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Kanji of the year 2014

As chosen by ballots to the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Public Interest Foundation (Nihon Kanji N?ryoku Kentei Ky?kai ??????????, more commonly known as Kanken ??), the annual "Kanji of the Year" (kotoshi no kanji ?????) for 2014 is zei ? ("tax"), with 8,679 (5.18% of the total) votes. In addition to the hike in the […]

Chinese WOTY 2014

Three years ago, Language Log covered what we referred to as the "Morpheme(s) of the Year" (12/17/11). Two years ago, we advanced to "Chinese character of the year: mèng ? ('dream')" (12/25/12). And last year, we looked at "'Words / Characters of the Year' for 2013 in Taiwan and in China" (12/26/13). Toward the end […]

There Is No Language Instinct.

Linguist Vyvyan Evans has a piece in Aeon that gives a good rundown of the arguments against Chomsky’s irritatingly influential theory of the language instinct; here’s the conclusion: From this perspective, we don’t have to assume a special language instinct; we just need to look at the sorts of changes that made us who we […]

Now it's cows that use names (sigh)

According to a sub-headline in Full-Time Whistle, new scientific research has shown that "Cows and their calves communicate using individualised calls equivalent to human names." How interesting. Cows have enough linguistic sophistication to employ the high-level device of personal naming? Let us delve into the details just a little, without moving away from the article […]

Which is what we what?

Charles Belov sent in a link to an AP story that contains a puzzling quote from SONY's CEO Michael Lynton ("Sony responds: 'We had no choice'", AP 12/20/2014): Since Wednesday when Sony cancelled the film’s Dec. 25 release, the studio has come under withering criticism by those who have said capitulating to hackers sets a dangerous […]

Xinhua breaks ban on puns

I was going to write "Xinhua brakes ban on puns".  Upon reconsideration, I thought that would only lead to confusion, but it might at least have given an idea of how bad their pun is. First of all, just so everyone knows, Xinhua is Xinhua ("New China") News Agency, the official press agency of the […]

The Writer without Static.

I finally got around to reading Patrick Modiano’s Nobel lecture (in English, because I am lazy; here‘s the original French), and I liked it a lot; here are some of the bits that particularly struck me: A novelist can never be his own reader, except when he is ridding his manuscript of syntax errors, repetitions […]

Hack

Roger asked about the word hack, which has been prominent in the news since North Korean hackers breached Sony’s computer files. To those outside the avid computer community, it means gaining access to a computer’s content illegally....Show More Summary

Multiple

John F. Banzhaf III writes to complain about overuse of "multiple": Over the past six months I have heard an ever-growing number of TV news anchors, reporters, and talking heads on television use the word "multiple" where "many" – a shorter and less pretentious word – would do as well, if not better. I would […]

Censored letter

A current cause célèbre in China concerns a letter that was supposedly written by a little boy to the President of China, Xi Jinping: "‘Not as skinny as Obama, like Putin is okay.’ China censors schoolboy’s suggestion that Xi lose weight" (12/18/14) "A 9-year-old told China’s president to lose some weight—and censors shut him down" […]

Bread and dripping

Q: The next time Pat appears on the Leonard Lopate Show, she should tell Leonard that here in England we don’t all eat “drippings” (“dripping” in British English) for breakfast! The last time I tasted dripping was after the Second World War when food was still rationed. I’ve certainly never heard of it for breakfast.... ? Read More: Bread and dripping

That mystery language was…

Last night's "Mystery Language" post has gotten 43 interesting and insightful comments. The answer, revealed by Doug Marmion, of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies: The ‘mystery language' audio file was provided by Arnaud Delorme, a neuroscientist who works at the Institute for Neural Computation (INC) in San Diego. Arnaud has […]

Strong Language.

I’m happy to announce the appearance of Strong Language, a new group blog about swearing created by linguist James Harbeck and Stan Carey of Sentence first, one of my favorite language sites. The About page says, “This blog gives a place for professional language geeks to talk about things they can’t talk about in more […]

Maximizing Buzzword Compliance

From a "sponsor message" sent to me by the Chronicle of Higher Education "on behalf of Campus Management": Institutions are facing a convergence of forces that, combined with an outdated technology infrastructure, have created the need for a new approach in education technology: the On Demand Model for Higher Education. Discover the cornerstones of this […]

Nut rage

The biggest news in South Korea these days is the macadamia nut tantrum that occurred on Korean Airlines last week.  Heather Cho, the eldest daughter of Korean Air Lines chairman Cho Yang-ho and herself a high-ranking executive at the airline (though since resigned), threw a monumental hissy fit when she was served macadamia nuts in […]

Mystery Language

Can anyone determine what language this woman is speaking? If the flash player doesn't work for you, try the HTML5 audio version: Your browser does not support the audio element.

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Languages of Influence.

Michael Erard, a longtime LH favorite, has a good piece in Science on a paper by Shahar Ronen et al., “Links that speak: the global language network and its association with global fame“: The study was spurred by a conversation about an untranslated book, says Shahar Ronen, a Microsoft program manager whose Massachusetts Institute of […]

Deconstructing “it”

Q: I’m flummoxed by the word “it” in a sentence such as “I like it when you sing.” What in the world is “it” doing there? A: The sentence that puzzles you, “I like it when you sing,” is a familiar construction, especially in spoken English. We find nothing grammatically wrong here, as we’ll explain... ? Read More: Deconstructing “it”

Curses! Introducing a new blog, "Strong Language"

There's a new linguablog that's definitely worth your time if you're not put off by vulgarities. And if you revel in vulgarities, well, you're in luck. It's called Strong Language, and it's the creation of James Harbeck and Stan Carey. James and Stan have enlisted a great lineup of contributors (I'm happy to be one […]

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