Sunday, October 12, 2014

Monday, August 04, 2014

Grad students take note ...

Be sure to credit xkcd when you use this approach. (And check out the roll over.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Attack of the homophones!

Delightful story in the always delightful Wonkette about a guy who got fired for writing a blog post about homophones, because it sounded too ... icky.  It kind of sounded like another word, you might say.  Of course they had to use the tired old "cunning linguist" joke, but at least with a good graphic.

I did guffaw a bit (but daintily) when I saw their picture of an illustration the firee used in his blog post:

I mean, the very first one is a really bad example!  Tell me you don't look at it and say [rɛd] ~ [rijd].  And BTW, ant ~ aunt only works for some dialects.

It's just as well he got fired.  What might he have brought up next - polysemy???

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Interested in regional and social differences in speech? We are too!"

Just got an email with that subject line for a study about how people identify speakers of different dialects:
Our research team at the University of Wisconsin is recruiting subjects for research on how people perceive and identify dialects of languages people speak. If you’d like to participate, just visit this link, and you’ll hear speech samples and can answer questions about them, e.g. where the speakers are from and whether you think they have strong accents.  The survey will not work on a smartphone; please only use a laptop, desktop, or tablet.
If you have any questions about the study, feel free to contact the study team by emailing And you are welcome to contact us later if you would like to know about our findings as we learn more about the many ways our speech varies.
Could be fun.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wisconsin Englishes update ...

Word on the street is that Wisconsin Englishes will be on Wisconsin Public Radio in western Wisconsin tomorrow, on Spectrum West with Al Ross.

And the Wisconsin Englishes Project website has been spiffed up a little ... various updates and a bunch of teaching materials, etc. You can check it out here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

More on the origins of Yiddish

Following up on the last post here's the link to the second piece from Tablet about the origins of Yiddish, "The Mystery of the Origins of Yiddish Will Never Be Solved: How an academic field—marked by petty fighting, misguided ideological debates, and personal proximity to tragedy—doomed itself" by Batya Ungar-Sargon. It features first-person accounts from a set of central figures and is worth a read, though my sense is that the state of things is hardly as bleak as it's made out to be ...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Origins of Yiddish

In keeping with our recent non-news news trend, reader cg passed along this link to a long article by Cherie Woodworth in Tablet on the origins of the Yiddish language yesterday. The piece is new to Tablet, but is a reprint from Kritika 2010. Worth reading.

The controversy that the piece reviews is considerably older … where and how Yiddish came into existence as a language. That whole story is rich and amazing (the briefest and best starting point, I think, is in Neil Jacobs' Yiddish: A linguistic introduction (Oxford, 2005). The focus in this article is much narrower, contrasting Max Weinreich's History of the Yiddish Language with the views of Paul Wexler, with a bit on genetics tossed in. Weinreich is a revered figure in and far beyond Yiddish linguistics, like his son Uriel (who was mentioned in our last post, here.) Wexler seems to have a reputation as a rock thrower, though some hasten to add that he has important ideas and isn't just a crank. So, this makes for a pretty good story line.

But the reason for this post is simpler ... Woodworth, who was a historian, spends an inordinate amount of time talking about the scholarly apparatus of Weinreich's book, pictured here. Our house historical linguist on Team Verb says that Weinreich's book may be his favorite history of a language overall and he reports that it does indeed have something like 750 pages of footnotes. His comment:
Yeah, she gets the feel of the book right ... it's good, solid linguistics, but with this incredible narrative story line.  That one footnote Woodworth focuses on that runs for 20 pages is in ways like an article but with paragraphs of annotated bibliography and such inserted into it. But it's not a footnote in the traditional sense, more like a sidebar commentary on the whole section of the text it references. And, yes, the section of the book it references is considerably shorter than the 'footnote'.
Tablet announces that next week, they're running a profile of "the academic personalities and their battles in the field of linguistics." I'm keeping an eye out for that.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Schwa Fire

Trying to do actual work seems to be a higher priority than blogging these days for the many members of Team Verb, so we're taking a kind of Last Week Tonight approach, I suppose. The news of the launch of Schwa Fire is now old enough that it fits our bill, in fact.

First, the bad news, which you know if you follow language journalism: it's a paid subscription. But it's pretty modest and individual articles are downright cheap.

