlike most modern adaptations, it will be set in the Victorian era.

The series will be written by screenwriter Peter Harness, who adapted Susanna Clarke’s Victorian-era fantasy novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for the network, as well as a handful of Doctor Who episodes.

(4) APEX MAGAZINE THEME ISSUE TAKING SUBMISSIONS. This summer, award-winning author and editor Sheree Renée Thomas (“Aunt Dissy’s Policy Dream Book,” Apex Magazine, Volume 95 April 2017 and Volume 101 October 2017, Sleeping Under the Tree of Life, Shotgun Lullabies, and the Dark Matter anthologies) will guest edit a special Zodiac-themed issue. Sheree seeks short stories that explore the heavenly cosmos and unveil mysteries, tales that reimagine Zodiacal archetypes and/or throw them on their heads.

As the stars align themselves above, write bold, fun, weird, scary, sensual stories that heal, frighten, intrigue, amuse.

Length: 1500-5000 words

Genres: Science fiction, fantasy, horror, interstitial, etc.

Deadline: May 1, 2018

Email submissions to: sheree.apexmag@gmail.com

Payment:  Original fiction $.06/word; Solicited Reprint fiction: $.01/word; Podcast $.01/word

(SFWA-certified professional market)

No simultaneous submissions. No multi-submissions for short fiction.

Publication: August 2018, Apex Magazine

(5) MEREDITH MOMENT. John Joseph Adams’ anthology HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! and Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects is discounted to $1.99 on Kindle from now until Feb. 7 (11:59pm PT).

Includes stories by Seanan McGuire, Daniel H. Wilson, Chuck Wendig, Tobias S. Buckell, Carmen Maria Machado and many others.

(6) TWISTED OPEN. Editors Christopher Golden and James A. Moore are taking submissions for their horror anthology The Twisted Book of Shadows until February 28.

  • Will have zero spaces reserved for marquee names.
  • Will use a blind submissions program (we won’t know who wrote the stories until we’ve selected them).
  • Will pay professional rates — a minimum of six cents per word, with a cap on advances of $300 per story.
  • Will pay royalties — a pro rata share of 50% of all royalties earned.
  • Will make our best efforts to spread the word, so that marginalized communities of horror writers will be aware of the call for stories.
  • Will employ a diverse Editorial Committee. In recognition of the possibility of inherent bias in our reading, the editors have engaged an astonishing team of diverse writers and editors who will read submissions alongside us and will offer their input and aid in the selection process. These authors and editors have a breadth and depth of experience that has transformed this project into THE horror anthology for the coming year.

Golden told Facebook readers:

PLEASE share this far and wide, but I’d ask that you make a special effort to share with authors interested in horror who also happen to be women, people of color, non-binary, LGBTQ, or part of any commonly marginalized community. Anyone who has ever felt discouraged from submitting is actively ENCOURAGED to submit to this. If the work isn’t great, there’s nothing we can do about that, but we can guarantee you a fair process, blind to any identity other than the quality of your story. All we care about is what you write.

(7) RECOGNIZING ROMANCE. Awards news at Amazing Stories — “Science Fiction Romance Awards Announced”.

This is a big week in science fiction romance as the SFR Galaxy Awards for 2017 were announced on January 31st. Judged by respected book bloggers and reviewers in the genre, the Award has the following theme per their website: The theme of the SFR Galaxy Awards is inclusiveness. Instead of giving an award to a single book, this event will recognize the worth of multiple books and/or the standout elements they contain.

(8) AT 45. Megan McArdle says“After 45 Birthdays, Here Are ’12 Rules for Life'” at Bloomberg. There’s a familiar name in the first rule:

  1. Be kind. Mean is easy; kind is hard. Somewhere in eighth grade, many of us acquired the idea that the nasty putdown, the superior smile, the clever one liner, are the signs of intelligence and great personal strength. But this kind of wit is, to borrow from the great John Scalzi, “playing the game on easy mode.” Making yourself feel bigger by making someone else feel small takes so little skill that 12-year-olds can do it. Those with greater ambitions should leave casual cruelty behind them.

(9) HOW THEY STACK UP. Rocket Stack Rank has posted its “Annotated 2017 Locus Recommended Reading List for short fiction”, sorted by score to highlight the stories that made it into the “year’s best” anthologies so far (Gardner Dozois, Jonathan Strahan, Neil Clarke) and the “year’s best” lists from prolific reviewers (Gardner Dozois, Rich Horton, Greg Hullender [RSR], Sam Tomaino [SFRevu], Jason McGregor, and Charles Payseur).

Annotations include time estimates, links to the story on the author’s website (if available), author links with Campbell Award-eligibility marked (superscript for year 1 or 2), blurbs for RSR-reviewed stories, links to reviews, and links to digital back issues (of print magazines) at eBookstores and library websites.

RSR reviewed 96 out of the 123 stories in the Locus list (78%). Of the 27 not reviewed by RSR, 10 were stories from horror magazines and horror anthologies. The rest were from other science fiction & fantasy sources, some of which might be reviewed by RSR as time permits.

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • February 1, 1970 Horror of the Blood Monsters, starring John Carradine, premiered.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born February 1, 1908 – George Pal

(12)COMICS SECTION.

  • Chip Hitchcock asks, “What are they doing in there?” — Nonsequitur.

(13) TODAY’S THING TO WORRY ABOUT. Could be even worse than yesterday’s! Fox News reports “China is building a laser 10 trillion times more intense than the Sun that could tear space apart”.

According to the Science journal, this laser would be so powerful it “could rip apart empty space”.

The idea is to achieve a phenomenon known as “breaking the vacuum”, whereby electrons are torn away from positrons (their antimatter counterparts) in the empty vacuum of space.

Right now, it’s possible to convert matter into huge amounts of heat and light, as proved by nuclear weapons. But reversing the process is more difficult – although Chinese physicist Ruxin Li believes his laser could manage it.

“That would be very exciting. It would mean you could generate something from nothing,” he explained.

The team has already created a less powerful version called the Shanghai Superintense Ultrafast Laser, which is capable of a 5.3-petawatt pulse

(14) NO UNIVERSES WERE HARMED. Meanwhile — “Simulation of universe provides black hole breakthrough”.

