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Taylor Swift, Waka Flocka, and the Roots of #Squad

In the centuries before automatic weapons, when armies clashed along the Anatolian coast or at the base of medieval castles, foot soldiers fought in square formations. The compact shape repelled enemy forces on horseback, a desperate armor wrought from geometry. Show More Summary

The great creak-off of 1969

In a comment on yesterday's post about Noam Chomsky's use of creaky voice ("And we have a winner…", 7/26/2015), Tara wrote At the risk of sounding like I missed the joke: creakiness in a speaker Chomsky's age is much more likely to be physiological in origin than stylistic. I checked older footage of Chomsky, and […]

A Dry Sense of Humor

Bill from Maple City, Michigan, asked about the use of the word dry in the phrase a dry sense of humor. A dry sense of humor involves delivering a joke as if it were a serious matter. There is no prompt to laugh; the humor sneaks up on you because of the emotionless delivery. Show More Summary

How to Speak Spanish in 4 Days

While you can’t master or reach fluency in a few days, you absolutely can start to speak a language in this time. I famously aim for Day 1 (or even hour one), but experience in doing it so often has given me a big edge. Passing the speaking...Show More Summary

Pinker peace creak

As Breffni noted yesterday in a comment on "Male vocal fry", the young woman introducing Steven Pinker's speech at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum frequently exhibits lots of period-doubling — what the popular press generally calls "vocal fry", though "creaky voice due to period-doubling" would be a more correct description. Show More Summary

Activists Want to Replace “Car Accident” With “Car Crash.” Not So Fast.

A campaign is under way to ban the word accident from descriptions of car crashes. The New York City nonprofits Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets have teamed up to create a pledge, a hashtag, and a series of vigils...Show More Summary

Male vocal fry

Jaya Saxena, "Examples of Male Vocal Fry", The Toast 7/22/2015, presents YouTube videos of a bunch of well-known males (human and otherwise) exhibiting so-called vocal fry. There's no textual commentary — but the choice of examples, and the word "male" in the title, underlines the fact that young women are currently being criticized for a phenomenon that can be […]

The Nearest Thing to Life.

The publisher was kind enough to send me a review copy of The Nearest Thing to Life, by James Wood; I always turn to Wood’s reviews eagerly (though I often find myself arguing with them) — he’s very well-read, acutely sensitive to the qualities of good writing, and (most important) an excellent writer himself — […]

Fluency in six months

When it comes to linguistics, convincing, worthwhile presentations (such as those by John McWhorter and Steven Pinker) are rare on TED (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, and here). If that is true for TED, then I wouldn't expect better from TEDx.  Indeed, the one TEDx program on linguistics that I have seen, which was […]

Vocal gymnastics

Another Salut Salon video — Ievan Polkka: This version has closed captions giving the Finnish words with English translation: And of course there's the anime and  Hatsune Miku vocaloid versions. The first couple of verses: Nuapurista kuulu se polokan tahti The sound of a polka drifted from my neighbor's jalakani pohjii kutkutti. and set my feet […]


I can’t really say anything about this two-and-a-half-minute video by Reginald Pikedevant except: it’s funny, watch it! (One of my favorite bits is the po-faced spelling pronunciation of wagon-lit.) Thanks, Paul!


The OED has not yet held a Word Induction Ceremony for derp, nor has that word risen above the noise floor in the Google Books ngram viewer. But the current Google News index estimates 36,200 results for derp, and only a few of them are references to the California Independent System Operators' Distributed Energy Resource Provider (DERP) […]

How Berber is the Arabic of the Chaamba?

As unfortunately foreshadowed by my last post, violence broke out again in Ghardaia recently between Chaamba and Mozabites. At least 22 were killed, most of them Mozabite. As far as I can tell, not one newspaper has ventured to report...Show More Summary

Listen to French: 50+ Incredible French Listening Resources

Happy Bastille Day! Joyeux Le Quatorze Juillet ! To celebrate the French national holiday, let’s get into a specific aspect of learning this language. No matter how much you read French, or even practise speaking French, it can still be tricky to listen to French. Show More Summary

Macdonald's Minionese: WTF?

As a tie-in with Minions the movie, Macdonalds is giving out a dozen different Minions toys with Happy Meals. Like the Minions in the movie, the toys speak the invented language "Minionese" — though you have to bump or hit the toys to get them to respond. The response to this marketing initiative has been dominated […]

Six Life Lessons from Being a Blogger for Six Years

Today, July 10th, is my 33rd birthday and my twelve year travel anniversary (that’s 12-years of non-stop travel since I graduated university and hit the road). Since I’ve already contemplated the lessons I’ve learned from years of travel before, today I’ve decided to look at another important life achievement. Show More Summary

Tempest in a cuppa

Olivia Rudgard, "Why you put on an American accent when you sing", The Telegraph : Even while singing that most British of songs, her own country's national anthem, it seems Hertfordshire-born Alesha Dixon couldn't resist the temptation to slip into an American accent. The pop star was ridiculed after performing God Save the Queen at […]

On American r-lessness

James Fallows has been superintending an interesting discussion at the Atlantic about how strange early twentieth century American announcers sound to us today (There are four articles in the series so far, listed with links here). The comments on his articles suggest that we need make certain distinctions. There seem to be two things that […]

Let’s Talk (or Sign!) About the Deaf, Not Hearing Interpreters

Note: As is consistent with the written and culturally accepted standard, “Deaf” is used to refer to a community, while “deaf” is used to refer to a physiological state of being. A few days ago, a good friend and fellow linguaphile posted...Show More Summary

Why We Be Loving the "Habitual Be"

Who be eating cookies? That’s the question that the University of Maryland at Baltimore’s Janice Jackson asked children in a now-famous study on “the habitual be.” Have you heard of this creature? Though it sounds like the yellowjacket perpetually hard at work on your hydrangea, it is not. Show More Summary

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