For want of an apostrophe…

Via Lisa McLendon, aka Madam Grammar, comes this unfortunately (un)punctuated headline currently on Drudge Report:

Hackers threaten to show teenagers intimate photos

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)


Intelligibility and the language / dialect problem

From Anschel Schaffer-Cohen:

I'm an avid Language Log reader, and as an amateur student of language politics I'm always fascinated by your discussions of language vs. dialect vs. topolect, and the role played by mutual intelligibility. As such, I was fascinated to see this quote show up in my Facebook newsfeed:


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (45)


Stronzo Bestiale, Galadriel Mirkwood, Crosley Shelvador, …

"The true story of Stronzo Bestiale", Parolacce 10/5/2014:

Would you read a paper written by Stronzo Bestiale (Total Asshole)? A dose of mistrust would be justified: the name says it all. Yet, in 1987, professor Bestiale, supposedly a physicist in Palermo, Sicily, authored major papers in prestigious scientific peer reviewed journals such as the  Journal of Statistical Physics, the Journal of Chemical Physics and the proceedings of a meeting of American Physical Society in Monterey.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (36)


X is the Y of Z: Infectious Death Cult Edition

The MedPage Today Tweet of the Week:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)


The magical fecundity of the Japanese verb suru ("to do") and verb ending -ru

The Agency for Cultural Affairs' annual survey on Japanese usage is out. This year's results as reported in the media:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)


Overtone singing

Comments (17)


A black-belt crash blossom

Posted by Alex Bledsoe on Twitter:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (19)


Nanook of the South

From the current New Yorker:

allrecipes.com has "more than 50" grits recipes (I count 64 on display), and there are lots more on other sites, so (costume aside) this is entirely region-appropriate. It's still linguistically naive, since the recipes have mostly-transparent phrasal names like "Raspberry Kielbasa over Cheese Grits"; but hey, it's a cartoon, and I guess the point is to mock those southerners with all their different approaches to grits, using the "Eskimo words for snow" trope as a vehicle.

Comments (12)


UH / UM in Norwegian

A short summary of the filled-pause saga so far: If we call nasal-final filled pauses UM and non-nasal varieties UH, younger people use UM more than older people, and women use UM more than men. We've found this to be true in several varieties of English (sampled all over the U.S., sampled all over the U.K., from Philadelphia, from Glasgow) and in several other Germanic languages (Dutch and German). In addition, in the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus, where we have interviews gathered over four decades of real time as well as interviews with speakers of different ages, it appears that there is a historical trend as well as a life-cycle phenomenon. Contributions to this work-in-progress have come from Mark Liberman (University of Pennsylvania), Martijn Wieling (University of Groningen), Josef Fruehwald (University of Edinburgh), and John Coleman (University of Oxford), among others.

For more detail, here's a chronological list of past posts: "Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005; "Fillers: Autism, gender, age", 7/30/2014;  "More on UM and UH", 8/3/2014; "UM UH 3", 8/4/2014; "Male and female word usage", 8/7/2014; "UM / UH geography", 8/13/2014; "Educational UM / UH", 8/13/2014; "UM / UH: Lifecycle effects vs. language change", 8/15/2014; "Filled pauses in Glasgow", 8/17/2014; "ER and ERM in the spoken BNC", 8/18/2014; "Um and uh in Dutch", 9/16/2014; "UM / UH in German", 9/28/2014; "Um, there's timing information in Switchboard?", 10/5/2014; "Trending in the Media: Um, not exactly…", 10/7/2014.)

Below is a guest post by Martijn Wieling, adding one more Germanic language to the list.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off


Trending in the Media: Um, not exactly…

I like journalists, really I do. But sometimes they make it hard for me to maintain my positive attitude. The recent flurry of U.K. media uptake of Language Log posts on UM and UH provides some examples of this stress and strain.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (30)


Mutual unintelligibility among Sinitic lects

By chance, I came across this most revealing section of a perceptive book by Linda Jakobson entitled A Million Truths: A Decade in China (pp. 175-177), which shows how people from different parts of China often don't really understand each other.  That includes people who are supposedly speaking different varieties of Mandarin.  I know this from my own experience travelling across the length and breadth of China.  For instance, see the second paragraph of this post, "Mutual Intelligibility of Sinitic Languages", also the next to the last paragraph of this article, "English and Mandarin juxtaposed", where I describe a climb up Emei Mountain in Sichuan, during which incomprehension among "Mandarin" speakers was a demonstrable, inescapable fact.  Seldom, however, do people write about this semi-taboo topic so clearly as Linda Jakobson.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)


Um, there's timing information in Switchboard?