The most detailed simulation of the universe ever created has provided a breakthrough revealing how the most powerful and mysterious forces interact on an enormous scale.

Scientists said the detail and scale provided by the simulation enabled them to watch how galaxies formed, evolved and grew while also nursing the creation of new stars.

Dr Shy Genel, at the New York-based Flatiron Institute’s Centre for Computational Astrophysics (CCA), said: “When we observe galaxies using a telescope, we can only measure certain quantities.”

But “with the simulation, we can track all the properties for all these galaxies. And not just how the galaxy looks now, but its entire formation history”, he added.

He said the simulation is the most advanced ever developed.

(15) CRUSADING JOURNALISM. Florida Man has been heard from again: “Man Prefers Comic Books That Don’t Insert Politics Into Stories About Government-Engineered Agents Of War”The Onion has the story.

APOPKA, FL—Local man Jeremy Land reportedly voiced his preference Thursday for comic books that don’t insert politics into stories about people forced to undergo body- and mind-altering experiments that transform them into government agents of war. “I’m tired of simply trying to enjoy escapist stories in which people are tortured and experimented upon at black sites run by authoritarian governments, only to have the creators cram political messages down my throat,” said Land, 31, who added that Marvel’s recent additions of female, LGBTQ, and racially diverse characters to long-running story arcs about tyrannical regimes turning social outsiders into powerful killing machines felt like PC propaganda run amok….

(16) BANGING ROCKS TOGETHER. To go with the recent Pixel about early humans ranging more widely, “Discovery In India Suggests An Early Global Spread Of Stone Age Technology”.

Somewhere around 300,000 years ago, our human ancestors in parts of Africa began to make small, sharp tools, using stone flakes that they created using a technique called Levallois.

The technology, named after a suburb of Paris where tools made this way were first discovered, was a profound upgrade from the bigger, less-refined tools of the previous era, and marks the Middle Stone Age in Africa and the Middle Paleolithic era in Europe and western Asia.

Neanderthals in Europe also used these tools around the same time. And scientists have thought that the technology spread to other parts of the globe much later — after modern humans moved out of Africa.

But scientists in India recently discovered thousands of stone tools made with Levallois technique, dating back to 385,000 years ago. These latest findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, suggest the Levallois technique spread across the world long before researchers previously thought.

(17) BIRDS DO IT. Everybody’s doing it: “Luxembourg PM sees his country’s satellite launched”.

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, has just watched one of his country’s satellites go into orbit.

He was at Cape Canaveral, Florida, to see the launch of GovSat-1, which will be providing telecommunications services to the military and institutional customers.

The Luxembourg government has a 50-50 share in the project.

Its partner is SES, the major commercial satellite operator that bases itself in the Grand Duchy.

GovSat-1 is another example of Luxembourg’s burgeoning role in the space sector.

Its deputy prime minister, Etienne Schneider, who was also at the Cape, has recently positioned the country at the forefront of plans to go mine asteroids.

GovSat-1 rode to orbit on a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket. It will try to forge a new market in satellite communications.

(18) EARLY WARNING. With this it may be possible to detect dementia before it ravages the brain — “Blood test finds toxic Alzheimer’s proteins”.

Scientists in Japan and Australia have developed a blood test that can detect the build-up of toxic proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The work, published in the journal Nature, is an important step towards a blood test for dementia.

The test was 90% accurate when trialled on healthy people, those with memory loss and Alzheimer’s patients.

Experts said the approach was at an early stage and needed further testing, but was still very promising.

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Dann, Andrew Porter, John Joseph Adams, Greg Hullender, Jason Sizemore, StephenfromOttawa, ULTRAGOTHA, and Carl Slaughter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W.]

119 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 2/1/18 Five Little Pixel Scrolls, Argued On The Floor, One Used A Fallacy, And Well, There Were Still Five

  1. @Lis Carey

    I agree that 25% is a huge number for many people. When I did a similar exercise many years ago, I didn’t put a number on it. I just suggested that saving and investing were good habits to adopt.

    I disagree that she is writing from a perspective that is detached from most of the American population. That’s the whole point of the piece. People make choices. Those choices influence other choices that are available later on.

    In my experience, most people have the lives they have based more* on the choices they make than on limitations that society tries to impose. Her article is an attempt to suggest to readers that they do have more options available than they might otherwise think. But choosing those options will probably also mean not choosing other options.

    I can’t help much on the issue with “spouse”. One of the life aspects that interests Ms. McArdle is building a life with a spouse. Authors generally write about issues/perspectives in which they have an interest. As most adult Americans are married, it is a perspective that will come up from time to time.

    *more….not “solely”. There are individuals that have lives that are severely constrained by choices made by others. But for the average American, they have more choices and opportunities to select rather than being imposed. IMHO.

    I could add another dozen caveats, but I don’t know if that would help.

    @Meredith

    I apologize. Call it my Meriduh moment? **wink**

    @Robert Reynolds

    Thank you for writing that which I could not in the immediate aftermath. When the first piece of advice is “don’t be mean” and some of the responses are casually and caustically dismissive, I’m not sure how to respond.

    @John A Arkansawyer

    Was there supposed to be a riff involving defended and de-friended in there?

    Regards,
    Dann

  2. 8) I just saw “45” and figured there’d wasn’t much she could say that I haven’t already heard, or lived through.

    She’s almost as young as my oldest step-son…and what does he know?

    🙂

  3. @Dann–
    That you didn’t put a number on the amount to be saved, and she not only did, but made it quite a large number, is for me a very large difference. Saving and investing are good habits to develop. Saving 25% is an unattainable, and therefore discouraging, goal for a very large part of the working population. She may not intend it as judgmental. You may not read it as judgmental. It very much feels judgmental and unkind to someone struggling to get by after a lifetime of work.

    Choices matter. Choices are important. McArdle starts off saying be kind, and then phrases much of the rest of her advice in ways that feel, not intentionally unkind, but a bit absolute, a bit obtuse, and yes, a little bit judgmental.

    And yet, also lazy. If your life allows even a little bit of flexibility to make the time for study and practice, there’s no reason you can’t learn Portugese, or some other language, after 45. If, that is, it’s a priority.

