Tones and the brain

Mar. 3rd, 2015 05:30 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

People are always trying to exoticize things Chinese.  Now comes this article with the sensationalistic and patently suspect headline:

"If you speak Mandarin, your brain is different" (2/24/15)

This is based on the following paper:

Jianqiao Gea, Gang Pengc, Bingjiang Lyua, Yi Wanga, Yan Zhuoe, Zhendong Niuf, Li Hai Tang, Alexander P. Leff, and, Jia-Hong Gao, "Cross-language differences in the brain network subserving intelligible speech", PNAS (1/22/15).


Language processing is generally left hemisphere dominant. However, whether the interactions among the typical left hemispheric language regions differ across different languages is largely unknown. An ideal method to address this question is modeling cortical interactions across language groups, but this is usually constrained by the model space with the prior hypothesis due to massive computation demands. With cloud-computing, we used functional MRI dynamic causal modeling analysis to compare more than 4,000 models of cortical dynamics among critical language regions in the temporal and frontal cortex, established the bias-free information flow maps that were shared or specific for processing intelligible speech in Chinese and English, and revealed the neural dynamics between the left and right hemispheres in Chinese speech comprehension.


How is language processed in the brain by native speakers of different languages? Is there one brain system for all languages or are different languages subserved by different brain systems? The first view emphasizes commonality, whereas the second emphasizes specificity. We investigated the cortical dynamics involved in processing two very diverse languages: a tonal language (Chinese) and a nontonal language (English). We used functional MRI and dynamic causal modeling analysis to compute and compare brain network models exhaustively with all possible connections among nodes of language regions in temporal and frontal cortex and found that the information flow from the posterior to anterior portions of the temporal cortex was commonly shared by Chinese and English speakers during speech comprehension, whereas the inferior frontal gyrus received neural signals from the left posterior portion of the temporal cortex in English speakers and from the bilateral anterior portion of the temporal cortex in Chinese speakers. Our results revealed that, although speech processing is largely carried out in the common left hemisphere classical language areas (Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas) and anterior temporal cortex, speech comprehension across different language groups depends on how these brain regions interact with each other. Moreover, the right anterior temporal cortex, which is crucial for tone processing, is equally important as its left homolog, the left anterior temporal cortex, in modulating the cortical dynamics in tone language comprehension. The current study pinpoints the importance of the bilateral anterior temporal cortex in language comprehension that is downplayed or even ignored by popular contemporary models of speech comprehension.

Before critiquing the claims put forward by the investigators, let's talk about how tones really work in daily life in Chinese languages.

Tones are not absolute, they are not sacrosanct, they are not immutable.  Chinese often argue among themselves about what tones certain words should be pronounced in.  Let's take 著, which in most usages, but not all, can also be written as 着.

著 has the following pronunciations:  zhuó, zháo, zhāo, zhe, zhù, chú.  着 can have the first four pronunciations but not the last two; the very last pronunciation is used for only one purpose, as the first half of an ancient astronomical term.

After character simplification, when 着 was designated as the simplified (i.e., official) form, except in a few special instances where 著 still had to be used, the pronunciations and related meanings of the two characters got shifted around and reassigned by the script reformers, so that there are now two different sets of usages for these two characters in Taiwan and China.

The six pronunciations listed above (zhuó, zháo, zhāo, zhe, zhù, chú) have a veritable blizzard of meanings and functions associated with them (they must represent a number of different morphemes that became attached to these two characters over the centuries; the fact that three separate Middle Sinitic [about 1,400 years ago] pronunciations of 著 are represented by [i.e., have collapsed into] the modern pronunciation of zhù is fair indication that the phonology of 著 and 着 was even greater a thousand and more years ago than it is now).

Definitions (from Wiktionary)

Associated with the pronunciations zhuó (which I consider to be more literary), zháo (which I consider to be more vernacular), and zhāo (which is restricted to a few specialized uses at the end of this section) are the following meanings:

to attach

to touch, to contact

to wear, to put on, to be dressed in; clothing

to put, to place (dialectal Mandarin, Jin, Wu)

to arrange

to blossom or bear fruit

something to depend on, something to fall back on; desired end; a sense of belonging

to catch fire, to burn, to combust, to be ignited

to turn on (a light) (Cantonese)

to love deeply, to cling to and be reluctant to leave

to make (someone to), to order

to cost

to live in a fixed place

name of an ancient drinking vessel.

to need to, to ought to, should (Min, Wu)

to be affected by, to be troubled with

to get, to receive (Hakka, Min)

to fall asleep (dialectal Mandarin, Wu)

to fall into a trap, to be trapped

particle denoting that an action was "appropriately done"; "not done in vain".

particle denoting the success or continuation of an action

particle used after verbs to denote the severity of the event (Beijing Mandarin)

one by one (Cantonese)

correct, right (Cantonese, Hakka, Min)

at, in (a place) (Min Dong)

it's now …'s turn (Min)

all right; OK; that's exactly what I was thinking (dialectal Mandarin, Xiang) (zhāo)

move (in go games), step; trick, device (zhāo 招)

