"The Kingdom of speech" is a literary Sharknado of error and self-satisfaction, with borderline racism and anti-Semitism mixed in. In which E.J. Spode reviews Tom Wolfe's latest book, with special guest appearances by George Lyell and Ali G. (via)
The English language has produced a staggering number of words and phrases for the state of being intoxicated by alcohol. The Drunktionary collects hundreds of them, from "A beat up tank" to "zozzled", all in glorious 2001 Tripod style. [more inside]
... in a very real sense, the history of “Classical Mandaic” begins in 1875, even if it had to wait another 90 years for scholars to come up with a name for it.C.G. Häberl writes about Columbusing Classical Mandaic
Ceci n'est pas une tomato. A Tomato is Botanically a Fruit, but is it also Linguistically a Vegetable? This is a video about how we (as humans) define and use tomatoes, except it's really a video about how we define, use and interact with Art. [more inside]
In "Poor People," anthropologist Andrew Beatty recalls his fieldwork in Indonesia and portrays specific impacts of poverty easily obscured by generalized references to the poor. In "Return to the Field," he evokes what it's like to revisit the two scenes of his earlier research, encounter changes in individuals, families, and social/religious life, and learn the stark facts about how some things turned out. [more inside]
They don’t borrow from English or French.[...] The word they use for automobile means “that it has wrinkled feet,” which is, incidentally, an example of how the words you have reflect your culture. If you’re a tracker, you’re going to be noticing the tire tracks—the focus of that particular word.Language Leakage: An Interview with Sarah Thomason
Once upon a time, in Martha's Vineyard, everyone spoke sign language. The nearly forgotten story of Martha's Vineyard Sign Language. (Via Atlas Obscura)
The language of Chaucer and Malory, Middle English can be surprisingly approachable for modern English speakers even 800 years later (although knowing a little French or German doesn't hurt). Let's dive in! [more inside]
This Anglo-Saxon Version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Might Be More Epic Than Beowulf. Maybe, maybe not, but: Via Etymonline on Facebook, who says “An Internet classic; but I can no longer find it where I first found it (Cathy Ball’s Old English reference pages). [more inside]
For years, the standard line in Ling 101 courses has been "Monkeys and apes can't make human speech sounds because of the shape of their vocal tract". A new paper is challenging that idea; NPR write up here. [more inside]
Accent Analysis. A well executed accent can be the sharpest tool in an actor’s toolbox. But when an accent is off, everyone notices. An analysis of movie accents.
After I was done with my rant, the Dans stared at me wide-eyed and said, “All that needs to be in the script. In fact, you can replace most of these little beats with that rant.” And they were right. So I cleaned up my own rant and made it Louise’s in the script, to the colonel trying to understand her reasoning.Screenwriter Eric Heisserer writes about the process of adapting Ted Chiang's novella "Story of your Life" into the screenplay for Arrival. [more inside]
Challenges and opportunities for indigenous language computing Localisation is a new and growing field of inquiry. This book identifies issues, concerns, priorities, and lines of research and is intended as a baseline study in defining localisation in Africa *single link full book
Swearing has been clinically proven to reduce pain. It also is known to be processed by a different part of the brain than other kinds of language. [more inside]
Matthew Anderson of the BBC tweeted a paragraph from the 2013 book The Elements of Eloquence detailing the order of adjectives in English and calling it a thing "English speakers know, but don't know we know". It went viral, with outlets from NPR to Good Housekeeping covering the story and the rule, while Quartz pointed out that this is a meticulously taught rule for non-native English speakers. [more inside]
Adding to the list of questions that split people into groups who previously had no idea that the other exists: Where is a frown?
Trailer for Arrival, the new Denis Villeneuve film based on a Ted Chiang short story, starring Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner. Ted Chiang on seeing his stories adapted to the screen. Previous Ted Chiang.
Reinventing the Hebrew language, so transgender campers can fit in. When Zev Shofar, a 14-year-old from Takoma Park, started going to Jewish summer camp seven years ago, the children all learned the Hebrew words to introduce themselves. “Chanich” means a male camper; “chanichah” means a female camper. But what if Zev didn’t feel male or female — neither a chanich nor a chanichah? Zev’s camp didn’t have a word that worked for Zev. In fact, the Hebrew language doesn’t have any words. Like many other languages — Spanish, French and Russian, for example — Hebrew assigns each noun a gender. In Israel, or anywhere else that Hebrew is spoken, there’s no linguistic solution, either. But now there is at camp. Zev is a chanichol.
