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Denys Johnson-Davies, RIP.

The name Denys Johnson-Davies sounded vaguely familiar to me, and it turned out he’s translated a number of Arabic novels I own or have read; he died a couple of days ago, and Arabic Literature (in English) has a nice post on eleven books he wrote or translated. The first is his 2006 Memories of […]

A ‘post-’ post

Q: I’ve been struck by how often the prefix “post-“ has been used lately: “post-religion,” “post-truth,” “post-contemporary,” and of course “postmodern” as well as “post postmodern.” What do you think? A: Yes, the prefix “post-” gets a workout these days, but it’s been a workhorse for centuries. A lot of the early uses are now... ? Read More: A ‘post-’ post

Donald Trump: Cognitive decline or TDS?

Sharon Begley, “Trump wasn’t always so linguistically challenged. What could explain the change?“, STAT 5/23/2017: STAT reviewed decades of Trump’s on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences are striking and unmistakable. Show More Summary

An Obscure Linguistic Item.

Jeremy Adler reviews (TLS, Oct. 16, 2015) a book by “the writer Schuldt, who never uses his first name” that is obvious LH material: The reappearance, after more than thirty years, of one of his finest short works, In Togo, dunkel (In Togo, Dark), at long last coming out from a leading publisher, thus provides […]

Chinese emoji, with a twist

Adrienne LaFrance has an eye-opening article about “The Westernization of Emoji” in The Atlantic (5/22/17).  Here’s the summary statement at the beginning: The takeout box and the fortune cookie are perceived as emblems of Chinese culture, when they’re actually central to the American experience of it. The Unicode Consortium will be issuing dozens of new […]


Yesterday’s Dumbing of Age: In fact Walky is right about homonym. The OED’s overall gloss is “The same name or word used to denote different things”, with the more specific sense “Philol. Applied to words having the same sound, but differing in meaning”. Billie is right about the etymology — for the verb funk “To blow smoke upon […]

“Little Man” the eating machine

There’s a curious article by Kathy Chu and Menglin Huang in the Wall Street Journal (5/21/17): “How a Toddler Who Loves Eating Transfixed China:  2½-year-old Xiaoman is an online sensation, bringing fame, a Pampers ad and questions about...Show More Summary

Siri can you hear me? has some perfect linguaphile clickbait: “Watch People With Accents Confuse the Hell Out of AI Assistants.”  By “accents” they mean, non-American ones (e.g., Irish English). The AI Assistants were Siri, Amazon Echo, and Google Home. I’m curious about how well the voice recognition systems in these devices work with varieties of spoken English, so […]

Cultural Immersion: How Learning 20 Basic Phrases Transformed My Travel Experience

For ages I’ve recognised, at least in theory, that learning even just a small handful sentences in a new language can take you a long way on a holiday, and give you a unique experience of cultural immersion. I really enjoyed readingShow More Summary

Study the linguistics of Game of Thrones

At the instant of posting this, there are only 18 places remaining out of the 40 maximum in Linguistics 183 001, David Peterson’s summer session course at UC Berkeley on “The Linguistics of Game of Thrones and the Art of Language Invention.” 3 to 5 p.m., Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu, May 22 to June 30. It’s not a ‘Structure of […]

-ist vs. -ic in Riyadh

During last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump was repeatedly insistent that everyone should use the term “radical Islamic terrorism”. For example, his reaction to the Orlando massacre, from Inside Edition 7/13/2016: Your browser does not support the audio element. Announcer: Trump spoke out about the massacre today, saying the president is afraid to call it an […]

Fifty shades of ‘they’

Q: I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard Pat defending the singular use of “they” on the radio. Say it ain’t so. A: “They” is a legitimate way of referring back to an unknown person or persons, neither singular nor plural, masculine nor feminine. So there’s nothing wrong with this kind of sentence: “Nobody... ? Read More: Fifty shades of ‘they’

Schrödinger’s pundit

Today’s SMBC: Mouseover title: “On second thought, let’s just leave them in the box.” The aftercomic:

The Ancient Bookshelf.

I’ve discovered another interesting blog, The Ancient Bookshelf, whose motto (with which I cannot disagree) is “Old stuff is exciting!” It’s run by James Hamrick, and lately he seems to be concentrating on Ge’ez (classical Ethiopic), a language that’s always intrigued me but that I’ll probably never do anything about. He has a brief introduction […]

Latin-speaking Muslims in medieval Africa

In the Middle Ages as today, Christians and Jews regularly called God "Allah" when speaking Arabic, just as Muslims did. It is perhaps not as well known that the converse was often also true: from a very early period, North African Muslims called God "Deus" when speaking Latin. Show More Summary

The unreasonable hilarity of recurrent neural networks

If you haven’t done so already, read Andrej Karpathy, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks“. And then Janelle Shane, “New paint colors invented by neural network“. The punch line:

Trends in presidential pitch II

In Trends in presidential pitch (5/19/2017), I observed that the median f0 of President Trump’s weekly addresses has increased  steadily since January, by about 30%.  As a point of comparison, I did the same calculation for President Obama’s first few months of  weekly addresses, from 1/24/2009 to 5/23/2009, in comparison to Trump’s weekly addresses from […]

Pisemsky’s Bitter Fate.

After reading minor works by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, I’ve read a major one by Pisemsky, and oh what a difference! The first two were still trying to figure out where they were going; Pisemsky was at the top of his game, and created one of the masterpieces of Russian drama. ??????? ????????, translated as A […]

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