Associated with the pronunciation zhù:

notable, remarkable, striking

famous, well-known

to show, to manifest

to praise, to speak approvingly of

to write, to compose

literary work, composition, book

to record, to document

to establish, to set up, to build up

achievements; attainments

aboriginal, native inhabitants

precedence, order

the space between the front gate and the screens / shields

(佇/伫) to remain (at a place), to be held up

(貯/贮) to store

(褚) to stuff a lined garment with cotton

Associated with the pronunciation zhe:

particle indicating the continuation of an action or a state; often used with 正在 or 正

particle used after some adjectives to denote comparison of levels

particle denoting a command, request or advice

Just within supposed Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), I have heard literate, learned Chinese speakers argue over which of the pronunciations of 著 and 着 should be associated with which of the meanings listed above.  An example cited by Brendan O'Kane, who is gathering notes for a piece with the working title "A Student's Guide to the Worst Character" (which will delve into the historical background of the problem), offers this example of uncertainty concerning the pronunciation of 著 in one particular instance, namely,

…despite what the dictionary says (and what one would expect given the meaning of 著 read in the second tone), I've heard 著急 [VHM:  "worry; be anxious"] much more often as zhāojí than as zháojí. The latter reading would actually sound weird to me — or would at least sound as if the speaker were trying to put special emphasis on the word.

I agree with Brendan:  I hear zhāojí more often than zháojí.

Brendan also offers the following humorously illuminating example of uncertainty over how to pronounce 著:

On the topic of 著, the character that dare not speak its name, I recently remembered a scene in the (very funny, almost unknown) Zhang Yimou movie Keep Cool (有話好好說) in which a mispronunciation is played for laughs: a migrant worker, hired by the film's main character to stand outside the window of the girl he likes and serenade her, keeps shouting "我睡不著覺" (wo3 shui4 bu zhuo2 jiao4).

VHM:  Most people would say Wǒ shuì bùzháo jiào 我睡不着觉 ("I can't fall asleep") [Google Translate gives Wǒ shuì bùzháo jué, but that's a separate problem of distinguishing between the two MSM pronunciations of 觉, jué ("sense; feel; become aware/awakened") and jiào ("sleep")].

Moving beyond MSM, in Cantonese the first group of definitions are variously pronounced as zau1 zau2 zoek3 zoek6.

In various dialects of Hakka, we have chok8 tiok8 do3, chok8, chok8 chok7, cok8 zok7, cok8, zhok7 chok8, cok8 ziok7, cok8 tiok8 do3.

Teochow diêh4 / dioh4 (tieh / tioh) diêh8 / dioh8 (tiêh / tiôh)

Mindong ciŏk / diŏh

Minnan tio̍h / tio̍k / to̍h

Wu tsaq (T4)

In Cantonese, the second group of definitions are variously pronounced as zoek3 zoek6 zyu3.

In various dialects of Hakka, we have chok8 tiok8 chok7 diau2 zhu5 (do3), zok7 | zu5 | cok8, cok8 tiok8 zok7 diau2 zu5 (do3), zhu5 | chok7, zhu6, zhu5, zu5, cog6 dau3 do3 zog5 zu4, zu5

Teochow du3 (tù) diêh4 / dioh4 (tieh)

Mindong dé̤ṳ

Minnan tù

Wu tsr (T2)

And we have only begun to scratch the surface.  If we start to get into regional differences just within so-called Mandarin (e.g., Shandong and its subtopolects, Sichuan and its subtopolects, Gansu, Yunnan, Hunan…, and there are countless other topolects, the tonal variations among them are endless.

Quoting this comment from the following post, "The enigmatic language of the new Windows 8 ads" (5/14/13):

If you are a speaker of MSM (Modern Standard Mandarin) and you travel across the Mandarin-speaking areas of China, you will be astonished at the enormous variety of tonal configurations for words. My wife was from Shandong and grew up in Sichuan, so I got a liberal dose of the tonal patterns of both areas. I became so conditioned to them that, if I were upstairs and someone called who spoke Mandarin with Sichuan or Shandong tones, I could tell very quickly to which my wife downstairs was speaking, since — even though she spoke beautiful MSM — she would switch into the very different tone patterns of her interlocutor. I often said that Sichuanese tones were "upside down" in relation to MSM (though they are consistent within their own phonological system).

Other examples of tonal variation within Mandarin are given in posts such as these:

"Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping: presidential language notes" (11/21/12)

"English and Mandarin juxtaposed " (9/6/13)

Tones can be distorted for many reasons:  emphasis, emotion, musical tunes, hip-hop and rap, and so on.  There are many other reasons that the designated tones of characters may be changed or ignored.  For example, Cantonese waiters will use the shorthand form 才 ("talent; natural abilities; a moment ago; just now; only; not until), normally pronounced coi4, for the more complex character 菜 ("vegetables; greens; food eaten with rice or alcoholic drinks; dish; course"), pronounced coi3.

