[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed

A clip of someone whistling “En todo el mundo hay hombres que hablan silbando”, which translates as “Around the World, there are humans who whistle their language”, from a BBC article about whistled languages

In the 5th Century BC, for instance, the Greek historian Herodotus described a group of cave-dwelling Ethiopians. “Their speech is like no other in the world: it is like the squeaking of bats,” he wrote.  We can’t know for sure which communities he was describing, but Meyer says that several whistled languages can still be heard in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. […]

Unlike regular speech, they tend not to scare the potential prey. They can also be useful at sea: the Inuit communities of the Bering Strait whistle commands to each other as they hunt for whales. […] The Australian army, meanwhile, recruited Wam speakers from Papua New Guinea to whistle messages across the radio so that they could confound Japanese eavesdroppers. […]

Ancient Chinese texts record people whistling Taoist verses – a practice that was thought to send them into a kind of meditative reverie. Meyer has found that Southern China is still a hot spot for many diverse whistling communities among its ethnic minorities, including the Hmong and the Akha. […]

Meyer has found that they typically rely on one of two strategies – both of which use changes in pitch create a kind of stripped-down skeleton of the spoken language. It all depends on whether normal, everyday speech is “tonal”. In some countries, particularly in Asia, the pitch of a single syllable in a word can change its meaning. As a result, the whistles follow the melodies that are inherent in any spoken sentence. But other languages – such as Spanish or Turkish – are not naturally tonal. In these cases, the whistles instead mimic the changes in resonance that come with different vowel sounds, while the consonants can be discerned by how abruptly the whistles jump and slide from note to note. […]

Either way, the whistles lose many of the cues that normally help us to distinguish different words – and outsiders often find it almost impossible to believe they carry intelligible messages. Yet Meyer has found that fluent whistlers can decode the sentences with more than 90% accuracy – around the same intelligibility as speech. Meyer suspects that this relies on the same neural machinery that allows us to hold a conversation in a crowded room, or to make sense of a whispered message. “Our brains are really good at reconstructing words that have been a bit destroyed by noise or other distortions,” says Meyer. We can see the same in written messages, when the letters are all jumbled up or the vowels removed – yuor biran aumtoacitally flls th gpas. […]

The team’s own experiences show that outsiders can begin to adapt to the ‘bird language’ with regular exposure – provided you know the spoken language first. Gunturkun is fluent in Turkish, and by the end of the trip he had begun to detect the odd whistled word from the locals’ conversations. His experience would seem to support Meyer’s most recent study, which found that people with no prior knowledge of the whistled languages can soon work out which whistles correspond with which vowels; you do not need to have been born in Kuskoy to learn to speak like a bird.

Music meme: day 1 of 30

Friday, May 26th, 2017 01:01 pm
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] liv
[personal profile] ghoti_mhic_uait and a bunch of other people are doing a 30 day music meme, and it's really interesting to see people's choices! In some ways music isn't a big part of my life, so I might struggle with this one, and anyway I'm not going to commit to posting every day for 30 consecutive days, but I thought I'd give it a go.

The first is A song you like with a colour in the title, so I went for White winter hymnal by Fleet Foxes. I don't always love the kind of very blurry musical style that Fleet Foxes go for, but I got really fond of this song a few years back and it's one that always raises a smile when it comes on shuffle.

People are generally linking to YouTube, and I'd never actually seen the accompanying video for this one before. It's kind of a cool claymation thing, so I'm glad I searched it up.

Embedded video )

Gesture Drawing, Learning Styles, Confidence

Friday, May 26th, 2017 12:59 am
green_knight: (Konfuzius)
[personal profile] green_knight
3 pose sketches

I'm kind of amazed that these are my drawings, from reference images (but not traced): they look recognisably like human bodies, and while I'm not happy about the heads - there have got to be better ways of suggesting heads and faces, all I manage is awkward - I am starting to capture the human form with a few bold lines and I'm liking the results.

This is nothing short of miraculous.

The number one tool for this has been the practice of lines: straight lines, C-curves, S-curves; learning to draw them boldly and confidently and more or less where I want them to go. Combine that with a drawing course that teaches you to apply these lines boldly, to capture the energy of a human body rather than trying to find exact lines, and suddenly I get the feeling that I'm doing the right thing (just need to work out a lot of details) rather than doing something completely hopeless.

And yes, I am currently sourcing my poses on body-positive blogs: I don't find the 3D dummy all that interesting to draw, and seeing pictures of squishy bodies looking fantastic is a really useful exercise for me.

