Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What I know of immigration

March 7, 2011 1 comment


Once upon a time:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

But now:


Lady Liberty on Immigration


Categories: Uncategorized


February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

True commitment is serious and it is powerful. Commitment is not just saying
you’ll do it. Commitment is doing it. True Commitment is not conditional,
for to be committed means to be absolutely committed.

Commitment is more than doing just what is convenient or comfortable.
Commitment is doing what is necessary. Commitment is making the sacrifices
and the tradeoffs that are required to uphold it. Commitment is more than
just wishing for the right conditions. Commitment is working with what you

Commitment is not easy. Commitment does not back down or run away at the
first sign of trouble. Commitment perseveres until the goal is reached.
Commitment does not waste time and effort whining or complaining or seeking
to find blame. Commitment adjusts to reality and moves forward.

Too many people have been deceived for too long, and have come to expect
that they can know fulfillment without the gritty effort of commitment. They
are sadly mistaken. Real, solid commitment is real work. And well worth it.
The evidence is overwhelming — it gets results like nothing else can.

–Ralph Marston

–Back to work now.

Categories: Uncategorized

Language metaphors and time

February 20, 2011 6 comments

Few are convinced that Whorfianism has any credibility to it. The theory’s strongest claim, in basic terms, is that language has the ability to shape thought. Nonetheless, it was found that color perception does not depend on differences in how languages classify color, and that Eskimos do no not have nine ways of conceptualizing snow because their language allows them to do so (That was a hoax, by the way). Hence, it was concluded that Whorf got it all wrong.  Later, with the rise in popularity of UG, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis went into obscurity.

Still, maybe if Whorf framed his theory in lighter terms,  it would not become so discredited.

For example, Matlock, Ramscar, and Borodinsky (2005) found an experiential link between spatial and temporal language. When we use language to refer to abstract things that we can neither see or touch, there is a tendency to rely on experience-based domains. Hence, we sometimes talk about time as if it is coming (the time has come), as if we are having it (I don’t have time to complete the work), as if giving it (give me more time)…you get the picture.

The researchers were primarily interested in whether “thought about fictive motion (FM; as in The road runs along the coast) can influence thought about time.” If FM uses the same structures involved in thinking about actual motion, then it should influence the way people think about time. They performed three experiments to test that. I will go over two of them:

Experiment 1

In this experiment subjects were asked to read a FM sentence, such as the road runs along the coast, and a similar non-FM sentence, such as the road is next to the coast. After that, participants were required to demonstrate their understanding by drawing a picture of what they’ve read.

Fig. 1: Example of drawing from experiment 1

Once they completed the drawing, they were required to answer an ambiguous question:

“Next Wednesday’s meeting had been moved forward two days. What day is the meeting now that it has been rescheduled?”

If you carefully read the sentence, you will notice that it could have two answers since “forward two days” is ambiguous. The answer can be either Friday or Monday. If language has no bearing on how we conceptualize the world, then there would be no difference in the number of responses for Friday and Monday. Nevertheless, there was. Participants who read fictive motion metaphors were more likely to answer Friday (70% of the time), while those who read non-FM sentences showed no preference (51% for Friday). The results suggest that when people think about FM, they apply the motion perspective to their conception of time. Hence the highway runs along the coast primes subjects to think that they move forwards in time.

Experiment 2

The purpose of experiment 2 was to see how much FM metaphors can influence our understanding of time. The layout was similar to that in experiment 1, except that participants were required to read “FM sentences that varied on the number of scan points along a path (e.g., Four versus Eight versus Twenty versus Over eighty pine trees run along the edge of the driveway).” It was predicted that the larger the number of pine trees in the FM sentence, then the number of responses for Friday for the ambiguous Wednesday question would go up. The results matched the predictions for 8 and 20 pine trees (80%, 61% response rate for Friday), but not for 4 and 80 pine trees (55% and 50% response rate for Friday). The reason why participants were more likely to answer Friday for 8 and 20 pine trees and not for 4 and 80 pine trees is because for a very small or a very large number of trees they would not develop a ego-moving concept of time. Imagine that you are told to scan your driveway for the number of trees. Four trees can be scanned almost immediately, while 80 trees are not scanned individually. If you look at the example drawings the subjects made (Fig. 2), it becomes clear that 80 trees are lumped together and are likely scanned as a clump.


Fig. 2: Example drawings from experiment 2


…is simple. FM metaphors seem to have an influence on how we perceive time.

And in case you are wondering, further experiments done in this area demonstrated that it is not the act of drawing that influenced the connection between FM and perception of time.


Pinker and Chomsky might not like Whorf’s theory, but it is essential to remember that Whorf came up with it when psycholinguistics was largely non-existent and when there was not a lot of data from which one could derive plausible hypotheses. Therefore, it is important to keep a non-judgmental attitude and give Whorf the proper credit for at least asking the question, “Does language influence thought?”.

