Category Archives: linguistics

The Rise of the Transgenic Queen

The Rise of the Transgenic Queen by Antonio Zamora is now available for Kindle devices.

The story depicts the evolution of mankind after a genetic experiment gets out of control. The directors of a new genetic engineering firm seek to make large profits from a new type of diet therapy. The brief escape of one of the laboratory animals causes Ludmila, one of the female scientists, to accidentally become infected with a virus vector carrying hymenoptera genetic material from a small gene therapy research project. The physical changes from the expression of the genetic modification have unforeseen consequences that transform Ludmila into the Transgenic Queen, thus altering the biological evolution of mankind.

Questions about the personality test


Carl Jung

Personality analysis can be very useful for understanding people and the mechanisms of social interactions.  The Zamora Personality Test provides an approach for identifying behavioral characteristics that contribute to what is called “personality”.  Through these characteristics we are able to judge whether a person is honest, hard-working, aggressive, etc.  Such knowledge enables us to develop strategies for successful business negotiations or satisfactory everyday interactions.  Recently, I got the following questions about the personality test.

Question from Alex:

I happened upon your interesting website and conducted your online personality tests for myself.  Might you answer the following questions on these Zamora tests, please?
1. Which personality theories, or tests, are they based on, or are they entirely your own creation?
2. I had problems answering quite a few questions, both in the Social and in the Individual Attributes test. The reason is, I think, that these, and many of your questions are actually a compound of two questions, but your questionnaire only allows for one answer;  thus, I believe, my conflict, or disagreement with being forced into giving one answer to actually two questions, also will affect the results of your testing procedure. I admit, I am very logical when it comes to reading and writing, but these remarks to you are intended as a stimulating thought process to see if I, or you, have missed anything!

An example from the Social Attributes Test:
Your Question reads:  I have enough money, and I don’t like to spend it:
say my Answer is: Disagree (No), then logically I am agreeing to two statements:
First, that “I have enough money” and second, “That I don’t like to spend it”.
But for any individual person, two other answers (which match reality) as combinations of the double-question are possible, namely:
Alternative Answer 1:
First, that “I have enough money” (Agree = Yes) and second, “That I don’t like to spend it” (Disagree = No). I.e., this person has enough money for their needs, and does enjoy spending the money they have (possibly few people in today’s consumerism-driven society!)

Alternative Answer 2:
First, that “I have enough money” (Disagree = No) and second, “That I don’t like to spend it” (Agree = Yes).  I.e., this person tends to spend money, even more than they have (a common social affliction apparently!).

I think my interpretation of this question is logical and correct, and there are many other of questions that are equally “difficult” for me to answer as the questions similarly allow two possible answers, but only one answer is allowable to both in the questionnaire.

I would value your comments to this conundrum in your questionnaire.

Response:
I approached the personality test form a linguistic perspective.  The rationale is explained in the discussion of what is personality.  With regard to the questions, I tried to identify personality attributes by probing from different perspectives and then coordinating and ranking the results.  In any linguistic test, it is inevitable that there will be misinterpretations because language has many subtleties and ambiguities.  This is one of the reasons for the variety of statements, some of which appear to be redundant.  Inconsistency in answering may indicate a neutral attitude, but it may also be the result of not understanding the question.

Regarding the particular statement: “I have enough money, and I don’t like to spend it.”, The purpose of the statement is to try to determine whether a person is generous or stingy as a measure of egocentrism; it is also an indicator of tolerance for risk.  Of course, if a person does not have enough money, the answer is tricky, as you mentioned.  Many of the personality attributes could be obtained by asking direct questions, such as “Are you mature?”, “Are you generous?” or by posing ranking criteria “On a scale of 1 to 10 how dependable are you?”. Unfortunately, people are not very objective judges of their character and it is better to classify them by their actions.  The test provides this round-about way of gathering information which hopefully is more reliable than an introspective self-evaluation.

