Theory of Humor. A scientific paper, written by Tom Veatch, describes his Theory of Humor. When is something funny? When is it not funny? When does it cross the line? Why are puns generally shitty? And the mysterious and magical powers elephant jokes have on children, revealed! A great data set to use for practice in applying the theories presented in the paper can be found here.
Mango is a new beta service offering free online language lessons. 11 languages available (each with 100 lessons). For English speakers there are lessons in French, German, Italian, Greek, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese and Pig Latin. For Polish and Spanish speakers, lessons in English.
Don Berto’s Garden. "The plants of the ancient Maya whisper their secrets to those who speak a shared language."
Blackburn makes manifest a propensity for turgid language. Not content with foisting “cockalorum” (meaning, boastful talk), “froward” (willfully disobedient) and “mordaciously” (bitingly) on the reader, he may be the first judge to use both “contumelious” (scornful) and “contumacious” (pigheaded) in the same opinion. Judge Robert E. Blackburn's ruling [pdf] granting a motion for a new trial based on attorney misconduct is an interesting read for those who enjoy the use of uncommon, flowery and "big" words. [more inside]
Language Log is a great linguistics blog I have been reading, and I thought that Metafilter might be interested in these posts about sex differences in language use. The (less-technical) articles to which the bloggers are responding are all within the responses, so I didn't link to them. The Barry White Effect (voice pitch seems to correlate with reproduction) - Gabby Guys (men talk more than women) - Young Men Talk Like Old Women (usage of certain words) - Gender and Tags ("Certainly we don't seem to find real women and men as sums of the characteristics attributed to them") Are any of these differences actually caused by the speakers sex? The really fascinating thing, to me, is how unbelievably hard it is to study such a distinction.
A Wicked Deception (youtube). A fun look at (multi) round-trip machine translation. Sadly, it is a simple fattening of Verbindungsyoutube. Of course, humans, as Jules Verne might tell you, can have problems with translations too. [more inside]
Increase your pronunciation skills and your vocabulary by checking out 6000 English words recorded by a native speaker. Not enough for you? Then would you believe 20,000 English words recorded by a native speaker?
Sumerian is the first language for which we have written evidence and its literature the earliest known. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, a project of the University of Oxford, comprises a selection of nearly 400 translated literary compositions recorded on sources which come from ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and date to the late third and early second millennia BCE. Not enough for you? Why not impress your friends (and confuse your enemies) by translating some english words into Sumerian?
every two weeks a language becomes extinct. there are ~7,000 human languages on earth, but that number is estimated to halve by the end of the century. swarthmore hosts extensive information about endangered languages, and the mission of the living tongues organization is to preserve and revitalize such languages.
Multicultural toasting as an accoutrement for Gunther Anderson's guide to making liqueurs at home [ Principles | Science | Materials | Example recipe | and more... ]
Tips for expressing gender in Japanese. Or, how to avoid becoming a "gaijin peto". Plus: obligatory wikage.
§7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.Ludwig Wittgenstein is such a contradictory figure that there are, in professional philosophical usage, two of him. Wittgenstein I had solved every philosophical problem in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921); having nothing else to do, he went home to Austria and became, unsuccessfully, a schoolteacher. In 1929, Wittgenstein I returned to Cambridge, where he began his transformation into Wittgenstein II. He was no longer confident in the Tractatus, his certainty in any answers less firm. Wittgenstein II's great, posthumous, work was the Philosophical Investigations. But Wittgenstein the living man was one, not two: musician and architect, reader of mysteries and engineer. "If philosophy has anything to do with wisdom," he once wrote, "there's certainly not a grain of that in Mind, and quite often a grain in the detective stories."
This story is about something called Radical Honesty. It may change your life. (But honestly, we don't really care.)
I appreciate you for reading this article. I resent you for snarking in the thread without reading it.
Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den (See also: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo). Via this thread about the opening to William Gibson's new book.
Ventiçello is a miniature ceramic village sculpted by Steven Travis, who also invented a language and script called Tapissary, which appears on the images.
Ventiçello is a miniature ceramic village sculpted and photographed by Steven Travis, who also invented a language and script called Tapissary, inspired by American Sign Language, which appears on the images.
pronunciationguide - for aspiring classical radio announcers
Similar Diversity is a data visualization of a textual analysis of various religious books spanning several religions, showing the overlap in words, ideas, and meaning. Other infovis religion goodness includes a 90 second geographic history of the world's major religions (previously), a a map gallery of USAian religious adherance (also previously), and a timeline mashup of Jewish and Christian histories.
American Sign Language Flash Video Dictionary is a high quality, free dictionary with a huge number of signs. It includes specialized dictionaries of religious signs, conversational phrases, and ASL for babies. Unfortunately it's not possible to link to specific signs, but if you look inside you'll find words from "Abbreviate" to "Zoom" and phrases such as "I cannot fasten my belt," "has he been neutered?" "I already took a bath," "are you married?" and "I need a better firewall."
Essential tones of music rooted in human speech. Original Duke University paper by Deborah Ross, Jonathan Choi and Dale Purves [pdf].
Essentalist explanations. Maintained by John Cowan, this list boils down dozens of languages, real, invented, and imaginary, to their pithy essences. "Japanese is essentially 16th-century Chinese, 17th-century Portuguese, 18th-century Dutch, 19th-century French and 20th-century English with an abhorrence of consonant clusters." "Esperanto is essentially Spanish with extra 'x's and 'k's." "Klingon is essentially Arabic spoken through a set of bulky false teeth." "English is essentially a half dozen other languages locked in a small room. They fight."
