Discovering phonaesthemes (Arbitrariness in language, pt. 4)

Although the relationship between sound and meaning in language is mostly arbitrary, there exist pockets of so-called systematicity: clusters in which particular forms recur with particular meanings. One example of systematicity is the existence of phonaesthemes. Phonaesthemes are recurring patterns of sound and meaning that occur below the morphemic level, which is traditionally considered the … Continue reading Discovering phonaesthemes (Arbitrariness in language, pt. 4)

Recommender systems and sampling

The advent of digital media has made artistic content more widely accessible than ever before. For the most part, we can find any song, film, or TV show within minutes. Paradoxically, however, this can have a paralyzing effect: the digital media landscape is massive and ever-changing, and finding the content we want requires approaching this … Continue reading Recommender systems and sampling

What we talk about when we talk about bias in A.I.

Popular culture often depicts intelligent machines as coldly rational––capable of making “objective” decisions that humans can’t. More recently, however, there’s been increased attention to the presence of bias in supposedly objective systems, from image recognition to models of human language. Often, these biases instantiate actual human prejudices, as described in Cathy O’Neill’s Weapons of Math … Continue reading What we talk about when we talk about bias in A.I.

The Rhythm of Conversation (pt. 2)

People take turns talking during conversation. As discussed previously, the timing of this turn-taking process is remarkably fast, and happens largely beyond our conscious awareness. This raises the obvious question: how do speakers manage to transition between turns so quickly, and so successfully? Why Conversation is Remarkable Conversations, for the most part, do not follow … Continue reading The Rhythm of Conversation (pt. 2)

The Rhythm of Conversation (pt. 1)

Many things in our lives have rhythms: music, poetry, the pace at which we walk, and even the rate at which we talk. One of the marvels of everyday conversation – overlooked, perhaps, because it seems so obvious and so easy – is turn-taking. That is, when one speaker finishes talking, someone else usually starts … Continue reading The Rhythm of Conversation (pt. 1)

That’s not what I meant!

Ambiguity pervades language. This ambiguity can be used strategically by speakers, but it’s also what makes language so challenging for machines to understand – and in some cases, it even leads to miscommunications between people, particularly over written communication. During in-person interactions, ambiguity is more easily avoided. If a speaker says of a recently released … Continue reading That’s not what I meant!