Language Log lists all their previous articles about prescriptivism vs. descriptivism (or at least a lot of them), plus a link to Geoffrey Pullum's Ideology, Power, and Linguistic Theory [pdf].
Linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts, check out free Q&A site English Language and Usage. [more inside]
In the current issue of Science, a New Zealand researcher, Quentin Atkinson has published his findings there was a single origin of human language. (abtract only: article behind paywall) Using the phoneme as the unit of analysis, Atkinson investigated whether phonemes demonstrated a serial founder effect, analogous to the genetic process. Results support an African origin of human language. [more inside]
Fully (sic) is "Crikey’s very own language blog for discerning word nerds. Sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Australian linguists getting all hot and bothered about the way we communicate." It's the Aussie equivalent of Language Log, frequently linked here on the Blue. To get you started, Does Moomba really mean ‘up your bum’? (Answer: Nobody knows for sure, but the search is lots of fun.)
The "King of English", H.W. Fowler wrote A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Although "modern linguists are almost by definition incapable of understanding the function of a book like Fowler’s Dictionary", the "half-educated Englishman of literary proclivities" who just wants to know: "Can I say so-&-so?’" may now buy the classic first edition of the Dictionary again. An earlier book, The King's English, is free for anyone seeking advice on Americanisms, Saxon words, the spot plague, archaism or split infinitives.
Democrats help radical conservatives by accepting the deficit frame and arguing about what to cut. Even arguing against specific "cuts" is working within the conservative frame. What is the alternative? Pointing out what conservatives really want. Point out that there is plenty of money in America, and in Wisconsin. It is at the top. George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at UC, Berkeley, analyzes the metaphors conservatives use to frame issues and exposes what they really want. (Previously), (previously), (more previously), etc.
Book Shrink tries to pick out the sentences of an input text that are most representative of the text as a whole; that is to say, find the essence of a text. [more inside]
Nicaraguan Sign Language is a unique language, created by school children in the late 1970s and early 1980s, who previously had minimal success at being taught to lip-read and speak Spanish. This community has been studied as an example of the birth of a language from its beginning (PDF). A recent study has investigated the ability for those who speak Nicaraguan Sign Language to express exact, large numbers. Unlike the Pirahã people of the Amazon (previously) who may not have the need for specificity in large numbers, the deaf in Nicaragua are surrounded by a culture that interacts in specific numbers, yet it appears they lack accuracy with numbers higher than three or four. [more inside]
Online Corpora. In linguistics, a corpus is a collection of 'real world' writing and speech designed to facilitate research into language. These 6 searchable corpora together contain more than a billion words. The Corpus of Historical American English allows you to track changes in word use from 1810 to present; the Corpus del Español goes back to the 1200s.
A quite ugly but intriguing map of English dialects in North America.
Google's new Ngram Viewer lets you track the history of words in six languages, including several flavo(u)rs of English. Whether it's the rise and fall of a single word, the evolution of technology, or the mysterious seventeenth-century proliferation of fart jokes, there's a lot to play with. More at the Official Google Blog.
Does the language we speak shape our thoughts? The Economist is hosting an interactive online debate running all this week. Lena Boroditsky, a Stanford psychologist, supports the motion that it does, while Mark Liberman, a linguist from the Univ of Pennsylvania opposes it. Elsewhere you can read a WSJ article in which among other things Boroditsky argues that Japanese and Spanish speakers have a different sense of blame, and listen to a lively in-depth seminar at the Long Now Foundation. All her articles and papers are available in PDF online.
A memoir of living with a brain tumour: "For art critic Tom Lubbock, language has been his life and his livelihood. But in 2008, he developed a lethal brain tumour and was told he would slowly lose control over speech and writing. This is his account of what happens when words slip away." [more inside]
Unlike many cinematic exports, the Disney canon of films distinguishes itself with an impressive dedication to dubbing. Through an in-house service called Disney Character Voices International, not just dialogue but songs, too, are skillfully re-recorded, echoing the voice acting, rhythm, and rhyme scheme of the original work to an uncanny degree (while still leaving plenty of room for lyrical reinvention). The breadth of the effort is surprising, as well -- everything from Arabic to Icelandic to Zulu gets its own dub, and their latest project, The Princess and the Frog, debuted in more than forty tongues. Luckily for polyglots everywhere, the exhaustiveness of Disney's translations is thoroughly documented online in multilanguage mixes and one-line comparisons, linguistic kaleidoscopes that cast new light on old standards. Highlights: "One Jump Ahead," "Prince Ali," and "A Whole New World" (Aladdin) - "Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata," and "Luau!" (The Lion King) - "Under the Sea" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" (The Little Mermaid) - "Belle" and "Be Our Guest" (Beauty and the Beast) - "Just Around the Riverbend" (Pocahontas) - "One Song" and "Heigh-Ho" (Snow White) - "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" (Cinderella) - Medley (Pinocchio) - "When She Loved Me" (Toy Story 2) - Intro (Monsters, Inc.)
