Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Points of Interest 30. July, 2008

1. It has long been debated whether dinosaurs were part of the ‘Terrestrial Revolution’ that occurred some 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous when birds, mammals, flowering plants, insects and reptiles all underwent a rapid expansion: Dinosaur Supertree

2. Take one part gorgeous ornamental typography and one part diabolical imagery. Combine slowly over a low heat with incidental visual curiosities. Add caprice to taste. Serve haphazardly over a bed of 19th century lithographic stones. For best effect, consume before retiring: Collectie Ver Huell

3. If you judge the progress of humanity by Homer Simpson, Paris Hilton, and Girls Gone Wild videos, you might conclude that our evolution has stalled—or even shifted into reverse. Not so, scientists say. Humans are evolving faster than ever before, picking up new genetic traits and talents that may help us survive a turbulent future: Where Is Human Evolution Heading?

4. Today's Daily Telegraph contains a fascinating extract from Norman Doidge's new book The Brain That Changes Itself, about a woman who feels that she is constantly falling because she has lost her sense of balance as a result of damage to the vestibular system: Perpetually falling woman learns to balance with her tongue

5. Jump to Comments Language is a product of culture. Or is it? Which came first — language or culture? That’s like asking if the chicken or the egg came first. But cultural behavior has been documented in animals who do not have language systems, like gorillas who have intricate systems of processing plants: Can There Be A Synthesis Between Cultural And Biological Evolution?

6. Could we have evolved speech without evolving morality, or morality without evolving speech: A Biological Revolution

Thursday, 24 July 2008


Kobayashi Issa (小林一茶) or just Issa (June 15, 1763 - January 5, 1828), by the way also the Arabic name for Jesus, is one of my favourite poets. He is one of the great four Japanese Haiku poets besides Bashô, Buson and Shiki. I like him because I sense his melancholy. His mother died when he was three, his grandmother, who raised him, when he was fourteen. He wandered through Japan. Got back, got a wife. All of his children died soon after birth and finally his wife died too. He wrote one of his most famous haiku at the time when his first daughter died:
The world of dew --
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet . . .
One of my favourite poems of Issa is:

yokagura ya takibi no naka e chiru momiji
In English:
Shinto dance at night--
red leaves fall
into the bonfires
It has even more power in German:
Ein Tempeltanz nachts:
Es stiebt ins Feuer hinein
Das rote Herbstlaub.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


If you don't know this picture, you shouldn't study. Okay, that's a hyperbole. Nevertheless, LaTeX (/ˈleɪtɛk/ or /ˈlɑːtɛk/) is an important tool for writing scientific essays. It's not sufficient for a dotoral thesis or any other academic document with more than fifty pages to use Microsoft Word or Open Office. Unfortunately, in Germany many students and even post-graduates don't know LaTeX unless they study computational science, mathematics or physics. In other countries it is the tool for scientists, philosophers, mathematicians and engineers to write a scientific essay. It is most convenient tool to display mathematical formulas as you'll see below.

The high-level markup language allows you to produce ready to print and printer/monitor independent documents with easy numbering, cross-referencing, tables and figures, page layout and bibliographies. It takes you one week, at the most, to learn the language and saves you years of blood and tears.

Wikipedia shows a comprehensive example of a LaTeX document, here is the raw script:
\LaTeX{} is a document preparation system for the \TeX{}
typesetting program. It offers programmable desktop publishing
features and extensive facilities for automating most aspects of
typesetting and desktop publishing, including numbering and
cross-referencing, tables and figures, page layout, bibliographies,
and much more. \LaTeX{} was originally written in 1984 by Leslie
Lamport and has become the dominant method for using \TeX; few
people write in plain \TeX{} anymore. The current version is
% This is a comment, it is not shown in the final output.
% The following shows a little of the typesetting power of LaTeX
E &=& mc^2 \\
m &=& \frac{m_0}{\sqrt{1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}}
This is converted to following document:

If you want to learn LaTeX, you can find an excellent Introduction at Wikibooks here. LaTeX is build into Linux operating systems, but you can use proTeXt for Windows as well. If you don't use Linux, you can get LaTeX here.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Points of Interest 18. July, 2008

Some changes are going down. I won't write in German anymore since I have almost no German readers and German linguists aren't really interested in state of the art theories.

