How do we focus on crucial information in our conversations? What methods do we have for moving things into the center of discussion? In this week’s episode, we talk about information structure: how we build up the common ground in discussion, what we do to bring up topics and signal our focus, and how different languages use varying strategies to bring new ideas to the fore.

Looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say!

anonymous asked:

Hi there - same anon who made the ask about the heresy threads you used to open your theories podcast. I thought you guys did a great job! I was worried you'd be flippant like with the Ironbore. One quibble. Your clear you don't like speculating, and that's cool. I love speculating about the North because I think a lot of the heresy threads try to ground their speculation. Now, I don't like Dorne so I didn't listen to headcanon hour, but how different than conjecture and speculation about Bran?

Anonymous said to gotgifsandmusings:

Hi - the Heresy anon (again). I just hit submit and started wondering if my ask seemed rude or patronizing or something. I’m sure you do get tons of misogynistic and offensive stuff like that. For what it’s worth - I totally just wanted to know how you differentiate between headcanon stuff and speculating about the Others, etc. I really am going to force myself to listen to your Dorne stuff, I promise!

I do get lots of misogynistic stuff, and there was nothing remotely patronizing in your first ask, lol.

Though if I may quibble, while the title of the “Ironbore” podcast is definitely flippant (not to mention my “comment” I scripted into the mp3 file), I actually think Julia and I did a rather honest job attempting to unpack the themes and meaning there. But we definitely went in with a lens, there’s no denying that.

Anyway, to the core of your question, yeah! That’s a good point. And actually the beginning of Dornish Headcanon “Hour” involves a long discussion on the difference between “headcanon” and “character analysis.” It’s woolly for sure, and we’re also both literally allergic to anything canon-divergent, so even our own headcanons may feel less speculative than others?

I guess though, when we say “we don’t like to speculate,” what we’re really trying to say is, “we don’t like to speculate about future events.” Any analysis is sort of inherently speculative, isn’t it, just based on the meaning of the word? But for us it’s very specific to hypothesizing about the whole “what’s going to happen.” It makes our tummies hurt.

With any Northern mysticism element, it gets doubly complicated, because theorizing about the very nature of like, the Others, enters into territory that brushes up against “what’s going to happen,” far more than our “speculations” (headcanons, if you will), on Oberyn’s relationship with his mother.

So yeah, we get a little trapped in terminology for sure, but this is the best way I can split that hair. Truthfully, “headcanon” is also a convenient label when it’s analysis, but you don’t want to assert it as like, anything remotely formal. “It’s just my headcanon!” and such. Also because some of our headcanons involve shit like Gwyneth Yronwood juggling oranges. If nothing else, DHCH should divert you…

My peace is helping people. 

He doesn’t say ‘family business’ and he doesn’t say 'hunting things’. and this is so important. Because this is what really makes him who he is, his will and wish to help people. To do good, to make them safe and happy and alive. and when he focuses on that and not on the rush that comes with the kill, or the adrenaline that accompanies the fight, he is looking at himself, he saw in the past two weeks, what really helped him feel better, made him feel like himself. It was saving Sam and Tina, it was saving Delilah today, it is helping people. it’s his own new motto, not anything like the family business, it’s not about saving, or business, but about helping, about people, individuals, doing the best you can. It sounds peaceful, and in the right direction. 

On “True Synonyms” and why a thesaurus isn’t always your best friend.

There’s a writing tip I’ve heard a lot over the years claiming that a thesaurus can be your best friend because it can expand your vocabulary and help you avoid repetition. There are also posts floating around promoting the whole “said is dead” idea, bringing attention to the fact that there are many other words that could be used in place of “said.” While I think this is great and having an extended vocabulary is important, especially being a writer, this can also get you into trouble.

In lexical semantics (i.e. the study of word meanings), synonymy and antonymy are things that come up kind of a lot. One of the most basic ways that we humans conceptualize the world around us is by comparison–saying something is like something else, or the opposite of something. The same is true when ascertaining meaning. For example:

Person 1: So, what is a wolf?
Person 2: Well, it’s like a dog, but has x, y, and z features.

Person 1: What exactly does “day” mean?
Person 2: It’s not night, for one thing.

And so on.

