Suggested Reads

The theme of today’s suggested reads is language.

[The New Yorker] The Power of Names Fascinating article by Adam Alter on how words can convey meaning beyond just the literal dictionary definitions, and how language can shape our thought and culture. The takeaway: linguistic labels of concepts can fundamentally change how people perceive those concepts.

[The Economist] Franco-English Confusions: When Normally Does Not Mean Normally The linguist’s perspective on how those speaking Euro-English operate in a different world. Normalement, for example, means “with luck” and often indicates non-commitment, rather than a habitual and repeated action. Such differences in a linguistic context may perhaps explain a broader bureaucratic and work culture.

[Language Log] Bleached Conditionals Geoffrey K. Pullum argues that mainstream media has removed conditionality from conditional statements, thwarting the original purpose of such “If…then” statements. Rather than the “If X, then Y” statements meaning “under the assumption of X…”, journalistic writing now uses these statements to mean “given that X,” where the X is no longer an underlying condition for Y to occur, but a common piece of knowledge.

[Language Log] Inflicting Context Mark Liberman explores the semantics of “inflict” vs “cause” in the context of a judicial opinion. Liberman suggests, contrary to the legal case United States v. Zabawa, that “inflict” has a broader meaning in relation to “cause.” This article raises the issue of how we resolve the problem of polysemy that arises in situations with important consequences, i.e. a court case. While this linguist’s perspective is interesting, I would also like to see interpretations of the “inflict” vs “cause” debate in the frame of causation theories.


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