Happy 35th Birthday, Emoticon!

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017 07:20 pm
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19-Sep-82 11:44    Scott E  Fahlman             :-)
From: Scott E  Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:


Read it sideways.  Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends.  For this, use



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This is a transcript for Lingthusiasm Episode 10:  Learning languages linguistically. It’s been lightly edited for readability. Listen to the episode here or wherever you get your podcasts. Links to studies mentioned and further reading can be found on the Episode 10 shownotes page.

Gretchen: Welcome to Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics. I’m Gretchen McCulloch,

Lauren: and I’m Lauren Gawne, and today we’ll be talking about how learning a language is a way of giving yourself great linguistic skills. But first, Gretchen, you sound amazing!

Gretchen: Thank you! You’re hearing me on this new microphone, actually a recorder, which is thanks to our lovely patrons who have enabled us to buy this microphone. Lauren, how is it that you always sounded so good?

Lauren: It wasn’t just sheer, natural magic, it’s because I have been using, since the beginning of the podcast, an audio recorder called a Zoom H4N, which – the H4N Zoom have a slightly newer model as well, but these recorders are kind of linguist-famous for being reliable, solid recorders, especially for doing things like fieldwork, so I’ve had one for quite a few years to do my linguistic fieldwork with, so if you listen to any of my recordings from Yolmo or Syuba or any of those in the archives that I have, they’re made on this very same recorder and so that’s why I’ve always been able to sound good without us needing any budget for that. But now we’re twinsies, and you have a Zoom H4N as well.

Gretchen: So now I have a matching one. They’re friends.

Lauren: Yeah.

Gretchen: They haven’t met yet, but that’s okay, they’re going to meet in audio heaven, so that we will sound the same audiowise and so that I can learn how to use it from Lauren and we’re going to sound really good, so that’s exciting!

Lauren: Yeah, and a big thanks to our patrons for that.

Gretchen: Yeah! And it is thanks to people on Patreon that we were able to make this possible and keep doing that, so that is really exciting. Also, they get to listen to bonus episodes and this month’s bonus episode is about hypercorrection.

Lauren: Bonus episodes will also sound amazing because they’re all on the shiny new recorder as well.

Gretchen: Yes!

Lauren: As you said, our current one is hypercorrection, but we also have a whole bunch of other bonus content and you can get all of it if you become a monthly supporter of the show.

Gretchen: On patreon.com/lingthusiasm or follow the links from our website/social media. And by the time you’re listening to this, I will also be in Kentucky at the Linguistics Summer Institute, or Lingstitute as we like to call it, and we are recording this in advance because we’re organised like that, but that will be having lots of stuff going on.

Lauren: ‘Cause you’re going to be a bit busy.

Gretchen: Ha, I’m going to be really busy – that’ll have lots of stuff going on on the Lingstitute hashtag, which we can link to, and as well my class at the Institute – I’m going to be teaching a class on linguistics communication, linguistics outreach, how to be better at explaining linguistics and bringing linguistics to more people – and so we’re going to be using the hashtag LingComm, that’s LingComm with two Ms as in communication –

Lauren: Awesome.

Gretchen: – and so you can follow those as well if you want to follow along with the class and see what we’ve been up to.

Lauren: I will definitely be doing that.

Gretchen: Lauren is going to be, like, co-teaching the class from afar, she doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to be like, “Hey, go support my students!” [Music]

Lauren: So, Gretchen, you’re a linguist. How many languages do you speak?

Gretchen: That’s a good question! That is a question that a lot of linguists get, a lot of the time.

Lauren: It’s a question that a lot of linguists get – it’s a little bit annoying because it misrepresents the idea that linguistics is just about learning lots of languages, but independent of being a linguist, you’ll find that people who study how language works are often interested in learning other languages as a way of kind of getting an understanding of how they work.

