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Re: "Language is related to financial saving patterns" (apparently)

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  • George Corley
    On Sun, Feb 24, 2013 at 10:07 PM, Douglas Koller ... Do you think asking any question about whether language affects behavior is silly and shouldn t result in
    Message 1 of 10 , Feb 24, 2013
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      On Sun, Feb 24, 2013 at 10:07 PM, Douglas Koller
      <douglaskoller@...>wrote:

      > > Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2013 13:48:19 +0000
      > > From: samjjs89@...
      > > Subject: "Language is related to financial saving patterns" (apparently)
      > > To: CONLANG@...
      >
      > > This might be old news:
      > > http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21518574
      >
      > > As you might have guessed from my header, I'm not convinced.
      >
      > I suppose having [x] in your L1 predisposes you to invade Poland.
      >
      > I understand that this sort of thing makes for great copy in pop science
      > mags and "and on the lighter side of the news..." segments, but really. If
      > Prof Chen receives federal monies to navel-gaze on this sort of piffle, I
      > will just be too annoyed. :)
      >

      Do you think asking any question about whether language affects behavior is
      silly and shouldn't result in funded research, or is it just the questions
      you consider silly? I don't think there's anything wrong with asking these
      questions. I'm skeptical of the result, but as I said, I haven't yet taken
      the time to track down the actual paper. Whether it's right or wrong, I
      think it can still advance the science, if only a tiny bit.
    • Douglas Koller
      ... Man, a smiley just doesn t get the mileage it used to. No, of course not. ... It s a PDF, apparently, which means that Douglas won t be reading it any time
      Message 2 of 10 , Feb 25, 2013
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        > Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2013 22:51:47 -0600
        > From: gacorley@...
        > Subject: Re: "Language is related to financial saving patterns" (apparently)
        > To: CONLANG@...

        > On Sun, Feb 24, 2013 at 10:07 PM, Douglas Koller
        > <douglaskoller@...>wrote:

        > > Prof Chen receives federal monies to navel-gaze on this sort of piffle, I
        > > will just be too annoyed. :)

        > Do you think asking any question about whether language affects behavior is
        > silly and shouldn't result in funded research, or is it just the questions
        > you consider silly?

        Man, a smiley just doesn't get the mileage it used to. No, of course not.

        > I don't think there's anything wrong with asking these
        > questions. I'm skeptical of the result, but as I said, I haven't yet taken
        > the time to track down the actual paper.

        It's a PDF, apparently, which means that Douglas won't be reading it any time soon while he's on the mainland. So we're both tilting at windmills a bit, I suppose. Perhaps the paper is more rigorous in its application of the scientific method than what we're getting in the few articles I read here, but I have my doubts.

        > Whether it's right or wrong, I
        > think it can still advance the science, if only a tiny bit.

        Whither the science? What, exactly, qualifies as "strong FTR" vs. "weak FTR"? French and Flemish are significantly (statistically or otherwise) different on this scale, however I might construe it? Really? How so? What dialect of English does Prof. Chen speak that *obliges* him not to say, "I'm having/eating dinner with my uncle." in the *present* tense about an event which may happen next week (sure, it's progressive, but is the fact that simple present is used for habituals in English making the "earthy" Chinese "I eat dinner with uncle." (exotic East syndrome?) unavailable in this context merely an inconvenience to the research Chen chooses to gloss over?). The four-minute interview is riddled with "broad(ly speaking)'s", "it seems's", and "effectively's". And I do not consider a nine-country study representative enough to make statements like "around the world" (more than once). This stuff *seems* to be at the level of anecdotal to the point of near meaninglessness (*my* neighbor has a rococo couch, so what?). Weak FTRers are 24% less likely to smoke? Has he *been* to China?! "When you factor out all the other considerations (and his list hardly seems exhaustive), what else could it be?" Well, almost anything.

        So it's the methodology, as presented, and conclusions drawn therefrom that I find silly. I apologize in advance if I misparaphrase/misrepresent you (please to correct), but I believe I heard you say in a podcast something to the effect of, until brain-scanning gets to a point where we can pinpoint what synapses light up, pop, and twirl when we say "I will eat" and "I'm eating" (and we're not there yet (I'm guessing, but even if we are, what would/could/should we infer about how that informs Weltanschauung?)), this is rank speculation. Even if the data holds up to the scutiny of far better scientific minds than mine, how do you get from there to profound abstract musings on how people perceive and correlate their present and future selves, and even if *that* somehow proves to be true, how do you then leap to saving behaviour (which may be indicative of *Chen's* Weltanschauung, if anything)? This is errant flailing at Sapir-Whorf that we've seen before and will undoubtedly see again (OMG, I used the future). Interesting questions, *certainly* worth asking and exploring, but this feels more fuelled by "publish or perish" and "buzz" than moving the ball forward.