Code-switching is using different languages or language varieties in different contexts. Ta-Nehisi Coates does it. Jay-Z does it. The President does it. But, for African Americans, is code-switching necessary to escape poverty, an element of race as performed or neither?
"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]
Repetition needn't be redundancy. Contrastive focus reduplication (also lexical cloning, the double construction) is a little studied type of syntactic reduplication found in some languages. The first part of the reduplicant bears contrastive intonational stress, hence the name. [Via]
As part of National Geographic's Enduring Voices project, Gregory Anderson, K. David Harrison and Ganesh Murmu travelled to Arunachal Pradesh to document the Aka and Miji languages - and in the process, they found a previously undocumented language, Koro (not to be confused with Koro, Koro or Koro). The NG site has a video and gallery; you might also be interested in this interview given by Harrison to NPR, which includes a small audio selection of Koro words and phrases.
The Smoking Gun has come into possession of an unusual RFP from the DEA: they want 'Ebonics experts' to help decipher wiretaps.
Beware the Electronic Automatic Sound-Spectrograph Computing Digit Translator Playback Recognizer Machine
Telephoneme: Even if your Alphabet Conspiracy succeeds and you destroy the books, machines have no minds of their own. They are easily confused by different voices and different accents. It is the brain of man that tells them what to do. [more inside]
Linguistics Challenge Puzzles! (Difficulty ranging from green circles to double black diamonds...Friday fun for all!) [more inside]
The Language of Food is a blog with only four entries, but each one is an excellent, well-researched essay on, yes, food and language: ketchup, entrée, dessert, and ceviche. The author, Dan Jurafsky, teaches a parallel course at Stanford, the syllabus for which you can peruse here. via (mefi's own) honestengine.blogspot.com
I Write Like... Check what famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them to those of famous writers.
Although people have been worried about correct speech for thousands of years, it's apparently the status anxieties of modern societies that create the market for usage advice in which artificial "rules" can spring up and spread, independent of the genuine norms of speaking and writing. [via]
The Atlas of True Names reveals the etymological roots, or original meanings, of the familiar terms on today's maps of the World, Europe, the British Isles and the United States. For example, Britain = Great Land of the Tattooed, New Jersey = New Island of Spears, and Chicago = Stink Onion. There's now an iPhone app. However, at least one linguistic historian takes issue with some of their methodology. Mefi's own languagehat responds.
The Hindi Urdu Flagship Program at the University of Texas, Austin has a number of freely available online resources on Hindi and Urdu, including vocabulary exercises for beginners, video interviews with native speakers discussing various aspects of their language, a Hindi-language podcast on various topics and the ways one can discuss them in Hindi, and several downloadable books in PDF format. [more inside]
Lexicalist attempts to be 'a demographic dictionary of modern American English.' Here's how it works. Lexicalist's developer David Bamman goes into greater detail at Language Log. [more inside]
How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray. The explication of the Chinese word for crisis as made up of two components signifying danger and opportunity is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages... Among the most egregious of the radical errors in this statement is the use of the exotic term “Ideogram” to refer to Chinese characters. Linguists and writing theorists avoid “ideogram” as a descriptive referent for hanzi (Mandarin) / kanji (Japanese) / hanja (Korean) because only an exceedingly small proportion of them actually convey ideas directly through their shapes... [more inside]
"Yes, we want" -- Who owns global English? Post on The Web of Language by Dennis Barron, Professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Illinois. Barron writes about the linguistic control of English playing out on the global stage. Included among the topics is the perception of "error" and Engrish. (Previously)
Born 88 years ago in a bear cave in Eastern Oregon, Virginia Beavert now teaches a language with no textbooks, no study abroad programs, and no dubbed TV shows. The only surviving elder of the Yakama who knows the sacred songs and parables of the "Dreamer Religion", Waashat, Beavert researches and teaches Sahaptin (Ichiskíin Sínwit). [more inside]
"The last speaker of an ancient language in India's Andaman Islands has died at the age of about 85." Boa Sr was the last person to speak the Bo language (or Aka-Bo), a part of the Great Andamanese language family, which is nearly extinct. For more on Andamanese languages here is Niclas Burenhult's paper Deep Linguistic Prehistory, with particular reference to Andamanese and Anvita Abbi's phenomenal Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese. Both Vanishing Voices and the BBC report have recordings of the Bo language.