To summarize the first part of this post, tones are not absolute and inalterable.  Even with supposed MSM as spoken in Taiwan and on the Mainland there are are stark differences, while tones in Shandong, Sichuan, the northwest — all supposedly Mandarin — are dissimilar, and this is not to mention the radically different tonal systems of the non-Mandarin Sinitic languages.

Turning to the question of tones and the brain, I asked several colleagues who specialize in the cognitive aspects of East Asian languages their opinion of the article and paper cited above.  Their replies follow below.

From Bill Hannas:

If the study did no more than the linked article states, it fails to support its conclusion.  The claim, reportedly, is that phonemic tone accounts for observed differences in brain network activation between English and Mandarin speakers.  While these differences, if valid, are interesting, why didn't the researchers back up their claim by testing additional groups of speakers, e.g., Vietnamese (south: 5 tones, north: 6) or, for that matter, native speakers of other Chinese languages where the number of tones, their contours, sandhi rules and, arguably, linguistic importance vary from the Mandarin "standard"?  Am I missing something here?

From Jim Unger:

There may be an area somewhere in the right hemisphere that controls suprasegmental pitch adjustments (tone) in real time, but so what?  It certainly doesn't mean that the brains of Mandarin speakers are unique in some transcendental way.  There are loads of other tone or pitch accent languages in the world, even if they are a minority of all languages.  It doesn't prove that phonemic tone is transcendentally special:  there are many other "unusual" phonemic contrasts that occur in only a minority of languages, any one of which might also be handled in some specific brain area or other.  It does not add significant evidence to support sweeping theories of hemispheric laterality, on which Kosslyn and others have lately poured a good deal of empirical cold water.  In fact, given that speech production involves the coordination of numerous articulatory gestures in real time, it is more likely that pitch adjustments, voice onset time for obstruents, etc., are under the control of several competing loci in the brain, not just one, even if that one seems always to be active during the time that gesture is occurring.

From a psycholinguist who specializes on Chinese:

This is of course pretty surfacy stuff. Our brains are all different, and if you were to hold everything else constant and allow to vary only the languages that we speak, you'd find very minor, insignificant differences. Mandarin lights up brain areas about the same as any other language when the same tasks are performed. Functionally speaking, tasks focusing on 'contrastive tone' and 'contrastive stress' would activate the same brain areas, and those areas would only minimally involve R-hemisphere 'musical tone'.

From a colleague who is a specialist on writing systems:

Usually when I read a story on "here's your brain on Mandarin vs. English" there's some sort of link to Hanzi, along with entirely unsupported claims of their special and useful difference. So it's refreshing to see something without that for a change. Still, the article doesn't say anything about just how much difference was observed. And I'm wondering a lot about what is called "intelligible speech." Is that Mandarin as it is normally spoken or with the exaggerated tones of sing-song speech so common when someone is asked to read aloud?

Is tonal vs. non-tonal really such an absolute distinction? Are there degrees? And as the write-up notes, "Tone matters in English, just not to the same extent as in Chinese." So what happens in the brains of English speakers if given tonal variations on the "Where have you been?" question?

Another thing I'd like to see is the same study run with native speakers of tonal languages with different tones than Mandarin: Cantonese, Taiwanese, and Thai, for example. Are there differences among them? And would PRC-based scientists want to risk a study that might point to possible differences (however small) in the brains of Mandarin and Cantonese speakers? Heh.

Tones are not sacrosanct, nor do they have the ability to modify a person's brain.

[h.t. Geoff Wade]

OTW Fannews: Interacting With Canon

Mar. 3rd, 2015 12:41 pm
otw_staff: Algonquin OTW Communications Staffer (Algonquin OTW Communications Staffer)
[personal profile] otw_staff posting in [community profile] otw_news

The it-getters at PBS' Idea Channel released an episode focusing on fanfiction & LGBT representation. "Official writers are...gesturing at alternate universes, at relationships that could exist between characters -- were the world of the show...not what it actually is. I see this as the sacred charge of so much fanfiction, to express the love left unexpressed in so much popular culture." (No transcript available.)

People are noticing how fans interact with canon & how it compares to what commercial productions do.

I Can Wear it How?!

Mar. 3rd, 2015 05:01 pm
[syndicated profile] thesartorialist_feed

Posted by The Sartorialist

IMG_4170Jonathan Anderson is really doing a great job at Loewe.


I stopped in at the Loewe store on Via Montenapoleone a few days ago and was surprised when the salesperson started showing me the different ways you can wear the Puzzle Bag.


You can wear it as a backpack (seen above).

IMG_4174You can wear it collapsed as a Clutch.



And of course, you can wear it as you most normally would.


I think what was so unexpected about this experience, is that most luxury bags are so pristinely displayed and interacted with in-stores, that you end up feeling quite distant from the bag (even after the purchase!)


