Archive for the ‘language and languages’ Category

Circumlocution in Diagnostic Medical Queries

July 9, 2014 Comments off

Circumlocution in Diagnostic Medical Queries
Source: Microsoft Research

Circumlocution is when many words are used to describe what could be said with fewer, e.g., “a machine that takes moisture out of the air” instead of “dehumidifier”. Web search is a perfect backdrop for circumlocution where people struggle to name what they seek. In some domains, not knowing the correct term can have a significant impact on the search results that are retrieved. We study the medical domain, where professional medical terms are not commonly known and where the consequence of not knowing the correct term can impact the accuracy of surfaced information, as well as escalation of anxiety, and ultimately the medical care sought. Given a free-form colloquial health search query, our objective is to find the underlying professional medical term. The problem is complicated by the fact that people issue quite varied queries to describe what they have. Machine-learning algorithms can be brought to bear on the problem, but there are two key complexities: creating high-quality training data and identifying predictive features. To our knowledge, no prior work has been able to crack this important problem due to the lack of training data. We give novel solutions and demonstrate their efficacy via extensive experiments, greatly improving over the prior art.

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CIA — Style Manual & Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications (8th Ed; 2011)

July 8, 2014 Comments off

Style Manual & Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications (PDF)
Source: Central Intelligence Agency (via National Security Counselors)

Good intelligence depends in large measure on clear, concise writing. The information CIA gathers and the analysis it produces mean little if we cannot convey them effectively. The Directorate of Intelligence and the Agency as a whole have always understood that. Both have been home, from their earliest days, to people who enjoy writing and excel at it.

The Style Manual and Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications is an essential reference for the officers of our Directorate. Now in its eight edition, it reflected an enduring commitment to the highest standards of care and precision.

This guide is designed to be helpful and convenient, sensible in organization, and logical in content. It contains, among other changes, a revised list of accepted acronyms and new tips on word usage. The world is not static. Nor is the language we employ to assess it.

Your Morals Depend on Language

June 25, 2014 Comments off

Your Morals Depend on Language
Source: PLoS ONE

Should you sacrifice one man to save five? Whatever your answer, it should not depend on whether you were asked the question in your native language or a foreign tongue so long as you understood the problem. And yet here we report evidence that people using a foreign language make substantially more utilitarian decisions when faced with such moral dilemmas. We argue that this stems from the reduced emotional response elicited by the foreign language, consequently reducing the impact of intuitive emotional concerns. In general, we suggest that the increased psychological distance of using a foreign language induces utilitarianism. This shows that moral judgments can be heavily affected by an orthogonal property to moral principles, and importantly, one that is relevant to hundreds of millions of individuals on a daily basis.

Close to Half of New Immigrants Report High English-Language Speaking Ability, Census Bureau Reports

June 11, 2014 Comments off

Close to Half of New Immigrants Report High English-Language Speaking Ability, Census Bureau Reports
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

In 2012, 44 percent of the foreign-born population age 5 and older who arrived in the United States in 2000 or later reported high English-language speaking ability, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released today. This means they either reported speaking only English at home or reported speaking it “very well” whether or not they did so at home.

About 13 percent did not speak English at all. By comparison, 63 percent of immigrants who arrived prior to 1980 had high English-speaking ability in 2012, while only 6 percent did not speak English at all.

A new report, English-Speaking Ability of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2012, uses statistics from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to focus on the relationships between English-speaking ability and place of birth, level of education and years spent living in the United States.

See also: Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 2012

Immigrant Parents and Early Childhood Programs: Addressing Barriers of Literacy, Culture, and Systems Knowledge

June 3, 2014 Comments off

Immigrant Parents and Early Childhood Programs: Addressing Barriers of Literacy, Culture, and Systems Knowledge
Source: Migration Policy Institute

Immigrant parents face significant barriers as they try to engage with their children’s early educational experiences, including greatly restricted access for many due to limited English proficiency and functional literacy. Parental engagement is critical for young children’s early cognitive and socioemotional development, and for their participation in programs that are designed to support early learning. Reducing the barriers to parent engagement in early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs would encourage school success, and help many young children of immigrants close the gaps in kindergarten readiness with their native peers.

Recent years have seen a rapid increase in the size and share of the U.S. young-child population with at least one immigrant parent, posing challenges to policymakers and front-line programs in the early childhood arena. These demographic changes are converging with efforts in many states to expand early childhood services and improve their quality. With one in four young children in the United States living in an immigrant family, efforts to build trust and establish meaningful two-way communication with these families is an urgent priority if system expansion efforts are to realize their purpose.

Many programs face difficulties engaging with immigrant and refugee parents who often require support building U.S. cultural and systems knowledge and in overcoming English language and literacy barriers. These difficulties have been exacerbated in recent years as adult basic education and English instruction programs, which early childhood programs such as Head Start had previously relied on to support parents in need of these skills, have been significantly reduced.

