Language

Something from Nothing

Book_lover_Wikipedia

I like writing quite a bit — it is one of the few creative activities where we get to invent an entire universe without outside interference. Movies, plays, games — they all require teams of people and large budgets to get birthed. Written stories are not like that. We can control all of it — from each individual word choice, to how things turn out for our characters, to what font is used for the presentation, to how the story gets delivered to the readers. There used to be a time when one could program games (I used to do so) all by herself — code, graphics, ideas, even publishing. But that is not possible anymore. The skill set required to make something of quality is too wast. The same is true for movies. And plays can only be experienced in front of an audience with actors… But novels! There is freedom of creativity in writing stories. When I type “the end” something became that never existed before! Something from nothing — that’s creative writing! It’s like magic, only cooler. Particularly if the author enjoys the act of writing as much as having written…

Language and Cultural Differences in Communication

Kulula Plane Decorations

Above is an example of Interface Design — Kulula Airlines decorates its planes in a very playful manner. Does this choice make you feel safer or more reticent to fly their planes? Well, that depends… Consider the FAA Passenger Briefing Guidelines: 14 CFR 91.519. Below are a few examples: § 91.519 Passenger briefing. (a) Before each takeoff the pilot in command of an airplane carrying passengers shall ensure that all passengers have been orally briefed on: Smoking. Each passenger shall be briefed on when, where, and under what conditions smoking is prohibited. This briefing shall include a statement, as appropriate, that the Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with lighted passenger information signs and no smoking placards, prohibit smoking in lavatories, and require compliance with crewmember instructions with regard to these items; Use of safety belts and shoulder harnesses. Each passenger shall be briefed on when, where, and under what conditions it is necessary to have his or her safety belt and, if installed, his or her shoulder harness fastened about him or her. This briefing shall include a statement, as appropriate, that Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with the lighted passenger sign and/or crewmember instructions with regard to…

Language, Culture, and Communication

Where we come from — our background culture: our country of origin and language, our heritage and religion (or lack thereof), our family, our education, our friends, and where we live — has an enormous impact on our ability to communicate. What’s more, when people from different cultural backgrounds try to interact with each other, these differences can cause catastrophic failures. Direct versus Indirect Communication Styles Consider the following set of remarks about doing homework: Do your homework! Can you start doing your homework? Would you mind starting your homework now? Let’s clean the table so you can start your homework. Do you need help with homework? It’s getting late, do you have a lot of homework? Didn’t you say you have a lot of homework? Johnny’s mom said that he has a lot of homework today… Do you have everything ready for school tomorrow? Look how late it is — it’s almost time for bed. You have school tomorrow. Each of the statements above represents a progressively less direct command to do homework. In my family, I usually pick number 2 to communicate my desires for finished homework to my sons (although number 1 is perfectly acceptable, to me).…

Ambiguity of Natural Language and Computer Language Interpretation

Bad Cop Good Cop Language Abmiguity

In his book “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature”, Steven Pinker gave the following defense of language ambiguity: Imagine you are stopped by a traffic cop for a violation. You would rather not get a ticket, and consider offering the cop a bribe. You have options: no bribe and definitely get the ticket; try a bribe and hopefully the cop will accept and let you go free this time. But what if the cop is an honest cop and doesn’t accept bribes? Then you just bought yourself a trip to jail for bribing an officer! That’s the worst possible outcome — a traffic ticket is better than a trip to jail AND a traffic ticket. But what if you just “sort of” offer the officer a bribe? Wave a wad of cash without actually offering it to the officer? A dishonest cop might take you up on the offer and let you go without a ticket. An honest cop could ignore the whole cash waving and write a ticket; or he could ask for clarification: “Are you trying to bribe me?” “On, no, officer. Of course not!” And you are left with a traffic ticket…

Musings on Failure in School

The Math Obstacle In the past few years, reports came out showing strong correlation between failing Algebra and graduation rates — if a kid fails math, he/she won’t be getting their high school diplomas. Here are a few articles describing the studies: “Is Removing Algebra a Key to Reform?” by Daniel Duerden, August 13, 2012 “A Comprehensive Study of the Predictors of High School Outcomes: Why Some Students Graduate on Time While Others Drop Out”. “A Correlation Study of Accuplacer Math and Algebra Scores and Math Remediation on the Retention and Success of Students in the Clinical Laboratory Technology Program at Milwaukee Area Technical College” by James Manto, August 2006. “Is high school tough enough: Full report” by The Center for Public Education. There are many more… Some suggested that based on evidence, we might just want to drop the math curriculum from high school graduation requirement — if there’s a strong correlation, perhaps by removing math, we might remove the problem and more kids graduate. Obviously, I don’t think that this a great solution. But I do come across the math problem a lot as part of the educational evaluations I do in my small practice. What I see…

The Language Comprehension Continuum

Below is an example of communication error — Penn and Teller use strong emotional language and delivery to hide the true meaning of the message. In context — a pretty young woman anxiously and passionately asking individuals at a faire to protect the environment — signing the petition makes sense. People sign many petitions. And the more people sign (or the more signatures they see on the petition), the more likely others sign as well. A woman, seemingly in distress over an environmental problem, inspires an emotional reaction — people want to help. We have a built-in social value system that encourages this kind of behavior. And finally there’s a strong p-prim that all chemicals are bad — so just hearing a chemical compound in a petition gets a response from the crowd. The result? On the language comprehension continuum, these faire goers didn’t do so well…