Sunday, March 26, 2006

No, seriously, the best band in the world.

We just got back from seeing Belle and Sebastian and The New Pornographers; I'm pretty sure a better bill for me does not exist. First time for me seeing the Pornographers and I'd like to see them again in a smaller venue. This was at the Paramount and I think they'd do better in a place like the Showbox -- it's more the right feel for them.

Belle and Sebastian was, as always, fantastic. I know I've said this before and I know I've got all kinds of historical bias and nostalgia associated with this band, but seriously, this is the best group of musicians playing this kind of music anywhere in the world. Stuart Murdoch's musicianship is so hot that everything else about him oozes sex appeal too. But it's all of them, really -- so many instruments! so orchestrally ambitious! so much trading off! Even if you don't like their composition, and frankly I don't see how that's possible but there's no accounting for taste, I don't think there's a way to see this band and not walk away impressed with the pure musicianship.

I wonder if Isobel Campbell and Stuart David have any regrets.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Code-switching, Lost-style.

No spoilers here.

Those of you who watch Lost know that two of the main characters are native speakers of Korean. Last night's episode featured several scenes between two bilingual speakers of Korean and English, in which the context ostensibly featured one of them tutoring the other in English. Throughout the scenes, there were several code switches from one language to another both within and between speakers.

Real code-switching situations are incredibly cool, because speakers manage to respect the phono-morpho-syntactic rules of both languages while moving from one to another. Code-switching provides one of the best arguments around for Universal Grammar. But there's this thing about code-switching on TV or in movies (and Lost happened to make me think about it, but it isn't the only example): Fictionalized media code-switching typically only presents a very restricted subset of real code-switching behavior.

Media code-switchers follow the same rules as real-life code-switchers, except that media code-switchers are far less impressive, because they only ever seem to code switch at full on sentence boundaries. Not even utterance boundaries most of the time, but really truly syntactic sentence boundaries. Compare against real life code-switchers making language switches at all kinds of linguistically meaningful transition points.

I'm interested in recent cases of media code-switching that depict the behavior in its full array, if anyone knows of any.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


I love this time of year in Seattle. The second half of March begins one of my favorite seasons here -- we start getting stretches of nice days, sunny and near 60, to break up the winter gray. I first visited Seattle at this time of year and I stayed for a month, only to move back here for good a few weeks after heading back east to get my stuff. Maybe that's part of it: the nostalgia of a fresh start, a new beginning, actually coinciding with spring for a change. I can remember running all over Capitol Hill in all kinds of weather in between working on my dissertation and making dinners in Chris's 600 square foot apartment.

And now it's four years later -- have I been living here for four years, really? -- and it's a sunny Sunday and it's going to be 60 degrees out. We have the walk-through for our new house this afternoon; we're finally moving out of the apartment where we moved a couple of months after I moved to Seattle for real. In that time I've finished school and written a bunch of stuff and gotten a job and now we really live here. If we decide to have kids, they will be from Seattle.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Coming up for air.

I owe some phone calls. Top on the list of phone calls that I owe is Vince. I hereby declare Sunday as the day for repaying all of my phone call debts. Or at least some of them.

Tomorrow is our end-of-season basketball party. I'll be sad to see it end and I'm really looking forward to coaching again next year -- Hilary and I had a lot of fun with this and we were fortunate to have really nice girls and families to work with. I just got email today from the woman in charge of the league (she runs all the community outreach programs for the YMCA in Capitol Hill) saying that she is changing jobs to something part-time that will better accomodate her grad school schedule. Too bad for us, because she was fantastic.

I'm wishing I had proficiency in some spring/summer sport so that I didn't have to wait another 9 months to coach again!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Another year.

It is my birthday today. I am feeling decidedly unbirthdaylike.

What I mainly want for my birthday is a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

School days.

A while ago I blogged that the best science education is pre-theoretic; instead of teaching that one or another theory is The Way Things Are, a good science education teaches students to assess whether any theory they encounter is a good theory, and how well it compares to competing theories. Is it falsifiable? How good is its empirical coverage? And so on.

One of the reasons I went into linguistics when I started college was because I didn't want to choose between language and math. Once I got over that, one of the reasons I went into linguistics for real when I started graduate school is because my real passion was in the philosophy of science. Linguistics is an old discipline but sort of a new science; it has not always been approached empirically, and as a relatively new science it's still sort of working out its methodology. For someone interested in math, language, and the philosophy of science -- and that describes a whole lot of the people who go into theoretical linguistics -- it's pretty much the optimal field.

Until the lack of established methodology gets kind of frustrating. And the physics-envy in the field of linguistics gets old. But I have physics-envy too. I am guilty.

But so the philosophy of science. One thing that the variety of linguistics that I was taught really excelled at, by which I mean the variety of linguistics that is associated with Penn and few other places, is that at heart it is pre-theoretic in just the way that science is supposed to be. Even where some theory or other is favored to explain some set of data, the heart of the field is more about how to evaluate competing theories than it is about any particular flavor of explanation.

And so to address a question from a recent lunch conversation I had, that is what I got out of school.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sugar and spice and a tablespoon of bitterness.

Today was our third or fourth annual dessert party, depending on whether you count the year that we skipped. A delicious time was had by all, even if my particular attempt at dessert this year was a resounding unsuccess. Chris's bread pudding with lemon sauce and chantilly cream was a showstopper. (Thanks, Chris! And Paul Prudhomme.) The really noteworthy thing this year, however, is that evite seems to have an invitation template for dessert parties. We are so ahead of our time.

As several dessert party veterans know, the dessert party typically migrates into the smaller pizza and Oscar party in the evening, salt and Hollywood shmaltz being the perfect antidote to all that sugar. Unfortunately this year, this is where events took a turn for the worse. Crash winning Best Picture? Wtf? This heavy-handed piece of crap didn't even deserve wide release, let alone a nomination, let alone the freakin' Best Picture award. Yep, we sure love subtlety, we American moviegoers.