One of the main features of language in general is that it’s efficient, or at least it tries to be. Taking this into account, it’s hard to believe that there would be two single words that express the same exact meaning. Even words that appear to have the same exact meaning, upon closer inspection, have subtle differences which makes them two separate words. They may belong in the same semantic field, but there’s still some tiny difference in meaning that warrants the existence of both.

Take, for example, the word scared. If you were to look this up in a thesaurus, you’d probably find words like afraid, terrified, and frightened. Sure, they all have the same general meaning of a feeling inflicted by fear, but they’re not all the same. Each word is a varying degree of fear. Even afraid, despite being almost the same as scared, can’t always be used interchangeably without slightly changing the meaning of the entire clause  it’s a part of.

It’s really important to take this into account when writing. Take those advice posts with a grain of salt. Sure, those posts can give you a hundred different substitutes for the word “walk,” but if you really mean walk, don’t say amble or saunter because they’re entirely different types of walking. True synonyms don’t actually exist. Write exactly what you mean, and don’t try to flower it up by plugging in a bunch of words you found in a thesaurus.

If anyone has anything else to add, please do!

can we just take A Moment to mention that when asked about deadpool’s sexuality, tim miller wasn’t vague, he didn’t walk on eggshells around the subject he literally said “pansexual. i want that quoted, pansexual deadpool” he was explicit and upfront about it and this kind of representation is so important, deadpool is a huge film and to have him explicitly state that the main character is pansexual is amazing. its kind of disappointing that pansexual characters are so non-existent that im getting this excited, but this is something and it still makes me so happy. thank you tim miller thank you ryan reynolds thank you wade wilson im so happy 

17 things (other than grammar) linguists know about language. And so should you. #lingchat

Languages are not a simple matter of grammar. Any language policy must consider what is known about language from the fields of pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and cognitive linguistics. These are the key aspects of what we know about language collected from across many fields of linguistic inquiry:

  1. Every sentence communicates much more than just its basic content (propositional meaning). We also communicate our desires and beliefs (e.g. “It’s cold here” may communicate, “Close the window” and “John denied that he cheats on his taxes” communicates that somebody accused John of cheating on his taxes. Similarly choosing a particular form of speech, like slang or jargon, communicates belonging to a community of practice.)
  2. The understanding of any utterance is always dependent on a complex network of knowledge about language, about the world, as well as about the context of the utterance. “China denied involvement.” requires the understanding of the context in which countries operate, as well as metonymy, as well as the grammar and vocabulary. Consider the knowledge we need to possess to interpret “In 1939, the world exploded.” vs. “In Star Wars, a world exploded.”
  3. There is no such thing as purely literal language. All language is to some degree figurative. “Between 3 and 4pm.”, “Out of sight”, “In deep trouble”, “An argument flared up”, “Deliver a service”, “You are my rock”, “Access for all” are all figurative to different degrees.
  4. We all speak more than one variety of our language: formal/informal, school/friends/family, written/spoken, etc. Each of these variety has its own code. For instance, “she wanted to learn” vs. “her desire to learn” demonstrates a common difference between spoken and written English where written English often uses clauses built around nouns.
  5. We constantly switch between different codes (sometimes even within a single utterance). Think about what is going on in a sentence like “The Joe said unto Karen.”
  6. Bilingualism is the norm in language knowledge, not the exception. About half the world’s population regularly speaks more than one language but everybody is “bi-lingual” in the sense that they deal with multiple codes in their language. They may seem like very close but for a child without much familial academic background, entering school and learning to read may feel very much like a foreign language and they often need the same sort of support learners of second languages need.
  7. The “standard” or “correct” English is just one of the many dialects, not English itself. It is not something other dialects diverge from, it is their linguistic equal.
  8. The difference between a language and a dialect is just as much political as linguistic. An old joke in linguistics goes: “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” There is no standard measure or universal definition of one language as opposed to another.
  9. Language prescription and requirements of language purity (incl. simple language) are as much political statements as linguistic or cognitive ones. All language use is related to power relationships. Language purists often just parrot half-remembered rules from school and personal peeves.
  10. Simplified languages develop their own complexities if used by a real community through a process known as creolization. (This process is well described for pidgins but not as well for artificial languages.)
  11. All languages are full of redundancy, polysemy and homonymy. It is the context and our knowledge of what is to be expected that makes it easy to figure out the right meaning. Speakers always use context, expectation and all kinds of inference to figure out the intended meaning.
  12. Language speakers have many tools to figure out what a statement is about other than just listening or reading carefully. In a dialogue, people use something called ‘conversation repair’, they raise their eye-brows, ask 'Sorry’, etc. With written texts, they use reference materials, highlight, bookmark, look things up in an index, etc. All of these strategies are a part of their language competence.
  13. There is no straightforward relationship between grammatical features and language obfuscation or lack of clarity (e.g. It is just as easy to hide things using active as passive voice or any Subject-Verb-Object sentence as Object-Subject-Verb).
  14. It is difficult to call any one feature of a language universally simple (for instance, SVO word order or no morphology) because many other languages use what we call complex as the default without any increase in difficulty for the native speakers (e.g. use of verb prefixes/particles in English and German)
  15. Language is not really organized into sentences but into texts. Texts have internal organization to hang together formally (John likes coffee. He likes it a lot.) and semantically (As I said about John. He likes coffee.) Texts also relate to external contexts (cross reference) and their situations. This relationship is both implicit and explicit in the text. The shorter the text, the more context it needs for interpretation. For instance, if all we see is “He likes it.” written on a piece of paper, we do not have enough context to interpret the meaning.
  16. Language is not used uniformly. Some parts of language are used more frequently than others. But this is not enough to understand frequency. Some parts of language are used more frequently together than others. The frequent coocurrence of some words with other words is called “collocation”. This means that when we say “bread and …”, we can predict that the next word will be “butter”. You can check this with a linguistic tool like a corpus, or even by using Google’s predictions in the search. Some words are so strongly collocated with other words that their meaning is “tinged” by those other words (this is called semantic prosody). For example, “set in” has a negative connotation because of its collocation with “rot”.
  17. All language is idiomatic to some degree. You cannot determine the meaning of all sentences just by understanding the meanings of all their component parts and the rules for putting them together. And vice versa, you cannot just take all the words and rules in a language, apply them and get meaningful sentences. Consider “I will not put the picture up with John.” and “I will not put up the picture with John.” and “I will not put up John.” and “I will not put up with John.”