    What she’s really saying, intentionally or not, is that the choices she finds important for her, are important for everyone, and the ones that don’t interest her, aren’t. It’s more important to her, to waste both money and food on the tiny chance that the new, unfamiliar dish will be one that will change your life.

    If that works for her, and enlivens her life, that’s great. But while I’m not interested in learning Portugese, I can at least see the point of that, while the point of wasting both money and food, instead of getting maximum enjoyment out of a rare restaurant meal, completely eludes me.

    I’ve never been an adventurous eater, and that’s not going to change now. Not do I see any real reason why I should. I’m not buying into the idea that this makes either me, or my life, lesser. It’s just where I am on the spectrum of attitudes toward food.

    But I totally get why someone would devote lots of time and energy to languages, or music, or art.

    And I’m happy when I find books I thought I wouldn’t like, but do. There are even books I didnt like at all, but still am glad I read.

    And really, if eating weird food, or spending money on a cleaner, makes your life better, go for It! Enjoy!

    Just don’t pretend it’s some sort of a rule for a life well lived.

  4. @Dann: My pleasure.

    Yet another Meredith Moment (the universe seems determined for me to spend a significant chunk of my disposable income in the first two days of the month):

    Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler is on sale at most of the Usual Suspects for $1.99.

    I forgot to say that one of the things I’m quite grateful for Mr. Glyer and File 770, because there are so many intelligent and creative people who come here.

    Here in 9740, Ursula K. Le Guin is still sorely missed and her books are still of great worth.

  5. @Chip Hitchcock:
    There’s almost certainly some looseness in the concept of ‘phoneme’, and some of the parameters of that looseness are going to be language-dependent. Just take a look at the l/r distinction which is obvious in English because we’re brought up with it, but less so in Japanese because there is only the one linguistic sound in that category.

    Hmm, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perception_of_English_/r/_and_/l/_by_Japanese_speakers

    Goto (1971) reports that native speakers of Japanese who have learned English as adults have difficulty perceiving the acoustic differences between English /r/ and /l/, even if the speakers are comfortable with conversational English, have lived in an English-speaking country for extended periods, and can articulate the two sounds when speaking English.

    Japanese speakers can, however, perceive the difference between English /r/ and /l/ when these sounds are not mentally processed as speech sounds.

    My emphasis added on the last line. There’s evidence that the processing of ‘sounds as phonemes’ happens differently in the brain from just ‘sounds as distinct noises’. It’s all in the symbol/meaning handling.

  6. @Lis Carey:

    Thank you, you hit on the main problem with Ms. McArdle’s piece-she called them “rules”. One person’s rules are another person’s belly laugh, to paraphrase Heinlein.

    Here in 4209, the line to get into Disney World is absurdly long.

  7. @Dann: It looks like there should be a defriended/defended pun in there, doesn’t it? In fact, I had to squint when posting to ensure I hadn’t made one on accident. But no.

  8. Robert Reynolds:

    most people commenting on this read very little of it and didn’t seem to care about understanding what they did read

    For someone preaching kindness, that was itself singularly unkind.

    Yes, she made good points. They were undermined by ones that were either bad or inapplicable outside of particular situations.

    1: Yes, this is a good point. You thinking people here are “Scoring points”, or being “casually cruel”, by being critical of her is misunderstanding criticism.

    She also badly misinterpreted or misquoted Scalzi. I don’t even know how she got to that quote from where she included it

    2: Whether there are more important things in life than politics depends on so much of what those politics are and to a lesser degree how much power the person in question has over policy.

    My in-laws, who are some of the nicest people I know, are old school conservatives. (In Canada, they’re right of centre, but in the sane part of the right.) I am absolutely certain there are points of politics where we disagree. I can bite my tongue over most of them, because for the most part they also believe in treating all human beings with respect and that everyone should have the same access to health care, food, shelter and the like, and the same opportunities (and they genuinely mean it and I have seen this in action). I might be more concerned if they were *policy-makers* in some of the areas where we disagree.

    However, there’s a clear line past which people who disagree, and especially people who have a chance to affect policy, are worth cutting off, because what they are saying ACTIVELY HURTS REAL HUMAN BEINGS. Sometimes even me.

    But honestly, her, and you, drawing no line on where that ends is a fool’s declaration, and it’s the one she made. Should I stay friends with people waving around swastikas because friendship is “important”? Should I stay friends with people who proudly, not reluctantly, voted for a man who committed sexual assault?

    I have stayed friends with people against the better judgment of others. Sometimes for reasons that could be counted political. I have occasionally regretted friends lost over things that could be construed as politics. (In at least one case, it’s the same friend, because 10 years makes a difference in many things.) I can think of no useful hard and fast rule about friends and politics that encompasses all possible balance in what is and is not worth saving.

    3) I can only assume when she says this that she means at a restaurant where you order several dishes for a group to share, not one where everyone buys their own entrée. And even so, as a hard rule, it’s too hard a rule. The general principle of “You gotta try new food cause it might taste good” is not a bad one.

    4) This, for once, is an EXCELLENT piece of advice, full stop, and the sort of thing that should be written on many peoples’ walls repeatedly. Goes directly against her comment about not learning a language, though.

    5) Again, good advice except all the times when it isn’t, and those are numerous. Again, presented as a hard and fast rule.

    6) Yes, it’s a good idea for ME to save more of my money. Yes, I don’t need stuff as much as I need a secure future (There’s a reason I’m actually still trying to be careful how much stuff I get now that we are financially secure again, and one of my priorities was RESPs for the boys.) But what about the several people RIGHT HERE who can’t save? What part of McArdle telling them [Paraphrased, but I checked again and the paraphrase is NOT inaccurate] “You just want stuff more than you want financial security” is KIND? SHE, not we, violated her own first rule.

    7) Yes. Tell people they’re amazing.

    8) Yes. ALSO and again goes almost directly against her own declarations at the top about being unable to go to Lisbon, learn Portuguese and take up the guitar. Maybe you can’t move to Lisbon, but you can learn guitar or possibly Portuguese. (Guitar is easier, because there’s a much lower skill level at which it is applicable and useable, even if you aspire to the higher skill levels.)

    9) This is almost poetry. I agree.