Looking at the question from a Boolean perspective, as you have, is an interesting exercise, but it does not apply well to natural language.  The statement  “I like apples and oranges” could not be true in Boolean logic since the intersection of apples and oranges is null in set theory.  The Boolean interpretation is “I like apples or oranges” where the set includes both, but this is not the way we speak in English, or any other natural language. The sentence “I like apples or oranges” has the natural language implication of liking one or the other, but not both, which is another Boolean conundrum.  I am sure that logicians could write many papers on the topic that the English “and” is approximately equal to the Boolean “or”, but not quite.

Try the Zamora Personality Test

What is numerology?


At the beginning of civilization, man invented the alphabet and the written word.  The early writing systems did not have numbers, so letters were assigned to represent numbers. In the Hebrew alphabet, for example, Alef (א) represented 1, Bet (ב) represented 2, Gimel (ג) represented 3, etc.  The Roman numbers made from the letters C, D, I, L, M, V, and X are more familiar to us today and we use them on clock faces, book chapters, and movie production dates.  The Roman number LIX represents 59, where the L is 50, the X is 10 and the I to the left of the ten subtracts 1 from the 10.  Notice that LIX could be pronounced in English like “licks” or “likes”.  This type of association of numbers with words and meanings is the basis of the ancient numerology.

There are many systems of numerology, but they all seek esoteric and mystical relationships between numbers, words, and the physical objects that the words represent.  Numerology, like astrology, has been classified as a pseudoscience because the purported associations between numbers and objects are arbitrary and based on traditions and beliefs that do not have an objective origin.  Numerological divination was practiced by early mathematicians, such as Pythagoras, but numerology is not part of mathematics today.

The association of words and numbers is practiced on a large scale today for encoding alphabetic characters in computer records.  Computers can only work with numbers, and mappings such as EBCDIC, ASCII, and UTF-8 specify how those numbers are to be interpreted to represent letters and words.

Learn more about Numerology

Nominative and Objective Cases in English


I winced when I read the headline “Drinks on Who?” written in one-inch bold letters in the October 7, 2009 sports section of the Washington Post.  This is the equivalent of saying “Drinks on she?” or “Drinks on I?” instead of the correct “Drinks on her?” or “Drinks on me?”.  It reminded me of the primitive savage expressions like “Me Tarzan, you Jane” of black-and-white TV days, or Tonto saying to the Lone Ranger: “Him say man ride over ridge on horse.”

The nominative and objective case of pronouns is one of the last vestiges of the Germanic origins of English, and it is slowly but surely disappearing.  Soon, the pronouns “who” and “whom” will combine into a caseless “who” in sympathy with “you”.  There is also great confusion about “you and I” vs. “you and me”.  The words of popular songs like “You and me against the world” by Helen Reddy become imprinted in our mind until they finally don’t sound wrong.

In order to use the pronoun cases correctly, it is necessary to understand the structure of the sentences.  As a general rule, pronouns in the subject are in the nominative case, pronouns in the predicate are in the objective case.  Thus, we say “I saw him” or “He saw me”.  We would never think of saying “Me saw he” or “him saw I”, which is the wrong use of both pronouns.  The nominative personal pronouns are: I, you, he, she, we, they.  The corresponding objective forms are: me, you, him, her, us, them.  Notice that “you” is the same in both cases, so we say “I saw you” and “you saw me”.  The pronouns “thou” (nominative) and “thee” (objective) which were a familiar or personal form of the formal “you” have disappeared from modern English, but they are still found in biblical passages and in Shakespearean plays.

Learn English Grammar

Influence of United States technology on the Spanish Language

New York City Metro card in Spanish

New York City Metro card in Spanish

The British complain that Americans haven’t spoken English for years, and of course, Americans even spell the language differently. Americans spell theatre as theater and colour as color. How horrible! Americans got rid of senseless transpositions and unpronounced extra letters; they also changed the “ise” verb endings to “ize”.   Not content with improving the English language, Americans are now trying to change Spanish by using nouns as verbs in TV commercials.

Hispanics now comprise approximately 15% of the population of the United States. The demographics of the United States have changed since its founding through acquisition of territories and immigration. In the past, the U.S. has been a great melting pot where eventually everyone has ended up speaking English and blended with the rest of the population. It has been different with Spanish speakers.

