Miracles of Human Language

Below is a guest post by Marc van Oostendorp, who will be teaching "Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics" on Coursera, 3/30/2015-5/10/2015.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)


Lexical bling: Vocabulary display and social status

A visitor from another galaxy, or perhaps just from another century, would notice that civilized people these days are obsessed with the rate of vocabulary display as a symbol of social status.  The latest symptom of this obsession is Matt Daniels, "The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop", May 2014:

Literary elites love to rep Shakespeare’s vocabulary: across his entire corpus, he uses 28,829 words, suggesting he knew over 100,000 words and arguably had the largest vocabulary, ever.  

I decided to compare this data point against the most famous artists in hip hop. I used each artist’s first 35,000 lyrics. That way, prolific artists, such as Jay-Z, could be compared to newer artists, such as Drake.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)


Gotta catch 'em all

Don Seiffert, "Is it a drug, or is it a Pokemon?", bioflash 11/18/2014:

It was while trying to straighten up my 10-year-old son's room that I hit upon the answer to the age-old question of where do they come up with the names of new drugs.

The answer: It's got to be the same people who come up with the names of new Pokemon characters.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)


Don't even know the rules of their own language

Bob Ladd points out that a commenter ("RobbieLePop") on a Guardian article about Prince Charles (the opinionated prince who is destined to inherit the throne under Britain's hereditary monarchical and theocratic system of government) said this:

The moment the Monarchy, with he at its head, begins a campaign of public influence is the moment the Monarchy should be disbanded.

With he at its head ? Let's face it, the traditionally accepted rules for case-marking pronouns in English are simply a mystery to many speakers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off


A tiny, delicate thesaurus

The latest Frazz:

Comments (1)


Mirai

That's another Japanese word that you'll be learning. Here's why:


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (59)


The Insular Islands

The most recent xkcd has the mouseover title

I just learned about the Slide Mountain Ocean, which I like because it's three nouns that sound like they can't possibly all refer to the same thing.

But it gets better — the extended Slide Mountain Ocean story line, known as the Omineca Episode,  includes the Bridge River Ocean, the Intermontane Superterrane, and my personal favorite, the Insular Islands (which star in the next chapter, the Coast Range Episode).

Comments (4)


Clause attachment ambiguity

The newspaper headline interpretation confusion problem is usually associated with noun piles: "Coin change 'skin problem fear'", ""Ben Douglas Bafta race row hairdresser James Brown 'sorry'", "China Ferrari sex orgy death crash", and so on.

But here's one that depends on ambiguity in the attachment of a pile-up of three headline-final subordinate clauses — Richard Spillett, "Family's agony over when to tell mother her premature babies died while she was in a coma after she woke up", Daily Mail 11/18/2014.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)


The chick(en) says ko-ko-de(k)

In Incredible Things, Brittany High has a very brief article entitled "This Chinese Music Video Is Every Kind Of WTF".  I think that, if you watch the video, you'll agree with her.

Brittany writes:

This is a batshit insane music video for the song “Chick Chick” by Chinese pop group Wang Rong Rollin. It makes stuff like “What Does The Fox Say?” seem absolutely tame. I don’t know what the hell I just watched but I’ll have whatever they’re having.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)


Pizza and pasta, backwards and forwards

From Anne Henochowicz:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)


English as ruby annotation for Chinese

Something very interesting is going on in this panel (as usual, click to embiggen):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)


Names of Chinese birds

If you are a birder, you are in for a treat.  If you are a bird watcher who is particularly fond of Chinese species, you are in for a double treat.

Craig Brelsford is a writer and editor living in Shanghai, China. Mr. Brelsford is currently creating the world's first photographic field guide to the birds of China. To that end, he travels constantly throughout the vast territory of China.

His peregrinations have taken him to 31 of the 34 provincial-level entities in China researching his field guide.  As even the briefest of visits to his blog will attest, Mr. Brelsford is one serious birder.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)


The sounds of weather

Since sound is just variation in ambient air pressure, you could think of speech as being like really fast weather in your mouth. I traditionally make a lame joke about this in Intro Phonetics, and the other day I decided to cash the humor in on some facts. Here are the past couple of weeks of barometric pressure observations at Philadelphia International Airport:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)


Xi Jinping: "when a car breaks down…"

Via Twitter, Matthew Leavitt asks Language Log what we think of the translation of Xi Jinping's metaphor:  “when a car breaks down on the road, perhaps we need to step down and see what the problem is.”

This was spoken at a news conference during the Beijing summit between President Obama and Chairman Xi and quoted in the New York Times.  After avoiding the issue for awhile, Xi used this expression in response to a question about restrictions on visas for foreign journalists that was posed by Mark Landler, a reporter for the New York Times.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (39)


"Firstable"

Ryan Broderick,"People Are Actually Writing The Word 'Firstable' Online Instead Of 'First Of All': What has the internet done to our brains?".  In response, Ben Zimmer entered firstable in the Eggcorn Database, noting uses back to 1996:

  • Firstable, the term “indian” and christianity were imposed in Peru through blood and fire by European conquerors.(Marxism mailing list, Jan. 28, 1996)
  • Here is an essay written as part of the admissions procedure for our University Honors Program… “Firstable, to stay away from the reality of those traps that people are facing, I would be felt some classes if I weren’t focus.” (HAPP mailing list, Oct. 26, 2000)
  • I have many ways to explorate but firstable, I would like to work on relations between the “recall” of roman empire and colonial theories / words / language. (H-West-Africa mailing list, Mar. 3, 2002)
  • Well firstable thanks so much to you and to Wuwei Liang because it is a very helpful tool. (VMD mailing list, Nov. 8, 2005)
  • Well, firstable, it was very boring. (Freshman Seminar @ Baruch College, Dec. 3, 2009)
  • Firstable you have to know that the room and bathroom were very dirty and unhealthy. (TripAdvisor, Jan. 8, 2013)
  • Firstable, you’re asked to pay your room in advance. (TripAdvisor, Oct. 3, 2013)

The fact that examples go back at least to 1996 suggests that the internet is not really the culprit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (43)