    10) This is a place where she needed to offer nuanced advice – and unlike the other two cases above, she mostly did. She missed a few places where things aren’t necessarily possible for everyone, and she’s again focused too much on spouse rather than partner or best friend or other important people who may be in a person’s life. but the gist is fairly solid.

    11) Finding things to be grateful for is a gift, and an ideal to strive for. There are circumstances in which demanding it of yourself or others becomes a burden to an already burdened person.

    12) UH, what?

    Okay, if I mentally rewrite cinnamon buns for dinner rolls, this makes perfect sense.

    SO: Overall, 2/3 of what she said makes sense. Do you see why, besides what you perceive as “point scoring”, I might want to talk more about where she’s wrong or even damaging than where she’s right?

  9. @Lenora Rose:

    I realize that it seems to be human nature to zero in on points of disagreement. I would also point out that calling someone a “clueless blowhard” (as you did in your first comment) falls rather closer to “point scoring” and “casually cruel” than it does to criticism.

    That some of what I’ve said is unkind simply means that I myself am still a work in progress. That doesn’t alter the fact that a good many of the attacks on Ms. McArdle here give the distinct impression that the people making them read very little of what she wrote and didn’t seem to understand (or care) about a lot of what she had to say (or did you choose to call her a “clueless blowhard” even as “2/3rds of what she said makes sense”?).

    Here in 6544, our feline overlords still view us with amused tolerance.

  10. @Lis Carey

    I took this piece completely differently.

    I took it as suggesting that if a person wants to do something, then they should make a responsible plan to go do that thing. Putting it off until an undefined “later” generally translates into “never” and a pocket full of regrets.

    I also took it as a suggestion that a person should also be willing to try new things. Sure, food was her example, but within the framework of the piece, “try new foods” can be stretched beyond the boundaries of the world gastronomic.

    The frustrating part comes in when the piece is picked apart over details that are admittedly debatable while the larger lessons get trashed as a wave of complaints about “privilege”. It is also frustrating when responses start delving into the ends of the bell curve as though the middle of the curve is irrelevant.

    Where some folks have a pretty narrow range of food preferences, others are experiencing food on an Anthony Bourdain scale. Both seem a bit extreme to me. While the bell curve of food preferences may not be the best example, I think it is a reasonable/OK one.

    @Lenora Rose

    1) The Scalzi quote comes from an essay on race and gender priviledge.

    IMHO, it is a good essay if a bit simplistic. Equally IMHO, I don’t find her use of it to be an offensive distortion.

    It is “easy” to respond to a contrary perspective with a point-scoring, pithy bon mot followed by a dismissive Dogbert-esque “bah” and wave of the paw. That is the “easy setting” response.

    It is harder to make a cogent argument that will be appreciated by the other person….even if they might not necessarily change their opinion as a result.

    2) American culture is on a long-term slide where the slightest deviation in opinion is perceived as just cause for significantly altering conditions of employment/friendship. Seeking areas of agreement is a useful counter to that harmful trend.

    @John A Arkansawyer

    When I first read it, I was reminded of my admittedly ill-advised forays into all things JdA. Although he isn’t a “friend” in even the most cavalier definition of the word.

    Regards,
    Dann

  11. @Robert Reynolds–

    I read every word McArdle wrote. It’s quite clear Lenora Rose did also.

    Her admonishing us to be kind didn’t actually make a “rule” that I should save a proportion of my income that would make it difficult for me to eat seem more kindly.

    If I had wanted to be snarky and unkind, I’d have zeroed in on how badly she mashed up Scalzi quotes, somewhat distracting from her initial “be kind” point.

  12. @Dann–
    The “playing on easy mode” quote is indeed from an essay about race and gender, and it’s a discussion about the reality of privilege for white males, even those who quite reasonably don’t feel especially privileged.

    The quote she wants, on kindness vs. witty & cutting remarks, is “the failure mode of clever.” Taking the time to get it right, rather than riffing from memory, would have made her point both clearer, and stronger.

  13. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell is, of course, not a “Victorian-era fantasy novel.” It is set during the reign of George III, during the Napoleonic Wars

  14. @ Robert Reynolds. Perhaps you are right, I don’t really get ‘be grateful’ The way I see it, at every point in life you have the choice of accepting what is or trying to improve it. The ‘be grateful’ seem to me to always be urging acceptance while I would always want action. This doesn’t just apply to when things are unfair, but also in general.

    Friends and politics, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and wondering how it works for other people. In theory, I think you should have friends with different politics. I have acquaintances with all kinds of beliefs, and exchange small talk with them and help them jump start their cars without regard to politics. But all my friends have roughly the same political ideas I do. Not planned, just that those are the people I get closer to. How does it work differently for other people?

  15. Lis Carey: I think some of her suggestions would have gotten a much better reception, if they didn’t accompany suggestions which are, um, disconnected from many people’s real world experience… She’s writing from a perspective that she probably doesn’t think is privileged, but which is completely detached from practical reality for much of the American population.

    Boy howdy, is she ever. That piece is written from a place of privilege that is utterly oblivious to all of the Americans who are struggling just to survive from day-to-day, and who don’t have the physical, temporal, or financial resources to devote to “bucket list” items.

    It’s a fluff piece, aimed at those who enjoy lives of similar privilege.

     
    Dann: I took this piece completely differently. I took it as suggesting that if a person wants to do something, then they should make a responsible plan to go do that thing. Putting it off until an undefined “later” generally translates into “never” and a pocket full of regrets.

    That is because you enjoy a life of similar privilege, so the things she says seem eminently reasonable to you, and you have the attitude that the people who don’t enjoy lives of similar privilege are in that position simply because of choices they have made.

  16.  
    Dann: The disparagement of her suggestion that people value friendship above politics is particularly disappointing.

    That statement makes the assumption that politics are a superficial thing. They quite often are not; they usually reflect very core aspects of who a person is.

    I have no interest in being friends with someone who believes that healthcare, education, shelter, and food should only be available to people who are financially well off.

    I have no interest in being friends with someone who believes that anyone who is not financially well off is in that situation purely because they made choices which put them there, and that they have earned, and deserve, to not have healthcare, education, shelter, and food available to them.

    I have no interest in being friends with someone who believes that corporations should be permitted to do whatever they want in order to maximize their profit, regardless of the harm done to their employees, civil infrastructure, and the environment.