Against this backdrop, this report identifies the unique needs of newcomer parents across the range of expectations for parent skill, engagement, and leadership sought by ECEC programs, and strategies undertaken to address these needs. The study is based on field research in six states, expert interviews, a literature review, and a sociodemographic analysis.

Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market

May 30, 2014 Comments off

Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market
Source: PLoS ONE

Vocal fry is speech that is low pitched and creaky sounding, and is increasingly common among young American females. Some argue that vocal fry enhances speaker labor market perceptions while others argue that vocal fry is perceived negatively and can damage job prospects. In a large national sample of American adults we find that vocal fry is interpreted negatively. Relative to a normal speaking voice, young adult female voices exhibiting vocal fry are perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable. The negative perceptions of vocal fry are stronger for female voices relative to male voices. These results suggest that young American females should avoid using vocal fry speech in order to maximize labor market opportunities.

Automatic Characterization of Speaking Styles in Educational Videos

May 21, 2014 Comments off

Automatic Characterization of Speaking Styles in Educational Videos
Source: Microsoft Research

Recent studies have shown the importance of using online videos along with textual material in educational instruction, especially for better content retention and improved concept understanding. A key question is how to select videos to maximize student engagement, particularly when there are multiple possible videos on the same topic. While there are many aspects that drive student engagement, in this paper we focus on presenter speaking styles in the video. We use crowd-sourcing to explore speaking style dimensions in online educational videos, and identify six broad dimensions: liveliness, speaking rate, pleasantness, clarity, formality and confidence. We then propose techniques based solely on acoustic features for automatically identifying a subset of the dimensions. Finally, we perform video re-ranking experiments to learn how users apply their speaking style preferences to augment textbook material. Our findings also indicate how certain dimensions are correlated with perceptions of general pleasantness of the voice.

Linguistic Barriers in the Destination Language Acquisition of Immigrants

May 1, 2014 Comments off

Linguistic Barriers in the Destination Language Acquisition of Immigrants (PDF)
Source: Institute for the Study of Labor

There are various degrees of similarity between the languages of different immigrants and the language of their destination country. This linguistic distance is an obstacle to the acquisition of a language, which leads to large differences in the attainments of the language skills necessary for economic and social integration in the destination country. This study aims at quantifying the influence of linguistic distance on the language acquisition of immigrants in the US and in Germany. Drawing from comparative linguistics, we derive a measure of linguistic distance based on the automatic comparison of pronunciations. We compare this measure with three other linguistic and non-linguistic approaches in explaining self-reported measures of language skills. We show that there is a strong initial disadvantage from the linguistic origin for language acquisition, while the effect on the steepness of assimilation patterns is ambiguous in Germany and the US.

The Voice of Emotion across Species: How Do Human Listeners Recognize Animals’ Affective States?

April 14, 2014 Comments off

The Voice of Emotion across Species: How Do Human Listeners Recognize Animals’ Affective States?
Source: PLoS ONE

Voice-induced cross-taxa emotional recognition is the ability to understand the emotional state of another species based on its voice. In the past, induced affective states, experience-dependent higher cognitive processes or cross-taxa universal acoustic coding and processing mechanisms have been discussed to underlie this ability in humans. The present study sets out to distinguish the influence of familiarity and phylogeny on voice-induced cross-taxa emotional perception in humans. For the first time, two perspectives are taken into account: the self- (i.e. emotional valence induced in the listener) versus the others-perspective (i.e. correct recognition of the emotional valence of the recording context). Twenty-eight male participants listened to 192 vocalizations of four different species (human infant, dog, chimpanzee and tree shrew). Stimuli were recorded either in an agonistic (negative emotional valence) or affiliative (positive emotional valence) context. Participants rated the emotional valence of the stimuli adopting self- and others-perspective by using a 5-point version of the Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM). Familiarity was assessed based on subjective rating, objective labelling of the respective stimuli and interaction time with the respective species. Participants reliably recognized the emotional valence of human voices, whereas the results for animal voices were mixed. The correct classification of animal voices depended on the listener’s familiarity with the species and the call type/recording context, whereas there was less influence of induced emotional states and phylogeny. Our results provide first evidence that explicit voice-induced cross-taxa emotional recognition in humans is shaped more by experience-dependent cognitive mechanisms than by induced affective states or cross-taxa universal acoustic coding and processing mechanisms.

