Linguistic evidence for migration to the Americas from Siberia

1st Americans came over in 4 different waves from Siberia, linguist argues:  The languages of the earliest Americans evolved in 4 waves, according to one expert.

By Kristina Killgrove, Live Science (May 3, 2024)

Killgrove reports:

Indigenous people entered North America at least four times between 12,000 and 24,000 years ago, bringing their languages with them, a new linguistic model indicates. The model correlates with archaeological, climatological and genetic data, supporting the idea that populations in early North America were dynamic and diverse.

Nearly half of the world's language families are found in the Americas. Although many of them are now thought extinct, historical linguistics analysis can survey and compare living languages and trace them back in time to better understand the groups that first populated the continent.

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One more for the "passive voice" files

There have been many LLOG posts on misuse of the term "passive voice", going back to 2003. As far as I can tell, the most recent post was "'Is it the passive voice you don't like?'", 8/11/2021.

In "'Passive Voice' — 1397-2009 — R.I.P", I wrote that

the traditional sense of passive voice has died after a long illness. It has ceased to be; it's expired and gone to meet its maker, kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. It's an ex-grammatical term.

Its ghost walks in the linguistics literature and in the usage of a few exceptionally old-fashioned intellectuals. For everyone else, what passive voice now means is "construction that is vague as to agency".

Today, Ambarish Sridharanarayanan sent me a link to a piece of writing that illustrates the issue perfectly:

The press release makes heroic use of the passive voice to obscure the actors: “an unprecedented sequence of events whereby an inadvertent misconfiguration during provisioning of UniSuper’s Private Cloud services ultimately resulted in the deletion of UniSuper’s Private Cloud subscription.”


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Retraction watch: Irish roots of "french fries"?

It's been a while since we had a post in the Prescriptivist Poppycock category. This example is more a case of badly-researched etymology, but we'll take what we can get, courtesy of Florent Moncomble, who writes:

In the May update of the prescriptive « Dire, ne pas dire » section of their website, in a post condemning « carottes fries » (for « carottes frites », as the past participle should go), they contend that the ‘French’ of ‘French fries’ has nothing to do with France but comes from an ‘Old Irish verb’ meaning ‘to mince’.

Sensing that that was absolute nonsense, I debunked the assertion on X in a thread that you can find here.

Specialists in Old Irish on X have joined in my (to remain polite) bemusement. Evidently the Immortels trusted the first page of a Google search and did not bother to actually fact-check this (apparently popular) myth. These are the people, paid with tax money, who we trust the official dictionary of the French language with.

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Peevable words and phrases: journey

They mostly start out clever, cute, and catchy:  e.g., "curated".  The problem is that they soon go viral, and then just never go away, even after they have become banal and overused, as with "perfect storm":

I'm campaigning to have "perfect storm" added to peeve polls in the future. As in "at the end of the day it was a perfect storm." It's not unheard of for a book title to turn into a catch[22]phrase, and maybe perfect storm will become a permanent part of the language, but it smacks of fad to me. I feel like I hear it at least three times a week in NPR interviews.

[Comment by Dick Margulis to "'Annoying word' poll results: Whatever!" (10/9/09)]

That was 2009, but "perfect storm" is still with us, and so is "curated", which begins to appear with increasing frequency in the early 70s and really takes off in the 80s.

Now we're facing a veritable onslaught from "journey":

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Political bias in economics

Zubin Jelveh, Bruce Kogut, and Suresh Naidu, "Political language in economics", The Economic Journal:

Abstract: Does academic writing in economics reflect the political orientation of economists? We use machine learning to measure partisanship in academic economics articles. We predict observed political behavior of a subset of economists using the phrases from their academic articles, show good out-of-sample predictive accuracy, and then predict partisanship for all economists. We then use these predictions to examine patterns of political language in economics. We estimate journal-specific effects on predicted ideology, controlling for author and year fixed effects, that accord with existing survey-based measures. We show considerable sorting of economists into fields of research by predicted partisanship. We also show that partisanship is detectable even within fields, even across those estimating the same theoretical parameter. Using policy-relevant parameters collected from previous meta-analyses, we then show that imputed partisanship is correlated with estimated parameters, such that the implied policy prescription is consistent with partisan leaning. For example, we find that going from the most left-wing authored estimate of the taxable top income elasticity to the most right-wing authored estimate decreases the optimal tax rate from 84% to 58%.

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Nonword literacy

Upon first hearing, the very idea sounded preposterous, but when I searched the internet, I found it all over the place as "nonword reading / repetition", "nonsense words", "non word phonics / fluency", "non-word decoding", "pseudowords", etc.  In other words (!), it's a real thing, and lots of people take the concept seriously as a supposedly useful device in reading theory and practice, justifying it thus:

"as a tool to assess phonetic decoding ability" (here)

"contribute to children's ability to learn new words"  (here)

"a true indicator of the alphabetic principle and basic phonics" (here)

etc., etc., etc.

I would not have taken the topic of nonwords seriously and posted on it, had not AntC pointed out that it is actually being applied in the classroom in New Zealand.

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Brown Revisited

A couple of months ago, I told you about a project to recreate the Supreme Court oral arguments associated with Brown v. Board of Education ("Spontaneous SCOTUS", 3/2/2024):

Years ago, Jerry Goldman (then at Northwestern) created the website as

 a multimedia archive devoted to making the Supreme Court of the United States accessible to everyone. It is the most complete and authoritative source for all of the Court’s audio since the installation of a recording system in October 1955. Oyez offers transcript-synchronized and searchable audio, plain-English case summaries, illustrated decision information, and full-text Supreme Court opinions

He rescued decades of tapes and transcripts from the National Archives, digitized and improved them, and arranged the website's interactive presentations of the available recordings. Jiahong Yuan and I played a role, by devising and validating a program to identify which justice was speaking when (See "Speaker Identification on the Scotus Corpus", 2008).