    I have no interest in being friends with someone who believes that they should be able to make their religious beliefs into laws which I should have to be forced to follow.

    People who believe those things are not nice people. Their “friendship” would be a detriment to my life, not an enhancement.

    “Friendship is more important than politics” is a very facile, catchy-sounding aphorism, but it ignores the fact that political beliefs are often a very good reflection of character, empathy, and humanity — or lack thereof.

  17. @bookworm1398:

    I can see that perspective, that being grateful=acceptance of life as it stands. That’s not how I see the concept, but it’s an understandable view.

    I suspect that my disability colors my view of things. When your pediatrician tells you more than once that you’re lucky to be alive, you learn to take very little for granted. At the same time, when you constantly find yourself looking for workarounds to function in a world not designed with people on crutches and/or wheels, acceptance of life as it stands is only possible if you give up almost entirely. So I’ve grown used to being grateful for the good in my life without accepting negatives as permanent without trying to change them.

    My experience has made me pragmatic.

    Here in 2018, I await the next set of time warps.

  18. (8) She’s a horrible columnist who wrote this nauseating passage after Newtown so I wouldn’t give anything she writes clicks:
    I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

    The title alone is indicative of learned helplessness.
    https://www.thedailybeast.com/theres-little-we-can-do-to-prevent-another-massacre

  19. (13) Meanwhile, their biologists are breeding a shark big enough to have one of these mounted to its head.

  20. (8) AT 45.

    Well, she calls them “12 Rules for Life” which is rather more definitive than mere guidelines or advice. But even if they were mere guidelines or advice, too many of them only applied to specific people in specific circumstances, and a few not even then. She might find them useful but I expect most people will find these rules of limited utility or even counterproductive.

    For example, saving 25% of your income for your retirement is no bad thing. But if you are living at or below the breadline, that is simply not possible (and a not insignificant people live below the poverty line). There were too many rules like that making me roll my eyes reading them.

  21. Robert Reynolds:

    A person of my acquaintance says these 3 things:
    1) Hey, it makes a lot of sense to be kind to people when you can.
    2) I like cinnamon rolls and I don’t see why we don’t enjoy them when we can.
    3) People in poverty are only there because they were too immature to work hard or save when they were young.

    Should I NOT call them clueless for the last opinion, regardless of my agreement with the first two? (I should also call them a hypocrite, but that term is getting overused, and I acknowledge cognitive dissonance may make them unaware the last is not only unkind, it drives policies that starve children.)

    If they pontificate about this as points of wisdom, on a large public forum, does that not make them a blowhard?

    No, I was not being nice. But I was not being nice because I see nonsense like her nonsensical points coming from the mouths of people who use them to drive policies that are dangerous.

  22. I found around half of the “life rules” useful and some of them more than stupid. The hell I will go to parties where only 10% of them are good. And point 6 is not compatible with 3, 8 and 10 unless you have seriously huge income.

  23. I’m nearly the same age as Ms. McArdle, but many of her suggestions and concrete examples have very little to do with my life.

    I agree or largely agree with her points 1, 4, 7, 8, 9 and 11 (interpreting “be grateful” as “Be grateful for the good things in your life, not as “Be grateful for what you have and never strive for anything better”).

    2. I have friends and family with different political viewpoints, ranging from Left and Green party supporters to conservatives. A cousin of mine is actually a local politician and member of a party whose policies I largely disagree with. We still get on splendidly.

    However, if a friend or relative spouts racist, xenophobic, homophobic or misogynist views and supports parties that do, if they support policies or a party that directly threatens my way of life, my livelihood or the things that matter to me, then I will cut them off. I have done this and I have never regretted this decision.

    If the racist or xenophobic relative keeps their noxious views to themselves, I will tolerate them. However, these people never keep their noxious views to themselves, but insist on airing them in public at family gatherings, etc… And if you call them out, you’re the one whose disruptive. In fact, I suspect that one of the reasons that we are seeing a rise of racism and xenophobia all across the globe at the moment is because my parents’ generation refused to call them out and make it very clear that such statements are inacceptable.

    So in short, there is a difference between “votes for a party I don’t vote for” and “is an unrepentant racist, xenophobe, homophobe, sexist, etc…” The former is no ground for ending a friendship, the latter is.

    3.
    If she had merely said, don’t be afraid to try new foods and new things, I doubt many people would have disagreed. However, the very specific situation of being in a restaurant (and why a restaurant? Why not ‘Cook a recipe you’ve never tried before’) and ordering an extra dish you may well not like seems extremely wasteful, not to mention impolite towards the restaurant staff. Also, while I’m not afraid to try a new dish, if it sounds like something I might like, I have a pretty good idea of what kind of foods I like and don’t like.

    5. Not necessarily bad advice, except that some people are introverts for whom parties are stressful in general, while others have very limited amounts of free time and would rather spend those limited amounts doing something they enjoy rather than something they very likely won’t enjoy.

    6. I agree that saving is important. However, I also know that for people with low incomes, saving anything is very difficult. And saving 25% of one’s income is impossible for a lot of people. Again, I suspect that if she had phrased this point more generally (Save money. If you have problems saving, ask yourself if all your expenses are really necessary), fewer people would have objected.

    10. I don’t really disagree with the gist of this. A lot of the time, you can find a solution to a conflict that satisfies both parties. But the strong focus on marriage really grates on me, because plenty of people are not in relationships and of those who are, many are not married. However, pretty much everybody has people who are important to them, whether friends, partners, parents, siblings, children, other relatives, etc… Again, if she’d phrased this more generally, I think fewer people would disagree. Also, what does she mean by roommates? Is this some euphemism for unmarried partners? Because I would interpret this as “someone with whom I share a house/flat, but with whom I’m not in a romantic relationship”.

    12. I’m not even sure what this is supposed to be about. Here in Germany, we have rolls for breakfast, not dinner and mostly buy them at the bakery rather than make them ourselves. We certainly don’t serve rolls with a warm meal.

  24. @JJ: you have the attitude that the people who don’t enjoy lives of similar privilege are in that position simply because of choices they have made

    Well sure. I mean, I am constantly amazed at the poor choices people make in selecting their parents.

