"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?
The Ultra Hal chatbot converses with itself. Ultra Hal is a learning chatbot and virtual assistant from zabbaware, as well as a $29 ticket to an Uncanny Valley of sexism, materialism and banality.
Dan Nosowitz, Stanford linguist Penelope Eckert, UCSB linguist Robert Kennedy, and Lookout! Records owner Christopher Appelgren each attempt to explain Tom DeLonge's singing accent and how it may have evolved.
The Allusionist is a language podcast with a etymological focus by podcaster and linguist Helen Zaltzman. The episodes are about fifteen minutes long and the ones so far have focused on political terms, spaces between words, crosswords, fake dictionary entries, museum display text, latin, curse words [explicit], the term viral, bras, but perhaps it's best to start with the first episode, where Zaltzman interviews her brother Andy on the subject of puns. The Extra Allusionism blog is also worth reading.
The New Yorker investigates the differences between "e-laughter" in its latest cultural commentary. [more inside]
"libcaca pretends to be an acronym for 'Color AsCii Art', but really it's self-deprecating code: 'caca' means 'poo' in French."
The etymology of Debian package names .
The etymology of Debian package names .
Neuroscientists find that trying harder makes it more difficult to learn some aspects of language.
In a new study, a team of neuroscientists and psychologists led by Amy Finn, a postdoc at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, has found evidence for another factor that contributes to adults’ language difficulties: When learning certain elements of language, adults’ more highly developed cognitive skills actually get in the way. The researchers discovered that the harder adults tried to learn an artificial language, the worse they were at deciphering the language’s morphology — the structure and deployment of linguistic units such as root words, suffixes, and prefixes.[more inside]
Science once communicated in a polyglot of tongues, but now English rules alone. How did this happen – and at what cost?
Over the past few years, some researchers have been arguing using mathematical tree-building and dating techniques, that the Indo-Europeans originated in Anatolia. In an article [.pdf] in the latest issue of Language, a group of historical and computational linguists using similar techniques say otherwise . [more inside]
New research examines the spread (or not) of local dialectical terms on Twitter. [PDF] [more inside]
Um, here’s an, uh, map that shows where Americans use 'um' vs. 'uh.' "Every language has filler words that speakers use in nervous moments or to buy time while thinking. Two of the most common of these in English are 'uh' and 'um.' They might seem interchangeable, but data show that their usage break down across surprising geographic lines. Hmm." And these lines may give evidence of the so-called Midland dialect. [more inside]
In 1952, a group of Belgian-Jewish investors founded the first modern popsicle factory in Israel. They called their brand artik, a corruption of the French word for the frozen Arctic. (Hebrew doesn’t abide with consonants placed in a row without a vowel between them, thus the ‘c’ had to go.) (Cache for the subscription-free). [more inside]
You may be familiar with Ferdinand de Saussure as the founder of structuralism or as one of the defining contributors to semiotics but did you know that he also did ground-breaking work in Proto-Indo-European linguistics at the age of 20? Welcome to the Laryngeal Theory. [more inside]
The OED in two minutes is a visualisation of the change and growth of the English language since 1150, showing the frequency and origin of new words year by year. Notes and explanations about the project. [more inside]
Strong Language is a new blog about profanity, cusswords, vulgar fuckin' language. Started just a week ago by James Harbeck and (MeFi's own) Stan Carey after discovering their shared frustration at not having a place to talk (swearily) about swearing, it already has ten posts by various authors covering such topics as the phonology of cusswords, whether shit is a contronym, the effectiveness of swearing in John Carpenter's The Thing, and a post reviving the cult classic linguistics article "English sentences without overt grammatical subjects" (previously).
This would not make Chipotle the first major American chain restaurant to decorate with death iconography from another culture (that distinction may go to P.F. Chang's, with their terracotta soldiers), but I'm of the opinion "death by burrito" should be about portion size, and not about inadvertently invoking the wrath of an ancient deity.So it turns out those "Mayan" glyphs at Chipotle restaurants are indeed of Mayan origin, explains Taylor Jones in Slate. (Via Languagehat)
"The endurance of "chav" reflects the new meanness of the UK, a hardening of the so-called squeezed middle while the safety net of the welfare state is stripped." Chav - slur, social descriptor, element of nostalgia, or fodder for trend forecasters?
Essays and longer texts written in English can provide interesting insights into the linguistic background of the writer, and about the history of other languages, even dying languages, when evaluated by a new computer program developed by a team of computer scientists at MIT and Israel’s Technion. As told on NPR, this discovery came about by accident, when the new program classified someone as Russian when they were Polish, due to the similarity in grammar between the languages. Researchers realized this could allow the program to re-create language families, and could be applied to people who currently may not speak their original language, allowing some categorization of dying languages. More from MIT, and a link to the paper (PDF, from the 2014 Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics).
Modern linguistics is founded on a radical premise: the equality of all languages. “All languages have equal expressive power as communication systems,” writes Steven Pinker. “Every grammar is equally complex and logical and capable of producing an infinite set of sentences to express any thought one might wish to express,” says a recent textbook. … Where native speakers are concerned, no language, dialect, or accent can meaningfully be described as primitive, broken, or inferior.
Practice with Pronouns is a site that lets you practise subject, object, possessive, and reflexive forms of English third person pronouns. It comes with a few of the most common options, but you can also fill in whatever pronouns you like. Useful for both English learners and people wanting to practise using nonbinary pronouns.[more inside]
"I had been creating languages for 10 years. But everybody else applying was equally skilled. So I figured the edge that I had was pretty much an endless amount of time—I was unemployed. I just decided: Well, let's just try to create the whole thing. In those rounds of judging, I created about 90 percent of the grammar—which is ridiculous for two months. Then I created 1,700 words of vocabulary—which is equally ridiculous for two months. Overall, I produced about 300 total pages of material. I figure that was probably what put it over the top."
