mitcho Michael 芳貴 Erlewine

Postdoctoral fellow, McGill Linguistics.


Posts Tagged ‘English’

Exploring Command Chaining in Ubiquity: Part 2

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009


I recently have begun giving serious thought to what command chaining might look like in Ubiquity and the various considerations which must be made to make it happen. The “command chaining,” or “piping,” described here always involves (at least) two verbs acting sequentially on a passed target—that is, the first command performs some action or lookup and the second command acts on the first command’s output.

A few days ago I penned some initial technical considerations regarding command chaining. In this post I’ll be point out some linguistic considerations involved in supporting a natural syntax for chaining.


Ubiquity presentation at Tokyo 2.0

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009


This past Monday I presented at Tokyo 2.0, Japan’s largest bilingual web/tech community. I presented as part of a session on The Web and Language, which I also helped organize. Other presenters included Junji Tomita from goo Labs, Shinjyou Sunao of Knowledge Creation, developers of the Voice Delivery System API, and Chris Salzberg of Global Voices Online on community translation.

I just put together a video of my Ubiquity presentation, mixing the audio recorded live at the presentation together with a screencast of my slides for better visibility. The presentation is 10 minutes long and is bilingual, English and Japanese.

Ubiquity: Command the Web with Language 言葉で操作する Web from mitcho on Vimeo.


Lecture at ITSP - 先端ITスペシャリスト育成プログラムにて講義

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Yesterday I was invited to give a lecture for students the [[MEXT]] IT Specialist Program. ITSP is a partnership between Keio, Waseda, and Chuo Universities and NTT, IBM, and Mozilla to bring advanced IT training and opportunities to their Master’s students. It was a longish time slot so I decided to split it up into two different talks: one on open source and open processes (similar to one of my sessions at the recent BarCamp Tokyo) and one on the future of interfaces, internationalization and globalization, and Ubiquity. Here are the slides for posterity. (Note: the second set of slides is mostly in Japanese.)


Design processes in the open-source era オープンソース時代のデザインプロセス

Ubiquity: Interfaces and Internationalization インターフェースと国際化

Three ways to argue over arguments

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

UPDATE: Contribute information on how your language identifies its arguments here.

When we execute a command in Ubiquity, in very simple terms, we’re hoping to do something (a verb) to some arguments (the nouns). Every sentence in every language uses some method to encode which arguments correspond to which roles of the verb. Here are a couple examples:

  1. He sees Mary.
  2. 彼が Maryを 見る。 (Kare-ga Mary-o miru.)

As speakers of English, you can read sentence (1) above and know exactly who is doing the seeing and who is being seen and speakers of Japanese can get the same information from (2). How do different languages code for arguments in different roles? There are, broadly speaking, three different ways:

three ways to code for arguments in different roles

We’ll take a brief look today at these three different strategies, all of which a localizeable natural language interface will surely encounter.


Gaba, Shame On You

Monday, January 12th, 2009

A Gaba ad on a train

Here’s a picture of an ad for [[Gaba]], a big English conversation school in Japan, I snapped on a train recently. I felt the English sentence about Gaba’s satisfaction was extremely awkward, so I put it up on twitter to check with some other native speakers. My friends concurred. What do you think?

I personally think the sentence would be improved by removing the “the” in “the satisfaction.” Others offered “continues to rise” as possibly preferable to “continually rise.” English articles, especially the definiteness of abstract nouns, is very difficult for many non-native speakers. That being said, it’s sad for a sentence of such questionable acceptability to come from a company which, in theory, prides itself in its English ability and surely hires many native speakers. Gaba, shame on you.

回収 vs. 収集 and Better Word Meanings Through Usage

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Bailey just asked me what the difference between 回収 (kaishū) and 収集(shūshū) is—two words that would both map to the English verb “collect.” I intuitively came up with a hypothesis to explain the distinction:

  • 回収 may take things away from others when collecting while 収集 does not have that implication.
  • Things that you 回収 may have been previously distributed by the actor themself while 収集 does not have that implication.1

Not content with armchair theorizing, however, I decided to take advantage of one of the largest corpora in the world: [[Google]].2 To test my hypothesis, I chose two “objects of collection”, one you can take away (and often is distributed first) and one you can’t take away: アンケート (ankēto “survey,” from the French enquête) and 意見 (iken “opinion”). I then took the four resulting collocations3 on Google in quotes (“•”) and recorded how many hits there were.