  25. Dinner rolls are a small fluffy bun (bread dough not sweet dough, usually white flour theugh they can be whole wheat or mixed grain) , originally meant to use to sop up excess sauces and these days often served before dinner just with butter because so many people prefer them that way.

  26. I’ve had dinner rolls at a family dinner in France, where they just put them on the table next to my plate. (Here in the US, they either go on a separate small plate or you take them from a communal basket and put them on the edge of your plate.)

    We usually buy dinner rolls at the grocery store here, or a bakery, or sometimes frozen dough which we bake in the oven.

  27. @Lenora Rose: is that a preference, or a teaching? ISTM that restaurants do this so customers will be less unhappy with slow service, and the idea filtered outward from there.

    @Dann, @Reynolds: you remind me of my mother’s observation that Christian Science is a religion of the rich — because the religion considers health as a sign of their deity’s favor, so those who can afford to take care of themselves are by definition more favored. (Don’t anyone try to argue theology on this; it’s what she got from dealing with XSci’s in the family, not formal teaching.) The big hole in McArdle’s list is “be grateful that you have choices” — as so many more than you acknowledge do not. Of course there are people who have choices and make them badly; I wonder how the 24yo SW engineer/manager I knew 2 decades ago who refused to join the 401(k) because he wanted to buy a fancy car will be doing in another 2 decades. (SW engineering is nowhere near as secure as it once was.) But they are a minority — which is getting smaller every day, thanks to the regression grinding most people who work for a living.

  28. In France (we lived there for 2 years in my youth) I learned to eat with a fork in one hand and a piece of baguette in the other, for pushing the food and for ensuring that no drop of sauce was missed.

    I think American restaurants may have started imitating the French custom, then made fancy rolls served first a thing, to stave off hunger until the appetizers arrive. Americans have always been very impatient eaters by European standards.

  29. I live on a disability pension. Thanks to a supportive family, my poverty is very genteel, and I never have to choose between food and rent. I even get to go to a movie or buy a new comic now and again. The idea that I’d ever be in position to save 25% of the income I don’t have or choose between a new car and hiring a cleaner is still pretty hilarious, though. I cannot afford to run a car in the first place!

    And its not like this is a rare situation – I don’t know many people who are spending 25% of their income on frivolities they could do without rather than trivial stuff like electricity bills or shoes for their kids.

  30. I appreciate reading these comments on the McArdle piece. I saw it on Twitter because Scalzi retweeted it, and I’m close enough to the target audience that only a few things had me rolling my eyes, first and foremost the language thing. (My reactions were basically parallel to Lenora Rose’s.) It certainly did make me aware of my privilege, which is no bad thing. I agree that some of the points she was trying to make were badly hindered by the specifics she used.

    Regarding language acquisition, I know that my linguistics background slows me down in that I need to know WHY some things are the way they are, and that’s not necessarily conducive to rapid learning of phrases and vocabulary. However, I’m studying Japanese now because I want to know more about it rather than because I want to speak it, so it probably doesn’t matter quite so much that I’m more likely to retain verb conjugation rules than actual verbs and their meanings, say.

    As far as phonemes go, I’m better at hearing what the actual phoneme is and how it’s likely to be produced than I was before I did my degree, and most of the ones I need I can reasonably approximate. However, I don’t think anything on this earth will make me capable of rolling my Rs, one reason why I haven’t made much more than a token attempt at Spanish.

  31. @Robin Whiskers

    Whereas, as a Scot not only do I get extra Rs from being rohtic, I can roll em an aw.

  32. Chip Hitchcock: ISTM that there’s some looseness in “phoneme”; is there a related word for variants clear enough to be recognized by anyone (or at least by native speakers) while marking local origin?

    Well, the thing you have to realize is that strictly speaking, a phoneme is a mental entity defined by contrasting with the other contrastive sounds in a language rather than a set of sounds; the sounds corresponding to it are usually said to be concrete realizations of the abstract phoneme, which itself is not a sound or set of sounds. (Though in fact even on this count there is great doctrinal haggling over the details that sometimes explodes in wars of words between phonologists of different sects, basically depending on the degree of mentalism versus behaviorism, to be very oversimple, allowed in their view of the human mind.) Think of the phoneme r as being the speech equivalent of the mental entity for the letter r, for example, which is written and printed in an infinite variety of ways, but all of which are recognized as instances or realizations of the abstract letter r that resides somewhere in your mind.

    For a given speaker, there will be a fairly small set of phonemes in the mind/language faculty/whatever statement of the credo is acceptable, usually two to three dozen, which to the more phonetically minded phonologist would, getting down to brass tacks, be seen as consisting of an ordered, temporally arranged set of neural triggers for the muscles of the vocal tract combined with some neurally encoded criteria for the sounds realizing the phoneme. (The former half is closely associated with the researchers at Haskins Labs at Yale, like Browman and Goldstein.) For the latter part, while it is (relatively speaking) easy enough to determine many of the acoustic correlates of the boundaries of phonemes in the respective acoustic space (the frequencies of the three lowest resonance peaks, or formants, of the vocal tract for non-nasalized vowels, for example, which this guy did essential work on in the 1940s), how these might be neurally encoded is…unclear. (The boundaries are quite sharp. If you artificially generate vowels, vary the formants, and have listeners classify them, you find 100% identification rates until you reach a cutoff frequency, where the identification rate drops from 100% to 0% over an interval of around 10 Hz.)

    When you go beyond the individual speaker, you get the problem of social variation. There’s not just variation in the prototypical sound associated with each phoneme, and not just variation in the values of the boundary sounds, but variation in the sounds realizing a given phoneme due to the neighboring sounds, or allophony. The vocal tract receives something on the order of 1400 neural signals a second when you are speaking; these signals are all ordered somehow and an optimal path calculated or arrived at, depending how you want to model the process, between successive articulator targets, like the exact position of the tongue tip, a task that requires sounds to be modified somewhat to ease the transition to successive sounds. These regular, predictable-from-the-context variants of phonemes are called allophones–examples in English include the fact that the heavy burst of air following t, p, k, etc., at the beginning of a word is lost when s precedes the sound (stated in linguist-talk as: voiceless stops are realized as aspirated word-initially and in some other environments that vary by dialect and speaker, and as unaspirated following s–more general statements are possible for this last), or the way t becomes very close to ch when followed by r, both in the position of the tongue against the roof of the mouth and the greater laxness of the closure. Think of it as like the variation between r and R at the beginnings of words and sentences versus elsewhere, though that oversimplifies the issue for writing, of course.