Gretchen: Yeah, and I think for me, because – at least personally, the way I got into linguistics was in high school, I came across pop linguistics books and stuff like this, and I was like, “Wow, this is so cool, I want to do this when I get to university.” But I knew that I couldn’t do it in high school, there’s no high school linguistics course that I could take then – they’re still very rare in high schools – and so I said to myself, “Well, I know it’s not quite the same as language learning, but I’m going to at least enrol in all of the language classes that I can because I’m sure it won’t do any harm. And, you know, I could be learning about cell biology or something, or I could learn more languages and I think the language would be more useful,” and I think they were for me. I mean, cell biology’s fine if you’re into it, but like…

Lauren: So what languages do you have experience of learning?

Keep reading

Us: what do we want?

Saturday, September 16th, 2017 06:30 pm
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Us: what do we want?
Also us: mainstream IPA education
Us: when do we want it?
Also us: during high school so we can stop using those crappy pronunciation "guides" in dictionaries, textbooks, music and international studies
all together: and use a real scientific and specific way of recording pronunciation
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Lingthusiasm Liveshow - Montreal, September 23rd 

We’re excited to announce that we’re having a Lingthusiasm liveshow

We haven’t forgotten about the liveshow goal on Patreon, but since Lauren happened to have a conference bringing her to Montreal, where Gretchen lives, we decided we couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to put on a show. Think of it as a practice run for the big version! 

So, like, what’s up with, um, discourse particles, y'know? These seemingly meaningless words can tell us a lot about how language works.

Join Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne for a real-life version of the linguistics podcast listeners call “the right balance between rigour and accessibility… It feels like I’m listening in on a conversation between two of my most interesting friends.” Plus a Q&A for all your burning questions on internet linguistics, linguistics in the public sphere, Australian English, and more.

Free event in Argo Bookshop, Montreal’s oldest English-language bookstore, which happens to have an excellent linguistics section! Snacks by donation. Doors at 8pm, show starts at 8:30. 

Get your free tickets via Eventbrite

(If you like Facebook, you can also join/share the Facebook event here.)

We hope you can attend! But we also know that we have listeners from all over the world, so we’re taking questions for the Q&A portion from everyone who supports us on Patreon. If you’re a patron who can make it to the show, we’ll even save you a seat up front! 

We’ll also be recording the show with the help of our friends at The Ling Space so stay tuned wherever you are!  

Last time Lauren and I got to hang out in the same earthspace location, we hatched the idea for this podcast in the first place. This time, we’re putting on a show! We’re looking forward to meeting you!

Berber and not so Berber words in Tunisian Arabic

Friday, September 15th, 2017 06:33 pm
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Posted by Lameen Souag الأمين سواق

Not too long ago I finished reading Lotfi Sayahi's Diglossia and Language Contact: Language Variation and Change in North Africa. The book is a valuable contribution to the study of synchronic language contact between Tunisian Arabic, Standard Arabic, and French in Tunisia, with some coverage of the rest of the region as well. Unfortunately, when it briefly looks at Berber lexical influence on Arabic (pp. 135, 187), reflecting joint work with Zouhir Gabsi, its conclusions are rather over-hasty. Since this book is likely to become a standard point of departure for English speakers studying language contact in North Africa, I think it's worth correcting the record here even at the risk of being pedantic:
  • fakru:n "turtle" and ferzazzu "wasp" really are Berber, though the -u:n suffix in the former was first added in dialectal Arabic (almost all Berber varieties have forms similar to Kabyle ifker/ikfer).
  • garžu:ma "throat" is a very difficult word to etymologize, but may ultimately be Berber (compare Tuareg a-gurzăy), although it does bring to mind Romance forms such as French gorge.
  • karmu:s "fig" is clearly derived from karm-a "fig tree", which is definitely not Berber, and seems to come from a narrowing of the meaning of Classical Arabic كرم karm "orchard" (see the brief discussion in Behnstedt & Woidich 2011:491). The suffix -u:s might theoretically be Berber, I suppose, but probably not; it's not widely attested across Berber, and it fits well with the widespread dialectal Arabic pattern of augmentatives in -u:-.
  • sebsi: "pipe" is from Turkish sipsi.
  • bu-telli:s "monster/nightmare" ("sleep paralysis", to be precise) is a compound involving bu- "possessor of" (originally "father of") plus telli:s (a kind of rug). The latter is well-attested within Arabic in the Middle East as well as in North Africa; its etymology is controversial, but it may derive from Latin trilicium "triple-twilled fabric".
  • ḍabbu:ṭ "axilla" (ie "armpit") is evidently an expressive formation from Arabic إبط 'ibṭ. The widespread Berber word for this is rather taddeɣt (from which we get Maghrebi Arabic dəɣdəɣ "tickle").
  • dagdag "to shatter" is a reduplicated form from Arabic دقّ daqqa "pulverize".