More recently, Jerry has inspired an effort to recreate oral arguments from famous cases that took place before the recording system was installed, starting with Brown v. Board of Education. Rejecting the idea of producing "deep fakes" using the existing transcripts and extant recordings of the justices involved, he and his colleagues decided to create what we might call "shallow fakes", where actors will perform (selections from) the transcripts, and a voice morphing system will then be used to make their recordings sound like the target speakers. The recreated clips will be embedded in explanatory material.

All the scripts have been written, and in a few months, you'll be able to hear the results — which I expect will be terrific.

And here it is, at!

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Aspects of Maltese linguistics

[Full disclosure:  the reason I am so consumed by the Arabic vernaculars is because of their own inherent, intrinsic nature, but I must confess that I'm also preoccupied by their comparative parallelism with the Sinitic "topolects".  The workings of both are extremely difficult to comprehend.]

This post is to follow up on VHM's "Arabic and the vernaculars, part 6" (5/12/24) and Mark's "Maltese Arabic: Correction?" (5/13/24), plus J.W. Brewer's excellent first comment to the latter.

Mark ends his post thus:  "…it seems entirely wrong to exclude Maltese from a taxonomy of Arabic 'colloquials' or 'vernaculars' (i.e. Arabic languages), purely on the grounds of its borrowings from Italian."  I would not want to do that.

To provide for a more nuanced evaluation of the position of Maltese vis-à-vis the Arabic vernaculars, below I cite several scholarly accounts of the subject and related issues.  Extensive coverage of the history of the languages on Malta is provided.


Maltese language, Semitic language of the Southern Central group spoken on the island of Malta. Maltese developed from a dialect of Arabic and is closely related to the western Arabic dialects of Algeria and Tunisia. Strongly influenced by the Sicilian language (spoken in Sicily), Maltese is the only form of Arabic to be written in the Latin alphabet."

That's the bare bones.  As we shall find in the following paragraphs, the complexities of Maltese are far greater than can be told in such a capsule description.

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Fake science journals

Parse that however you wish, we're plagued with them.

On an average day, I receive solicitations to write papers from them three or four times.  Sometimes they offer me editorships or guest editorships for designated issues.  Sometimes (but not often) they offer me money.  All such e-mails immediately go in the trash, but they leave a bad taste and are unsettling.

What's really bad now is that, whereas they used to come from places I had never heard of, now the fake science sickness has infected some of our mainstream publishing  houses.

"Flood of Fake Science Forces Multiple Journal Closures:
Wiley to shutter 19 more journals, some tainted by fraud"
By Nidhi Subbaraman, WSJ (May 14, 2024)

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An assessment of AI in China

For those who are interested in the development of AI in the PRC, the following article is probably the most complete and forthcoming report on the state of the field.  Drawbacks are that is excessively lengthy and machine translated, with some parts awkward or difficult to understand.

Where Does China Stand in the AI Wave?
China’s top policy experts discuss the US-China gap, open vs. closed, and societal implications.

Nicholas Welch, ChinaTalk (May 10, 2024)

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Ellen Gutoskey, "15 Fascinating Linguistics Terms You Didn't Learn in School", Mental Floss 5/10/2024:

Grade school English teachers do their best to send you off into the world with at least a cursory understanding of how language works. Maybe you can tell your dependent clauses from your independent ones and your transitive verbs from your intransitive ones. Maybe you’re even pretty savvy at distinguishing between basic rhetorical devices—hyperbole versus oxymoron, simile versus metaphor, and that sort of thing.

But unless you majored in linguistics in college or routinely spend your free time reading grammar blogs, there’s a whole world of words to describe language mechanics that you’re probably not aware of. Here are 15 of our favorites, from formal terms like amphiboly to colloquial ones like snowclone.

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Maltese Arabic: Correction?

In Victor's recent post "Arabic and the vernaculars, part 6", he wrote that "I do not include Maltese because of the Romance superstrata". A more elaborate version of this idea can be found in the Wikipedia article, which tells us that

Maltese […] is a Semitic language derived from late medieval Sicilian Arabic with Romance superstrata spoken by the Maltese people. […] Maltese is a Latinized variety of spoken historical Arabic through its descent from Siculo-Arabic, which developed as a Maghrebi Arabic dialect in the Emirate of Sicily between 831 and 1091. As a result of the Norman invasion of Malta and the subsequent re-Christianization of the islands, Maltese evolved independently of Classical Arabic in a gradual process of latinization. It is therefore exceptional as a variety of historical Arabic that has no diglossic relationship with Classical or Modern Standard Arabic. Maltese is thus classified separately from the 30 varieties constituting the modern Arabic macrolanguage.

Both Victor and Wikipedia are somewhat wrong, or at least misleading — and my main evidence for this is an amusing anecdote. So onwards…

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Language Log has been fortunate to have had several guest posts and numerous comments by Douglas Adams, doyen of Tocharian studies in America (see "Selected readings" for a sampling).  Now, stimulated by the recent post on Chinese chariotry, he has written the following ruminations in response.

I read with interest the material on early Chinese chariotry.  It was far outside my competence to judge.  As you knew, I was most interested in the comment that was looking to the possibility of Tocharian > Chinese lexical borrowings.  As you also know, it has long been my suspicion that there was more west > east influence on Chinese language and culture than is generally realized.  And the "westerners" involved were most likely to have been Tocharians of one sort or another ("Tocharian D"?).  It's probably not only PIE pigs and honey that, via Tocharian, show up in Chinese.

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