We start with a psycholinguistic controversy. On one side, there's Herbert Clark and Jean Fox Tree, "Using uh and um in spontaneous speaking", Cognition 2002.

The proposal examined here is that speakers use uh and um to announce that they are initiating what they expect to be a minor (uh), or major (um), delay in speaking. Speakers can use these announcements in turn to implicate, for example, that they are searching for a word, are deciding what to say next, want to keep the floor, or want to cede the floor. Evidence for the proposal comes from several large corpora of spontaneous speech. The evidence shows that speakers monitor their speech plans for upcoming delays worthy of comment. When they discover such a delay, they formulate where and how to suspend speaking, which item to produce (uh or um), whether to attach it as a clitic onto the previous word (as in “and-uh”), and whether to prolong it. The argument is that uh and um are conventional English words, and speakers plan for, formulate, and produce them just as they would any word.

And on the other side, there's Daniel C. O'Connell and Sabine Kowal, "Uh and Um Revisited: Are They Interjections for Signaling Delay?", Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 2005:

Clark and Fox Tree (2002) have presented empirical evidence, based primarily on the London–Lund corpus (LL; Svartvik & Quirk, 1980), that the fillers uh and um are conventional English words that signal a speaker’s intention to initiate a minor and a major delay, respectively. We present here empirical analyses of uh and um and of silent pauses (delays) immediately following them in six media interviews of Hillary Clinton. Our evidence indicates that uh and um cannot serve as signals of upcoming delay, let alone signal it differentially: In most cases, both uh and um were not followed by a silent pause, that is, there was no delay at all; the silent pauses that did occur after um were too short to be counted as major delays; finally, the distributions of durations of silent pauses after uh and um were almost entirely overlapping and could therefore not have served as reliable predictors for a listener.  The discrepancies between Clark and Fox Tree’s findings and ours are largely a consequence of the fact that their LL analyses reflect the perceptions of professional coders, whereas our data were analyzed by means of acoustic measurements with the PRAAT software (www.praat.org).  [...] Clark and Fox Tree’s analyses were embedded within a theory of ideal delivery that we find inappropriate for the explication of these phenomena.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (16)


Multilingual Jiang Zemin

This is an old video of Jiang Zemin berating a female reporter and defending the right of the central government in Beijing to handpick the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, in this case the first, Tung Chee-hwa. The video, which is an amazing display of Jiang's verbal pyrotechnics, is getting a lot of circulation these days, for obvious reasons. Here it is as recently posted by Shanghaiist on Facebook.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2)


A record-setting pangrammatic window

A few months ago, I posted here (and on Slate's Lexicon Valley blog) about PangramTweets, a bot created by Jesse Sheidlower that combs Twitter for tweets that include all 26 letters of the alphabet. I mentioned that it would be interesting to see if PangramTweets turns up any particularly short "pangrammatic windows," i.e., pangrammatic strings in naturally occurring text. At the time, the shortest known example was 42 letters long, in a passage from Piers Anthony's Cube Route:

"We are all from Xanth," Cube said quickly. "Just visiting Phaze. We just want to find the dragon."

My post inspired Malcolm Rowe, a software engineer at Google, to set about finding short pangrammatic windows in an automated fashion, first on the Project Gutenberg corpus and then on the megacorpus of web pages indexed by Google. (Let's hear it for Google's 20 percent time!) On his blog, Malcolm now reports on his findings, including the discovery of a 36-letter pangrammatic window that appeared in a review of the movie Magnolia on PopMatters:

Further, fractal geometries are replicated on a human level in the production of certain “types” of subjectivity: for example, aging kid quiz show whiz Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) and up and coming kid quiz show whiz Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) are connected (or, perhaps, being cloned) in ways they couldn’t possibly imagine.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)


Plural data

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "If you want to have more fun at the expense of language pedants, try developing an hypercorrection habit."

That should be "…developing another hypercorrection habit", since making data plural in that situation is exactly analogous to using whom in "Whom are you, anyways?". But then, as Ben Zimmer has pointed out to me, that would spoil the joke involved in the choice of an in "an hypercorrection".

Comments (37)