Between this My mental model

and the above is a month. And while I have practiced _some_ drawing, I have not practiced anywhere near enough drawing to justify the improvement, which kind of confirms what I've worked out anyway: if I can find a way to work that suits my learning style - kinesthetic, Gestalt-oriented - I find most things relatively easy. (I'll never be _great_ at this drawing thing, but I think I can get to 'competent' from here). If something is presented in a way that makes no sense to me - if I am trying to learn sequentially and if the practices is stressful - I can suck terribly badly and feel that I'll never get there.

The answer to that is not to practice harder. Practicing things that are stressful is counterproductive for me. Looking for 'the right way to learn' is, of course, a path with a very obvious failure mode - never applying oneself, and always looking for 'the right' method that will miraculously get you to where you want to be, without having to put in any of the work, but while, in principle, I am extremely opposed to that idea, I have to admit that _it works for me_.

And it's hard to talk about this without sounding like I'm bragging. I'm all too aware of my artistic shortcomings; I'm a perfectionist, I can see a dozen things wrong with every drawing I make and I'm fully aware that there's probably a dozen more that I can't see because I'm not trained _enough_, I can only draw the poses I see, not any other possible poses, but when I started this six weeks ago I thought that maybe in a year I'd be able to draw like this: confident lines with recognisable results. And I'm willing to bet that if I had stuck to techniques that don't work for me, tasks that seem unsurmountable, exercises that stress me out, that make me feel completely incompetent and like I will never learn - I would not have reached this stage yet, if ever.

This, in short, is why learning styles matter, and why we need to take responsibility for our learning, and find out what does and doesn't work, and insist on finding resources that resonate: there are no shortcuts to becoming skilled, but if you can follow a straight path instead of floundering around, you *will* learn things in a reasonable amount of time, whatever that thing is.

Talent might get you there faster, by more paths, and take you further, but the right teaching will get you places surprisingly quickly and painlessly.

I can't wait to continue with my courses and learn more; I just wanted to bounce a little at how far I've come.
[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed

Gretchen: If you look at what kids actually do when they’re exposed to fragmented or incomplete linguistic input, they actually create full-fledged languages from kind of bizarre or difficult linguistic circumstances.

Lauren: A really famous example is Nicaraguan Sign Language. The fact that we’ve taken until episode 7 to talk about it is actually pretty impressive, because it’s such a great go-to anecdote for linguists, and it’s such an amazing thing that happened. In the 70s and 80s in Nicaragua there was a change in policy that meant that a lot of deaf children suddenly came together at school, instead of being isolated and using their own home sign or maybe a local village sign language. Over the course of a couple of generations, these children went from all having kind of only a rudimentary communicative system to developing what is now considered to be a fully fledged language, which is Nicaraguan Sign Language. There are around three thousand users of that sign language now, and the language has been studied since its birth since the 1970s. There have been people watching the evolution of this language and how children can use limited resources and inputs to create something really sophisticated.

Gretchen: It teaches us a lot about human children’s capacity for language. It’s not just that kids aren’t speaking some “bad” version of English now, but it’s actually that if ever we have disrupted linguistic transmission, it’s going to be the kids that save us. They’re not going to bring us back to what we had before, but they’re going to make a fully fledged linguistic system that’s capable of complex ideas and complex thoughts, even if the adults mess it up! If kids were just doing exactly what adults do, then language would be brittle and fragile. But because they change it each generation, language is incredibly resilient! And this brings us back to a point from episode one, where we talked about the language of space.

Lauren: And Space Pidgin!

Gretchen: And how the American and the Russian astronauts and cosmonauts use each other’s languages, and end up using this hybrid English-Russian pidgin to communicate with each other. But because all the astronauts so far have been adults this is kind of an incomplete, fragmented English-Russian hybrid space pidgin. However, if and when we go to Mars, if the astronauts and the cosmonauts got together and had some space babies….

Lauren: If there were children…

Gretchen: Then these Space Babies would grow up exposed to Space Pidgin and they would turn it into Space Creole.

Lauren: And it would actually develop more sophisticated grammatical structures, the children would take the input that they get and turn it into a more fully fledged linguistic system. So the kids in space are going to be okay.

Gretchen: The kids in space are going to be okay, the kids on earth are going to be okay, we’re all okay! Also, someone needs to write this story about space babies, I would like to read it.

Lauren: I would definitely love to read about babies in space standardising English-Russian pidgin into a creole.


Excerpt from Episode 7 of Lingthusiasm: Kids these days aren’t ruining language. Listen to the full episode, read the transcript, or check out the show notes for links to further reading.

