- Website: http://benzimmer.com/
- I am the language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and formerly wrote language columns for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. I've worked as the executive editor of Vocabulary.com and the Visual Thesaurus, as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press, and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. I currently serve as chair of the American Dialect Society's New Words Committee. You can follow me on Twitter or Facebook.
Posts by Ben Zimmer:
- "'Language is messy,' says our new linguistic hero" (8/16/16)
- "Language is messy, part 2: Arabic script in 'Arrival'" (8/19/16)
- "The making of a cinematic linguist's office" (10/21/16)
- "So, Which Is It: Bigly Or Big-League? Linguists Take On A Common Trumpism" (NPR, 10/23/16)
- "Yes, Trump Really Is Saying 'Big League,' Not 'Bigly,' Linguists Say" (New York Times, 10/24/16)
- "Linguists: Trump Is Saying 'Big League,' Not 'Bigly,' Still Stupid Either Way" (Wonkette, 10/24/16)
- "Why You Hear Trump's 'Big League' As 'Bigly'" (New York Magazine, Science of Us, 10/24/16)
The movie "Arrival" has been in theaters for three weeks now, and it has already grossed $100 million worldwide. That's an impressive box-office draw, and it can't all be due to linguists and their friends attending. Clearly this contemplative film, with a field linguist as the heroic protagonist, is resonating with audiences. But what does that mean for linguistics as a discipline and its perception by the public at large? Below is a guest post by Luke Lindemann, a PhD student in linguistics at Yale University who is working on the semantics of ergativity in Indo-Aryan. He is also a member of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project, and I had the pleasure of attending a press screening of "Arrival" with Luke and a few of his colleagues from the YGDP team. The film led to some intense discussions afterwards, as I'm sure it has for linguists everywhere. (In a separate post, I'll round up reactions from linguists since my last "Arrival" post.)
Linguists have been having a field day with the movie "Arrival" (see: "'Arrival' arrives"). From Ollie Sayeed on Facebook, here's a playful take on the shot of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) holding up a whiteboard with the word "HUMAN" for the aliens' perusal.
(h/t Chris Waigl)
[Update: Mark Liberman suggests this might be some artful fakery. See: "Another fake AI failure?"]
Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining fellow Language Logger Barbara Partee on Josh Chetwynd's KGNU radio show, "The Real Deal in Sports." Josh is the author of The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors, and he spoke to Barbara and me about how the metaphorical language of sports pervades American politics (especially in the latest presidential campaign). We mulled over how those metaphors shape our political discourse, and callers joined in with their own thoughts. You can listen to the hourlong broadcast here.
"Arrival" hits the theaters this weekend, and I'd heartily recommend it to all Language Log readers. The film, despite its science-fiction trappings, does a remarkably good job of depicting how a linguist goes about her work. I've posted about the movie a few times before even seeing it, based on the trailers:
Now, having seen "Arrival" (and having had the chance to interview Amy Adams, who portrays Dr. Louise Banks, as well as the screenwriter Eric Heisserer), I've devoted my latest Wall Street Journal column to it: "In 'Arrival,' a Linguist is a Movie Hero." (If you hit the paywall, you can get to the column by Googling the headline or following a social media link.)
After I posted "The history of Trumpian 'big league' (now even bigger league!)" on Sunday, there was a flurry of media coverage on the hotly contested question of whether Donald Trump says big league or bigly. A sampling:
But if spectrographic analysis and extensive historical documentation aren't enough to convince people that Trump is actually saying big league, we now have confirmation straight from the horse's mouth. As Sopan Deb of CBS News reported on Twitter, Trump was asked about this burning issue in an interview by EWTN Global Catholic Network.
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Donald Trump, as we have discussed a few times now, is fond of using big league as a post-verbal adjunct, though it's often misheard as bigly. (See: "Bigly," 2/26/16; "The world wants 'bigly'," 5/5/16; "Don't let 'bigly' catch on," 10/18/16.) On the night of Wednesday's presidential debate, UC Berkeley's Susan Lin helpfully shared a spectrogram of the relevant utterance from Trump, demonstrating the "velar pinch" associated with the final /g/ of big league. The spectrogram first appeared in the Facebook group Friends of Berkeley Linguists and then was tweeted by Jennifer Nycz and Tara McAllister Byun.