The major part of the southern United States was Spanish territory at one time. With the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, the U.S. took control of Florida which had been a province of the Captaincy General of Cuba under Spanish rule. The oldest city in the U.S. is St. Augustine, Florida which was established by the Spaniards in 1565. The U.S. acquired approximately 80,000 Spanish speakers from Mexico when it took over the territory that included California, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. In 1917, the United States gave U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans. About 31,000 Puerto Ricans moved to New York from 1946 to 1950. The 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story portrayed some of the friction between the Spanish and Anglo cultures of the time. From 1947 until 1964, the U.S. had the Bracero Program which allowed the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States. In 1959, a large Cuban exodus started when Fidel Castro won control of Cuba. From 1960 to 1979, hundreds of thousands of Cubans left Cuba to start a new life in the United States, mainly in Florida. Many Americans traveled to Mexico during the 1968 Summer Olympics and discovered Mexican food. Soon afterward, Mexican restaurants started appearing throughout the U.S. and many of the waiters and cooks were of Hispanic origin. Another wave of 125,000 Spanish speakers came in the early 1980s from Central America to the U.S. to escape natural disasters or to seek political asylum. The U.S. also has over 11 million illegal residents who, for the most part, are Spanish speakers from Mexico.

For two centuries, there has been a steady stream of Hispanic people who brought their culture, traditions, and the Spanish language to the U.S. The U.S. is home to more than 45 million Hispanics, making it the world’s second-largest Spanish-speaking community after Mexico. Large enclaves of Spanish speakers and radio and national television channels that broadcast in Spanish such as Univision and Telemundo have made it possible for immigrants and their U.S.-born children to retain their language skills and have prevented the melting pot effect.

In a recent visit to New York, I noticed that the Metro cards for the New York Subway were written completely in Spanish.  This is an adaptation to the reality that Hispanics comprise a large segment of our society and contribute substantially to the U.S.  economy.  Advertisements for cellular telephones that can send text messages have introduced new verbs on Spanish television such as “textear” or “mensajear” instead of using the traditional Spanish grammatical constructions “enviar mensajes de texto” or “enviar mensajes”. Children who grow up listening to these neologisms will eventually adopt a new American version of Spanish. So how will these new verbs be conjugated?

Textear:
yo texteo, tú texteas, él textea, nosotros texteamos, vosotros texteáis, ellos textean. Estoy texteando.

Mensjear:
yo mensajeo, tú mensajeas, él mensajea, nosotros mensajeamos, vosotros mensajeáis, ellos mensajean. Estoy mensajeando.

Learn English Grammar

Lucky Numbers Gadget – New directions in the Internet

There is a revolution in the way people communicate with each other.  Newspapers are getting thinner or going out of business.  Television programs keep saying “go to our website for more details”.  Almost everybody has a cell phone, and cell phones have evolved into multi-function devices that, besides carrying voice messages, take pictures or act like Global Positioning System (GPS) devices that show maps and provide directions.  The cell phones also can store and play your favorite music.  Many of these advances are due to the way that the Internet is developing.

Google has become the major search engine in the world and neither Yahoo nor MSN (now Bing) comes close to the breadth and depth of coverage that Google offers.  The greatest handicap for finding information has been the multiplicity of languages in the world.  Google is making great strides in its statistical translation approach.  A user can search in other languages and have the results translated into his native language.  It is now possible to search information in Arabic or Russian even if you don’t know these languages.  The translations are somewhat rudimentary, but they are understandable.  I can imagine that in twenty years many language barriers will disappear.

One of the latest trends in the Internet is the use of gadgets which perform functions such as displaying the weather, news, or other useful information.  Gadgets are XML containers with HTML and JavaScript that may be easily manipulated within web pages.  To get familiar with the technology, I developed the Lucky Numbers Gadget illustrated above.  It is amazing what you can do with less than 90 lines of code.  Anybody can now develop customized web pages by selecting the gadgets that they find most useful.

