Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

I think I might have found the greatest thing on the fabled internetz ever.

While not exactly linguistic in nature per se, the Geoffrey Chaucer hath a Blog page is wildly entertaining, and I can always claim that I posted it due to the ongoing fascination in linguistic blogs around the net with the LOLcats dialect(?), and other language trends online. Here you may find posts such as this;

“No thyng hath plesed me moore, or moore esed myn wery brayne than thes joili and gentil peyntures ycleped “Cat Macroes” or “LOL Cattes .” Thes wondirful peintures aren depicciouns of animals, many of them of gret weight and girth, the which proclayme humorous messages in sum queynte dialect of Englysshe (peraventure from the North?). Many of thes cattes (and squirreles) do desiren to haue a “cheezburger,” or sum tyme thei are in yower sum thinge doinge sum thinge to yt.

For many dayes ich haue desyred to maak Lolpilgrimes from the smal peyntures that Mayster Linkferste hath ymaad for my Tales of Canterburye – not oonly wolde it be a thing of muchel solaas to me, but it wolde be a good “pre writing exercise” (the which myn tutor, Archbishop Arundel, did alwey saye were of gret necessitee). And thus to-daye whanne ich had a smal spot of tyme bitwene a meetinge wyth a feng shui consultant and a recopyinge of the inventorie of carpentrie supplyes in Windsore, ich did go unto the wondrous LolCat Scriptorium of Gordon de McNaughton and did just go crazye…

Assumptions in the domain of color categorization

Some years back when I read Paul Kay and Willett Kempton’s article What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis[1] and they presented the evidence for the naming strategy, which is what they dubbed the phenomenon that people categorize by linguistic criteria instead of physiological criteria in a specific task, one thing hit me.

Let me start by putting this in context. Kay and Kempton were studying 5 native English speakers and 4 native Tarahumara speakers, in itself not exactly a mind-blowing number of subjects, and the subjects were to look at three Munsell color chips of which they were to “pick the odd one out”. These chips would all be close to the linguistic blue-green boundary of English and be arranged such that if chips A and B would be called green in English, chip C would be called blue, but A and C could easily be closest in terms of wavelength while still on each side of the lexical blue-green boundary of English. In Tarahumara, however, there’s no lexical distinction between blue and green. They use one word to cover the entire blue-green spectrum.

What Kay & Kempton found was that the Tarahumara speakers appeared to discriminate in terms of wavelength — i.e. they would pick the physiological “odd one” regardless of what an English speaker would name the color. The English speakers would pick the “odd one” by using the naming strategy — i.e. if two chips would be called blue, then the odd one would be the green one.

While I do think this experiment is very interesting, and definitely one of the better (and simpler) to be caried out in the name of categorization, there’s still one thing that bothers me. How can we be sure that English speakers aren’t simply choosing a logical way to discriminate? Remember, they’re asked to “pick the odd one out”, which necesarrily means that there must be an odd one and language seems to be a pretty logical — and obvious — choice in this situation. What would happen if they were asked to “pick the odd one out” of, say, an F-14 fighter, a can of beans and an elm tree? I’m pretty sure the subjects would find some way to do it. Maybe not uniformly, but they’d definitely be able to.

Now, a later study by Gilbert et al.[2] (involving Kay himself), has shown that the naming strategy in fact primarilly occurs when the “odd one” is in the right visual field, but not the left. This supports a Whorfian interpretation when things are processed in the left hemisphere, but won’t that be exactly where the processing is taking place if you conduct the experiment as Kay & Kempton did back in 1984?

Maybe someone has already raised these issues, maybe they’re already dealt with or maybe “zere iz no zpöön” and I’m just looking at this wrong. Either way, I urge anyone with a little knowledge of this to comment and maybe drop a reference so I may be enlightened.

[1]: Kay, P. & Kempton, W. (1984), What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, American Anthropologist 86:65–79
[2]: Gilbert, A.L. et al. (2006), Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left. PNAS 2006 103:489-494

[Note: In spite of the heated debate on Danish language policy, I’m choosing to publish this in English in the hope that it’ll reach a larger amount of readers, thus contributing further to the development of linguistics as a science than it would if published in Danish.]

The mind is a treacherous device

A while back in my psycolinguistics class, we were shown a video, that I thought was rather interesting. It’s a video that plays a trick on the mind.

If you don’t want to ruin it for yourself, follow these guidelines:

  • First time you watch the video, focus on counting the number of times the members of the white team catch their ball. It”s very important that you count the right number.
  • then watch the video again without counting the catches made by the white team

The video is contained in a Java applet and it will only play if you have Java installed on your machine (and active in your browser). The applet is fairly large (7MB) so it may take a while to load.