Religions ranked by Google

Jonathan Falk asks:

If this isn't some form of zeugma, what would you call it? Cyber-zeugma? Auto-zeugma?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)


Il ne parle pas français

It seems impossible, but the news is being trumpeted all over the world:  the reigning champion of Francophone Scrabble cannot speak French.

"Kiwi Nigel Richards wins French Scrabble contest, doesn't even speak French" (7/21/15)

President of the Christchurch Scrabble club Shirley Hol said the French win was "quite remarkable".

She was told about his victory on Monday and said from what she had heard the French were quite "gobsmacked".

"I think one of the comments was 'Are you extra-terrestrial or something?' Because it was so amazing."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (27)


Fresh Air on "policing" young women's voices

"From Upspeak To Vocal Fry: Are We 'Policing' Young Women's Voices?", Fresh Air (NPR), 7/23/2015:

Journalist Jessica Grose is no stranger to criticism of her voice. When she was co-hosting the Slate podcast, the DoubleX Gabfest, she would receive emails complaining about her "upspeak" — a tendency to raise her voice at the end of sentences. Once an older man she was interviewing for an article in Businessweek told her that she sounded like his granddaughter.

"That was the first moment I felt [my voice] was hurting my career beyond just irritating a couple listeners," Grose tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Grose sought help from a voice coach in an effort to make herself sound more professional, but Stanford linguistics professor Penny Eckert argues that women shouldn't have to change their voices to suit society.

Eckert points out that the complaints about female upspeak and vocal fry (a tendency to draw out the end of words or sentences with a low, creaky voice) ignore the fact that men also engage in those habits. "People are busy policing women's language and nobody is policing older or younger men's language," Eckert tells Gross.

Grose and Eckert join speech pathologist Susan Sankin for a conversation about upspeak, vocal fry and how women's voices are changing — and whether that's a problem.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)


Stepping stones

From Jerry Clough:

Apropos of nothing in particular I noted that the Wikipedia article on what I call "stepping stones" is called "step-stone bridge".  

I assumed that this was yet another Americanism, but I can't find it in dictionaries here, or any uses of this and related terms using Google ngrams. The useful reference on the Wikipedia article is a glossary of trail terms and only contains "stepping stones".  

I wondered if you, or perhaps Language Log readers, could shed any light on what to me looks suspiciously like a neologism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (26)


Male vocal fry

Jaya Saxena, "Examples of Male Vocal Fry", The Toast 7/22/2015, presents YouTube videos of a bunch of well-known males (human and otherwise) exhibiting so-called vocal fry. There's no textual commentary — but the choice of examples, and the word "male" in the title, underlines the fact that young women are currently being criticized for a phenomenon that can be found to some degree in the speech of every human being who ever spoke, and indeed in the noises made by every creature that ever vocalized.

For example, here's Bruce Willis:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)


Pinyin with Chinese characters

Matt Keefe came across this sign on a San Francisco streetcar in April:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)


A quick exit for Cantonese

On his blog, "Throwing Pebbles", the journalist Yuen Chan describes how hard it is nowadays to find a decent elementary school in Hong Kong that offers instruction in Cantonese, rather than in Mandarin:

"Mother-tongue Squeezed Out of the Chinese Classroom in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong" (7/22/15)

This despite the fact that Cantonese is the mother tongue of around 90% of the population of Hong Kong.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)


Spice lists

Comments (63)


PFL vs. IFL

Emily Landau, "Why Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First", Think Inclusive 7/20/2015:

There are two main types of language used to refer disability: person-first language and what is known as identity-first language (IFL). PFL as a concept originated among people who wanted to fight back against stigma. In a society that perceived disability as dehumanizing, advocates wanted those around them to remember that having a disability does not, in fact, lessen your personhood. As such, the PFL movement encouraged the use of phrases like “person with disability,” “girl with autism” or “boy who is deaf.” In speaking this way and putting the person first, it was considered a show of respect.  

PFL was adopted as a general linguistic rule, moving from use by the people who initiated the movement towards heavy use by those in professional spheres. It essentially became the law of the land. Teachers, doctors, nurses, social service professionals, government officials… everyone was told that they should use only PFL. Using a term such as “disabled person?” A cardinal sin.  

However, as with almost any major activism movement, PFL sparked a countermovement, known as identity-first. IFL is a linguistic concept embraced and actually preferred by countless people within the disability community. In the ideology of identity-first, “disabled” is a perfectly acceptable way for a person to identify. Instead of going out of your way to say “person with a disability,” when using IFL you would instead say “disabled person.” This is how I personally choose to identify myself. I am a disabled person.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (34)


Pinyin without Chinese characters

Occasionally one encounters pinyin with no hanzi (Chinese characters); see at the bottom of this photograph taken by Randy Alexander at a small mall right across from the main entrance to Xiamen (Amoy) University:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)


Failing words in Myanmar

Thomas Fuller, "Those Who Would Remake Myanmar Find That Words Fail Them", NYT 7/19/2015:

It’s the dawn of democracy in Myanmar. If only the Burmese had their own word for it.  As this former dictatorship opens to the world, language is a stumbling block.  

For half a century, Myanmar was so cut off from the outside world that people were jailed for owning an unauthorized fax machine. As the rest of the world was hurtling into the information age, the strict censorship of publications, limited access to global media and creaking connections to the Internet stunted the evolution of the Burmese language, leaving it without many words that are elsewhere deemed essential parts of the modern political and technical vocabulary.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (16)


A decision entirely

Urgent bipartite action alert for The Economist: First, note that my copy of the July 18 issue did not arrive on my doormat as it should have done on Saturday morning, so I did not have my favorite magazine to read over the weekend; please investigate. And second, the guerilla actions of the person on your staff who enforces the no-split-infinitives rule (you know perfectly well who it is) have gone too far and are making you a laughing stock. Look at this sentence, from an article about Iran (page 21; thanks to Robert Ayers for pointing it out; the underlining is mine):

Nor do such hardliners believe compliance will offer much of a safeguard: Muammar Qaddafi's decision entirely to dismantle Libya's nuclear programme did not stop Western countries from helping his foes to overthrow and kill him.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off


A thousand things to say… Not!

It is not clear to me whether Chris Lonsdale, the managing shyster director at the language-teaching company Chris Lonsdale & Associates, is an out-and-out liar or merely has pork for brains and believes the nonsense he spouts. But what is clear to me is that not enough people are paying attention to the conjecture I mention in one section of this paper: that almost all strings of English words are ungrammatical.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off