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Non-Whorfian linguistic determinism

I've been reading David Laitin's Politics, Language and Thought: The Somali Experience, which discusses a kind of linguistic determinism that (in my opinion) hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.  So in keeping with my third annual New Year's resolution to emphasize positive blogging about linguistic issues, I'm going to tell you about some fascinating 35-year-old […]

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Reverse Whorfianism and the value of SHAs

Yesterday's Zits: For a teenage boy, according to this joke, the idea of cleaning up his own messes is so alien that learning to understand its expression in simple English is part of learning a foreign language. I suspect that the stereotype is at least somewhat unfair, in terms of age as well as sex; […]

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Military Whorfianism

Like most people to the left of Genghis Khan, I find much of what appears on Michelle Malkin's blog rather strange, but Mojave Mike left a comment today that is really remarkable: All the good armies of the world speak English. I’m serious. Think about it. It doesn’t surprise me that the taliban can’t maneuver […]

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Charlie Chaplin in French class

In addition to a proto-regular-expression for English monosyllables, Benjamin Lee Whorf's 12/1940 Technology Review article has a weird diagram showing how a linguist (?) would organize French language instruction along the lines of mid-20th-century factory work:

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Theosophical racism

Today's SMBC: Those first four panels resonated with my recent experience skimming Helena Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. Vol II — Anthropogensis (1888). I learned of Blavatsky's existence due to the restaurant located in her former residence, and my sense of her influence in Philadelphia was reinforced by years […]

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How language shapes the way we think and speak

An eloquent cri de coeur: How Can China’s People Demand Freedom if We Can’t Even Say It? Mengyin Lin, NYT (Feb. 10, 2023) Notice that she speaks in the first person plural and has some very thought-provoking things to say about the recent Chinese protests in favor of freedom, such as: The demonstrations are best […]

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Useless as a soup sandwich

jin defang asked:  New expression, or at least new to me: soup sandwich.  All that meant to me was an option at Panera, which didn’t fit the context. So I asked the last person who used it, Fred, and this is his reply.  (I also didn’t know what FUBAR meant but that was on google). […]

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Parts of the body — back and waist; slicing up reality

The word for "back" in Mandarin is bèi 背, the word for "waist" is yāo 腰.  But nearly all of my Chinese students and friends, including the most learned, get the English words mixed up.  They will say "My waist aches" when they mean "My back aches" and "Don't break your waist" when they mean […]

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Channel(ing) surfing

Dan Piraro, "Changing Channels", Bizarro Blog 12/12/2021:

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English as a prestige language in Taiwan

The focus of this post is the expression lào yīngwén, where the yīngwén part is written 英文 in characters and means "English".  The lào part is much more complicated, as is typical when it comes to writing Taiwanese morphemes with Chinese characters.  The Taiwanese verb "làu" means to master something.  When used with reference to […]

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Interview with Charles Yang

Charles Yang* is perhaps best known for the development of the Tolerance Principle, a way to quantify and predict (given some input) whether a rule will become productive. He is currently Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, where he collaborates with various researchers around the world to test and extend the Tolerance Principle […]

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Party game

Today's SMBC: Mouseover text: "I actually only made this so nobody will ever invite me to a party again."

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Lexical display rates in novels

In some on-going research on linguistic features relating to clinical diagnosis and tracking, we've been looking at "lexical diversity". It's easy to measure the rate of vocabulary display — you can just use a type-token graph, which shows the count of distinct words ("types") against the count of total words ("tokens"). It's less obvious how […]

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