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My first post on Language Log

As hinted yesterday, I have joined the Language Log juggernaut (thanks to Mark Liberman and Geoff Pullum for recruiting me). Here’s my first post: Justice Breyer, Professor Austin, and the Meaning of ‘Any’.

Attack from big money publishers

Speaking of open access, I hope that most of you have heard about the US Research Works Act, which is a bill before Congress that would roll back the open access policies of some federal grant agencies. I urge you all to do what you can to raise awareness of this. Show More Summary

Sabbatical Diary 2011-07-05

As of July 1, 2011, I’m on leave from MIT for one year, a combination of an overdue sabbatical and an administrative leave at the end of a three and a half year term as Associate Dean (a position to which I will return for another tour of duty after my leave). Show More Summary

My open access policy

MIT, of course, has an Open Access Policy, which I am proud to have played a small role in establishing. Having that policy has guided my personal decisions about venues for publishing and reviewing, but I have noticed that I have not always been very principled and consistent in my decisions. Show More Summary

Modal Semantics in the News

Wired reports on the brouhaha surrounding the security of Dropbox, a geek favorite (I am including myself). Dropbox used to say that Dropbox employees aren’t able to access user files, and when troubleshooting an account, they only have access to file metadata (filenames, file sizes, etc. Show More Summary

Defending a classic semantics for “ought”

I have a new draft paper: The best we can (expect to) get? Challenges to the classic semantics for deontic modals. 2012. Paper to be presented in a session on Deontic Modals at the Central APA, February 17, 2012. A somewhat programmatic...Show More Summary

Elsevier stumbles upon benefit of electronic publication

[Crossposted from S&P Editors Blog:] “ Elsevier Introduces Article-Based Publishing to Increase Publication Speed”: Elsevier, the world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and solutions, announced...Show More Summary

Update: Must … Stay … Strong!

Thony and I are thrilled that our article “Must … Stay … Strong!” is to appear in Natural Language Semantics. The article is in production and a DOI has already been assigned but is not functional yet, DOI :10.1007/s11050-010-9058-2. The latest version is now available as a pre-print: von Fintel, Kai & AnthonyS. Show More Summary

So not my life

This is so very much not my life: What’s a snooze button? Can I have one?

The World Cup So Far

Impressions after the first round of first round games: Baseline level of excitement because OMG it’s the world cup (on a scale of 1-10): 10. Added excitement from what’s actually happening in the games: not quite enough. Sources ofShow More Summary

AI panics

The last month or so has seen renewed discussion of the benefits and dangers of artificial intelligence, sparked by Stephen Hawking's speech at the opening of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge University. In that context, it may be worthwhile to point again to the earliest explicit and credible AI warning that […]

Voicing Surprise.

I was listening to NPR news this morning, as is my wont (a word, incidentally, that I pronounce identically to the contraction won’t, one of three or four versions current in the US), when a newscaster made me exclaim in astonishment: she pronounced the plural deaths with a voiced -th-, as /d?ðz/. Wikipedia explains the […]

"Mixed" languages

On Monday (11/26/16), Erika Sandman will be defending her doctoral dissertation on "A Grammar of Wutun" in the Faculty of Arts, Department of World Cultures, at the University of Helsinki.  I have a special interest in this type of "mixed" (for want of a better word) language that is situated at the interface between the […]

The Perils of Machine Translation.

Arthur Goldhammer, “a writer, translator, scholar and blogger on French politics” who “has translated more than 120 books from the French,” writes about translation for Aeon. He begins with an anecdote about “a voluble young Dutchman” who asks a couple of nuns where they’re from; “Alas, Framingham, Massachusetts was not on his itinerary, but, he […]

Dialect death

Reports of the death of languages and the extinction of languages are alarmingly routine, but before a language dies out entirely, when it is endangered, its dialects die off one by one. "Last native speaker of Scots dialect dies" (10/6/12) Dialect Death:  The case of Brule Spanish (1997) The list of publications documenting the dead […]


[Winslow Homer] William from Charlevoix asked about the word aftermath. Its origin is unexpected, to say the least. The after segment predictably means coming at a later time. The math segment comes from Germanic words that meant to mow. Show More Summary


Q: I hear educated people pronounce the word “congratulations” as if it were spelled “congradulations.” This occurs to the point that many people must believe it is spelled that way too. Is this an example of a spelling change based on a common mispronunciation? A: You’re right that many people spell “congratulations” with a “d”... ? Read More: Congradulations!

the maddest in the room

Headlines were made when Wikileaks, in their recent targeting of Hillary Clinton, released a transcript of a private speech by Bill Clinton. Most news outlets (orig AmE) zeroed in on a particular passage from the speech for their headlines:...Show More Summary

The Evolution of Spanish.

Tom Winterbottom reports that “Using digital tools and literature to explore the evolution of the Spanish language, Stanford researcher Cuauhtémoc García-García reveals a new historical perspective on linguistic changes in Latin America and Spain”: “I wanted to study language evolution through data found in written work to add historical depth to how, where and when […]

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