Archive for February, 2010

Harper’s handwringing?

Two items in the March 2010 Harper’s Index™:

Projected percentage decline in U.S. job listings for tenure-track language and literature professorships this year: 37
Total percentage decline in those disciplines since 2001 this will represent: 51

This is implicitly  contrasted, in Harper’s Index style™, with the next two items:

Number of U.S. university presidents who currently earn more than $1 million per year: 24
Number who did in 2002: 0

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Language Log asks you again: another quiz

What do loads, accumulations, obligations, and (idiomatic) kicks have in common with management, custody, people in care, sets of instructions, expenditures, liabilities, prices, loan records, and allegations?

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Academic book review taken to court

We’ve previously covered the British Chiropractic Association’s libel suit against Simon Singh, and the successful effort by Nemesysco to force a critical article to be withdrawn from the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. Both of these cases involved the peculiar situation of English libel law, which (in the opinion of many) makes it too easy for wealthy plaintiffs to bully authors and publishers into silence.

An interesting case now in process involves an even more straightforward threat to intellectual discourse, in that both the plaintiff and the defendent are academics, and the contested writing is a critical book review in an academic journal. And this time the court is in France, not England.

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Light runners

The Miami Herald recently ran a story under the headline “Light runners will get temporary reprieve“.  Reader RS was baffled. Arguments at the Winter Olympics over bobsled design rules? A problem with proposed weight classes for marathon contestants? The deck explains:

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Sahaptin Dictionary

The first modern dictionary of Sahaptin has been published. Sahaptin is a language of the Northwestern plateau, spoken in the drainage of the Columbia River in southern Washington, northern Oregon, and southwestern Idaho. There are now no more than 200 speakers. This dictionary is of the Yakima dialect, called by its speakers Ichishkíin Sɨ́nwit.

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The Romantic Side of Familiar Words

I’m still noodling over Grant Barrett’s  “On Language” column in the New York Times the week before last, which tracked the recurring claim that cellar door is the most beautiful phrase in English. It was a model of dogged word-sleuthing, which took us from George Jean Nathan to Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer and Donnie Darko (winnowed down, Grant said on the ADS list, from more than 80 citations for the story he collected).  But the very breadth of the material raised questions that couldn’t be addressed in that forum. What accounts for the enduring appeal of this claim in English linguistic folklore? And more specifically: is there a reason why everybody settles on cellar door in particular? I think there is, ultimately. Are you sitting comfortably?

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Aksking again

[This is to follow up, as promised, on yesterday’s brief note, “Racist sociolinguistics from El Rushbo?“] On Feb. 22, President Obama met with a group of state governors at the White House, as described in Peter Baker and Sam Dillon, “Obama Pitches Education Proposal to Governors“, NYT 2/22/2010. He opening the discussion with an 11-minute speech. Video of the whole thing is here. About nine minutes into the presentation, he says:


First, as a condition of receiving access to Title 1 funds, we will ask all states to put in place a plan to adopt and certify standards that are college and career ready in reading and math.

He pronounces the word ask as [æksk].  On Rush Limbaugh’s radio program later in the same day, Limbaugh played the cited sentence, and makes a big deal of this pronunciation.  Among other things, he says:


((See-)) this is- this is what- this is what Harry Reid was talking about —  Obama can turn on that black dialect uh when he wants to and turn it off.


Who’s he trying to reach out here to, the Reverend Jackson?

(An extended audio clip of Limbaugh’s remarks is here.)

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Toyota and Toyoda

The testimony of Toyota president and CEO Akio Toyoda regarding problems with his company’s cars has raised the question of the relationship between his name and that of the company. They are related: he is the grandson of company founder Kiichiro Toyoda. Why then is the family name Toyoda but the company name Toyota? The BBC has done pretty good job on this question, but some further explanation may be useful.

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Racist sociolinguistics from El Rushbo?

Politicians’ slips of the tongue hit the news from time to time, with observers often trying to read more into them than is really there.  But Hendrik Hertzberg (“Decoding Limbaugh“, The New Yorker, 2/23/2010) argues that Rush Limbaugh has recently reached a new low in mean-spirited misinterpretation. [Update: more here.]

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Nothing that wasn’t something one might not hear

Reading Dana Stevens “Ferguson and Fry Rock Late Night by Having Actual Conversation“, Slate 2/24/2010, Mark Paris came across this sentence:

There was no part of their chat that wasn’t something one might not overhear at an interesting dinner party.

His reaction, in email to me, was “I know what was meant, but didn’t it go one negation too far?”

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Rules grammar change

Doyle Redland has the story:

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Radioaesthetics and ultimatonic field patterning

Ben Goldacre recently featured this lovely job advertisement:

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Weird grammar

Grammar is back in the news in Australia, and not in a good way. According to Justine Ferrari, “Grammar guide an ‘education disaster‘”, The Onion Australian 2/20/2010:

ONE of the world’s most respected authorities on grammar has written to every school principal in Queensland, warning them of an error-strewn grammar guide distributed by the state’s English Teachers Association.

University of Queensland emeritus professor Rodney Huddleston says he was forced to write to schools directly because the English Teachers Association of Queensland refused to acknowledge or correct the 65 errors he had identified in its teaching guide on grammar, printed as a series of eight articles in its magazine.

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