In China: Chinese dialects fight for survival. Outside China: Meet the Hong Kong academics fighting to safeguard the Cantonese language (Hong Kong); Taiwanese: a doomed language? (Taiwan); Do you speak Singlish? || The Death of Dialects in Singapore (Singapore); Penang Hokkien will be ‘dead’ in 40 years if people stop using it (Malaysia) [more inside]
During the 1940s, Harvard University's psycho-acoustic laboratory--installed in the boiler room under Memorial Hall--was a center of secret, government-directed wartime research into the effects of sound on the human ear and mind. One obscure product of this work became known as the Harvard Sentences, a set of "phonetically balanced" sentences containing a mix of phonemes typical to conversational English. These sentences are still used today by Verizon's baseline engineers, among others. Gizmodo's Sarah Zhang has more on the history of the Harvard Sentences. Meanwhile, over at Tedium, Ernie Smith offers a T-Mobile test number (858-651-5050) where you can listen to a recording of several Harvard Sentences, calling it "pretty much the most poetic, automated thing I’ve ever heard." A full list of the Harvard Sentences can be viewed here. [more inside]
Lynne Murphy's blog is 'Separated By A Common Language'. It turns out being polite is different in the UK and the US and there are specific differences in the way each culture (and subcultures thereto) use please. [more inside]
Take a look at: 😁. On many browsers, and on Android phones, this looks like a grinning face with smiling eyes (the official label), while on an iOS device, this looks like a painful grimace. A study shows that these differences can lead to difficulties interpreting emotions across platforms (and even within platforms there is a lot of variation)! With linguists arguing over whether emoji can evolve into a language, and with their own distinct grammar, these differences in interpretation can matter. Either way, the real-time tracker lets you see what emoji are being tweeted [prev], and fivethirtyeight sums up the 100 most popular.
What's in a word? The enduring mystery of "jawn", Philadelphia's all-purpose noun [more inside]
The Digital in the Humanities: An Interview with Franco Moretti - "the term 'digital humanities' (DH) has captured the imagination and the ire of scholars across American universities. The field, which melds computer science with hermeneutics, is championed by supporters as the much-needed means to shake up and expand methods of traditional literary interpretation and is seen by its most outspoken critics as a new fad that symbolizes the neoliberal bean counting destroying American higher education. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes lies a vast and varied body of work that utilizes and critically examines digital tools in the pursuit of humanistic study. [more inside]
Dr. Tim Lomas is creating a positive cross-cultural lexicography: an evolving index of expressions from many languages for positive emotional states and concepts pertaining to well-being. Most do not have immediate English equivalents. View by Alphabet, Language or Theme. [more inside]
"The plot of "The Little Mermaid," of course, involves Ariel literally losing her voice — but in the five Disney princess movies that followed, the women speak even less. On average in those films, men have three times as many lines as women."
To come to these conclusions, the researchers applied a technique normally used in biology—building phylogenetic trees to trace linguistic attributes back to their origin....one fairy tale in particular, they note, was very clear—called The Smith and The Devil, they traced it back approximately 6,000 years, to the Bronze Age.
Last week, the BBC radio programme Woman’s Hour ran an item on the American documentary film "Do I Sound Gay?" The film explores what’s popularly known as ‘the gay voice’, a way of speaking that identifies a man as gay (though not all gay men have it, and some men who do sound gay are actually straight). The Woman’s Hour feature ranged more widely over the subject of gay language, including a lengthy discussion of Polari (previously: 1, 2). But it was all about the boys–-until, towards the end of the item, the presenter broached the inevitable question: do lesbians also have a language of their own? Nothing comparable to Polari--but we do have some historical evidence of in-group lesbian slang.
Interested in foreign languages and language history? As requested, here's a (highly subjective) selection of podcasts and blogs to keep you busy. [more inside]
English is not normal. "No, English isn’t uniquely vibrant or mighty or adaptable. But it really is weirder than pretty much every other language." (Aeon via Longform).
