Eena, meena, mina, mo, / Cracka, feena, fina, fo, / Uppa, nootcha, poppa, tootcha, / Ring, ding, dang, doe. "Losing Count: “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo” and the ambiguous history of counting-out rhymes," from The Paris Review.
Fuck Shit Up is a Chrome extension that semi-judiciously sprinkles some "fuck"s into whatever web page you're reading. Not enough fucks? Hit the button a few more times. Gets interesting results when applied to news, dry technical stuff, Wikipedia, and Twitter at the least. [via mefi projects]
How to Pronounce UK Place Names (SLYT) "Anglophenia's Siobhan Thompson teaches Science Friction's Rusty Ward—and the rest of America—how to pronounce difficult British place names."
Today is the 260th anniversary of the publication of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language. It was an innovative, landmark work, which focused on not just "hard words" (as previous dictionaries had), and also introduced the practice of providing quotations from authors illustrating the definitions. There's a dictionary quiz night in London if you can make it.
"At first blush, 'no' does not appear to be the kind of word whose meaning you can monkey with." Kathryn Schulz dissects the use of "no" at the beginning of conversational turns, and discusses how it may be a reaction to the loss of our previous "four-form system of negation and affirmation" that included "yea" and "nay".
Conscious Style Guide is a simple and accessible community resource for anyone curious or serious about conscious language. [more inside]
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]
With all of the national selections now made, let's take a look at how the Eurovision Song Contest's 60th anniversary is shaping up. Terribad songs ahead; enter at your own risk. [more inside]
Swedish sign language interpreter, Tommy Krångh, interpreted and danced his way through a song performed by singer Magnus Carlsson on Melodifestivalen.
Science once communicated in a polyglot of tongues, but now English rules alone. How did this happen – and at what cost?
There Is No ‘Proper English’. From Oliver Kamm of The Times:
It’s a perpetual lament: The purity of the English language is under assault. These days we are told that our ever-texting teenagers can’t express themselves in grammatical sentences. The media delight in publicizing ostensibly incorrect usage. A few weeks ago, pundits and columnists lauded a Wikipedia editor in San Jose, Calif., who had rooted out and changed no fewer than 47,000 instances where contributors to the online encyclopedia had written “comprised of” rather than “composed of.” Does anyone doubt that our mother tongue is in deep decline?
Well, for one, I do. It is well past time to consign grammar pedantry to the history books.[more inside]
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]
Robert Macfarlane says we are losing the best descriptive words for our landscape. This matters, he says, "because language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted. To quote the American farmer and essayist Wendell Berry – a man who in my experience speaks the crash-tested truth – “people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”"
According to a British linguist's research on Twitter users in the U.S. (direct link to 55-page PDF), what do young Southern black women and young Northern and Western white men have in common? They're "lexical innovators" whose slang creation skills are on fleek. [more inside]
New research examines the spread (or not) of local dialectical terms on Twitter. [PDF] [more inside]
Shortly after meeting my wife, she introduced me to the nuanced meaning that the Spanish word nervio had acquired in the lexicon of her family. As used in their Chilean home, the word could be defined as a feeling of such intense affection that one trembles or grits his teeth with restraint so as not to harm the object of his affection. I have heard others allude to the sensation in seemingly bizarre phrases such as, "It's so cute [that] I want to squeeze it to death." I often ask people about nervio. For those like me who have experienced it frequently throughout their lives, a complete definition is unnecessary and the word fills a void in their vocabulary. With others, my description is often greeted with bewilderment. Having never felt such a sensation, it is hard for them to imagine.More? Tagalog's gigil, corporal cuddling, and some scientific insights into the "cute aggression" phenomenon
Or so say researchers in a new study in the February 9 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Here's their paper's abstract: "Using human evaluation of 100,000 words spread across 24 corpora in 10 languages diverse in origin and culture, we present evidence of a deep imprint of human sociality in language, observing that (i) the words of natural human language possess a universal positivity bias, (ii) the estimated emotional content of words is consistent between languages under translation, and (iii) this positivity bias is strongly independent of frequency of word use. Alongside these general regularities, we describe interlanguage variations in the emotional spectrum of languages that allow us to rank corpora. We also show how our word evaluations can be used to construct physical-like instruments for both real-time and offline measurement of the emotional content of large-scale texts." And here are descriptions of the research in Science Daily and the LA Times.