    All of these different types of differences in realization are involved in dialect differences, and more generally in sociolinguistic variation, but there are other types of variation as well. So, the “same” vowels have different target or prototypical pronunciations in standard British and Americn Englishes, different edges, and different environmental or contextual effects, which all contribute most of what are thought of as accent differences (there are also intonational differences and so on); but the same word need not have exactly the same phonemes either, where phonemes are defined based on contrasts. Most American English speakers, for example, do not distinguish cot and caught, of course, and this difference between British and American English is largely systematic across the vocabulary; other vowel phonemes have subsets that do not match up one-to-one for all the words containing them because different dialects have undergone different changes in their allophones (the effects of r on adjacent vowels in the US and UK dialects are quite various, for example, and interacted historically with other changes that did not occur or occur the same way in all dialects). All this is beside the most obvious differences in vocabulary, and besides geographic variation (dialects) there is social variation by every sort of individual difference: age, sex, socio-economic status, etc., and the variation is restrained or channeled by people’s tending to speak like people they consider like themselves.

    So, basically, to answer your question, usually a linguist would say that you are talking about geographical or local variation in the realization of phonemes (or geographical or local variants). Also, in second language studies there is often a distinction made between the acquisition of the “same sort” of sounds that vary from language to language, such as the way that English /u/ as in food falls between French /u/ in fou and /y/ in fut, and “completely new” sounds, like Korean tense consonants, Bantu clicks, or vowels with different phonations than English speakers are used to (murmur voice, etc.), which occur in a number of languages (some African, some Amerindian, etc.). However, this difference is not always easy to draw and I remember the papers I read did not come to find super-strong differences in the learnability of such sounds by non-native speakers.

  33. Jenora Feuer: There’s evidence that the processing of ‘sounds as phonemes’ happens differently in the brain from just ‘sounds as distinct noises’.

    Yes. For vowels, for example, the perception of vowel formants follows a different frequency scale than the scale for frequency that applies in music. Pitch is logarithmic; formants are best measured on the bark scale, which measures the critical band of the basilar membrane of the cochlea on which the hairs most strongly stimulated by the vowel sound are located. For vowels, this means that vowel qualities are determined on one scale, and presumably one neural mechanism, and the quality of speech is determined on another scale, and presumably a different neural mechanism. Among other things, this means a small bit of information is processed to identify vowels and the rest of the information is used for voice recognition and other uses; this means vowel identification is robust and voice recognition very sensitive.

    It’s all in the symbol/meaning handling.

    More basically it reflects categorization being imposed in the perception of linguistic sounds but not in other types of sound processing, or at least not to the same extent.

  34. @Ferret Bueller, Most American English speakers, for example, do not distinguish cot and caught,

    Really? I did not know this. I sleep on a kaht. (Rhymes with not or lot.) My cat kawt a mouse. (Rhymes with fought or taut or taught.) Very different vowel, for me. (I hear that in some parts of the US, “pin” and “pen” are pronounced the same, too, but not in my dialect.)

    I also aspirate the w in which; a small but noticeable difference between which and witch.

    On the other hand, “Mary,” “marry”, and “merry” are indistinguishable in my dialect.

  35. Cassy: [On the merger of cot and caught] Really? I did not know this. I sleep on a kaht. (Rhymes with not or lot.) My cat kawt a mouse. (Rhymes with fought or taut or taught.) Very different vowel, for me.

    Well, perhaps not most, but certainly many US speakers (Canadian too). A map can be found here. (You can find maps for the next two on Wiki also.)

    (I hear that in some parts of the US, “pin” and “pen” are pronounced the same, too, but not in my dialect.)

    It’s common throughout the southern states of the US and up into southern Indiana (which historically had strong economic ties with the southern states) and southern Kansas.

    I also aspirate the w in which; a small but noticeable difference between which and witch.

    Again, this is retained especially in the middle of the US south mostly away from the coasts, and mostly among older speakers. The distinction’s also retained in Scotland and Ireland.

    On the other hand, “Mary,” “marry”, and “merry” are indistinguishable in my dialect.

    That’s true of most of the US outside the northeast, but I gather not common outside the US.

  36. Chip Hitchcock: probably a teaching but I know many who do prefer their rolls untouched by any sauce ever. (I still like my sops ) The teaching is ingrained generationally.

  37. Dinner Rolls in American Restaurants … are served before the meal because they are cheap and fill you up and that way the restaurant can salvage your leftovers for resale.

  38. @steve: is that supposed to be funny? There might be some place in the US in which it’s legal to serve the remains of plated food to one’s employees; I suppose there may even be some areas where reselling it is not specifically barred — but I wouldn’t expect that to be widespread.

    @Lenora: I can imagine people being taught sopping is uncouth; all sorts of things get treated as class markers. (I don’t use sop and fork together, but if the sauce on a restaurant dish is good enough I’ll even ask for another bread unit to sop it with after I’ve finished the solids.) I was certainly in the better-off half of the population even as a child — but I learned to hold chop bones in my fingers and gnaw them (the scraps are tasty as well as nutritious); for some reason, my family also took baked potatoes out of their skins (at the table) and buttered the skins separately, like bread slices. Both of my parents had been through lean times; I have no idea which side those came from.

    @Ferret Bueller: more than I can assimilate at one go, but fascinating still; I certainly hadn’t been thinking about the ideal-vs-real/sensory, or known that there was some concrete analysis. (I took a linguistics course in 1975 — but it was for distribution, so it probably was light even on research as it stood then — the most technical I remember it being was the aspirate-before-unvoiced-consonant, which I hadn’t noticed before.) The intermingling of cot/caught {,non}distinction is fascinatingly mixed; I grew up closest to a blue dot (NW of DC) and commonly traveled into it rather than around to the nearby yellow dot.