Daily life of the jihadis: rants, the usual aggressive posturing, murderous threats, and dreams of paradise. Also, problems with frying eggs.
The Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English is a searchable collection of almost 2 million words of transcribed spoken English from the University of Michigan, including student study groups, office hours, dissertation defenses, and campus tours. Researchers use the Michigan corpus to investigate questions about usage, like "less or fewer?" (cf. this contentious Ask Meta thread) and more general topics, like "Vague Language in Academia." Browse or search MICASE yourself.
Dell Hymes, a giant of sociolinguistic theory, has died. "He didn't have much patience for wasting your time in academic endeavors that wouldn't have a direct relevance for the world and for righting some of the inequalities in the world," [Dr. Nancy] Hornberger said. Or as Dr. Hymes himself put it, describing his approach to anthropology: "I am always interested in combating elitism and narrowness. . . . The justification for the existence of anthropology is to find out about the world, not produce third-rate philosophers." [more inside]
Ethnic groups of China – that is, the officially recognized ones, in their respective finery. (Photo essay, text mostly in Chinese. Via.)
"Chinatown" communities across the United States (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco) are undergoing a shift in linguistic identity, as recent immigrants are more likely to natively speak Mandarin (the official spoken language of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan,) instead of Cantonese. [more inside]
Verner's Law. Ari Hoptman (his website) explains early Germanic sound laws to his young friend Frankie, who has tossed aside his copy of Braune’s Gothic grammar in disgust. If you want to know what makes historical linguists tick, this is a great way to find out. Warning: links to seven-minute YouTube with two sequels; disclaimer: I myself have a copy of Braune’s Gotische Grammatik within arm’s reach and I have spent time reading the Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung, so I may be especially susceptible to jokes about William Jones, the Brothers Grimm, and Danish linguists. [more inside]
Since 1980, the Celtic Media Festival has brought together people who broadcast, and now Webcast, in Celtic languages. Videoblog Gwagenn.TV provides a report (with autoplaying video) from the 2009 festival whose clips and interviews are spoken and subtitled variously in Breton, French, English, Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish, Catalan, and Basque, not all of which are actually Celtic. [more inside]
Linguists and Missionaries often find themselves in similar situations. The Jesus Film Project. [more inside]
Amabil amico, Con grand satisfaction mi ha lect tei letter de le mundolingue. Arika Okrent, author of the new book In The Land of Invented Languages, lists 500 constructed languages, from the well-known (Esperanto, Volapuk, Loglan) to the utterly obscure (Neulatein, Rosentalographia, Mundolingue.) MetaFilter's own languagehat reviews the book. Okrent writes about Klingonophones in Slate. Alternatively, you might choose to learn not to speak Esperanto. Previously on MetaFilter, all you wanted to know about Loglan/Lojban but were too syntactically ambiguous to ask.
Scholars at odds over mysterious Indus script. The Indus script is the collection of symbols found on artifacts from the Harappan civilization, which flourished in what is now eastern Pakistan and western India between 2,600 and 1,900 B.C. A new analysis using pattern-analyzing software suggests that the script may constitute a genuine written language. [Via]
As the Jim Crow overt style of maintaining white supremacy was replaced with “now you see it, now you don’t” practices that were subtle, apparently non-racial, and institutionalized, an ideology fitting to this era emerged... -The Linguistics of Color-Blind Racism.
Why would an evolutionary biologist study words? It turns out there is an astonishing parallel between the evolution of words in a lexicon and the evolution of genes in an organism. The word two, for example, has been around much longer than most, and will likely be with us for millennia, whereas the comparatively rare and recent word dirty has undergone many mutations, and will probably be extinct in a few hundred years. Professor Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK, tells us why on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's program As It Happens. Pull slider to 16:00 to start the seven minute interview.
“Mamase mamasa mamamakusa” or “Mamaku mamasa makumakusa”? Michael Jackson is sued for copyright infringement – again – by Cameroonian singer Manu Dibango (Flash homepage with autoplaying audio). Dibango’s Duala-language original phrase mutated into something else (Swahili?) in “Wanna Be Starting Somethin’.” They settled out of court – but then Jackson licensed that phrase to Rihanna, a right that Dibango claims Jackson never had. [more inside]