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Apostrophe Catastrophe in Kazakhstan.

Andrew Higgins reports for the NY Times on a linguistic development currently roiling Kazakhstan: ALMATY, Kazakhstan — In his 26 years as Kazakhstan’s first and only president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev has managed to keep a resurgent Russia at bay and navigate the treacherous geopolitical waters around Moscow, Beijing and Washington, keeping on good terms with […]

Can ‘so don’t I’ mean ‘so do I’?

Q: There’s a grammatical quirk in northern New England in which a negative is used affirmatively: Example: “I love it when the leaves turn in the fall.” … “Oh, so don’t I. It’s my favorite time of year.” Any ideas where that might have come from? A: You’re right that this quirky use of “so... ? Read More: Can ‘so don’t I’ mean ‘so do I’?

Appalled and Aghast.

David Crystal writes for the Guardian about a phenomenon he’s noticed (and has written a new book about): When I used to present programmes on English usage on Radio 4, people would write in and complain about the pronunciations they didn’t like. In their hundreds. (Nobody ever wrote in to praise the pronunciations they did […]


According to Andrew Higgins ("Kazakhstan Cheers New Alphabet, Except for All Those Apostrophes", NYT 1/15/2018), the pending turn to a Latin alphabet for Kazakh has run into a pothole: the 77-year-old dictator Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, who apparently has not yet been informed about Unicode, or the possibility of varied computer keyboard layouts. Mr. Higgins also seems […]

Not, only, unless, if, whatever . . .

The morning mail brings an apparent instance of misnegation — Daniel Boffey, "May faces tougher transition stance from EU amid Norway pressure", The Guardian 1/16/2018: The EU also insists that the UK will only continue to enjoy the benefits of trade agreements with non-EU countries unless “authorised” by Brussels. Given the context, English grammar, and […]

Uwe Bläsing, the Scholar.

Stefan Georg’s “Uwe Bläsing, the Scholar” (Iran and the Caucasus 19 [2015] 3-7) describes a remarkable man; the first paragraph nearly made me run around the house cackling with joy: Uwe Bläsing’s scholarly work can easily be described as spanning more academic fields than most of us are following as regular readers, let alone are […]

The 5-second rule of language learning

Feelings play a much bigger role in language learning than they’re given credit for. This isn’t something that’s often talked about, so let me clear the air and say it straight up: Whether you succeed (or fail) at learning a new language...Show More Summary

Black (or African) American?

(Note: We’re repeating this post for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It originally appeared on March 21, 2010. However, usage changes, so we’ve inserted an update indicating the latest preferences.) Q: I was reading an article in the New York Times that used “black American” and “African American” interchangeably. Show More Summary

It’s not looking good for my wife.

It’s not looking good for my wife. It's not looking good for my wife. — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) January 15, 2018

There is No Racial Justice Without Linguistic Justice

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. One of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quotes come from a speech he delivered at a retreat attended by staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in South Carolina, one year before he was assassinated: “We have moved from the era of […]

Trump: To 'd or not to 'd?

Louise Radnofsky, "White House Disputes Trump Quote in Journal Interview: The Wall Street Journal stands by what it reported and releases audio of disputed portion of interview", WSJ 1/14/2018: The White House disputed that President Donald Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Thursday that “I probably have a very good relationship with […]

Losing Patuá.

Matthew Keegan writes for the Guardian about a blended language used in Macau, and its dwindling number of speakers: ‘Nowadays, nobody speaks much Patuá. Only the old people speak Patuá,” declares 102-year-old Aida de Jesus as she sits across the table from her daughter inside Riquexo, the small Macanese restaurant that remarkably, despite her grand […]

Ask Language Log: Are East Asian first names gendered?

The question comes from George Amis: I wonder– are first names gendered in Mandarin?  That is, is it possible to tell that Tse-tung or Wai-wai are masculine names? Given the extraordinary proliferation of Chinese first names, I rather doubt it. And what is the case with Japanese first names? Here, I suspect that the names […]

Ross Macdonald: lexical diversity over the lifespan

This post is an initial progress report on some joint work with Mark Liberman. It's part of a larger effort to replicate and extend Xuan Le, Ian Lancashire, Graeme Hirst, & Regina Jokel, "Longitudinal detection of dementia through lexical and syntactic changes in writing: a case study of three British novelists", Literary and Linguistic Computing […]

The Turk.

From this Wordorigins thread I learned of a great bit of sports jargon I had not been familiar with: in football, to get a visit from the Turk is to be let go, “because the Turk is the guy who gets sent to tell a player he has been cut from the team, usually quietly/privately […]

Zhou Youguang's 112th birthday

Google Doodle today: Zh?u Y?ugu?ng ??? (January 12, 1906-January 13, 2017) died last year on this day.  He would have been 112 years old today. We have often honored Zhou Youguang as the chief deviser of Hàny? P?ny?n ???? / ???? ("Sinitic Spelling / Alphabet / Phoneticization"): "Zhou Youguang, Father of Pinyin" (1/14/14) "Zhou Youguang, […]

Ask Language Log: Easy but unused initial clusters?

From Bob Moore: I have recently become interested in an important Alaska native weaver named Jennie Thlunaut. The linguistic question is about the initial consonant cluster of her last name, "thl". My initial reaction on seeing the name was that this consonant cluster was not phonotactically possible in English, and that it would be hard […]

Old English Writing: A History of the Old English Alphabet

Can you read Old English writing? Here's a sample: Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes uard metudæs maecti end his modgidanc uerc uuldurfadur sue he uundra gihuaes eci dryctin or astelidæ Those are the first few lines of Cædmon's Hymn, a 7th-Century poem generally considered to be the oldest surviving work of English literature. Show More Summary

Translating Trump

Whether he really said it or not — "Trump appears to deny using 'shithole' language" (POLITICO [1/12/18]), see also here — "shithole" is already part of the ever-burgeoning scatalogical lore surrounding President Trump, so people have to deal with it, including translating this colorful term into other languages. Via Twitter, here are some early stabs […]

New New York Times.

Simple but brilliant: this Twitter feed automatically posts any word that the NY Times uses for the first time. Latest entry: kilimologist (if you click on the word, you get the contest, in this case “Batki is a self-proclaimed kilimologist, an expert in old weavin…”). You also get the occasional typo (“attacthed”), which is fun […]

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