I don't have the time to check the rest of the reduplicated verbs he cites (tartar "to mutter", dardar "to muddy", maxmax "to nibble", maṣmaṣ "to rinse", sɛksɛk "to flow", tɛftɛf "to graze", and wɛdwɛd "to talk nonsense"), but maxmax and maṣmaṣ include phonemes with no regular proto-Berber sources, and I doubt any of them is really Berber in origin.

I don't mean to pick on the authors; notwithstanding this brief lapse, it's a good book, and worth reading. But I do want to hammer home to every linguist the message that etymology needs to be done properly. If you want to do etymology in a North African dialect, don't just assume that any word you don't recognize from Modern Standard Arabic or French is a Berber loanword; check other regional languages (especially Turkish), check existing publications on the subject, check the distribution of the word across different Berber and Arabic varieties. Etymology may not be a very trendy subject, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

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today I learned that the phrase “OK” is a meme.

The exaggerated misspellings that didn’t survive are also amazing

The abbreviation fad began in Boston in the summer of 1838 and spread to New York and New Orleans in 1839. The Boston newspapers began referring satirically to the local swells as OFM, “our first men,” and used expressions like NG, “no go,” GT, “gone to Texas,” and SP, “small potatoes.”

Many of the abbreviated expressions were exaggerated misspellings, a stock in trade of the humorists of the day. One predecessor of OK was OW, “oll wright,” and there was also KY, “know yuse,” KG, “know go,” and NS, “nuff said.”

Most of these acronyms enjoyed only a brief popularity. But OK was an exception, no doubt because it came in so handy. It first found its way into print in Boston in March of 1839 and soon became widespread among the hipper element.

It didn’t really enter the language at large, however, until 1840. That’s when Democratic supporters of Martin Van Buren adopted it as the name of their political club, giving OK a double meaning. (“Old Kinderhook” was a native of Kinderhook, New York.) OK became the war cry of Tammany hooligans in New York while beating up their opponents. It was mentioned in newspaper stories around the country.

Van Buren’s opponents tried to turn the phrase against him, saying that it had originated with Van Buren’s allegedly illiterate predecessor, Andrew Jackson, a story that has survived to this day. They also devoted considerable energy to coming up with unflattering interpretations, e.g., “Out of Kash, Out of Kredit, and Out of Klothes.” Newspaper editors and publicists around the country delighted in coming up with even sillier interpretations — Oll Killed, Orfully Konfused, Often Kontradicts, etc. — so that by the time the campaign was over the expression had taken firm root nationwide.

It’s basically like, imagine “i lik the bred” or “doing you a frighten” survives and becomes a totally normal part of speech, and then in 2150 people rediscover memes. 

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does anyone know a chrome extension or app with a phonetic keyboard so i can basically type with the IPA? or even just something i can open up in or next to my browser that shows the entire alphabet at once so i can just copy/paste out of there?? an on-screen keyboard?????? because scrolling down the wikipedia list everytime i wanna write out something is Not Convenient

Okay I actually know a really easy way to do this.