It’s def “big-league”-check out that velar pinch! (no it’s not something Trump does to women; is a cue to /g/). Spectrogram from Susan Lin! pic.twitter.com/91AdY60VN4
— Jennifer Nycz (@jennycz) October 20, 2016
After it circulated on Twitter, Lin's spectrogram then got incorporated into news stories from Mashable, Thrillist, Mic, and Washington Post's The Fix, presented as the authoritative word on a subject that has clearly been on a lot of people's minds. (Philip Bump, in his piece for The Fix, noted that on the night of the debate, "bigly donald trump" came in third among all Trump-related Google searches, after "donald trump iraq" and "donald trump iraq war.")
Now that the phoneticians have spoken, this is a good time to look at the history of Trump's peculiar usage, which shows no sign of abating. Just yesterday, at a rally at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Trump ratcheted up big league by pairing it with even bigger league — though of course many people heard it as even biggerly.
Ever since the first trailer for the upcoming science-fiction movie "Arrival" came out back in August, we here at Language Log Plaza have been anxiously awaiting more glimpses of Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is called upon to communicate with aliens after they arrive on Earth. The final trailer of the film has been released, in advance of the theatrical release on Nov. 11. And while many people may marvel at the CGI rendering of the alien ships, I'd imagine that the first reaction of most linguists is, "Hey, check out her office! And what books are on those shelves?"
When the first trailer was released, Gretchen McCulloch let the word slip on her All Things Linguistic blog that some linguists at McGill University (near the film's shooting location in Montreal) were consulted, and that "the books in Adams's office were borrowed from the offices of a couple linguists at McGill." I followed up with the McGill faculty who served as consultants to learn more about how the filmmakers recreated the office of a linguist. It's fair to say that it's the most meticulous rendering of a linguist's scholarly abode since the phonetician Peter Ladefoged helped design the lab of Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady."
Today, Green's Dictionary of Slang (GDoS for short) launches its online version. This is excellent news, coming more than five years after Jonathon Green published the print edition of his exhaustive three-volume reference work. As I wrote in the New York Times Book Review at the time,
It's a never-ending challenge to keep up with the latest developments in the world of slang, but that is the lexicographer’s lot. Green plans to put his dictionary online for continuous revision, which is indeed the direction that many major reference works (including the O.E.D.) are now taking. In the meantime, his monument to the inventiveness of speakers from Auckland to Oakland takes its place as the pièce de résistance of English slang studies. To put it plain, it’s copacetic.
Despite some tough sledding along the way, GDoS now sees the light of day online. Below is Jonathon Green's announcement. (For more, read the coverage in Quartz, and also see the dictionary's blog.) The good news is that headwords, etymologies, and definitions are freely available through online searches, while the full entries, with voluminous citations for each sense of each word, are available for an annual subscription fee.
Hillary's been failing for 30 years in not getting the job done – it will never change.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2016
As Geoff Pullum noted, in last night's presidential debate, many of Trump's interruptions of Clinton (or shall we say his "manterruptions") involved on-the-fly denials of what Clinton was saying. Geoff describes one such denial: "'Not!' he snapped at one point, like a 9-year-old, during one of her utterances."
Let's go to the transcript:
CLINTON: Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts. The facts are — I did say I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated…
The latest quarterly update to the online Oxford English Dictionary includes a metalinguistic term all too familiar to Language Log readers: uptalk, defined as "a manner of speaking in which declarative sentences are uttered with rising intonation at the end, a type of intonation more typically associated with questions." It's high time that the OED created an entry for the word, given that it has had a significant media presence (for better or for worse) ever since it burst on the scene in 1993.
Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" is destined to become one of the lasting catchphrases of the campaign season.
Clinton's use of the phrase (which she says she now regrets*) appeared in a speech delivered at a fundraiser on Friday night:
You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.