Ninja Linguistics

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EMH sent along a pointer to the 10/14/2010 Yourmometer strip:

To forestall secondary ninja incursions, let me point out that some additional background on the whole Eskimo snow words issue can be found here.  [I also need to point out that this cartoon ninja linguist, though perhaps unexpected and sometimes unwanted, is much less aggressive than the last one we featured, in "How to defend yourself from bad advice about writing", 11/01/2006.]

The Ninja Linguist seems to be a semi-regular character in Yourmometer, though usually in a more sedentary role:

IMEC22 does actually exist. My first thought was that this would be an opportunity to learn more about the history and influence of Maritime Pidgin English. But no — the conference topics are given as these:

The Papers and Activities Committee will consider all relevant proposals within the field of Maritime English but wishes to emphasise the following topics:

  • IMO requirements on Maritime English for Deck and Engineer Officers: Aspects
    of Learning/Teaching, Training Programmes
  • Cross-cultural Communication Issues on board
  • Cultural awareness and Maritime English teaching
  • IMO – SMCP and Safety at Sea Standardisation in Maritime English
  • Evaluation, assessment, and testing in Maritime English: measuring students’
    competence and performance
  • Use of modern technology in teaching and assessment
  • Sharing ideas and materials in teaching Maritime English
  • Teacher Training and the Training of Teacher Trainers
  • The development of Maritime English Courses
  • The Qualification Profile of the Maritime English Lecturer
  • Research in Maritime English: linguistic and pedagogical aspects

I'm ashamed to say that I was completely unaware of this apparently thriving area of applied linguistics.  But really, Hobbes — "ugh"?

Earlier strips illustrate or extend topics that we've covered over the years, such as the use of "Wait, what?" as a conventional double-take marker:

And I don't think that our various posts on the exegesis of "dude" have covered the pattern in the first panel of this strip:

Here's an illustration of a familiar piece of folk morphology:

And finally, a cute illustration of the phenomenon of semantic blocking, where the existence of the (unrelated) noun bowling tends to block the otherwise normal formation of a denominal verb:


  1. Nicholas Waller said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 7:06 am

    The "overall styling of food upon bringing it to the plate" is plating (or sometimes plating up), as is the more techy (and more common) "covering in which a metal is deposited on a conductive surface", and so "bowling" should indeed be fine. "Cupping" a coffee could be as well, though that suffers from meaning holding a coffee mug in cupped hands.

    Oddly, dinner-plating is (or can be) "the fracturing and breaking apart of very cold dense ice when a climber attempts to use ice screws or other tools".

  2. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » Ninja Linguistics [] on said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 7:09 am

    […] Language Log » Ninja Linguistics – view page – cached October 15, 2010 @ 6:41 am · Filed by Mark Liberman under Linguistics in the Tweets about this link […]

  3. Pflaumbaum said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 7:22 am

    What's the lexicographer-ex-machina holding? Is it some sort of broomstick, or the edge of a flying carpet, or what?

  4. Randy Hudson said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 7:36 am

    Pflaumbaum, I think that's the rope he's swinging in on.

  5. Alon Lischinsky said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 7:36 am

    @Pflaumbaum: a hanging vine, in the purest tradition of our greatest expert on non-human primate communication (pace Hauser).

  6. MattF said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 8:27 am

    Actually, coffee cupping already means something else.

  7. Mark P said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 8:38 am

    I wondered about the curving line, too. I thought maybe he was arriving on a dinner plate, which would, of course, have been plating. I think that for me the ambiguity of that drawing stems from the fact that (apparently) a non-scientist draws the strip. A swung vine would be much closer to straight with a slight backward curve due to aerodynamic drag.

  8. Kaviani said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 9:02 am

    That would be a liana, Mar Lischinsky.

  9. dan said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 9:13 am

    @MattF is coffee cupping a bit like tea bagging?

