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The Fifteen Linguists

Hortatory Ergative Dudeney

Once upon a time, there were fifteen linguists who all did fieldwork on the same language in several nearby villages. Theirs was a friendly rivalry, and they each had different theories about the best way to gather the greatest number of high-quality example sentences in the language they all studied.

Interestingly, because of his theories of elicitation, the first linguist felt that he only needed one informant. The second linguist had a different theory that required that she have only two informants. The third linguist, a lowdown dirty lexicalist if ever there was one, had three informantsand so on, up to the fifteenth linguist, a dastardly rotten anti-lexicalist, with fifteen informants (and, obviously, a cushy NSF grant with which to pay them all).

At the end of the fieldwork season, the fifteen linguists compared notes, and discovered several interesting facts. For one thing, for each linguist, all of his or her informants had given the exact same number of example sentences. Even more surprisingly, the total number of example sentences each linguist had gathered was nearly the same. In fact, if the eleventh linguist gave the seventh linguist one datum, and the fourteenth gave three examples each to the ninth and thirteenth linguists, then all fifteen linguists would have the same number of examples in their own corpus.

After they shared a little data around as described above, how many utterances did each have in his or her corpus?

If you think you’ve figured out the answer, submit your solution to the editors of SpecGram by January 15, 2014, and you could win a prize.* Solutions and winners will be announced in an upcoming issue.

Some plausible answers to last month’s query concerning L’Ishing du Gwujlang mnemonically merged definitions (MMDs) are presented below:

  • A philter of written Russian is a Cyrillic elixir.
  • To have seeped obligatory payments is to have oozed dues.
  • Different from composite plants is unlike lichen.
  • A lively and cheerful goalie is a perky keeper.
  • Singular footwear for a beast of burden is an ox sock.
  • A ruddy null is a rosy zero.
  • A unit of yearly miraculous food throughput is the manna annum.
  • A blaspheming doughnut is a cursing sinker.
  • A warless watch is a peacetime timepiece.
  • Musical agate is sonic onyx (possibly giving off stone tones).
  • A challenge broadcast on TV is an aired dare.
  • To acclimatize large mackerel is to attune tuna.
  • To disparage shiny metal foil is to insult tinsel.
  • If the imp descended, then the elf fell.
  • A picturesque water sprite is a scenic nixie.
  • An aquiline ravine is an eagle gully.
  • Airless approbation is musty esteem.
  • To say “sayonara social security” is to say, “farewell welfare”.
  • To inundate a globe is to drown in the round.
  • The fiend of the first day is the Monday demon.
  • An obscured cosmetic is an eclipsed lipstick.

Thanks to Ophir Lifshitz and Trey Jones for their contributions to the decipherment. Each will receive a prize for their help.

* Note that even newer SpecGram Anti-Hoarding Guidelines stipulate that puzzle-related prizes cannot be won by anyone who has won a puzzle-related prize in the last three monthsthough honor, fame, and glory may still be seized on the metaphorical field of puzzle-related battle.

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Local Linguist Mom Discovers One Weird Trick for Deriving NLP Equations!Computational Linguists Hate Her!Advertisement
SpecGram Vol CLXIX, No 1 Contents