This bag defies that. Instead of saying “look at me” it says - interact with me. Change my shape from three dimensional and fold me inward. Sling me over your shoulder and take me on whatever journeys lie ahead.


Excited to see what’s to come from Mr. Anderson, and what he’ll surprise us with next.


Anti-Procrastination Tuesday 3/3/15

Mar. 3rd, 2015 10:46 am
lizcommotion: Lily (buff tabby) asking for belly rubs on an oriental rug in a sunbeam, whiskers in happy face pose. Head upside down. (cat lily basking icon)
[personal profile] lizcommotion posting in [community profile] bitesizedcleaning
Is there something you've been procrastinating on? Something that really needs must be done, but is kind of a pain in the tuckus? Today's challenge is to do That Thing.

Go team, go! We can do it together!

NOTE: Optional 5 minute challenge for those who just do not have the brains for this challenge, because it is just too much. (Which is totally okay.) Make your bed! It's always cheery, looks tidier, and in my case maybe the tiny!cat with endless energy will stop attacking the folds in the blankets because there won't be as many folds to attack.

On the Street….via Verri, Milan

Mar. 3rd, 2015 02:00 pm
[syndicated profile] thesartorialist_feed

Posted by The Sartorialist

22615bluecoatB5809A lovely young lady in a great combination of colors..


Second photo because It would be a shame not to show how perfectly oversized this coat really was!

[syndicated profile] cakewrecks2_feed

Posted by Jen

It may be "Unusual Names Day" to you, but for me? IT'S CHRISTMAS.

And here are some of the names on my list:



Ellen & Philip:



Try not to call your friend Georgia "Gorgia" from now on. JUST TRY.



Possibly my new favorite.



Way to OWN that line spacing, baker.


Sophie & Reilly:

Oh, the irony. It's a two-fer!



Is this a real name? Please let this be a real name. If only so I can imagine someone saying, "Well, I should head over to the preschool to pick up my Porn."

Or, "Would you ask the babysitter to watch Porn for me?"

Or, "Hey, Mom, I posted pictures of Porn on your Facebook page!"

Or, "Thanks to Porn, I haven't slept in a week and my house is full of stinky diapers."

[gigglesnort] Yep, it's official: someone needs to at least name their dog/cat Porn, STAT.


Um, so I had more cakes to post, but I seem to have completely derailed myself with the Porn thing.
(Bet all you cubicle workers know what I mean, EH? Heyoooo!)

So here, let's just go out with a bang:
(Or did we do that already?? [Ok, Ok, I'll stop.])

I guess the lawyers insisted.

(And I can't even tell you what they renamed Piglet.)


Thanks to Andi V., Amadie H., Bryar, Jennifer A., Mark B., Rich G., Holly S., & Rachel F. for helping make today's post especially classy. (POOP AND PORN 4EVA!!!)


Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

Autocomplete strikes again

Mar. 3rd, 2015 01:43 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

I think I know how an unsuitable but immensely rich desert peninsula got chosen by FIFA (the international governing body for major soccer tournaments) to host the soccer World Cup in 2022.

First, a personal anecdote that triggered my hypothesis about the decision. I recently sent a text message from my smartphone and then carelessly slipped it into my pocket without making sure it had gone to sleep.

I figured out later that, during the process of putting the device back into my pocket, my finger must have slid across the Q, the A, the Space bar, and the Send button. Autocomplete did its blindly uncooperative work without checking with me (there is only one word in English beginning with the two letters I accidentally typed), and the result was (I swear this is true) that the last person I had texted received an additional text from me.

The text said simply "Qatar".

There are people who point out that FIFA is famously corrupt. They note that one whistleblower has claimed that two executive committee members were paid $1.5 million to vote for Qatar (over another finalist, the USA — you may have heard of it), despite Qatar's manifest geographical unsuitability — its broiling temperatures, way over 100°F between May and September, would make playing full-length soccer games by daylight medically inadvisable and perhaps suicidal. (Already there is a plan to shift the World Cup from its customary summertime slot to December, infuriating many managers in the soccer industry who need the autumn for regular fixtures.)

But really, how plausible are these fairytales about buckets of money? My theory is so much simpler. Suppose FIFA president Sepp Blatter had promised a certain journalist that he would leak the name of the winning country to him in a text message, and as he slipped his phone back in his pocket his fingers (and we know this can accidentally happen!) slid across Q – A – Space – Send. The journalist would have immediately published the scoop. And after that Blatter would have been too embarrassed to admit to the error. So (I conjecture) he simply told the rest of the executive committee to shut up about it and treat Qatar as the official winner.

Why posit institutional corruption on a vast scale within FIFA, and multi-million-dollar bribery to gain visibility for a small country in the sporting universe, when there is a plausible hypothesis available that posits no such unsavory things? Autocomplete, already guilty of so many crimes, is the hitherto unsuspected culprit in the 2022 World Cup scandal. Elementary.

