The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Women's voices have changed

That's the conclusion of a researcher at the University of South Australia:

Cecilia Pemberton at the University of South Australia studied the voices of two groups of Australian women aged 18–25 years. The researchers compared archival recordings of women talking in 1945 with more recent recordings taken in the early 1990s. The team found that the “fundamental frequency” had dropped by 23 Hz over five decades – from an average of 229 Hz (roughly an A# below middle C) to 206 Hz (roughly a G#). That’s a significant, audible difference. 

The researchers had carefully selected their samples to control for any potential demographic factors: the women were all university students and none of them smoked. The team also considered the fact that members of the more recent group from the 1990s were using the contraceptive pill, which could have led to hormonal changes that could have altered the vocal chords. Yet the drop in pitch remained even when the team excluded those women from their sample.

Instead, the researchers speculated that the transformation reflects the rise of women to more prominent roles in society, leading them to adopt a deeper tone to project authority and dominance in the workplace.

I have a lot of friends who might agree; some of them sing soprano and speak tenor. No joke.

Lunchtime reading

Stuff that landed in my inbox today:

Also, while we're on the subject of the C-word, I love Minnie Driver's response: "That was the wrong word for Samantha Bee to have used. But mostly because (to paraphrase the French) Ivanka has neither the warmth nor the depth."

Active voice, passive voice, weasel voice

The Economist's Johnson column last week (which I just got around to reading tonight) took on verb conjugations in journalism:

On May 14th, as Palestinians massed at the Gaza Strip’s border, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing around 60 people. Shortly afterwards, the New York Times tweeted: “Dozens of Palestinians have died in protests as the US prepares to open its Jerusalem embassy.” Social media went ballistic. “From old age?” was one incredulous reply. #HaveDied quickly became a hashtag campaign.

English and most other European languages have both an active voice (Steve kicked John) and a passive (John was kicked by Steve). Style manuals, including The Economist’s, generally deprecate the passive voice. It is longer, for one thing. For another, it is often found in heavy academic and bureaucratic prose. Inexperienced writers tend to over-use it.

But critics of the passive often confuse two different things: syntax and semantics. Syntax has to do with the mechanics of putting a sentence together. In Steve kicked John, Steve is the subject and John is the direct object. But in John was kicked by Steve, John is now the subject, even though he is still the kickee, and Steve is still the kicker.

So what the critics really meant is that the Times erred in using an intransitive verb.

I analyzed this not as an argument for a particular kind of prose, but as an argument for learning the vocabulary of the thing you want to criticize. Critics of the Times' headline aren't wrong; they're just arguing the wrong point. One can understand viscerally why the Times' headline got under the skin. But as in so much of life, people on one side argued feelings and people on the other argued correctness.

Until people hear what the opposition really wants to say—until people make an effort to hear it, I mean—we're going to keep talking past each other. That said, I want everyone to read Orwell right now.

Disappearing Midwestern accents

Edward McClelland essays on the decline of the white blue-collar Midwest, as expressed linguistically:

The “classic Chicago” accent, with its elongated vowels and its tendency to substitute “dese, dem, and dose” for “these, them, and those,” or “chree” for “three,” was the voice of the city’s white working class. “Dese, Dem, and Dose Guy,” in fact, is a term for a certain type of down-to-earth Chicagoan, usually from a white South Side neighborhood or an inner-ring suburb.

The classic accent was most widespread during the city’s industrial heyday. Blue-collar work and strong regional speech are closely connected: If you were white and graduated high school in the 1960s, you didn’t need to go to college, or even leave your neighborhood, to get a good job, and once you got that job, you didn’t have to talk to anyone outside your house, your factory, or your tavern. A regular-joe accent was a sign of masculinity and local cred, bonding forces important for the teamwork of industrial labor.

The classic Chicago accent is heard less often these days because the white working class is less numerous, and less influential, than it was in the 20th century. It has been pushed to the margins of city life, both figuratively and geographically, by white flight, multiculturalism and globalization: The accent is most prevalent in blue-collar suburbs and predominantly white neighborhoods in the northwest and southwest corners of the city, now heavily populated by city workers whose families have lived in Chicago for generations.

There’s a conception that television leveled local accents, by bringing so-called “broadcaster English” into every home. I don’t think this is true. No one watched more television than the Baby Boomers, but their accents are much stronger than those of their children, the Millennials.

What’s really killing the local accent is education and geographicmobility, which became economic necessities for young Rust Belters after the mills closed down. But as blue-collar jobs have faded, so has some of our linguistic diversity.

McClelland adapted his CityLab essay from his 2016 book How to Speak Midwestern, which is obviously now on my Amazon wish list.

Illiberalism on campuses

Via Andrew Sullivan's essay today in New York, Brookings released a poll this week that shows disturbing trends among college students' attitudes about free speech:

[A]mong many current college students there is a significant divergence between the actual and perceived scope of First Amendment freedoms. More specifically, with respect to the questions explored above, many students have an overly narrow view of the extent of freedom of expression. For example, a very significant percentage of students hold the view that hate speech is unprotected. In addition, a surprisingly large fraction of students believe it is acceptable to act—including resorting to violence—to shut down expression they consider offensive. And a majority of students appear to want an environment that shields them from being exposed to views they might find offensive.

We don’t need to turn middle and high school students into experts on constitutional law. But we can do a better job of giving them a fuller explanation of the scope of the First Amendment, and the fact that it protects the expression of offensive views. And, I would hope that we can do a better job at convincing current and future college students that the best way to respond to offensive speech is with vigorous debate, or peaceful protest—and not, as many seem to believe, with violence.

