The world is your lobster

This morning, Mark Liberman over at Language Log wrote an intriguing post about how people use the word “snuck” in conversation, but then sneakily use the word “sneaked” in writing.  At the end of his post, Mark recommends everyone read Donald Davidson’s brilliant article A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs on the puzzles posed by malapropisms, and ‘passing theories’ of language.

We were also very much inspired by Davidson’s paper, which motivated two recent research efforts in our lab:

1. Princesses, peas and probabilities: readers’ sensitivity to the “surface” statistics of literary and non-literary English.

On how readers of fiction and non-fiction differ in their sensitivity to distributions of words in literary and non-literary texts.

2. Taking language for granite: On the comprehensibility of malapropisms.

On how listeners parse (and remember) malapropisms in speech, depending on the predictability of the preceding context.

*Earlier readers may have noticed that we managed to mangle the spelling of “Liberman” in the original post. We offer our sincere apologies to Mark, whose name — all things considered — shouldn’t be that difficult to spell. All we can say by way of excuse is — we’re not the first?