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The Finn-donesian of "The Force Awakens"

For my language column in the Wall Street Journal this week, I describe how some alien-speak in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" ended up being created a young Finnish YouTube sensation, tailor-made for Indonesian actors. We could call it "Finn-donesian," though the character Finn doesn't actually speak it. Rather, the dialogue was designed for the […]

Rooster Caponizing Competition

Sign at the Hakka Cultural Museum in Kaohsiung, Taiwan: From David Deterding's blog, "Language in Brunei": "Caponizing" (1/1/16) y?nj? b?sài ???? ("capon contest / competition") OR y?n j? b?sài ???? ("caponizing contest / competition") This website about festivals and events in Hualian, Taiwan refers to a " rooster-castrating contest" that is part of the Hakka Carnival […]

The Language Secrets of Prolific Language Learners

Did you know that some of the most famous figures throughout history were also accomplished polyglots? Audrey Hepburn remains an iconic goddess of the silver screen and is regularly touted as being the most beautiful woman to have ever existed. She also spoke six languages. J.R.R. Show More Summary

Style Manual Gang Violence!

From The Onion (America’s Finest News Source), “4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence“: NEW YORK—Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual […]

Here’s how!

Q: Why is the expression “Here’s how!” used as a toast? Nobody I know has an answer, including my martini-loving 94-year-old mom. A: The expression is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a formula used in drinking healths,” but there’s no clue about what it means. The OED’s earliest citation is from the late... ? Read More: Here’s how!

The first rule of political discourse

Non Sequitur from 1/13/2016: Today's NS is also relevant:

The country needs healed

In the latest GOP presidential debate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich used a regionalism not often heard in national politics. From the Washington Post transcript: And as president of the United States, it's all about communication, folks. It's all about getting people to listen to one another's problems. And when you do that, you will be […]

That Silent Inner Voice.

Keely Savoie reports on a phenomenon that’s always fascinated me: That inner voice that enunciates the written words you read comes in many different forms. Some say it sounds like the spoken voice. Some say it sings. And others say it is someone else’s voice entirely. Whatever the voice sounds like, it performs an important […]

More rare characters in Taiwan

Not too long ago, we looked at some "Difficult Taiwanese characters" (11/8/15).  By "difficult Taiwanese characters", I am referring to sinographs that literate Mandarin speakers are unfamiliar with. The same situation obtains for Cantonese. ...Show More Summary

Three words

As I write this, I'm sitting in the middle of  intend.agree.aware. Or alternatively, cèdre.permettre.lune. Or, if you prefer, ambara.özüne.konuyu, or ????.????????.?????????, or geflogen.aufhält.vollkommen, or mdogo.sokoni.yapenda, or … What is this? and maybe more important, why? Basically, it's a URL for the surface of the earth. Show More Summary

The representation of women in phonological discussion

This is a guest post by Joe Pater, reporting on observations by Claire Moore-Cantwell, Sharon Peperkamp, Stephanie Shih and Kie Zuraw. It was originally posted on Phonolist, and has already generated considerable discussion there — if you have comments, please add them to the original post. My impression is that women are relatively well-represented in phonology, maybe […]

That’s Just What They Would Say

This post originally appeared on Sean Carroll's blog, Preposterous Universe. The announcement we wait for every year has finally come in, and the American Dialect Society has chosen their Word of the Year! That word is: they. It beat...Show More Summary

Delay No More!

Victor Mair at the Log reports on what may be the best newspaper screwup I’ve ever seen (if it was indeed a screwup—or, as Mair puts it, “what happens when copy editors type what they’re feeling and then forget to take it out again before it goes online”—rather than a suicidal level of cheekiness), a […]

Does that bikini still fit?

Q: Is there a term for the overly familiar and presumptuous use of “that” and “those” in advertising? For example, “Organize that messy closet” or “Get rid of those unsightly stains in your sink.” It’s as if the ad writers have peered into our homes. A: You’ve raised an interesting question, one that highlights something... ? Read More: Does that bikini still fit?

Delay no more

This is what happens when copy editors type what they're feeling and then forget to take it out again before it goes online: This is from the following article in Coconuts Hong Kong: "Delay what?! SCMP readers blast paper for headline innuendo" (1/12/16) As the article explains: As most Hongkongers know, "delay no more" is […]

Do not animals

Sign from National Taiwan University: q?ng wù fàngsh?ng ???? "Please do not release living [creatures into this pool]." Fàngsh?ng ?? ("life release") refers to the freeing of captive animals.  Adherents of Buddhism often do this in special pools or ponds designated for the purpose on the grounds of temples and monasteries.  One can purchase captive […]

A gender-neutral word in Spanish: hij@, which can mean “hija” (daughter) or “hijo” (son). Others:

A gender-neutral word in Spanish: hij@, which can mean “hija” (daughter) or “hijo” (son). Others: A gender-neutral word in Spanish: hij@, which can mean "hija" (daughter) or "hijo" (son). Others: — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) January 12, 2016

Both Chinese and Japanese; neither Japanese nor Chinese

An ad for a new product of a Hong Kong cake shop went viral for taking pseudo-Japanese to the extreme: It is my custom in Language Log posts always to provide Romanized transcriptions of writing in hanzi / kanji / hanja, but in this instance I will forgo the Romanizations for the simple fact that, […]

Manchu Hangs On.

Well, sort of. The Manchu language is essentially dead in its homeland, Manchuria, but the Xibe of Xinjiang speak a variant of it, as Andrew Jacobs explains in a surprisingly good NY Times story (thanks, Eric!): Two and a half centuries later, the roughly 30,000 people in this rural county who consider themselves Xibe have […]

Level Up! Turn Your Language Learning Into a Video Game

“I wish I was motivated to learn a language! I’ll get started when I’m ready.” Like most kids, I took a language class throughout high school as a requirement. I picked Spanish because it seemed like a better option than French or Latin,...Show More Summary

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