Archive for Language and culture

Hummed "I don't know"

Following up on yesterday's "Dinosaur Intonation" post, here's Ryan North performing four repetitions of the contour featured in his comic:

His comment: "I fear I may have over estimated how universal it is but it's common here in Southern Ontario and I've never encountered anyone in my travels who didn't recognize it, or at least who couldn't figure it out from context and then asked me about it. I'm really curious to see the results of this survey!"

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Fixing wooder

"Mio Liquid Water Enhancer Taps Into the Philadelphian Accent with 'We Fix Wooder'", Creative News 7/5/2021:

With the HBO hit 'Mare of Eastown' bringing a ton of national attention to the Philadelphian (or “Philly”) accent, most notable in the series was the pronunciation of the word “water”.

So, for this year’s Independence Day, Mio Liquid Water Enhancer (part of the KraftHeinz Company) wants to celebrate the freedom to pronounce water as “wooder” just as Philly’s do – in the birthplace of liberty, Philadelphia nonetheless.

Mio’s brand promise is 'We fix Waterr', but now, it will be 'We Fix Wooder'.

All copy for this campaign is written in true “Philly speak”, to celebrate all things Philadelphia and “wooder”, from the front the Schuylkill River, to hoagies, to “the Shore”, to the use of the multi-functional word “jawn”.

I don't normally read advertising journals, but I looked up "We fix wooder" because of seeing this billboard around Philly:


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Chanson profonde

(For more, see sandraboynton.com…)

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Ashkenazi and Scythians

It is not my intention to stir up a firestorm, but I have for decades suspected that the names "Ashkenazi" and "Scythian" are related.  Now, after having sat on this for years and letting it gnaw away at my inwyt for far too long, I've decided to seek the collected expertise of the Language Log readership to see if there really is something to my suspicion.

Ashkenazi Jews (/ˌæʃ-, ɑːʃkəˈnɑːzi/ ASH-, AHSH-kə-NAH-zee), also known as Ashkenazic Jews or, by using the Hebrew plural suffix -im, Ashkenazim[a] are a Jewish diaspora population who coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the first millennium.

The traditional diaspora language of Ashkenazi Jews is Yiddish (a Germanic language with elements of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic languages), developed after they had moved into northern Europe: beginning with Germany and France in the Middle Ages. For centuries they used Hebrew only as a sacred language, until the revival of Hebrew as a common language in 20th century's Israel. Throughout their time in Europe, Ashkenazim have made many important contributions to its philosophy, scholarship, literature, art, music and science.

The term "Ashkenazi" refers to Jewish settlers who established communities along the Rhine river in Western Germany and in Northern France dating to the Middle Ages. Once there, they adapted traditions carried from Babylon, the Holy Land, and the Western Mediterranean to their new environment.  The Ashkenazi religious rite developed in cities such as Mainz, Worms, and Troyes. The eminent French Rishon Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (Rashi) would have a significant influence on the Jewish religion.

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Which Murphy?

Wikipedia defines Murphy's Law as an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong", and documents an origin story crediting Edward R. Murphy, whose article explains that

Following the end of hostilities, in 1947 Murphy attended the United States Air Force Institute of Technology, becoming R&D Officer at the Wright Air Development Center of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It was while here that he became involved in the high-speed rocket sled experiments (USAF project MX981, 1949) which led to the coining of Murphy's law.

But in the same box of papers containing Sally Thomason's artwork from 2001 ("Interfaces and Interactions", 7/7/2021), I found a copy of a paper by William R. Bennett Jr., under the title "Sigsaly", which gives a different origin story.

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Gender-inclusive French

An unusual article on language in Foreign Policy:

"Aux Armes, Citoyen·nes!  Gender-neutral terms have sparked an explosive battle over the future of the French language," by Karina Piser (7/4/21)

The article is long and detailed.  Here I try to quote only the most important and telling points.

In early May, France’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced a ban on the use in schools of an increasingly common—and contested—writing method designed to make the French language more gender-inclusive.

Specifically, Blanquer’s decree focuses on the final letter “e,” which is used to feminize words in French—étudiant, for example, becomes étudiante when referring to a female student. Like many other languages, French is gendered: Pronouns, nouns, verbs, and adjectives reflect the gender of the object or person they refer to; there is no gender-neutral term like “they.” Most critically, say the proponents of the inclusive method, the masculine always takes precedence over the feminine—if there’s a group of 10 women and one man, a French speaker would still refer to the group in the masculine plural, ils.

