living on invention

it's only somewhat related to our recent milestone, but we've been getting more and more traffic from search engines as our size and internet notoriety has grown.

recently, we've been hit by searches for "exclusionary tactics," "language is use wittgenstein," "deconstruction (use of language)," "anymore usage," "cheetah template trailing comma," "poet wag," "when was the word snot invented," "semantic narrowing," "putz definition," "fruit that is actually a vegetable," "flurl means," "definition mad crunk," "triangle as meaning," "who invented the first army tank," "fugly urban dictionary," and so on.

i'm not sure what a few of these people were thinking. but i'm thinking that, as far as the internet is concerned, language is location. (maybe this is support for my point that language has other purposes than communication.) that is, we ARE "invented usage." just the words. but if people get lost, then we're near a few other related things. for instance, insert any noun that has sparked recent discussion on inuse into the frame "who invented the ____" and google it.

invented usage is in the top five hits for:
"who invented the tomato?"
"who invented the army tank?"
"who invented the semiotic triangle?" (hit #1! i feel lucky!)
"who invented text apparatuses?" (ditto)
"who invented the stradivarius?" (yes indeedy)
"who invented the snoot?" (also, too)

and so on. pretty much any noun in one of our recent post titles will work. and the same goes, by and large, for the frame "usage of ____." if, on the internet, language is location, then it's possible to be in a lot of different places at once. it's like we live on 'invented' street, and also on 'usage' street, and also on 'flush toilet poem' street, and anyone who thinks to go to those locations might happen to wander in here.

and it seems people are desperate for prime linguistic real estate. hit counters swarm with ads for traffic-boosting keywords, and spam robots pile their product name into every available space to increase its importance on the internet (hence our comment verifier!).

but the corner of 'invented' and 'usage' seems like a pretty cozy place to be. while we're not on the first google page for either word, we are in pretty interesting company. search 'invented'. search 'usage'. for instance, i just learned that people invent problems to sell solutions; that the yo-yo has an interesting history behind its invention; that 'invention' is a vague thing, especially where al gore inventing the internet is concerned; and, near and dear to my heart, why QWERTY was invented. we picked such a nice neighborhood.

Happy 10,000

I would just like to congratulate myself as being the 10,001 visitor to Invented Usage! Whoever got the distinction of being 10,000, screw you because my number is a palindrome.

Anyway, it's been a great year plus. Hopefully, we're well on our way to 100,001.


i don't know what they're teaching you kids these days

The other day I found myself in William and Mary's bookstore which is basically a Barnes and Noble with a textbook section in the basement. Being a college graduate now, I was curious about what books they are making the poor children read in English classes at the prestigious Virgina college. It wasn't but two years ago that I did the same thing and found a copy of Charles Simic's "The World Doesn't End"--a book I'd been looking for--sitting on one of the shelves.

Sadly, I made no similar discoveries. In fact, there were probably enough poetry books on the nearly 20 feet of shelf space occupied by the English textbooks to count on two hands. Half of those books were anthologies. Of the books that were individual collections of poetry most were of the ethnic-American sort. Not that there is anything wrong with that on its face, but it was clear based on the books in proximity to those collection that the poetry filled a genre void in a class otherwise devoted to race and not primarily poetry. One got the impression upon viewing the shelves that poetry is more and more becoming an exotic bowl in a china shop. Interesting to look at, but not something you want your neighbors finding on your living room table. "Who would buy a bowl that looks like that?"

There really is a place for poetry in the college English program. I just suspect the professors are getting more and more daunted by the prospect of teaching it. They avoid having to really come to terms with the 'tradition' by padding poetry courses with period poets (Dickinson, Whitman, Hughes etc). These poets are about as safe as they come. They've already been well canonized and most literate adults have at least encountered them once before. For example, they were the sole focus of the only poetry unit I had in highschool. At the conclusion of that unit we all wrote "Songs of Ourselves". Yawn. At Brown University there is a contemporary American poets course that doesn't even touch Creeley, Ashbery, Ginsberg, O'Hara, Baraka etc. Now, I realize I'm being a little bitchy here, but I think professors in English departments need to grow some backbone and start teaching this stuff. There is an absolutely rich tradition of writing in America that most people are barely aware of! At the very least, an education in it would provide a great counter to foreign attacks on our lack of 'culture'. Additionally, a lot of contemporary poetry would act as a great background upon which to teach a lot of the concepts introduced in literary theory courses.

I digress, but would recommend "Hell's Angels" by Hunter Thompson. It's been providing some entertaining reading while my parents and I have been shuttling around the south.


text apparatuses


so, even though i haven't done any research yet, i feel pretty comfortable hypothesizing that the layout of the keyboard is one factor in determining how language (text, in this case) is produced. it not only structures how we're able to create text on a computer, it has also irrevocably changed how language is changing. that is, in some circles 'teh' is a word with its own meaning. '!!!11oneeleven!!' is an expression of excitement. 'book' can mean 'cool' because they're frequently confused words in the text messaging system T-9.

the keyboard is a technology. it is a tool that helps humans accomplish a task; it extends the body in a certain way. it intervenes from without and acts upon language. but i would argue that it is also already a part of language. a historical linguist reflecting on this period of development 1000 years from now could not understand the process of language change that English (and probably all languages, to greater or lesser degrees) is undergoing wihout understanding the technology of the keyboard.

linguists have to study the configuration of the human mouth, lungs, and vocal cords in order to understand the way languages change over time and why people make the mistakes they do in processing it. is the mouth also an apparatus of language? does it intervene from without? is it the original extension of the body? is it an extension of the mind (from which language flows directly)?

