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A [class.] zoo

In English, if we want to say something about a place where a lot of different kinds of animals are kept for viewing by the public, we just refer to it as "a zoo".  Ditto for other quantifiable or specifiable nouns.  But in Chinese, you usually have to put a measure word [m.w.] or classifier […]

The Definition of a Dictionary.

Stefan Fatsis has a good (and very long) piece in Slate on Merriam-Webster’s revision of its unabridged dictionary; if you want to know what ever happened to the long-promised Fourth, you will learn all about it. It also turns out — and this saddens me — that there isn’t going to be a 12th edition […]


Mike from Cadillac challenged me to come up with some words that we could use if they actually existed. Rather than taking time out to make some up during this very busy season, I’m going to cheat and offer some that I wrote in an article a few years back. Show More Summary

Why definiteness is decreasing, part 3

Ten days ago, I documented a striking 20th-century decrease in the frequency of the definite article the ("Decreasing definiteness", 1/8/2015) — from about 6.6% to about 5.4% in the Corpus of Historical American English; from about 6.4% to 5.2% in the Google Books ngram indices; and from about 9.3% to about 4.7% in U.S. presidents' […]

Modern Literature Collection.

Via MetaFilter: “Modern Literature Collection: The First 50 Years” is a digital exhibit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Modern Literature Collection (MLC), part of the Special Collections in the Washington University Libraries. The digital exhibit is a companion to the onsite exhibit in Olin Library, on display November 2014 – March 2015, and […]

Entitled: Zombie chain shift

Where do zombies come from? As Wikipedia tells us, it all started with evil Haitian sorcerers using necromancy to create undead slaves. But then, Hollywood invented contagious zombification, originally attributed to radioactive contamination from Venus, but more recently understood to be due to human zombism virus (HZV). Show More Summary

Popularizing Linguistics Through Online Media

Sometime last spring, I got an email from Doug Bigham, a linguist at San Diego State University who I’d met at LSA 2011. He wanted to put together a special session for the LSA 2015 conference that took place last weekend in Portland, Oregon. The theme would be “Popularizing Linguistics Through Online Media,” and he […]


Michael Kaan writes: I was looking up information on the SERE program after watching Zero Dark Thirty, and noticed the odd patch the program has for its insignia: In the United States, SERE is an acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. In the United Kingdom, SERE is an acronym for Survive, Evade, Resist and Extract. […]

Tweet Chinese Fired

Jose Pagliery and Frank Pallotta, "Hacked news companies tweet Chinese fired on U.S. warship", CNN 1/16/2015: [h/t Dmitri Ostrovsky]

Why hard work isn’t what makes good learners

Why is that some people are worse language learners no matter how hard they work? Among the many emails/tweets and in-person comments I get about those who have tried and failed to learn languages, what comes up more often than not is...Show More Summary

The Murty Classical Library.

When my brother sent me this NY Times story by Jennifer Schuessler (thanks, Eric!), I was confused at first: didn’t I post about this years ago, and hasn’t it already gone under? But then I realized I was thinking of New York University Press’s Clay Sanskrit Library, which I wrote about in 2008; as this […]

Goody goody

Q: I’m fascinated by reduplicatives, especially those whose segments have no particular meaning on their own: “bow-wow,” “choo-choo,” “flim-flam,” “helter-skelter,” etc. I’ve often wondered why we refer to them as “reduplicatives” rather...Show More Summary


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English Phrases Used Only By Indians.

The title’s an exaggeration (“do the needful” is not restricted to Indian English, and “first-class” is reasonably common elsewhere), but the piece is funny, and the (unrelated except for linguistic humor) illustrations are hilarious: Rutu Ladage’s “English Phrases Used Only By Indians Which The World Knows Nothing About,” from India Times. Vaguely related, in the […]

Travel Language

There is an interesting post on Language Log about the following image.

Social change

Yesterday's Zits: Ten years ago ("Texting", 3/8/2004), I wrote: I've visited Japan a couple of times before, most recently about a decade ago. One thing that's changed since my last visit is texting. Most younger people in Japan now seem to spend a lot of time sending and reading text messages on their cell phones. […]


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More bon voyage

Perry C. writes: I hope you've been well. I am an active reader of language log and often notice posts that point to odd phrases. On my way back to Penn, jetblue had a sign at LAX that read "have a more bon voyage." I'm not sure of the meaning that the sign (attached below) […]

Comparing Diachronies of Negation.

John Cowan sends me this link (prepublication draft of David Willis, Christopher Lucas and Anne Breitbarth, “Comparing Diachronies of Negation,” from their The History of Negation in the Languages of Europe and the Mediterranean, Vol. 1: Case Studies), adding: It’s a fairly accessible paper (if you skip the formal-syntax section in pp. 6-7) that talks […]

Treat your reviewers well

S&P asks its reviewers to overcome the discipline’s culture of procrastination and supply reviews within a default of 4 weeks (sometimes more for especially complex or long papers). We try to repay reviewers in two ways that we consider best practices: Reviewers are copied on editorial decisions. Show More Summary

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