But the first issue was clearly worth the price, for me at least. Arika Okrent is one of my favorite popular writers in linguistics (up there with Ben Zimmer and Jan Freeman) and her piece on a huge trove of Yiddish sound recordings is great. The treat of the whole issue was actually hearing Uriel Weinreich's voice. I didn't know what linguistics was when he was alive, but have read and learned from his stuff for, well, ever.  There's also an essay by Russell Cobb on the changing dialect landscape in the US, dealing with the opposing trends of convergence versus divergence of American regional speech.

Schwa Fire's a great addition to linguistics in the public realm and I'm looking forward to the coming issues ...

Sunday, June 01, 2014

/i:/ in the New York Times

The NY Times Magazine has a little tiny piece this morning (here, just scroll down and see the left column), about an experiment by Ralf Rummer (Erfurt University) and colleagues showing that students looking at comics founds them funnier when they were repeating /i:/ than /o:/ sounds. Here's an actual discussion of the project, in German, saying that German words with /o:/ are 'anxiety inducing' (angsteinflößend). like Tod 'death' and Kot 'crap, muck' and about 50 other English words. Really?  I don't get anxious on hearing Kot and what about rot 'red', Boot 'boat', Brot 'bread', Schlot 'smokestack, chimney'. We don't typically do breakfast experiments here in Verbtown, but a look at the rhymes in German (Reimlexikon) really doesn't show much promise with an association between /o:t/ word endings and scary stuff.

But whatevs. My point is that the NYT used IPA on the (lite entertainment) 'One-page Magazine'. I'm now officially waiting for syntactic trees, maybe in Mario Batali's regular 'What I'm drinking' bit.

Image from here. You can watch the face of a German speaker producing /i:/ and all other sounds of the language. No kidding.

Friday, May 30, 2014

TedEd: How languages evolve

Finally got around to looking at the TedEd thing by Alex Gendler, How Languages Evolve, here.  I could see this being used in school classes. Anybody have experience with using this with, say, high schoolers? It's nothing dramatic or brilliant, but I could see students connecting with it.

Big ol' tip of the hat to CT.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dialect survey

There's a ton of work happening right now on campus about how people think about regional English, in various ways and from various perspectives. Here's one cool project ... take it and pass the word.

The map here, from Rick Aschmann and HuffPo, just because. Not because + noun. Just because.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Eye dialect and Cliven Bundy

'Eye dialect' is using non-standard spelling to try and convey features of how somebody speaks. It's often colloquial stuff, like talkin' instead of talking, but more typically strong stuff, sociolinguistically speaking, and it's often used to represent people negatively, e.g. Sarah Palin. In fact, AP represented an Obama speech with this 'g-dropping' and there was discussion of whether that was racist, as laid out here on the Log. In that post, Mark Liberman wrote this:

"Eye dialect" in transcriptions is a questionable journalistic choice, whether the speaker is Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, or Barack Obama; but it's not necessarily a racist choice, and I don't think that it was a racist choice in this case. However, there are a lot of racists out there; and many of them use eye dialect as a focus for their feelings of disgust and hat[r]ed.
The New York Times occasionally uses eye dialect, though I've never tried to track how often or exactly when. Still, I was surprised yesterday to read this story about Cliven Bundy, containing these quotes from Bundy (talking about himself):
“Cliven Bundy’s a-wondering about these people, now I’m talking about the black community, I’m a-wondering, …
It's rare to see that in contemporary print media - startling, in a way. The story continues:
He questioned whether African-Americans were “happier than they was when they was in the South in front of their homes with their chickens and their gardens and their children around them …"
Here's the clip in question with the relevant stuff starting around 1:15. Bundy speaks an emphatically non-standard English, and really does use a-prefixing and was with plural subjects, as well as negative concord ("they didn’t have nothing to do"), set for Standard sit, and so on. My immediate reaction was to wonder if this distracts from the substance. Why not write it in more standard spelling and let the content make the point?

On Saturdays, I always look forward to Charles M. Blow's editorials and today he tackles the core substance of Bundy's "fantasies" and "projections". It's not hard to devastatingly deconstruct this stuff, I suppose, but Blow lays it out nice and clean.