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Philological teaser

From George Walkden on Facebook: "Syntactic Reconstruction and Proto-Germanic: Cinematic Teaser".

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Scheduled power outage

The building where the current LLOG server sits will be without power this evening, due to a construction project, and as a result, LLOG will be unavailable for several hours.

We should be back by early morning, if all goes well.

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Usage masochism

I think it is time to make public my private suspicion that most of the customers for prescriptive usage guides are masochists. They want to be punished for imaginary grammar crimes. I plan to speak out. My paper at the Cambridge English Usage Guides Symposium this Friday afternoon will be entitled "The usage game: catering to perverts." Abstract here.

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Schwa Fire

Michael Erard's Schwa Fire is now live:

The golden age of language journalism begins now. In this inaugural issue, Arika Okrent tells the story of 5,700 hours of Yiddish recordings that were almost lost ("Ghost Voices"), and Russell Cobb writes about Americans' fondness for the Englishes we used to speak and what that fondness obscures ("The Way We Talked"). Michael Erard describes and defends "language journalism," and Robert Lane Greene provides a lesson on the languages of love ("Wooing in Danish"). Also included: an English homophone puzzle.

You can subscribe for $6.99 a year, or buy individual articles for $0.99. For more background, see Jennifer Schuessler, "New Online Magazine Honors the Mighty Schwa", NYT 5/23/2014.

 

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Plebgate: an overdue apology

It is time for Language Log to set things straight about the Right Honourable Andrew John Bower Mitchell MP. The story of what everyone thought had happened in London on 19 September 2012 was reported here (by yours truly) in this post and this follow-up. It involved (we all thought) a snooty and arrogant Conservative government minister and member of the House of Commons snarling words of class prejudice, in front of shocked independent bystanders, at an honest cop who was merely trying to enforce the laws that Parliament had ordained. The linguistic point of interest was that the nastiest of those words was alleged to be the noun pleb. Not the expressive expletive fucking: Mitchell never denied muttering something like I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us when the police told him to push his bike out of Downing Street through a small pedestrian gate rather than ride it through the big one. No, the scandal was that a minister of the crown had used a contemptuous upper-class snob's term for the common people.

Language Log repeated the story that the British newspapers gloried in; but after 15 months of glacially slow police investigation costing around a quarter of a million dollars, yielding one prosecution, the story now looks very different. It appears the Right Honourable Andrew Mitchell was both right and honorable. He was framed by lying cops, and deserves an apology.

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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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The English passive: an apology

Listen, I need to apologise to thirty or forty of you (I don't really know how many). I'm really sorry. I've wronged you. Mea culpa.

You remember all those great examples you sent me of people alleging use of the passive voice and getting it wrong? Well, I have now completed a paper using many of them. It's basically about the astonishing extent of the educated public's understanding of the grammatical term "passive" and the utter lack of support for the widespread prejudice against passive constructions. It's called "Fear and Loathing of the English Passive," and you can get a 23-page single-spaced typescript in PDF format if you click on that title. It will appear this year in the journal Language and Communication; the second proofs are being prepared now. But (the bad news) my acknowledgments note (at the end, just before the references) will not contain a full list of the names of all of you who helped me. You deserved better, but don't blow up at me; let me explain.

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"Schwa Fire" ventures into long-form language journalism

For several years now, many linguists and their fellow travelers have talked about the need for a magazine about language issues that could capture the public attention. Mark Liberman has beaten the drum at least since his 2007 LSA plenary address (see: "Linguistics: The Magazine"), and there have been a few recent efforts along these lines. But Michael Erard, author of Um… and Babel No More, has taken matters into his own hands by launching an online magazine called Schwa Fire to specialize in high-quality long-form language journalism.

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Signifying the Local

I just found out about this new book on local languages in China.  Judging from the abstract and table of contents, it looks very interesting and promising: Signifying the Local: Media Productions Rendered in Local Languages in Mainland China in the New Millennium. The publisher's blurb:

In Signifying the Local, Jin Liu examines contemporary cultural productions rendered in local languages and dialects (fangyan) in the fields of television, cinema, music, and literature in Mainland China. This ground-breaking interdisciplinary research provides an account of the ways in which local-language media have become a platform for the articulation of multivocal, complex, and marginal identities in post-socialist China. Viewed from the uniquely revealing perspective of local languages, the mediascape of China is no longer reducible to a unified, homogeneous, and coherent national culture, and thus renders any monolithic account of the Chinese language, Chineseness, and China impossible.

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Language Log partners with Lexicon Valley on Slate


For the past year and a half, Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield have been co-hosting the excellent Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, covering many Language Log-friendly topics (and interviewing a few Language Loggers in the process). Now Lexicon Valley has spawned its own blog on Slate, and Language Log has joined up as a partner to supply cross-published posts.

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Today is the day

… that Grigory Rasputin predicted the world would end. This has not gotten much coverage in the U.S., despite links to zombiesmarijuana legalization and solar flares.

I've discovered a remarkable connection to linguistic theory, but have decided not to reveal it so as avoid unnecessary panic during our remaining hours.

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Rachel Jeantel on CNN

Following up on "Rachel Jeantel’s language in the Zimmerman trial", LLOG readers may welcome an opportunity to hear Rachel Jeantel in person, tonight on CNN — "Tonight at 9: Piers Morgan welcomes Rachel Jeantel and a live studio audience":

Less than 48 hours removed from seeing the jury in the George Zimmerman trial return a "not guilty" verdict, this evening "Piers Morgan Live" will welcome Rachel Jeantel – and a live audience – for a live hour dedicated entirely to the case that continues to divide and enthrall the nation.

In her first public comments since testifying, tonight the young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin shortly before his death will join Piers Morgan for a live, exclusive interview as a collection of guests surround her throughout the studio.

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New WSJ column: Word on the Street

For the past couple of years I've been writing a language column for The Boston Globe (and before that for The New York Times Magazine). Now I'm starting a new language column for The Wall Street Journal, called "Word on the Street." Each week I'll be focusing on a word in the news and examining its history. First up, cyber, which is showing up with increasing frequency as a noun.

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"Chinese" well beyond Mandarin

A topic which I have raised here and elsewhere a number of times is that of Sinitic topolects and languages (www.sino-platonic.org/complete/spp029_chinese_dialect.pdf), and I have also called attention to the increasing domination of Mandarin in education and the media.  Even native speakers within China sometimes don't appreciate quite how varied the Sinitic group of languages can be.  People often say that someone can move from one valley to the next, or one village to the next, and just not be able to make themselves understood.  But until you've been in that situation yourself, it doesn't really hit home.  Before long, I'll post on Shanghainese and will provide audio recordings that will demonstrate clearly just how different it is from Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM).  There are countless other varieties of "Chinese" that are just as different from each other as Shanghainese (or Cantonese or Taiwanese, for that matter) are from MSM.

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A reprieve for DARE

A month ago, I posted an "SOS for DARE," detailing the impending financial threat faced by the Dictionary of American Regional English, a national treasure of lexicography. At the time it appeared that the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, where DARE is based, would be unable to provide support to offset the loss of federal and private grant money. But now there's finally some good news out of Madison, in the form of new funds from the University and external gifts.

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