Category Archives: Mermaids


Part of speech. Part of life. Continue reading

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Every Time I Fire a Linguist Someone Cooks Me a Delicious Osso Buco

My career as an artificial intelligence engineer began in a master’s program in linguistics. There I memorized the International Phonetic Alphabet, played hunt-the-allophone, read the literature on control verbs and code switching, and generally made a good faith effort to … Continue reading

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It’s Frank’s World, the Rest of Us Just Live in It

Ferdinand de Saussure: Meaning is difference. Claude Shannon: Difference can be quantified. Alan Turing: Quantification can be automated. Go!

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At the Institute for Primate Communication

“NEW SIGN. WE MAKE. YOU SEE.” At first I thought I might have been misinterpreting BoBo, but he kept repeating the signs until it was clear what he meant. “YES YOU SEE” Dian added. “WE MAKE SIGN. YOU HAPPY.” Noam … Continue reading

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“The King of France is Bald” is Tricky

The king of France is bald. What does this mean? Is it this? ∃x [KingOfFrance(x) ∧ ∀y [KingOfFrance(y) → x=y] ∧ Bald(x) Or maybe this? How about this? All of these depictions are useful. The translation of natural language into predicate calculus—pioneered … Continue reading

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English Has Over 1.5 Billion Meanings for the Word Snow

I was once at an Elvis Costello concert where he told the audience that the first song he ever wrote was in the key of E minor. It was called “‘Winter’”, he added, his ominous tone of voice getting a … Continue reading

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English Has No Word For

The kind of detritus—rubber bands, thumbtacks, orphaned fasteners, possibly dead batteries—that collects in drawers. A rock or brick left next to a locked door of a common area (the rear entrance of an apartment building, say, or a laundry room) … Continue reading

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