What our language habits reveal

Steven Pinker: What our language habits reveal
July 2005 at TEDGlobal 2005

In an exclusive preview of his book The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker looks at language and how it expresses what goes on in our minds — and how the words we choose communicate much more than we realize.


I will take all your weed!

by Darby Conley
January 03, 2015


How may I enlighten you?
eggs benedict arnold

Have you seen the phone?

I don’t swim

Hm. That’s not optimal.

a gastronomic correction

I promise you this: maybe

You can’t turn the gift off, Satchel

He’s in a class by himself


Tagging accurately – Don’t guess if you know

Tagging accurately – Don’t guess if you know
Fourth Conference on Applied Natural Language Processing
Association for Computational Linguistics
Germany, 1994
Pasi Tapanainen; Atro Voutilainen

We discuss combining knowledge-based (or rule-based) and statistical part-of-speech taggers.

We use two mature taggers, ENGCG and Xerox Tagger, to independently tag the same text and combine the results to produce a fully disambiguated text.
In a 27000 word test sample taken from a previously unseen corpus we achieve 98.5 % accuracy.
This paper presents the data in detail.

We describe the problems we encountered in the course of combining the two taggers and discuss the problem of evaluating taggers.

Conjunction ambiguity

scope_of_conjunctionConjunction ambiguity


  • My aunt collects old clocks and silverware

Introduction to Natural Language Processing
University of Michigan
Coursera, October 5 – December 27, 2015

= ambiguity of conjunctions
[from Named Entities: Recognition, classification and use. John Benjamins Publishing, Jul 3, 2009]

scope-of-conjunction ambiguity
The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market
By John R. Kohl
SAS Institute, Mar 1, 2008

an instance from Junqueira Ch 5:
“Network or sheet-forming collagens” -> “network-forming collagens” …

Overcoming The Language Barrier As A Brit In America

Lost In Translation: Overcoming The Language Barrier As A Brit In America
Forbes. August 14, 2014
Lucy Millington, SungardAS

Similar scenarios of being misunderstood, or just plain not understood, by Americans have played out in the business arena during my seven years in the US. On the business front, I’ve found that the need to adapt not only my terms, but moreover my communication style, is even more critical than in the personal realm.

It’s true: We British sometimes avoid just saying what we mean.

But it’s not because we can’t or don’t want to just come right out with it.
In the UK’s cultural context, directness can be perceived as rudeness.
So when we politely query, “Are there any other options to consider?” instead of bluntly stating the fact that “I don’t like your idea,” it’s because we’re just too polite. But we tend to assume that the people we’re addressing know that. And when we “almost agree” with a proposal, or admit to being “a bit disappointed” with an outcome, we’re expecting our audience to read between the lines to find the message we think is abundantly clear: we don’t agree; we don’t approve.

However, for a UK transplant spending any amount of time in the US, it quickly becomes clear that understatement and subtlety are just not the order of the day.
I’ve learned from experience that messages delivered in the self-effacing or tentative tone of the typical British communication style often miss their mark.
Our audience isn’t reading between the lines in the same way our compatriots would; they’re expecting us to state our case in “plain English,” just like Americans would.

Audience empathy and effective communication are pillars of my chosen career …


Conversational Maxims
September 2014


Lexical ambiguity

Scope and ambiguity in expanded categorial semantics

The traditional view is that ambiguity comes in two varieties – lexical ambiguity, and structural ambiguity.

Lexical ambiguity:
In instances of lexical ambiguity, a single morpheme has two or more entries in the lexicon;  alternatively, the same surface form (spelling/pronunciation) corresponds to two or more morphemes. A
prominent logical example is ‘and’ which has two different meanings, as in:

  • Jay respects Kay and Elle
  • Jay is between Kay and Elle

For example, the first one means that Jay respects Kay and Jay also respects Elle, but the second one does not mean that Jay is between Kay and Jay is between Elle, which is nonsense.



Introduction to Natural Language Processing
University of Michigan
Coursera, October 5 – December 27, 2015

Natural Language Processing (2013)
by Michael Collins
University of Columbia

11-year-old arrested for his …