  1. This second point could also be hypothesized based on the component meaning of 回, which in the verb 回る (mawa=ru) can mean “circle back.” 

  2. Google is of course a huge corpus but it has very limited search and can easily be misused and misunderstood, thus making Google an unreliable (unprofessional) source for statistical data. One Google alternative for some different statistics is the [[n-gram]] data they offer for research. 

  3. [[collocation|”Collocation” on Wikipedia]] says: “Within the area of corpus linguistics, collocation is defined as a sequence of words or terms which co-occur more often than would be expected by chance.” 

I’m Seriously Dreaming of a White Christmas

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Today we finished up all our Christmas lessons at school, spread over the past week. The lesson involved some basic Christmas vocab, making Christmas cards, and my retelling of [[The Gift of the Magi]].


ETA-ROC and Another Weekend in Taipei

Monday, November 12th, 2007

I spent this past weekend in Taiwan, attending the English Teaching Association of the Republic of China (ETA-ROC) conference. While the original intention was for a number of us ETA’s to go, it ended up that I went alone. I saw a number of talks Saturday… I went to a number of the more theoretical or quantitative talks and had a great time. I saw Krashen talk again, this time on the Comprehension Hypothesis. I have to say, he’s a fabulous speaker, and the case studies he looked at for this talk were fascinating: a Mexican immigrant who worked in a deli and learned Hebrew before he knew it, a culture where the rule is that you can’t marry someone who speaks the same language as you, etc. ^^ I also saw Andrew Cohen from Minnesota which made me miss Minnesota a bit.

The conference was held at the Chien Tan Youth Activity Center which has a beautiful pond and great view of the Grand Hotel, on the site of an old Shinto shrine.

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As I recently did a little editing for a journal on English teaching here, I was invited to the presenters’ dinner Saturday night. While it was slightly awkward at first, not being a presenter myself, I soon met two representatives from the Korea and Philippines TESOL organizations who were very kind to me and we had some great conversations and laughs. (They are the two on the right in the first photo. The second photo is with the Filipino representative, Bernard Spolsky and me.)


I stayed overnight Saturday at the Eight Elephants hostel. Less than a year old, Eight Elephants is stylish, clean, and comfortable, though not the cheapest hostel in town. My experience there was great… I made a friend, a student of Special Education from Kaohsiung, and we went out to the nearby Shida night market. After randomly running into Kate who was in Taipei with her host family, she took me to a cafe she knew and we had a great time talking. While her English is great as well, we were talking completely in Chinese. After spending the day thinking about comprehensible input, it was great listening to her, understanding about 80%, and chiming in once in a while. As her interests were teaching and learning languages (including Japanese), we hit it off well with some great conversation. I look forward to seeing her again when I visit Kaohsiung in the near future.

On Sunday morning I saw another talk by Andrew Cohen, had lunch, and met up with a couple of the interns at the Fulbright Taiwan foundation who showed me around Taipei. We went to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and randomly ran into Dr. Wu Jing-jyi, the director of the Foundation, on the plaza. We then went to check out the Taipei Modern Art Museum (with the first .museum address I’ve ever actually seen), which was super cheap and very enjoyable, albeit being relatively small. (The last photo below is at the Taipei Story House, which is a historic building—we just took a picture outside without going in.)

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We had some Hong Kong-style 燒臘 preserved meat for dinner. I came back to Nanao Sunday night feeling fulfilled and blessed by the people I’d met all weekend, at the conference, at the hostel, and around the city.

Krashen The Party

Friday, November 9th, 2007

Yesterday we ETA’s went to a workshop at Lan-Yang Institute of Technology. The workshops were focused around the instruction of reading. The three afternoon sessions we saw included two workshops on building vocabulary and one by [[Stephen Krashen]].