  • white girl:i feel discriminated against because i think that i didn't receive a scholarship because i'm white
  • jose:actually, turns out you - as a white person - have a 40% more chance to receive a scholarship than any other person of color
  • white girl:i feel like you're attacking me rn i'm obviously the victim here

The difference between epistemic & deontic, necessity & possibility, in an overlapping diagram

This is a handy reference diagram I made way back in grad school for remembering the difference between epistemic necessity, deontic possibility, and other basic types of modality, and I’ve finally put it online. 

Here’s how it works: 

In linguistics, modals (aka modal verbs, modal auxiliaries) refer to words like can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, must which indicate likelihood, permission, obligation, and ability. The concept of modality includes both modal auxiliaries as well as longer constructions, like ought, have to, be obliged to, be able to, be capable of, it’s possible that, it’s necessary for __ to, it’s obligatory to, it’s permissible that, possibly, necessarily, maybe, perhaps, and so on.   

In the diagram, the blue areas are epistemic modality (according to evidence, reasoning, or beliefs), the red areas are deontic modality (according to a set of rules or desires), the dark areas are necessity (in all possible worlds), the light areas are possibility (in at least one possible world). Every area has both a colour (blue/red) and a shade (light/dark) because modality is made up of a modal base (according to what, on the basis of what) and a modal force (how strong is the result). 

Here are some examples for each of the regions.  

Dark blue is epistemic necessity

  1. “It must be raining outside (I can hear the rain).” In all worlds consistent with my beliefs, it is raining outside. 
  2. “When you add vinegar to baking soda, it should fizz.” In all worlds consistent with my reasoning about chemical properties, vinegar added to baking soda fizzes. 

Light blue is epistemic possibility

  1. “It may be raining outside (I heard that it was going to rain today)” In at least one world consistent with my beliefs, it is raining outside. 
  2. “The doctor has said, they can go to the bathroom.” In at least one world consistent with the doctor’s assessment of their physical capabilities, they go to the bathroom. 

Dark red is deontic necessity

  1. “It must rain this week (in order for the crops not to spoil)” In all worlds consistent with my desires, it rains this week. 
  2. “You should drive under the speed limit.” In all worlds consistent with the rules for proper driving, you drive under the speed limit. 

