Markov Jabberwocky: Through the Sporking Glass

In Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky and its translations, it’s clear that even nonsense words can look like they certainly belong to a particular language. Who could doubt the Englishness of ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe, or the Frenchness of Évite le frumieux Band-à-prend?

Question: Is it possible to programatically encode the property of looking Englishy, Frenchish, and so on?

Answer: Markov chains do a pretty good job of it. Hopefully you can identify the source languages for the following program outputs: fesh, excenture, warl, figutes, houpon, tecourd’hui, vor, govio, elanar, welbet, Abef, wowors, veropäischen.

In this talk, aimed at a mixed audience, we'll see how it works. In addition to having some fun with words — and finding connections to such post-Lewis-Carroll terms as bromance and spork — we’ll find that the mysterious black box labeled “Markov chains” contains within it some very accessible ideas.

Jan. 25, 2012

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