And, in anticipation, when I think of linguists and psycholinguists in 2050, I imagine that they would also ask themselves, “How the heck did Chomsky come up with his theory when he had so little empirical evidence by his side?”.
Matlock, T., Ramscar, M., & Boroditsky, L. (2005). On the Experiential Link Between Spatial and Temporal Language Cognitive Science, 29 (4), 655-664 DOI: 10.1207/s15516709cog0000_17


February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

As it was mentioned on Language Log, there is a lot of coverage on the on-camera aphasic episode of Serene Branson, a reporter for CBS. There are several videos on Youtube, some of which are hardly sensitive. I know that snickering on reporter’s failures sometimes can be funny, especially in the O’Rilley can’t explain that meme. This is not the case:

My initial reaction was Wernicke’s aphasia, especially when I heard burtation.

Upon seeing an several callous remixes that popped up when I searched the segment, I remembered several shameful things I’ve done in elementary school. I’ve been through four schools in that period, and in some of them I’ve met classmates who had trouble speaking or reading. There was a lot of ridicule and mocking, since for many it was inconceivable how someone in, say, third grade would not be able to read when everyone else was able to. I really wish professors were more perceptive. When children are taught about learning disorders or types of aphasia, I think that there is some attitude change. If a teacher came to me and asked me to read the text below and explained me everything, I am certain I would have shown some understanding. I am so sorry right now.

From Top Gear to Documentary Man

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

In high school I used to watch Top Gear. I still do, occasionally.  I think that Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond do a great job by keeping the show lively.

Just watch this segment:

But I never, never considered that Richard would go from being a Top Gear to a Documentary Man.  His series on Invisible Worlds is nevertheless amazing. Without any doubt, the best documentary I’ve seen so far.

You will never look at horse manure with the same disinterest again. Just watch, you’ll see for yourself:


Jokes and Politics

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment

When you have an untouchable archenemy, who is beyond impeachment and overt criticism, it seems natural to express your schadenfreude through jokes. Such is the case with the corrupt leader Mubarak:

Mubarak and his advisers are on board of his plane over Cairo. Mubarak brings out $1,000 and asks how he could use the money to make Egyptians happy. One adviser suggests throwing it out of the window to make an Egyptian family happy. A second adviser suggests splitting it into two bundles and throwing both out of the window to make two Egyptian families happy. The third adviser suggests that Mubarak puts the money in his pocket and jumps out of the window to make all Egyptians happy. (source)

Since my country went through similar uprisings in April, 2009, where thousands of people went on the streets after it was announced the communists won, for the third time, the general election, I recall that there were plenty of jokes made against the communist leader, Vladimir Voronin. Most people protested because they found it unbelievable that the Communist Party would win a majority. After all, they managed in only two terms to turn Moldova into a country that was rife with corruption and poverty. After some investigation, it was found that on the balloting lists  there were names of the people who, may god rest their souls, died. So this is how the joking began:

A presidential limousine stops in front of a graveyard. Voronin steps out of it with a bundle of pamphlets. The person sitting on guard near the gate of the graveyard approaches him and asks:
“My honorable leader, why is a person with such distinction as you visiting this lowly place?”
Voronin looks at him surprised, “It’s simple, I just came to see my voters.”


February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Moldova, Iran, Basra, Thailand, Bangladesh, Kirghistan, Tunisia, and Egypt are only few of the countries that come to my mind in which there was some major uprising in the past 2-3 years. Most of these revolts came into existence for a variety of reasons. It would be silly to say that they were caused by breakthroughs in social media and communications technology, while discounting economic and social factors. Although Facebook and Twitter provide a good venue for exchanging dislike for corrupt governments or individuals, unemployment and social degeneracy are also important factors that can elucidate why people have the courage to go out on the street and risk getting injured.

A professor in high-school once told an apocryphal story how Lenin, the founder of Communism in Russia, recruited people for his uprising. Lenin went largely to regions populated with people who lived in abject poverty, and not to those that shared an anti-czarist sentiment, as one would assume. So, during his recruitment, he would ask a pheasant:

“Do you own a house?”
” We can’t take you. Next.”
“Do you own a house?”
“Do you have a wife and children?”
“Here is your Bolshevik uniform, comrade.”

As I mentioned, the story is likely fictitious and is told only to show that to Lenin it did not matter whether his recruits were actually loyal to communist ideology, because he knew that such things as devotion can easily be  inculcated through demagoguery and propaganda. What he cared about is to have followers who had nothing to lose, for whom it is best to struggle through an uprising than go back to a life that did not have much to offer anyway.

Now, when I read the news about the riots in Egypt, I cannot envision how much change there would be after Mubarak’s departure. He has been a president for about thirty years, who in that time probably managed to gain control over every aspect in Egyptian government. The police, the judiciary, the army, the whole damn administration, from the insignificant clerks to high officials, are all in his hands. Even if a new leader is elected that would hopefully value the principles of democracy, whatever they might be, he would have to face a rigid decapitated system that can very well live on its own. Putting a curtain on a dictator and asking him to step down is not enough. This will only turn him into a prompter that will remind his followers what their role is.

Mubarak's avocation

Mubarak's avocation


Categories: Uncategorized