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- Margaret M. Fleck, 3.886 Probabilistic Reasoning
- Mark Turnbull, language preservation

Don Ringe recently posted a detailed calculation for how many ways 6 objects can be fitted into 20 positions. Having recently taught this material myself, let me add three remarks: (1) There are canned formulas for these sorts of problems. The standard advice is to look in statistics texts, but these are often threatening to even to people from the "hard" sciences. Instead, look at textbooks for undergraduate "Discrete Math" courses in computer science (NOT similarly titled courses in math), preferably a text that the CS types consider "gentle." These cover this ground in a more accessible way. (Some CS majors have less math than many linguists.) (2) Don may have sounded unsure of his method. Let me strengthen his statement slightly: reasoning of the sort he gave is THE STANDARD method of explaining (e.g. to students) why the formulas work. Or of reconstructing a formula if you have forgotten it or can't remember which one is correct. (3) One reason why some statistical results may seem counter-intuitive is that non-mathematicians typically underestimate the size of "x to the yth power" or "x factorial = (x*(x-1)*(x-2)*...*2*1)." Remember, a couple years back, the judge who imposed a fine on some stubborn city council which doubled every day? In the end, another judge capped the fine, because it only took a few days to get larger than the entire city budget. The national TV news spent a long time explaining the math, because they were so fascinated by how it could get so big so fast, particularly when the first several powers of two are so small. Margaret FleckMail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

REGARDING language preservation Ken Hale of MIT recently spoke at the 17th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development on the subject of "Resisting Language Loss: The Human Value of Local Languages." His main points included: 1. The current type of language loss is unprecedented. 2. The current rate of language loss is precipitous. 3. When a local language goes, cultural wealth goes with it. 4. A necessary precondition for the successful participation of linguists in language preservation is the appropriate institutional support. I would be happy to email a copy of my notes to anyone interested. Mark Turnbull turnbullcns.bu.eduMail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue