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HD: Origin Unknown: Profile of Anatoly Liberman
Posted: 02 February 2016 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A nice read

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Posted: 04 February 2016 03:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thanks for that, Dave. Indeed, a good and inspiring read. How the guy has enough hours in the day to clean his teeth, I don’t know!

A propos of one of his examples, I remember the first time I came up against Dutch words beginning with ‘dw-’ - and there are a fair few - I was amazed. But I think Anatoly must have already done his stuff by the first time I read the origins of ‘dwerg’ (dwarf) in my Van Dale etymological dictionary as it was already as he outlined it (iirc).

Have favourited that blog for future viewing…

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Posted: 04 February 2016 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Have favourited that blog for future viewing…

I will add my voice to those who have already pointed out that one of the most enjoyable aspects of this forum is being introduced to people and places of… substance, to use an expression my mother favored.

There’s a line of dialog in the movie Almost Famous, “It’s not too late for you to become a person of substance, Russell.” I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that. I was like, “Mom?”

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Posted: 04 February 2016 08:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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How the guy has enough hours in the day to clean his teeth, I don’t know!

At his age, it only takes a second or two to put them in the dishwasher

Joking apart - when he says the Internet is no use for searching, that’s only true for someone like himself, who has every dictionary ever published on his shelf, and all that erudition besides. For lesser mortals, the Internet for all its faults is a priceless asset

[ Edited: 04 February 2016 09:00 AM by lionello ]
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Posted: 04 February 2016 09:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It’s true for us mere mortals too. Google will give you the most popular, oft-cited answers. Those are not always the right ones. If you want to know what other people are saying about something, Google is great. It’s not so hot for primary research.

There are also huge gaps in what is available online. Older sources are usually not available, even with Google Books, which is great but very incomplete, and is worthless for the old stuff it does have because of OCR errors and its inability to grok older fonts and damaged pages.

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Posted: 04 February 2016 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I wonder what Johnson’s teeth were like in 1755.

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Posted: 05 February 2016 12:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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When you are snugly ensconced deep in the grove of Academe, it’s easy to forget that many (by which I mean hundreds, if not thousands, of millions) of us mortals do not have ready access to library facilities, and that the Internet is our only easily available road to information. Googling is only one of many ways of obtaining information via the Internet (and I agree, it’s by no means always the most satisfactory, or the most reliable way).

Re Dr. Johnson’s teeth: couldn’t say, but there’s an interesting account of what a famous contemporary of his had to cope with, here

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Posted: 05 February 2016 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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To emphasize, what seems to be behind Liberman’s (and definitely is behind mine) is the difference between primary and secondary research. If you want to find out something that is already known, the free, public internet is great. If you want to discover something, not so much. (Depending on what question you’re asking, there may be resources for primary research that are behind paywalls.)

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Posted: 05 February 2016 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I see what you mean, Dave, and agree entirely. The way to discover new stuff is to come directly to grips with your material — which applies to any science, not only to linguistics. I was thinking more in terms of acquiring the background material for research — what you call “finding out what’s already known”. I remember a literature search which required two weeks’ hard work in a University library, poring through “Chemical Abstracts”; 25 years later, the librarian of the company I worked for could have obtained all the information in half an hour.

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Posted: 05 February 2016 12:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Arrgh, Chem Abstracts!  I sometimes try to describe to my students what it was like using it in the paper era, but I don’t think they believe me.

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Posted: 05 February 2016 01:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Yeah, I couldn’t imagine doing a doctorate back in the old days. I shuddered every time I thought of it. (Despite what I said earlier, the internet has made a lot of things much easier.)

(I went through 3.5 years of my undergraduate without a word processor; and the last semester was using the word processor on an HP3000 minicomputer terminal in the library. Otherwise, it was Smith-Corona.)

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Posted: 05 February 2016 04:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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FWIW, I know that most of us here understand that Google isn’t designed for scholarly research, but it always makes me chuckle when people complain about the results they get on Google. Never met a complainer yet that understood anything about Google - very few people even understand what business Google is in and I’ve never met a complainer yet that had any real understanding of how search results are generated.

Imagine two web pages about etymology. One is the real deal full of quality information and the other is worthless bullshit designed to suck you in and sell you a book. Both are clearly all about etymology, and both contain the keywords you’re searching with, but one of them sucks. Now, figure out which is quality information and which is crap and do it in a few milliseconds using nothing but mathematics. Don’t forget that you’ve also go to do that for every search and those come in at a rate of 40,000 times a second. Google generates their search results in real time for every search - there is no such thing as a canned result.

The Google story has barely begun. The desktop computer is dead. 90% of internet traffic is already mobile. Smart phones have all the computing power the vast majority of people will ever need and have proven that you don’t need to own a powerful computer, you just need to be able to talk to a powerful computer and Google will always do everything in their power to make sure the computer you’re talking to is theirs. Keywords are dead. Understanding spoken natural language is the only thing that matters and this group, above others, should understand how tricky words can be and how difficult it can be to understand what people are really trying to communicate. Now… solve that problem with math. Condense a true understanding of language into a series of algebra equations. This is why the Search division has been rolled into the AI division and the head of AI at Google is now also the head of Search.

Expect more from Google… much more. Whatever you think of them, their track record is pretty freaking good. Someday you’ll be able to say to Google, “I want to see all examples of the word pimp published before 1850” and that’s exactly what you’ll get. (AI is also being applied to OCR and graphics recognition, so those barriers to older manuscripts are certain to fall) Naturally, results will always be limited to the materials that Google has access to and there will always be materials that Google doesn’t have access to, but it won’t be long before Google rules ALL public domain information.

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Posted: 06 February 2016 06:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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First they should do something about fixing their crappy metadata, which has not gotten any better in the years I’ve been using Google Books (and which librarians tried to warn them about at the beginning, but no, they knew better, they’d do it their own way, the better way, the Google way).  Hubris, thy name is Google.

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Posted: 06 February 2016 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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While I don’t deny any of the criticisms that have been made, I think that we have to admit that Google has greatly increased the availability (either by putting the material online themselves, or by making it findable and searchable) of many primary sources as well: old books, newspapers, magazines, etc.  For instance, amateurs like (most of) us now often find instances of words and usages that antedate those in the OED and other references, because we can search the equivalent of vast libraries at phenomenal speed from the comfort of our chairs.

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Posted: 06 February 2016 07:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I finally got around to looking at the Laphams’s Quarterly article referred to, and I saw that it contains a facsimile of the first page of the first issue of Notes & Queries, a journal that I have often seen references to but never known anything about.  On that page is a sentence that surely ranks as one of the Eternal Verities:

Half the lies that are current in the world owe their origin to a misplaced confidence in memory, rather than to intentional falsehood.

At first I was going to remark that this was probably an underestimate, but it occurred to me that election years likely balance things out.

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Posted: 06 February 2016 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Half the lies that are current in the world owe their origin to a misplaced confidence in memory, rather than to intentional falsehood.

That’s brilliant! And helpful.

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