July 11th, 2004


Forensic Linguistics

Linguist List today includes mail from Jeff Siegel broadcasting the International Association of Forensic Linguistics' announcement of new guidelines for the use of language analysis in determining the national origin for refugees.

While most of the recommendations are obvious, they highlight the potential for serious abuse of "linguistics" in rejecting refugees' national status. They include the following statement on their web site:
...the Australian government is currently engaging several European companies to provide "language analysis" in the determination of the nationality of refugee claimants.

"A preliminary examination of this process by a group of five Australian linguists* has raised serious concerns about the underlying assumptions as well as the methods being used in this so-called "language analysis".

"Delegates [to IAFL] ... unanimously reject this so-called "language analysis" as unprofessional and unreliable.
The companies' "analysis" must be really bad if the new guidelines are aimed at them, since these guidelines include such commonsense nuggets as (2)[Linguists can only provide information about] socialization rather than origin and (5) Language analysis requires useful and reliable data.

High-functioning OCD

I've spent this weekend (and the last) breaking in our new garden plot. Six-plus hours of work each day for two days (three days last weekend -- a holiday).

My fellow p-patch gardeners have started to wonder about me, and so have I. I keep feeling like I just want to dig one more trench, pull out a few more morning-glory roots, break out another few cubic feet of clay and sand from under the topsoil, or mix in just a little more compost. I'm like a man obsessed.

But I think this is a regular personality trait for me -- it's just unusual to have the obsession in something so concrete and real-world [heh! I've pulled about 75 pounds of concrete fragments out from under the garden, too]. My success as a programmer and an academic comes largely from this same obsessive attention to detail. I'm reminded of Emma from Carla Speed McNeil's excellent Finder, who has a wonderful soliloquy regarding her talent, that rings at least partially true for me:
I'd be sitting over some task... bored beyond death with the thought of all the work I had to do... wishing it was just done so I could take pleasure in being finished. And sometimes... it was only occasionally at first ... I'd just blink, and it would be done.

And done well.

As if someone twice as bright, twice as skilled and careful had done it. Someone who never stinted, someone who always went back and fixed things. Someone who had concentration like a diamond drill. Who could hold every detail in her mind. Clean and precise as God in the first seven days. I'd look at the clock and see that it hadn't happened in an instant. My teachers would smile and tell me how intense concentration can block out all else, even the sense of time.
I'm not quite as far gone as Emma -- I remember doing these things -- but I can sympathize with her inability to explain where it comes from.

[Update on July 18: now that I think about it, I just realized that Emma is a gardener too!]