Krashen is kind of like the Chomsky of language acquisition and teaching—a huge and controversial (some may say incendiary) figure who you can love or hate, but can’t ignore. Last Wednesday in our weekly workshop, Dr. Collins delivered a chronological run down of Krashen’s theories.1 As an entertaining aside, one task given to us was to draw a schematic diagram of Krashen’s view of language acquisition and production. Below is Dale’s drawing, which eerily reflects the geography of the brain… the input comes in through the ears (or eyes, at the back of the brain), then hits the Affective Filter (the amygdala), goes to the Language Acquisition Device (the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas), then the output is filtered by the Monitor—a product of conscious learning—(the frontal lobe). Pretty creepy.


Krashen’s talk2 was fascinating, albeit not what I expected: given that the workshop’s focus was on the teaching of reading and that he himself has been a big advocate of recreational reading for language learners, I expected more on teaching English reading as to non-native speakers. The majority of the talk, though, was on writing and the composing process: “reading more makes you a better writer, but writing more makes you smart.” He talked about how the act of (regular) writing clarifies and organizes our thoughts, and advocated for a writing process which involved much revision as, “every time you have to revise, it means you’ve become smarter,” and building relaxation (to allow for eureka moments) into the process. His conclusion and analysis are important for first-language speakers just as much as the second-language learner, and the talk did feel more like a writing seminar than a pedagogical one. Krashen is an engaging and entertaining speaker, using many examples from famous writers and common experience to draw his conclusion.

The intensity with which he spoke and the passion for thinking about thinking reminded me of Sally’s Honors Analysis class, which was as much about thinking as it was about mathematics. Sally once told us that, when we’re stuck on a problem, we should find someone just about as smart as us and just explain the problem to them. He claimed that the majority of the time, the simple process of explaining the problem outloud and answering clarifying questions would make the solution come to us. It’s a powerful technique that I’ve used many times at Chicago and elsewhere, and Krashen’s analysis of what happens when we write thus struck a chord with me.

Afterwards I was fortunate enough to go out to dinner with the speakers, some of our advisors, and some faculty from the Institute that hosted the workshop. I had some great conversations about my background, where my future directions may lie academically, and of course the ideas. ^^ It reminded me of dinners with linguists back at home, after a workshop or CLS. I realized I miss the fraternity of academia—the sense of mutual respect and interest academics have for each other’s work and ideas, even if the “other” is only 22 years old.

  1. A similar basic run down of Krashen’s various theories is found on this blog post, The Krashen Revolution

  2. Krashen, Stephen. “What is Academic Language Proficiency,” presented at the International Conference and workshops on English Language Teaching: Pedagogical Aspects of Reading. Yilan county, Taiwan, November 8th, 2007. 

English Easy Go!

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Today was the ROC Year 96 Yilan county English Easy Go! competition. There are two parts to the fall competition: a song competition (song and dance, costumes, sets, the whole nine-yards) and a reader-theater. I think the competition is a great idea, getting kids all over the county excited about English through performance.

A group of 11 6th graders from Penglai have been practicing for the song competition for the past month or so under my co-teacher Jennifer’s direction. They sang and danced to the Fiona Fung song “Proud of You.”

The military guy and I met the kids at the train station at 7AM.


The kids liked playing with my camera and abusing me.


The competition was held at 凱旋國小, a huge elementary school.


We first practiced downstairs a few times and hung out. They were all wearing little angel crown-ish things, black t-shirt with a gold “belt” of tape, and bells on their wrists.


Our school was the third group in the later-morning performance group. They were not at all nervous and did fabulously!


All of us ETA’s were of course all there with our respective teams. In the photo below Katie is videotaping another school’s choreographer standing in the back of the crowd dancing with/directing the kids. He had this whole face, haircut, and outfit that screamed “I am a choreographer.”


Then we came home. A great time was had by all. ^^


I’m Busy to Die

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Today at work: the military guy who has quite good English told me that he was very busy as our school is being observed next week by administrators. He then told me, “I’m busy to die.”

While I originally thought he might have mispronounced “today,” he obviously knows that word… I believe he was trying to say “,” a Mandarin resultative construction which could be translated “I’m busy to the extent that I will die.” Obviously this is not literal… V+ compounds are a common form of exaggeration. It was a neat instance of grammatical transfer, though.