Monday, July 05, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
On whether Rico the dog, who responds to dozens of different commands, actually understands language.
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More on Rico from the AP, USAT, NPR, NYT, Wired, and the Wash.Post. Here's the summary from Science. Discussion and followup at Language Log here. As I wrote, there was a lot of hype about Rico. I was struck by this statement, which I think was from the Post article: "If Rico had a human vocal tract, one would presume that he should be able to say the names of the items as well, or at least try to do so," says Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who studies animal communication and intelligence at Georgia State University. "It also raises the issue of whether Rico and/or other dogs or other mammals might already be trying to say words but have great difficulty being understood."

Here's NPR on the use of dogs in interrogation, and here's Ananova on reading the barks of watchdogs. Here's more on Kanzi the bonobo. Here's more on Clever Hans. Here's more on B.F. Skinner. And, what the hey, here's LL on duck dialects.

- BG's Jan Freeman looks into the adverbial phase real live:
How to punctuate "real live," Ideas colleague Joshua Glenn asked, in a phrase like "`a real, live license plate'?" But maybe that was a bad example, he added: "It seems wrong to apply `real, live' to an inanimate object." It does, once you think about it. But you're better off not thinking about it: "Real live" (I like it, usually, without the comma) has been around since 1887, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It's jocular, the OED says, except when used of inanimate things ("A real live glass milk-jug"). In that case it's slang -- or at least it was a century ago. Real live is still jokey, but it seems to have no problem, these days, hooking up with mere objects and concepts: "Real live violins" and "real live statistics" are now a real live part of our language. x

- William Safire goes back and forth with Antonin Scalia on whether recuse is transitive:

Last week's column and inflections

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