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]
A list of shibboleth names, with correct pronunciations.
Duke student-athletes join forces with You Don't Say? campaign
Duke student-athletes join forces with You Don't Say? campaign
You Don’t Say? is a campaign founded by senior Daniel Kort and juniors Anuj Chhabra, Christie Lawrence and Jay Sullivan that aims to raise student awareness about the offensive nature of phrases and slurs used in everyday conversation through photographs shared using an online campaign. Starting Jan. 7, the group began to roll out its second online push, only this time instead of 17 students, the project featured 41 Duke student-athletes.[more inside]
“Sports are really integral to our campus culture, and with that comes a pretty big microphone around our athletic culture,” Kort said. “It’s easier to dismiss a message if it’s coming from a social justice-oriented group on campus…. By getting people who aren’t traditionally seen as the social justice kids on campus to stand up for this message, it carries a lot more weight. It’s also that these student-athletes care a lot about the issues.”
Mel Campbell mines the Macquarie and her own Melbournian experience to come up with six divisive regional slang terms that just might result in an Australian civil war, if last year's Scallop War is anything to go by. [more inside]
Xhosa, one of the Bantu languages used in South Africa has often confounded non-native speakers with its use of "clicks". Fortunately, you can learn how to use them yourself! [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]
Texas is bro country. But the term also covers the entirety of Oklahoma, and almost all of Louisiana and Arkansas, plus good chunks of Kansas and New Mexico. A mid-sized gathering of bros straddles the Michigan-Indiana border, and a tiny bro community lives by the seaside on either side of the Virginia-North Carolina state line.American regional variations in what you call your male best friends. By Frank Jacobs.
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).
Ridley Scott's new film Exodus: Gods and Kings recasts the myth of Moses in typically grimdark swords-and-sandals fashion. It... ain't so good. Want something more artful? Look no further than The Prince of Egypt [alt], an underrated masterpiece of DreamWorks' traditional animation era. Directed by Brenda Chapman (a first for women in animation), scored to spectacular effect by Hans Zimmer and Stephen Schwartz, and voiced by, among others, Voldemort, Batman, and Professor X, the ambitious film features gorgeous, striking visuals and tastefully integrated CGI in nearly every scene. It also manages the improbable feat of maturing beyond cartoon clichés while humanizing the prophet's journey from carefree scion to noble (and remorseful) liberator without offending half the planet -- while still being quite a fun ride. Already seen it? Catch the making-of documentary, or click inside for more. [more inside]
The District of Columbia has many speakers of American Sign Language, given the presence of Gallaudet University and a large Deaf community. Here are a smattering of local signs.
The excellent Copenhagenize blog presents a short glossary of idioms, in Danish and a few other languages, that are semantically derived from cycling terminology.
What goes on in the brains of simultaneous interpreters. Miles told me about an agricultural meeting at which delegates discussed frozen bull’s semen; a French interpreter translated this as “matelot congelés”, or ‘deep-frozen sailors’. (via) [more inside]
A Boston Globe reporter talks to his dad about some old-school Boston-area colloquialisms.
"Bad Translator" takes any English text input, pings it back and forth on a translation engine through a few other languages, and outputs the result, again in English, but... different. It's like a robot game of "Telephone."...5 translations later, SDL gives us:
To bad door of translator of the sounds the given English of the text, that of a long time an in extend in a motor of translation through someone the other languages and the result go, again in the English, but outside of of... contraryly. This is like a game of the automaton of telephones.[more inside]
Did Vladimir Lenin speak English with an Irish accent? The blog of Dublin culture Come Here To Me has some fun digging into Lenin's supposed Rathmines accent. The Dublin Review of Books describes the now extinct "Rathmines accent" a bit more, but says the Lenin story is not "enormously well-vouched". (The Russian embassy in Ireland apparently thinks otherwise).
