7 Quick Takes (6/7/13)

— 1 —

The wheels have been set in motion for this year’s Ideological Turing Test, where Christians and Atheists imitate each other in order to understand each other better.  You can contribute to the giant brainstorming thread and help pick the topic and format.  (In year one, we did standards of evidence, year two: authority and aesthetics).

— 2 —

But speaking of shibboleths, I was delighted by the final word in the Scripps Spelling Bee: knaidel (meaning matzo ball or dumpling).  No sooner the Merriam-Webster judges declared the victor than the kibbitzing began.  Via the New York Times:

The preferred spelling has historically been kneydl, according to transliterated Yiddish orthography decided upon by linguists at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the organization based in Manhattan recognized by many Yiddish speakers as the authority on all things Yiddish…

While most languages were formalized by national governments and their sanctioned language academies, Yiddish had no country and so relied on organizations like YIVO, which is the Yiddish acronym for Yiddish Scientific Institute and was based before World War II in what is now Vilnius, Lithuania. Experts like YIVO’s Max Weinreich and his son, Uriel, who compiled a Yiddish-English dictionary, set clear guidelines about how the language should be transliterated into English — though in that famously disputatious Jewish world those instructions were not always appreciated or obeyed.

For instance, rather than the “ch” in words like chutzpah and challah, the YIVO wordsmiths preferred “kh” because the “ch” could lead someone to a softer pronunciation, as in choice or chicken. YIVO uses the “kh” in words like khutspe (chutzpah), but most Yiddish speakers prefer the more popular variants.

Don’t worry.  Amid all the controversy, the Times kept their eye on the ball and answered the question that had been burning within me since I heard the result:

Although he has never tasted a knaidel or a kneidl, [Arvind, the winner] will soon. He said his seventh-grade science teacher, Carol Lipton, had promised to bring one to school on Monday.

— 3 —

Since it was spelling bee season, the folks at Wonkblog explain why the bee is a uniquely American tradition.

One major reason is that spelling bees are only really challenging in English, a language that has borrowed lots of roots and words from other languages and has all sorts of odd vowel sounds and spelling irregularities. By contrast, a Spanish or German or Russian spelling bee would be boring — as soon as you can sound out a word, you can probably spell it.

Well, they may have easy to follow orthography, but we have The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee


— 4 —

Alas, since English lost its second person plural, we’ve had to compensate as best we can.  So one new Bible translation decided to make the best of a bad lot:

It turns out there are at least 4,720 verses (2,698 in the Hebrew Bible and 2,022 in the Greek) with you plural translated as English “you” which could lead a reader to think it is directed at him or her personally rather than the Church as a community.

So I initially set out to develop a plugin for a Bible software project that would convert all “You plurals” to “Y’all” for my Bible project. I liked it so much I decided to create a Google Chrome extension that does the same thing for some popular Bible websites (youversion.com/bible.combiblegateway.combiblehub.com).

Though my southern friends always told me that “y’all” was second person singular and “all y’all” was the plural.

— 5 —

But framing and context matters.  In a recent study by Bullock, Gerber, Hill, and Hueber (“Partisan Bias in Factual Beliefs About Politics“) the researchers found, as per usual, that committed partisans appear to live in separate worlds.  When asked a series of factual questions with known answers, their answers diverge sharply.

But when study participants were told that their answers would be scored and that they’d be paid for each correct response, the gap narrowed.  Some pundits were enthused, but Bryan Caplan was less optimistic:

Question for Bullock et al.: Are real-world democratic elections more like your treatment condition with incentives, or without?  Given voters’ low probability of decisiveness, the answer is clear: Real-world democratic elections closely resemble the treatment without incentives.  After all, if a voter votes under the influence of partisan bias, what happens to him?  The same thing that would have happened if he voted responsibly.

— 6 —

The thing that delights me most about Bullock et al’s paper is that they took a “known” finding, tweaked the experimental design a little, and were about to figure out how much the previous results represented a stable feature of reality or was context dependent.  The Pacific Standard has a nice feature piece on how behavioural economists took a standard experiment (the ultimatum game) global and found that responses varied more by culture than they expected.

Unfortunately, these slightly-tweaked experiments only get attention when they differ from the established wisdom.  Reinforcing it through replication is usually treated as trivial.  So maybe someone needs to find the specific context where social scientists are incentivized to pursue altruistic, rigorous error checking of older results.  And then we need to raise all grad students in that context.

— 7 —

This last take is apropos of nothing but its own marvelousness.  A group of people repurposed an entire Cold War destroyer ship in order to have a massive Battlestar Galactica LARP (live action role play).  I heard about this last year, but since parts of it were going to be conducted in Swedish, I wept and had no excuse to buy a plane ticket.  But now, they’re trying to come stateside.  (Possibly on the boat?).

Believe you me, I have subscribed to their newsletter.


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

"Well, I would love to know if you now believe that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered."

Go Ahead, Tell Me What’s Wrong ..."
"Any chance of you ever addressing the evidence that led you to accept the truth ..."

Letting Go of the Goal of ..."
""Wow, an unevidenced assertion from a religious dipshite. "Your quotes are the evidence and reason ..."