Welcome to Night Vale: where even “not” isn’t what it seems. All Things Linguistic considers how MeFi favorite Welcome to Night Vale (previously) achieves its humor through violating certain deeply-held beliefs.
Lovatt reasoned that if she could live with a dolphin around the clock, nurturing its interest in making human-like sounds, like a mother teaching a child to speak, they'd have more success. - stories from the NASA- funded project to teach Dolphins to talk using LSD (among other methods. )
The Articulatory IPA: voiced bilabial plosive, voiceless alveolar fricative, onset r coda l, and more [more inside]
A Linguist on the Story of Gendered Pronouns. Gretchen McCulloch talks about why we have pronouns, why gender is a thing in English, and how gender is a thing in other languages. [more inside]
Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication is a free book (PDF) from NASA. The premise is that communication with alien lifeforms will have some (cautious) analogues to interpreting past cultures, and to the work that anthropologists and linguists do cross-culturally. Among the 16 chapters are: Beyond Linear B - The Metasemiotic Challenge of Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence; Learning To Read - Interstellar Message Decipherment from Archaeological and Anthropological Perspectives; and, Mirrors of Our Assumptions: Lessons from an Arthritic Neanderthal.
26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico and 2,150 feet underground, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) brings new meaning to the phrase "built to last". The world's third deep geological nuclear waste repository, WIPP was designed to house radioactive material for 10,000 years. The primary challenge (keeping hazardous waste IN) was tackled by engineers. But for the secondary challenge - keeping living creatures OUT - the goverment recruited a team of geologists, linguists, astrophysicists, architects, artists, and writers. The job description included the words "the knowledge necessary to develop a marker system that will remain in operation during the performance period of the site - 10,000 years". Stymied by inevitable linguistic and orthographic drift, the group has discussed a wide array of ideas, some more fabulously demented than others (artificial moons, a nuclear containment-centric priesthood, a landscape of massive granite thorns). They intend to submit their final plan by 2028. [more inside]
A number of different languages utilize compounded words, but German has a number of fun examples in the animal kingdom: how to name animals in German (Compounding German words, previously)
Genie (born 1957) is the pseudonym of a feral child who was the victim of extraordinarily severe abuse, neglect and social isolation. Her circumstances are recorded prominently in the annals of abnormal child psychology. Born in Arcadia, California, United States, Genie's father kept her locked alone in a room from the age of 20 months to 13 years, 7 months, almost always strapped to a child's toilet or bound in a crib with her arms and legs completely immobilized."Secret of the Wild Child" - A 1997 NOVA episode.
Literary elites love to rep Shakespeare’s vocabulary: across his entire corpus, he uses 28,829 words, suggesting he knew over 100,000 words and arguably had the largest vocabulary, ever (average people have a vocab of 5,000 words). I decided to compare this data point against the most famous artists in hip hop. I used each artist’s first 35,000 lyrics. That way, prolific artists, such as Jay-Z, could be compared to newer artists, such as Drake.
Math or Maths? A few minutes with Dr Lynne Murphy (an American linguist in England) should clear this right up. Via Numberphile.
"Hygge" is a Danish word often associated with being cozy in winter, with candles, family and friends, but even if Christmas is the high hygge season, there is hygge in warmer months, too. Pronounced "hoo-gah" or "hYOOguh" or something like that, it may be as hard for non-Danes to pronounce as it is to define, but one thing is for sure: money can't buy you hygge (an academic article on Danish middle-class consumption, egalitarianism, and the sanctity of inner space, by Jeppe Trolle Linnet).
The Ket from the Lake Munduiskoye (2008, 30 min.) The Ket people are an indigenous group in central Siberia whose population has numbered less than two thousand during the past century. Although mostly assimilated into the dominant Russian culture at this point, a couple hundred of them are still able to speak the Ket language, the last remaining member of the Yeniseian language group. Recent scholarship has proposed a link between Ket and some Native American language groups.
We may not speak with the butter-toned exchanges of the characters on “Downton Abbey,” but in substance our speech is in many ways more civilized.... We are taught to celebrate the idea that Inuit languages reveal a unique relationship to snow, or that the Russian language’s separate words for dark and light blue mean that a Russian sees blueberries and robin’s eggs as more vibrantly different in color than the rest of us do. Isn’t it welcome, then, that good old-fashioned American is saying something cool about us for once? - John McWhorter on colloquial American English (SLNYTIMES) [more inside]
In Defense of Talking Funny: an examination of dialects and how people deal with them.
This book deals with the Dialect of the English Language that is spoken in Ireland. As the Life of a people—according to our motto—is pictured in their speech, our picture ought to be a good one, for two languages were concerned in it—Irish and English. ... Here for the first time—in this little volume of mine—our Anglo-Irish Dialect is subjected to detailed analysis and systematic classification.P.W. Joyce's 1910 work, "English as We Speak it in Ireland," is a fascinating chronicle of a language's life, and no mistake. [more inside]
Linguistic relativity is the idea that the language people use affects or even limits the way that they can think. This idea was developed in the early 20th century, and continues to be a matter of disagreement among linguists and cognitive scientists. The Cambridge and Oxford university presses are even publishing dueling upcoming books on the subject, The Bilingual Mind, which examines linguistic relativity in the context of people who speak more than one language, and The Language Hoax flatly denies that it exists.
Sure, it's unfortunate that the Philadelphia accent is fading away a bit, but on the other hand, have you ever even heard of the Texas German accent?