[syndicated profile] webupd8_feed
The Xfce 4.12 PPA was updated with the final stable Xfce 4.12, for Xubuntu 14.04 and 14.10.

For what's new in Xfce 4.12, see THIS article.

Xfce 4.12 Xubuntu 14.04
Xfce 4.12 in Xubuntu 14.04

Xfce 4.12 Xubuntu 14.10
Xfce 4.12 in Xubuntu 14.10 (with extras: TopMenu and DockBarX)

Until yesterday, the Xfce 4.12 PPA didn't provide the final Xfce 4.12, but development builds (4.11.x) for the Xfce Panel, Settings xfwm4 and so on. Also, until a few minutes ago, there was a small issue which didn't allow updating xfce4-power-manager. That's why I thought I'd wait until everything is ready and the PPA actually provides Xfce 4.12 before posting instructions on how to install it in Xubuntu 14.10 and 14.04.

Upgrade to Xfce 4.12 in Xubuntu 14.04 or 14.10

Since Xfce 4.12 was just packaged for Xubuntu, you may encounter issues by using this PPA! Use it at your own risk!

Issues encountered so far (there might be others!):

1: Qt4 applications don't use the GTK style after upgrading to Xfce 4.12. This can be fixed - firstly, install qt4-qtconfig:
sudo apt-get install qt4-qtconfig

Then, launch "Qt 4 Settings" from the menu (or via a terminal: "qtconfig") and on the "Appearance" tab, set the "GUI Style" to "GTK+", then select File > Save.

2. There's also an issue with Qt apps not using the correct icon theme. It looks like the old method of fixing this no longer works so for now I don't know any workarounds for this.

It looks like the two issues above were also present in the Xubuntu 14.10 releaseso this is not a new issue.

To upgrade to Xfce 4.12 in Xubuntu 14.04 or 14.10, you can use the official Xubuntu Xfce 4.12 PPA. Unfortunately there are no stable Xfce 4.12 packages for Xubuntu 12.04, at least at the time I'm writing this article (there are just a few Xfce 4.11 packages).

To add the PPA and upgrade to Xfce 4.12 in Xubuntu 14.04 or 14.10, use the following commands:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:xubuntu-dev/xfce-4.12
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Then, log out, log back in and you should be running the latest Xfce 4.12 (stable).

Tip: to install a few extra packages like XfDashboard, xfce4-pulseaudio-plugin, thunar-dropbox-plugin, Skippy XD and more, you can use the Xubuntu Extras PPA.

How to revert the changes

If for whatever reason you want to revert the changes and downgrade to the Xfce version available in the official Xubuntu repositories, you can use PPA Purge to purge the Xfce 4.12 PPA (using PPA purge, the PPA is disabled and all the packages from that PPA are downgraded to the version available in the repositories).

To install PPA Purge and purge the Xubuntu Xfce 4.12 PPA, use the following commands:
sudo apt-get install ppa-purge
sudo ppa-purge ppa:xubuntu-dev/xfce-4.12

You may also be interested in: How To Set Up Compiz In Xubuntu 14.10, 14.04 Or 12.04

Daily Happiness

Mar. 2nd, 2015 11:30 pm
torachan: john from homestuck looking shocked (john shocked)
[personal profile] torachan
1. I bought Donkey Kong Country 3 and Tropical Freeze! :D I'm holding off on the first two DKC games, since 3 is the one I liked best and at $8 each it was kind of steep to buy all three of them plus Tropical Freeze, even if Tropical Freeze was 30% off. (Also I am now out of room on the Wii U's internal hard drive, so I guess I need to buy an external one. D:)

2. After all the rain we've had this year, our little lemon tree out back seems to be coming back to life. This morning Carla even found two teensy lemons on it!

3. I had such a nice relaxing day off! I wish I'd actually done a bit more translation and stuff, especially since I hardly ever seem to do any on work days lately, but oh well. It was nice to just relax and do nothing.

The spirit of place

Mar. 3rd, 2015 07:04 am
[syndicated profile] terriwindling_feed

Posted by Terri Windling

Cross over the boundary of the woods,

A misty day in the hills

In his excellent new book Rising Ground, Philip Marsden tramps across the moor and through the woods of Cornwall in search of the "spirit of place," discussing the history and mythology of this ancient land along the way. From Bodmin Moor to Tintangel and Land's End, he explores the many faces of the county: the natural landscape, the sacred landscape, the working landscape of miners and farmers, the Cornwall of antiquarians and artists, and the "spirit of place" as experienced by the author himself, who has lived there for many years.

At the core of the book is Marsden's renovation of a remote farmhouse at the edge of Ruan Creek (a "creek" being a tidal channel or estuary and not a small stream, as Americans use the term). The surrounding woods have reclaimed the crumbled stones of an older settlement, and now Marsden and his family settle in to write a new chapter in the land's long story.