    @Doctor Science: Americans have always been very impatient eaters by European standards. ISTM that is so general as to be meaningless. Possibly the labeling schemes are different enough to affect perceptions; e.g., in the US “restaurant” is any place where someone comes to your table to take your order (instead of you giving it to a central clerk), where in France it’s a slow-by-intention eatery (vs. “bistro”); there are certainly places (and families) where one can spend a long time over a meal. And while some Europeans complain of being overrun with US fast food, I see Mövenpick Marché and Pret A Manger coming this way across the Atlantic. (MM less so — the one in Boston closed some years ago, possibly because the gloss wore off the concept when customers measured the fairly high prices for fairly basic food.)

  39. In my family, for the Christmas Roast Beet, it’s traditional for the dinner rolls to be soaked in the meat juices. It’s considered a special treat. Oddly, this is true only for that one single meal. I have to assume this is a tradition passed down from my (farming family) maternal grandfather.

  40. @ Soon Lee

    Well, she calls them “12 Rules for Life” which is rather more definitive than mere guidelines or advice.

    She put “12 Rules for Life” in quote marks, and specifically mentions that it is in response to a meme that “young whippersnappers have got up to on the social medias.” (Probably also a reference to Jordan Peterson’s best-selling book)

    So to take the title literally as rules that all readers should abide by, rather than as a framework around which to build a column, or even a trope, is to misread the column. The title is figurative language.

  41. @Ferret —

    cot and caught

    Yupyupyup. A cot is a caught is a cot. So are taut and taught. Oddly, fought feels a little different.

    in some parts of the US, “pin” and “pen” are pronounced the same, too

    That one drives me batty. Very common here, but I don’t do it.

    noticeable difference between which and witch.

    I definitely do this one.

    On the other hand, “Mary,” “marry”, and “merry” are indistinguishable in my dialect.

    I like to pretend that “merry” is different, but they’re really all the same.

    I have lived many decades in Tennessee, though I don’t have much of a Southern accent unless I’m around other Southern people (because my parents did not, and my schoolmates tended to not have accents either). When I moved to Utah for a few years, Utahns were frequently surprised to learn that I was from Tennessee because of my lack of accent.

  42. @Bill,
    You have a more charitable reading than I.

    She follows the ‘whippersnappers’ sentence with: ” I am probably more than halfway through my life now; I ought to have some rules.” [emphasis mine]

  43. @ Soon Lee — mebbe so. But I’ve been reading McArdle for a long time, since she was at The Atlantic, and when I read her stuff I am coming at it from a perspective that finds her to be generally level-headed and reasonable. She identifies as libertarian, but doesn’t come across as moonbattish as some other libertarians do.

    Plus, the fact that elements of the article are written, if not tongue-in-cheek, at least light-heartedly, tells me that the rules aren’t intended to taken as literally as some here seem to be reading them. “Bake more dinner rolls” is not dogma, it’s a suggestion. Likewise, when “you can’t learn Portuguese” is followed in the very next sentence by “you can’t even remember where you left your keys”, it seems to me to take it as a general statement about the cognitive abilities of 45-year-olds is sort of uncharitable.

  44. (8) That article threw me off as soon as I got to the (intentional?) misquote of Scalzi. If someone wants to give advice, they can take the trivial effort to get their quotes straight.

  45. Chip Hitchcock:

    I certainly hadn’t been thinking about the ideal-vs-real/sensory, or known that there was some concrete analysis.

    Well, it’s understandable that people think of phonemes as sounds when they encounter the term, since the concept is closely tied up with sounds. Moreover, among phoneticians the regions in a phonetic space occupied by the realizations of a phoneme are usually just referred to as the phonemes or phoneme spaces, since it’s nice shorthand and everyone knows what is meant (and if you read closely you can see I used that same shorthand at least once), but it makes it hard to see how the terms would be used when you have to take into account variation across speakers.

    As for the last point, instrumental phonetics is a Big Thing. In the bad old analog days you had to do some serious engineering to get results–you can open a PDF of one of the basic papers on American English vowels, Peterson & Barney (1952) here to get some idea of what was involved in the basic work on speech sounds that people did in the 1950s–but thanks to digital techniques it is possible to do lots of good work with a good microphone, a laptop, and free software. And if you’re curious about actual results about what English is doing in North America, there’s a lot of basic work associated with William Labov. (If you ask American linguists who the biggest names are among them, Chomsky will of course be listed first, and Joseph Greenberg would probably be second. Labov would probably be third–he has done basic work on applying instrumental phonetics and mathematical techniques to sociolinguistic variation and language change.

    And to bring in some SF connections, it was all that work in the 1950s and 1960s that put paid to the idea of easy automatic speech production and decoding by computers that SF writers sometimes mentioned–the idea was that you’d just measure the sound, identify the phonemes, and decrypt the signal, then going the other way, start with the word in your computerized lexicon, use a single sound for each phoneme, and lump them together with maybe a little easily calculated smoothing. (At least that was the idea put forward by the earliest researchers on speech science when, for example, going hat in hand to ask for money from the Department of Defense.) It doesn’t work because of the mutual influences of sounds in speech (coarticulation). You can do something like it, but it’s a lot thornier than people realized at first.

    Also, I made a silly booboo in my first post: I should have written “Zulu clicks” instead of “Bantu clicks.” Zulu of course has clicks, but most Bantu languages do not; really, I should have just written “clicks,” but I was too busy thinking of a third class of unusual sounds to write the right thing.

  46. Ferret Bueller on February 3, 2018 at 7:28 pm said:

    I don’t know if the announcements I was hearing at the bus station this week were computer-generated, but I suspect so – they sound very real, but they’re also articulating the internal punctuation: “Wilshire-slash-Western”, for one example. It’s very annoying to listen to; we can understand just fine without the spoken punctuation.

  47. On the other hand, “Mary,” “marry”, and “merry” are indistinguishable in my dialect.

    I grew up in the Northeast, so I supposed I’m excused from this.

    But does this mean “scary,” “parry” and “berry” rhyme to must of the US? Because I don’t live in the Northeast any more, and I don’t hear it that way around me…

  48. Me: mur-ee, mah-ree and mehree but we’ve got a lot extra vowels were I grew up. Mary is the one that’s got the most lingering effects of childhood accent. At a catholic primary school in Lancashire as a kid, our music teacher had a very RP accent and our collective pronunciation of ‘Mary’ in our hymn singing was a source of much consternation. As you can imagine, it was a hard word to avoid in context.

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