Finding That College Students Cluster in Majors Based on Differing Patterns of Spatial Visualization and Language Processing Speeds

April 14, 2014 Comments off

Finding That College Students Cluster in Majors Based on Differing Patterns of Spatial Visualization and Language Processing Speeds
Source: Sage Open

For over 30 years, researchers such as Eisenberg and McGinty have investigated the relationship between 3-D visualization skills and choice of college major. Results of the present study support the fact that science and math majors tend to do well on a measure of 3-D visualization. Going beyond these earlier studies, the present study investigated whether a measure of Rapid Automatic Naming of Objects—which is normally used to screen for elementary school students who might struggle with speech, language, literacy, and numeracy—would further differentiate the choice of majors by college students. Far more research needs to be conducted, but results indicated that college students differentially clustered in scatterplot quadrants defined by the two screening assessments. Furthermore, several of these clusters, plus a statistical multiplier, may lead to a new understanding of students with phonological processing differences, learning disabilities, and speech and language impairments.

Speaking of Corporate Social Responsibility

March 24, 2014 Comments off

Speaking of Corporate Social Responsibility
Source: Harvard Business School Working Papers

We argue that the language spoken by corporate decision makers influences their firms’ social responsibility and sustainability practices. Linguists suggest that obligatory future-time-reference (FTR) in a language reduces the psychological importance of the future. Prior research has shown that speakers of strong FTR languages (such as English, French, and Spanish) exhibit less future-oriented behavior (Chen, 2013). Yet, research has not established how this mechanism may affect the future-oriented activities of corporations. We theorize that companies with strong-FTR languages as their official/working language would have less of a future orientation and so perform worse in future-oriented activities such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) compared to those in weak-FTR language environments. Examining thousands of global companies across 59 countries from 1999 to 2011, we find support for our theory and further that the negative association between FTR and CSR performance is weaker for firms that have greater exposure to diverse global languages as a result of (a) being headquartered in countries with a higher degree of globalization, (b) having a higher degree of internationalization, and (c) having a CEO with more international experience. Our results suggest that language use by corporations is a key cultural variable that is a strong predictor of CSR and sustainability.

Predicting the Risk of Suicide by Analyzing the Text of Clinical Notes

February 6, 2014 Comments off

Predicting the Risk of Suicide by Analyzing the Text of Clinical Notes
Source: PLoS ONE

We developed linguistics-driven prediction models to estimate the risk of suicide. These models were generated from unstructured clinical notes taken from a national sample of U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) medical records. We created three matched cohorts: veterans who committed suicide, veterans who used mental health services and did not commit suicide, and veterans who did not use mental health services and did not commit suicide during the observation period (n = 70 in each group). From the clinical notes, we generated datasets of single keywords and multi-word phrases, and constructed prediction models using a machine-learning algorithm based on a genetic programming framework. The resulting inference accuracy was consistently 65% or more. Our data therefore suggests that computerized text analytics can be applied to unstructured medical records to estimate the risk of suicide. The resulting system could allow clinicians to potentially screen seemingly healthy patients at the primary care level, and to continuously evaluate the suicide risk among psychiatric patients.

“How Old Do You Think I Am?”: A Study of Language and Age in Twitter

January 15, 2014 Comments off

“How Old Do You Think I Am?”: A Study of Language and Age in Twitter (PDF)
Source: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence

In this paper we focus on the connection between age and language use, exploring age prediction of Twitter users based on their tweets. We discuss the construction of a fine-grained annotation effort to assign ages and life stages to Twitter users. Using this dataset, we explore age prediction in three different ways: classifying users into age categories, by life stages, and predicting their exact age. We find that an automatic system achieves better performance than humans on these tasks and that both humans and the automatic systems have difficul- ties predicting the age of older people. Moreover, we present a detailed analysis of variables that change with age. We find strong patterns of change, and that most changes occur at young ages.

Discussion in Postsecondary Classrooms

January 7, 2014 Comments off

Discussion in Postsecondary Classrooms
Source: SAGE Open

Spoken language is, arguably, the primary means by which teachers teach and students learn. Much of the literature on language in classrooms has focused on discussion that is seen as both a method of instruction and a curricular outcome. While much of the research on discussion has focused on K-12 classrooms, there is also a body of research examining the efficacy of discussion in postsecondary settings. This article provides a review of this literature in order to consider the effect of discussion on student learning in college and university classrooms, the prevalence of discussion in postsecondary settings, and the quality of discussion in these settings. In general, the results of research on the efficacy of discussion in postsecondary settings are mixed. More seriously, researchers have not been explicit about the meaning of discussion and much of what is called discussion in this body of research is merely recitation with minimal levels of student participation. Although the research on discussion in college and university classrooms is inconclusive, some implications can be drawn from this review of the research including the need for future researchers to clearly define what they mean by “discussion.”

Early Education for Dual Language Learners

November 25, 2013 Comments off

Early Education for Dual Language Learners (PDF)
Source: Migration Policy Institute

This report profiles the population of young Dual Language Learners (DLLs), who represent nearly one-third of all US children under age 6, outlining their school readiness and patterns of achievement. The report evaluates the research on early care and education approaches that have been shown to support higher levels of language and literacy development and achievement for this child population, most but not all of whom are children of immigrants. Assessing the features of high-quality programs that have been shown to improve school readiness among the DLL population, the author finds there are a number of readily implementable practices that can be put into effect.