"Our children had been been given a picture book called A Street Through Time: A 12,000-year Journey Along the Same Street," he tells us. "On the first page is a Mesolithic settlement, on the next a Neolithic one, and so on. Every time you turn the page there is the same topography, the same river and the same hill -- but everything else changes. The forest is cut back, huts appear and disappear, defences come and go; early on, a barrow and a stone circle pop up on the hill, fall out of use, and are swallowed up again by the forest; an Iron Age fort becomes a Roman fort among whose ruins a medieval castle is built which is burned down during the Civil War and whose broken walls, on the final page, serve as a visitor attraction.  The foreground of the last page is a frenetic scene with cars on the road, planes in the air, wine bars in basements, pedestrians on mobile phones and on the river, a small dredger and a couple in a rowing boat.

We'll follow an overgrown stone wall

through a land turned green and gold with rain.

"I imagined a version of that narrative here, on the tidal section of the Upper Fal. The first pages would be similar: the shoreside attracting early settlers, the tumulus in our field, the Roman garrison up-river at Golden Mill, the castles at Ruan Lanihorne and Tregony, the church at Lamorran. On the late medieval page, in our little creek, a couple of punts are pulled up on the shingle. A lugger is bringing in maunds of mussels. A small settlement stands on the shore, a scatter of barns and cottages and stock-pens ringed by the enclosure of the demesne lands. The stream drives a small mill. At the center of the scene is a medieval manor -- mullioned windows and high chimneys, and beside it a chapel. The next page is the late eighteenth century: the manor house in poor repair, only partly inhabited, but a new quay on the creek, with a lane running down to it and several people disembarking from a small coaster. Bales of goods lie on the shingle. In the woods across from the river they are felling oak, stripping the bark for the newly expanded tannery.

"It is at this point that our version diverges from the steady modernising in the picture book. The next page here, the mid-nineteenth century, would show the buildings in ruin, and only a much smaller house, our house, among the old walls. Otherwise, the scene is emptying of people, emptying of river traffic. The silting process is beginning to accelerate. On the following pages there are fewer and smaller coasters, then none at all. The quays fall into disrepair, the lime-kilns disappear. The track is less used. There is some activity in the woods, where timber is still taken for the tannery in Grampound, but that comes to an end in the later twentieth century. On the last page are just trees and mud flats, and a cluster of roofs in the wooded emptiness of the valley."

The spirit of this place is soft as the moss,

as hard as the granite, as tenacious as the gorse.

In Marsden's vision, all of Cornwall is a palimpsest, a page over-written by history: readable here, indecipherable there, but beautiful in its layering. Even the section of the county ravaged by clayworks has its stories and its poetry, and the final chapters of the book -- on Lyonesse and the Isles of Scilly -- are pure poetry themselves. It's an unusual book, falling somewhere in the interstices between nature writing, travel writing, history and memoir. By the end, you feel as if you've walked across Cornwall too, and that's a trip worth taking.

The spirit of this place sings softly, just below the wind.

If you happen to be within striking distance of Dartmoor, Philip Marsden will be speaking at Chagword, our village's literary festival, on Saturday, March 14 -- and I believe there are still some tickets left. Perhaps I'll see some of you there.

Shhhh! Can you hear it?

Rising Ground by Philip MarsdenPhotographs above: Tilly and I explore the spirit of place in our own Devon hills.

[syndicated profile] deardesigner_feed

Posted by deardesigner

It seems to be a yearly ritual now. Spring always heralds lovely new things from Loaf, and I always drool over the brochure and list all the things I’d love to buy. For my country cottage of course. Which actually may become a reality in the not too distant future. Really! But for now I’ll dream of textured rugs on scrubbed floorboards, soft, squashy sofas, cool linen sheets and summer lunches on zinc topped kitchen tables.

Maybe soon.

Loaf - Achilles sofa from £1195

Achilles sofa from £1195

Loaf - Chromeo lamp £95

Chromeo lamp £95

Loaf - Conker kitchen table from £795 & Budge bench from £325

Conker kitchen table from £795 & Budge bench from £325

Loaf - Crofter rug from £195

Crofter rug from £195

Loaf - Lazy linen from £15 for a pillowcase

Lazy linen from £15 for a pillowcase

[syndicated profile] thesartorialist_feed

Posted by The Sartorialist


I love sharing the little details of Italy. The sugar mountains on the bar of most Italian cafes each morning is really a metaphor for the Italian outlook that “more is more and more can be sooo sweet”

It's not easy seeing green

Mar. 2nd, 2015 08:00 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

The whole dress that melted the internet thing has brought back a curious example of semi-demi-science about a Namibian tribe that can't distinguish green and blue, but does differentiate kinds of green that look just the same to us Westerners. This story has been floating around the internets for several years, in places like the BBC and the New York Times and BoingBoing and RadioLab, and it presents an impressive-seeming demonstration of the power of language to shape our perception of the world.  But on closer inspection, the evidence seems to melt away, and the impressive experience seems to be wildly over-interpreted or even completely invented.