See also the original Space Pidgin quote from Episode 1, or listen to the full episode.

(via lingthusiasm)

We didn’t realize that Space Pidgin would be such a popular theme when we started @lingthusiasm, but hey, give the people what they want.

In Nimes

Thursday, May 25th, 2017 07:21 pm
[syndicated profile] jo_walton_blog_feed

Posted by Jo Walton

…The so-called temple of Diana was an Augusteum, the niches in the cella also suggest some library use…

I’m in the South of France.
Far off, a flute is playing Vivaldi’s measured Summer
And all around unmeasured profligate summer
Is flinging itself in my face, fluting birdsong,
The heady scents of jasmine and honeysuckle,
A thousand greens and one impossible high blue.

I walk up the hill to the Roman watchtower
Where I eat my delicious picnic,
Roast chicken, rosemary potatoes,
A whole punnet of strawberries
Dipped in a scoop of Chantilly cream.
From three stalls in Nimes market.

Down through the trees to the so-called temple,
With the dome half-fallen.
Of course it was a library, of course,
You only have to look at the pediments
You can see where the scrolls —
Where the scrolls —

And suddenly I’m in a ruined library.
Nemausus, it was, Gallia Narbonensis,
And the voices in my head are wailing:
“Where are the books!”
“Where, oh where are the books, the books?”
“What have they done with the books?”

So, sitting on a slab, I pull out my kindle, Gaius.
I read Ovid and Cicero and Homer
Marcus Aurelius and Plato and Livy
Until the voices in my head are calm.
Then I mutter, just in case,
“Tell them to write on parchment.”

Fortunately there’s nobody in sight
Except for one Livy-loving lizard
Who had crept close while I was reading,
Startled at the sound of my voice,
Freezes for an instant, looking up wildly,
Then skitters off over my sandal.

(If ever there was a journal poem this is it. The symbol of Nimes is, and has been since Roman times, a crocodile, but the lizard was real, they are everywhere up in that park, which claims to be the first public garden to be laid out in France.)


Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 06:13 pm
[syndicated profile] jo_walton_blog_feed

Posted by Jo Walton

With your made-up eyes and your grown up gown
And the glitter on your cheek
When the pink balloons come tumbling down
You’ve been waiting for all week…
Dance little girl,  dance with delight
Let nobody tell you that it isn’t right.

To a Latin beat, when you twist and sway,
With your body wild and free
Where nobody cares who’s straight or gay
And you’re just where you want to be…
Dance little girl, for the world is good
Let nobody tell you you never should.

With your slicked back hair and your rose tattoo
To the heavy metal beat
And your friends are singing and dancing too
Who you came tonight to meet…
Dance little girl, dance for today
Let nobody tell you that it’s not the way.

So dance, for no one can stop the dance
They may try to make us fear
But for Manchester, for Orlando, France,
We will keep on dancing here…
Dance little girl, we’re all dancing still
It’s right to dance and it’s wrong to kill.

(In an interview in Paris yesterday somebody asked me if I was engagee. I didn’t know what it means. It means “an activist”. I don’t know that I’m an activist, but I’m alive in the world and I’m not a stone, I can’t not have a reaction when things happen, and if I can find a way to process that into art, well, I’m going to.)

Reading Wednesday 24/05

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 12:37 pm
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
[personal profile] liv
Recently read: The hundred trillion stories in your head, a bio of Ramón y Cajal by Benjamin Ehrlich. (Contains some detail of Ramón y Cajal's rather grim childhood.)

Currently reading: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Partly because it's Hugo nominated, and partly because [personal profile] jack was excited to talk about it so I've borrowed his copy. I'm halfway through and enjoying it a lot; it's a bit like a somewhat grimmer version of Leckie's Ancillary books. It has too much gory detail of war and torture for my preferences but it's also a really engaging story.

Up next: Quite possibly Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, since I'd like to read at least the Hugo novels in time for Worldcon.

5 years of All Things Linguistic

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 06:30 pm
[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed

It’s my five year blogiversary! Wow! Let’s celebrate by looking back at some of my favourite posts from the past year:


Selected interviews and talks


Linguistics jobs interviews

Explanations & resources

Linguist humour 


Language activism

Things about languages 

Linguistics and pop culture 


I co-taught a course about Wikis and Wikipedia for Endangered Languages at CoLang with Lauren Gawne: 

I also consulted on this video for the PBS Idea Channel about the “words for snow” myth.