In Ann Leckie’s novel Ancillary Justice (Orbit Books: 2013), the imperial Radch rules over much of human-inhabited space. Its culture – and its language – does not identify people on the basis of their gender: it is irrelevant to them. In the novel, written in English, Leckie represents this linguistic reality by using the female pronoun ‘she’ throughout, regardless of any information supplied about a Radchaai (and, often, a non-Radchaai) person’s perceived gender. This pronoun choice has two effects. Firstly, it successfully erases grammatical difference in the novel and makes moot the question of the characters’ genders. But secondly, it exists in a context of continuing discussions around the gendering of science fiction, the place of men and women and people of other genders within the genre, as characters in fiction and as professional/fans, and beyond the pages of the book it is profoundly political. It is a female pronoun. When translating Ancillary Justice into other languages, the relationship between those two effects is vital to the work.
Or, what to say to your cow on the steppe. Visual anthropologist Natasha Fijn presents this short video of shouts and moos as an appendix to her book, Living With Herds.
The oldest use of the f-word has been discovered, dating the word some 165 years earlier that had ever been seen. It appeared in the name "Roger Fuckebythenavele" in court plea rolls from December 8, 1310. Fuckebythenavele was being outlawed. [more inside]
new research has revealed that when we learn our mother tongue, we do after all acquire certain habits of thought that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways.
"What of those grammar rules that were entirely dreamt up in an age of moral prescriptivism, reflecting nothing of historical or literary usage, to encourage the poor English language to be more like an entirely different (and entirely dead) language, namely Latin? Wait, which rules are those? It seems pretty crazy but the popular grammar rules familiar to most of us may in fact be completely fake and have no basis in linguistic reality. The English language didn't change to make those rules obsolete, they were simply fictional from the start." || Dear Pedants: Your Fave Grammar Rule is Probably Fake, by Chi Luu.
Martin Gusinde documented the life and rituals of the Selk'nam people of Tierra del Fuego, off the southern tip of South America from 1918-24. They had been nearly wiped out by a genocide led by Julius Popper, the Tyrant of Tierra del Fuego, their numbers reduced from an estimated four thousand to only a few hundred. Now a book has been published containing hundreds of Gusinde's photos. Forty-five photos are available on the National Library of Chile's website. The last native speaker of Selk'nam, Herminia Vera Illioyen, died in 2014. That same year, linguist Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia completed a reference grammar of Selk'nam. His friend Joubert Yanten Gomez, a young Selk'nam, has taught himself the language. Selk'nam and efforts to preserve it are one of the languages profiled in Judith Thurman's A Loss for Words, an essay about whether dying languages can be saved.
"Pajubá is one of the many queer anti-languages of the world. People study them in 'Lavender Linguistics'. It's hard to study those languages because their usefulness vanishes if they are not secret anymore. Pajubá is a moving target, evolving so rapidly that it can't be documented." — Pajubá: The secret language of Brazilian trans women [via mefi projects]
Linguists are now finally alerting the Canadian and world public to the Great Canadian Vowel Shift which noone in general had really noticed before
The IBM Watson Personality Insights service uses linguistic analytics to extract a spectrum of cognitive and social characteristics from the text data that a person generates through blogs, tweets, forum posts, and more. Just enter a chunk of text with at least 100 recognized words and Watson will break down your (or Hitler's or Donald Trump's) personality compared to other participants. [more inside]
The International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) is a free, online archive of primary-source dialect and accent recordings of the English language. Founded in 1997 at the University of Kansas, it includes hundreds of recordings of English speakers by natives of nearly 100 different countries. To find an example of an accent or dialect, use the Global Map, or select a continent or region at the Dialects and Accents page. [more inside]
Lavanya Ramanathan in the Washington Post on why we need to do away with the "ethnic food" label "It's not the phrase itself, really. It's the way it's applied: selectively, to cuisines that seem the most foreign, often cooked by people with the brownest skin."
Why is good writing on technical subjects so hard to find? A popular explanation is that bureaucrats, scientists, doctors, and lawyers who write dense prose are intentionally obfuscating their writing to appear more intelligent than they are. After all, no one likes reading hashes of passive clauses salted with jargon and acronyms--not even fellow specialists. Stephen Pinker, however, has an alternate take on the issue. What if knowing a lot about a topic directly interferes with your ability to effectively communicate it?