is the brain an apparatus? is the way it's configured responsible for how language is configured and used? i think most linguists would say yes. how could we ever study language separately from the apparatuses used to produce it? but the brain is viewed as something integral to and inseparable from language use.

whereas the keyboard is not.

we could switch keyboards any time.

but we don't. we can't, actually. there's a better keyboard design ( the Dvorak simplified keyboard) out there. ndividual typists are perfectly capable of learning a new system quickly and effectively. the traditional QWERTY keyboard layout was intentionally designed to slow typists down back when hitting keys too fast would cause typewriters to jam. if the purpose of language were fast communication, and everyone worked toward the end of making communication efficient, we would all go buy Dvorak keyboards tomorrow and start producing different typos.

but everyone doesn't work toward the end of making communication efficient. everyone works toward the most conventional end. Convention (as defined by David Lewis in his book of the same name) is a continuation of the same behavior on the expectation that everyone else will continue the same behavior (or a complementary behavior like understanding you when you speak). how the behavior gets started in the first place doesn't actually matter. it can be established by precendent, by analogy to another situation, by fictional or second-hand analogy to a similar situation, or so on. we try to make language as useful as we can without rocking the boat too much. each individual could switch keyboards or create a private language or make up slang, but for a change to be recognized as part of the language it has to occur on a much wider scale. in fact, it's probably most likely to occur on a wide scale if it's caused by the apparatuses we all use (more or less the same way) to create language.

have i gone in a circle yet with this? just because we CHOOSE a technology for some arbitrary reason doesn't make it any less integral to language than the structures of the mouth or the brain. how a convention begins doesn't matter. if we all keep using it, it will continue to work, and if it keeps working we will continue to use it. there. there's the circle.

i think what i'd like to get at is that all parts of language (phonology, syntax, semantics, etc.) are fundamentally shaped and changed by these processes which are not logical or rational but conventional. what are the odds that structures that formed conventionally over thousands of years and accidents can be re-written in binary or reduced to logic? slim to none, i'd think. why do we formulate 'if then' statements for phonological rules and binary trees to explain syntactic structures?

maybe those are just the conventions we're born into.


text errors

i'm so excited! forgive me if my fast tyoing leads to a few errors now and again...

iit's official! i'm starting an indepeendent study on typos. a lot of luinguistics research is done on the nature of speech errors, anbd they reveal a lot about the way we store, retrieve, and rpcoscess speech. but it's only recently that typing has become an isntantaneous form of communication. this raisse all kinds of interesting questions about what the nature of our typung errors reveals about those same processes--how is typing differentf rom speech? how si it the same?

i won't be testing a specific hypothesis in my study, partly because there's sso little research available on this tpic right now. i'll just be collecting typing inj a laboratory setting (not just the finished product, but every keystroke using some sort of keylogger software), and trying to categorize the different types of errors epoeple make.

most typos, i assume, will be explainable on the basis of the keyboard's design. that is, most letters that are insterted will probably be near the intended letter on the keyboardd. a lot of metathesis (reversal of two lettres) too, probably. these kinds of things can be explained by the motor processes involved in using the keyobard itselv.

however, what if there are other errors, maybe ones that odn't freqyuently make it into the final text (even in IMs or other informal settings), that couldn't be eexplained by proximity or other motor functions? what if someone swithced a 'b' for a 'p' or typed 'thear' instead of 'there'? these kinds of errors would reveal something really really relaly intersting about the processes we go through before generating text. specifically, we could hypothesize that certain errors would reveal that a phonological (sound) pattern is generated before motor control is initiated; that is, it might demonstrate that we do hear words, in some sense, before typing them.

other errors could shed light on just how motor (i just typed 'mother' there, i swear it!) control is accomplished. for instance, if someone frequently typed 'the' and then deleted the 'e' in words that used 'th' like 'that' or 'this', we might hypothesize that letters are stored and retrieved in 'chunks' of some kind rather than letter-by-letter. or typing 'buutton' for 'button' (typing mistaken double letteres more frequently in words that have actual double letteres) might mean that there is a command for 'type two letters' that is supposed to go with the command 'type a 't',' but gets misaligned.

mayube i'm the only one that maes these kinds of errors... but i think we've all had that mysterious 'why on earth did i type that?' experieince. maybe there are other even more itneresting errors out there!

there's also a lot of research on self-monitoring and repair in speech--what errors do we catch ourselves making? what errors do we block before we make them? how do we monitor our own speech; do we hear it the way we hear other people's speech? thed same questions cam be casekd about typing, so i'll be looking at which errors people are likely to correct/notice before they push 'send', how long it takes to catch different types of errors, and so on.

lots of big questions!, so don't be surprised if you see more posts on this one!


Get off my back, Monteray Jack!

Sorry to lower the intellectual bar, but if there is anybody who can get any mileage out of this comic, it's Invented Usage!

In general, qwantz is superb.

T-Rex: "Seriously? Does that mean I get into heaven FOR FREE?"

That should be our motto, in dialog(ue) form.

Now, there is much to discuss:
  • The viability of T-Rex's alternatives for "bitches."
  • How much prescriptivist linguistic crusades suck.
  • The brilliance of qwantz's use of minimalist form.
  • Whether or not it looks funny to add the "ue" to the end of dialog(ue), and whether expressing indecision about it by parenthesizing those awkward silent vowels is anything but awkward.
  • Why Cristi never capitalizes anything except for emphasis (I'm curious)