Spanglish is not random. It is not simply a piecemeal cobbling-together, a collecting of scraps of random vocabulary into a raggedy orphan of a sentence. It has logic and rules, and more interestingly and importantly, it embodies a constantly shifting and intimate morphology of miscegenation. It is the mix of my husband’s innate Mexicanness and my innate Americanness, of my adaptive Mexicanness and his adaptive Americanness, in Spanish and English morphemes that come neatly together and apart like so many Legos into new and ever-changing constructions.
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).
Why Academic Writing Stinks, by Steven Pinker
The curse of knowledge is a major reason that good scholars write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to them that their readers don’t know what they know—that those readers haven’t mastered the patois or can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention or have no way to visualize an event that to the writer is as clear as day. And so they don’t bother to explain the jargon or spell out the logic or supply the necessary detail. Obviously, scholars cannot avoid technical terms altogether. But a surprising amount of jargon can simply be banished, and no one will be the worse for it.Pinker's new book, a style guide, The Sense of the Style, has ten grammar rules it's OK to break (sometimes). He talks to Edge on Writing in the 21st Century, which includes the occasional fMRI.
Translating technological terms throws up some peculiar challenges
Ibrahima Sarr, a Senegalese coder, led the translation of Firefox into Fulah, which is spoken by 20m people from Senegal to Nigeria. “Crash” became hookii (a cow falling over but not dying); “timeout” became a honaama (your fish has got away). “Aspect ratio” became jeendondiral, a rebuke from elders when a fishing net is wrongly woven. In Malawi’s Chichewa language, which has 10m speakers, “cached pages” became mfutso wa tsamba, or bits of leftover food. The windowless houses of the 440,000 speakers of Zapotec, a family of indigenous languages in Mexico, meant that computer “windows” became “eyes”.
Stressed out? Does the fast-paced world of today have your head spinning? Sit back and relax with the Finnish educational TV show "Hello, Hello, Hello," and the terrifyingly slow adventures of Stan and Dud. Clip most likely to cause childhood trauma
: "I'm Cecil. She's Cissy."
Most likely to mark you as a Finn who learned English from watching this show: "The cat's in the moon." [more inside]
Search for word usage in movies and television over time.
Movies and television shows often reflect cultural trends of the time they are made in. Even movies that take place during the past or future can say something about the present through metadata or production style. Using the Bookworm platform, Benjamin Schmidt, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, provides a tool that lets you see trends in movie and television dialogue.
The thing about ableism is that it’s everywhere, and it’s incredibly common, and we don’t even realize it. It’s in the books we read, and in our daily lives. Ableism is that belief that everyone who is able-bodied is “normal” and everyone else is abnormal. Abelism is probably one of the most common kinds of –ism’s, and it rarely gets talked about.The language of disability and why it matters.
Whale.fm is a project (which you can contribute to!) to help "marine researchers understand what whales are saying." - really it's a project looking at the effects that manmade sound has on marine life, but what whales are communicating with their songs is still a really interesting question, so I've listed some relevant links in extended description. [more inside]
A surprisingly dramatic world of lawsuits, mass resignations, and dysfunctional relationships between humans and apes. From Koko and Kanzi to Chantek and Nim Chimpsky, research into human-ape communications used to be all the rage. Nowadays, not so much. What happened?
Being a practical handbook of pertinent expressions, striking similes, literary, commercial, conversational, and oratorical terms, for the embellishment of speech and literature, and the improvement of the vocabulary of those persons who read, write, and speak English. (Grenville Kleiser, 1917)
"Though red big barns and big red barns are semantically identical, the second kind pleases our ears more." The Secret Rules of Adjective Order. [more inside]