Archive for Language and the media

Non-defined flower

This is a recent instagram post of the Vietnamese singer Suni Ha Linh.

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The valence of husky voices

"Vocal Fry" has been in the media yet again, thanks to the recent flurry of interest over "TikTalk" (2/16/2024). As mentioned there, and in my 2011 post "Vocal fry: 'creeping in' or 'still here'?", this speaking style (and media interest in it) has always been with us, with a famous fry influencer from olden days being Mae West, as featured in the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong.

But there's a lexicographic aspect to this as well. According to Mae West's Wikipedia page, "Considered a sex symbol, she was known for her breezy sexual independence and her lighthearted bawdy double entendres, often delivered in a husky contralto voice." However, the OED's gloss for the relevant sense of husky is "Of persons and their voice: Dry in the throat, so that the timbre of the voice is lost, and its sound approaches more or less a hoarse whisper. (An effect of continued speaking, laryngeal inflammation, or violent emotion.)".

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The recent flurry about "TikTalk" seems to have started with Rochelle Barrand, "TikTok: 'Influencer speak' on social media platforms is likely to be the future of the English accent – expert", NationalWorld 11/22/2023:

A language expert said a "TikTok voice" which is often used by influencers on social media platforms is likely to be "the future of the English language".

Linguistics professor Christopher Strelluf claims we are seeing a new use of language which has been fuelled by female influencers online and also celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Ariana Grande.

The 'TikTok accent', which is also called 'TikTalk', or 'Internet voice' is when influencers use a vlogger-style voice and intonation and, as a result, this means everyone sounds similar, regardless of their individual voice tones and accents.

Strelluf, who is an associate professor of linguistics at Warwick University, explained the use of features called 'uptalk' and 'vocal fry' are commonly seen in this style of speech. He said everyone already uses those features of language but young people, particularly women, are using it in an "innovative way".

The article doesn't tell us what this "innovative way" actually is, and I haven't found any publications or presentations by Prof. Strelluf to enlighten us.  My guess is that the whole idea came from the reporter, Ms. Barrand, who just pulled a few sensible quotations from him to shore up a click-bait-y article on "female influencers and celebrities". And it worked — the bait has been picked up by (literally) dozens of outlets, from The New York Post and Distractify to Fox News and the BBC.

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Bomb thread in the Guardian

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State sanctioned translation

When it comes to the dissemination of news in China, Xinhua is the almighty source.  That extends to translations too.  Xinhua is Xinhua News Agency, or New China News Agency, the official state news agency of the People's Republic of China.  It's like Associated Press, Bloomberg News, United Press International, and the bureaus of all the major American newspapers and magazines wrapped up together.  With such a gigantic organization, it is easy to control the stories that go out under the aegis of the CCP, and that is the only point of view that matters in the PRC.  Since the authorities have now made it clear that Xinhua is to be the sole source of news coming from abroad, that means there is even less chance than before of there any deviation from the party line.

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Furious sleeping continues

Several people have sent me pointers to the linguistically-themed 9/27/2023 NYT crossword puzzle. For some discussion by Sam Corbin, see "Talk, Talk, Talk", NYT 9/26/2023 ("Scott Koenig puts silly thoughts to bed with a clever crossword"), which includes a quotation from the puzzle's author:

I first learned about Professor Chomsky as an undergraduate linguistics minor. The man has been a public intellectual and an absolute legend in the field for more than seven decades, and still remains active today, earlier this year penning a guest opinion essay contrasting ChatGPT’s approach to language with that of a human. (I’d like to call special attention to the wonderfully clever title of the paper that the essay references.)

[Spoiler alert: a solved version of the puzzle is presented after the fold…]

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A bad thing about social media is also good

Jill Lepore recently presented an illustrative example of how social media amplifies bad stuff ("The World According to Elon Musk's Grandfather", 9/19/2023):

Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Musk […] only glancingly discusses Musk’s grandfather J. N. Haldeman, whom he presents as a risk-taking adventurer and whose politics he dismisses as “quirky.” In fact, Haldeman was a pro-apartheid, antisemitic conspiracy theorist who blamed much of what bothered him about the world on Jewish financiers.

