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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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Scripts at risk

Andrea Valentino has an intriguing article in BBC Future (1/21/20):  "The alphabets at risk of extinction:   It isn’t just languages that are endangered: dozens of alphabets around the world are at risk. And they could have even more to tell us." Usually, when we worry about languages going extinct, we are thinking about their spoken […]

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Grue and bleen: the blue-green distinction and its implications

When I started to learn Mandarin more than half a century ago, it was easy for me to master lán 蓝/ 藍 ("blue") and lǜ 绿 / 綠 ("green").  But as I became better acquainted with Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, I was troubled by the word qīng 青, which seemed to straddle and include […]

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Military slang

On a large discussion list, I said something that involved a lot of close, careful reasoning and marshalling of evidence to come to a precise conclusion, and another member of the list approved what I wrote with a hearty "Shack!" I was dumbfounded.

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"Hypersynonymy" in MLE?

Robert Booth, "'Ching, wap, ox': slang interpreters decipher texts for court evidence", The Guardian 3/29/2019: Do you know your “tum-tum” from your “ching” and your “corn” from your “gwop” (gun, knife, ammunition and money)? Neither do police and prosecutors, who have begun consulting a linguistics professor to help decipher urban slang and drill lyrics used […]

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"Dear subscribed"

This morning's email brought a notice from Le Monde, to which I apparently subscribe: Two things struck me about the salutation "Chère abonnée, cher abonné". The more obvious and less interesting one is that Le Monde is obviously not on board with "Écriture inclusive". The second, less topical thing: the English word "subscriber" implies that […]

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On pronoun typology and economic measures

Below is a guest post by Bob Kennedy. This post is adapted from a letter I wrote to the editors of the journal Kyklos, in response to the recent publication of “Do Linguistic Structures Affect Human Capital? The Case of Pronoun Drop”, by Prof Horst Feldmann of the University of Bath.

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Lexical orientation

In "Lexico-Cultural Decay", 10/9/2018, I examined Jonathan Merritt's Google-ngram-based argument that "traditional sacred speech is dying in the English-speaking world" ("The Death of Sacred Speech", The Week 9/10/2018). Today, as promised in that post, I'm returning to his neo-Whorfian conclusion: Now, words have fallen out of usage at every point in history. Language is always changing, […]

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Lexico-cultural decay?

Jonathan Merritt, "The Death of Sacred Speech", The Week 9/10/2018: America boasts more Christians than any other country on planet Earth. But you wouldn't know it from listening to us. According to Google Ngram Viewer data, a searchable database of millions of printed works stretching back 500 years, most of the central terms in the […]

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The Bureau of Linguistical Reality

No, The Bureau of Linguistical Reality is not something dreamed up by Borges, or the Firesign Theatre. It actually exists, or at least it exists in the same state of electronic virtual actuality as Language Log, YouTube, and the Wayback Machine. The Bureau of Linguistical Reality was established on October 28, 2014 for the purpose […]

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No word for dead umbrellas?

Yesterday in Philadelphia we had very strong winds and what the weather people call a "wintry mix", so (along with some big downed trees) there were lots of people holding on to umbrellas turned inside out and partly stripped of their fabric, and lots of wrecked umbrellas discarded along the sidewalks and stuffed into trash […]

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Écriture inclusive

In English, singular personal pronouns are almost the only residue of morphological gender. But in many languages this is a much bigger problem, with gender agreement in adjectives, gendered forms of most nouns, and so on. A few years ago, French proponents of "écriture inclusive" ("inclusive writing") proposed a novel use of an otherwise little-used […]

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Rescued debate

Yesterday Sharon Klein wrote to ask about the 2010 debate on Language and Thought hosted by The Economist: Some colleagues in other departments (notably in philosophy) have been asking to talk about the hypothesis, linguistic relativism, and the actual research around the issues. While I can (and have begun to) collect relevant papers for a […]

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