You can add the Lucky Numbers gadget to your iGoogle web page by pressing the button: Add to Google

Syntax of Declarative Sentences

Example of a Declarative Sentence
Example of a Declarative Sentence

This web site has a formal description of an English Grammar that I have used for many years for my computational linguistics work.  The problem with formal descriptions is that they are very terse, and it takes a lot of study to understand how the constituents interact with each other.

I have developed an Interactive Syntax Worksheet that displays the interaction of the grammatical components, and gives the user an intuitive feeling for the process involved in constructing English sentences.  I hope that this is useful to students learning English as a second language, and to native speakers interested in English syntax.  The program is written in JavaScript and it operates entirely within the web browser, so there is nothing to download.  The only requirement is that the browser should be running with JavaScript enabled.

Rwanda is switching from French to English

An Imperative Sentence
Emperor Napoleon using an Imperative Sentence

Rwanda, a small landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa, has decided to change instruction in schools from French to English.  The French language was brought to Rwanda by Belgian colonizers.  On July 1, 1962, Rwanda was granted full independence from Belgium.

Rwanda has been in the news in recent years because of the 1994 mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’s Tutsis by Hutu militia.  Now that the country is gaining some stability, there is a new focus on agricultural development and international trade.  Most Rwandans speak the local Kinyarwanda language or French, but fewer than five percent speak English.

The emphasis on trade has made Rwandans aware that French is only spoken in France, and small parts of Canada, Belgium, and Switzerland. Whereas English is spoken worldwide even in countries like China.  Rwandan Senator Aloisea Inyumba said:

Introducing English is just being realistic.  English is the language of business

All Rwandan government employees are now required to learn English.

Human speech developed 530,000 years ago

hyoid hyoid

The hyoid bone is the only bone in the body that is not directly connected to another bone.  The hyoid is supported by the muscles of the neck and it, in turn, supports the base of the tongue.  Scientists agree that the hyoid bone and its position in the throat is what makes human speech possible.

Some time ago, it was discovered that Neanderthals had hyoid bones.  This made it possible to deduce that Neanderthals living throughout Europe 230,000 years ago were able to speak.  A new discovery of two hyoid bones from the middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Spain) indicates that the predecessor of the Neanderthal, Homo Heidelbergensis, was also capable of speech.  The researchers conclude that “Modern hyoid morphology was present by at least 530 kya [thousands of years ago] and appears to represent a shared derived feature of the modern human and Neandertal evolutionary lineages inherited from their last common ancestor.”[1]

Once language got started, pre-humans could coordinate their activities and argue about religion and politics, just like we do today.

[1] Martí­nez I, Arsuaga JL, Quam R, Carretero JM, Gracia A, Rodrí­guez L, Human hyoid bones from the middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), Journal of Human Evolution, 2008, vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 118-124. PMID: 17804038

Internationalization of web pages

English is the most common language in international trade, but there are many people in the world who do not understand English. Over 313 billion web pages have been published on the World Wide Web, and approximately 70% of them are written in English. Here are some global internet statistics of web content by language:

Language - Percent of web content
English 68.4%
Japanese 5.9%
German 5.8%
Chinese 3.9%
French 3.0%
Spanish 2.4%
Russian 1.9%

It is important to consider that the native language of people using the internet is not always English. About 30% of the web surfers are English speakers, but 15% speak Chinese, and 9% speak Spanish. Here are some statistics of the percent of users who surf the internet.

Language - Percent users - Number of users
English 30.1% 379M
Chinese 14.7% 185M
Spanish 9.0% 113M
Japanese 6.9% 88M
French 5.1% 64M
German 4.9% 62M
Portuguese 4.0% 51M

From these statistics, it is evident that Chinese and Spanish readers are being underserved. Web sites seeking to expand their global audience should consider translating some of their pages to make them accessible to speakers of other languages.

ScientificPsychic.com uses the following national flags to indicate the availability of web pages in other languages:

English- English
Spanish- Spanish
French- French
German- German
Russian- Russian

To see an example of an internationalized web page see:

English Verb Conjugation and Inflectional Morphology