Light red is deontic possibility

  1. “It may rain this week (as far as I’m concerned, I’m not planning any activities that would be spoiled by the rain so I don’t care).” In at least one world consistent with my desires, it rains this week. 
  2. “The teacher has said, they can go to the bathroom.” In at least one world consistent with the teacher’s rules for the classroom, they go to the bathroom.  

Notice that English is generally good at making distinctions between necessity and possibility but bad at making distinctions between epistemic and deontic, which must be cleared up via context. Some languages do make straightforward lexical distinctions between various flavours of modality like epistemic and deontic. 

Also note that more advanced theories of modality distinguish between more types of modality than epistemic and deontic (such as circumstantial, dynamic, logical, metaphysical, ability, teleological, bouletic, etc) but this is a basic introduction to making these distinctions at all, so I’m not going to get into them here. If you want to expand the diagram yourself, however, you could assign these other types of modality other colours, as long as you give them each two shades. (And in case anyone reading this already knows a lot about modality, I’d also like to point out that the Wikipedia article on linguistic modality is in dire need of improvement.)


At Google, we spend a lot of time thinking about how computer systems can read and understand human language in order to process it in intelligent ways. Today, we are excited to share the fruits of our research with the broader community by releasing SyntaxNet, an open-source neural network framework implemented in TensorFlow that provides a foundation for Natural Language Understanding (NLU) systems. Our release includes all the code needed to train new SyntaxNet models on your own data, as well as Parsey McParseface, an English parser that we have trained for you and that you can use to analyze English text.

Parsey McParseface is built on powerful machine learning algorithms that learn to analyze the linguistic structure of language, and that can explain the functional role of each word in a given sentence. Because Parsey McParseface is the most accurate such model in the world, we hope that it will be useful to developers and researchers interested in automatic extraction of information, translation, and other core applications of NLU.

Announcing SyntaxNet: The World’s Most Accurate Parser Goes Open Source

At Google, we spend a lot of time thinking about how computer systems can read and understand human language in order to process it in intelligent ways.
The linguistics of #BLM: Scalar Implicature and Social Controversy
A linguistic controversy is raging in the US, with arguments taking place on the news, on Facebook and Twitter, and at uncomfortable family dinners across the country. I'm talking, of course, about the interpretation of the statement "Black Lives Matter," and various responses to it -- "all lives matter," "blue lives matter," and even the more aggressive "black lives don't matter," that occasionally pops up in some recesses of the internet. I think that part of this controversy is purely social, but part of it is linguistic in nature. I've been seeing well-meaning people talking at cross purposes, and I think it arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of starting assumptions. I'm going to make a linguistic claim, and then attempt to justify it. The claim: Some confusion, and animosity, over the statements black lives matter and all lives matter comes from different interpretations of assumed Scalar Implicature and the context of the utterance.

Taylor Jones has an interesting analysis of scalar implicature and how people interpret Black Lives Matter:

Among the people I know who have good intentions, the reactions to Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter seem to be about what kind of context you put these utterances into. So my black friends are all claiming:

  • Black Lives Matter [too!]

…but some of my white friends are interpreting that as:

  • Black Lives Matter [more than others/white lives/your life!]
  • [Only] Black Lives Matter!

Already, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding here, which is exacerbated by the response:

  • All Lives Matter!

Often, I think they’re trying to respond to a perceived “black lives matter more than others” with “all lives matter equally!” But it’s missing the point because they’re having two different conversations. More importantly, given the context – black people being executed by agents of the state, with a complete disregard for due process – and it’s hard to understand why people leap immediately to the interpretation that there’s a “[more]” there.

The way most people use it, there’s a (silent) scalar implicature: Black Lives Matter [As Much As Others]. This does not make for a good chant, and is hard to fit on t-shirts, though. Note, though, that the most natural reading is not to assume “more than others,” without a context that would suggest that implicature. 

Read the whole thing

Another way I saw this phrased linguistically was in a tweet by mitcho: “Read a lot on focus today, but the best things I read are tweets about how #BlackLivesMatter is additive or verum focus, not exhaustive.” 

(Additive focus would be like adding “too” and verum focus would be like adding “do”, while exhaustive focus would be like adding “only”.)