Sullivan thinks about the results:

Today’s students neither comprehend nor support the very concept of free speech, which is foundational to a liberal democracy. A full 19 percent even believe that physical violence is now justifiable to shut down speakers who engage in the vaguely defined term “hate speech.” That’s one in five students endorsing physical coercion. Antifa really is making headway, isn’t it? A small majority, 51-49, supports shouting down speakers you disagree with — and that goes to 62 percent of students who identify as Democrats.

We often discuss these things in the media without understanding the core ideas that animate them. But it’s important to understand that for the social-justice left, there is nothing irrational about any of this. If you take their ideas seriously, oppressive speech is violence and self-defense is legitimate. Violence is therefore not some regrettable incident. Violence to achieve liberation is a key part of the ideology they believe in.

Put another way, intolerance for opposing views is no longer just a feature of the right.

Mispronouncing street names

Historian John Schmidt posted today about the 11 most-mispronounced street names in Chicago:

(1) Devon. Like those posts note—and like most Chicagoans I know—I pronounce it dee-VAHN.

(2) Leavitt. Forget the part that looks like “leave.” It’s LEV-itt.

(3) Paulina. Not pronounced like the girl’s name. The street is pull-EYE-nuh.

That last one is part of a joke: What are the three street names that rhyme with female anatomy? Paulina, Malvina, and Lunt.

It also reminds me of Yuri Rasovsky's infamous 1972 recording, "The Chicago Language Tape:"

Not many of those street names sound like that after 45 years. But it's still hilarious if you're familiar with the city.

Evidence of things unseen

Some stories from today:

And, hey! It's Friday afternoon already.

Roméo, Roméo

I really, really like the Original Pronunciation movement started by David and Ben Crystal. Through analysis and performance, they're trying to understand Shakespeare's plays as audiences 400 years ago would have understood them.

The Crystals are back in the news with the upcoming publication of the Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation this June. The Atlantic has the story:

It’s a book, a guide to Shakespeare’s first folio, that Crystal has been working on for 12 years (on and off, because, as he notes, “it’s deadly boring” to put a dictionary together). That work involved, essentially, linguistic sleuthing: Crystal started by looking at the words that might have originally rhymed, based on rhyme schemes and the words’ current pronunciations, and then cross-referenced them against other appearances of those same words in Shakespeare’s corpus.

The resulting dictionary is meant, he explains, as a resource for anyone who wants to understand Shakespeare’s plays and poems not as amber-frozen relics of literary history, but as works that have evolved along with English itself. “I’m not suggesting for a moment that Original Pronunciation replaces other approaches to Shakespeare,” Crystal says. “It simply is an extra tool in the kit that you use when you’re putting on a play.”

And OP doesn’t simply add dimensions to Shakespeare’s work (or, for that matter, to Marlowe’s, and Jonson’s, and Webster’s). It can also help modern audiences simply to parse the plays, to tease out basic meanings that have been eroded in time. In Henry IV Part I, for example, Falstaff tells Hal, “Give you a reason on compulsion? If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion.” The line would seem, Crystal points out, to make very little sense—unless you understand that “reason” was pronounced, in Shakespeare’s English, as “raisin,” and that “raisin” was a synonym for “blackberry.”

I have, of course, pre-ordered the book.

Here are the Crystals giving a demonstration:

Freakin' NuGet

While I'm going through a boring cycle of NuGet updates, unit tests, and inexplicable app-publishing failures related to the above, I'm piling up a crapload of articles to read on my flight tomorrow:

Back to work. At least my build is succeeding now.

Three things to read today

First, the New Republic's Jeet Heer reminds us that Donald Trump is a bullshitter, not a liar, and is that much more dangerous for it:

The triumph of bullshit has consequences far beyond the political realm, making society as a whole more credulous and willing to accept all sorts of irrational beliefs. A newly published article in the academic journal Judgment and Decision Making
links “bullshit receptivity” to other forms of impaired thinking: “Those more receptive to bullshit are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.” 

It’s no accident that Trump himself is receptive to bullshit ideas promulgated by the likes of anti-vaxxers. A President Trump, based on his own bullshit receptivity and his own bullshit contagiousness, would lead a country that is far more conspiratorial, far more confused, and far less able to grapple with problems in a rational way. Trump’s America would truly be a nation swimming in bullshit.

Next, a heartwarming story of how LifeLock allowed a man to set up an account to stalk his ex-wife, and then did nothing when she complained:

Not only did the company not respond to her queries about the situation, she tells the Republic that LifeLock actively tried to block her access to the account — in order to protect the privacy of her ex-husband.

While she was able to block her ex from having access to the service, he was still able to close the account because he was the one who had paid for it. Rather than help her by providing the requested documents or keeping the account open, LifeLock advised that she open an entirely new account.

Finally, from Cranky Flier, the account of the last airplane to roll off an assembly line in California, ending a 102-year-old industry there:

As aircraft manufacturing dried up around the state, Long Beach became the last holdout. When Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas, the entire Douglas commercial line was terminated in short order except for the MD-95. That became the Boeing 717 and made it all the way to May 23, 2006. On that day, the last two were rolled across Lakewood Blvd on the east side of the airport and delivered to AirTran and Midwest. Commercial aircraft production in the state died that day.

But on the west side of the field, the military C-17 soldiered on. The C-17 is a beast of an airplane. It’s a massive military transport that is essential for the US military. The problem is that the military has all the C-17s it needs. Production peaked at 16 a year in 2009, but that has been ramping down every year since. The aircraft was marketed to foreign countries and orders did roll in — enough to keep the production going for longer than expected — but the end has finally arrived.

The last airplane to be delivered took off from Long Beach around midday on Sunday.

There's a video of the plane taking off, too. (C-17s are pretty damned impressive.)