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You don’t need English to be an Australian citizen

Should we be changing our national anthem's lyrics to "We've boundless plains to share... but only if you can speak English"? Allie Severin explores the most recent proposal to make English proficiency a pre-requisite to gaining Australian citizenship

Tormented in Taiwanese

A couple of weeks ago, we encountered the case of Chang Chun-ning being asked by her f?ns? ?? ("fans") on the Mainland to change one of the characters in her name that they weren't familiar with: "7,530,000 mainlanders petition Taiwan actress to change her name" (5/14/15) After the incident about the bank in China telling […]

Solo or Couple Travel: Is Either Better?

If you’re a member of the Language Hacking League, or if you follow me on Instagram, or Facebook, then you already know the big news: Lauren and I are engaged! This is yet another secret mission I’ve been working on behind the scenes for the past several months ;). Show More Summary

Names of the chemical elements in Chinese

Mike Pope relayed to me the following from his son Zack, a high school physics teacher: I was wondering what the periodic table of elements looked like in China, and found this image. This may or may not be the "official" periodic table, but I thought it was interesting to see the similarities in the […]

OMG! American English

The star of this popular Voice of America program is Jessica Beinecke ( Bái Jié ??).  Her Mandarin is quite amazing; indeed, I would say that it is nothing short of phenomenal.  Here's a sample: The title of that particular video is "OMG! ?? Pick-up Line Do's & Don'ts!"  The Mandarin term in question that […]

Gangster intonation

On a recent flight across the Atlantic, I watched a Hong Kong movie called Gangster Payday in English, ??? ("Big Tea House"?) in Chinese, directed by Lee Po-Cheung. One of the things that struck me was a particular pattern of pitch and time at the ends of certain phrases, involving elongation of the final syllable, […]

Interview with Tim Ferriss: Intensive Language Learning and the Tim Ferriss Experiment

About two and a half years ago, I finally had the chance to catch up with Tim Ferriss and interview him about language learning. It went well besides my bad connection in Brazil meaning I had to upload the lowest possible quality video. Show More Summary

R.I.P. Jack Ely

Evidence that coherence is overrated — Sam Roberts, "Jack Ely, Who Sang the Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie’, Dies at 71", NYT 4/29/2015: Jack Ely would later insist that as a 19-year-old singing “Louie Louie” in one take in a Portland, Ore., studio in 1963, he had followed the original lyrics faithfully. But, he admitted, the braces […]

Should we call the Gallipoli campaign an ‘invasion’?

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them. Lest we forget. The Ode of Remembrance awakens a sense of nationalistic pride within the hearts of many Australians [...]

Political pitch ranges

I don't have time for much this morning, but here's a plot of the f0 quantiles of the first minute or so of each of six speeches from the 2015 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum: Here's the same thing on a semitone (i.e. log) scale:   Do these large differences reflect differences in intrinsic vocal range, or […]

Stalin’s Jaffna Kolaveri.

The admirable fisheyed not only revived this old thread (and remember, every time an old thread is revived, an angel gets his wings) but linked to a video and an explication thereof by Fotheringay-Phipps at Ground Views that are so interesting I thought I’d give them their own post. From the latter: The day before […]

I've forgotten more Czech than Barbara Partee has learned

One of the most memorable trips of my life took place in 1994 and involved traveling as a graduate student to Prague in the company of some of the most formidable linguists of North America and Europe. It was my first return to the country of my birth since I’d left Czechoslovakia as a small […]

Breath Clay

From a page at Chambers Wines about the VinItaly exhibition in Verona: Caption: "Some translations are more successful than others". But what, asks Francois Lang, is "Breath Clay" a (bad?) translation of? We can find a clue in this YouTube video entitled "Breath Clay", The description starts like this: Il respiro dell'argilla genera un territorio unico dove l'uomo con […]

Why Chinese is Easy: The Smart Way to Learn Chinese Tones

Tones. A huge issue people have when learning Chinese is the fact that it’s a tonal language. Let’s start with the bad news. If you don’t get tones down well, it will be really hard for native Mandarin speakers to understand you. Now for the good news. Show More Summary

Punk Rock Name Quiz

Punk rock names are an established tradition. Why should an aspiring musician have to put up with an ordinary, workaday name when he or she could be Johnny Rotten, Jello Biafra, Siouxsie Sioux, or Captain Sensible? No reason at all,...

This I Believe #34

...that in David Bowie's song "Dance Magic Dance" from the film Labyrinth, the part of the chorus that goes: Dance magic, dance... Jump magic, jump...should instead go: Pants, magic pants... Junk, magic junk Note the commas. If...


Lane Greene of The Economist has a “Johnson” column in which he discusses the “three rather strange names … ‘Maundy’ Thursday, ‘Good’ Friday and ‘Easter’”; the last two are pretty straightforward (good used to mean ‘holy, godly’ and Easter is after a dawn goddess Eostre), but the first is more confusing. Greene doesn’t care for […]

Circumcellion II.

Back in 2007 I posted a tendentious and hilarious description of a North African group called the Circumcellions, which began: The Circumcellions were a Christian suicide cult of the fourth and fifth centuries. Their religious practice consisted of delivering random beatings to strangers along the road, with the purpose of goading the strangers into killing […]

Lecture tomorrow at the Simons Foundation

Tomorrow afternoon, I'll be giving a talk at the Simons Foundation (160 5th Avenue, New York NY) with the title "Reproducible Research and the Common Task Method". Despite the April 1 date, the topic is a serious one. For some background on why the concept of "Reproducible Research" is currently a hot topic, see Paul Voosen, […]

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