Is “Huh?” a Universal Word? Conversational Infrastructure and the Convergent Evolution of Linguistic Items

November 18, 2013 Comments off

Is “Huh?” a Universal Word? Conversational Infrastructure and the Convergent Evolution of Linguistic Items
Source: PLoS ONE

A word like Huh?–used as a repair initiator when, for example, one has not clearly heard what someone just said– is found in roughly the same form and function in spoken languages across the globe. We investigate it in naturally occurring conversations in ten languages and present evidence and arguments for two distinct claims: that Huh? is universal, and that it is a word. In support of the first, we show that the similarities in form and function of this interjection across languages are much greater than expected by chance. In support of the second claim we show that it is a lexical, conventionalised form that has to be learnt, unlike grunts or emotional cries. We discuss possible reasons for the cross-linguistic similarity and propose an account in terms of convergent evolution. Huh? is a universal word not because it is innate but because it is shaped by selective pressures in an interactional environment that all languages share: that of other-initiated repair. Our proposal enhances evolutionary models of language change by suggesting that conversational infrastructure can drive the convergent cultural evolution of linguistic items.

The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets

September 11, 2013 Comments off

The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets (PDF)
Source: American Economic Review

Languages differ widely in the ways they encode time. I test the hypothesis that languages that grammatically associate the future and the present, foster future-oriented behavior. This prediction arises naturally when well-documented effects of language structure are merged with models of intertemporal choice. Empirically, I find that speakers of such languages: save more, retire with more wealth, smoke less, practice safer sex, and are less obese. This holds both across countries and within countries when comparing demographically similar native households. The evidence does not support the most obvious forms of common causation. I discuss implications for theories of intertemporal choice.

CA — Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary

August 23, 2013 Comments off

Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary
Source: Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

For Canadians who are members of official language minority communities to feel comfortable using the official language of their choice before the superior courts, it is crucial for these courts to be able to offer all their services and to function in English and in French. In this regard, the bilingual capacity of the judiciary for superior courts is a sine qua non condition for access to the Canadian justice system in both official languages and ensuring the rights of litigants are not prejudiced by their language choice.

For superior courts and courts of appeal to be able to respect the language rights of litigants, it is therefore essential for the federal Minister of Justice to appoint an appropriate number of bilingual judges with the language skills necessary to preside over cases in the minority official language. Currently, the institutional bilingual capacity of the superior courts remains a challenge in a number of provinces and territories. Another challenge lies in judges’ ability to maintain their language skills at a level that is sufficient to preside over a hearing in their second official language.

The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, in partnership with François Boileau, the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario and Michel Carrier, the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, decided in 2012 to conduct an in-depth study on two issues that have an impact on the bilingual capacity of superior court judges: the judicial appointment process and the language training available to judges appointed to superior courts.
The study looked at the appointment processes for the superior courts of six provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. It also took into account certain practices for appointing provincial judges in New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

From the consultations conducted as part of the study, it was determined that the judicial appointment process does not guarantee sufficient bilingual capacity among the judiciary to respect the language rights of Canadians at all times.

New Census Bureau Interactive Map Shows Languages Spoken in America

August 16, 2013 Comments off

New Census Bureau Interactive Map Shows Languages Spoken in America
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau today released an interactive, online map pinpointing the wide array of languages spoken in homes across the nation, along with a detailed report on rates of English proficiency and the growing number of speakers of other languages.

The 2011 Language Mapper shows where people speaking specific languages other than English live, with dots representing how many people speak each of 15 different languages. For each language, the mapper shows the concentration of those who report that they speak English less than “very well,” a measure of English proficiency. The tool uses data collected through the American Community Survey from 2007 to 2011.

Also released today, the report, Language Use in the United States: 2011, [PDF] details the number of people speaking languages other than English at home and their ability to speak English, by selected social and demographic characteristics. It shows that more than half (58 percent) of U.S. residents 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home also speak English “very well.” The data, taken from the American Community Survey, are provided for the nation, states and metropolitan and micropolitan areas.

The report shows that the percent speaking English “less than very well” grew from 8.1 percent in 2000 to 8.7 percent in 2007, but stayed at 8.7 percent in 2011. The percent speaking a language other than English at home went from 17.9 percent in 2000 to 19.7 percent in 2007, while continuing upward to 20.8 percent in 2011.

New From the GAO

August 15, 2013 Comments off

New GAO Report
Source: Government Accountability Office

Education Needs to Further Examine Data Collection on English Language Learners in Charter Schools. GAO-13-655R, July 17.


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