I started a podcast called Lingthusiasm with Lauren Gawne of @superlinguo. Here are our episodes so far: 

  1. Speaking a common language won’t lead to world peace
  2. Pronouns: singular “they”, other languages, and solving the gay fanfiction pronoun problem
  3. A lingthusiastic review of the alien linguistics movie Arrival
  4. Inside the Word of the Year vote
  5. Colour words around the world and inside your brain
  6. All the sounds in all the languages: the International Phonetic Alphabet
  7. Kids these days aren’t ruining language
  8. People who make dictionaries: Review of Kory Stamper’s Word by Word

Bonus episodes: 

  1. Swearing
  2. How to teach yourself linguistics
  3. How to sell linguistics to employers

Follow @lingthusiasm for episodes, transcripts, and short highlight quotes. 


I did a lot of behind the scenes writing on my upcoming book about internet language for Riverhead at Penguin. Here are the update posts so far:

  1. I’m writing a book about internet language! (last year)
  2. I have a (very rough) draft
  3. I talked with The Ringer about why I’m lowercasing “internet” in the book
  4. I have a full draft, with chapters and paragraphs

There’s a very occasional email list for book updates, if you’d like to make sure you don’t miss it on social media.

Haven’t been with me this whole time? You can see my favourite posts of year one, year twoyear three, and year four right here. For shorter updates, follow me on twitter as a person or as this blog, or for a monthly newsletter with highlights, subscribe at my website.


Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 01:45 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
This weekend I went to another Jewish-Muslim interfaith event. I was not exactly the main target audience, which was mainly people whose actual job is religious education. I did get to meet some Somali Bravanese Muslims, an ethnic minority from Somalia via Kenya whom I hadn't encountered before.

Anyway we had some very interesting discussions, including around the use of language. Some of the Muslim participants said they didn't like what I had thought of as an otherwise neutral older spelling, Moslem. They said they associate that spelling and pronunciation with people like Donald Trump, and I can see that people who haven't bothered to update their language might well be assumed to be hostile. I don't particularly need to change my own language choices since I have been using the modern spelling anyway, but it's useful to note.

Then of course the conversation turned to the Jewish side, and the somewhat fraught issue of what we should be called. is 'Jew' a slur? )
[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed

Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics is a writing system that uses letter rotation to indicate the accompanying vowel sound. It’s used to write Inuktitut, Cree, and sometimes also Ojibwe and Blackfoot. This brilliant visualization is from the Bachelor of Arts in Cree Language at University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills


Monday, May 22nd, 2017 04:08 pm
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (_support)
[personal profile] liv
I note in passing that it's 14 years to the day since I started this blog, 6 years on LJ and 8 years on DW. That's a lot of writing and a lot of conversations. I've made just over 2000 posts in 14 years, and I think the average length is only a little under a thousand words, so somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million words and that's not even counting comments. I was really not expecting either the site or my interest in blogging to last as long as 14 years, but I'm really glad you're all still here.

I still don't have a good way of making an offline archive of DW; the program LJArchive is timing out because, I think, my DW is just too huge, and it doesn't have a way of downloading one bit at a time. Does anyone have any recs?

It's also coming up to the end of my 7th year of working at Keele – I've finished teaching and only have exams to go through before this academic year is over. It's a pretty awesome job in lots of ways. Our senior people like to point out that there have been over a million consultations when patients have been treated by Keele-trained doctors in the ten year history of the medical school, and I've contributed to the education of quite a high proportion of those doctors.

And it's the 20th anniversary, give or take, of my leaving school. I have signed up to attend the reunion next month; I'm not entirely sure that was a good idea, but I am at least somewhat curious to see if I can pick up some gossip from anyone who isn't on Facebook. I don't think anyone is going to be surprised that I'm an academic, that's what everybody was predicting when I was going around convinced I was going into school teaching. But they might well be surprised that I'm married and poly.

Anyway, now I'm going to catch a train from the new exciting local to my house station.

stop sign: stop

Sunday, May 21st, 2017 06:30 pm
[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed
stop sign: stop
me, a linguistics major: the only 🚫 stop 🚫 i know are plosives 💥 and nasal 👃 stops‼️ but i'm more a 🌬fricative🌬 cause fricatives don't ❌ stop ❌❌❌ that's how ladefoged 👅👀👍 wants it 👄 don't tell me 😡 to stop 😡 i do what i want 😤😤😤 i'm an atelic verb phrase 😫😩 you can't end me 💪 i keep going 🚶👊 no matter what the haters say 💁💁 chomsky 😧


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