λ♥[love] (Linguistics Love Song)

λ♥[love] is written and sung by Christine Collins, a writer and self-described time traveller [Doctor Who fan] from the U.S. She describes it as “a convenient, terminology-dropping, non-gender-specific love song for all your linguist-seducing needs”.

The song will be of particular interest to linguists, but its winning melody and sweet delivery give it broad appeal. The lyrics offer a similar strain of ambiguity as my Grammar Day haiku, but it’s a far more laudable use of the technique.

Lyrics are below the fold, with a few explanatory links. I’ve changed the breaks between some lines / in order to enhance the rhymes.

Let me have your heart and I will give you love
The denotation of my soul is the above
If there’s anything I lack, it’s
you as my double brackets
You make me mean things
I can’t say enough.

Consider me your anaphor, I’m bound to you
There’s no one else that I could be referring to
Your features all attract me
We’re such a perfect match, please
Agree with me
I need to be with you.

Well I don’t know how to say exactly how I feel about you
‘Cos it seems my Broca’s area stops working right around you
Forgive me my disfluency –
There’s nothing I can do, you see,
You speak to me, linguistically I’m yours.

Now I know you tend to isolate, and that’s all right
Like free morphemes you and I could lead our separate lives
But if we were to agglutinate
Together we would do so great
and I’d hate to miss the words we could derive.

Well I don’t know how to say exactly how I feel about you
‘Cos it seems my Broca’s area stops working right around you
Forgive me my disfluency –
There’s nothing I can do, you see,
You speak to me, and linguistically I’m yours

So please don’t be my allophone and disappear
really awkwardly whenever I start getting near
Let’s be a minimal pair
‘Cos I’m totally cool with us both being there
My environment is better when you’re here
My environment is better when you’re here
Yeah, my environment is better when you’re here.


λ♥[love] (Linguistics Love Song) © Christine Collins


Update: Mark Liberman at Language Log has written a short and helpful explanation of the title notation, i.e., lambda calculus. Thanks, Mark!

19 Responses to λ♥[love] (Linguistics Love Song)

  1. Barbara H Partee says:

    I like it that the first verse is semantics — it would hook me easily enough! Any way to add a link to double brackets, to someplace that explains that [[ XXX ]] stands for the meaning or denotation of XXX?

  2. […] uses quite a few linguistic terms. For song lyrics along with explanatory links to the terms, click here. For an explanation on lambda calculus and the meaning of the song’s title, click […]

  3. John Cowan says:

    It is a sweet song. I was jolted, though, by the singer’s pronunciation of denotation. I have always had FLEECE in the first syllable, and OED2, ODO, and m-w.com all agree; however, she makes it DRESS. Anybody else say “den-otation” rather than “dee-notation”?

  4. Stan says:

    Barbara: It’s a very well crafted song, with tune and text alike apt to hook a listener. Thanks for the suggestion; I’ve added a link to double brackets. If I find better explanations for some of the terms, I’ll update accordingly.

    John: You’ve a careful ear! I pronounce it /ˌdɪ:inəʊˈteɪʃən/, but her pronunciation wouldn’t (and didn’t) jolt me. I imagine it crept in from the verb form. I’ve no idea how common it is, though.

  5. Neal Whitman says:

    This is great! I’m looking for it on iTunes soon as I’m done here. I like this song even better than “Finite Simple Group of Order Two”, because the melody is better.

  6. RS says:

    I was hearing Match and Agree in small caps. As in the line with “match” was referring to finding an interpretable feature and “agree” was referring to valuing it. I was impressed by the non-obvious terms of art but maybe I was overthinking things…

  7. Barbara H Partee says:

    RS, I’m sure you’re right. And before that, “mean” and “referring” are also terminology. You as my double brackets “make me mean things”, because double brackets assign meanings. And in the next verse referring is an alternative to being bound (coreferential anaphora vs bound anaphora), so if I’m bound to you, I can’t be referring to anybody else. The first two verses are really packed! It’s so clever, and at the same time a very nice song! I really admire her combination of erudite wittiness and tuneful artistry.

  8. Stan says:

    Neal: Glad you enjoyed it! I like “Finite Simple Group of Order Two” as well, but prefer this melody.

    RS: Yes, there are several other technical references, puns, and allusions. I didn’t want to overdo the hyperlinks.

    Barbara: “Erudite wittiness and tuneful artistry”, as you succinctly put it, is a tricky thing to do well. I’m very impressed. Wonder if she’s a fan of Stephin Merritt.

  9. Sweet – and so geeky. But I cannot wonder how the song would look like if one were to take statistical natural language processing into account — but perhaps love is symbolic, Boolean, discrete? ;-P

  10. wisewebwoman says:

    Awfully clever stuff indeed. Thanks for the post, I will forward to geek-daughter.

  11. Stan says:

    Jochen: I’m beginning to think there’s an entire Linguistics Love Album in this.

    WWW: ‘Twas a pleasure. I bet geek-daughter will enjoy it too.

  12. Barbara H Partee says:

    I put a link to this post on my Facebook page and in the comments I got (everyone loves the song) I learned that Christine Collins learned semantics from a semanticist whose Ph.D. advisor I was, Marcin Morzycki. It’s like discovering that we’re related — as Jan Anderssen, another UMass PhD now teaching at Michigan State who had her in his introductory linguistics class said, it makes her my academic grand-niece. I wrote to her and she wrote back — I couldn’t tell which of us was happier to learn about that nice connection!
    And it’s an inspiration to all of us who teach linguistics, to imagine that any of our students could turn science into such poetry!

    • Rose says:

      This is crazy. I didn’t think this was as widely known as it apparently is. How amazing. As a current undergrad in the msu linguistics program, I wonder what Christine is doing now (she graduated at the end of my freshman year here.) Semantics is definitely my favorite part.

      • Stan says:

        It has done the rounds in language-blogging circles anyway, Rose, and it’s still getting occasional enthusiastic comments on YouTube – which it fully deserves. Thanks for your visit.

  13. Stan says:

    That’s great to hear, Barbara! What a lovely way to make a connection. Thanks for letting me know, and for sharing the post through Facebook.

  14. M Kenis says:

    I love it! I just had to share this by mail, on Facebook and Twitter. The best thing about it for me,though, was discovering your blog! HOURS of future reading. Yay!

  15. Stan says:

    Thank you, M – that’s very kind. The song deserves many listeners.

  16. […] and what has already been expressed”. See the lyrics of Christine Collins’s ‘Linguistics Love Song‘ for a play on this. Cataphora is similar but involves forward reference, e.g., Consider the […]

  17. […] Op deze blog vind je het liedje met tekst en uitleg; hier wordt de titel uitgelegd. […]

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