Elon Musk is not responsible for the political opinions of his grandfather, who died when Musk was three years old. But Haldeman’s legacy casts light on what social media does: the reason that most people don’t know about Musk’s grandfather’s political writings is that in his lifetime social media did not exist, and the writings of people like him were not, therefore, amplified by it.

Bu a few days after the publication of Lepore's article, something happened that showed an effect in the opposite direction.

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Tatar Journalism in Tatar



"Tatar Journalists More Likely to Cover Controversial Topics When They Write or Speak in Tatar, One of Their Number Says"

Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia — New Series

Monday, August 28, 2023

           Staunton, Aug. 28 – Tatar journalists are more likely to cover controversial topics when they write or speak in Tatar than they are when they use Russian, according to Alfiya Minnullina, one of the founders of the online newspaper Intertat, calling attention to a pattern likely true of most non-Russian areas of the Russian Federation.

            Minnullina, 60, was one of the first journalists in Tatarstan to see the advantages that the Internet could give to Tatar-language materials and their distribution beyond the borders of the republic (

            She created the first Tatar-language online newspaper for that audience and then was involved 20 years ago in the creation of Intertat, a portal which still exists and communicates not only to Tatars within Tatarstan but to Tatars living elsewhere in the former Soviet space and more broadly.

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Whose note?

A 7/29/2023 article by Elaine Mendonça in the online periodical The Best Stocks ("Anticipating Positive Results: Brookfield Renewable Partners to Release Q2 Earnings Data") starts like this:

July 28, 2023 – Brookfield Renewable Partners (NYSE:BEP) (TSE:BEP), a leading utilities provider, is set to announce its second-quarter earnings on Friday, August 4th.

And after a few more paragraphs of similar information, it ends like this:

With the upcoming release of Brookfield Renewable Partners’ earnings data, investors are eagerly awaiting the results. The solid performance and positive expectations set by analysts, along with the company’s dividend policy, indicate that Brookfield Renewable Partners is positioned for success in the second quarter of 2023. As investors tune in to the conference call, they will be seeking valuable insights into the company’s growth strategies, financial outlook, and overall market trends that may impact its future performance.

NB- The references to “perplexity” and “bustiness” were not utilized as they do not align with a formal writing style.

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Broadcasters' accents

From Ellen Fleming, a reporter for WWLP22 in Chicopee, Massachusetts:

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Brit noun pile heds: "Crown" edition

While traveling in the UK, Nancy Friedman spotted the tabloid headline "CROWN DIANA CRASH OUTRAGE" on the front page of The Sun.

"Crash blossoms," as we've often discussed here on Language Log, are headlines that are so ambiguously phrased that they suggest alternate (comical) readings. (The headline that gave "crash blossoms" their name appeared in the newspaper Japan Today in 2009: "Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms." That referred to Diana Yukawa, a violinist whose father died in a 1985 Japan Airlines plane crash.) I'm not so sure this is a canonical crash blossom, since it's difficult to get even one plausible parsing from this headline, unless you're well-versed in the British journalistic tradition of "noun-pile heds," another frequent LL topic (see past posts here).

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Coreference confusion of the week

In stories about Ron DeSantis' expensive PR stunt sending migrants from Texas to Martha's Vinyard back in mid-September, someone named "Perla" played a central role from beginning, described as "a tall, blond woman who spoke to the migrants in broken Spanish".

Recently this person was identified ("Who Is Perla? A Central Figure in Florida’s Migrant Flights Emerges", NYT 10/3/2022), leading to this tweet:

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"Long live our noble Kingn"

A story in this morning's Guardian (Alex Finnis, "National Anthem lyrics: How the words will change to God Save The King after the Queen’s death") evokes the (now generally unfair) nickname of Grauniad, spelling King as "Kingn".

I've been told that the issue behind the nickname arose because the Guardian was typeset in Manchester (where it was founded), and then the printed copies were shipped by train to London. There was typically only one edition per day, and so typographical errors could not be corrected in later editions, as they could be for London-based papers, where the edition printed in the wee hours would be superseded by editions printed at intervals throughout the day.

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