Judge bans the word "rape" from a rape trial. Jeffre Cheuvront, a Nebraska judge, "granted a motion by defense attorneys barring the use of the words rape, sexual assault, victim, assailant, and sexual assault kit from the trial of Pamir Safi—accused of raping Tory Bowen in October 2004." This move follows some tightening of language during trials meant to avoid unnecessarily swaying jury members. But has it gone too far this time?
The story of the strange language of the Pirahã is just as much a story about the state of the field of linguistics. Professor Dan Everett of Illinois State University, who lived for decades with the Pirahã, first as a missionary, then as a linguist, believes Pirahã casts serious doubt upon Chomsky's theory of universal grammar. Chomskyites have started to fight back with a reassessment of Everett's famous paper on the Pirahã, where he claimed that the Pirahã "have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” or “few”—terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition." He also claims that it doesn't have recursion, a feature of language Chomsky recently claimed was the defining feature of human speech. Dan Everett has rebutted the Chomskyite reassessment of his work. Video interview with Professor Everett. [Pirahã previously covered on MetaFilter in 2004 and 2006]
Recursion and Human Thought - Why the Piraha don't have numbers
100 words every high school graduate should know (according to the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries).
"50,000 Years of Resilience May Not Save Tribe." A deal to provide a member of the UAE royal family with a personal Tanzanian playground may be the final nail in the coffin for the remaining 1,500 members of the ancient Hadzabe people and their unique language. Read a Westerner's account of living among the Hadzabe here.
Evan M. O'Dorney, a 13-year-old speller from Danville, Calif., won the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee, with the final word "serrefine". Here is an interesting interview with the winner. Did you say my name wrong?
Happy Blue Moon! A dear friend IM'd me today, and told me it was blue moon... which was funny, because we had just been talking about it the day before — oblivious of tonight's occurance. Don't know what a blue moon is? Well, wikipedia has the answer, of course... In the mood for a little music? Well, you can always download the The Marcels classic or just sing the song yourself with a little help... or throw caution to the wind, and listen to Pink Moon instead.
Learn Spanish with podcasts from SpanishSense.
a fascinating short timely rectangular (due to the CSS box model) white-on-blue American pixel-based educational post (about adjectives)
"The old, mean man" vs. "The mean old man." Here's an aspect of English (and other languages) I've never thought of before. If you're using a string of adjectives, there's a natural order for them to appear in: "opinion :: size :: age :: shape :: color :: origin :: material :: purpose". (Although I find "old, mean," due to it's strange order, sort of striking.) [more info: 1, 2, 3]
Written Chinese may be older than we thought. Chinese archaeologists think that anicent cliff wall carvings may may take the history of Chinese characters back to 7,000 to 8,000 years ago.
dotSUB s a resource and gathering place for subtitling films from one language into many languages using our unique subtitling tools. These tools expand the power and reach of films by making it possible for people to view and enjoy films in their native languages. It is very easy to use and has many languages.
When memes have sex, they produce inbred monstrosities. It began with just an innocent South Park pilot and a fat kid's weird way of saying "kitty". Then, the Engrish meme met the L33t meme over for dinner. But their pal, the Cat Macros meme, broke in at gunpoint. The product of this unholy threeway union? LOL-Kitteh, a new 'speak' guaranteeing illegibility to future generations, transforming "that cute cat has a bow on its head" to "Omg him gotz da bowwagez on himz hed lyk WTF?!?" Learn how to make me want to leap through my monitor to kill you with ICanHasCheezBurger's handy five-step tutorial to transform English into LOL-Kitteh (using Engrish and l33t as guides).
Embrace the Suck. Intensive military activity creates an incubator for slang. By bringing together people from geographically diverse backgrounds, putting them into stressful circumstances, and teaching them a new language of jargon and acronym, the armed forces create fertile ground for new idioms - many of which return home in civvies when the conflicts are over. In the Civil War, World War I and World War II, in Korea and in Viet Nam, servicepeople created or popularized now-familiar terms like shoddy, hotshot, cooties, tailspin, fleabag, face time, joystick, SNAFU, FUBAR, flaky, gung ho, no sweat, flame-out, and many, many others. Now, the GWOT brings us a new generation of 'milspeak'. Military columnist Austin Bay has published an early collection of neologisms from Gulf War II. On NPR, Bay explains what The Suck is, how to identify a fobbit, and why Marines look down on the attitude of Semper I.
Archaic English Project: "The primary goal of the Archaic English Project was the resurrection of favorite archaic English words."Also, A Concise Dictionary of Middle English. A few Middle English texts. Harvard's Chaucer website
Life-size blue whale. A Flash project from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. And in other news: Secret Language of Whales Revealed! [Via MammalFilter.]
Language in Common thinks about quitting[pdf]. Or starting a new job at your old job[pdf]. Or becoming a better lover[pdf]. At work. And they notice that others are thinking too.
Belief and knowledge - a primer on science communication
"Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?"
White-o-glyphics. The idea: "If we took all the common graphic symbols floating around nowadays, would we have enough to make a viable hieroglyphic language? Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?" Matthew White makes the effort to find out.
IntraText Digital Library - a few thousand texts in English and many other languages in a heavily hyperlinked concordance format.
A Tranquil Star...for a discussion of stars our language is inadequate and seems laughable, as if someone were trying to plow with a feather. (via)
On walls and pavements in cities around the world you may encounter poetry.
Pompous Ass Words is a site dedicated to identifying words that shouldn't be used, on the grounds that doing so makes you sound like a pompous ass. With humorous citations and links to examples of pompous word usage by the media.
Oddcast's Text To Speech Demos let you type in words in 14 different languages. Hear thick accents if you enter English or learn how to pronounce that word you always say wrong in Spanish.
An autistic woman "speaks" her language, then ours. (YouTube) "My language is not about designing words or even visual symbols for people to interpret. It is about being in a constant conversation with every aspect of my environment, reacting physically to all parts of my surroundings." [more inside]