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.
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 New Yorker investigates the differences between "e-laughter" in its latest cultural commentary. [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.
"The internationalized art world relies on a unique language. Its purest articulation is found in the digital press release. This language has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English. It is largely an export of the Anglophone world and can thank the global dominance of English for its current reach. But what really matters for this language—what ultimately makes it a language—is the pointed distance from English that it has always cultivated. " - Triple Canopy magazine on why do artists' statments and press releases sound so utterly odd and confusing.
In 2005, the Discovery Channel aired Alien Worlds, a fictional documentary based on Wayne Douglas Barlowe's graphic novel, Expedition: Being an Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV." Depicting mankind's first robotic mission to an extrasolar planet that could support life, the show drew from NASA's Origins Program, the NASA/JPL PlanetQuest Mission, and ESA's Darwin Project. It was primarily presented through CGI, but included interviews from a variety of NASA scientists and other experts, including Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, John Craig Venter and Jack Horner. Oh, and George Lucas, too. Official site. Previously on MeFi. [more inside]
"When legal teams need to prove or disprove the authorship of key texts, they call in the forensic linguists. Scholars in the field have tackled the disputed origins of some prestigious works, from Shakespearean sonnets to the Federalist Papers."Decoding Your E-Mail Personality Ben Zimmer, of Language Log discusses the Facebook case and forensic linguistics in the NY Times. [more inside]
"Voice of San Diego reporter Adrian Florido set out to find a family, he writes, "whose experience could illustrate the day-to-day challenge for Burmese refugees" in San Diego, since "more than 200 Burmese families have arrived [in that city] since 2006." In the process, Florido met a 24-year-old man named Har Sin" who was unable to hear, speak, read, write or use sign language, and wound up writing a two-part story about him: In a New Land, Hoping to Hear and Breaking Free of a Life Without Language. The story is available as a downloadable pdf: A Silent Journey Series. / Via The Kicker, the daily blog of the Columbia Journalism Review [more inside]
Did You Catch That? Linguistics expert Deborah Tannen looks at perceptions and realities surrounding the speed at which we intercommunicate (washingtonpost.com).