        Meanwhile, I hear that eating twelve pounds of tofu a day *may* improve potency, so I'm firing up the wok tonight (oh wait, in English I'm *obliged* to say, "I *will* be firing up the wok tonight.") :D

        Kou
      • George Corley
        On Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 2:02 AM, Douglas Koller ... That s weird. Is his computer there 15 years old or something? ... This is a big reason why I want to see
        Message 3 of 10 , Feb 25, 2013
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          On Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 2:02 AM, Douglas Koller
          <douglaskoller@...>wrote:

          > > Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2013 22:51:47 -0600
          > > From: gacorley@...
          > > Subject: Re: "Language is related to financial saving patterns"
          > (apparently)
          > > To: CONLANG@...
          >
          > > On Sun, Feb 24, 2013 at 10:07 PM, Douglas Koller
          > > <douglaskoller@...>wrote:
          >
          > > > Prof Chen receives federal monies to navel-gaze on this sort of
          > piffle, I
          > > > will just be too annoyed. :)
          >
          > > Do you think asking any question about whether language affects behavior
          > is
          > > silly and shouldn't result in funded research, or is it just the
          > questions
          > > you consider silly?
          >
          > Man, a smiley just doesn't get the mileage it used to. No, of course not.
          >
          > > I don't think there's anything wrong with asking these
          > > questions. I'm skeptical of the result, but as I said, I haven't yet
          > taken
          > > the time to track down the actual paper.
          >
          > It's a PDF, apparently, which means that Douglas won't be reading it any
          > time soon while he's on the mainland. So we're both tilting at windmills a
          > bit, I suppose. Perhaps the paper is more rigorous in its application of
          > the scientific method than what we're getting in the few articles I read
          > here, but I have my doubts.


          That's weird. Is his computer there 15 years old or something?


          > > Whether it's right or wrong, I
          > > think it can still advance the science, if only a tiny bit.
          >
          > Whither the science? What, exactly, qualifies as "strong FTR" vs. "weak
          > FTR"? French and Flemish are significantly (statistically or otherwise)
          > different on this scale, however I might construe it? Really? How so? What
          > dialect of English does Prof. Chen speak that *obliges* him not to say,
          > "I'm having/eating dinner with my uncle." in the *present* tense about an
          > event which may happen next week (sure, it's progressive, but is the fact
          > that simple present is used for habituals in English making the "earthy"
          > Chinese "I eat dinner with uncle." (exotic East syndrome?) unavailable in
          > this context merely an inconvenience to the research Chen chooses to gloss
          > over?). The four-minute interview is riddled with "broad(ly speaking)'s",
          > "it seems's", and "effectively's". And I do not consider a nine-country
          > study representative enough to make statements like "around the world"
          > (more than once). This stuff *seems* to be at the level of anecdotal to the
          > point of near meaninglessness (*my* neighbor has a rococo couch, so what?).
          > Weak FTRers are 24% less likely to smoke? Has he *been* to China?! "When
          > you factor out all the other considerations (and his list hardly seems
          > exhaustive), what else could it be?" Well, almost anything.
          >

          This is a big reason why I want to see the paper. I really should just go
          ahead and read it. I recall hearing that he used some typology database
          for his weak/strong FTR values, which might be better, but there's always
          complications.


          > So it's the methodology, as presented, and conclusions drawn therefrom
          > that I find silly. I apologize in advance if I misparaphrase/misrepresent
          > you (please to correct), but I believe I heard you say in a podcast
          > something to the effect of, until brain-scanning gets to a point where we
          > can pinpoint what synapses light up, pop, and twirl when we say "I will
          > eat" and "I'm eating" (and we're not there yet (I'm guessing, but even if
          > we are, what would/could/should we infer about how that informs
          > Weltanschauung?)), this is rank speculation. Even if the data holds up to
          > the scutiny of far better scientific minds than mine, how do you get from
          > there to profound abstract musings on how people perceive and correlate
          > their present and future selves, and even if *that* somehow proves to be
          > true, how do you then leap to saving behaviour (which may be indicative of
          > *Chen's* Weltanschauung, if anything)? This is errant flailing at
          > Sapir-Whorf that we've seen before and will undoubtedly see again (OMG, I
          > used the future). Interesting questions, *certainly* worth asking and
          > exploring, but this feels more fuelled by "publish or perish" and "buzz"
          > than moving the ball forward.
          >


          As far as "leap to saving behaviour" -- data first, theory later. IF he
          has proved that future marking affects saving behavior (which I'm not
          certain he has), or that there's some correlation at least, THEN you should
          see if the hypothesis explains it. After all, it's not evidence unless it
          actually exists. I think I have said that we won't be able to tell
          everything about how language influences thought without much more accurate
          brain scans (indeed, I think I was referring more to how language works in
          general) -- and even then, it will take time and effort to analyze the
          data. But that doesn't and shouldn't stop people from inferring things
          from more indirect evidence. One of the keys to science is that you could
          be proven wrong at any instant, after all.
        • Douglas Koller
          ... YouTube, Facebook, and PDFs are apparently echt verboten here. Whether that s a nation-wide directive or a campus phenom, I cannot say -- I haven t pursued
          Message 4 of 10 , Feb 26, 2013
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            > Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2013 08:18:26 -0600
            > From: gacorley@...
            > Subject: Re: "Language is related to financial saving patterns" (apparently)
            > To: CONLANG@...

