Archive for People

What I look like

… to an enterprising Beijing street artist, who sketched most of this while walking unnoticed alongside me, and then offered to sell it to me while adding the last few strokes and the caption. Shengli Feng cheerfully bargained him down to a third of the asking price.

The air was good — blue sky and clouds were visible, which I gather is rare for Beijing these days — but it was quite hot and humid, so the artist gracefully ignored a few beads of sweat.

I haven't noticed the prominent brow ridges in the mirror or in photographs, but it's true that my genographic profile is 4% Neanderthal…


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Zhou Youguang, Father of Pinyin

Zhou Youguang, the main architect and early advocate of Hanyu Pinyin (the official romanized orthography for Modern Standard Mandarin), had his 108th birthday yesterday.  Although I've been a close friend and admirer of Professor Zhou since 1981, I've never dedicated a Language Log post exclusively to him, so it's about time that I do so.

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Margalit Fox, "John E. Karlin, Who Led the Way to All-Digit Dialing, Dies at 94", NYT 2/8/2013:

A generation ago, when the poetry of PEnnsylvania and BUtterfield was about to give way to telephone numbers in unpoetic strings, a critical question arose: Would people be able to remember all seven digits long enough to dial them?

And when, not long afterward, the dial gave way to push buttons, new questions arose: round buttons, or square? How big should they be? Most crucially, how should they be arrayed? In a circle? A rectangle? An arc?

For decades after World War II, these questions were studied by a group of social scientists and engineers in New Jersey led by one man, a Bell Labs industrial psychologist named John E. Karlin. […]

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Friending Franz Boas

Today Franz Boas invited me to become his Facebook friend. Yes, that Franz Boas, the distinguished anthropologist and linguist. The Facebook profile has the facts right: hometown Minden [in Westphalia], Germany (it doesn't say that he was born there in 1858); current city New York, New York (well, that's where he died, in 1942, in Claude Lévi-Strauss's arms, at the Columbia University Faculty Club); political views socialist.

Boas's many students included anthropologists/linguists Alfred Kroeber and Edward Sapir and others well-known outside of linguistics (Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston, and Margaret Mead among them).

The Facebook account is a little academic joke, which I'm happy to take part in. Among his Facebook friends are Heidi Harley, Norma Mendoza-Denton, Bill Poser, and Ben Zimmer of this parish, plus quite a few others (Brian Joseph, Dennis Preston, Jesse Sheidlower, Tony Woodbury, for instance).

I'd imagine that Edward Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield will soon be getting accounts.

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Honor to a tribal elder

Sasha Aikhenvald on the Linguistic Typology mailing list, April 13:

Ernie Grant, a notable elder of the Jirrbal [earlier known as Dyirbal] tribe, will be honoured by an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from James Cook University on 17 April 2010.

Attached is the statement of his achievements leading to this award. [click here; then, to see the statement, double-click on the filename in the download box]

It is worth noting that Ernie is the son of Chloe Grant, Bob Dixon's first and great teacher of Dyirbal. He is one of the last remaining speakers of the language.

In the history of (native-speaker) language consultants (also known as informants), they have been treated as everything along the scale from experimental subjects to language teachers to research collaborators. In Grant's case, it was his mother who primarily served as a language consultant, while Grant himself grew to perform a wide range of significant services to his community — for which he's now being given this honor.

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Zimmer tapped for New York Times post

Late-breaking news:

The New York Times Magazine announced today the appointment of linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer as the new "On Language" columnist. Mr. Zimmer succeeds William Safire who was the founding and regular columnist until his death last fall. [alas, a non-restrictive relative clause missing its comma] The column is a fixture in The Times Magazine and features commentary on the many facets – from grammar to usage – of our language. "On Language" will appear bi-weekly beginning March 21.

Yes, our very own Ben, who was proud enough to tell the rest of the LLoggers, but too modest to post the announcement himself.

Massive pleasure at Language Log Plaza and on ADS-L.

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Just say gnome

It's been a while since we had a Noam Chomsky posting. Now, via the Stanford Linguistics Department's newsletter, the Sesquipedalian, a bit of silliness:

There's a "Meet the Real Professor Chomsky" site.

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