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The Hamburg Score.

The mail brought an Amazon package containing an item I only recently added to my wishlist (because it’s only just been published), Shushan Avagyan’s translation of Viktor Shklovsky’s ??????????? ????, The Hamburg Score (with a very touching note from the generous reader who ordered it for me — thanks from the bottom of my heart, […]

English Verb-Particle Constructions

Lately I've been thinking about "optionality" as it relates to syntactic alternations. (In)famous cases include complementizer deletion ("I know that he is here" vs. "I know he is here") or embedded V2 in Scandinavian. For now let's consider the English verb-particle construction. The relative order of the particle and the object is "optional" in cases such […]

A rising sophomore?

Q: When did expressions like “rising sophomore” start? It’s new to me, a great-grandmother who was last in college 20 years ago. A: It was new to us too, but not to the lexicographers at The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). In addition to defining the adjective “rising” as ascending, developing,... ? Read More: A rising sophomore?

Gender, conversation, and significance

As I mentioned last month ("My summer", 6/22/2017), I'm spending six weeks in Pittsburgh at the at the 2017 Jelinek Summer Workshop on Speech and Language Technology (JSALT) , as part of a group whose theme is "Enhancement and Analysis of Conversational Speech". One of the things that I've been exploring is simple models of who talks when […]

The Creation of the Manchu Script.

I’m almost finished with Part One of China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia, by Peter C. Perdue; I’m enjoying it greatly, and I thought I’d share this passage from pp. 126-7: The greatest gift of the Mongols to the Manchus, of course, was the Mongolian script. In 1599 Nurhaci ordered Erdeni Baksi […]

Hemingway’s Cuban English.

I didn’t think I could be surprised by news about Hemingway, but Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera managed to do it with this piece at Lingua Franca: In Cuba, Hemingway gave public speeches and interviews in Spanish, and spoke it around the house. It was also his routine language while vacationing off the island. In Africa in 1954, […]

Good morning customer, how may I help you?

If you’ve ever gone to get a takeaway drink from Starbucks, you’re probably aware that they like to take your name and write it on the cup. If you’re someone whose name is even vaguely unusual or uncommon, you’re probably also aware of how infuriating it is when the poor barista mangles your name when trying to write it on the side. Show More Summary

How to Ace a Job Interview in a Non-Native Language

I remember one of my most exciting job interviews in a non-native language. It was with a company that I had followed for several years, and I really admired its growth and development. When I was informed that they had an interesting position available, I immediately realized that this was fate. Show More Summary

Real life

Today's SMBC: For a more complex but pointed analogy, see "The Pirahã and us", 10/6/2007.

Let’s pick a few nits

Q: I was under the impression “nitpicking” was a seriously racist phrase, originating from when slaves picked cotton. Am I incorrect about this? A: “Nitpicking” isn’t racist, and it doesn’t come from picking cotton. The term originally referred to picking nits, the eggs of lice, from hair, and later to picking out the lice themselves,... ? Read More: Let’s pick a few nits

Scots Threip.

In investigating various matters connected with this post, I ran into John M. Tait’s site Scots Threip: Scots Threip consists of writings of my own on the Scots Language. It started as a place to put them so that I could refer to them in forum discussions. Many of the articles are in Scots as […]

Comrades, "hike up your skirts for a hard shag"

President Xi Jinping is fond of calling on the Chinese people to "roll up our sleeves and work hard" (l? q? xiùz? ji?yóu gàn ??????? / ???????).  No sooner had Xi uttered this stirring pronouncement in a nationwide address at the turn of the year (2016-17) than it became a viral meme (here and here) […]

Misinformation & Disinformation

Ben from Traverse City asked about the difference between disinformation and misinformation. Let’s start with the base word information. Information is knowledge communicated about some particular fact, subject, or event. According to...Show More Summary

Unmasking Slurs

I'm sympathetic to many of the arguments offered in a guest post by Robert Henderson, Peter Klecha, and Eric McCready (HK&M) in response to Geoff Pullum's post on "nigger in the woodpile," no doubt because they are sympathetic to some of the things I said in my reply to Geoff. But I have to object […]

Up to Snuff.

I wondered about the phrase “up to snuff,” so I looked it up. Turns out it didn’t always mean “meeting the required standard,” as it does now; Gary Martin tells us: In 1811, the English playwright John Poole wrote Hamlet Travestie, a parody of Shakespeare, in the style of Doctor Johnson and George Steevens, which […]

Can slur avoidance be taken too far?

I was rather flabberghasted to read an otherwise good post on Language Log seriously suggesting that racial slurs are so painful they should be coyly asterisked out even in careful lexicographical explanations of why they should not be used. Show More Summary

The Boarding-School Girl.

I just finished reading Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaya‘s 1861 novella ???????????, which (amazingly for a largely forgotten nineteenth-century writer) has been translated (by Karen Rosneck) into English, as The Boarding-School Girl. It was kind of a pain to read, since to have it on my Kindle I had to download the entire issue of Otechesvennye zapiski as […]

Spanish Jokes: 9 Lame but Hilarious Jokes in Spanish

Did you hear about the Spanish-speaking magician? He said "for my next trick, I will disappear on the count of three. Uno, dos -" but then he vanished without a tres. Okay, that one isn't going to win me any comedy prizes. To redeem myself, I’ll share some funny jokes in Spanish. Show More Summary

Why ‘spay’ her, but ‘neuter’ him?

Q: Why do we “spay” a female cat or dog, but “neuter” a male? Why don’t we have a single, unisex word for the procedure? A: You’re right that we usually say a female cat or dog is spayed, while a male is neutered. However, “neuter” (as well as “sterilize” and “desex”) can be used... ? Read More: Why ‘spay’ her, but ‘neuter’ him?

Why So Many Languages?

Michael Gavin of Colorado State University has a fascinating piece at The Conversation that asks: “Why is it that humans speak so many languages? And why are they so unevenly spread across the planet?” The questions also seem like they should be fundamental to many academic disciplines – linguistics, anthropology, human geography. But, starting in […]

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