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Sounds and Meanings Revisited.

David Shariatmadari has another interesting linguistics-related piece in the Guardian that begins: Scientists have just published a startling analysis of commonly used words in 4298 languages (62% of all those spoken). They wanted to find out if there were associations between particular sounds and meanings that couldn’t be put down to the fact that the […]

Daylight(-)Saving Time

Julian Hook writes: The attached plot corroborates my vague recollections: a few decades ago many people spelled Daylight-Saving Time with a hyphen, but now almost nobody does. The hyphen makes sense by the same logic as the hyphens in other N-Ving compounds like man-eating and blood-curdling. Show More Summary

(South) Korea bashing

Following up on these two recent posts: "Hate" (3/8/17) "No Japanese, South Koreans, or dogs" (3/8/17) The Chinese characters above the photograph say: W? shízài méi shénme Hánguó d?ngxi k? zá de le, w? b? gébì xìng Hán de l?otóu zòule y? dùn, zh?chí Zh?ngguó ????????????????????????????????? "I really didn't have any (South) Korean things left […]

Fluent disfluency

A couple of days ago, in "Mistakes", I noted that verbatim transcripts of spontaneous speech are often full of filled pauses, self-corrections, and other things that must be edited out in order to create what that commenter would count as a "coherent sentence". And this is true even for people who have risen far in […]


The Chinese government has grown mildly addicted to the use of rap for disseminating propaganda.  I'm going to call this new variety "rapaganda", but I am not the first to do so.  The use of this portmanteau word might have started here: "Chinese Communist Party Modernizes its Message — With Rap-aganda" (China Real Time Report, […]

Dralyuk’s 1917.

It’s high time I spread the word about Boris Dralyuk’s brilliant compilation 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution. Fortunately, I don’t have to expend a lot of effort explaining to you how brilliant it is, because Caryl Emerson has done it for me in this TLS review (happily available even to nonsubscribers). I’ll […]

Sociolinguistically aware smartphone

Today's xkcd, with a "cot-caught merger switch": Rumored in the XKCD Phone 6: a "Northern Cities Shift slider".  

Decoding political attitudes

I was initially baffled by the political stance of "John Q. Esq.", who submitted this NYT comment: Having simultaneously benefited from Obamacare and despised Obama and his party for bringing it to them, I have absolutely no doubt what-so-ever that the low information voters who voted for the Republican Congress and Trump will enthusiastically turn out […]

The Meaning of Marg bar.

A recent guest post at the Log by Reza Mirsajadi clears up a point that had eluded me even though I studied Persian fairly intensively for a while: For much of my adult life, whenever I have had to defend the Iranian people to conservatives, they have fought back with the “Death to America” argument. […]

Siri in Korea

"The bizarre political scandal that just led to the impeachment of South Korea's president" (Jennifer Williams, Vox, 3/9/17) Protestors wearing masks of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (R) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (L) pose for a performance during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016. JUNG […]

Suck, sucker, and sucking up

Q: How did “suck,” a verb apparently derived from an ancient root related to creating negative pressure to draw liquid into the mouth, give us the noun “sucker” for a foolish or gullible person? A: When the verb “suck” showed up in Anglo-Saxon times, it usually referred to what a baby does at its mother’s... ? Read More: Suck, sucker, and sucking up

Can You Learn a Language by Watching the News?

"I'd like to read the news in my new language" is a goal I often hear when I ask people what fluency would mean for them. Perhaps you dream of reading Le Monde in a quirky cafe in Paris. Or maybe you'd to open up the Spiegel Online app...Show More Summary

10 Good Reasons to Learn Spanish

Want to learn Spanish? You're in good company. By one estimate, nearly 100 million people worldwide speak some level of Spanish as a second language, and that number is growing fast. Spanish is the language that got me started on this...Show More Summary

What a woman can't do with their body

Mark Meckes noticed a tweet about an interview with Emma Watson, who was being discussed in this Language Log post, and mentioned it in a comment thereto. It was completely off topic (and thus violated the Language Log comments policy, but I felt it was too interesting to be left languishing down there in a […]

The Best Anagram in English.

Mark Dominus describes his method of finding and ranking anagrams in this post: This gave me the idea to score a pair of anagrams according to how many chunks one had to be cut into in order to rearrange it to make the other one. On this plan, the “cholecystoduodenostomy / duodenocholecystostomy” pair would score […]

Synesthesia and Chinese characters

Leo Fransella asks: I'm curious to know whether, in your years studying and teaching written Chinese, you've ever come across synaesthesia as applied to Chinese characters (zi) or words (ci)? The most common form of synaesthesia (~1% of people, I think) involves the systematic assignment of colours to letters, numbers or (sometimes) whole words. I have this […]

submitting slavishly...

Lately, I've been super-aware of people saying that British English "slavishly" copies American English. Like this: the UK slavishly adopts Americanisms !! (from an email to me this week) “To be snooty about Americans, while slavishly...Show More Summary

What's hot at ICASSP

This week I'm at IEEE ICASSP 2017 in New Orleans — that's the "Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing". pronounced /a? 'tr?.pl i 'a?.kæsp/. I've had joint papers at all the ICASSP conferences since 2010, though I'm not sure that I've attended all of them. This year […]

No Japanese, South Koreans, or dogs

Here we go again.  Image trending on WeChat, a sign on a Beijing bus: The sign at the bottom right reads: Hánguó rén Rìb?n rén y? g?u jìnzh? shàng ??? ??? ?? ??? South Koreans Japanese and dogs are forbidden to board Relevant Language Log posts: "Dogs and Japanese not admitted" (3/2/13) "Racist Park" (5/17/13) […]

Making Babel Sizzle.

Robert Minto has an appreciative review of Boris Dralyuk’s translation of Isaac Babel’s Odessa Stories (Pushkin Press, 2016); I’m bringing it here because it includes one of those translation comparisons I enjoy so much: Babel’s Odessa stories have never been presented as colorfully in English as they are here, in Boris Dralyuk’s translation. In his […]

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