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Ben Zimmer: Linguistics Journalism Award

My first thought upon reading the following announcement is that my colleagues and I here at Language Log headquarters hasten to claim Ben as one of ours (he doesn't just belong to the WSJ!): "WSJ's Ben Zimmer receives first LSA Linguistics Journalism Award" Here's the text of the LSA announcement: The Linguistic Society of America […]

Juggling Languages: The Balancing Act That All Polyglots Must Perform

Polyglottery is a bit of a balancing act. Because we only have so many hours in a day, we can’t learn all languages. But when you have the itch for language learning like I and so many other polyglots do, you sometimes can’t help but to take on a new language challenge even though you […]

Mari sarcasm

Mari has ura, a Chuvash loanword, meaning ‘restless, diligent, painstaking, not indifferent’. The Mari-English dictionary entry for the word offers the compound ??????? ??? ?? ‘diligent worker, person painstaking in his/her work’, literally ‘for-work diligent person’. Show More Summary

Two Slavic verbs

Johanna Nichols contributed a paper to the collection New Approaches to Slavic Verbs of Motion ed. Hasko & Perelmutter (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010) arguing that Slavic indeterminate motion verbs like xoditi are denominal and not deverbal. Show More Summary

The surprising origin of Kyrgyzstan’s Altyn Arashan

Back in 2008, while traveling in the Karakol region of Kyrgyzstan, I visited the Altyn Arashan hot springs (as described here), but I didn’t think anything about the place-name other than that it was a golden (altïn) something. Years...Show More Summary

Mari šaške ‘mink’ borrowed even into South Kipchak

MariE šaške, MariW šäšk? ‘mink’ and Finnish dial. häähkä ibid. have some kind of old relationship with Lithuanian š?škas ‘polecat’. Whether it’s a Baltic > Uralic loan or vice versa doesn’t matter, the match is very old, and therefore we must assume that Chuvash šašk? ‘mink’ is a loan from Mari. Show More Summary

A calque on Romanian in Transylvanian Hungarian

Another foreigner learning Hungarian, mainly in Hungary with references based on the standard language, has drawn my attention to a grammatical feature he has heard only in Transylvania and which he finds quite jarring. In standard Hungarian,...Show More Summary

“Body” or “bodily” fluids?

Q: With all the attention on Ebola, there is increased use of the term “bodily fluids.” I keep muttering at the TV screen whenever I hear this pretentious phrase. My gut says it should be “body fluids.” What is your opinion? A: Both phrases are OK, so use whichever one sounds best to your ear—or... ? Read More: “Body” or “bodily” fluids?

Afghanistan’s Battlefield Slang.

War slang is always interesting; I’m familiar with the lexicon of Vietnam (being the grandfatherly baby boomer that I am), but I wasn’t up on the equivalent for UK troops in Afghanistan, so I was glad to find this BBC News piece. Soldiers, like mathematicians and jazz musicians, are masters at brilliant repurposing of ordinary […]

Consort & Concert

Having heard music by the Quadriga Consort, Francine asked about the possibility of a connection between the words concert and consort. It turns out that in a limited sense, there is. But first let’s distinguish between two nouns with identical spellings and some overlapping meanings. Show More Summary

Chow Yun-fat

Hong Kong movie star Chow Yun-fat has fallen afoul of the authorities on mainland China for supporting the Occupy Center democracy protesters. It's interesting to see how the media report what he said about having his films banned on the Mainland. "'I'll just make less then': Actor Chow Yun-fat responds to alleged PRC ban for […]

Linguist jokes (5)

I walked into the 7th-floor common room in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences building at the University of Edinburgh yesterday and saw this message on the shared whiteboard: The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense. Classy graffiti, I thought. This is a very intellectual place. […]

Leister and Glutton.

I’m currently editing a book on the prehistory of Scandinavia, and as usually happens with specialized works, I’m picking up some new vocabulary. Both these words looked like they might be typos, but a dip into the dictionary validated them. A leister (pronounced LEE-ster) is a three-pronged spear used in fishing, and the AHD says […]

Ikea: Peppered Caca for the holidays

John Brezinsky writes: I used to live in Moscow, where everyone has long been amused that Ikea chose to name a line of wine glasses "svalka". ?????? can either mean a garbage dump or a dumpster. I was very amused when I saw the name of the official Ikea ginger cookies at the location in […]

The compleat dangler

Q: I searched your website for info on dangling participles, but nothing came up. Am I doing something wrong, or has no one yet asked about this? A: Aside from a couple of passing mentions, we haven’t gone into this topic on our blog, so what better time? Here’s what a dangling participle looks like:... ? Read More: The compleat dangler

Cantonese protest slogans

We've been following the tumultuous Hong Kong democracy protests closely, e.g., "The umbrella in Hong Kong" (10/19/14) and "Translating the Umbrella Revolution" (10/3/14), with plenty of additional material in the comments to these posts. Now there is a new article in Quartz that focuses on the most popular slogans used by the protesters: "The backstory […]

Another dumb Flesch-Kincaid exercise

E.J. Fox and Mike Spies, "Who was America's most well-spoken president?", 10/10/2014: Using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test—the most well-known reading comprehension algorithm—Vocativ analyzed over 600 presidential speeches, going back to George Washington. Show More Summary

Form and Shape in Maimonides.

Ludwik Kowalski posted the following question at A theological paper that I am reading contains the following: “… Thirdly, there are those creations, which have form but no shape. These are angels, which have no bodies, but whose form vary from angel to angel.” What is the meaning of the words “form” and “shape” […]

Logic from the voice of the earth itself

On Friday, I gave a talk at the 46th Algonquian Conference. As the conference web page explains, The 46th Algonquian Conference will be held in Uncasville, Connecticut, on the reservation of the Mohegan Tribal Nation.  This is the first time in 46 years that the conference will be held on sovereign Native territory. The 46th […]

Descriptions in Twitter profiles

When Twitter tells me I have new followers, I can see their name and self-description before I can see their location (if they've given any). So I play a little game of 'guess which country they're from' before I click through to see it. Show More Summary

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