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"Lying flat" and "Buddha whatever" (part 2)

A week or so ago, we looked at the phenomenon of "lying flat" (see under "Selected readings" below).

Karen Yang writes from China:

Hahahahha, tang ping ["lying flat"] was kind of a hot topic last month, for about one week. Maybe it’s because the College Entrance Exam was on-going, people tended to talk about life attitude such as tang ping or work hard. But you know how fast the Internet in China moves on,  so I wouldn’t say tang ping is a significant movement.

On the other hand, foxi (佛系) is a rather more frequently used word similar to tang ping. Basically it describes that young generations in East Asia, especially in Japan, tend to be indifferent or even negative about money, promotion, marriage, raising kids and so on, just like a Buddha. It’s an attitude in response to the heavy pressure brought by social development. 

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The vocabulary of traditional Chinese thought and culture

I recently got hold of an electronic copy of this book:

Zhōngguó chuántǒng wénhuà guānjiàn cí (Hàn Yīng duìzhào) 中国传统文化关键词(汉英对照) (Key Terms of Traditional Chinese Culture / Key Concepts in Chinese Culture [original English title] [Chinese-English])

Beijing:  Wàiyǔ jiàoxué yǔ yánjiū chūbǎn shè 2019 外语教学与研究出版社 2019 (Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 2019)

Here is a one-drive link to the whole book.

It has been scanned by OCR, so the entire contents can be searched by simplified Chinese characters, but accuracy is not guaranteed.

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Signs and wonders

From a Reliable Source:

I thought you might enjoy this as yet officially unreported dispute about a sign being posted in Phil.  The sign originally said, "Boxer's Trail," because Joe Frazier famously ran along it to train, and later Ali ran on it once to psyche out Joe (Ali worked out in Overbrook, apparently).  Someone or other complained that more than one boxer had used the trail, and so they had to move the apostrophe.  Meanwhile, people are arguing about whether the trail should be dedicated to Frazier, or to all boxers. And then someone of course had to throw in a question about whether any of the boxers had boxers (dogs) and if then it should say boxers' boxers trail or boxer's boxers trail, and so on.

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How and why some insects sing

I was going to title this post "Insect vocalisms", but thought better of it, because I didn't want anyone to think I was claiming any kind of linguistic quality for the mind-boggling acoustic phenomenon that I witnessed on Saturday.  Though what I heard was not language in any way, shape, or form, it did impart an overwhelming message.

I was on a long run in the mountains of western Pennsylvania.  I started out from Breezewood and headed for Bedford along Route 30 (Lincoln Highway).  As I ran happily at a comfortable clip, I was puzzled by a shrill ringing noise that accompanied me all the way.  I couldn't tell where the loud, high-pitched sound was coming from.  For awhile I thought it might be some mining operation underground, but I soon dismissed that theory because it lasted too long and I seemed to be enveloped in the noise.  All around me were forests and woods, and the constant ringing seemed to be emanating from them.

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"This massive monster of incomprehensibility"

Atul Gawande, "Why doctors hate their computers", 11/5/2018, underlines the often-noted difficulty of working with badly-designed software:

I’ve come to feel that a system that promised to increase my mastery over my work has, instead, increased my work’s mastery over me. I’m not the only one. A 2016 study found that physicians spent about two hours doing computer work for every hour spent face to face with a patient—whatever the brand of medical software. In the examination room, physicians devoted half of their patient time facing the screen to do electronic tasks. And these tasks were spilling over after hours. 

But the most interesting part of the article, at least for me, was the discussion of reading the  records rather than writing them.

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"They are a prophet"

From Geoff Pullum's 10/21/2004 LLOG post:

My student Nick Reynolds reports on a beautiful example of singular they found in an exchange of graffiti. Someone had scrawled this on the wall:

Vote Arnold 4 prez

— recommending a vote for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as President of the United States. Someone else, mindful perhaps of Schwarzenegger's ineligibility for that post, had scrawled something obscene below it about the first writer's ignorance. But a third person, mindful of how the future may resemble the world of the Terminator movies in which our governor had his greatest movie successes, added this response:

This person is not ignorant.
They are a prophet.
The machines will rule us.

From a 4/27/2021 Penn State Faculty Senate resolution on "Removal of Gendered & Binary Terms from Course and Program Descriptions", about how to "[m]ove away from the use of gendered pronouns when referring to students, faculty, staff, and guests in course descriptions and degree programs":

Replace he/him/his and she/her/hers with they/them/theirs

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Sinitic spelling: winter melon and bean curd

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