This is my last post for ..."
""Congrats on leaving your brain behind!"Comments like yours are why lots of atheists leave atheism. ..."

This is my last post for ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • This is a VERY nerdy blog post. I love it. I just read the spelling bee stuff aloud to my husband.

  • Hmm. Where I grew up, the second person plural is “all yous” or “yous all.” When it’s important, I usually just slip into French and say vous.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Why reinvent the wheel when the word “ye” fits the purpose? Okay, maybe it’s old-fashioned, but round here we still say it.

    I think there has to be more to American spelling bees than simply the fact that they’re held in English. We have spelling tests in school and I remember back in sixth class my little red vocabulary book where we had to learn blocks of new words every lesson, but we don’t have contests in either Britain or Ireland. The idea would be greeted with “Why?” “Well, you can say you’re the national champion under-12 speller!” “That’s nice, dear, but who cares?”

    Correction: apparently we do have a national spelling competition. It was started and is promoted by a chain of newsagents/bookstores, so my suspicions are that this has more to do with selling school books and less to do with promoting good spelling, based on the fact that I have two school-aged nephews and never heard of the thing, unlike the Young Scientist of the Year and the Children’s Art Competition.

    • Skittle

      I agree. It’s pretty sloppy thinking to say that the properties of English make Spelling Bees uniquely popular in America. Surely the author did not forget that there are other English-speaking countries in the world (one of them full of English people).

      I’ve seen other articles that go more into the history of Spelling Bees, and the specific educational culture, that come closer to explaining why it’s a specifically American phenomenon. Now if only I could find where I saw them…

    • grok87

      +1 on the ye!

  • sophie.m.gorman

    As a person who has spent several years translating Latin and Greek into English, I just say “you plural.”

  • Beadgirl

    I keep missing the Spelling Bee each year, which is too bad; I really want to watch it sometime. And I’ve never thought about it before, but that’s a very good reason why Bees are more popular in English.

    The (well, my) corollary to Spanish words being so easy to spell is that when I encounter an English word I don’t know how to pronounce, I tend to default to Spanish pronunciation. Lots of people (including my mom!) have made fun of me over the years as a result.

  • GulfSoutherner

    You – 2nd person singular

    You all – 2nd person plural. commonly contracted to “y’all”

    all y’all – 2nd person plural emphasis added.

    y’all (family) should come over for game night.

    all y’all (sports team and families) should meet us at the pizza parlor.

    • Kristen inDallas

      Yes, I was going to clarify this for her as well. The existance of all y’all doesn’t ever make y’all singular. Y’all is plural optional – as in “would (any of) y’all like some of this pecan pie” or “could (at least a few of) y’all give me a hand with this?” Where as ‘All y’all” is plural specific, kind of like “each of you” or “every single one of you.” As in “All y’all need to listen up y’hear” said in a loud voice to a large group of students. (we can save the debate about how to pronounce “pecan” for later)

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      Irish usage:

      First person singular – yeh, ya “Ah, go ‘way ourra that, will yeh!”

      First person singular possessive – yer “Yerself and yer blether is doing me head in!”

      Second person plural – ye (variants used mainly in Dublin youse, yiz) “Lads, are ye ready to go or what? The session will have started without us!”

      Second person plural possessive – yeer “I’ve a pain in me head listening to yeer complaining!” Not to be confused with “ye’re”, which is the abbreviated form of “ye are”: “Ye’re some shower of chancers!”

      Note: “lads” is gender neutral and can be used indifferently for a group composed solely of women, solely of men, or a mixed group 🙂

  • Randy Gritter

    I have heard Scott Hahn use the y’all in translating some texts where the plural you and singular you were both used. Luke 22:31-32 is one example:

    Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,[plural] that he might sift you[plural] like wheat, but I have prayed for you[singular] that your[singular] faith may not fail; and when you[singular] have turned again, strengthen your brethren.

    In English it seems Jesus is saying Satan wants to sift Simon Peter. In Greek it is clear that Satan is wanting to sift the church, the plural you, and Jesus has responded by praying for Peter, the singular you. The point is that Peter, and his successors the popes, are the vehicle of grace Jesus uses to preserve the church from the power of Satan. This is even more clear when you look at the context of from verse 24:

    A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

    • grok87

      THanks. That’s a very interesting example. That passage from Luke makes a lot more sense now…

  • turmarion

    In Appalachia, where I’m from, the plural of “you” tends to be pronounced “you all”, with both words articulated and the stress falling either on the “you” or on the “all” depending on various aspects of the sentence as a whole, not all of which I’m sure I can figure out. It gets contracted to “y’all” sometimes, but less frequently than in the Deep South (although it seems to have become commoner over the last forty years or so). What do you all think? 😉

  • Ben

    English has not lost its second person plural: English has lost its second person singular. You and its variants are the plural; the singular form is thou. The verb conjugates in this form with a “t”, as thou shalt, thou wilt, thou goest.

    English (like French and certain versions of Italian), seems to have picked up the habit of using the second person plural in place of the singular as a sign of respect and deference, reserving thou for only the closest of relationships. This was taken so far that thou dropped out of the language entirely, holding on only in certain archaic expressions like Biblical translations and prayers: Our Father, [thou] who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done…