Let’s ride that trail again…

This semester, I’ve had a light enough schedule that it allows me the luxury of actually having some free time on the weekends. It’s never completely free, but it is much better than last semester, for example, when it was the rare weekend that I didn’t have to grade a distressingly thick stack of papers every single weekend (thus the 5 months of dead air on this blog!) I do certainly take advantage of this free time. After planning lessons, I’ve had a chance to take some photos, go to dinner, and even take a bike ride.

I also spent a little while wandering around the internet, seeing what’s out there  – other than the usual suspects – and looking for a few interesting tidbits for another edition of Redux.

I learned, for example, that a collie in South Carolina has a vocabulary of 1,000 words. According to the article, the dog – Chaser – knows the names for her toys and can fetch them when asked. It is also claimed that she can categorize her toys. The article mentions that some critics point to other dogs that can also perform these tasks, but not to the same standard. Watching the video, it is unclear if the dog is displaying a knowledge of the word or for a visual cue that the trainer gives. Does Chaser know all the words, or does she know the pattern of the “game” that she is playing with her trainers?

I think it’s interesting behavior and worth looking at to determine the capabilities of dogs – or any other animal for that matter. I do hope, however, that the trainers do not overstate their claims. So far, they are apparently claiming only that Chaser has an extraordinary ability to correctly recognize either the linguistic or the visual cue for over 1,000 objects. I believe they’d be wrong to claim anything further about a dog’s linguistic abilities.  It is essentially summed up in the last line of the article: “It is thought the intensive training may be the key to Chaser’s apparently massive vocabulary.”  Dogs can certainly be trained to do amazing things, but remember that children don’t need intensive training to learn vocabulary. They need exposure to be sure, but not three years of training. To illustrate this, just think of how distressingly easily a child can overhear the word “Crap!” and then start repeating it constantly at the most embarrassing moment for a parent.

While Chaser has learned over one thousand words in English, Fabio Capello says he can get by perfectly well with only a hundred. Capello is the Italian man who is the manager of England’s national soccer team (or football team, if you are anywhere other than the U.S.) Although “communicating with Wayne Rooney does not require a Shakespearean command of English”, it is generally accepted that he’ll probably need a few more than that! The article also lists the 100 most common words in English. Any guess at what the top ten may be? (No peeking!)

Though not on the Top 100 list, a certain expletive is surely part of Capello’s normal repertoire. In Wednesdays’s post about military jargon, I mentioned the wonderful flexibility of the word fuck and how it’s such an important component of some very creative epithets, both of civilian and military origin. Thanks to Keenie Beanie,I saw a great video discussing this flexibility in a wonderfully snarky way. I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t even care that they misspelled sentence (centence) and incompetence (incompitence).

Finally, while checking in at Quid Plura, I saw a link to an article about a startling discovery. The Oxford English Dictionary has found record of the first written occurrence of the abbreviation OMG. Was it just ten or twenty years ago? Was it written on a computer screen? An iPhone? No, folks, it was in 1917 in a letter from British Admiral John “Jacky” Fisher. David Crystal was certainly right about common modern abbreviations are much older than we think. Nonagenarian or no, I still don’t want to see omg in an essay or an email to me from students!

There is just one last thing. If I hadn’t seen the video of the babbling twins this past week, then I must have been lobotomized in my sleep. It was everywhere on the internet and of course I took a look. How could I not? No, not for any cute factor (I’m more of a silly cat video kind of a girl), but as a linguist, I had to check out this ‘conversation.’ I found that I have too much to say about it for a simple Monday Redux, however, so I’m saving it for a longer post for later this week. How’s that for a linguistic cliffhanger?

7 thoughts on “Let’s ride that trail again…

  1. Glad you had a relaxing weekend. I taught elementary school for 16 years, so I know how busy the paperwork can keep you, although I’m sure your stacks of papers are far more interesting to grade than mine were! Leave it to a dog to have a potential thousand word vocabulary. They try so hard to please us! I still prefer my cats! Nice post!

    • The dog, Chaser, is awfully cute and did seem quite proud of herself! And yup, a cat would never do that. I can appreciate that stubborn streak in a cat, which is probably why they suit me better than dogs ;)

      I suppose overall, the essays were more interesting than elementary school ones would be, but honestly, some of them were only marginally so! But 16 years in elementary ed?? I salute you!

  2. Thanks for the link-back! So, to avoid cheating, does that list of the most common words exclude prepositions, articles and the like? Let me know, then I’ll come back and play. :-)

    I saw that dog on Nova and it was a truly impressive display of animal “vocabulary.” I’m a cat person too and my pair barely respond to “food,” “outside,” and their own names. I also saw the babbling twins video. I’m looking forward to your take on that, and will reserve my comments for that post.

    • Yup, the common list includes any word, including function words and not just content words (verbs, nouns, adjectives…)

      My girls respond to “Night night snack!” but I think it’s more about the embarrassingly cutsie tone of voice I’m using than the words themselves. Oh, and the jar of cat treats in my hand ;)

      • OK – here are my guesses for the most 15 common words:

        The, I, you, we, like, do, think, love, good, want, need, use, here, there, see.

        OK, I’m off to see how I did on the pop quiz.

    • Not bad at all! It’s easy to forget the function words because they’re so small and we use them so automatically that we barely even notice they’re there at all! Most of the top 50 are prepositions, pronouns, and basic verbs.

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