This website has a bunch of download links for IPA Unicode keyboards. The small, technical-looking words can be daunting but if you read the descriptions of the links in the section for your computer you can find what you need to download pretty easily.

You end up being able to type the IPA as easily as other keyboards

What I usually do is pull the keyboard up on the screen to see what characters I’m pressing

This is what it ends up looking like. You can move it anywhere on the screen and make it whatever size you want. The key you press lights up. The orange legs show what you can press to show more symbols.

It has literally everything I’ve ever needed. I hope this helped!

Sincerely, A Linguistics Undergrad Who Must Type Her Notes Because She Can’t Read Her Own Handwriting

That works great if you want to download something for a computer! If you’re on a computer and can’t/don’t want to download something, these days my go-to is the website ipa.typeit.org which has shortcut keys for full IPA and abbreviated shortcuts for English IPA. You can type out your whole IPA thing in the text box and then copy-paste it over to where you want it.

To type IPA on your phone, here are reviews of IPA keyboard apps for iOS and Android.

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i love linguistics

When we say, “linguistics is interested in your intuitive sense of grammaticality, not in any sort of prescriptive rules” this is exactly what we mean. 

Even Racists Got the Blues

Sunday, September 10th, 2017 06:30 pm
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Even Racists Got the Blues:

A particularly ironic tale of translation gone awry on The Geeky Gaeilgeoir:

I’m often baffled by the number of people who seem to think that you can translate from one language to another simply by pulling the words of one language from a dictionary and plugging them into the syntax of the other. It just doesn’t work that way, friends. Repeat after me: “Languages are not codes for one another.”

That’s exactly what happened here, though. Someone either found a dictionary or searched the internet for the three words “blue,” “lives,” and “matter,” and stuck them together as if they were English. Oy. Dia sábháil (that’s Ulster Irish for “oy”).


Another thing this poor “translator” apparently forgot is that the word “lives” in English can be pronounced to rhyme with “gives” or with “hives,” and that the meaning changes accordingly.

What was wanted here, of course, is “lives” as rhymes with “hives.” Three guesses as to which one the “translator” chose. Yep. Wrong one.


The funny thing here is, the Irish word gorm actually does mean “blue” in most contexts. Just not in this manner, and definitely not in this context.

When color is used to describe a person in Irish, it typically refers to hair color. For example An bhean rua: The red-haired woman. […]

All that having been said, though, here’s the lovely, delicious irony: When the word gorm is used in reference to people, guess what it means?

It means “Black.”

People of African descent, or with similarly dark skin, are described as “blue” in Irish (most likely because dubh (“black”) and dorcha (“dark”) have negative connotations in the language and donn (“brown”) would be understood to refer to hair color).

That’s right. At the end of the day, allowing for grammatical travesties (of which there are many) and horrendous word choices, what this person’s shirt says is “Black Lives Matter.”

Somehow that makes me strangely happy.

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When I was an undergraduate student, one of my lecturers drew these two shapes on the board and asked us which one we would call takete, and which one we would call maluma:


The majority of the class thought that the rounded /u/ vowel, liquid /l/ and nasal /m/ all suited the rounded puff of cloud, while the aspirated voicelessness of /t/ and /k/ and the more forward vowel sound suited the spikier shape. We were a typical survey of participants. You might have participated in this kind of matching test. Often the words bouba and kiki are used instead, to similar effect.

While I was working in Singapore I had the good fortune to meet Suzy Styles, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at NTU. Suzy is a psycholinguist who is interested in how the brain creates these mappings across the senses (in this instance sounds and shapes), and what role language and its acquisition play in this. Suzy’s work also includes tone languages, such as Mandarin, and it was hearing about this work that made me wonder what speakers of Syuba, with its two tones, would make of a test like this.

