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When intonation overrides tone, part 4

Some folks think that intonation never overrides tones, but I'm convinced on the basis of empirical evidence that it does. For example: Nǐ xiǎng gàn hā 你想干哈 –> Nǐ xiǎng gàn há 你想干哈 ("what do you want to do?") — especially in the Northeast. Here are some other examples — all of them provided by […]

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Central government control over words for grandmother

Recently there was quite a ruckus over the correct word to be used for "maternal grandmother" in second-graders' textbooks in Shanghai: "Much Ado About Grandma: Textbook Change Sparks Linguistic Debate:  Critics call ‘waipo’ to ‘laolao’ change ‘cultural hegemony’ from the north", Kenrick Davis, Sixth Tone (6/22/18) "A debate over the word for ‘grandmother’ in China […]

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Linguists and change

In recent years, a rapid and important cultural change in the understanding of gender has been taking place in American society and beyond. A Harris poll from this year, reported in a Time Magazine cover story, found that “20% of millennials say they are something other than strictly straight and cisgender, compared to 7% of […]

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Evangelical over/under

Ross Douthat, "Is There an Evangelical Crisis?", NYT 11/25/2017 (emphasis added): But it’s also possible that evangelical intellectuals and writers, and their friends in other Christian traditions, have overestimated how much a serious theology has ever mattered to evangelicalism’s sociological success. It could be that the Trump-era crisis of the evangelical mind is a parochial […]

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Has the style book changed?

Reading Remy Tumin's article today discussing Stephen Colbert's guest appearance in Michael Moore's Broadway play ("Stephen Colbert Uses Profanity to Describe President Trump’s ‘Soul’", NYT 10/5/2017), I was struck by this passage: “Trump keeps summoning monsters of abstraction — things that aren’t real — they’re extensions of the ordinary, fears that you have that he […]

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On the short periods of Trumpian time

On Friday, at a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Donald Trump begrudgingly took questions from Jon Karl of ABC News. Karl asked whether there are indeed recordings of Trump's conversations with former FBI director James Comey, as Trump once suggested on Twitter. Here is how he replied (emphasis mine): KARL: And you […]

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Court fight over Oxford commas and asyndetic lists

Language Log often weighs in when courts try to nail down the meaning of a statute. Laws are written in natural language—though one might long, by formalization, to end the thousand natural ambiguities that text is heir to—and thus judges are forced to play linguist. Happily, this week's "case in the news" is one where the lawyers managed to […]

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Language Log literally changes your brain

Emily Hopkins, Deena Weisberg, and Jordan Taylor, "The seductive allure is a reductive allure: People prefer scientific explanations that contain logically irrelevant reductive information", Cognition 2016: Previous work has found that people feel significantly more satisfied with explanations of psychological phenomena when those explanations contain neuroscience information — even when this information is entirely irrelevant to the […]

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Japan: crazy over portmanteaux

No matter where I go these days, I hear young people shouting to their friends, "I'm playing Pokémon Go", which they pronounce "pokey-mon go".  It would be an understatement to say that, for the past few weeks, Pokémon Go has been a veritable craze.  Yet most people who play the game probably do not realize […]

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The mysterious Interchange Level

Arriving at the London Underground subway station deep below King's Cross railway station, the main London terminal for trains to Edinburgh using the East Coast main line. I'm lugging a heavy wheeled bag, and there are flights of ordinary stairs as well as escalators, so I take the passenger elevator upward. Several of us crowd […]

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Chinese proverbs

A frequent topic of our Language Log posts has been about how best to learn Chinese, e.g.: "How to learn to read Chinese " (5/25/08) "How to learn Chinese and Japanese " (2/17/14) "The future of Chinese language learning is now " (4/5/14) Two things I have stressed:  1. take advantage of properly parsed Pinyin […]

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Character building is costly and time consuming

I would like to call the attention of Language Log readers to an extraordinary article by Nikhil Sonnad: "The long, incredibly tortuous, and fascinating process of creating a Chinese font " (Quartz, 12/18/15) I knew that Nikhil was writing this article, because I helped him with the part about the historical development of the script […]

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George Will discovers the idea of "facts"

The news recently has been full of the debate between George F. Will and Bill O'Reilly. This started because of O'Reilly's book Killing Reagan, whose central premise is that the unsuccessful 1981 assassination attempt was, in a deeper sense, successful. Will explains why this premise is important ("Bill O’Reilly makes a mess of history", Washington Post 10/10/2015): The […]

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