March 30, 2010

"She hits her head and she can only speak Korean? Are we supposed to buy this?"

That's one of the questions raised by tonight's episode of LOST (it was raised by Miles). What's the context? Sun is chased by fake Locke and hits her head against a tree. When she recovers from her fall, she can't speak English anymore, but she can still understand it and she can also still write in English. Jack explains that this is a case of aphasia, and he is right: Aphasia is a broad term that covers the loss or impairment of language comprehension or production. The impairment can be quite specific. In bilinguals, this can mean that only one of the two languages they speak is impaired. You can read about a specific case and its implications here:

The study, by Raphiq Ibrahim, a neurologist at the University of Haifa, describes a bilingual Arabic-Hebrew speaker who incurred brain damage following a viral infection. Consequently, the patient experienced severe deficits in one language but not the other. The findings support the view that specific components of a first and second language are represented by different substrates in the brain.[...] The results support a neurolinguistic model in which the brain of bilinguals contains a semantic system (which represents word meanings) which is common to both languages and which is connected to independent lexical systems (which encode the vocabulary of each language). The findings further suggest that the second language (in this case, Hebrew) is represented by an independent subsystem which does not represent the first language (Arabic) and is more susceptible to brain damage.
So, yes, we might be inclined to "buy" Sun's selective aphasia. But how is this relevant for the overall plot? Only 6 episodes left before the finale.

Edited to add:

3 weeks later, Sun and Jin reunite on LOST. And, lo and behold, her selective aphasia disappears. Which is rather awkward considering that there is no reason Jin and Sun should be talking to each other in English at such an emotional point.

pun & punishment

Makes you wonder who would ever refer to a beer as a "Weiss" in Munich.

March 16, 2010

some nouns make better verbs than others

The investment company Vanguard is trying to make itself into a verb -- because, you know, the benchmark for a successful brand name is how long it takes for the name to become a verb.
Any bets on how successful this particular effort is going to be? For starters, where's the demand for such a verb?
COMPUTER users searching online for information say they are “Googling.” Commercials running in states like Michigan and Ohio suggest that shoppers go “Krogering.” But what will investors make of a campaign that proposes they start “Vanguarding”? The campaign, scheduled to begin this week, turns the Vanguard brand name into a verb, the better to help potential customers remember the company’s mutual funds and other investment products.

“Reacting to the stock market is just investing,” a print advertisement asserts. “Taking stock in the long term is Vanguarding.”

Banner ads on Web sites will declare, “Vanguarding is getting the financial picture you want with less distraction.” To dramatize that, some ads will be virtually blank; the white space is meant to symbolize how Vanguard can reduce the “distractions” that confront investors.

In short, the campaign seeks “to verb up” the Vanguard name, to borrow a phrase from Steve Ballmer, chief executive of Microsoft. He used those words in an interview with The New York Times in discussing the new Microsoft search engine, Bing. Someday, he said, he hoped people would “Bing” a restaurant to find its address.

I'm sure the name Bing was picked because it makes a good English verb (better than "to yahoo" or "to altavista," for sure). However, there's already "to google" and I don't see any linguistic competetion from Bing any time soon. A campaign can't just make a noun a verb. Only people can.

March 13, 2010

dog fountain

Seen in Atlanta, GA:



I'm not sure how exactly it works, but it seems like a good idea.

March 07, 2010

universally spoken -- or not

McDonald's ran this ad during the Oscars.



Too bad it perpetuates the myth that there is just one universal sign language, spoken all over the world.

"And the winner is..."

If you're watching the Oscars tonight, you will notice something. No, I'm not talking about Charlize Theron's breast shields (although they are kind of hard not to notice). What is noticeable in terms of linguistics is that after many years of non-competitive language, the Oscars have winners again, they don't just "go to" someone anymore. I'm not sure if this switch is supposed to tell us something deep about the movie industry. It definitely leads to some awkward grammar moments: "And the winner is .... Paul Ottoson and Ray Beckett."