Archive for Linguistics in the comics

Linguistic Laws

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Named anatomy

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "If an anatomical structure is named for a person, it means they were the only person to have it. Pierre Paul Broca had a special area of his brain that created powerful magnetic fields, enabling him to do 19th century fMRI research."

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It's "Hammie", not "Ammie"

"Baby Blues" by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott for January 16, 2023:


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Social media substitutions

Brian McFadden's recent comic on "Social Media Substitutes" starts with this panel:

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Following up on "Words: Too many? Too few?", T-Rex is discussing lexical issues again:

Mousover title: "as the French say – or will soon say if they know what's good for them – c'est TRES yally-teep."

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A B C (D E)

Today's xkcd:


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Words: Too many? Too few?

In Dinosaur Comics for 10/17/2022, T-Rex seems to encounter a lexicographical problem:

Mouseover title: "i'll be communicating entirely through glances and MAYBE raised eyebrows from now on"

Archive description: "words were a mistake, an error, a blunder, a blooper, a fault, a folly, a gaffe, an oversight, a misjudgment, a slip-up, a mix-up, a trip-up, a series of errata,"

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Eye Dialectsk

The term "eye dialect" has come to cover a range of non-standard spellings. At one end, we have a non-standard representation of a totally standard pronunciation, like "wuz" for "was" — and that's how the phrase's inventor, George Philip Krapp, meant "eye dialect" to be used:

The impression of popular speech is easily produced by a sprinkling of such forms as ain't, for isn't, done for did, them for those, and similar grammatical improprieties. This impression is often assisted by what may be termed "eye dialect," in which the convention violated is one of the eye, not the ear. Thus a dialect writer often spells a word like front as frunt, or face as fase, or picture as pictsher, not because he intends to indicate here a genuine difference of pronunciation, but the spelling is merely a friendly nudge to the reader, a knowing look which establishes a sympathetic sense of superiority between the author and reader as contrasted with the humble speaker of dialect.

It's natural to extend the phrase to cover representations of contextual reductions that are also entirely standard, like "ta" for "to" in a phrase like "went ta town", representing the pronunciation [tə]. American, at least, would always say it that way — it would be weird to say [wɛnt tu tɐʊn], unless some special context motivated that hyperarticulation.

And there's a further common extension, to things like "oi" or "ah" for "I" — regional, ethic, or class pronunciations.

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Plain Language

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A new way to resolve paradoxes

Today's SMBC starts with this Q&A about (a version of) the Liar Paradox:

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Lingthusiasm interviews Randall Munroe

Episode 72 of Gretchen McCulloch's Lingthusiasm podcast is "What If Linguistics – Absurd hypothetical questions with Randall Munroe of xkcd":

What’s the “it’s” in “it’s three pm and hot”? How do you write a cough in the International Phonetic Alphabet? Who is the person most likely to speak similarly to a randomly-selected North American English speaker?

In this episode, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne get enthusiastic about absurd hypothetical linguistic questions with special guest Randall Munroe, creator of the webcomic xkcd and author of What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. We only wish that there was a little more linguistics in the book. So Randall came on to fill the gap with all his most ridiculous linguistics questions! One of our unresolved questions that we can merely speculate about is our predictions for what the future of English might be like. Are you listening to this episode from more than two decades in the future? Please write in from 2042 or later and let us know how accurate we’ve been!


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Linguists' Babel myth?

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"Happy as a sandboy"

TIL a new word — well, a new compound: sandboy. And an associated collocation, "happy as a sandboy".

The source was today's Bad Machinery, which includes the panel on the right.

The author, John Allison, notes that

I got nervous after making this comic that “happy as a sandboy” is racist, but apparently a sandboy was a youth paid to collect dry sand from coastal caves to spread on saloon bar floors. I know. Dodged a bullet there.

The comments include a link to an attempted explanation in The Guardian, "What is a sandboy and why are they happy?" — but as usual, there's more to the story.

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