            > On Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 2:02 AM, Douglas Koller wrote:

            > > It's a PDF, apparently, which means that Douglas won't be reading it any
            > > time soon while he's on the mainland.

            > That's weird. Is his computer there 15 years old or something?

            YouTube, Facebook, and PDFs are apparently echt verboten here. Whether that's a nation-wide directive or a campus phenom, I cannot say -- I haven't pursued it (though sans my prompting, ashen-faced students did once mention that Facebook was a no-no). Perhaps the benevolent powers that be don't want the masses exposed to videos of frat boys teabagging each other, sledding down six flights of dormitory stairs on a mattress, or worse, 9,000 pix of someone's cat (however cunnin'). Dunno. But *no* Delason grammar for Douglas. *No* clicking on interesting YouTube tidbits posted here on the list. And *no* seeing if Prof. Chen is shilling snake oil. The computer smiles, tut-tuts, and politely flips me the bird.

            > This is a big reason why I want to see the paper. I really should just go
            > ahead and read it. I recall hearing that he used some typology database
            > for his weak/strong FTR values, which might be better, but there's always
            > complications.

            Indeed. It *would* be nice to know what his parameters are, at the very least. From what I've read thus far (and *seems* to be insinuated in some of the critiques), it seems as capricious as a gym teacher picking teams for a 4th-grade kickball game (Hungarian, over here -- English, over there).

            > As far as "leap to saving behaviour" -- data first, theory later. IF he
            > has proved that future marking affects saving behavior (which I'm not
            > certain he has), or that there's some correlation at least, THEN you should
            > see if the hypothesis explains it. After all, it's not evidence unless it
            > actually exists.

            I'm hard-pressed myself to explain why this particular study so rabidly sticks in my craw the way it does. Maybe someone laced my Wheaties with steroids yesterday. Maybe it's Chen's "Ta-da!" tone in the interview. Perhaps I'm just in a temper. But to my way of thinking, and even cutting him slack on what strong/weak FTR means, he's only at the "The majority of American inmates report having drunk milk at some time." stage, and if he left it at that, I'd say okay. But he's gone right to, "Broadly speaking, there seems to be something about milk-drinking that leads to criminal behavior." (if you factor out all the socio-religio-economic and educational considerations, what else is left?). He doesn't hedge his bets with "Well, of course, it's more complex than that." or "Of course, these are only preliminary findings." (cutting him additional slack on the limitations of a four-minute interview); no, no, he hedges them with "Broadly speaking, you can effectively say..." Well no, you can't. (or yes, you *can*, but broadly speaking I've never read a study that effectively disproves a correlation between [x] in an L1 and invading Poland, or Brie and larceny, either).

            > I think I have said that we won't be able to tell
            > everything about how language influences thought without much more accurate
            > brain scans (indeed, I think I was referring more to how language works in
            > general) --

            Yes, I tweaked here to make it relevant to the topic at hand. But my point was that I take your point.

            > and even then, it will take time and effort to analyze the
            > data. But that doesn't and shouldn't stop people from inferring things
            > from more indirect evidence. One of the keys to science is that you could
            > be proven wrong at any instant, after all.

            Which is why even the most ebullient scientist usually leads with, "We find these results very encouraging." and not, "We've effectively found the cure for cancer!" (if there are hand-springs, it's off camera). Infer away, that's what hypotheses are for, but tread softly and cautiously, if you're in front of a mike, I guess (maybe that's my beef)? Someone can write a book called "China Ascending" and attribute it to the zen-like properties of a non-dedicated grammatical future, citing Chen's study. Yale won't mind the free publicity. Maybe Chen gets a stint on "Charlie Rose" (someone can snap him a couple of bucks to get a decent haircut). But I still think it's a little early to pop the champagne corks and call it "science". Would the study be nearly as compelling if it reached some rather anti-zen conclusion?

            Kou
          • Matthew George
            Even if there s some substance to this (questionable) claim, the nature of the relationship is still not established. Perhaps underlying cultural tendencies
            Message 5 of 10 , Feb 26, 2013
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              Even if there's some substance to this (questionable) claim, the nature of
              the relationship is still not established. Perhaps underlying cultural
              tendencies are responsible both for the structure of the language and the
              attitude towards saving - leading to those two things being correlated but
              causally unconnected. It might be possible to change one without altering
              the other in any way.

              Matt G.
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