Suzy and I decided to test this out. Actually, we had a whole lot of other questions we wanted to ask, but thought we should run the traditional maluma/takete test first just to get a baseline.

We didn’t expect it to fail.

There are very few failures reported for maluma/takete, and the main one (Rogers & Ross) was in the same journal as our paper, but way back in 1975. In that paper the participants all spoke Songe, a language of Papua New Guinea. In order to understand why the test failed, we looked at all the examples where the test worked. This paper is therefore the most up-to-date survey of maluma/takete tests done with ‘normal’ populations. First things first, there are actually very few papers reduplicating this effect, given how much cross-sensory literature appears to be built on it. Secondly, the groups this phenomenon has been tested with are waaaayyyy too boring - lots of English speakers, with some other major languages like French and Italian.

We put forward the argument that the failures possibly happened in Syuba and Songe because the words used have sounds that those languages don’t have, or wouldn’t use in that order. In Syuba kiki and bouba don’t fit the pattern of words. It would be like someone asking you to do the test with words like lrisg or ngoopr. We didn’t even get onto looking how tone comes into play (that’s a story for another paper!).

This test needs to be done in more languages.

As usual, too much of what is assumed to be true is based on a small number of the world’s languages. We want to see this type of test run in many more of the world’s languages. We have put all of our materials and methods up in an Open Science Framework repository for others to use. If you’re doing fieldwork you can use our sounds and shape templates (you can even 3D print them!) and help to broaden the range of languages we have results for. There are also a few more tests in the kit that are the foundation for some upcoming work we’re now writing. If you do have a failed maluma/takete test that you left languishing in a drawer, we invite you to ‘bring out your dead’ and help us figure out what is really going on with these sounds and shapes.


Eighty seven years ago Köhler reported (1929:1947) that the majority of students picked the same answer in a quiz: Which novel word-form (‘maluma’ or ‘takete’) went best with which abstract line drawing (one curved, one angular). Others have consistently shown the effect in a variety of contexts, with only one reported failure (Rogers & Ross, 1975). In the spirit of transparency, we report our own failure in the same journal. In our study, speakers of Syuba, from the Himalaya in Nepal, do not show a preference when matching word- forms ‘kiki’ and ‘bubu’ to spiky versus curvy shapes. We conducted a meta- analysis of previous studies to investigate the relationship between pseudoword legality and task effects. Our combined analyses suggest a common source for both of the failures: ‘wordiness’ – We believe these tests fail when the test words do not to behave according to the sound structure of the target language.

See also


Styles, Suzy & Lauren Gawne. 2017. When does maluma/takete fail? Two key failures and a meta-analysis suggest that phonology and phonotactics matter. i-Perception 8(4). 1-17. [Open Access online article]

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Bonus #7 - DIY Linguistic Research | Lingthusiasm on Patreon:


What’s the etymology of this word? When did people start using that thing? How is this new slang term used?

Answering common linguistic questions is often a matter of where to look. In this bonus episode, Gretchen and Lauren talk about our favourite freely accessible linguistics research tools, from Etymonline to corpora, and how to get access to other kinds of linguistics resources when you’re not at a university and don’t have a research budget.

We also talk about the kind of research we’d like to see more of if we weren’t constrained by money.

To listen to Bonus #7 support Lingthusiasm on Patreon

Even if it’s not what we officially studied, many linguists are the go-to people for our friends and family when it comes to questions of word history and usage. We’ve gotten dang good at looking things up, and you can be too! 

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August 2017 newsletter: #SpaceWitchCon, Planet Word start, Al Jazeera & your ability to even

I went from Lingstitute to Washington DC, where I did some internet linguistic consulting work, and met up with some DC linguists, including Ann Friedman and several members of the Planet Word Advisory Board, which I am now on as well! I’m excited to be getting involved with this project to create a linguistics museum.

I then went to SpaceWitchCon, in the woods of North Carolina, where I ran a…

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