  10. Jon Weinberg said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 9:59 am

    @Pflaumbaum and others: Just to illustrate how variable individual responses can be, I see the linguist as pushing back the corner of the frame, in order to enter from outside the frame: the curved line is the pushed-back/rolled-back edge of cartoon space.

  11. gnaddrig said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    @ dan: Maybe more like spooning?

  12. Pflaumbaum said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 10:31 am

    Yeah I thought that too at first Jon, but abandoned it because of the gap at the bottom right… though why that didn't put paid to my magic carpet theory I don't know.

    The rope/liana interpretation is clearly right, it's obvious when it's pointed out. I guess it was the angle of his body that obscured it for me – clearly he has strong arms, from marking papers with one hand while… thumbing through the CGEL with the other.

  13. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 10:31 am

    I wish I had known about studies in Maritime English when I was working on my translation (Blue) of the novel Azul by Rosa Regàs. Much of the novel's action is aboard a yacht, and the narration is rife with nautical terminology. Learning it was a pain in the ass.

  14. Dan T. said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 10:41 am

    A "Pro Bowler" can be either somebody who takes up bowling on a professional basis, or an American football player who is selected for participation in the Pro Bowl game.

  15. Robert Coren said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 11:48 am

    @dan: I had the same thought, but alas, it is not, as you will see if you follow MattF's link.

  16. Yourmometer's Artist said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

    The rope isn't back-curved because I'M GODDAMN LAZY. I draw these comics five days a week because it's fun, not as a job. I have a BA in Mathematics and an MS in Computer Sciences, and I'm working on PhD research in Computer Sciences right now. I'm a scientist, I just happen to concentrate in genetics and organic chemistry algorithms rather than physics.

    BITE ME.

  17. Eli said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

    @MarkP: Actually, the artist has a BA in math, an MS in computer science and is currently doing her PhD in computer science. So I think it was more an issue of panel space than of physics. :)

  18. Yourmometer's Artist said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

    Artist is also in a bad mood this morning, apologies :-/

  19. Mark P said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

    Eli, none of those provide the physical science necessary to see the error immediately.

  20. Mark P said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

    Oops, I didn't see Yourmometer's artists comment. Nothing personal, or at least nothing intentionally personally offensive intended. It was just that to me, the curved shape seemed wrong immediately. But then even my wife doesn't really appreciate some of my comments.

  21. Pflaumbaum said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

    But they provide easily enough to get prickly when you think someone's questioning your credentials…

  22. Jonathan Badger said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

    Apparently Maritime English contains many set phrases that people are supposed to use at sea to avoid confusion among non-native speakers. However, at least one of them: "“I am fast in ice. I require assistance" seems like it could cause confusion among uneducated native speakers as "fast" meaning "stuck" seems rather literary…

  23. Rhacodactylus said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    Awesome comic, thanks for turning me on to it =)


    Side note: I'm never more nervous about the wording of my posts than on this side . . .

  24. Sili said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

    A "Pro Bowler" can be either somebody who takes up bowling on a professional basis, or an American football player who is selected for participation in the Pro Bowl game.

    Personally I'm an anti-bowler. It's not a sport.

  25. groki said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    wait, what? swinging on a vine is how a linguist makes income?

  26. Qov said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    I took the linguist to be arriving from above, though unknown means, while wielding a katana. It is the weapon of choice of avenging ninjas.

  27. William Crane said,

    October 15, 2010 @ 11:46 pm

    Drat – I am unable to link to yourmometer, I get "The website cannot display the page."

    "Drat"? Perhaps I should go to World Wide Words for the origin.

  28. dirk alan said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 12:37 am

    cops in l a drive drop tops.

  29. maidhc said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 4:38 am

    One might wish Maritime English to be about pirate dialects or Creoles. But it's really a very serious subject. English is used as an international language in aviation and navigation. So it is necessary to have a very rigid, structured version of English to avoid miscommunication among people who are generally not native English speakers. There have been some air disasters in which miscommunication was a contributing cause.