I caught the resurrection of this idea in Kevin Loria's article "No one could see the color blue until modern times", Business Insider 2/27/2015, which references a RadioLab episode on Colors that featured those remarkable Namibians. Loria uses them to focus on that always-popular question "do you really see something if you don't have a word for it?"

Here's the relevant segment of Loria's piece:

A researcher named Jules Davidoff traveled to Namibia to investigate this, where he conducted an experiment with the Himba tribe, which speaks a language that has no word for blue or distinction between blue and green.

When shown a circle with 11 green squares and one blue, they could not pick out which one was different from the others — or those who could see a difference took much longer and made more mistakes than would make sense to us, who can clearly spot the blue square.

But the Himba have more words for types of green than we do in English.  When looking at a circle of green squares with only one slightly different shade, they could immediately spot the different one.

Can you?

For most of us, that's harder.

No kidding.

Davidoff says that without a word for a color, without a way of identifying it as different, it is much harder for us to notice what is unique about it — even though our eyes are physically seeing the blocks it in the same way.

The images in Loria's article are apparently screenshots from a segment of a 2011 BBC documentary "Do you see what I see?". The relevant segment is available via Vidipedia and BoreMe, and the section about the Himba of Namibia starts about 3:00 of the BoreMe version.

The striking story about the Himba's color perception has been widely disseminated — aside from the RadioLab episode, there's Mark Frauenfelder, "How language affects color perception", BoingBoing 8/12/2011; Maud Newton, "It's not easy seeing green", NYT 9/4/2012; and Dustin Stevenson, "The last color term", 4/25/2013; and so on.

Most of the articles have the same pair of examples that Loria shows — a circle of 12 green squares, one of which is a slightly different green from the others, and similar circle with 11 green squares and one blue square. Unfortunately, like Loria, most of the others show the blue-and-green display only as a photo of a CRT display taken over the shoulder of a Himba subject doing the task.

Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing was interested enough to use an image-processing program to calculate the RGB values of the squares in the varieties-of-green display:


I get slightly different values from Loria's image: [85 168 0] for the oddball green square, and [72 166 8] for various of the other green squares. (I loaded the image into Gimp via "Copy Image" and "Create>>From Clipboard", and used the eyedropper tool to measure RGB values. In fact the values vary slightly for different parts of different squares.) For the "white" background (which is necessary for turning RGB values into CIELUV values) I get [242 242 242]. Frauenfelder doesn't specific the value of the "white" background in his image, but I get [244 244 246] from it.

From the stimulus seen over the shoulder of the Himba subject, I get [23 88 110] for the blue-looking square, and [27 74 54] (plus or minus a bit) for the green-looking ones, with "white" at [97 108 102].  This is very unsatisfactory — but it's what they give us.

So I implemented the algorithms to convert from RGB to CIEXYZ and then to CIELUV (given e.g. here), because euclidean distance in L*u*v* space is said to be roughly equal to psychophysical distance. My implementation is here.

The result for the kinds-of-green display, using my measurements:

green1a = [85 168 0];
green1b = [72 166 8];
white1 = [242 242 242];
norm(rgb2luv(green1a, white1) - rgb2luv(green1b, white1))
ans = 8.4526

And using Frauenfelder's measurements:

green1a = [97 192 4];
green1b = [80 186 15];
white1 = [244 244 246];
norm(rgb2luv(green1a, white1) - rgb2luv(green1b, white1))
ans = 10.606

And from the over-the-shoulder shot (as found in Loria's screenshot):

blue2 = [23 88 110];
green2 = [27 74 54];
white2 = [97 108 102];
norm(rgb2luv(blue2,white2) - rgb2luv(green2,white2))
ans = 46.446

So maybe the CIELUV space is highly ethnocentric. Or maybe the documentary's assertion about the perception of these stimuli is just wrong — the blue and the green are 4-6 times farther apart, in psychophysical terms, than the different kinds of green are.

Or maybe the over-the-shoulder shot somehow exaggerates the amount of blue-green contrast (though I would expect the opposite). So I went looking for a better version of the blue-vs.-green stimulus. One of the pages that I cited (Dustin Stevenson, "The last color term", 4/25/2013) gives a more comparable-looking blue-vs.-green display (i.e. not an over-the-shoulder photo):


The RGB values from this image, with the associated CIELUV distance, are:

blue2 = [0 0 255];
green2 = [58 185 5];
white2 = [242 242 244];
norm(rgb2luv(blue2,white2) - rgb2luv(green2,white2))
ans = 234.54;

But the blue value of [0 0 255] in this display is obviously either an innocent but wildly mistaken invention by Mr. Davidson, or else a complete fraud — this version is even less satisfactory than the over-the-shoulder image. It suggests that the blue-green difference is 20-30 times more salient, in purely psychophysical terms, than the green-green difference is.

So I went looking for a publication with a clear description of the stimuli, as well as a description of the experiment and the results. And I struck out, utterly and completely.

