Pronouns are cool

I was teaching this morning — a small course in grammar — when I was struck with how cool pronouns are because of how much they tell us about the mind. This is one of those things, like the double-slit experiment where the phenomenon can be easily observed, but the underlying mechanisms are actually pretty complex.

So let’s start off with a question, and some observations.

Basic question: why do we we use pronouns in general?
Follow-up question: what happens when we don’t?

Let’s take a small invented passage, where, instead of using pronouns, we use the full form of the nouns. (Not actually a quote, but I’m going to set this off in a block-quote.)

Zoe went to the store. And then Zoe tried on some shirts. But Zoe thought Zoe didn’t look that great in the shirts. Zoe thought the shirts were not Zoe’s color. So Zoe got Zoe a cupcake, which was Zoe’s favorite color. Then Zoe sat down and fed Zoe’s self the cupcake. Zoe thought the cupcake was delicious, but Zoe was sad Zoe ate the cupcake in just two bites.

Wow, annoying, isn’t it?

So what’s going on? Why are we so annoyed by this?

Continue reading “Pronouns are cool”


Håfa adai!

I’ve been super busy over the last two years, so have basically ignored my webpage. What’s been going on?

It’s been my first two years as a new professor. Coming from a cognitive science department, I was faced with now putting together a lot of my core linguistics courses. Big, big time investment there. NSF Logo Plus, with Dr. Robert Underwood (prior president of the University of Guam, prior US Senator, member of the Kumision i Fino’ CHamoru, community leader, and all around great guy), put together and were awarded an NSF grant to document parts of the now endangered CHamoru language. There was advising grad students, the first of which, Fu’una Sanz, defended her masters thesis on ongoing changes in CHamoru plurality this past semester. Committees, business meetings, service, and all the rest. All while trying to get set up for my own research here and trying to discover the island, its people, and the culture here.

Not to mention a few typhoons and an ongoing pandemic.

There’s a bunch of stuff I need to update. Lots of things to discuss! Lots of things to fix on this site, including changes in how web-audio work that break some older demos. Updates forthcoming! Maybe some pictures, too!

Telescope on the far side of the moon

A long while back I’d mused that a high-powered radio signal beacon would be a useful thing to put on the far side of the moon. Recent news articles suggested using lunar impact craters as a radio telescope dish (especially useful because they are big, already there, and shielded from earth communications and atmospheric noise). If the telescope is anything like Arecibo was, then it would also be capable of transmitting. Maybe my notion wasn’t so far fetched after all?

Backyard conflict

I heard a most horrifying and disturbing sound this morning. This is predicated on two distinct observations: (1) the mother hen I’ve been seeing around my place (the one that has been waking me up in the morning) had a brood of five chicks. Recently I’ve only been seeing four, and I’ve been wondering what happened to the fifth. (2) A neighborhood cat has been stalking my backyard.

The sound occurred fairly early. Continue reading “Backyard conflict”


The last three weeks, my house has been besieged by ants. (Not overly surprising since I live in a village named Ordot (literally: “ants”).)

As of today, in inundation seems to have ended. Lying around the house now are little shriveled ant corpses.

If you want to know what the Apocalypse looks like, this is it. The last few remaining individuals, desperately trying to find food for the colony, working themselves to death. Pushing themselves until they literally fall in their paths.

I’m sure there is a metaphor for human habits in there somewhere, but by the gods if I don’t have the wherewithal or mental fortitude to pick it out right now.

New job!

I’m writing this post from the airport!

I’m flying across the world to Micronesia to start my new job as a professor of linguistics at the University of Guam!  I am beyond excited!  Exclamation point!

(Changes to the About and CV pages coming soon.)

The birds awake

There are occasions on which I find myself working into the wee hours of the morning.  The other day bore one such occasion, where I headed to bed only at 3:30am.  Since the weather has been so nice, the windows were open to allow the cool summer breezes to blow through.  (Summer in Rochester is really marvelous. Just fabulous weather almost all summer long. Almost makes up for the sleet and gray skies from September to May…)

And then, about 3:35am, maybe 3:36, it happened.  Just as I was about to drift off to sleep.  The birds awoke.

Continue reading “The birds awake”

Schumann, Fast zu ernst – Ukulele Duet

One of my favorite little pieces is Schumann’s Almost Too Serious from the piano suite Scenes From Childhood.  Simple, yet bittersweet.  Also used to great effect in the 1996 film, Shine.

I’ve arranged it as a duet with soprano/concert ukulele and baritone ukulele.  Although I have some vague plans to, I have yet to play it with anyone myself.  That said, I’ve played through both parts, and I think they work pretty well.  One or two places where the fingering is a bit cumbersome for the baritone, but honestly better than I expected.

If you play it as a duet, send me a copy, or comment and let me know how it went!

As always, transcription was done in the open-source WYSIWYG music notation editor MuseScore. The MuseScore file is in the .zip, so feel free to edit as you please, particularly when it comes to the soprano fingerings.  I was working on a version that made better use of re-entrant tuning, but I’ll admit I don’t have a feel for that yet, so it’s not included.

Schumann – Scenes from Childhood – 10. Fast zu Ernst – Soprano Ukulele
Schumann – Scenes from Childhood – 10. Fast zu Ernst – Baritone Ukulele

Schumann – Scenes from Childhood – 10. Fast zu Ernst – Score & Parts

.zip with .pdfs & MuseScore file


Tárrega, Estudio in mi menor – Bari Uke

I heard this on the radio and had to transcribe it.  It’s a gorgeous little study that sounds like a heart on the verge of breaking.  Such emotion!

I feel that my transcription has a few issues.  The same thing that vexed the Calatayud transcription vexes this one.  The small range of the baritone ukulele forces the some notes on top of each other, making for some difficult transcription decisions.  As you can see in the snippet to the right, a dotted half-note marks out the bassline.  Although in this measure, the note can ring for the entire measure, other measures find that note played over almost immediately.  I decided to leave these as dotted halves for conceptual reasons.

A different bari transcription I found on the web discards the bassline entirely to avoid these conflicts.  I think that was a poor choice, as the piece benefits immensely from having that extra harmony, particularly in the bridge.  Fingering can be a little awkward at times, but feel free to fake it or to adjust as you see fit to make it easier.  For example:

Measure 3: The dotted-half on the 4th fret can be happily played on the 2nd fret
Measure 10: I find the dotted-half (7th fret) is easily played with my thumb, while barre-ing 5 with my index finger

As always, transcription was done in the open-source WYSIWYG music notation editor MuseScore. The MuseScore file is in the .zip, so feel free to edit as you please!

Tarrega – Estudio en mi menor.pdf

.zip of .pdf & MuseScore file