    One of my favourite books as a teenager was "The Last Grain Race" by Eric Newby. In the late 1930s, Eric signed on as a sailor on a Swedish sailing ship going to Australia to bring back a load of grain. Some Swedish companies kept square-riggers going up until WWII, so Eric was on the last one. He had to learn all the names of the sails, lines, etc. in Swedish.

    I've toured a US Navy training square-rigger, and I was very impressed with the ability of the cadets to instantly identify all the many lines that were all over the place, but to have to do it in Swedish would be an additional challenge.

    Newby's book is a good read. He's written some other books as well.

    After those Swedish square-riggers were taken out of the grain trade, they were often converted to training ships for naval cadets, so they still turn up at "Tall Ships" festivals in various places.

  30. Nick said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 10:02 am


    I also thought it was a katana.

  31. Rick S said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 11:35 am

    •Teacher Training and the Training of Teacher Trainers

    Brilliant! If they keep meta-ing they can keep these conferences going on forever!

  32. Nijma said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

    Curious terminology in the linked "How to defend yourself from bad advice about writing" piece with the aggressive ninja. What we were taught as "progressive" aspect years ago is now being called "present continuous" in most ESL literature, although I have seen one recently published text (not one approved by the district) still calling it "present progressive".

    The grammar professor in the link dies badly, I think, saying "Alas, I am slain"..isn't that a bit passive for a prescriptivist?

    And the above linguist-on-a-rope looks Tarzanish enough if you think of him still on the upswing ready to reverse direction.

  33. John Cowan said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

    Jonathan Badger: Maritime English has been around informally for a long time, and some older expressions are frozen into it; changing them to better fit current spoken English would require altering a lot of trained reflexes.

    Some bits of ME are lightly disguised French: the well-known Mayday < (venez) m'aider for life-threatening or vessel-threatening emergencies, Pan-pan < panne, panne for breakdowns and other problems short of Mayday, Sécurité for safety warnings, Seelonce < silence for radio silence (everyone except the vessel with the problem and the coast guard or other responder must stay off the channel) and Seelonce Feenee < silence fini for the end of radio silence.

  34. Tim said,

    October 16, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

    I thought the ninja linguist's rope/vine was obvious, but that might be because it immediately made me think of this.

  35. Kevin Iga said,

    October 17, 2010 @ 1:54 am

    MarkP: As for the backward drag on a swinging vine:

    It didn't occur to me that the vine should be drawn the way you describe, until you pointed it out, and I'm a mathematician, with a Ph.D in math. Furthermore, I double majored in math and physics in college, and I currently do research in mathematical physics. Note the xkcd comic linked above doesn't have it drawn the way you would have it, either. I don't think drawing vines the way the cartoonist did really pegs the person as a "non-scientist".

    Cartoon physics is much more tied to popular tropes in cartooning than really trying to model the physics. Consider that people's faces don't usually look perfectly true to form in comic strips.

    As to whether the comic reader would not see it as a vine because it is too curved and in the wrong direction, that assumes most people see people swinging on vines regularly. I, for one, have much more frequently seen someone swinging on a vine in a video game (usually over alligators or other perils) than in real life. And if memory serves, in such video games, the vines curve as drawn in the comic strip. If someone drew a comic with realistic-looking vine swinging, I would predict it would look *less* realistic to me, because of that experience.

    I will agree that a larger gap between the end of the rope and the edge of the comic frame would have been a bit more helpful. But the size constraints of the strip make that hard to implement.

    Qov: Ninjas don't use katanas–they are not samurai and thus were not allowed to carry one. In Ninja movies, they use a Ninjato (a made-up wakizashi-like weapon invented for the ninja movie genre):
    (Real ninjas in feudal Japan probably didn't use swords at all, but we're talking about tropes here.)

  36. xyzzyva said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

    Apparently I was the only one who took "Maritime English" to refer to the accent of the Canadian Maritime provinces. Trying to place the "Alexandria" in question gave pause to this interpretation ("Alexandria? The one in Lousiana, because of the 'Cajuns? Wait, no…")

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