Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stumbling over and through Drink Wisconsinbly

Earlier this year, I started noticing t-shirts and hoodies bearing the phrase 'Drink Wisconsinbly', like in the image here. (And, yeah, it comes in green and gold as well as red and white.) Clever, right? But I don't read t-shirts all that closely and I saw it a few times before I realized that it doesn't work at all for me phonologically ... Wisconsably, yes, and Wisconsinably, I suppose, but not Wisconsinbly. I stumble over it every time, dead cold sober.

I'm seeing more and more of these shirts and hats (including the obligatory camo hat) and it now turn out that there's, of course, a website, "Proud home of the greatest drinking culture this fine nation has ever known." Cute, but I'm not sure that "We lacked an official call to arms" when it comes to drinking.

Looks like this thing is probably sponsored by the Tavern League of Wisconsin. If so, that may complicate the feel-good thing for some people ... among other things, the TLW is seen as keeping our drinking and driving laws lax, see here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New journal alert: Ampersand (Elsevier)

The world seems to be bursting at the seams with linguistics news ... Word of the Year stuff is cranking up, and the frenzy over mapping language continues (see this cool piece from WaPo) and I'm more puzzled than ever about how language works.

But there's also a new journal, Ampersand, that just published its first article. It's part of the new wave of open access scholarly publishing, so you can get to material even without library privileges. The first article is definitely worth reading ... nice take on a classic issue.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Big announcement from Mr. Verb -- Career change

Dear readers,
You should be the first to know. After literally decades of studying how language works and changes and what it tells us about the mind, I'm moving on. From this day forward, I'll be studying ancient mating habits.

Yes, linguistics has allowed me tremendous opportunities to help understand our state's and nation's past and present and to serve communities around the state. And our students often go on to work for businesses outside of the academy that help grow the economy.

But from this day forward, it's ancient mating habits. Mating habits of what, you ask? Whatever, I say.

Yours verbally,

Mr. V

PS: Read this.

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.