Slips of the tongue: read vs wrote

I’ve noticed that I sometimes mix read (past tense) and wrote. When intending to say I just read a good book, I might say I just wrote a good book instead. Or, instead of saying I just wrote a letter, I could just as well say I just read a letter. This has bugged me for some time. I refuse to believe that I’m going crazy. That just can’t be.

The curious thing is that I only seem to mix the past tense forms (read, wrote), and never the present tense forms (read, write). At least I can’t ever recall having made a mix involving present tense forms.

The fact that read and write are semantically linked concepts certainly plays a part, but apparently not sufficiently so in order to cause the mixing by itself. Otherwise I would be making mistakes involving the present tense forms, too. But I don’t. I’m pretty sure about that. Hence the answer must be something else, or at least something additional to that.

The best explanation I can come up with is that my brain links the two past tense forms via a chain of associations that looks something like this:

READ (past tense)
sounds like
means the same things as
ROT (German)
sounds like

Indeed, that’s a perfectly logical chain of associations via phonetics, semantics (plus a little bit of phonetics), and phonetics again. And it works both ways, of course. The fact that it involves two languages (English and German) may seem a bit unintuitive at first, but really isn’t. I did study German for seven years, after all.

How’s that for a home-spun theory.

IgNobel 2008

This year’s IgNobel prizes have been awarded (last Thursday). Each year, they reward scientists for truly tought-provoking discoveries. For instance, last year J.M. Toro, J.B. Trobalon and N. Sebastian-Galles won a linguistics prize for demonstrating that rats cannot differentiate between a person speaking Japanese backwards and a person speaking Dutch backwards. (You can download their report here.)

My personal all-time favourite, however, is the 2003 physics prize, which went to J. Harvey, J. Culvenor, W. Payne, S. Cowley, M. Lawrance, D. Stuart, and R. Williams, for their work in analysing what it takes to drag sheep over various surfaces. (Their highly technical report can be downloaded from here.)

This year’s winners include:

M. Zampini and C. Spence, who won a nutrition prize for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make it appear crisper and fresher than it really is.

T. Nakagaki, H. Yamada, R. Kobayashi, A. Tero, A. Ishiguro, and A. Toth, who won a cognitive science prize for "discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles".

G. Miller, J. Tybur and B. Jordan, who discovered, after extensive field work one would assume, "that a professional lap dancer’s ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings".

And the people of Switzerland, apparently, who won this year’s peace prize for "adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity". (I’ll keep that in mind the next time I eat vegetarian.)

Full list of this year’s IgNobel winners is here.

The Sudan has been hit by an asteroid

Earlier today, an asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burnt up over the Sudan. It was merely two meters across, but still, cool stuff. Apparently it was detected only yesterday (!). Let’s hope they manage to catch the bigger ones sooner.

Here’s a blog item about it.

New home for WebAL

After long and tough negotiations in a dimly lit room at the back of bar, with cigar smoke lingering in the air, lots of arm waving, shouting, and a few cold drinks, WebAL (Web resources for African languages) has finally found a new home at:

It is now in the competent hands of Guy de Pauw, Gilles-Maurice de Schryver and David Joffe. The new WebAL will be done in wiki style, something that I should have done myself ages ago, but it takes good men to do something good. The new format will be a tremendous boost for WebAL’s continued existence.

While working on WebAL over the past 5 years, I got a lot of help and encouraging emails, even though I would have appreciated a free weekend at some fancy Cape Town lodge more; all expenses paid, of course. Nah, just kidding! All your contributions, suggestions and emails have been quite rewarding and satisfying.

Now go over there and download some grammar books to read.

Cheeta, Tarzan’s mate

Have you ever watched the old classic Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmüller? The ones from the 1930s and 1940s. If so, you’ve seen his mate, Cheeta, the feisty chimpanzee. Apparently Cheeta was played by at least two different chimpanzees. Until just a few days ago, I had no idea that one of them, whose original name was Jiggs, is in fact *still* alive, and residing at a fancy mansion in Palm Springs USA. It is almost too amazing to be true.

Cheeta (Jiggs) was caught in Liberia in 1932, and later trained to appear in Hollywood movies. Chimpanzees normally don’t live past their 40s, but Cheeta is now in his late 70s, and thus the world’s oldest living chimp. He is also the sole surviving cast member from Weissmüller’s Tarzan movies.

During his career he played with an impressive number of Hollywood stars. You can read some details about his career, current life and his recently published autobiography "Me Cheeta" (ghost-written obviously) in this article from the Telegraph, in which it says that he

plays the piano, makes paintings in a style marketed as ‘apestract’ and loves to sit on the sofa in his living-room and watch the old Tarzan films on television, hooting and banging on the table when he sees himself on screen.

I wonder if he realises that it is himself he sees? Or if it’s just another ape to him?

He has also signed a record deal with iTunes and supplied some hooting noises on a remake of the old trucking classic Convoy.

Sounds like the old chimp is having a good time in California. They should give him an Oscar, or something.