Looking for Himba color in Google Scholar, I find things like Rachel Adelson, "Hues and views: A cross-cultural study reveals how language shapes color perception", American Psychological Association Monitor, 2/2005; Roberson et al., "Color categories: Evidence for the cultural relativity hypothesis", Cognitive Psychology 2005; Goldstein et al., "Knowing color terms enhances recognition: Further evidence from English and Himba", Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 2008 — but none of these describe an experiment anything like the one shown in the 2011 BBC documentary, and discussed in various places since then.

The documentary names Serge Caparos as the experimenter, and we see him and hear him running the experiment and discussing the results. But as far as I can tell, searching for Serge Caparos Himba color again leaves us without any publication that describes the experiment we're looking for.

So either

  1. The experiment was abandoned because it failed, or because serious design flaws turned up in the review process; or
  2. The experiment was abandoned because the author(s) went on to other things, or couldn't write it up for personal reasons; or
  3. The experiment has been published, but my search techniques were unable to find it.

Whatever the explanation, I submit that the BBC documentary (and the subsequent coverage) has given us a sensationalist interpretation of an undocumented experiment, presented as reliable science, without giving us any basis to trust that this interpretation is even close to true.

Unfortunately, this is all too typical of the BBC's approach to the popularization of science — see "It's always silly season in the (BBC) science section" for a inventory of examples as of a decade ago, and "Bible Science stories" for a theory about the source of this pathology.

It would be funny if it weren't so sad, or maybe vice versa.

Scanlations: Himegoto ch. 33

Mar. 2nd, 2015 12:16 pm
torachan: yoshiki from himegoto (himegoto)
[personal profile] torachan

Title: Himegoto
Original Title: ヒメゴト~十九歳の制服~ (Himegoto~Juukyuu Sai no Seifuku~)
Author: Minenami Ryou
Publisher: Big Comics
Genre: Seinen
Status in Japan: 8 volumes, complete
Scanlator: Megchan's Scanlations feat. Audrey + Krim
Scanlation Status: Ongoing
More Info: Baka Updates

Summary: This is the story of three college freshmen with secrets: Yuki, aka Yoshiki, a boyish girl who gets off on wearing her old high school uniform skirt; Mikako, who acts innocent around her classmates, but at night pretends to be a 15-year-old and has sex for money; and finally there's Kaito, who's obsessed with Mikako to the point of dressing up like her.

Chapter Summary: Kaito confronts Yoshiki about what happened with Mikako.

Chapter 33: Men and Women
[syndicated profile] webupd8_feed
Pinta, a free, open source drawing / image editing program, was updated to version 1.6 today, bringing redesigned new image dialog and shape tools, a new community add-in repository, along with over 50 bug fixes and other changes.

Pinta image editor

For those not familiar with Pinta, this is a cross-platform image editing / drawing program that was initially based on Paint.NET. 

The application was created to serve as a simple, easy to use alternative to more advanced applications (like GIMP) and it features drawing tools, unlimited layers and undo history, over 35 image effects and adjustments and a configurable UI (you can use a docked interface or multiple windows).

Pinta image editor

Pinta 1.5 was released almost a year ago and it featured an Add-in Manager which in theory allowed users to browse and install add-ins, but there were no addons available at that time. With Pinta 1.6, the Add-in Manager ships with a new community add-in repository which, at the time I'm writing this article, includes 6 add-ins: Ascii Art, WebP support, Block Brush, Generate Grid, Night Vision Effect and Uploader (for uploading images on image-hosting websites; currently, it only supports, along with a demo add-in.

Pinta image editor

Besides the new community add-in repository, Pinta 1.6 also ships with the following changes:
  • redesigned shape tools:
    • the Line tool now supports drawing curves and arrows (screenshot above);
    • shapes remain editable after being drawn;
    • all shape tools now support drawing dashed lines (screenshot above);
  • all selection tools now support the Union, Exclude, Xor, and Intersection modes;
  • redesigned New Image dialog, which includes presets, orientation and background options, and a thumbnail preview of the image;
  • the toolbox and color palette now have a flexible layout and can expand horizontally, making them significantly more usable on small screens;
  • the text tool now supports the standard shortcuts for toggling bold (Ctrl+B), italic (Ctrl+I), and underline (Ctrl+U), and all of the text can be selected with Ctrl+A;
  • when launching Pinta from the command line, the standard --version and --help options are now supported;
  • improved the readability of the text cursor against dark backgrounds;
  • fixed a number of issues with the text tool’s support for Unicode text;
  • fixed a number of issues with undoing selections;
  • many other bug fixes.

Install Pinta 1.6 in Ubuntu or Linux Mint

To install Pinta 1.6 in Ubuntu 14.04 or 14.10 / Linux Mint 17 or 17.1 (and derivatives), you can use the official stable Pinta PPA. To add the PPA and install Pinta, use the following commands:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:pinta-maintainers/pinta-stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install pinta

To download the source code, Windows or Mac OSX binaries, see the Pinta downloads page.

Report any bugs you may find @ Launchpad.


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