1. A picture of an abnormally folded amyloid fibril reconstructed in 3D: Detailed 3D image of Alzheimer's pathology

2. Third part of the Iconography series on Experimental Theology. : Notes on the Theology of Icons, Part 3: Time and Space

3. Ubiquity of same-sex couplings in nature.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Language Diversity Made by God

At least that's written in Genesis 11: 1-9. First there was one language spoken by everyone which unified the people:
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. [...] And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language [...].
So they decided to build a tower and a city which were afterwards called Babel (hebr. bâlal - to overflow, mix, confound) because God came down from heavens to "[...] confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech [...]" which scattered them across the earth so that the tower was never build. Henceforth there were many languages across the earth.


Saturday, 12 July 2008

Points of Interest 14. July, 2008

1. "You Otaku are already dead." That's the new title of a book which discusses the rise and fall of the Otaku aristorcracy of Japan: Speaker for the Dead

2. Food for token, please: Can animals comprehend the power of symbols?

3. One, two, three - a monkey is what I want to be: Counting monkeys tick off yet another 'human' ability

4. Highly debatted Goldin-Meadow paper about 'SOV' charade order: When using gestures, rules of grammar remain the same despite speakers' language

5. Same issue. Wired article: Roots of Language Run Deeper Than Speech

6. To hell with linguistic phylogenetics: A Look at Linguistic Evolution

7. Beat the hell out of those Generativists: Language Adapted to Us

8. Hug those lovely Generativists: Questions For A Theory

9. Take it into your own hands: Keeping Hands Where You Can See Them Alters Perception, Study Finds

10. I'll be a chimp again: Will Our Future Brains Be Smaller?

11. Children Are Naturally Prone To Be Empathic And Moral

12. Notes on the Theology of Icons, Part 1: Stylization

13. Notes on the Theology of Icons, Part 2: Light

14. I Can't Understand Your Accent, So Keep Talking

15. Shakespeare makes us alive: The Shakespeared brain

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Am I wrong about Pinker's extended locative?

Pinker writes in his book Language of Thought about the locative rule:
If a verb can appear in a content-locative construction then it can also appear in a container-locative construction, and vice versa. (Pinker 2007: 35-6)
as in:

(1) [to spray] water on the roses.
(2) [to spray] the roses with water. (Pinker 2007: 35)

In contrast to:

(3) to fill the glass with water.
(4) *to fill water into the glass. (Pinker 2007: 50)

According to this exception, he alters the locative rule:
[...] by specifying the change of a container, it is compatible with a construction that is about state-change, and thereby allows us to say [(3)]. But because it says nothing about a cause or manner of motion of the contents, it isn't compatible with a construction that is all about motion, and thereby doesn't allow us to say [(4)].
His conclusion at the end of the chapter:
This uncovered a number of basic features of our thought processes: [...] that a frame for thinking about a change of location in real space can be metaphorically extended to conceptualize a change of state as motion in state-space; and that when the mind conceives of an entity as being somwhere or going somewhere, it tends to melt it down to a holistic blob.
As far as I understand him, he ascribes this property to the mind.

So, the first thing that struck me was that (3) and (4) sound correct for non-native speakers and I assume it would sound correct to many native speakers as well - depending on the region they're from. Actually you can say both sentences in German - which is, by the way, closely related to English:

(3(DE)) Das Glas mit Wasser füllen.
(4(DE)) Wasser in das Glas füllen.

So this must be specific for English, right? Since he ascribes this to the mind, this must mean that it only works for the English mind which, and here comes the logic conclusion, is different from the German mind. Hence English speakers have another cognition, i.e. they perceive the reality in a different way and therefore (3) is possible, while (4) is not? This would be an argument for linguistic determinism. I know this is nonsense.


Pinker, S. Language of Thought. 2007.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Points of Interest 03. July, 2008

Everyone's talking about the upcoming Christiansen and Chater paper and that Universal Grammar, especially the Poverty of Stimulus argument, will be destroyed. I'm curious.

1. NLP (Natural Language Processing) goes Mainstream: Powerset bought by Microsoft

2. David Beaver's critique on the New Scientist's article Charades reveals a universal sentence structure: Charades does not reveal a universal sentence structure

3. Diffusion Spectrum Imaging Used to Map the Structural Core of Human Cerebral Cortex

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Labov vs. Chomsky - The Ultimate Smackdown

* two linguists walked into an x-bar and got SMACKED DOWN!
* "generate THIS motherf***er!"
* "ain't nothin' minimalist about this SMACKDOWN, mofo!"
* "how about some government-binding in your FACE!"

***Breaking News: an angry mob of Bloomfieldians is challenging the winner

Thanks to Michael and Language Log.